Sigma DP1s — What’s all the excitement about?

Well, it turns out that my first photographic post is not going to be about lenses.  It’s going to be about point & shoot digicams.  Specifically the Sigma DP1s.  I was given the opportunity to try out a friends brand new DP1s, and was mildly interested because its minimalist looks appeal to me.

Sigma DP1s

Its 16.6mm lens is the equivalent to a 28mm in 35mm format.  So this camera is a dedicated wide-angle tool.  Good for quick landscape and architectural shots, and perhaps even street scenes.  Its APS-C sized Foveon X3 sensor is highly touted — providing 14.6 megapixels of resolution and all — as is its well-corrected 16.6mm f/4 lens.  The DP1s is deceptively simple.  No viewfinder, a modest-sized LCD screen, a couple of wheels and buttons on the top cover, along with a hot-shoe — something you don’t see ofen on a P&S digicam, and it has a few more controls on the back.  It even uses a pop-up flash, reminiscent of the Canon AF35ML and some Minolta Hi-Matics, for a proper retro look.  But under the skin, the camera has an admirable level of flexibility and complexity.  It shoots in raw mode, for example.  It has different metering patterns and AF modes, and one can select between single and continuous frame shooting.  It also has a movie mode, and an audio setting that allows the photographer to make a 10-second comment at the end of each photo.  Its ISO range is 50 to 800.  50 is somewhat unusual for a camera like this, and a welcome addition if the photographer is interested in minimizing all traces of noise.

But all this comes at a hefty price.  The DP1s lists for about $800.  Yikes!  Street prices are under $300, though. But still, that is rather pricey for a digicam.  And I’m sorry, but I just can’t resist asking myself if it’s worth it.  So I decided to make a quick and dirty comparison between the DP1s and the only other halfway decent digicam I had handy — my daughter’s Canon A1000IS, a model that has been discontinued for a while now — but so what else is new, in the world of consumer digicams?  She bought her A1000IS for about $125 two years ago.  It has 10 megapixels compared to the DP1s’s 14.6.

Canon A1000IS

But — and this is a big but — the Foveon is a three layer sensor, each layer being “tuned” to a particular color: red, green, and blue.  Supposedly this provides for more faithful color rendition, but another result is that 14.6 mp isn’t as many as you might think.  The maximum image size produced by the DP1s is 2640×1760, whereas the max image size with the lowly A1000IS is 3648×2736.  That’s a 38% larger image from a camera with a 31% smaller sensor, megapixel-ly speaking.  But how about image quality?  Surely the Sigma’s must be vastly superior, or so one might think.  Let’s take a look shall we?  I went out and shot a few pics with each camera, each set to its max resolution and ISO 100.  I could have set the Sigma to raw mode, but since the Canon doesn’t have this feature, I felt it was only fair to compare like with like, so both cameras were set to capture images in .jpg format.

Here we have a couple of photos of my beloved Volvo V90.  The first image was taken with the Sigma DP1s, and the second with the Canon A1000IS.

Sigma DP1s: Volvo V90

Canon A1000IS: Volvo V90

Well, a couple of comments — first, I should have stood back farther away from the car when I took the shot with the Canon.  I wasn’t taking into account the wide-angle nature of the Sigma’s lens.  Second, for valid comparison purposes, I did not do any post processing to the images at all, other than reducing them in size for viewing on the web.

You will probably notice right off that the Sigma’s colors are more neutral, whereas the Canon’s colors have a noticeably more yellow cast.  I’d have to say that this is a “feature” of the Canon, since it was close to mid-day when I took the photos, thus the color temperature of the sunlight shouldn’t have caused any yellow cast.  So +1 to the Sigma for color accuracy.  As for lens sharpness, with these somewhat small photos it’s hard to tell.  So here are a couple of 100% crops — well almost.  To show the Canon’s image at the same size as the Sigma’s, I had to eyeball the Canon’s crop so that it covered the same area of the image as the Sigma’s 100% crop, then I reduced the Canon’s crop to the same size as the Sigma’s.  Got all that?

Sigma DP1s: 100% Crop of the Volvo V90

Canon A1000IS: 100% Crop of the Volvo V90

The two images appear to be very close, don’t they — color differences aside, that is.  In fact, after close inspection, I’d have to give the nod to the Canon.  Notice the small scratch on the bumper visible in the Canon’s photo, but which is almost undetectable in the Sigma’s?  Also, there seems to be a bit better definition in the headlight lens patterns with the Canon’s image.  But then I ask myself, is this a sharpness difference, or is it exposure?  Because the more I look at it, the more it looks to me as if the Sigma is overexposing just a bit, and as a result, blowing out some detail in the highlight areas.  So + 1 to the Canon for having better exposure control.  Actually, with a few subsequent shots I took with the Sigma, I found that I had to adjust the camera’s exposure compensation (the AV button) to reduce a tendency to overexpose in bright sun.

Next, I took some shots of trees in the front yard.  Once again, in this pair of pics you can see that the Sigma’s exposure is a bit lighter than the Canon’s, although it doesn’t appear excessive in this case.

Sigma DP1s: Trees

Canon A1000IS: Trees

I haven’t posted 100% crops because there’s no point.  I couldn’t tell a bit of difference in terms of sharpness or correction of lens aberrations in either photo.  With the Canon’s image resized to that of the Sigma’s and a bit of brightness/contrast adjustment done, I doubt if anybody could tell the two apart.  Well, except for the fact that the Sigma’s image format is the standard 3:2 proportion whereas the Canon’s is closer to a TV screen’s format at 4:3.

Next, I decided to take some close-ups.  Flowers are always a good candidate for this.  But the weather here in Houston is pretty brutal in early August, so I could find only a single rose in my wife’s garden that was barely hanging in there.  It would have to do.  One thing I noticed right off with the Sigma — with some disappointment — is that its 16.6mm f/4 isn’t really a close-focus lens.  Minimum focusing distance is about 1.3 feet.  And given its wide-angle nature, this is kind of far away for macro work.  Sigma must have already taken this into account because they didn’t even bother with a macro icon anywhere on its dial or controls.  So macro shots might not be all that fair of a comparison, but here goes anyway.  The first is the Sigma’s, cropped to 100%, and the second is the Canon’s.  But this time, instead of sizing the Canon’s image so that it’s the same size as the Sigma’s, I decided I’d show the Canon’s shot at 100% also, just to show what is being missed with the Sigma.

This is the entire scene taken with the Sigma.

Sigma DP1s: Yellow Rose

And here are the 100% crops, first the Sigma, then the Canon.  Each photo was taken at each camera’s closest focusing distance.

Sigma DP1s: Yellow Rose, 100% Crop

Canon A1000IS: Yellow Rose, 100% Crop

Okay, it’s worth making the comment at this point that Sigma does produce a AML-1 close-up lens that lists for a hefty $125 and sells at a still respectable $80 street.  This close-up lens provides the user with a magnification ratio ranging from 1:8.2 to 1:14.9.  Not exactly anything to write home about, but nonetheless an improvement. Given that its front filter size is 46mm, which is a reasonably common size, one can buy a name-brand close-up filter set, which typically includes a +1, +2, and +3 filter, for about a third of the price of the single Sigma filter.  A good quality set might provide one with a halfway decent macro capability, but it would have been nicer if the lens were designed to focus closer to begin with.

As long as I’m in gripe mode, I guess I find myself wondering just how wise it is to offer this camera with a single focal length lens only.  True, for another large outlay, one can buy a DP2s, which has a 24.2mm f/2.8 lens (equivalent to a 41mm lens in 35mm format), but that’s not much variety for quite a sizable pile of semolians.  And it’s also worth mentioning that other series of P&S cameras with an almost cult-like following: the Canon G-series.  Earlier G-series cameras, like the G7 and G9, have 5x zooms that are equivalent to 35-210mm with a 35mm camera, but the G10, G11, and G12 have 5x zooms that have the same wide-angle capability as the Sigma DP1s plus a still respectable 140mm equivalent on the tall end (i.e., 28-140mm equivalent).  While it’s true that a new G12 will set you back roughly $150 more than a Sigma DP1s, honestly, which would you rather have?  Be honest now.  Besides, the G-series look pretty cool in their own way too.

Canon G10

Oh, and it bears mentioning — probably fairly frequently given the Sigma’s rather slow f/4 maximum aperture — both the Canon A1000IS and the later G-series have internal image stabilization, which provides the user with extended hand-held capabilities in low-light scenarios.

So I ask once again — regarding the Sigma DP1s, what’s all the excitement about?  I’m reminded of the Konica Hexar AF, which was a totally cool fixed lens 35mm P&S camera, and which also had a cult following.  Still does, in fact.  Given Konica’s almost total lack of promotion of the camera, the Hexar AF remained in production a surprisingly long time — about five years.  Is the Sigma DP-series destined for a similar status and fate?

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4 Responses to “Sigma DP1s — What’s all the excitement about?”

  • Credit Equity Home Line says:

    Hey there would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S Apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

    • Michael says:

      I’m using WordPress with the Producer theme. I like this theme because it is very flexible and so far I’ve been able to get it to do everything I want, except background color. I would prefer being able to set the background color to one of my choosing. I don’t do php or css coding, but perhaps I can learn and I’ll be able to tweak that setting. We’ll see. Good luck in your quest.

      I’ve also been looking at Drupal and a couple of other content management packages, and I might switch over. Nothing is etched in stone yet. I believe a package like Drupal will serve one better if they have something fairly complex in mind for a site. WordPress is pretty good, but it’s still ultimately just blog software.

  • Jannie says:

    Hello! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are
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    • Michael says:

      I’m using an older version of WordPress — v3.5. I would upgrade if I could, but the upgrade process hangs, wiping out the blog in the process. I felt fortunate that I was able to get it back at all, but not I’m a bit gunshy over tempting fate a second time.

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      Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

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