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Sigma DP2 Quattro

The Big Challenge.


My Challenge:  I like high quality compact cameras.  It started 20 years ago with a Contax T2 (saphire shutter release button, Pink silk lined box, titanium body and uber high quality lens) Then a number of Ricoh GR's (film) and all of the digital ones... Recently I've found that I own the following cameras

 
  • Sigma DP2M Merrill
  • Sigma DP2Q Quattro
  • Sigma SD1 Merrill
  • Ricoh GR (Latest Model)
  • Fuji X100s
  • Sony RX100M2
  • iPhone 5s

Madness.

I am not a wealthy person.  I have to buy my cameras and this is a hobby (Obsession).  I shoot and I write for pleasure and this blog is a form of catharsis.  A sort of talking therapy to help me understand myself a bit better (!).  This piece will not be based on wider reading or 'conventional wisdom,   I write based on my direct experience of the cameras and using them (or not using them which is perhaps the main point)  

Cameras in my world are of two types:  The utility vehicle - grab and go, pocketable, high quality - always there tool for street, event and location shooting, or the larger, less convenient but higher quality more 'professional' looking (in truth less used) alternative. Currently the Ricoh GR is the former and the DP2M/Fuji X100s/SD1 are the latter depending on how quickly the subject moves and how much light there is!  

Promise!

My promise to you the reader, and to myself is that after this article is complete I will only own two (or three) cameras:   One will be the Ricoh GR or the Sony RX100M2.  I know that before I start - based on physical form factor and image quality.   So (and this is the useful bit for the reader)  


Is the new Quattro good enough to replace the DP2 Merrill AND the Fuji X100s  AND the SD1.



Something(s) has to go!

London Camera Exchange (LCE) in Derby contacted me to offer the loan of a DP2 Quattro, I was distinctly in two minds.  Keen to try it.  But, oh my.... what if I liked it?  Which one of the stable would have to go to make room for it... (and help me to pay for it!).  Then it occurred to me:  If it's faster, better in low light with a reasonable finder, could the X100s go? or even the DP2 Merrill (or both?), more convenient than the SD1 99% of the time?  

So this article is in part a review, but hopefully more useful for both of us, a narrative of the thought process I am going through - perhaps a similar decision making process that other Sigma Foveon enthusiasts are going though?  

The (main) protagonists

Sigma DP2M Merrill

Sigma SD1

Fujifilm X100s

Ricoh GR

Sony RX100M2

Sigma DP2Q Quattro


Sigma DP2 Merrill

Much has been written about The Sigma DP2 Merrill.  it has been shown time after time that it is capable of producing some of the best images possible from the portable digital format.  The biggest question about the DP2 Merrill not what it can do, but rather what it struggles to do and why it isn't the default choice for me. (When it absolutely should be!)  

What are the key things that stop the DP2 Merrill being the best camera in the world:


DP2M Merrill - GOOD

  • Good Focus Speed / Accuracy
  • Astonishing RAW Image quality
  • Small but not Tiny
  • Understated stealth.
  • Simple menu and operation
  • Foveon 'look'

DP2M Merrill - BAD

  • Slow Operation Speed
  • Slow focus in low light
  • Lack of optical Finder 
  • Post capture workflow 
  • JPEG Image Quality
  • Lack of X3F RAW adoption.

A crude summary of a good camera.  But we all know that we either use a camera, or we don't.  Sometimes, it only takes a small problem to become a big issue and for a camera to get left at home, sometimes in favour of an inferior alternative?  The first gallery in this piece was taken on my iPhone 5s because I didn't have my 'main' camera with me (I did actually but the SD card was at home!!)

Having owned the DP2 Merrill for 2 years, I have stopped using it.  Why?  The point of writing this was to work out what was going on and actually analyse what I cameras I use and what is stopping me using others in the real world:


 Needs Good Light

The image quality of the DP2M is so good it demands a high shutter speed (or tripod and slow moving subject!).  Combined with a steep drop off in image quality when the ISO is raised, this means that conditions have to be bright to get the best out of it....  There is no fill in flash to balance images in bright light, limiting the types of photography still further. The files are huge and it's no surprise that the little DP2 is slow to process all that information or that this places massive demands on a little battery - but I can live with that.  

  • Good light required to get high shutter speed
  • Poor higher ISO Performance
  • Slow post process workflow for RAW
  • Odd colour of OOC Jpegs.

But when the time is right, the light is good and the subject is suitable and you've got time to process using Sigma Photo Pro or Iridient,   The DP2M produces lovely images.... but these caveats limit the usefulness of the camera and the times that I reach for it in preference to say the X100s or more recently the Ricoh GR.  

Sloooow Post Processing

Perhaps the main factor limiting my use of the DP2M is the work flow it demands:  I use Photo Mechanic for photo management and Lightroom for processing for other cameras.  The Sigma DP2M imposes another RAW workflow altogether.  This RAW workflow is all the more important because of issues with the OOC JPEGS from the Merrill which have an odd colour cast - exacerbated by any slight exposure imperfection.   

The OOC JPEGS from the Merrill have a rapid drop off and crude shadow area, sometimes a strange rendering of Blues and Reds,  and are not perhaps as usable as they are from other cameras.  So processing from RAW is required.  The files are big, and Sigma Photo Pro is unstable and 'quirky' So I use Iridient to produce nice high res TIFFS that I then process in Lightroom and then export 'fit for purpose' into JPEGS.  

Now - as I said earlier I'm not a pro.   The Sigma RAW workflow is both outside my normal method and frankly, it's more work that I want to do to get a halfway decent JPEG.

From launch, much has been made of the relatively poor battery life.  This is less of a concern for me.  Of course an improvement would be welcome but the DP2 Merrill takes the same battery as the Ricoh GR which meant that I could invest in spares.  I neither advocate or dismiss non-OEM batteries.  I personally use them and have had no problems at all with them and for £18 you can get a USB charger and two batteries so it's not really an issue of cost and I always carry 5 batteries with me for the GR and the Merrill. 


DP2M Summary

LR_monoC-5431.jpg

When added to the bright conditions, the post processing time required  has resulted in the little, lovely DP2M languishing on the shelf..... It is sad.  It's really sad because the sensor can do amazing things... and because I know that it's close to perfect when the light is good, and when I've got time to invest teasing out that amazing image from a file.

What would make me reach for the DP2M  without hesitation - every time? 

  1. Better JPEGS for the bulk images that can be used OOC
  2. or better integration with Lightroom
  3. Improved and usable ISO up to 800 or 1600
  4. Faster startup, focus, processing.

The X100s does not produce files that are anywhere near the detail of the DP2M but in truth I reach for the X100s far more often than anything else so it seems sensible to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the X100s. But first, 'let's fire up the Quattro'.

Sigma DP2M Merrill ISO100 f5.6 1/800

Sigma DP2Q Quattro ISO100 f5.6 1/1000


Sigma DP2Q Quattro

I've used the loan Quattro for 7 days and I am really seriously impressed. From pictures, I liked the strange shape and admire Sigma for allowing it to get beyond the prototype stage. In hand I like it even more than I'd hoped.   But how does it perform - on it's own, and relative to the other similarly priced 'compact' fixed lens cameras in this segment, and most importantly, compared subjectively to the Merrill? 

More natural colour from the OOC JPEG.  

First impression:  

SPEED:  It's genuinely fast enough to be usable:

  • Focus is both fast and very accurate
  • It's usable up to iso800 and in B&W beyond 800.
  • Image Processing is a lot quicker

Overall the Quattro really does feel like it is a generation beyond the Merrills.  A bit like updating your computer after three years. The impression is sprightly and fresh and much more responsive.   It's startup, focus and write times are very practical and indeed I'd say subjectively, it feels more responsive my X100s.  

I have spent the weekend with the RX100M2, the Ricoh GR, the Fujifilm X100s and the older Sigma DP2M and come to a surprising conclusion (at least surprising to me!) .


Big Foveon Issue: For Quattro's and Merrill's

We enthusiasts like to have the 'digital negative' RAW files,  it's great to have these files available for exceptional picture control and for recovering difficult situations.  The latitude that it gives us can salvage critical images or gives scope to improve. With the X3F Raw file from the Sigma Cameras, that means using one of two 'developers'.

Sigma Photo Pro

The biggest issue for me using the Sigma Merrills (DP1, DP2 and SD1) was the workflow.  In the absence of support by Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, one had to do the conversion to 16 bit TIFF via Sigma Photo Pro (SPP) which is not an ideal workflow.  SPP is slow to use, it's unstable and sometimes freezes or crashes out altogether (I'm using a fully patched Macbook Pro, Retina screen with 16GB RAM) Not a pleasant experience and in truth, is a barrier to use.

Problems with SPP are not overstated.  This crash happened Whilst looking at the X3F of the JPEG below....

Problems with SPP are not overstated.  This crash happened Whilst looking at the X3F of the JPEG below....

Iridient Developer

Iridient is a good, stable and quick alternative with a feature set that goes some way beyond my humble skill set but it does allow me to produce excellent TIFF conversions of the Merrill X3F files.  

The sheer number of images taken means that time for processing is less per image and frankly the Sigma Photo Pro/ Iridient workflow is just not sustainable - SPP is sometimes unstable and in my opinion unsuitable for even reasonably relaxed pace commercial use.  Iridient developer was a workable alternative for the Merrills.  It was excellent indeed.  
 

Iridient not for Quattro!

However a recent email exchange with the Iridient suggests that they won't be creating a camera profile anytime soon for the Quattro, which is a shame and I for one would pay a premium if it was possible (the same is true for Lightroom! )  

Raw Dilema

So we are a bit stuck:   Double impact of the spectre of having to use SPP and resulting slower processing in the absence of Iridient developer and increasing numbers of images. aagh, but there is light glimmering in the form of one of the biggest improvements on the Quattro relative to the Merrill.

Sigma DP2 Quattro f5.6  1/400 sec  ISO100 (OOC JPEG).


but the JPEGS are much better!

Fortunately the JPEG output of the Quattro I find really quite nice and  I am increasingly happy with what the out of camera JPEGS are capable of.  They are much more usable than previous sigma JPEG's:  The shadow areas are more nuanced and the overall image is better balanced and more 'modern' which makes it possible to accept the JPEG version as actually usable in many more situations

The improvement to the JPEG in my opinion is such that the Quattro a practical (HiFi) snap shot camera, and even when dealing with lots of images for commercial projects it's a better proposition than earlier generations of Foveon sensors: I really like working with it and the file quality is certainly good enough for general if not exhibition use.     


 

Does the improvement of the JPEG mean the Quattro is viable?  

This has to be personal but I would say YES! In my photography I want to be able to use JPEG pictures most of the time and devote time to the special pictures that deserve more time in the 'darkroom'    

 

Sigma DP2 Quattro ISO100 f4.5 1/400 sec  OOC JPEG (Note the Reds are actually, well, red!)


DP2Q Quattro - GOOD

  • Good Focus Speed / Accuracy
  • Vastly improved JPEGS
  • Quirky Body (I like!)
  • Understated stealth.
  • Retained menu and operation
  • Foveon 'look'

DP2Q Quattro - BAD

  • Rubber flap over SD Card
  • No Iridient Alternative to Sigma Photo Pro
  • VERY unstable Software
  • Still no built in optical Finder 
  • Relatively slow write speed
  • Lack of Quattro X3F RAW adoption.

Sigma DP2Q Quattro Summary

The new DP2 quattro file format is still not supported by the majority photo processors, but the JPEG's have improved markedly making the camera much more usable.  I find that it's good in the hand, faster to use and produces really lovely images straight from the camera.  It is better up to ISO800 and usable beyond.  I've heard it argued that the absence of X3F support by Iridient is a reason to stay with the Merrill.  I would argue that the JPEG's are good enough reason alone to change!  

Sigma DP2 Quattro ISO 100  f5.6   1/250 sec OOC JPEG


Fujifilm X100s

There is so much to like about the X100s.  Millionsof words have been written about the technical side of the camera so I will just offer so thoughts from my experience with the x100s .  However, I have owned a Fuji X-Pro, Two X100's and believe it or not two X100s's.  So why do I keep buying into the idea (and, more to the point,  then selling them)?

I love the low light performance.  I like the viewfinder, the direct control of shutter speed and aperture.  It's a very good picture making machine.  There are only three issues for me.  

  • The image quality is not as good as a well exposed and processed X3F file (It's brilliant but just not as detailed etc).  And I know that, and it's in the back of my head every time I press the shutter or indeed go to the shelf to select the camera 'de jour'.  
  • The size of the X100s is neither as 'compact' as the GR or the RX100M2 are both much more pocket friendly and offer broadly similar image quality at a range of ISO's.  
  • I may have had an odd example (or two) of the X100s, but I found that when I switched the camera on after with hibernate or being switched off, it was horribly slow to be ready to take a picture.  The first frame after waking I found the focus would hunt, and not seem to confirm focus.  Off and back on again and it was ok, sometimes.  It was fine when it was left switched on, and indeed after the first few frames - but I found this tedious and not something I've read about elsewhere.  So maybe mine was malfunctioning - it did mean that I grew to dislike using it for street/casual work where the camera was switched off between photo opportunities. I missed a 

Size Matters

Taking the X100s out is a conscious decision.  You know you've got it with you.  Now before the Ricoh GR, that wasn't that much of a problem. The choice was obvious if conditions were not perfect, if you needed higher quality images for print.  The previous Ricoh GR's we good but relatively crude from an image point of view.  (I've owned every one of the digital GR's so feel able to comment)  Brilliantly rounded as ergonomic picture taking tools but let down by a little sensor pushed well beyond the rational limit of it's physical dimensions and it showed in the pictures.  

Things changed with the Ricoh GR and suddenly the X100s had a viable, serious competitor for low key, high quality photography. Suddenly the X100s had a much smaller camera producing images that were to all intents and purposes as good (if not better).

There are many reasons to love the X100s.  But the fact is, it is not coming out nearly as often since the GR arrived, which tells it's own story.    


Fuji X100s - Good

  • Style
  • Viewfinder
  • Dials - Direct Access
  • Lens & Sensor
  • High ISO Performance
  • Brilliant fill in flash balance
  • JPEG Images
  • Ease and Speed of use.

 

Fuji X100s - Bad

  • Auto Focus really irritates.
  • Slow to wake and react.
  • Shutter Release weight (Personal taste)
  • Lens cap OR Lens Hood OR Case
  • Size & Weight.... compared to Ricoh GR!
  • Very conspicuous

 


X100S Summary

Capable of wonderful pictures, punchy JPEGS and with a clever viewfinder, there is much to like about the Fuji.  For me and the photographs I like to make, the Ricoh GR overlapped on File quality, speed of operation, moderate ISO performance but is smaller, lighter, and provokes less reaction in my subjects.  


 

 I am still working on this article and will publish the SD1 and RX100M2 components in the next few days as well as the conclusion and sample images.

13/08/2014 updated and revised 16/08/2014