Update 6-11-2014: Sigma announced that the dp2 Quattro will be available in early August 2014, for $999. Pricing and availability for the dp1 and dp3 will come later.
The Sigma name may be better known for its lenses, but the company has a lineup of niche compact cameras too. The company just announced a new series, called the dp Quattro, that produces 30-percent higher resolution that its predecessor, the dp Merrill. Unlike most compact cameras that try to be jack-of-all-trade devices, the dp Quattro’s are more complex in their design, performance, and usability; if you’re into making movies with your digital cameras, or using auto scene modes and creative filters, you should go somewhere else. For users willing to deal with the intricacies of Sigma’s cameras, however, they will be treated to one thing: still photos with great image quality. (Notice that Sigma is now lower-casing the “dp” in the name, although we aren’t sure why, other than for stylistic reasons.)
Like the dp Merrill, the first feature that gets your attention is most likely the large lens attached – naturally, for a company that makes lenses. But for the dp Quattro Sigma has foregone the typical camera design for a slim, wedge-like form-factor with a unique handgrip that juts out (see the photos). Sigma says “the camera body offers a balanced shape, layout, and weight distribution.” Controls are minimal, with a few buttons, two dials, and an LCD.
Inside the body is a redesigned version of Sigma’s Foveon APS-C-sized X3 CMOS sensor and the new, faster TRUE III image processor. Here’s what’s different about the Foveon: The sensor uses a “vertical color separation technology” that has three separate layers that correspond to red, green, and blue (RGB) colors, which Sigma calls “the world’s only direct image sensor.” Because the sensor is able to capture all three colors at once – as oppose to a traditional sensor that uses a single RGB filter that assigns each pixel to one of three colors – “the Foveon direct image sensor captures color vertically, recording hue, value, and chroma accurately and completely for each pixel,” Sigma says; there’s no need for color filters or low-pass filters necessary, and there’s no need for software to fill in missing color information, as all the color information gathered is complete. The end-result is a sensor that captures better image quality. Sigma says the camera delivers image quality that’s medium format-level; we aren’t so sure of that until we see the photos, but compared to the dp3 Merrill we reviewed, image quality is close to full frame – really good for an APS-C-sized sensor. (The top layer is divided into four quadrants, hence the name of the camera.)
The 29-megapixel sensor is far from medium format or full frame, but it’s much higher than many compacts that use a similar-size sensor. How Sigma achieves this goes back to the three-layer system: the top captures at 20 megapixels, which the middle and bottom layers capture at nearly 5 megapixels. This design allows the sensor to get the higher resolution while allowing for faster image processing and lower power consumption. As for the image processor, Sigma’s “proprietary algorithm makes possible ultrafast processing of an immense volume of image data without any deterioration of the final images,” the company says. “The result is high-definition, 3D-like photographs with outstandingly rich color detail.” As for the rest of the camera, the Quattro shoots RAW files, and has an ISO range of 100-6,400, 9-point constrast-detect autofocus system with face detection, bright 3-inch LCD rated 920k dots, and manual focusing. Again, no extras like movies or auto modes – Sigma is designing this for photography enthusiasts.
The dp Quattro series will consist of three models: the dp1 with a 28mm fixed focal length, dp2 at 45mm, and dp3 at 75mm (all 35mm equivalent). All lenses have an aperture range of f/2.8-16, with the dp1 and dp2 having a nine-blade diaphragm and a seven-blade diaphragm in the dp3. Lens construction is nine elements in eight groups (dp1), eight elements in six groups (dp2), and 10 elements in eight groups (dp3). In case you were wondering, they are not interchangeable.
Sigma hasn’t announced availability or pricing for the dp1 and dp3 yet, but says the dp2 will be the first model available (shown in the images) in August, for $999. The cameras will make their official debut at the CP+ camera show in Japan. Sigma is making big claims about image quality from a compact camera, but judging from our time with its predecessor, we can say that Sigma isn’t lying – its Foveon processors are capable of delivering really great image quality. And, just because it isn’t filled with bells and whistles, don’t expect it be cheap either. We just hope Sigma has improved upon the shortcomings of the Merrill.
(This article was originally posted on February 11, 2014)