Sigma DP2 review: Sigma DP2

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The Good Excellent characteristics for shooting in black and white; compact; nice manual controls.

The Bad Slow AF system; short battery life; stiff shutter button; some interface annoyances; occasional lockups; poor white balance; overly blue LCD screen; poor video capture.

The Bottom Line The Sigma DP2 doesn't really live up to the promise of its Foveon sensor, but it does excel for shooting in black and white photos.

6.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 5
  • Image quality 7

It's always difficult reviewing cameras like the Sigma DP2, a fairly niche product that inspires fierce loyalty in its devotes. A compact, pocketable camera designed to appeal to enthusiast and fine art photographers, the DP2 joins models like the Canon PowerShot G10 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 targeting a relatively small market but one that is passionate about image quality. Unlike its competitors, though, Sigma doesn't do a very good job of balancing the camera's left- and right-brain appeal. On one side, the camera renders smooth, filmlike photos with a broad tonal range and attractive noise characteristics for shooting in black and white. But on the other you have a slow, occasionally ineffective autofocus system, desaturated and inconsistent colors on mid- to high-ISO sensitivity images, short battery life, and the occasional freeze-up.

The DP2's simple, relatively straightforward design lends itself to a fluid shooting experience--once you know where to find everything and how the menu navigation works. Its compact body is still a little heavier and thicker than the LX3, but it's still smaller and lighter than most other alternatives, and will still fit comfortably in a jacket pocket. It feels sturdy and well-built.

Key comparative specs Olympus E-P1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 Sigma DP2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 4.7-megapixel Foveon CMOS 10.1-megapixel CCD
17.3mm x 13mm 17.3mm x 13mm 20.7mm x 13.8mm 1/1.63-inch
Color depth 12 bits n/a 12 bits n/a
Lens n/a n/a 24.2mm f2.8 (41mm equivalent) 24-60mm f2.0-2.8
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 1,600 ISO 80 - ISO 3,200
Focal-length multiplier 2x 2x 1.7x n/a
Continuous shooting 3fps
n/a JPEG/10 raw
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
4 JPEG/3 raw
4 JPEG/3 raw
Viewfinder Optional hot-shoe optical (with 17mm lens) Electronic Optional hot-shoe optical Optional hot-shoe optical
Autofocus 11-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 9-area contrast AF n/a
Metering 324 zone 144 zone n/a n/a
Shutter 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes 15-1/2000 sec 60-1/2000 sec; n/a
Closest focus n/a n/a 10.8 inches 0.4 inch
LCD 230,000 dots, 3-inch fixed 460,000 dots, 3-inch articulated 230,000 dots, 2.5-inch fixed 460,000 dots, 3-inch fixed
Video (max resolution at 30fps) 1,280x720 Motion JPEG AVI None 320x240 AVI 848x480 Motion JPEG MOV
Battery life (CIPA rating) 300 shots 300 shots 250 shots 380 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.7x 2.8x1.4 4.9x 3.3x1.8 4.5x 2.3x2.2 4.3x 2.3 x1.1
Weight (ounces) 13.9 15.1 10.3 9.1
Mfr. Price $749.99 (body) n/a $649 $499.95
$799.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $799.95 (with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens)    
$899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens and optical viewfinder)      

Atop the camera is a typical mode dial which switches you into the manual and semimanual exposure modes (PASM), movie capture, sound recording (limited only by the capacity of the card). Unsurprisingly, the DP2 lacks an automatic shooting mode. There's a dedicated setup entry on the mode dial, which contains most of the settings you rarely change. Unfortunately, that's where Sigma chose to bury the media format option, making formatting a pain. On the other hand, the dedicated manual focus dial, located just above the thumb rest, works very well as a focus control.

To the right of the small 2.5-inch LCD sit a variety of buttons, most unhelpfully labeled in black-on-black; you really do need to at least scan the thin manual to figure out how everything works. The three buttons on the left are for AEL (autoexposure lock), middle QS (Quick Set) and Menu; and the two bottom buttons are playback and display options. The only direct-access controls are for focus and focus-point selection.

The DP2 offers three groups of custom settings, which is a useful feature to have, but the information display for them is quite busy and difficult for quickly figuring out which set to load.

A few notable capabilities in the otherwise basic feature set include an intervalometer (various preset durations ranging from 30 seconds to 24 hours for various numbers of frames up to infinite); still photo with sound; and the ability to change button assignments.

The QS button pulls up a two page virtual control pad. Each of the squares tells you where you are in that setting's options and how many you have to scroll through. The first page lets you set flash, ISO, white balance, and metering parameters. Hitting the QS button again offers up image size and quality, drive modes, and color presets. But navigating these settings can be a trifle annoying. For instance, to set the ISO sensitivity, you cycle through via the Up button. When trying to change from a higher ISO to a lower one, I often accidentally hit Down, which would then change the white balance. If it weren't for that need to constantly overcome reflexive responses, I'd really like this method of navigating.

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