“Street” Review : The Sigma DP2

This review is about love and hate.

Yes, you are on the right page and I will talk about a camera, but THIS camera is a real controversal one.

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THE HISTORY

Well, there aren’t tons of news to know about this little gem.

Back in the 2008 Sigma, a really good lenses producer, decided to put their amazing sensor, the Foveon, in a really small black body.

They created the Sigma DP1, with an equivalent 28mm f4 lens.

Sigma previously developed this strange sensor with some DSLR, the SD camera system; probably this company was one of the first in the world to place an APS-C sized sensor in such a small body with such a great lens.

Then the sigma DP2  was released in the 2009. This time, they attached an equivalent 41mm f2.8 lens.

After that moment, they produced some variations, called DP2S and DP2x, claiming for faster autofocus and better performance.

I think it’s not true.

In 2012, they released a new (this time a really new) version, called DP2 Merril.

But let’s go back to the DP2 i owned.

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SPECS

The camera is really small. You can carry it with you anytime, without any problem.

I can clearly remember that when i received it I was amazed by how small it was, and that’s amazing considering it houses a sensor as big as those enormous Canonikonecc DSLRs.

It has a lot of buttons on the back and that’s nice, since you can customize quickly Iso, af\mf mode, metering, Raw\jpeg output, AEL\AFL and so on.

It also has a really useful mechanical manual focus ring; i will talk about using it later.

When i bought it i was searching for a super stealthy, all-black, no-sounds and high quality output camera for street photography.

This sounds like a dream camera, but using it was more similar to a nightmare.

Reading you will understand why.

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THE SHOOTING EXPERIENCE

Luckily, i bought the camera with some extra accessories, including a non-original optical viewfinder.

In fact, i knew that its autofocus was slow, but actually it is R-E-A-L-L-Y slow.

It’s simply unusable for street shooting.

So, when i shooted with the DP2 i used the zone focusing mode:  optical viewfinder, LCD off, f8 or similar aperture and MF set to 3 meters, with appropriate ISO,  just like a rangefinder camera.

If subject gets closer, with my thumb I can change the MF distance in a breeze.

This is the utility of the MF ring on the back of the camera; this function lacks in a lot of compact cameras, including Fuji x100 that needs a lot of turning of the ring on the lens to achieve a good MF change – not a comfortable thing while shooting the street.

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But here come the first trouble, the (not so)”high” ISO performance.

DP2 produces AMAZING results at 100-200 iso, and when i say AMAZING i mean that the photos can compare even with the digital Leicas with a good lens.

BUT… after 400 ISO, quality it’s gone.

Yes, you can convert your 800 ISO shots to a nice B&W, but color really sucks and, if not properly exposed, files are shitty.

1600 ISO is quite unusable too. Please don’t try going to 3200.

And NO! It doesn’t look like film grain – as a lot of “photographers” tends to call digital noise.

So, if i can’t use without problems 400-800 ISO on a street camera that needs it – since using zone focusing requires little f aperture – is it still useful to me?

The answer is…after a lot of thoughts is…NO, it isn’t!

Simply it isn’t a suitable street companion.

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Another bad thing is battery life. It just covers 1-2 hours of shooting, with the LCD set to off!!! I needed to carry 4 spare batteries; it’s not good to change a battery when you are immersed in the street, trying to connect with the subjects and find nice moments. It’s a stress!

Also, you must leave ON the camera all the time that you are shooting…because start-up time is also SLOW.

The start up, with the extension of the lens, was a nightmare.

Every time seemed that the camera was breaking. Fortunately it didn’t occur.

Another bad thing, not too bad for me since i’m used to the slow film shooting style, is the slow writing speed on the card.

If you shot 3 photos, the camera can’t shoot for about 5 seconds, and you know that those seconds probably may contain a decisive moment.

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All those things will – if you don’t do a lot of practice – probably led you to blurry shot, with wrong focus and , the worst thing, missing shots.

A good thing is the small shutter lag, you don’t notice it (obviously when shooting in MF mode). The shutter button isn’t that nice, since sometimes didn’t work after i pressed it.

The best thing about this camera is probably the lens.

This little 40mm 2.8 equivalent is capable of VERY sharp photos even at the widest aperture.

In post production you don’t need to add sharpness, sometimes i even REDUCED it!

It also has a pleasing out of focus rendition, smooth i’d say.

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The second best thing is the sensor – if we consider 100 and 200 ISO as I said before – that delivers amazing quality files.

In fact, it has a WIDE dinamic range…i mean it can recover also the blown highlights and that sounds CRAZY in digital photography.

Why?

The sensor is different from the classic bayer array that almost every camera use.

It is only 5 megapixels (!!!) but it’s made of 3 layers, just like a color film, so you will have one green, one red and one blue channel information for EVERY pixel of the photo.

Some people even compares those results to a medium format camera, I don’t know if it’s true since i never used them, but, as you can see from the sample, surely those images really POP out.

The sensor also lacks of a anti-aliasing filter; this means that the sensor read all the sharpness of the lens, without any intermediate filter.

But this has his negative things…and guess what? The high ISO rendition that i mentioned before.

Well, you can’t have everything with this camera.

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Achieving the best results from a file from this sensor needs longer times than usual.

Usually (i always shoot raw when using digital) i go home, I look at the photos i took, I select the best and then I open it with Photoshop.

I set all the parameters to zero in Camera Raw, I open it and then I simply work on the image.

You can do this workflow even with the Sigma DP2 but if you want quality – and you want it – you must:

– Open the raw file with Sigma Pro Photo

– Adjust exposure, sharpness, contrast, highlights and basic things

-Export as Tiff

-Open the Tiff in PS

-Work on the photo

This mean a lot of time wasted, since the Sigma software is really slow.

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CONCLUSION

Sigma DP2 is NOT a good street camera, unless you use it in really bright light with low ISO, since for REAL street shooting with this camera you must use the zone focusing mode i mentioned before.

BUT if you don’t do street photography, you don’t shoot moving subjects and you need a travel camera… I absolutely recommend it.

I think that the DP1 and DP2 are amazing tools for the landscape photographers.

The results will be amazing, at a ridicolous price.

MORE SAMPLES

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Thanks a lot!

Peace,

Giorgio

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9 thoughts on ““Street” Review : The Sigma DP2

  1. Complimenti per il blog
    Analizzi vari aspetti e diverse modalità d’uso
    Di questa macchina…

    Aspettiamo Un nuovo blog

  2. Your conclusion that it isn’t a good street camera is not supported by your fine street photos. The camera must be at least somewhat capable otherwise you would not have achieved what you have shown here. I have been street shooting with the dp2 and dp2 merrill for some time and I am in fact able to use it as such, albeit it has it’s limitations as you have mentioned. There are many street shooting styles and this camera accommodates at least one of those styles.

    1. Ciao Mark and thanks for passing by! 🙂
      Of course I agree when you say that this camera has some capabilities and that it accomodates some street shooting styles.
      On the other hand i think that one can shoot in the street with every camera if you know how to use it and what you want to obtain.
      There are a lot of faster camera that will help you better to catch the “perfect moment” so I am still convinced that the DP2 is not a good “street” camera.
      Peace,
      Giorgio

  3. I’ve just bought a 2nd hand DP1x primarily for street. I’m used to zone focusing and shooting blind. The manual focus dial sounds perfect. I think I can accept its limitations if I use it as a backup camera for scenes with tricky lighting. I’m drawn by its high dynamic range and sharpness. My Fuji X-A1 and Panasonic GX7 can struggle in tricky light and I hope this camera can fill the gap, producing a more realistic shot. I’ll find out soon!

      1. Yes, I really like the files and I think the camera is just fast enough. In continous mode you can get 3 raw shots and the wait before you can shoot again isn’t too long imo. I’m looking out for a DP2s or DP2x to compliment it now. I’d consider a Merril but the 46MB files is overkill for my needs and I think post work on files of that size would drive me nuts. Maybe I could use a Merril at a lower quality setting and be happy – I’ll look into that. Check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/normanjshearer/ to see my DP1x work.

      2. Ciao Norman! Thanks for letting us know about your feelings. Your flickr pics looks really nice: quality is great. Looks like you are pulling out the best from your little DP!
        Have a great day!

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