There’s nothing new about prestige compacts. Manufacturers have been making these fixed-lens cameras for years. But keen to stand out from the crowd is Sigma’s DP2 Quattro, which completely transforms the architecture of conventional-looking cameras. Its large, angular grip is sure to turn heads. Building on its predecessor – called the Merrill – there’s some pretty serious internal upgrades too. This includes a new processor and a refreshed Foveon sensor – the world’s only image capture system to use a 3-layer sensor with vertical colour separation. Let’s see how it all works and whether it’s worth the £900 investment.
Features & Build
Under the magnesium alloy body you’ll find the unique Foveon X3 Quattro direct image sensor. It’s made up of three layers of photodiodes, and each of these responds to a different RGB colour. As a result, every pixel records the hue, brightness value and chrominance of the light hitting it.
The name ‘Quattro’ refers to the sensor; the top blue layer is made up of four sections to capture the resolution, brightness and the colour data. The green and red layers aren’t divided up and only record colour. Images should be razor-sharp as the Foveon sensor has no Optical Low-Pass Filter (OLPF) to introduce any blurring. You can see how it performed in our Image Quality panel (below).
Sigma claims that owing to its unique construction, the sensor’s performance is equivalent to the quality you’d get from a regular sensor with a 39Mp resolution. But the actual output when opening a RAW file is 19.6Mp. This is obtained from the top blue layer of the sensor, with the green and red layers providing 4.9Mp of colour data each.
RAW files can be shot in 14-bit, but there’s also the option to record Super-High JPEGs, which upscale the output twofold from the actual 5424x3616 pixels to a 39Mp file measuring 7680x 5120 pixels. Building on its predecessor’s TRUE (Three-layer Responsive Ultimate Engine) II image processing engine, the Quattro gets the latest TRUE III engine.
The Quattro bears a close resemblance to a CSC, and it almost feels like it should be, as the soon-to-come versions with fixed 19mm and 50mm lenses are sure to put a dent in your wallet if you want all three focal lengths. The lens on this first release is fixed at 30mm with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, and it can focus as close as 28cm.
On top you’ll find the hotshoe, power and mode buttons as well as twin command dials for making adjustments quickly. These have been placed on top of the grip with the shutter release integrated into the front dial.
On the back and you’ll find the 3in 920k-dot LCD. This is for composing shots and reviewing pictures, as there’s no viewfinder. Here, the nine resizable AF points can be put to use, with Contrast-detect AF employed to lock on to subjects.
Core shooting settings remain untouched, with an ISO range of 100-6400 and shutter speeds spanning from 30secs to 1/2000sec. Video recording has been left on the drawing board and isn’t part of the Quattro’s feature list.
The Quattro’s dimensions (161.4x67x81.6mm) make it practically the same height as the Merill. But it’s 4cm wider thanks to the large handgrip, and 2.2cm deeper due to a more pronounced lens and grip that extends behind the display.
Performance & Handling
The DP2 Quattro should be comfortable to hold, as it has taken on a striking new handgrip design. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. With your right hand grasping the handgrip, the lack of any cushioning is very apparent. The ergonomics leave your middle finger rubbing against the angular, metal edge at the front. The new handgrip makes the Quattro awkward to hand-hold – especially with one hand – and you’re forced into shooting with a two-handed grip. But this a minor issue as we found it comfortable to rest our other hand around the lens barrel. On the rear, the natural place your thumb falls is where the D-Pad has been positioned, and this is used for navigating menus and adjusting focus settings.
Sigma’s claims of a solid yet lightweight construction certainly ring true as the Quattro feels very durable. Just nine AF points to play with feels a little on the low side for a Contrast-detect system, as most cameras in this bracket will allow you to place the active AF point wherever you want it in the frame. But the AF point size can be changed, which is useful. The Contrast-detect AF proved quite slow, taking a moment to find its target.
The twin command dials and lens focusing ring give the Quattro the feel of a D-SLR, and made fine-tuning settings both quick and easy.
The controls and interface are simple, minimalist and well thought out. Scrimping on external buttons here isn’t a bad thing as everything essential is within easy reach. The interface is clean and logical with nothing hidden away inside the menus.
Sigma claims its new TRUE III image processor has evolved in step with its Foveon direct image sensor. But the performance was very slow in our tests. With our 95MB/s PNY SDHC card inserted a single RAW took 5.28secs to write to the card, and a single JPEG took 5.14secs. If you want to use the Super High JPEG setting, this took a pedestrian 7.07secs to write a single file. The Quattro can record seven JPEGs or RAWs in a burst at 3.5fps. But it took a lengthy 26.6secs to write seven JPEGs, 28.83secs to record RAWs and a painful 45.4secs to clear the buffer with Super High JPEGs. There’s no continuous AF either, so if you miss the moment in a burst of shots you’re left waiting for what seems ages.
Value for Money
The Quattro’s launch price of £899 seems steep, though it’s likely to fall as discounting kicks in over the next few months (the previous Merrill is still available at £649). In terms of rivals, Ricoh’s GR won our prestige compact group test last June, and has some features that trump the Quattro. Full HD video, 1230k-dot LCD, better high ISO performance and a much lower price of £499 make it worth considering.
The Quattro is bold in its design, sports a great, sharp lens and delivers vibrant, high quality images provided you keep the ISO low. But its ergonomics don’t make it particularly comfortable to hold, and the price is steep.
The Quattro sports a radical design that will turn heads and the optical quality of the 30mm f/2.8 prime lens is seriously sharp. But at £899, we wouldn’t expect anything less. The DP2 isn’t a camera with many bells or whistles; there’s no video, only 9 AF points, a restricted ISO performance and write times are very sluggish. But if you’re happy to shoot slowly and use low ISO values, the DP2 is great for capturing vivid colours.
- Street price: £649 (As of July 2016)
- Resolution: Upto 39Mp (7,680x5,120px)
- Format: RAW 19.6Mp 5424x3616, Super-High JPEG 39Mp 7680x5120
- Sensor: Foveon X3 DIS CMOS (23.5x15.7mm)
- ISO range: 100-6400
- Shutter: 30-1/2000sec
- AF system: Contrast detection
- Focusing modes: Manual Focus, AF & MF, Speed priority, Face detection
- Metering: Evaluative, Center-Weighted and Spot
- Burst rate: 3.5fps
- Monitor: 3in, 920k-dot TFT LCD
- Viewfinder: No
- Pop-up flash: No Hotshoe: Yes
- Video: Not available
- Write speeds: 5.3secs RAW, 7.07secs Super-High JPEG
- Storage: SD, SDHC and SDXC
- Weight: 410g (body only)
- Dimensions: (WxHxD) 161.4x67x81.6mm
- Visit: www.sigma-imaging-uk.com
This review was first published in the October 2014 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.