Gimme sugar. This little compact with an unusually big sensor takes really
sweet photos. But satisfying that craving doesn't come cheap.
Given the tight space of a compact, Sigma faced its greatest challenge in designing the DP1's 16.6mm f/4 wide-angle lens (a 28mm equivalent). The short distance between the lens and sensor in a compact can magnify distortion, chromatic aberrations, and vignetting.
Sigma kept such problems to a minimum. The lens is sophisticated, with six elements in four groups, and Super Multi Layer Coating technology to reduce distortion and chromatic aberrations. Also, the DP1's sensor pixels include microlenses to focus light toward the edges of the sensor, minimizing light falloff. Plus, the sensor's size means that depth of field is shallower than on other compacts, a good thing for portraits.
In our Lab tests using DxO Analyzer 3.1 software, the DP1 lens captured images with only Slight barrel distortion and minimal light falloff (just noticeable at f/4 but gone by f/5.6). Impressive for a wide-angle compact, even with a fixed lens.
The optional VF-11 optical viewfinder ($149, street), though cute mounted on the hot-shoe, was no real match for this lens, due to its visible barrel distortion and lack of parallax markings. Compose using the 2.5-inch, 230,000- dot LCD instead.
Unlike many of its competitors, the DP1 lacks image stabilization, so its sharpness can be offset by camera shake at slow shutter speeds. And the maximum f/4 aperture cuts its low-light capability further.
Don't expect the pop-up flash to bail you out in low light or backlight. It's fairly low-powered, and when it's up, or when you use the optional dedicated flash ($79, street), it fires on every shot regardless of the ambient light -- there's no true auto function with flash, so it's similar to setting forced or fill flash.
We like the flash compensation control, with ±3 EV levels in 1/3-step increments. But redeye-reduction is painfully slow, taking more than 3 sec (and four flashes) from shutter press.
All of the DP1's closest competitors have faster, more sophisticated AF. The 9-zone contrast-detection system allows you to select zones using menus, but it's sluggish. The LCD freezes when you press the shutter, and doesn't return to live view until focus is achieved, a delay of about 1 second.
There are two AF settings -- one for close focusing to infinity, and the other for scenics and long distance. You also can control focus with a dial. This might be more useful for street photography and capturing fleeting expressions during a portrait shoot, since it bypasses the AF delay. But with a 28mm lens and 11.8 inches as its closest focusing distance, the DP1 isn't ideal for macro or close-up work.
In continuous-shooting mode, the DP1 captures 3 Fine-quality JPEGs in 1 second, though the screen blacks out during the burst, followed by another delay of 10 seconds for the buffer to clear and you can shoot again. Also, the AF doesn't track a moving subject or change the focus distance during the burst. In single shot RAW capture, each shot takes 12 seconds to store.
Editor's note: Due to an operational error, we originally reported that there was no burst mode when shooting raw images. In fact, the DP1 fires 3 raw frames in one second, and then takes 23 seconds to store them before enabling the next shot or sequence.
The DP1 sets a new standard for image quality in a compact camera, especially at ISO 400 and 800. Its fixed 28mm-equivalent f/4 lens has incredibly low distortion and minimal light falloff that adds to image quality.
Now, if only it had a faster AF system, shorter delays between single JPEG and RAW shots, a more sophisticated pop-up flash, and an image-stabilized zoom lens, the DP1's potential could go well beyond cult favorite to mainstream popularity.