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Sigma's DP series of compact point-and-shoots has always been capable of stunning image quality, but they have generally been bricks without the most inspired design. When we last got our hands on the DP3 Merrill, for instance, we were impressed by the quality from Sigma's Foveon sensor, but abysmal battery life, poor responsiveness, and a complete lack of grip were all big letdowns.
Those concerns have all been addressed with the new line of DP Quattro cameras, beginning with the DP2 Quattro. Autofocus is greatly improved, continuous shooting times are a little more usable, and the battery life has more than doubled.
As for the handling? Well... that's an interesting question. If you wanted a grip, you've certainly got plenty of that. The Quattro looks as though the designers took the DP2 Merrill and added a long angular grip to the side, stretching the whole camera out horizontally, like putting an addition on your house.
It's an eye-catching design that we simply had to get our hands on, so we flew all the way to CP+ 2014 in Yokohama, Japan to try this oddity out for ourselves.
The first thing you'll notice about the Quattro is its completely out-of-the-ordinary shape. The camera has a wide, relatively thin body with a grip that bends backwards at about a 45-degree angle. The grip is essentially the same size you'd see on any other camera, except that it's positioned almost on the back side of the camera, rather than sitting on the front for your fingers to wrap around.
On the one hand, this does keep your wrist in a more natural position. On the other, it just feels really weird. It also seems like the grip was simply stitched onto the side of an existing body. The camera is quite a bit wider than you might expect, making the buttons on the back difficult to reach if you don't have long thumbs. If most cameras are widescreen, the DP2 Quattro is anamorphic.
Beyond the generally odd shape, the Quattro's design is actually quite similar to previous DP2 models. The controls are roughly the same, the menu is the same, and the build quality is still excellent. The camera has a robust heft, the materials feel premium if not plush, and there's clearly been quite a lot of attention paid to making the dials and buttons feel just right. But the grip's simply not going to work for most people.
From a usability perspective, if you can reach the controls, then the camera isn't that bad to use. The Sigma menu is logically laid out, there are plenty of advanced controls to take advantage of, and the camera operates well. Also, the improved internal processing is a big help across the board. Navigating those menus, focusing on objects at various distances, and shooting semi-continuously all went off without a hitch. While the body design may turn plenty of people off, at least Sigma has honed the rest of the experience nicely.
While the Quattro's body design is the main talking point, the camera also has a redesigned Foveon sensor that might be even more interesting.
Unlike most digital cameras—which use a single sensor with an arrangement of pixels sensitive to blue, red, or green light—Sigma's cameras use a technology called Foveon. This special sensor has three layers, with each layer sensitive to either red, green, or blue. This way the camera has color information from all three channels at every point in the frame. The result is generally a very sharp, very large image.
Previous Foveon sensors used three identical layers for red, green, and blue. With the Quattro, the sensor has a high resolution 20-megapixel blue layer on top, with two 4.9-megapixel green and red layers underneath. The top layer provides the majority of the detail, while the bottom two layers have larger pixels that are used to interpret color information. At least, that's what we're guessing. Sigma's information on the new Foveon pegs the maximum RAW resolution at 19.6 megapixels, the maximum JPEG output at 25.3 megapixels, the "equivalent" resolution at 39 megapixels, the "total pixels" at 33 megapixels... So, the message is a little mixed here.
Either way, the major drawback of all the Foveon sensors to this point is the sheer volume of data collected with each shot. This tends to result in slow autofocus and anemic continuous shooting speeds. The DP2 Quattro has improved on both of those points, though, resulting in a much more pleasurable shooting experience. While official specs are not yet available, on the show floor at CP+ autofocus was very usable and we were able to get what seemed like a 2-3fps burst for a maximum of around four shots.
Beyond the image sensor, the new Quattro lineup is equipped with most of the features standard for the modern high-end compact. In terms of hardware, it has a 3-inch, 921k-dot rear LCD that is bright and crisp. It probably won't stand up to direct light on a sunny day, but for reviewing images or establishing proper focus it provides plenty of resolution. There's no viewfinder here, which is a shame, though the camera does have a hot shoe on top for adding flashes and other accessories.
Around front you'll also find a 30mm (45mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens with 9 aperture blades. It's the same lens that was on the DP2 Merrill, so we expect the same remarkably sharp performance from corner to corner.
There are three DP Quattro cameras in total: the DP1, DP2, and the DP3. The DP1 Quattro and DP3 Quattro are identical to the DP2 in every way except the lens. The DP1 will come with a 19mm (28mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens, while the DP3 will offer a 50mm (75mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens.
For all three models, there's also a very nice focus ring around the lens that has just the right amount of resistance. Combined with the camera's focus assist zoom it's easy to lock onto your subject manually, especially for moving targets where the autofocus simply can't do the job.
The Quattro models will also see vastly improved battery life when compared to previous DP-series compacts. Sigma's reps claim that the new battery is capable of up to 200 shots by CIPA ratings. That's not a lot, but it's far, far better than the 80 or so shots promised by the battery with the DP3 Merrill. We'd still recommend picking up a spare, but that's nothing new to Sigma owners.
Let's get this part out of the way: There are lots of reasons to dislike the Sigma Quattro series. The grip is bulky and awkwardly angled, the camera itself is too wide to fit in your pocket or be easily controlled, and the continuous shooting speed and autofocus are still slower than average. We also don't have any idea on price yet. But that doesn't really matter.
The new Quattro cameras are a showcase for Foveon sensor technology. They're not going to appeal to most people, but they're simply not designed to do that. It's different, it's quirky, and it's meant to turn heads. There's simply no way you'd walk past this thing on a store shelf and not stop and pick it up. It's eye-catching.
And for that reason we have to applaud Sigma's bold design decisions. Why release another boring camera? There are plenty of those already. The DP2 Quattro may not have universal appeal, but it's got chutzpah. While it would be a shame if this design keeps people from enjoying what is possibly a much better Foveon sensor, at least Sigma's thinking is (way, way) outside the box.
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