DP1 Processing and Write Speeds

21 03 2008

I have to confess that I was disappointed when I read PopPhoto’s recent DP1 review. PopPhoto gave the DP1 high marks for image quality, which is to be expected, but the review mentioned some timing issues that made me cringe. After all, usability is a major concern for me; if I don’t enjoy using the camera, then I simply won’t use it.

PopPhoto reports that the autofocus system is not very fast, although they aren’t very specific. This brings to mind my old Nikon Coolpix 5400, which was a decent enough camera, but it was slow when focusing and that drove me crazy. Several times I just wanted to throw the camera against a wall when I missed a shot because the AF was slowly going in and out and not making a decision.

But what really stood out for me was PopPhoto’s numbers on the processing and write speeds. The review says it takes about 12 seconds to store a RAW image. 12 seconds! Furthermore, it takes 23 seconds to store a burst of three images.

Those times are completely unacceptable for things like street photography. As I look through my negatives from back in my film days, how may times do I find a good photo that was taken a second or two after one that’s not as good? This happens all the time; you see a scene coming together, you grab a shot, and a second or two later the scene really comes together so you grab another shot – and it’s that second shot that you use.

Woe betide the DP1 user who can only stand there grimacing while the greatest photo opportunity he’s ever seen passes before him as his camera lies limp in his hand, processing an image.

Airgue-Mortes band

This is the second frame; the one before it was boring (click for larger version).

On the other hand, Carl Rytterfalk has published an eight minute YouTube video (and related blog post) in which he implies the camera is faster than the timings we get from PopPhoto. Carl does a three shot RAW burst, and the images process and write in about (by my rough count) 13 seconds. That’s still a long time, but it was a three shot burst. He goes on to say that the wait time for single shots is about four seconds. Still not great, but better than 12 seconds.

I was very discouraged by the PopPhoto review (with regard to timings), but watching Carl use the camera in his video has restored my interest.

Here’s Carl’s YouTube review. Visit his blog for further details and discussion.

Update! In a later blog post, Carl gives some more precise numbers, using a slow SD card and a fast one. What a difference! 10 seconds with the slow card and 2.5 seconds with the fast one!

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21 responses

22 03 2008
aurin

The timing is crucial so when i mentioned this to the finnish importer he immediately told that he would replace the type 2 with type 3 cards in his dp1 introductory bundle to be shipped this week

I find it disturbing that a review site uses cheap cards for evaluating an expensive camera, so glad you found rytterfalk and may have seen the other reports in the forum at dpreview

Even more discrediting is the fact that popphoto have not yet corrected their numbers, thus i know now to avoid that testsite and beware of others who are also likely to skimp on their methods

Thanks for your blog
aurin, finland

24 03 2008
Ed

I agree. I’ve had some problems with PopPhoto’s reviews before, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to contact them or to submit questions or clarifications. I think I’m going to take PopPhoto off of my blog roll.

27 03 2008
Carl Rytterfalk

A little note from another blog.

I have absolutely no clue to why pop takes the cheapest possible SD card and uses that to review a new camera. It’s embarrassing. I can make 12s become even less – just turn off quick preview and you’re down to something like 10s for three shots (in RAW – about 8s using JPEG). Remember, as soon as the red light starts to blink (saving to SD) then you’re ready to take another shot.

If you take into account that these RAW files are huge by nature – 11-15MB each – then 33-45MB in 10s is pretty great performance. Consider also that I could squeeze out 880 shots on one full battery (Using optional view finder instead of LCD – read the rest on my blog) – that’s also quite amazing. And the fact that movies looks cool indeed. :)

On the other hand, this little cam is different then all the others. Sigma is once more in the position of not fitting in. What to compare with? :)

I love my DP1, it gives me truly great images – whenever I want it to.

28 03 2008
Ed

Thanks for the update Carl. The fact that the DP1 is so different is a big part of why I was attracted to it. Most compacts are designed to be a “gadget” first and a camera second. Not the DP1.

31 03 2008
art

what is the best SD card to buy for the dp1?

1 04 2008
Ed

Art, I don’t know if there’s one particular “best” card. But I would suggest getting one that has as fast a write speed as you can afford.

3 04 2008
jamie

I got my dp1 a few days ago. Enormously disappointing. I’m trying to work out how to get rid of it. Sure the lens is sharp, and the sensor good, but the usability is awful, and i didnt expect this. i dont care about slow write speeds but i do care that the camera wont function for a few seconds after taking a shot, slow autofocus esp when compared to anything built in the last 4 years, noise at anything above 200iso is poor, and with max f4 i need >200 frequently. even the physical design seems ill considered, its not convenient to hold or use, and with the buttons not customisable, i cannot get at the functions i need to change regularly. its just slow, slow, slow, and doesnt do what you need a street camera to do. what a disappointment.

3 04 2008
Ed

Wow, Jamie, that’s not very encouraging. Usability is a big issue for me, too, so I’m not happy to hear that. That’s also why I haven’t bought a DP1 online; I’m not going to pay $1000 for a camera that I haven’t had a chance to play with and test out its handling.

It will be interesting to hear if others have simiar complaints.

5 04 2008
jamie

I’m in discussion with sigma, after reporting to the reseller that i wasnt happy. its encouraging they are listening to feedback. with any luck it will turn out im not using it as intended and i’ll learn to love it.

but i’m no novice, have been shooting daily for over 20 years, love my canon d5 dslr with my 24-70L lens, with a workflow built in thats so good its unnotticeable, so its going to be hard for the dp1 to get close.

but it should…

5 04 2008
Ed

Well there’s no doubt that the DP1 is going to handle very differently than a D5 or any other DSLR. The DP1 is, after all, a point & shoot, with most of the limitations that involves.

I occasionally do street-type photography with my Lumix DMC LX2. Recently I’ve been shooting some really low light stuff in the underground walking tunnels in Montreal, and getting some mixed results. The main thing for me when doing that kind of work is to forget about expecting crystal clear results; to think “Robert Frank” more than “Cartier-Bresson.” For one thing, I leave it on manual focus, crank it up to a very noisy ISO 400, and put it in B&W mode. I leave the lens at 28mm and compose “from the hip.” What I get are a LOT of crap shots, and the occasional interesting one. It feels like I’m shooting Tri-X with a rangefinder more than shooting digital, and I LIKE that.

Here’s a rare example of a good one (I think):
http://www.flickr.com/photos/blork/2390554150/

In the meantime, Jamie please report back on any more information you get from Sigma, or from your own experience with the DP1.

6 04 2008
jamie

I understand your comments, and from time to time shoot that way, but I can do that with any half-decent camera. I lose the benefit of having bought a high quality lens and sensor when I operate that way. I can use my panasonic lumix dmc-fx35 in the same way and get as good as or better shots, and its smaller.

I only want the DP1 to use in circumstances where I cannot take my large DSLR, and where I prefer image quality over the convenience of a modern digicompact (e.g. at childrens parties convenience is a must!). So I prepare to sacrifice a zoom, face recognition, auto-sensing brightness for LCD screen, high quality video, etc, to get something high quality shots.

But the workflow lets it down. And I think it needn’t. I simply think the electronics is o l d old. If they kept the lens and sensor and strapped it to some canon or other modern compact camera electronics, or could somehow in a firmware update resolve the issues of speed of focus and write, and not have the camera lock up when focusing and writing, then it would be marvellous.

I hope they can.

6 04 2008
Carfield Yim

Great blog, keep going!

6 04 2008
jamie

I am in the middle of an email discussion with Sigma’s UK rep, and I must say it is very depressing. I may relay more depending on the outcome. I remain hopeful that they will see that I am seriously engaged with them, and even though the camera is not performing for me, I am prepared to continue spending my time explaining my issues.

12 04 2008
jamie

Sigma’s rep was very disappointing. I asked directly about my concerns and repeated them three times because he kept sidestepping the questions, but he ultimately refused to comment on any of them to the point of being rude to me, suggesting that they were all known and stated in the documentation and I must be willfully ignoring the facts. To be clear, my issues are:
– slow autofocus, and screen freezes while focusing, so you lose the ability to track the subject.
– after taking the shot, not only is the write time slow, but the camera freezes for the first portion, so you cannot start to reframe and focus
– the main benefit i anticipated of having a low noise DSLR sized sensor, is absent, so turning iso up beyond 200 is not credible.
I’m selling on ebay and buying a replacement like the Lumix dmc-fx35 with a leica lens – bought one for my wife at the same time as the dp1 and am far more impressed with it, despite acknowledging that in perfect conditions the dp1 can take much better photos. but truth be known, medium format is better used in perfect conditions, and compact cameras in ‘seize the moment’ conditions.

12 04 2008
jamie

By the way if you want to buy a DP1 cheap, with a full guarantee from the UK high street,

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Sigma-DP1-DP-1-Semi-Pro-Digital-Camera_W0QQitemZ260229289220QQihZ016QQcategoryZ31388QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem
or search for
Sigma DP1 DP-1 Semi-Pro Digital Camera
on ebay

12 04 2008
Ed

Thanks for the updates, Jamie. As you can see by the TOP review I posted about yesterday, you’re not the only one experiencing these problems. It’s too bad the Sigma rep wasn’t more helpful.

It’s also too bad about exchange rates. Your “buy now” price on your eBay auction is $100 more than I could get it new at a U.S. store. :-(

12 04 2008
jamie

I just sold it on ‘buy now’ so I guess some people prefer having a UK version not an import, with a warranty they can exercise by just going into a shop.

That or they didnt see the US price ;) I dont know. I was not trying to screw anyone.

13 04 2008
Ed

Congratulations on the quick sale. I think the difference is that the camera is more expensive in Europe and the UK than in the US, so your price was a good one for UK people. But over here in Canada, it’s easier to get it in the US. (I haven’t seen any Canadian stores selling it yet…)

13 11 2009
nicholasforneris

Does anyone here happen to know what read and write speeds a Sigma DP1 will utilize?

I have recently found a supposed 30 mbp/s card – wondering if the DP1 will even be able to write that fast – I am fairly certain what I am using now writes at 6 mbp/s – wondering if this will be a true upgrade to shooting speed or not.

Thanks, great review!

13 11 2009
14 11 2009
blork

Nicholas, I have no idea what the DP1’s actual write speed is. Perhaps someone else does…

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