DP1 Inspires LX3… Inspires DP2?

1 03 2009

(Temporarily pressing “Play.”) I started this blog in November 2007, when — like so many others — I was keenly anticipating the arrival of the up-to-then enigmatic DP1. I did a lot of reading, which resulted in a lot of writing, about what to expect when the camera arrived.

Then it arrived.

The story by now is well known. Image quality on the DP1 is outstanding (as expected), but other things are poor. For example, some people don’t like the build quality, and the menus are poorly designed. Then there’s the hotly debated issue of the fixed focal length 28mm (equivalent) lens, with its very slow f4 maximum aperture. Many people argue that if Sigma is going to insist on a prime (i.e., not zoom) lens, then at least make it a fast one.

Finally, there is poor performance in terms of various lag times (shutter lag, auto-focus lag, etc.). That was the deal breaker for me. I cannot abide a slow, unresponsive camera.

Given that a lot of people were talking about the DP1 as a good camera for street photography, slow performance was a deal breaker for a lot of other people too. Some argue that by using all manual settings the camera is reasonably responsive, and I’m inclined to believe it. But still, all that poorness, combined with the very high price (almost $1000 in Canada) meant I abandoned any plans to get a DP1. After all that hype, the response at launch time was lukewarm at best. Reviews were generally bad, and sales were disappointing.

Around that time, I started appreciating the camera I was already using; the somewhat flawed but otherwise delightful Lumix DMC-LX2 (or simply LX2 for short). There had been rumors of an LX3 in the works, so my DP1 anticipation shifted to LX3 anticipation.

Finally, in late summer 2008, the LX3 was announced and then released. What really got my attention was how much Panasonic (the makers of the Lumix brand) were “borrowing” from the DP1’s hype to promote the new camera. It was very clear that the central focus of the LX3 marketing effort was the message “Disappointed by the DP1? The LX3 hits where the DP1 misses.”

Let’s recap the DP1 hype, and compare it with the LX3 message:

  • The DP1 promised outstanding image quality based on a large sensor that used fewer (but more sensitive) pixels.
  • The LX3 was heavily promoted for its new, larger sensor — one that uses fewer pixels than its predecessor. Reviewers went mad over the “less is more” design. This despite the fact that upon closer reading, the new sensor is inconsequentially larger than the previous one — and certainly a lot smaller than the DP1’s — but the fine points were missed by most people. All they heard was “bigger sensor, fewer pixels, just like the DP1!”
  • The DP1 promised a return to rangefinder-style street shooting via its optional clip-on optical viewfinder.
  • The LX3 also delivered an optional clip-on optical viewfinder.
  • The DP1 promised a top quality wide angle (28mm equivalent) lens, and insisted its slow f4 maximum aperture was not an issue.
  • The LX3 delivered a top quality Leica lens that was even wider (24mm equivalent), zoomed “3X,” and most impressively, had a maximum aperture of f2.0 — an unprecedented speed in a compact digital camera.

The bottom line was “we do all the things the DP1 was supposed to do, plus we do the things the DP1 cannot do, at about half the price.” (The LX3 retails at about $550 in Canada.) The response was overwhelming — literally. Panasonic has had trouble keeping up with demand. A plethora of rave reviews has lead to shortages of the camera in Canada, the U.S., and parts of Europe. Stores can’t keep them on the shelves.

If you read my other blog (and look at my photo blog) you’ll know that I bought an LX3 — and I love it. Lag times are acceptable (and, as with the DP1, I can make them disappear almost completely by using manual settings), and although it doesn’t use a Foveon sensor, I’m perfectly happy with the image quality — which improves significantly on its predecessor.

Film festival by blork, on Flickr

I’m loving my LX3!

Around the time that the LX3 came out, Sigma announced that the DP2 was in development. Changes we know we’ll see are a less wide angle lens (supposedly in the range of 40mm equivalent) but faster — f2.8. Apparently there will be modifications to the menus, as well as performance enhancements.

The question I have is this: has Sigma paid any attention to how Panasonic used their failure to enhance their success? And will the improvements in the DP2 reflect that knowledge?

Will Sigma step up and not just correct their mistakes but make the DP2 — and the DP2’s message — so kick-assingly awesome as to steal back some of their own hype? They could start by hammering away at the LX3’s biggest shortcoming; its lack of availability. After all, showing up is at least half the battle.

We’re on the verge of the Photo Marketing Association’s big PMA 2009 trade show. Will the DP2 make an appearance? Will it step up to the DP1’s failings? Will it make a dent in the LX3 demand?

Luminous Landscape Reviews DP1

22 04 2008

Luminous Landscape has reviewed the DP1, coming to many of the same conclusions that we saw with the TOP (The Online Photographer) review last week. Namely, that the camera feels nice in the hand, takes outstanding photographs, but is slow to use and ergonomically annoying in terms of menu layout and access to functions.

Hmm. The bloom is definitely coming off the rose when it comes to my view of the DP1. I would still like to try one out, and I suspect I would really like it if I had one, but as a priority it is rapidly fading. This is due to a number of things, including the fact that I have become re-infatuated with my Lumix DMC-LX2, despite it’s lousy sensor.

I’ve been using manual focus on the LX2 a lot lately, where it is quite nicely integrated. You switch from auto to manual by sliding a button on the lens barrel (no poking through menus), and there is an on-screen magnified preview that works reasonably well, and a focus depth indicator. Also, there is very little chance of the focus drifting once it is set (unless you turn the camera off and on again). On the DP1, the focus button apparently moves quite easily, so it can be knocked out of place without you noticing.

The one glitch in LX2 manual focusing involves the toggle you use for focusing; it is the same one you use for setting aperture and shutter speed when in manual, shutter priority, or aperture priority mode. Therefore, when in those modes you can’t manually change focus (or at least I haven’t figured out how), because the toggle controls those other things. I get around this flaw by snapping the camera into P mode, focusing, then snapping back into the other exposure mode. Not exactly elegant.

Go Habs! I’m learning to love my DMC-LX2 all over again.

I should mention that I firmly believe it is the photographer that makes the photograph, not the camera. However, the photographer needs to know and understand his or her equipment, and feel “at one” with it in order to make the kind of photographs he or she wants to. You don’t get that very much with badly designed or ergonomically challenging cameras. If you’re always fighting with menus, or if you’re never sure what the camera is “thinking,” or how it might butt in on your process by imposing a limitation or a setting other than what you want, or if it is just too damn slow to respond at the rate that you are, then you won’t be happy and your photographs will suffer.

Besides all these usability issues, there are a number of personal factors weighing on my budget; medical things and other demands that take a higher priority.

I haven’t given up on this camera yet. But my interest is definitely waning, at least for now.

DP1 Reviewed at TOP (The Online Photographer)

10 04 2008

The Online Photographer has posted a long and impressive review of the DP1 (Sigma DP1: The Future Meets the Past), written by Edward Taylor. The gist of it is that Taylor really likes the camera, but laments that it’s a step backwards with regards to a few usability issues; namely, its slowness. He also describes the auto-exposure as “hit or miss,” and comments on the lack of image stabilization, macro, auto flash, and built-in optical viewfinder.

On the other hand, to no one’s surprise, he has really good things to say about IQ (image quality):

Can this little camera actually produce an image that is comparable to a DSLR? The answer is YES. I have never used a P&S camera that has produced images as “DSLR like” as this camera’s. I think the images compare well to images from your average consumer-grade DSLR. (Those cameras produce great images). It would be unfair to compare the DP1 to a Canon 1DsMKIII or a Nikon D3.

He further describes the images from the Foveon sensor as “smooth and luxurious.”

Personally, I am really turned off by the problems with speed. I really need for my camera to respond when I want it to respond. I do not want to go back to 2002, where focus lag, shutter lag, and all those other lags made me miss shot after shot because the camera was fiddling with itself while the scene in front of it dissipated. As Taylor says:

…let me make it clear that the DP1 is not and never could be what is referred to on TOP as a DMD (Decisive Moment Camera). Why? Because it is slow.

On the other hand, just when I’m ready to give up on the DP1, I read this, farther down in the review:

In my opinion, despite all the limitations, the Sigma DP1 can produce the best images of any small, light weight P&S camera that I have ever seen or used—and not by a small margin. Even at ISO 800, it produces results that are unimaginable with other P&S cameras at any ISO.

Still, I need to remember what my priorities are. Yes, I want the best possible image quality. But I demand responsiveness. I will not stand for a sluggish camera.

Unfortunately, these speed problems are probably beyond what can be fixed with firmware. That leaves me wondering if the DP1 and I have much of a future together.

Update: After I wrote this post I went for a walk with my Lumix DMC-LX2. I set it on manual focus and wide angle (28mm-e), and did some “from the hip” shots as I walked. I never know what I’m going to get when I do this, and most of the time it’s not great. But when I saw this guy looking up in the air as he spoke on his mobile, I just turned the camera and clicked. I think it’s a pretty cool shot. But would I have got it with the DP1? (Andrew, in the comments, thinks “yes.”)

What\'s up?

DP1 Has 16:9 Mode

28 02 2008

On the first day of the recent PMA 08 show, the Imaging Resource Newsletter published a report of the Sigma DP1’s updated specifications. Given the level of anticipation of the camera’s overdue release, I’m surprised more people haven’t picked up on this. On the other hand, the specification changes were fairly minor. For example, weight went up by ten grams, and the top shutter speed dropped from 1/4000 to 1/2000.

One thing that really grabbed my attention – something I’ve seen no other reference to – is the DP1’s new dual aspect ratio; you can choose between the conventional 3:2 or 16:9.

That won’t mean much to many people, as the 16:9 mode is essentially just an in-camera crop. But it means something to me, because the camera I’ve been using for the past year is the Panasonic Lumix DMC LX2, which has a native 16:9 sensor. With the LX2 I also have the choice of shooting 3:2 or even 4:3, but I find myself leaving it on 16:9 for virtually every shot. I’ve come to love the wide, sweeping cinematic view that 16:9 provides, and one of my biggest concerns about switching to the DP1 was that I would miss that cinematic perspective.

I like the 16:9 perspective; very cinematic. (Taken with Lumix DMC LX2.)

You can argue that any camera can give you 16:9 because it’s just a matter of cropping. But just as some people prefer prime lenses over zooms because of the way they can pre-frame the shot in their minds, I prefer shooting in 16:9 instead of cropping to it for the same reason.

In a related note, I should add that the LX2 is a brilliantly designed camera. It makes use of physical switches on the camera for things like setting aspect ratio and focus mode (manual/closeup/auto). I really hate having to scroll through menus, so having dedicated buttons for certain tasks is a good design strategy. It makes for better usability. The only thing the LX2 lacks is a large sensor and an optical viewfinder. If it had those, I wouldn’t even bother thinking about the DP1.