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.

Usage Reports; Details Please!

6 03 2008

A number of people are giving brief usage reports on the Sigma DP1, but what seems to be missing are the important details about usability.

For example, Jack Howard gives a “first look” over at PopPhoto in which he mentions using manual focus, but he doesn’t say anything about how manual focus is achieved. He also mentions the widely known fact that you have a choice of using the LCD display or the optional optical viewfinder to compose, but he doesn’t mention if the LCD goes off when using the optical viewfinder.

These may sound like piddling details to some people, but they go to the heart of what serious photographers see as the difference between a gadget and a camera. What we photographers are looking for is usability based on how we really work and react in the field. That generally means a lower reliance on nested menus and endless button pushing to change modes.

Let’s look at manual focus for example. I used to have a Nikon Coolpix 5400. Nice camera, and it included a manual focus feature, but that feature was completely unusable. You had to hold down one button while rolling a command dial with a different finger, all while trying to compose your shot. It was terrible and I never used it.

On the other hand, I currently use a Lumix DMC LX2, a very well designed compact camera. To use manual focus, I flick a physical switch on the lens barrel to enter manual focus mode, then I use my thumb to move a little joystick on the back. All the while, the screen shows a close up of the center zone so I can see the focus, plus there’s a bar on the side that displays the depth of focus. It’s very easy to use, requires only one finger, and involves no pecking through menus. I can go back to autofocus with one flick of my finger. As a result, I use manual focus fairly often, as I did when shooting my nephew’s basketball game and I wanted to pre-focus in order to reduce lag time.

Manual focus helped me get this shot.

So how about the DP1? Is using manual focus as effortless as it is with the LX2? (I doubt it, as the DP1 doesn’t have a physical switch for changing focus mode.)

Then there’s the issue about the LCD when using the optical viewfinder. It makes sense that you should be able to turn off the LCD. No, it is imperative that you should be able to turn off the LCD. If you’ve ever tried to be inconspicuous with a compact digital – especially in low light – you know how important it is to turn off that big glowing light. With the optical viewfinder, the LCD isn’t necessary, and in some shooting situations you would really, really want it to be dark.

But just because something makes sense, doesn’t mean they build it that way. Also, there’s the question of how easy it is to turn off the LCD; does it go off automatically when you mount the optical viewfinder? (I hope not, as there may be times when you want both.) Can you turn it off with a flick of your finger, or do you have to peck your way through a nest of menu items?

We need to know! Why isn’t anyone telling us?