TOP Update of DP1 Review

24 05 2008

Edward Taylor has posted an update to his review of the DP1 that he published on The Online Photographer (TOP) back in April. Now that he’s had more time to work with the camera, he feels he should clarify a few things. The bottom line is that he still feels it is fundamentally flawed in terms of speed and usability, but he says he would buy the camera again because of the outstanding image quality.

As Taylor correctly points out, it is not a “Decisive Moment Digital” nor even, really, a “point and shoot.” It is a departure from the norm, a particular and peculiar camera that the photographer must adapt to. Not unlike a Holga, in fact; both are odd cameras that require a different way of thinking. As Taylor says: “you don’t always need speed. I adapted to its slowness.”

Those who were hoping for an all-purpose camera, or some kind of super camera that would perform miracles will be disappointed. But those who are willing to see it for what it is, and can adapt to its quirks, will be blown away by the image quality.

Speaking of Holgas, I’ve been playing around with one recently. I ran two rolls of 120 through it (the first film I’ve shot in eight years), and I managed to get five or six pretty good “Holgaesque” images, including this one:

Dreamworld Mini

If you’re a pixel peeper you won’t have much to say about that. Ditto if you’re the type who insists on conventional framing and composition. It’s got none of that, but I really like it regardless. In fact, this is the antithesis of the image quality one should expect from a DP1, and I guarantee you the Holga is twenty times slower than the DP1. Yet there it is, and I like it.

And people who like their DP1s really like them too.

By the way, DPReview has published a thorough review of the DP1. Their conclusions are pretty much the same as everyone else’s but with a lot of detailed information to back them up. This is not headline news at MyDP1, because if you’ve been following the DP1 story then you already know about that review. After all, a review from DPReview is pretty much the one to watch for.

Shutterbug Reviews DP1

9 05 2008

George Schaub at Shutterbug has reviewed the DP1, and it is the first time I’ve seen a mainstream review where the reviewer really gets it. Schaub starts the review with an anecdote in which he asks a DP1-toting stranger how he likes the camera, and the stranger says “the picture quality is terrific, although it does make you think.”

There you have it. Aside from image quality, that’s the biggest differentiator with the DP1; it’s a “photographer’s camera” and it demands that you think a little bit about what you’re doing. Some people probably think that’s a bad thing, but as someone who developed my photographic eye long before cameras became “smart” (and, correspondingly, photographers became stupid), I’m enthusiastically in favor of that idea.

No, seriously. Technologies like face recognition and auto fill flash take away from the experience of photography. While it is true that they raise the technical quality of photographs taken by those who know nothing about photography, it also means those people will never actually learn about or understand what they are doing. As more and more photographs are composed and lit according to the machine’s decisions, we become saturated and overwhelmed with a deluge of boring sameness.

Forget that. Take control. Learn! Make your own decisions! The DP1 certainly has some usability flaws, but the best thing to do is keep the settings as simple as possible and learn how to use things like focus lock and exposure lock. Learn, understand, and take back control of the making of your photographs.

Imaging Resource Reviews DP1

4 05 2008

Imaging Resource has reviewed the DP1, and has reached essentially the same conclusions as most other reviewers: great image quality, bad usability.

In brief, here are Imaging Resource’s “pros and cons:”

Pro: Con:
  • Excellent optics, though maximum aperture is a bit slow at f/4
  • Very low barrel distortion
  • Very little chromatic aberration
  • Foveon sensor captures smooth, well-defined detail
  • Small camera design is easy to bring along
  • Good button placement
  • Good feel to all buttons and controls
  • Hot shoe for accessory flash or viewfinder
  • 3.77 fps continuous mode (but only 3 frames)
  • RAW software is included, and allows for better quality images with just a few adjustments
  • Unique design, great for the contemplative photographer
  • RAW images taken at ISO 800 look good at 11×14 inches
  • JPEG images are of poor quality, with little consistency from shot to shot
  • Sensitivity tops out at ISO 800
  • Lens cap is a pain to put on, doesn’t work with lens hood
  • Difficult to manual focus without close measurements
  • Not good for Macro photography
  • Changing AF points is too difficult
  • Autofocus is slow
  • Poor low light AF performance
  • Lacks built-in optical viewfinder
  • Images are undersaturated by default; increasing saturation does very little
  • Saturation decreases further as ISO increases
  • Incandescent white balance is poor at best, regardless of setting
  • Slow startup and cycle times
  • Camera functions lock while images are saved to card
  • Animated menus slow you down
  • Single focal length limits photographic possibilities
  • Digital zoom blurs due to upsampling
  • Lacks histogram while shooting
  • Pop-up flash is weak
  • No RAW+JPEG option
  • RAW processing software is slow
  • Mediocre battery life
  • Maximum shutter speed varies with aperture
  • No Bulb mode

Full review here.

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 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!

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?

Sample Photos Coming Online

5 03 2008

Now that the DP1 is on the market, real-world sample images are starting to show up in various places. Among the most interesting I’ve seen are by Carl Rytterfalk. You can see them, along with descriptions of his first few days with the DP1 on his blog (day one, day two, mixed light). Images there link back to the full size ones, as hosted on Flickr.

I must admit, I’m very impressed by the image quality I’m seeing!