Over the past two days I've been using my Sigma DP2 Quattro and for part of that time I've been creating multi image 'panoramic stitches', though the final image hasn't always ended up in a panorama shaped file. By doing this I seem to have stumbled onto a way to create the best resolution files I've ever seen from a camera I've owned. This is how I've done it.
As you can see from Fig. 5 and the 100% blowups, this is quite extraordinary sharpness, detail and resolution.
A few of things I should mention,
- I was very careful to ensure that all images were created with an identical focus point and exposure.
- I used the in-camera created double size jpgs.
- The 'raw' stitch in Fig. 3 was just over 300MB in size.
- I reduced this to just over 100MB (36MP) for the finished file.
- There is some very slight sharpening added in Photoshop.
The final image file is sharper than I can get from my Sony A7r. By combining the raw files and then reducing the stitched file, this takes care of the problems I get when the file is warped and blended together. Creating these stitched files does not produce a simple combining of the originals as you might imagine and the process (as in all stitching software) does produce a slightly softer version than you might think. However reducing the size of the file (in this case 300MB > 100MB has restored the sharpness.
What I've ended up with, in terms of tone, is very similar to what I could get from my Leica M9 with its CCD sensor. But these Sigma creations are sharper than those files and of course twice the size.
Now the Sigma DP2 Quattro may be a long way from an all-round camera, but if you, like me, are in the business of creating high definition, very large files capable of large scale top quality reproduction, then you may well love this camera. As ever, if you keep the ISO at the lowest setting and make sure you work in good light and / or use a tripod, then this Foveon sensor is capable of incredible image quality that you won't find anywhere else, unless you spend an absolute fortune on a medium format camera.
Some other things I've found using the camera.
- Battery life is improved from the Merrills. It's still not great but I got 120 images yesterday using 3/4 of the battery power. Sigma's estimate of around 200 shots per battery is about right. With the Merrils I was lucky if I got 40 shots per battery.
- AF isn't the fastest, bit it's reasonable and it seems very accurate when it does lock on.
- I really can't understand how people have problem handling this camera. Using it hand held it's like a big smartphone. In fact I think it's one of my better handling cameras.
- It is virtually silent to use.
- The screen is very good outdoors. Again, comments that it isn't are inaccurate. It's bright, sharp and while not up to my Nokia or Leica T in terms of size, I have no problems composing with it.
So all in all a success story. This camera is a step up from the Merrills for my uses and the files I can create with the DP2 Quattro are jaw dropping. It isn't the best for dynamic range certainly, but running the jpg. files through Adobe Camera raw helps with that. As I said, not a camera for all situations, but used for what it's designed to do well, slow detailed high resolution images in good light, it's really in a class of it's own. Literally.
There is of course the issue that this is a fixed lens camera. In this case a 30mm f/2.8, which in 35mm terms is 'equivalent' to a 45mm lens. With the 'stitching' a wide-angle rendition of a scene is possible. And, in fact this can be an advantage in that it avoids some of the distortions of wider angle lenses. 'Standard' lenses are always the best for stitching together multiple images, as I've found in creating 1000's of them. And while a 30mm isn't a 50mm on a 35mm film sized sensor, the worst of the distortions occur at the edges of lenses, so a cropped 30mm isn't going to create much of a problem.
The assumption is that the DP1 Quattro will be a 19mm (28mm 'equivalent') and the DP3 will be a 50mm (75mm 'equivalent') but that modest semi-telephoto isn't really that useful to me. Given the resolution of the double sized jpgs. however it is very possible to get a useable image suitable for reproduction.
The above is an image that has been cropped to approximately 1/2 it's original size and as you can see from the 100% blowup from that crop, it has produced a very acceptable image. Certainly the 50MB file (approx. 18MP) compares very well with OOC jpgs. from my Fuji X and m4/3 cameras. With the obvious proviso that the Sigma files are inferior at higher ISO settings. But all in all the DP2 is a more versatile camera than might be imagined.
All of this of course leads to speculation that Sigma are really missing a trick with these cameras. Why not an interchangeable lens camera + viewfinder for the Foveon sensor? It's surely crying out for this. Either using the DSLR SD-1 mount, a new mount or using Sigma's 'membership' of the m4/3 'club' to create a camera with the 4/3 sensor. They already have lenses that will fit options 1 & 3. Another, less satisfactory, solution is to copy Fuji with the X100 series and come up with wide angle and telephoto conversion lenses that screw on to the front of the existing lens. This is the worst option since this solution won't be very wide or very long.
However, the current situation, that means you have to buy three cameras to get three different focal lengths isn't great either. I really don't want to carry around three different cameras and I really don't understand while Sigma have chosen to go this route. Presumably they argue that this way the lens is perfectly matched to the sensor, however an E.V.I.L or CSC approach would surely make the camera more marketable, particularly if it used an existing lens mount.
But as ever, what goes on in the boardrooms of these camera companies is unknown to all of us. And maybe Sigma are still embarrassed by the SD-1 debacle, when they offered it for sale at a ridiculous price (around £6000) This had to hastily retracted, an apology offered and the (insane) few people who actually paid the asking price were offered vouchers to get lenses for the price difference. This was a PR disaster and must have dramatically affected Sigma's reputation and unfortunately had the consequence that many people wrote off the Foveon sensor and Sigma.
The DP Merrills showed that wonderful quality was possible, but operationally they were a bit of a disaster. Poor battery life, ISO settings unusable apart from the base of ISO 100 and very slow sluggish operation. Now the Quattro isn't DSLR or CSC standard for much of that still, but it is a LOT better than the Merrills. I loved the image quality I got from those but I found everything very frustrating and I didn't keep them for long. However I suspect the Quattro will last a lot longer and after the quality I found I can achieve above, my A7r is more likely to be 'ebayed' than the Quattro.
So a very interesting camera, but one that needs to be assessed in terms of what it offers rather than by comparing it to other cameras. It's unique keynote feature is it's ability to create some of the best quality images you will ever see. Under the right circumstances it makes the output from almost every other non-MF camera look very ordinary. And if that high-def resolution what you are looking for, then I urge you to give it a try. It's not perfect by any means, but it's certainly less imperfect than cameras that have housed previous versions of the Foveon sensor. It is a significant technology and it does offer something special in these days of Bayer CMOS domination. It's a special camera that produces special files. And I can't think of a better reason for it's existence than that.
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There is an interesting article on the BBC website HERE, which deals with many of the issues above.