A Hands on Look at the Sigma dp2 Quattro: Could This Be the Camera For You?
In this connected world of instant everything, the basic specs, with the DP-series characteristic fixed lens and the often mentioned slow operating speeds can make the Quattro easy to be overlooked by most amateurs and professionals alike. This is, of course, an obstacle I can totally relate to.
The DP2 Quattro, like the rest of the DP series cameras, is not tailored to be for everyone’s needs. If you plan on shooting lots of frames in burst or are even chasing after the latest in super high ISO capabilities, then forget the small Sigma right from the very beginning. This camera is plain and simple just not for you and there are quite a few better options out for less that could be of more use for your needs.
But if you’re like me and like to slow down, set up your shots and mix ambient light with strobes, or simply prefer a more analog way of thinking (think times when you had to manually reload your SLR), then the DP2 Quattro (just like Sigma’s older Merrill series) is a pretty special offering, featuring image quality and ambient light control that’s hard to find outside of medium format cameras with leaf shutters.
Take this location shot that I took around 2pm with a 200w/s flash and a simple speedlight. The Quattro’s leaf shutter made it possible to let me keep my aperture open to f3.5 with a shutter speed of 1/800s. This is a scene which on my Pentax DSLR would have had me setting the aperture to around f16 because of the slow maximum sync-speed of 1/180s. This, in turn, would’ve required a lot more flash-power and, to a certain extent, the use of ND-Filters if I wanted to use the exact same Aperture on my Pentax DSLR.
The first thing you notice about the Quattro is the body. It’s styled rather differently from most cameras, featuring a thin long main section, a chunky reverse grip at one end and a larger lens barrel at the other. Given its price tag, you’d expect a solid build performance, and the DP Quattro delivers in this respect. Although the body feels quite odd at first, given its relatively strange overall dimensions, you adapt to the thinness quite fast. After a day’s usage, you barely notice anything different. I really liked the metal dual control dials on the top, as they are probably on of the finest I’ve came across on camera offerings from the past years.
Overall, I’d attest that there shouldn’t be a doubt that this is a high end product from a consumer perspective. Though if I had one small niggle, it is that I liked the focus rings and size of the older Merrills a bit better.
Compared to the Merrill-Series they are as much alike as they are different. We have roughly the same amount of buttons, but in a different layout and an extra control wheel. This gives you easier access to aperture or shutter, plus both are fully customizable. I did find the Merrill’s use of the left/right D-Pad to simulate the second control wheel was good enough, but it is still a very welcome addition.
The menu and features of the camera are similar with some minor tweaks and upgrades, the main one being a new quick selection screen that no longer splits the menu over two screens and is much easier to use. There are also some new features regarding JPG shooting to make more use of the extra dynamic range of the sensor.
The new gap-less LCD-Screen with increased refresh rate and resolution is certainly a welcome improvement, as the Quattro does not feature an eye level Viewfinder out of the box. There is an optical viewfinder add-on sold separately, but I feel a good LCD-Loup would be a better way to go.
Again, the camera feels more responsive with greatly improved battery life – something that the Merrills really lacked.
With its combination of fixed 30mm f/2.8 lens and the Foveon-Sensor, the Quattro is able to capture images that are similar to Bayer-Sensors with a much higher pixel count. But unlike the Bayer-Sensors, the Foveon lacks the false color patterns and moire (which is a known problem with Bayer images for better or worse for some certain lens and sensor combinations).
There are a few situations where the new Quattro sensor can struggle though, one being very strong direct light. At times, this can cause the new highlight pixels to show as a grid pattern in shadow areas. Also Foveon-Sensors can show flare in an odd way which I think is from light refracting inside the layers of the sensor. The new overexposure correction feature can lead to some strong colors fringing in certain situations. Please note that I went out of my way to show these flaws and all of these problems can be reduced or removed altogether using Sigma Photo Pro.
If you’re coming from a Bayer sensor camera you might find looking at the 100% crops from this camera can look a bit pixelated or harsh. This is due to the sheer amount of detail this camera can record on a per pixel basis and as such you should think of looking at the 100% crops as having your nose against a very large print.
To give an example of what I mean here is a comparison from the old 14.7mp x3 sensor compared to a 16mp bayer both shot right after each other with the same settings and in post only the Bayer camera was sharpened.
The detail difference is staggering and I do apologise for not doing a similar comparison with the Quattro. I didn’t feel the need as the new 19.6mp sensor seems to keep the resolving power of the old Merrill design but at a higher resolution.
The rendering style between the old and new sensor is rather different. I feel the Merrills are more film like while the Quattro seems very digital with a grid-like noise pattern. You can adjust this with sharpening or noise reduction to taste and it could change as Sigma gets better at working with the new sensor design, but it doesn’t bother me and I prefer it over Bayer files lack of detail.
Since this technology is rather new there will be some minor problems as the ones I described earlier. But with firmware and software updates (that Sigma are working hard on), I feel that the image quality will improve over time. Having printed at 45×30″ already from the Quattro, I can attest that the image quality is rather staggering. One could still see very fine details, like the rippling of the Footballer’s shoe, whereas my 16 megapixel Pentax images looked a lot more pixelated and simply lacked the fine detail when printed at the same size.
Along with the new sensor design comes a different look and behavior. Completely gone is the Merrill’s hyper realistic look in favor of a more natural one. As such, the Quattro is much easier on people’s skin, as the following pictures serves as an example for:
This image of my son, taken hand held under the shade on a very bright day, where I had the shadows pushed for about 2.5-3 stops in Post-production on my computer.
The files do take a while to work on though as the only software capable of reading the raw files natively currently is Sigma’s own Sigma Photo Pro – which is rather slow and very basic compared to other editing software out there. I get my files as close as I can with this, then export it to an 16 Bit TIFF-File and then use Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop from then on.
All images posted here have been edited using this method, including the images of the DP2 Quattro which were taken with the DP3 M (except for the shot comparing both cameras).
Something to note is that simply converting the Raw file to TIFF is a bad idea, as the TIFF loses a lot of the raw information that the Sigma Photo Pro software can make use of.
I feel that the Quattro is an excellent tool in the right photographer’s hands. They offer amazing image quality for a price and size that’s very hard to match with other cameras, especially for the same amount of money. While they can be used for a variety of different applications, I think that Landscapes, Still-Life and Strobist-Style photographers would really benefit from the DP-Series features and would make a remarkable addition to their usual go-to camera bag.
I’ll leave you with some more images that I have taken so far with the camera and hope my personal point of view on the system has been of help:
To find out more about the new sensor technology in the Quattro, feel free to check out this very handy rundown by the Manufacturer themselves:
What do you think about the Quattro? Worth a try?
~ Paul Monaghan (edited by Moritz Schwertner)
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