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Field Test: Sigma DP0 Quattro

Mark Bauer tests the Sigma DP0 Quattro and concludes that this large sensor compact camera, with a true wide angle lens, really is a mixed bag

The Sigma DP0 Quattro is an unusual camera – unique, really. Firstly, although there are one or two other large sensor, fixed focal length compact cameras on the market, you don’t need that many fingers to count them on. Beyond that, there is its design, which truly is unique and perhaps most kindly described as eye-catching. With a handgrip that protrudes to the rear of the camera – and frankly looks as if it has been stuck on the wrong way round – a long, thin, rectangular body, and large, protruding lens, it looks like no other ‘compact’ camera.

Sigma-DP0-QuattroI put the word ‘compact’ in inverted commas because in reality, the Sigma is far from compact. It certainly won’t fit in a pocket and would take up quite a bit of space in a handbag. However, if you were out hiking or mountain biking for the day, it would fit comfortably in a rucksack, would add very little weight and you would hardly know it was there. I am guessing that this is its raison d’être – a lightweight camera, capable of producing high quality images, which can be carried easily if you are out and about in the countryside and can’t justify lugging your full system around with you.

So what the DP0 needs to offer is excellent image quality combined with quick, easy and intuitive handling; if you stumble upon an interesting scene in good light, you should be able to whip it out of your rucksack and take a shot with the minimum of fuss, feeling confident that you have nailed it. If it is a faff to shoot with and demands a more considered approach, then you might as well put up with the extra size and weight of a DSLR and enjoy the benefits of access to a full system.

Let’s start with the good news: image quality at low ISOs is excellent. Sharpness and detail from the Foveon sensor are excellent. The camera features a 19.6 megapixel sensor, which Sigma claims is equivalent to 39 megapixels from a conventional sensor utilising a Bayer filter array. This is a big claim and hard to clarify without doing stringent laboratory tests, however the test images I looked at certainly captured more detail than I would normally expect from a 20 megapixel APS-C sensor. I would hesitate to say it competes with the likes of the Nikon D810, however. The excellent 14mm lens (21mm equivalent) also helps in this regard, constructed with four low dispersion elements, two special low dispersion elements and two aspheric lenses.

Once you start pushing up the ISO, however, things start to turn a little ugly. The DP0’s ISO maxes out at 6400, but you would be wise to keep well away from anything that high. Once you get to ISO 1600, noise becomes unacceptable. Surprisingly, it is colour noise that is the big problem; the Sigma produces ugly patches of colour noise at much lower ISOs than any other camera that I have tested. At least, it does when recording jpegs. Results from raw files may well be better, but I was unable to put this to the test. Unfortunately, the DP0 files have to be processed in Sigma’s proprietary software. I have had previous experience of this software and it is not the most user-friendly application, although good results are possible. However, on this occasion, I was unable to get the software working at all. Despite installing it, uninstalling it and reinstalling it a number of times, it consistently crashed on launching.

When it comes to handling and ergonomics, the Sigma is going to divide opinion. Some will love its unusual shape and the handling quirks, whereas others will find them frustrating. I fall into the latter camp. On the plus side, considering the size of the lens relative to the body, the camera balances well. There is also just the right number of external controls, giving easy access to major functions; combined with the Quick menu, this makes changing important settings relatively straightforward and intuitive.

However, all of these positive points are cancelled out by the handgrip, which sticks out at the back and makes it hard to reach the buttons without changing your grip, especially if your hands are on the small side. I found this made handling uncomfortable and rather cumbersome. With a camera that is likely to be mostly used hand-held, easy access to controls, without the need for significant changes in hand position, is a big plus and the DP0 fails on this count. There is a reason why every other camera in the world has the handgrip protruding forwards rather than backwards – because it is comfortable and ergonomic.

However, this is my experience only, and other users, especially those whose hands aren’t small with stubby fingers like mine, may not find this an issue. If you were considering buying this camera, I would recommend going to a camera shop and spending time playing with it, to see how you fare with the ergonomics. If you don’t encounter the issues that I did, then it is worth consideration, as image quality at lower ISOs is very good indeed.

One other issue I encountered was with the rear LCD, which I found a little difficult to see well, even in only moderately bright light. As there is no integrated viewfinder, you will have to rely on this for composing shots, so better brightness and clarity would have helped. There is an accessory viewfinder (SRP £179.99), but rather than attaching via the camera’s hotshoe, as these usually do, it sits on the back of the camera, over the rear LCD – really, it is just a loupe for the live view screen. It adds a considerable amount of bulk to the whole set-up, so that this compact camera is now rivalling a small DSLR in size. In fact, if you think that you are likely to want to use the accessory finder for the majority of your shooting, you would be better off working with a lightweight DSLR or Compact System Camera.

Overall the Sigma DP0 is a real mixed bag; great image quality if you don’t have to push the ISO too high, relatively portable, a unique eye-catching design but with flawed ergonomics. Some photographers may find that they enjoy the quirky design or that they are prepared to overlook it because of the camera’s strengths. Certainly, there is no other large sensor compact camera with a true wide angle lens – the Sony RX1 is a lovely camera (and full-frame, too) but the lens is 35mm.

My opinion, however, is that you would be better served by getting a mirrorless camera such as the Fuji X-E2 and a wide angle prime lens to go with it.

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Mark Bauer

Mark Bauer is one of the UK’s leading landscape photographers with work published worldwide. He is the author of 3 books, including ‘The Landscape Photography Workshop’ (with Ross Hoddinott).

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