Guided Tour: Sigma DP-2

100 in 100/IV, Day 58: Take the tour and master the camera

Learn all about using the second generation, unique compact camera with the DSLR-sized sensor.

Key Features:

  • 14MP 20.7x13.8mm Foveon Sensor
  • 24.2mm f/2.8 (35mm equivalent: 40mm) lens
  • Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure modes
  • Manual or autofocus
  • Built-in flash
  • Hot Shoe for external flash or optical viewfinder
  • 2.5-inch LCD monitor
  • JPEG, RAW image capture
  • ISO range 50-1600

Best for:

  • Scenics
  • Candid, unobtrusive photography
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging

Not well suited for:

  • Casual snapshots
  • Street photography
  • Sports/action

Price: Approximately $650 (follow link to get current price and availability)

Executive summary

The Sigma DP-2 is the second compact digital camera to have an APS-sized sensor, the same size found in digital SLRs and exactly the same sensor that's in the Sigma SD-14. As shown in our comparison test, the DP-2's sensor, like the DP-1's, produces DSLR-like image quality. Sigma uses the 14MP Foveon X3 sensor, but the number 14 is really a bit misleading because it's actually three vertically stacked color diodes, with 4.3MP each of red, green, and blue diodes. Actual largest image size is 2640x1760 pixels. This means you can get sharp 10x14-inch full-frame prints at 200 dpi, which is not as large as you'd expect from a 14MP image.

The DP-2 is a very specialized camera. It has a fixed 40mm (35mm equivalent) lens, many metering and image quality control options, automated or completely manual (with no optical zoom), exposure control options, and manual or autofocus. As part of a system, the DP-2's focal range can be extended via a wide-angle or telephoto adaptor, and close-up lens via a lens hood; a matching optical viewfinder is also available as an extra option as is an integrated flash unit.

Thanks to its DSLR-sized sensor, the DP-2's predecessor, the DP-1, has been critically acclaimed for its image quality, which far exceeds that of a typical compact camera. It has been criticized for slow processing speed, and in our side-by-side comparison I found the DP-2's processing speed improved slightly. In this Guided Tour, I will offer tips to help work around the DP-2's slower operations. But if all you're looking for is a really small camera that can deliver DSLR-type image quality with lots of control--and don't mind the wait--the DP-2 may be the camera for you.

The Guided Tour

First, let's look at the camera's external controls, then we'll dive into the menu options.

Top of camera

The DP-2's top plate has a simple layout: a pop-up flash (operated via a sliding switch on the back edge, a hot shoe for mounting an external flash or viewfinder, the power switch, control knob , and shutter release. Peeking out of the back, where your thumb might rest, is a dial that controls manual focus. Unfortunately for U.S. users, it's in meters only (feet are shown on-screen when in manual focus mode).

Tip:  I highly recommend investing in the 40mm optical viewfinder. It lets you hold the DP-2 up to your eye and compose the image while holding the camera steadily, rather than holding it at arm's length, which can cause camera shake. This is important since the camera doesn't have image stabilization. The optical finder is bright and easy on the eyes. It also looks cool.

The control dial has Auto mode, which is basic point-and-shoot. Programmed Autoexposure (P) selects the appropriate exposure based on subject brightness. Aperture Priority (A) lets you control the aperture by pressing the  right-left buttons that can be found in the circular array of controls on the back of the camera; shutter speeds are then automatically selected. Shutter Priority (P) lets you change shutter speed using the same right-left buttons. Manual exposure (M) is easier on this model than on the DP-1. To control the aperture, use the right-left buttons in the circular array of buttons; the up-down preview zoom buttons all the way to the right control shutter speed.

The video recording mode (see movie camera icon) lets you record anemic 320x212 pixel-sized videos, and the microphone icon lets you record audio messages. An empty 1GB card can store up to 356 minutes of audio, which can be handy for audio note-taking. Audio quality is fair because the only way to record sound is via a built-in microphone. Playback on camera is very quiet.

The Setup setting on the control dial accesses the setup menu on the LCD monitor. We'll get to that later.

The thumb dial (left) lets you manually adjust focus. To do this, you need to press the up arrow in the circular array of buttons until you're in manual focus mode. A focus scale in feet and meters appears on-screen. Unfortunately, there is no depth-of-field indicator. Alas!

Tip: The DP-2's autofocus system is, to put it mildly, sluggish, but Firmware Update v.1.01, which was introduced days after the DP-2 was released, should improve performance. Check your firmware in Setup mode: If it’s 1.00, update it.

Back of camera

 The camera back is dominated by the 2.5-inch LCD monitor.  At the upper left corner is a switch that pops up the small flash. The rest of the camera's controls are clustered to the right of the LCD monitor. Where the DP-1's controls made it difficult for the user's thumb to rest without pressing a button, the DP-2's control layout has been adjusted so the thumb has a place to rest without changing settings accidentally.

The AEL/Trash button locks the autoexposure: point the camera, press the button and re-compose. In the setup menu, you can customize this button to also lock in focus, or just lock focus without locking exposure. And you can delete individual or all photos with this button in playback mode.

The QS (quick set) button quickly accesses eight frequently-used setting adjustments. Simply press the corresponding up, down, right or left button to change the settings for ISO setting, white balance, flash mode or metering mode (Quick Set Menu 1) or Image size, color mode, image quality, or drive mode (Quick Set Menu 2). Just keep pressing the button to scroll to the desired setting.

The Menu button accesses menu items contextually. When taking pictures, it accesses the picture taking modes. When you are previewing images and press the Menu button, it will access the Preview modes. When the top dial is turned to Setup, it accesses the setup functions.

A circular array of five buttons helps you navigate through the menu items and lets you quickly set the flash and focus modes. The up button changes focus from AF to fixed infinity "landscape" mode to manual focus. In manual focus, a scale appears on screen as you change focus. The down button chooses the flash mode:  Red-eye fix, slow exposure with flash, slow exposure with flash and red-eye fix, flash always on, and auto flash.  The right and left buttons adjust exposure and work with the EV compensation button. In playback mode, they scroll through the photos. Hit the center "OK" button to accept changes.

The Preview button displays photos on your memory card on the LCD monitor. Use the wide/tele buttons to enlarge image views.

The Display button changes the information accompanying the photo in live view and in preview mode.

Tip: To conserve battery power, turn the display screen off. When you hit the shutter release partway or move the focus dial, exposure info will appear on screen, but no image.

Tip: For accurate exposure feedback, keep the display screen on Histogram mode. It will flash histogram information during instant preview.

The wide/tele switches will digitally zoom in on a live image, and will also let you view details on preview images. Since this simply enlarges the image and the pixels rather than zooming optically, I don't recommend the digital zoom feature.

Bottom of camera

The bottom plate includes a small loudspeaker that isn't very loud, a tripod socket, and a door that protects the battery and memory card ports.

Note: To replace a memory card, you have to take the camera off the tripod to access the compartment.


The menu items are divided into Setup, Shooting Menu, and Preview.

SetUp: These are mostly set-once-and-forget 'em items, such as date, language, how long the preview will stay on screen, file numbering, etc. But there are several items you may find a need to change occasionally. Let's look at them.

Sound settings lets you adjust or turn off entirely shutter or control key sound. If you want to shoot unobtrusively, these sounds should be turned off or very low. If it's very quiet, you can still hear a subtle signal when you've taken a picture.

LCD Sleep sets how long the LCD monitor remains on between activity. The shorter the setting, the more battery you save. Same deal with Auto Power Off.

You can also reformat your memory card--a good practice that will keep it usable for longer--reset the camera to all of its default settings, and update your firmware via the SetUp menu.

Quick Set


Quick Set modes accesses the eight most commonly-used shooting settings, some of which can't be accessed any other way. OK your changes via the OK button, or by pressing the shutter release halfway.

Shooting Menu

The Capture Settings menu adjusts the following features:

White Balance lets you choose from Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, or Flash light sources.

ISO Sensitivity: Change the ISO, from 50-800. Oddly, ISOs are out of order: It's Auto, ISO 100-800, and at the bottom is ISO 50.
Flash Mode

Flash Mode lets you choose from flash always on (slow sync), red-eye, red-eye with slow sync, and auto flash.

Tip: Slow sync creates an interesting, ghost-like look to photos that can be used for creative effects. However, it's more typically used to balance background ambient light with the flash for a more natural lighting look.

AE Metering Mode lets you switch from evaluative to center weighted to spot metering.

Tip: In critical lighting situations I recommend spot metering. In tricky light, evaluative may be best. Center-weighted is fine for general shooting.

Image Size controls the actual size of the photo. There are three file size options plus a fourth which indicates a change in aspect ratio, from the standard 3:2 to the more cinematic 16:9.

Image Quality controls image compression. Low compression means better image quality, which higher compression reduces quality but also reduces image size, allowing for more images on a memory card.

Tip: Memory cards are cheap. Get high-capacity memory cards, and leave the camera on the highest compression and image size settings for the best image quality at all times.

Drive Mode lets you shoot in single, 3fps continuous shooting mode, or with a 2- or 10-ssecond self-timer.

Note: The DP1 can shoot no more than 3 frames at a time in continuous shooting mode, and it takes nearly ten seconds for the images to write from buffer to memory card. During this time you cannot take pictures. Keep checking Sigma's firmware download site--an update might eventually improve this.
Interval Timer lets you set the shutter to automatically capture an image in regular intervals, from every 30 seconds to every 24 hours. There are 12 interval choices.

Color Mode lets you switch from color to Sepia or black-and-white image capture, as well as vivid, standard, neutral and portrait options.

Note: I recommend capturing all images in standard color. You can always convert to black-and-white later.

Image with Sound lets you record an audio note while taking a picture. This can be useful for future captioning.

Color Space lets you choose between sRGB (the default) and Adobe RGB. Leave this one alone unless you understand the difference between the two settings.

Picture Settings control the following three settings:

• Contrast lets you vary contrast in up to five steps.

Tip: Normal to low-contrast is better because if you set to high contrast you lose image detail.

• Sharpness lets you sharpen images, kind of like pre-applying Unsharp Mask.

Tip: While the camera offers five steps of sharpness, we recommend you stay neutral.

• Saturation lets you intensify or lower the amount of color in an image.

Tip: When shooting scenics more saturation can lead to more dramatic results.
Quick Preview sets how long the preview image stays on screen immediately after you've taken the shot. The default is 2 sec; other choices are 5 or 10 sec.

Tip: The longer the quick preview stays on, the more battery power is used.

Grid Segment Display controls a grid that can be superimposed over the image. It can be divided into 4, 9, or 16 segments, divided by either solid or dotted lines.

Tip: If you want to compose using the "rule of thirds", choose the 9-segment grid option.

Auto Rotate automatically re-orients vertical images so you can view them while holding the camera horizontally.

Tip: Turn this feature off and rotate the camera as you are previewing images. This way vertical images will be displayed larger.

AEL Button Settings changes the functions of this button. The default is auto-exposure lock based on the current meter pattern. Other options include changing it to center focus lock (focuses on whatever is in the center of the frame; you can focus then recompose), or focus lock plus autoexposure lock simultaneously.

Half Pressed AEL sets the shutter release button to lock in exposure when pressed halfway.

Key Arrangement changes the settings for the up-down and right-left buttons. These settings can be changed contextually, based on which mode the camera is in. This is a fairly advanced setting.

Auto Bracketing Order sets the order of auto bracket--low to high exposure or reverse, or metered exposure first.

Load My Settings lets you customize the camera using the My Settings feature, with up to three different sets of settings. When you hit Load My Settings, a screen full of options pops up, so you can customize up to 14 settings and save them to be recalled at one button press. Save My Settings saves these and you can assign setting sets A, B, or C.


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