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Sigma DP2: In a class by itself for pocketable HDR photography

Sigma DP2: In a class by itself for pocketable HDR photography

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The feature set and image quality of the newest Foveon-chipped compact from Sigma makes it perfect for pro-quality pocketable HDRI.

By Jack Howard

June 15, 2009

There's not a pocket camera in market that comes close to the feature set and image quality of the Sigma DP2 for serious High Dynamic Range Imaging, except for its Sigma sibling the DP1. And if you think this black bricklet is a bit big for a pocket camera, buy baggier pants!

If you are serious about High Dynamic Range Imaging, the Sigma DP2 is the compact camera for you. With the exception of its Sigma stablemate, the Sigma DP1, there's no other compact camera with a combination of feature set and low ISO image quality that can come close to the results of the Sigma DP2 for HDRI.

Be forewarned: The Sigma DP2 is an image-making device. Period. You can certainly frame and review your shots on the LCD, but it does take a bit of a step backwards in mindset to consider the camera as primarily an image-capturing device, and not a multimedia swiss-army-knife-type-device like so many of the small-chip pocketable cameras in market. The Sigma DP2 excels at one thing: capturing photons to its Foveon sensor and then churning out outstanding-quality images. 

Yes, it is a bit slow in X3F RAW processing. Yes, the 320x240 video is sub-standard, and yes, the LCD is a bit noisy and low-pixeled compared to many other compact cameras, but that's all besides the point. The image quality of the images, especially at the lowest ISOs, cannot be beaten by any other pocketable camera I've seen, and trust me, I've seen most of them.

And that's just talking about a single image. The feature set of the Sigma DP2 make it the ultimate pocket High Dynamic Range camera. Here's what makes it shine for extending the exposure value range for serious HDR photography:

  • One-touch three shot Auto Exposure bracketing at up to +/-3 EVs for a single-touch burst in under 1 second.
  • Manual focus option allows for dual AEB bursts or manual bracketing without any chance of focus shift between bursts to expand the bracketed capture sequence for extreme situations where a +/-3 EV offset isn't enough to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene.
  • Full manual controls (with a full range of apertures from f/2.8 through f/14!)
  • X3F Foveon RAW format produces exceptionally crisp and sharp 2460x1760 (26.6MB) or 5280x3520 (106.3MB) sRGB 16-bit TIFFs via Sigma Photo Pro 3.3 as HDR source images.

Bullet points one, two, and three are self-explanatory, but we need to look at bullet point four a little more closely.

As of today, none of my four heavy-rotation HDR programs (Photomatix Pro, Dynamic Photo HDR, FDRTools Advanced, or Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended) support the DP2's X3F raw format, but that's OK, because as much as it's usually best to use straight-from-the-camera RAW files as your HDR source images, there's what can best be described as "neat-o Foveon chip mojo" that allows Sigma Photo Pro to double the size of the X3F RAW files with minimal impact on image sharpness. (Briefly: since the Foveon-based RAW files don't need demosaicing like CCD and CMOS-based Bayer patterned RAW files from most other compacts and SLRs, upsampling produces much cleaner, less "artifacty" image files.) Give it a shot–you'll see what I mean when you get your hands on a DP2 of your own!

We should do as little as possible to the images for Sigma Photo Pro Processing of the RAW files for the best-quality source images into your typical HDR workflow: Select X3F processing (straight-from-camera, in other words), and actual, half, or double size output images. Obviously, the processing time increases significantly with each doubling of image size, but HDR photographers quickly learn that patience is one of the most important parts of the HDR workflow! Why do I choose sRGB instead of Adobe RGB? Because HDR primaries are based on sRGB, that's why. But if you really, really, really want to use Adobe RGB, that's OK, too.  Honestly, I'll probably stick with converting the X3F RAWs to 16-bit TIFFs via Sigma Photo Pro, even after the HDR programs add filetype support–which is a departure from my normal preferred HDR workflow. But then again, the DP2 is a departure from your typical pocket compact digicam as the slideshow below illustrates.


 

All Tone mapped imaged captured at +/-3 EV AEB burst with the Sigma DP2, auto white balanced, in either Manual or Aperture-priority focus mode. Images merged and/or Tone mapped with FDRTools Advanced or Dynamic Photo HDR 4. Minor contrast/vibrance tweaks applied in Adobe Camera RAW. Images resized for web display. No sharpening applied at any step. Click the flyout box on the lower right of the slideshow window to launch full-screen mode.

And then once you've got your 16-bit TIFF source images created, it's a simple matter of going through the HDR generation and tone mapping workflows which I briefly touch on here in this 100 in 100 series in the Adorama Learning Center (and in much greater detail in my book, Practical HDRI), to make amazingly detailed, ridiculously crisp and sharp, professional-quality tone mapped output images from a pocketable camera.

I'll say it again: There is not a compact camera in market today that has a better feature set and image quality for the serious High Dynamic Range Photographer than the Sigma DP2. Throw in the fast 24.6mm f/2.8 prime glass (35mm equivalent approx 40mm which is on the wide side of normal), a rock-solid build with right-angle sides and bottom to turn any table or semi-level surface into a stable shooting platform for aligned images from bracket bursts and the Sigma DP2 is truly in a class of its own. If image quality trumps all else for you, the Sigma DP2 is simply amazing.

Thinking about the Sigma DP2 or have a follow-up question for Jack? Leave a comment to let us know!

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