Yup, marmite. People say you either love it or hate it. Personally I’ve always liked Marmite flavoured crisps. 😉 But hey! What’s that got to do with a camera I hear you ask? Well, people often remark that Sigma cameras are just like Marmite – you either love them or hate them.
In a recent conversation with Jennifer Lister at Sigma Imaging UK, she remarked to me that she’d like me to try a Sigma dp0 Quattro to get my views on it. “What… yon weird looking thing I’ve seen whilst looking at Sigma lenses on the website”? I commented. “Yes indeed” she replied. “If you shoot landscapes you really should try one”! Being an open minded, easy riding, sort of guy I thought “Ach, why not”.
You see, up until recently I hadn’t used a Sigma camera, in fact I hadn’t even thought about using one. Sigma Art lenses on the other hand I do use, and lots of them. In addition to being excellent value for money, they are also incredibly sharp, with some models actually giving the Zeiss Otus lenses a pretty close run for the money. But I digress…
So, a day or two later, the said beastie arrived including the LCD Viewfinder. I was off to Skye that weekend to shoot for a TV project I’m involved in and thought “perfect” this is a great opportunity to field test the camera whilst visiting some of my favourite locations. Now let me get something clear from the off; this isn’t a technical review, I’m a Professional Photographer not an Anorak, so if you love measurebating over MTF charts then this article isn’t for you. I make photographs because I enjoy being creative. I like to capture real people, places, moods and emotions. What I don’t like (or have time for) is discussing utterly boring technical specs on internet forums with sad nerds who know everything about camera manuals, but absolutely nothing about what it takes to be creative and make great photographs.
Every country has its own unique beauty and character which are commonly rooted in people’s hearts. Whilst working in Japan I found myself recognising traits in their national character that reminded me of being Scottish. Apart from the obvious love of golf and whisky, Scotland’s two biggest gifts to the world, I kept recognising other traits in them that seemed more Glasgow than Ginza.
I’ve read that when Sigma developed the dp0 Quattro some of the project team had reservations that it would sell. Tomoki Kohno, a lens designer and the Acting Manager of Product Development Unit 2 said, “If it won’t sell, let’s do our very best and make a historic 21mm.” It was a “So what attitude” as opposed to a clinical business decision. Kazuto Yamaki, CEO of Sigma replied, “As you say, it may not sell. But, let’s make it. SIGMA is a manufacturer who tries. If we stop trying, we’re not SIGMA anymore.”
I value individuality and a strong sense of character in people. A lot of people take the easy option and follow rather than lead. Rather than trying to excel, they give up too easily. I have always been an optimistic person and I have to say their attitude appealed to me. Whether you use Sigma cameras or not, one thing you have to admire is their design team’s conviction to a principle.
SIGMA chose to design a 21mm lens exclusively for the dp0 Quattro body because they believe that it’s the only way to draw out the Foveon sensor’s maximum performance. (The lens is actually 14mm but due to the crop factor from the sensor, I’ll refer to it as 21mm) When they match the body and the lens at the production site, they adjust the alignment of the sensor of every camera by checking their image outputs. It is this attention to detail that results in the stunning performance of the dp0 Quattro and 21mm lens across the full frame, even into the extreme corners.
Due to the high resolving power of the dp0 Quattro’s lens and Foveon sensor, in conjunction with its unique reproduction of tone and colour, I found the definition of the images very reminiscent of medium format. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that the images that the dp0 Quattro produces are by far the best images that I’ve seen from a compact camera. It easily rivals a high-end DSLR with an equivalent prime lens. The Foveon X3 Quattro sensor and the 21mm lens deliver stunningly sharp, high-resolution images. Chromatic aberrations are non-existent on the dp0 Quattro, which is again testament to the excellence of the lens. The maximum aperture of f/4 may be relatively slow for some, but that’s not a great issue for landscape and architectural use.
Although a 21mm lens isn’t perfect for every scene one encounters, I actually found it perfect for shooting landscapes in my signature style. In the 1980’s I shot with an Olympus OM2n and the legendary 21mm F3.5 Zuiko lens. It was perfect for capturing the beautiful vistas found in the West Highlands of Scotland and whilst shooting with the dp0 Quattro I was constantly reminded of that. The light compact body meant I seldom needed a tripod and it also facilitated shooting in some challenging geographic locations.
The Sigma dp0 Quattro has a very distinctive design that’s quite unlike any camera that I’ve seen before. It’s ergonomics might look a bit odd, but once in the hand it’s actually pretty easy to hold and shoot with. After using Nikon D810’s with BG12’s and the likes, it actually felt really light. All the buttons fell to hand intuitively, and the menu system was extremely logical and easy to navigate.
Best of all though, the experience of shooting with the dp0 Quattro was so transparent, I could commit myself to ‘really enjoying’ shooting. It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a camera and used it without having to double check something in the user manual, but in this case it was a breeze. In fact I’d go as far as saying it’s the most fun I’ve had shooting with a camera in a long, long time. This for me is the greatest characteristic of the dp0 Quattro.
Did I have many issues? Not too many actually – could the LCD screen resolution be better – yes it could, but it’s by no means bad, and as you can see from my examples it didn’t impede me from getting good results. When reviewing shots it takes a wee bit longer to render than the Nikon’s and Sony’s I’m used to using, but it wasn’t a deal breaker. The thing is, that’s actually part of the charm of this camera for me. It reminded me of shooting with film and made my approach to shooting somewhat more considered.
Most people realise the Foveon sensor isn’t great at high ISO’s, but when shot and exposed properly it has a very unique aesthetic about it, an aesthetic that I actually found very attractive, indeed so attractive that I will be keeping the dp0 Quattro as it’s perfect for certain shooting situations.
If Sigma’s goal was to produce a compact camera with the most exceptional image quality in its class, then by god they’ve succeeded. For that alone, Kazuto Yamaki, Tomoki Kohno, and the Sigma team should be applauded for sticking to their principles. If the performance of this camera is anything to go by, then I look forward to seeing what the recently announced SD Quattro H will do. Obviously the dp0 Quattro won’t be replacing my Nikon D810 or Sony A7R II, but what it will do is complement them perfectly. If you shoot landscapes or architecture I’d recommend that you try this camera. I’m pretty sure that like me, you might get a very pleasant surprise.
The Sigma DP0 Quattro is a compact camera with a 39-megapixel APS-C sized Foveon X3 Quattro sensor and a 14mm fixed lens (21mm equivalent) with an aperture of f/4 and wide angle of view of 91 degrees. In order to achieve the highest optical performance, the lens features 4 FLD (“F” Low Dispersion) glass elements, which have performance equal to fluorite, 2 SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements and 2 aspheric lenses, including a wide double-sided aspheric lens. The DP0 Quattro’s unique sensor outputs 5424×3616-pixel raw images at the highest resolution setting, and is comprised of four separate layers, with three dedicated layers for capturing Red, Green and Blue. The DP0 Quattro also features the TRUE III image processing engine, 3-inch TFT colour monitor with 920,000 dots, full range of creative shooting modes, manual focus ring, external hotshoe, Quick Set button and RAW format support.
Just like a DSLR, the DP0 Quattro offers both JPEG and RAW recording formats. There are 3 different JPEG compression levels (Fine, Normal, Basic), three resolution settings (Super-high, High Low) and a choice of five crop modes (21:9, 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 and 1:1). The RAW files are saved in the Sigma X3F format, which currently can only be processed using the free to download Sigma Photo Pro 6 image developer. Sigma Photo Pro is a simple, straight-forward application that doesn’t compare that well with Lightroom or Photoshop in terms of features, but it gets the job done and is free of charge. In my case I exported files as 16bit TIF’s and then carried out the rest of my processing as normal in Lightroom.
The Sigma DP0 Quattro retails for around £700.00