Sigma dp2 Quattro Review

In early 2009 I bought my first Sigma,  a dp1.  I have been a life-long picture-taker, but that camera re-ignited my passion for photography. I currently use a Sigma dp2s and dp1 Merrill (dp1m).   This review is a bit negative on the Quattro, but please understand that it is written from a frustrated lover of Sigmas, not a stranger.   Ignoring the new body shape, the Quattro, like other Sigma/Foveon cameras, delivers medium format quality at 1/40th the price and a fraction of the size.   I can’t afford medium format  and though I have full-frame cameras, they are bigger, bulkier and more expensive than similar Sigmas.  When I can work patiently, and want a film-like image, all Sigma cameras, including the Quattro, have a unique sensor technology, coupled with superlative optics, that produce a 3-D look.  Here are some photos from my early Sigma cameras.  Sigma dp1 and dp2s photos.

Before I received the Quattro I hoped for two improvements, a more responsive camera and Sigma Photo software that loaded and saved images in a reasonable amount of time.   My first wish has been realized–a Sigma camera that isn’t frustratingly-slow.  Unfortunately,  every time I put this camera in my bag I become irritated.  The camera is about 2 inches wider than my other cameras.

If the Quattro were my only camera I wouldn’t mind.  But what photographer would make the Quattro their only camera? (It’s too limited).  Most serious photographers have multiple cameras.  Therefore, this camera, for photographers carrying multiple cameras, or extra lenses, is the proverbial “poke in the eye.”  The camera is a bag-hog.  It is one of the great benefits of Sigmas Merrills that they gave you Nikon D800 quality in a small size.

What's that sticking out of my bag?
What’s that sticking out of my bag?

I could lay the Quattro down flat, but then it would push the other camera out.   Here is the Quattro compared to a Sony a6000.

In these photos I forgot to remove the Clearviewer on the Dp2Q that doesn’t come with the camera.

Past Sigma cameras have been utilitarian, in a good way.  The bodies are a bit slippery, but an aftermarket grip, or 2-cents worth of gaffers tape, fixes that to the user’s preference.  The batteries were small, but that never bothered me.  I had the choice of going light, or bringing more batteries.  With the Quattro, you’re stuck with a big camera, which now makes choosing it over a full-frame more difficult.

Here is a progression of Sigma Cameras.

Dp2Q, Dp1m and Dp2s. The gaffers tape on the Dp1m is for grip.

Onto the good.  The new Quattro design uses a concept that drives bayer sensors, interpolating single pixel colors to increase resolution at the expense of color accuracy.  The Quattro still samples three colors, vertically, like film, but uses a top, higher resolution layer to increase resolution.  In a sense, the Quattro is like the original DP series in full-color sampling, but with some added high density pixels (4 to 1, hence “Quattro”).  Excuse me if I don’t go into the details, there are better sources for this analysis (like the Sigma forum on DPreview).  Suffice it to say that in good light, the Sigma Merrill cameras are the most color-accurate consumer cameras you can buy.  The Quattro isn’t quite as good as a Merrill, but it delivers greater speed and over-all resolution.

I try to use a Sigma camera whenever I can.  I don’t have any special love/attachment to the Sigma brand.  They simply deliver the best images when their limitations don’t get in the way.  So my first question is how well the Quattro will compare my other APS-C camera; that is, which should I use more?  Lately, I’ve been using the Sony a6000, and have been very happy with it.  Sony has really got their act together with their cameras (standard hot shoes for one!).  They have been pushing new technologies for a few years now.  Their hard work is paying off.

I wanted to see for myself  how much the a6000  suffers from typical bayer problems against the Quatro, or if the Quattro’s somewhat partial “bayer-like” sensor change would craete bayer-like problems .  (The test has nothing to do with Sony.  Any Canon or Nikon camera would show the same issue.)

When I try to show why I think Sigma images are better than bayer images most people don’t see it.  It seems subjective.  My goal with the following test is to show objectively, what is going on, deep within the images, of both the Foveon and Bayer technologies.  Again, the difference between both cameras is not obvious to most people and I’m not arguing that it should be.  For those who print big, or need fine color detail, there is no need to defend these cameras.


Here is a close up of the interpolated pixels from the Sigma Quattro.  As desired, the white fabric between colors is white, as it is to my eye.  The dark spots are actually true-to-life, some of the black threading can be seen below the white-stitching.

Sigma dp2 Quattro

Here is the same rendering by the a6000, bayer sensor camera.

a6000 (bayer)

This is a problem of ALL bayer sensor cameras.  When a green pixel, say, borrows red and blue values from neighboring pixels it can come up with a value that is not neutral.  You can see how the red bleeds a bit into the white, and how the black allows red pixels to slightly saturate to orange on the white.  The farther one stands away from a print or screen, the less visible these differences are.  Indeed, in most cases, one cannot see the difference.

The Quattro is better at keeping colors separate.  Bayer cameras “smear” color, but it isn’t noticeable to most people.  Physiologically, we’re more sensitive to contrast than color fidelity.  Again, at the resolution we view most images at, these differences are not apparent.

Even with pure colors, bayers have trouble exactly calculating proper pixel color through horizontal interpolation.

a6000 (bayer)

Now the Quattro image

Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro

What these tests tell me that on the basis of pure IQ, within 8 stops of dynamic range, the Quattro is better than any other bayer camera.  However, the quality comes at a huge cost  in speed and flexibility.  Sigma has made improvements with the speed of the camera, but has not improved the software and has added a radical body design to the mix.

In pixel-deep, pure image-color-IQ, no other camera touches a Sigma, not even the venerable Nikon D800, IMHO.   For black-and-white photography, Sigmas are also exceptional.  Bayer cameras introduce tonal inconsistencies, due to the different color filters on each pixel.  The problem is not academic.  Leica has a b/w-only camera, without bayer filters, which sells for $9,000.  Because Sigma cameras use vertical sampling, they also produce exceptional b/w data.

If Sigma is reading this, here is my wish list.  In general, FOCUS all your camera resources on making the best, small, low-light ISO camera available.  You’ve been doing this for years, but I feel the Quattro is getting off-track.  1.) Rebuild SPP from scratch to make is fast.  It just needs minimal adjustment sliders, white-balance and exposure adjustments (only what can’t be done in Photoshop).  EXPECT everyone to use PS, or something similar.   2.) extend the grip forward on the Merrill (like other cameras) and put in a bigger battery to run a STRONGER processor.  If the Quattro doesn’t have superior IQ to the Merrill, drop it.   Don’t worry about making the battery last, per number of shots, make it powerful to clear up the camera buffer as fast as possible.  And again, EXPECT most photographers to carry more than one camera; the Quattro is too wide.

If the Merrill shot as fast as other cameras at ISO 100, and you could process those files as fast as a Canikons, it would be, at ISO 100, a camera most photographers could not ignore.  If more people bought Sigmas I’d breath a little easier.  I don’t want to shoot in a photographic world without these truly unique, and beautiful images.  Finally, a quick test-shot of my daughter, f2.8, the first one I took with the Quattro.







8 thoughts on “Sigma dp2 Quattro Review”

  1. Hi there, thanks for your review on the Quattro.

    I’m looking forward to buy the Quattro, but I read somewhere that it’s not really better than the Merrill in terms of sharpness and colour reproduction. Have you had a chance to compare the two? Do you think the Quattro has a good compromise between speed and picture quality or do you think the new sensor is more of a gimmick?

    I totally agree your observation on the size of the Quattro. But at least it is still as easy to shoot as its predecessor? Should I go for the Quattro or get the Merrill? Thanks for your help.

    1. I did not get a chance to compare the Q to the M. After charging, I really only had 4 days with the camera. Also, based on its sensor design I believe it impossible for the Q to be better than the M, in color nuance, because one of the channels (blue) is losing sensitivity; that is, if you break a pixel into 4 sections you lose light sensitivity to the lines in between each pixel. The Q makes a physical trade off between sharpness and color, dynamic range, accuracy. I believe it is very subtle though, just my opinion. I have a DP1M. I do not plan on buying a Quattro. The next Sigma camera I’ll probably pick up would be a DP3M. The Q’s body design, as I said in my review, does not work for me.

  2. Why didn’t you compare the Quattro to the Merrill? That would be significant!
    Also, you intermix the word “Merrill” and “Quattro”, which is confusing. Is this an error or are you actually referring to the two different cameras? Is the B&W pic at the bottom taken with the Quattro?

    Comment on the Quattro vs Sony: The Sony shows color moire in the fabrics and color confusion in the white area, but the Quattro shows B&W confusion in the white area and though it doesn’t seem to show moire in the fabrics, it does exhibit a solarization effect in the brighter areas. It appears that dynamic range of the Quattro may be inadequate.

    Again, please compare the IQ of the Quattro to the Merrill.

    1. Sorry, I didn’t test my dp1m against the Q because the Q is 42mm and my 1 is about 28mm. I had limited time with the camera, so left that test to others. Yes, the BW photo was taken with the Quattro. I just wanted to end on a positive note about the camera. The B&W confusion you see was actually part of the fabric! In that area, the Sigmas are exceptional. As for the solarization and dynamic range, Bill Claff did some analysis of Foveon sensors and found they had a DR of about 8. That is my experience too. It doesn’t mean the cameras don’t take great photos, but they have that limitation one should watch out for, as you pointed out. ( changed essay a little to reflect this, thanks!)

  3. I like this review. I own the Sigma DP1M, DP2M and the DP3M. I also still have the DP1s. So you can say I like the concept. I accept the poor software, the short life of the batteries. I never had any problem with the writing times, 6 or 7 in a row is enough for me. I saw the pictures of the new Quattro at 100 iso, have worked with the raw files like I do with my Merrills and they have less IQ then the Merrills. I can not say anything about the shape because I never hold the Quattro. I never use another iso then 100 iso and I must say that the Quattro also are poor at higher iso’s. The color suffers. But the most disappointment is the less IQ at 100 iso. You buy this camera’s for nothing less then amzing IQ. No compromise.

  4. It’s a shame that DP1 Merrill users won’t be able to take advantage of the improved lens on the forthcoming DP1 Quattro. Although the DP1m lens is much much better than it’s detractors say (bet they’ve never used it, just read about it), and the pics I get are every bit as good as I got from my DP2M (sold the DP2m to get the DP1m and have no regrets, as I prefer its field of view…). I’ll be sticking with the DP1M too.

    I also frequently make use of the VGA video mode for recording brief clips ,and the Quattro cannot do this as there is no video mode at all. I find the clips look ok for close distance subjects, and outweigh the inconvenience of carrying another camera along just to make the odd HD quality video.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.