The lack of zoom is probably a deal-killer for a lot of people, but not everyone. The 16.8mm f/4 lens (the film-camera equivalent of 28mm) gives it a wonderfully wide angle, which is ideal for landscapes, cityscapes, interior real-estate shots and so on.
Unfortunately, it’s no good for close-ups. The closest you can get to your subject and still attain focus is about a foot.
The camera is slow, too. Slow to turn on, slow to focus. Action shots? Forget it.
It’s even slow between shots; it takes two seconds to record each JPEG-format photo, and a ghastly seven seconds for each photo in the RAW format. (That’s a more flexible, data-rich format preferred by professionals. Unfortunately, popular programs like Photoshop can’t read Sigma’s RAW files; you have to use the included bare-bones RAW-editing software instead.)
Weirdly, there’s no optical (eyepiece) viewfinder. That’s a real problem, since the 2.5-inch screen washes out badly in sunshine. Of course, Sigma will happily sell you an external, clip-on viewfinder; for $140, you get a tiny glass tunnel you can peer through to frame your shots. Unfortunately, it attaches to the flash socket on top of the camera, decreasing portability and preventing you from using an external flash. It all seems absurd and unnecessary.
The screen has other issues, too. In low light, it actually switches into black-and-white. The pictures you take are still in color, but the screen is monochrome. What the heck?
There are full manual controls here — aperture and shutter priority, a dedicated manual-focus dial, and so on — but no scene modes. The DP1 can record movies, but they’re small; they fill only a quarter of your TV (320 x 240, far smaller than other pocket cams). Over and over, the company seems to be saying: “This is not a consumer camera — it’s a professional camera that happens to be small.”
But even pros would benefit from image stabilization, and the DP1 doesn’t have it. These days, every camera has stabilization — an essential anti-blur feature when the shutter has to stay open awhile, as when you’re shooting in low light.
That’s a real shame, because if it’s kept steady enough, the DP1 can take incredible, noise-free nighttime shots. There’s no autofocus lamp, alas, so focusing is slow. But without a tripod, you get one blurry shot after another.
Finally, there’s the lens cap. Not to be a nitpicker here, but come on; not only is it not built in, it doesn’t even have a little loop for tying it to the camera. And it snaps back onto the lens in only one orientation: logo upright. You’ll lose this thing in a week, guaranteed.
So kudos to Sigma. It has done what was once considered impossible: it has built a big sensor into a tiny camera.
But did it have to be such a lame camera? No zoom, no stabilizer, no focus lamp, no optical viewfinder, no live histogram; weak flash, washed-out screen, quarter-size movies, infinite shutter lag, loose lens cap. Hello, Sigma? 1998 called. It wants its camera back.
This is not to take anything away from Sigma’s astounding technical breakthrough. It is, however, a call to Sigma to hurry up with the DP2 — or to its rivals to pick up from where Sigma left off.
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: email@example.com.