Sigma dp0 Quattro 14mm f/4: Of Odds & Ends

 
Sigma dp0 Quattro 14mm f/4

Sigma dp0 Quattro 14mm f/4

With every other feature (including the underlying philosophy) remaining exactly the same as its siblings, the dp1, dp2 and dp3, the ultrawide angle lens of the Sigma dp0 Quattro makes it quite unique. K Madhavan Pillai reports.

Sigma’s Quattro series has come a long way in building a cult following for itself by following a simple principle—it is better to do an excellent job with a few things rather than an average job with a lot of things. Going by my experience of the superb optics of the previous dp cameras, I personally looked forward to the dp0 with its 14mm fixed lens (21mm on full frame).

In all but the lens, the four cameras (dp3, 2, 1 and 0) are the same. They all have identical 29.4MP Foveon sensors capable of producing a slightly interpolated output of 39MP. As we have experienced in our previous reviews, the stacked sensor easily surpasses the image quality produced by any other APS-C sensor so far, at settings of ISO 100 to 800. In fact, at ISO 100 and 200, it challenges all but the very latest full frame high resolution sensors as well. The controls layout, handling and build are also exactly the same across the series. Thus, this review is more a test of the lens, while looking at how it affects the camera.

Features
Sigma designed the rectilinear 14mm lens of the dp0 to provide a path for the light to reach the sensor in as straight a manner as possible, resulting in a lens that is the largest amongst the dp Quattro series of cameras despite having the smallest focal length.

I misplaced the lens cap of the dp0 for a couple of days, and discovered that it had become one of Sihaya’s prized possessions. I had to steal it back from her. Apart from the expected perspective distortion, notice how the lines are perfectly straight. The extremely high level of contrast had completely blown out the highlights in the JPEG (despite setting the contrast at -0.2 in the camera). On processing the RAW, plenty of subtle details could be recovered. Exposure: 1/60sec at f/5.6 (ISO 200). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

I misplaced the lens cap of the dp0 for a couple of days, and discovered that it had become one of Sihaya’s prized possessions. I had to steal it back from her. Apart from the expected perspective distortion, notice how the lines are perfectly straight. The extremely high level of contrast had completely blown out the highlights in the JPEG (despite setting the contrast at -0.2 in the camera). On processing the RAW, plenty of subtle details could be recovered. Exposure: 1/60sec at f/5.6 (ISO 200). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

The lens is made up of four FLD (‘F’ Low Dispersion) glass lens elements with performance similar to that of fluorite lenses, two SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements, and two aspherical elements, one of which is a wide double-sided aspheric. Together, these allow a 91-degree field of view while keeping distortion to less than 1% (astounding for an ultrawide) and maintaining sharpness across the frame at different apertures. This could be the reason for the lens to have a maximum aperture of just f/4, unlike f/2.8 in the other dp Quattro cameras.

The dp0 has the shortest minimum focusing distance of 7 inches, a 7 blade aperture that also doubles as the shutter, and a filter size of 58mm.

Handling
Here’s where the odds kick in. While the loss of a stop may not seem like much, it restricts handheld use in low light situations, especially with street photography, which would otherwise have been ideal for this focal length. On the other hand, the minimal number of moving elements during AF speeds up AF performance over the other dp Quattro cameras and the focus limit modes works well. The AF gets sluggish in low light. The MF ring conveniently extends all the way to the front. In the magnified view, one is able to determine focus quite accurately. The lack of any other MF assist features make it a slower process.

Performance
Few wide angle lenses perform as well as this 14mm. Apart from superb edge-to-edge sharpness even wide open, the lens has a high level of microcontrast and resistance to flare. From f/4 to f/11, the sharpness is exemplary. Critical sharpness drops progressively beyond f/11, and the lens goes noticeably soft at f/22. But despite this, it is a lot better than other similar lenses. The various quirks of the both the sensor and the unconventional camera design of the body remain.

With the dp0, it is not just about being close to the action, but right in the middle of it. That said, the dp0 is not meant for low light handheld street photography. Exposure: 1/500sec at f/4 (ISO 1600). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

With the dp0, it is not just about being close to the action, but right in the middle of it. That said, the dp0 is not meant for low light handheld street photography. Exposure: 1/500sec at f/4 (ISO 1600). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Conclusion
When the ends dictate the means, there is always a way out. Despite all the limitations of the dp0, the quality of image at ISO 100 and the fantastic lens is worth the additional effort it takes. Low light street photography? Use a flashgun with hyperfocal distances set so that you do not need to focus. Or begin using a tripod. In that sense, the Quattro series provides as close an experience of using film as it gets in digital photography.

On its own, the Auto White Balance function does an excellent job in tricky situations. Exposure: 8 sec at f/7.1 (ISO 100). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

On its own, the Auto White Balance function does an excellent job in tricky situations. Exposure: 8 sec at f/7.1 (ISO 100). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

The camera is priced at Rs. 79,900. While it may seem like an expensive buy, it allows the users a choice. For instance, DLSRs with the same quality of image and optics will cost four times as much, but will offer far greater flexibility. The question, of course, is if you are the kind of photographer for whom all that additional effort to make a single picture makes sense. If it does, the Sigma dp0 is quite fantastic indeed.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
14mm lens with just distortion levels of less than 1%, APS-C Foveon sensor, 29MP
15/20
Performance
Superb low ISO detail, quiet, high ISO noise
30/35
Build Quality
Robust magnesium alloy construction
21/25
Ergonomics
Very unconventional design, simple operation
11/15
Warranty & Support
One-year warranty, limited service centers
3/5
MRP Rs. 79,900
OVERALL 80%
VALUE FOR MONEY 3.5/5
Who should buy it? Serious enthusiasts specialising in landscape, street, environmental portraits, interiors, and architecture, who can make do with low ISO settings.
Why? The magic of the dp0 is in its exceptional lens and low ISO performance. In the hands of someone with technical knowhow and patience, it can produce truly stunning results.
Tags: K Madhavan Pillai, November 2015, Sigma, Sigma dp0 Quattro 14mm f/4, Sigma dp0 Quattro 14mm f/4 review, Sigma quattro