Focus on Imaging 2008

Today I went to Birmingham to the Focus on Imaging 2008 show mainly for two reasons. First in the hope to see Ricoh there, have a chat and maybe try out the new R8. Second to try out the long awaited and often delayed Sigma DP-1.
The first reason did not work as Ricoh was not present but this meant I could spend more time at the Sigma booth and getting large format prints from the GRD done.
Now let’s start with the report.
Although it took place in 2 halls there were not that many camera manufacturers there and the ones who’ve been there did not show off too many exciting cameras. What was nice though is to see all the companies providing largeprints and print products. This allowed me to get a few large prints from the Ricoh GRD and they came out very nice considering the size. The colors are great, no visible noise but slightly soft when looking close. I guess with more PP you can get better results though.
On the way to the Sigma stand I had the chance to test the GRD and 40mm lens with studio lighting and take a few pictures of a model. I am very impressed with the quality and details the GRD captured, the colors are great as always from Ricoh cameras.

Now once at the Sigma stand was where the real fun began. The long awaited DP-1 finally there to see and handle.
Even before holding it it strikes you as to how big and chunky the camera looks, it is pretty long (like the old Ricoh GX/GX8) but with the portruding lens it’s wider although it has the same height as the GRD. Once you hold it you’ll realize three things, first that if feels kinda plasticky and not very solid, second thing is that it is lighter than it looks and the third thing is that there is no grip so is a bit like the “soap-box” cameras. Both GRDs have a much better build, grip and are a lot smaller.
Now when turning the camera on you’re either relieved or disapointed as it makes no audible noise like the gool ol’ GRD ;) . The lens extracts smoothly to it’s indended position, this is not very fast and more in line with the Ricoh GX (original GX and not GX100) so both the GRD I and GRD II are slightly faster. This is the time I realized the biggest flaw of the DP-1 and this is the LCD. It is not very bright, has a low resolution, low viewing angles and washed out colors. Still, it’s not that much worse than the GRD I screen and I could live with that. However the refresh rate is reallywhat kills it. It is slow and creates ghosting everytime something moves or you move the camera. You can forget using it for action shots or panning with it. This is a big disapointment and should not be like this on a camera this expensive, I can forgive the cheap build quality but not this. The GRD II screen is miles ahead in brightness, resolution, refreshrate and the colors are more accurate.
Now let’s move to one of the most important things for me, the controls and operation. It was always clear that the DP-1 won’t come close to the great (and IMO perfect) Ricoh controls so let’s see what works well and what not. The best thing on the DP-1 is without doubt the focus wheel, great feature and very fast to use. Now you have to use it quite often as the AF is quite slow although nowhere near the useless AF found on Nikon Coolpix cameras. Unfortunatelly the rest is also not really convincing.
The mode dial works like any mode dial but is IMO too big and not positioned well, still this is not a big deal. The zoom buttons only zoom in playback mode and can’t be assigned any other function. This is not very good and Sigma should fix this with a firmware update and allow them to be used, like on the GRD, for EV compensation or assigned other settings (like the Ricoh Adj. menu). The AE lock button works and does exactly what it says it does.
Now the EV button changes either the EV compensation or in Manual mode between shutter and aperture selection. One weird thing is that in Manual mode the camera always displayed EV -3 on the display, think this is a bug within the beta firmware. The left and right arrows change the selected shutter speed or aperture but it is not very fast or convenient. The buttons are in general too small and as the symbols on them are black it’s not easy to see what they are used for so it needs getting used to. Overall I am not impressed with the controls and why not the worst I’ve seen not good either.
The menu is ok and easy to navigate but the response is slow and you always have the live preview as background so it can make certain things difficult to see depending on what you have in front of the camera. I very much prefer the Ricoh GRD II menu over this and even the GRD I menu is better although some things are more cryptic in the Ricoh menu. Maybe I just prefer the Ricoh menu because it allows you to customize the camera so much that you don’t have to go in there afterwards. Overall the DP-1 feels a bit slow and you always have to wait for the camera unlike the very responsive GRD II or still fast GRD I.
RAW write times are around 4-5sec and it has no buffer so you have to wait for the camera to finish writing. While it’s almost 10sec faster than the GRD I it is slower than the GRD II as it does not have the 2nd shot buffer.
Now a quick look at the external OVF compared to the GV-1 and GV-2 from Ricoh. The Sigma OVF is tiny and feels cheap and flimsy as it’splastic, it’s dark and the framelines are very hard to see. The GV-1 is so much bettter that Laurence from the Sigma stand grabbed my GRDand tried to use it on the DP-1. It does not work however as it’s too big and comes against the mode dial, the Ricoh GV-2 should work finehowever. The Sigma OVF is very small and won’t take much space but that’s about it.
Now I am pretty disappointed from what I’ve seen. Sure, the IQ should be superior but I am not sure this is enough to make it worth the asking price. Overal the DP-1 in the current state is too slow in operation and too big to always have with you. Reminds me of the Fuji F30, a great sensor in a so-so camera. But not everything is lost and Sigma can improve on this so I hope the DP-2 will be out faster than the DP-1 and adresses some of the issues with the speed, LCD and controls.

As a side note while having the GRD on the counter some people were clearly more impressed by it than the DP-1.

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