Bold and brave or exotic tech and ill timed debut on the photography stage? Enter the Sigma DP1, the original Foveon X3 sensor compact camera. Promoted for having an APS-C sized sensor from the DSLR range of Sigma cameras and a purpose specced lens created to maximise it’s promised capabilities. Unique. Exotic. Expensive.
There’s been much written and, in some cases ridiculed, about the the usability of this odd little camera. Criticism ranges from slow (glacial in many an action photographers eyes) write and shooting times, a borderline 2 ISO option (you get 50 and 100 – and the 50 was a firmware update) to restrictions on processing the proprietary .X3F files. Did I mention the low resolution, even for it’s time, LCD display which was your only real option to use the fine focus ability in manual mode (expensive optical viewfinders were and are available).
So why… why consider getting this little black brick with a lens in 2021 to develop as an amateur photographer?
Quality. Like savouring an exquisitely prepared piece of Unagi sushi, to be enjoyed in that moment as it is served, this camera and all it creates has refinement and character that sets it apart even today from its contemporaries. With a light aluminium body, ergonomics that considered one hand operation with an excellent manual focus wheel, there’s plenty to appreciate from this pocket jewel. But, much like sushi, the exquisite presentation presents unique challenges to overcome.
Compose a shot. Get the ISO, shutter speed, aperture all harmonised. You decide to check your actually in focus through the manual zoom…wait, is it buffering as it renders? Why is the sun ghosting my screen? Nope. That’s the mighty 230,000 dot resolution LCD struggling to render what the lens is seeing and having some of the worst contrast for anyone, even 20/20 vision, to decipher. Did I mention it likes to adjust it’s colour on the fly to almost monochrome? Oh it’s a beauty, so much so shooting blind is actually considered a valid way to treat this camera in some circles.
The 28mm full frame equivalent lens has provided me challenges with composition. If, like me, you find a 50mm or even short telephoto (hello 135mm my old friend) focal length more natural, this camera will provide another spike in the learning curve. Stuck with a sharp across the board, yet slow F.4 maximum wide open, it’s never going to keep those shutter speeds fast enough for those of us with human hands or friendly reminders of old age creeping up to take spontaneous low light images.
Quality. Persevere to the end result and be rewarded with all the refinement this high quality tool can show. The first time I saw a Foveon sensor image I was blown away. I’d been shooting with (and still do) a Pentax KS-1, and honestly thought I’d been mislead by the resolution of my little Pentax. These images have a 3D quality that seems to play off the depth of field and makes the image come alive off the screen. Metals in particular are some of this cameras best pairings for a subject matter!
Which leads me to today’s 5 frames. Situated in a valley, overlooked by trees and a stately manor is the 23rd Leighton Hall Classic Car and Bike show, dodging the inclement storms of the Lancashire coast.
For a first show since lock down has been eased, the turn out of a few hundred hardy souls was encouraging, both to me and I’m sure the petrol head fanatics who were displaying their prides and joy.
Walking around the relaxed displays, most simply parked with their owners pitched in the cars or on camping seats, a simple question about the car was enough to get tales of romancing their machines back to life and pristine. Old tales to match the old vehicles.
This camera is similar to the subjects. Old, of a time when greater risks were often taken with design and technology, often to interesting and stunning effects. The weather may not have been ideal, but just as the Sigma won’t be hurried, neither will the weather or these cars.
Thanks for taking the time to chill and read this article- be nice to see and hear from you over at my Flickr. Wes.