[REVIEW—SIGMA dp2 Quattro compact camera]

sigmadp2quattroPrice: $1049
Acquired taste

THE LOW-DOWN: This is the newest Sigma camera using the 29mp Foveon sensor. (See foveon.com for details) The sensor is APS-C size so the 30mm f2.8 fixed focal length lens is a film equivalent 45mm. The 75mm 920k dot does not swivel. The camera body is long and thin, resembling the Sony NEX bodies but with a reversed hand grip which makes the Sigma easier to hold than the Sony. There are few external controls, but accessing the P/S/A/M exposure modes is easy. There is a rocker selector for auto or manual focus and there is image enlargement to assist manual focus.

LIKE: The image quality is unlike any conventional digital camera. The best analogy is to think of Ektachrome, if you remember that. It had colours with an extra pop to them. The Sigma is like that. And there is well resolved fine detail even in jpegs.

Sigma sample01

DISLIKE: Here’s what you don’t get. High ISO is out of the question; there is no video mode; the LCD is fixed; the lens can’t be changed; the LCD is not brilliant in sunlight. The RAW files can only be converted in Sigma PhotoPro6 which is so flakey that we gave up trying to use it. Can someone tell us what Error 42 is?

VERDICT: Sigma’s Foveon customer base is minuscule but desperately loyal. Devoted owners love the texture and colours that are unique to this camera system. We think we get it, but it is an acquired taste, and like acquiring a taste for truffles and caviar it is expensive. At the CP+ show in Yokohama in February the line of devotees wanting to get their hands on the Quattro demonstration models was so long that we didn’t bother joining in. We wondered if we were missing something. We’re still wondering.


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St David’s Cathedral, Hobart…5 exposures taken handheld with an
Olympus E-P3 and merged and tone-mapped in Oloneo HDR Engine.
Click on image to see larger picture

An email arrived the other day from a reader needing advice on light and
shadow and what photographers call “dynamic range.”

T writes: “We’re just back from the Kimberley and our Canon SX260HS
had a hard time capturing the high contrast scenes in gorges with
dark under-hangs and incredibly bright,, sun-drenched rock faces and
similar shade/sun locations.

“Any chance of some tips on how best to tackle those high contrast scenes
where fill flash just wont do the trick?”

At about the same time I was sent a photo taken inside Winchester
cathedral showing a variation of the same problem – there is plenty
of detail in the interior shadows but the stained glass window is
completely washed out.

Here’s the problem. The eye takes in a scene with a wide range of brightness
and sees detail in shadows and highlights. The camera doesn’t. The
digital sensor has a restricted dynamic range that needs compensation
in order to preserve detail at the extremes. Enter HDR tone mapping.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and some cameras have it built in and
some need a little external help. If your camera has a setting for
Auto HDR then that is what you use in these situations. Recent
smartphones have Auto HDR – indeed setting that to on, off or auto
is about the only control provided in an iPhone camera and it works
well. There are some useful apps for the iPhone that extend the
functionality of the HDR mode. We like one just called HDR from the
App Store.

Auto and post-camera HDR compensation works the same – you take a burst
of photos bracketed for different exposures and these are merged into
a single final image. We usually take a bracket of 5: one at auto EV,
one EV over and three at minus one EV intervals. It is advisable, but
not essential, to use a tripod to get perfect alignment of the
several images. However most HDR processing software does a
reasonable job of aligning hand-held images.

Our HDR processor of choice is Oloneo HDREngine for Windows (U$59 at
www.oloneo.com) We like the no-fuss way that Oloneo, by default, aligns and blends
the images into a single, realistic photo. Some HDR software tends to
default to unrealistic pictures that look like illustrations rather
than photographs. A Mac alternative is easyHDR (U$39 at easyhdr.com –
there is a trial version).

One other thing: the dynamic range of a camera is affected by the size of
the light receptors (pixels), so compact cameras will generally have
a more restricted range than a DSLR or system camera.


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Visitors to the Imaging Cave ask why we have two computers side by side – one Windows and one iMac. Surely one is enough trouble for anyone to be getting on with.

We have our reasons, foremost amongst them being Windows LiveWriter, the blog content manager that is indispensable in keeping this web site up to date.

Every week I simply copy and paste into LiveWriter the text that has already been sent to the Fairfax publications. I drag and drop the associated photos into position, resize them and align them with the text.

Formatting text works exactly the same as in Word with buttons for bold, italics etc. Inserting hyperlinks is just a matter of highlighting a word, right-clicking on it and then selecting Hyperlink from the drop-down. Paste the URL into the dialogue box and it is all done.

So far there has been nothing like LiveWriter for the Mac. There are several pretenders, but nothing comes close to the real thing. Perhaps until now…

Today we ventured $19 on an app for the iMac called Blogo. [LiveWriter is free] This post is being created in Blogo.

One feature of Blogo has immediate appeal – images can be edited without leaving the program. Brightness, contrast, saturation and cropping can all be done in a sub-app and saved. That is efficient.

One word of warning: Blogo only works with WordPress, which suits us fine, but may not be useful to everyone.

[UPDATE: So far we can say that Blogo is nothing like LiveWriter. In fact it is hard to understand why the authors would have released an app that is so far from being finished.

There is no way of aligning blocks of text. There is no easy way to insert a WordPress “Category”. And, most egregious of all, it is not possible to simply copy and paste Word text into Blogo because the app introduces formatting errors that then must be corrected by hand.

So, so far not so good. Back to LiveWriter.]


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Price: $568 with 18—55mm kit lens
Starting point

THE LOW-DOWN: This is Canon’s basic entry level DSLR. It has an 18 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and the DIGIC 4 Image Processor in a fairly compact and light body. The lens is of modest range and is mechanically rough and gritty. The 75mm non-swivelling LCD is low resolution and displays Canon’s useful quick access menu system. The improvements over its predecessor is an increase in the resolution and the addition of full HD video recording.

LIKE: The price. This is a DSLR, with the option of fully automatic point and shoot or with full user control, at a price under that of many compact cameras. And in the important area of image capture and processing no pennies have been squeezed to reduce the manufacturing cost. We shot photos at the set maximum ISO6400 (it can be cranked up another notch to 12800) and the results were useable even without post-camera noise reduction.

DISLIKE: The price! There is evidence in the quality of materials and in the feel of the controls that this is a camera made down to a price. Pentax and Nikon entry models, while a little dearer, don’t feel so much like pauper siblings.

VERDICT: It is hard to make an assessment of a camera like the Canon 1200D. If it were a car we would say that it will get you from A to B every time, but it is not a Jaguar. It is aimed at amateurs of modest ambition, but do they need the bulk of a DSLR? On the other hand it is an inexpensive entry into the fabulous Canon system of lenses and accessories. You can buy the body only for about $500 and add a decent lens and you will have the basis of a good system, albeit a little dearer than the kit with lens.


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