Sigma Thoughts on the DP1



DP1 - 28mm viewfinder - adapter+hood - 0.75x wide converter - circular polarizer - white balance keychain

With the introduction of the DP1, Sigma promised an exceptional lens and a large full-color sensor in a compact body. They certainly delivered on this promise, but they seemingly forgot to provide the rest of the package. The results were less than stellar reviews and frustration for early-adopters expecting more. While I've had a digital camera since high school, I didn't get into serious photography until a little over a year ago. Luckily, the DP1 had been in the hands of customers and reviewers by the time I began researching professional and enthusiast cameras. There were several reviews and user testimonials available for the DP1 so I knew what I was getting into. I was also able to take advantage of the price drop, a rather significant one compared to its initial price. I fell in love with the concept and immediately discarded any plans for an entry-level DSLR.

Trolls, cheat sheets, and Sweden

Before taking delivery of my first serious camera, I spent a lot of time in the Sigma section of the DPReview forums. Hidden among countless arguments about the Foveon sensor's actual pixel count were some helpful threads leading me to various places like Carl Rytterfalk's website and another containing a collection of tips from several experienced users. To summarize what I learned from my rigorous forum lurking: The DP1 is a camera for the deliberate photographer who doesn't mind massaging each RAW file to get the desired results. I also read what photographers had to say about their experience with film and the techniques used to overcome challenges that are largely addressed with recent digital cameras. Observations from rangefinder camera users were especially helpful.

A camera that gets faster over time

Keeping in mind the things I've read and looking back on several mistake-laden photo outings, I've settled on a particular way of using the camera - a process that I really enjoy. Almost all of my shots are hand-held. With the LCD off, I estimate the distance of the subject and turn the focus wheel. I then frame with the optical viewfinder and press the shutter button. If I'm forced to use a slow shutter speed, I use continuous shooting mode to maximize the odds of getting a sharp image.

Although the LCD is off, a press of a button will activate it temporarily for a quick settings-change. With the latest firmware, the zoom buttons can be set to a number of setting combinations. Personally, I have the 'W' button set to change ISO and the 'T' button set to switch from single shot to continuous. With these options available and my familiarity with the system, the camera is no longer slow.


The DP1 is a camera that fits in a jacket pocket and can be freely used without attracting too much attention. A larger camera would likely sit on the shelf and a small-sensor compact lacks the image quality that I'm after. I know iPhone photographers and toy camera shooters disagree about the importance of image quality, but ultimately, my photography is for me and I want good image quality.

I feel that the camera is a good match for me. I'm not against innovations to make our lives easier, but there is always the allure of cars with manual transmissions or GUI-less computer interfaces. As a newcomer, I have found the DP1's difficult nature invaluable in learning the fundamental elements of photography.

Buyer Beware

As much as I love my DP1, I have to post links to a few threads that every buyer should read - especially buyers of used DP cameras. I understand that all electronic equipment are prone to failure. However, these threads point to a common issue: the failure of the lens retract mechanism. I posted one of the threads. I talked to Sigma on the phone after sending them the failed unit and they said I must have dropped it. I persisted and they sent me a refurbished unit free of charge. I know there are many customers that weren't so fortunate. I estimate that I will probably get about a couple more years out of this camera before it fails. It will probably be my last Sigma camera, as I have lost confidence in their durability. I hope the rumored "GF2" + 20mm f/1.7 pancake will be a small enough package since I have cancelled my plan to buy a DP2.

Flickr: Discussing DP1s Quality in Sigma DP1 Camera
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DP1 Lens Failure: Sigma SLR Talk Forum: Digital Photography Review
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the DP1. I have a DP1s on order from Amazon. At $299 it is a bargain. I have read over the threads you posted and others like it, and I also have lots of experience with other Sigma products as I own many Sigma lenses for my Canon DSLRs.

Years ago I worked in a large Camera store in the Washington DC area of the USA. This was the late 1980s and early 1990s. Of course there were no digital cameras back then but we did sell a TON of 35mm compacts with similar zoom systems as todays compact digital cameras. Our store also did repairs and warranty work for all the major players.

I can tell you back then as is now that one common point of failure with all the compacts was intermittent problems with the lens either not moving out or not moving back in when powered up/down. Failures were equally common among all the brands and you could just as easily find the issue with an Olympus as you could a Nikon, or a Canon.

When I would talk with the product reps about the issue from all of the manufacturers as well as our own repair techs the answer was always the same. There is no way to improve the design as it will always inherently have issues. The problem is that the gears and mechinisms to move the lens forward and backwards have to be very small and very light weight, and having plastic in the mechanism is better then metal as plastic has more give and flex.

Since the lens sits in the front of the camera it is very easy to bump the lens on something. Everytime you do so it puts stress on that mechanism. If you ever try to turn the camera on, or it turns on in a bag and something is blocking the front lens as it tries to move out it causes great stress on the camera.

Since compact cameras tend to just get tossed into a bag or a pocket there is always stuff bouncing off the front of the lens and each time it causes great stress on the mechanism.

The biggest design flaw that I see with the DP camera line is the lens cap that you have to put on and put off. Each time you do that you are putting stress on the lens mechanism, also some people tend to do this as they are turning the camera on and off which puts even more stress on the mechanism.

The other issue you can run into is having sand, dust, or even ice/snow get into the gearing.

Any major improvements in this issue would result either in a camera that is much larger and heavier (in which case why bother with a compact if it is the size of a DSLR) or that is much more expensive (like a Leica M9 which of course does not have a retractable lens).

My guess is that if you look around you will find the exact same issue with every camera brand.

Here is one for a Canon G9 fir example
Flickr: Discussing "Lens error. Please restart." :( in Canon PowerShot G9

It is just inherantly an issue with retractable lens cameras


New Member
In a famous Chinese photography forum named "无忌". A lot of people confront with the same retract problem. They say it is because there is small cable broken in it. When the lens is moving the cable is bending and easy to broken.


betwixt and between
Prototype, thank you so much for making the time to write and post your take on the DP1. I enjoyed reading this very much and can see from your photographs that you have gotten to know this camera very well. You are obviously having a great time with the DP1 and achieving great success, too. It's refreshing to read a personal "review" that accepts and almost embraces the challenges of the camera "warts and all". Really appreciate your involvement here on SC! Thank you!


Wallace - $299 is quite a bargain!

I've been more careful with the replacement DP1, although the original camera was never mistreated prior to the failure. It's understandable that the lens mechanism is the weak point of these cameras, as with any moving part of any gadget.

I was reluctant to post the "buyer beware" section of my post, since I don't like to spread misinformation. But DP users seem to make a lot more noise about the issue compared to other camera users. Putting into consideration the smaller user base of DP cameras compared to LX and G-series cameras, it leads me to believe that Sigma compacts are more prone to the issue.

However, I did read through the link you posted and it seems the G9 is problematic as well, with some users reporting a failure within a few months. This makes the DP1 durable in comparison.

Policeman - I don't know if the DP1s, DP2, and DP2s (the DP1x hasn't been released) suffer the same issues. The DP1 failures typically happen after 1-2 years of use. Of these cameras, only the DP2 has reached this threshold. I have never come across a discussion regarding a lens-retract failure of the DP2.

Keeping that and Wallace's post in mind, perhaps I will reconsider the DP2. I'll be sure to have a decent backup along with it.

BBW - With the amount of lurking I've done at various forums when I started out with photography, it's great to be able to contribute back to the communities that helped me out tremendously. I would have never bought the camera if I only read the expert reviews, so I was very happy to provide my take.
Wallace - $299 is quite a bargain!
But DP users seem to make a lot more noise about the issue compared to other camera users. Putting into consideration the smaller user base of DP cameras compared to LX and G-series cameras, it leads me to believe that Sigma compacts are more prone to the issue.

I have found over the last 15 years of talking about photography online first with news groups and email discussion lists (any one remember those), and later web forums that people are always MUCH more vocal about Sigma products than any other camera/lens brand. Many hundreds if not thousands of very heated discussions and flame wars have broken out on the net over Sigma products both pro and con. This has resulted in hyper sensitivity to Sigma and for many people the mention of Sigma pro or con online results in all out war, where the haters feel the need to trash and the lovers feel the need to defend.

I am not saying in your very balanced post that you were doing that BTW

Anyway all of this flame waring has led to the idea or myth that Sigma is somehow worse in QC than other brands. So if someone buys a Canon or a Nikon and it breaks a year or two later, it was just bad luck, or as a result of that time they dropped it, in any case for the most part they will give Canon/Nikon the benefit of the doubt. If someone buys a Sigma and it breaks a year or two later they will not give Sigma the benefit of the doubt and it is clearly a QC issue.

So this person will go online and have a big rant (again not what you did) and will usually be quickly joined by all the other haters and the end result is the myth lives on, when in reality the failures are probably no better or worse with Sigma products as they are with other brands.

Also keep in mind that Sigma does not advertise on TV like Canon, Nikon, or Panasonic do, nor do they have the retail penetration in mass market stores (at least here in the USA) like Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart, etc as other brands. Most Sigma buyers found out about the product online and did not just wander into a store and buy it. As such the average Sigma customer tends to be much more internet savy than the average person who buys their Canon P&S at Wal-Mart. And when you have a niche player like the DP line that is even more the case.

I have also found that a lot of the Sigma haters never really wanted to buy a Sigma product but since they could not afford what they really wanted they settled for the Sigma. You will see this alot in the forums for lenses, what they really wanted was the $2,000 Nikon or Canon lens however they could never drop that kind of cash, so instead they got the $700 Sigma lens, were never happy with it and nit picked it to death. These people are convinced that they could get the next cover for NatGeo or Time Magazine but their crappy Sigma holds them back.

I suspect this is the case with a lot of the reviewers with the DP line. What they really wanted was a Leica M8 or M9 but since they can't drop 7-10 grand or more on one they settle for the Sigma DP line to get a large sensor and a good lens, or they are DSLR shooters who want a small pocket camera with a large sensor and good lens so they get a DP and have no experience with other small compact cameras.

In anycase I hope my new DP1s will last me around 2 years or 4,000 shots. I figure 2 years from now when it dies there will be another small compact camera on the market that I will want to buy anyway. I suspect that over the next 2 years both Canon and Nikon will get into the EVIL line up and will make cameras like the Micro 4/3 platform from Olympus and Panasonic only they will have the same APS-C sized sensors that they have in their DSLRs, I would also not be at all surprised if Sigma makes such a beast with a foveon sensor and lenses that will come in mounts for it and the other companies cameras.


Another great post, Wallace. I've only been around photography discussions for a relatively short time, so I wasn't aware of the disparity in behavior between customers of different camera brands. You make several excellent points and I've changed my attitude a bit about Sigma's seemingly poor quality control.

Also, your comment on Sigma users blaming their equipment "holding them back" made me chuckle a bit. It seems to be a common attitude among some photographers. I have an opposite opinion. There are many times that the DP1 has proven to be "better" than me, producing some exceptional results that I didn't quite intend.