Archive for Sigma DP1x Review

Samsung EX1/TL500 Review – A Canon G11/G12 Killer?

Posted in Articles about Photography, Camera Review, Photography Gear, TCBlog, VWBlog with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 20, 2010 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

This past weekend I went with Samantha to visit her brother Andy Simpson. Andy had taken a Samsung EX1 digital point-n-shoot camera to Maui for two weeks and was raving about the camera. He said I needed to try the camera and see how I thought it compared to Canon’s G11/G12 cameras. Andy let me use the camera for a day of dabbling and I compared the Samsung EX1 with the Canon G11 and the Sigma DP1x (the two point-n-shoot cameras that I own). Here is a brief summary of what I found.

(Please note, I am not sponsored or paid or receive kickbacks from either Canon or Samsung. This test was purely for my own interest. Be aware however that I am sponsored by Sigma Canada. I have provided a detailed and I believe fair review of the Sigma DP1x here. The results of this field test are mostly between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 because those two cameras are feature for feature very similar. The Sigma DP1x is included only out of passing interest. I have yet to actually use the Canon G12.

Canon G11 Features:

  • 10 MP 1/1.7 inch sensor
  • 28-140mm equivelant lens
  • 2.8 inch tilt-swivel LCD
  • RAW image capability
  • dedicated exposure comp and ISO dials
  • face detection
  • image stabilization (2-stop shutter speed gain)
  • great macro capabilities (to 1cm)
  • 15 seconds to 1/4000 shutter speed
  • f2.8-8 aperture range
  • VGA Movie Clips

The Canon G12

  • all of the features of the G11 and…
  • front control dial (in addition to rear control dial of the G11)
  • hybrid IS for close-up photography (4-stop shutter speed gain)
  • multi-aspect ratio shooting
  • HD Video
  • HDR shooting mode
  • HS system (better high ISO performance)

The Samsung EX1/TL500

  • 10 MP 1/1.7 inch sensor
  • 24-72mm equivalent Scheider-Kreuznach lens
  • 3.0 inch tilt-swivel LCD
  • RAW image capability
  • front and rear control dials
  • face detection
  • image stabilization (2-stop shutter speed gain)
  • multi-aspect ratio shooting
  • great macro capabilities (to 5cm)
  • 16 seconds to 1/1600 shutter speed
  • f1.8-f7 aperture range
  • HDR shooting mode
  • VGA movie clips

The key selling feature for me of the Canon G11 and G12 series is the tilt-swivel LCD. Anyone who followed my Daily Snap for 2010 knows how much I loved the G11 for the tilt-swivel LCD to get really creative angles that are difficult without this feature. I love the feature so much that I feel lost without a tilt-swivel LCD. There are very few point-n-shoot cameras on the market with a tilt-swivel LCD and RAW capability (which is the second most important camera feature for me). Samsung’s EX1 not only has a tilt-swivel LCD and RAW just like the Canon G11/G12, it also has a feature list that compares well with Canon’s G-series cameras. But the Samsung betters the Canon cameras with a bigger LCD, a super fast lens (f1.8!) and a wider angle lens (24mm equivalent). The Canon’s have more telephoto reach, slightly closer macro capabilities and the G12 has HD video.

I took out the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 and shot the same scenes with both cameras. I was interested in how well each camera handled (ergonomics), how the files compared to each other and how useful were the slight differences between the Samsung and the Canon G11.

The Tilt-Swivel LCD

Both the Canon G11 (the G12 is the same) and the Samsung EX1 have a tilt-swivel LCD with the same range of movements. I preferred the Samsung LCD because it was physically bigger and the images was displayed larger on the LCD. I also liked the look and feel of the images on the Samsung LCD better, but this latter is a matter of personal taste. Really, all three of the cameras have a great LCD display that most people will love.

The f1.8 Aperture

The ability to shoot fast (f1.8-f2.4 depending on the zoom range) with the Samsung EX1 is a blessing. I loved it to do indoor existing light photography. Also it was great to get a shallow slice of focus which is difficult to do with a small sensor point-n-shoot camera. I can see this as a great advantage for travel photography and low light shooting. Below is a shot taken hand-held at 1/10th of a second at f1.8 at 80 ISO with the EX1

Samsung EX1 at f1.8 for a thin slice of focus

The Wide, Wide View

I am a wide angle lens fan. I see the world from a wide angle point of view. On my full frame camera a 24mm lens is my absolute favorite and so it is easy to understand why I prefer the big wide view of the Samsung over the Canon G11/G12. You would think that there is not much difference between 24mm equivalent (Samsung) and 28mm equivalent (Canon G11/G12) but check out the photos of Brando below taken from the exact same spot.

Canon G11 at widest angle setting = 28mm

Samsung EX1 at widest angle setting = 24mm

The Long View

The Canon G11/G12 has a longer telephoto setting than the Samsung (140mm equivalent vs. 72mm). For a lot of people the longer reach is really important. I am often racking the Canon G11 all the way out to pull in distant landscapes and make extractive intimate details. I admit to missing the extra reach on the Samsung. Pictures like the image below of a distant landscape across a river are hard to do with the limited telephoto range of the Samsung EX1

Telephoto landscape with the Canon G11

Fast and Easy Camera Controls

Anybody who follows this blog is likely to know that I really dislike the layout and buttons on the back of the G11. They are too crowded together and leave no room for my thumb to hold the camera (see here for more complaining!). The Canon G12 will be a little better in this regard with the addition of a front dial to the camera. But even that camera has a back panel of crowded buttons and dials that would drive me crazy. The Samsung also has a rear and a front dial but there is more space for my thumb on the back of the camera than on the G11. I simply can not use the Canon G11 with gloves on and so winter photography gets a bit chilly. I tried the Samsung with gloves on and had no real problem operating all the controls. I found the controls intuitive and user friendly (more so than the Canon G11).

The Lens

Samsung touts the use of a Schneider-Kreuznach Lens on their camera as getting the ultimate in sharpness. Schneider optics have a legendary reputation among photographers. So it is no wonder Samsung uses the optical company’s name to help sell the camera. But does the great lens really make a difference? I took an image of the sign below at f5.0 on both cameras hand-held using auto-focus and 1/100th of a second. Both RAW images were processed exactly the same way in Adobe Camera RAW.

©Overall Photo of Sign

Here is a comparison of center sharpness:

Canon G11 - Center Shapness

Samsung EX1 - Center Sharpness

The sharpness at the center of the image looks very similar to me. There might be a slight edge to the Samsung, but in practical terms, you’d be hard-pressed to see any difference in prints between the two cameras. Where the differences in the lens quality starts to show up is at the edges of the frame. Below is a scene taken with both cameras at f5.0, ISO 100, hand-held (this time at 1/160th of a second).

Overall tree scene

The next two photos compare edge sharpness between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1:

Canon G11 edge sharpness

Samsung EX1 edge sharpenss

The Samsung more clearly wins the edge sharpness test. Also the Samsung has less colour fringing at the edges of the frame. In the photos below colour fringing becomes stronger at the edges of the frame in out-of-focus high contrast areas on the Canon G11; Here is the overall scene:

Old Building - overall scene

And here are the frame edges showing the amount of colour fringing exhibited by each camera:

Canon G11 fringing

Samsung EX1 fringing

Overall, there are not huge differences in image quality between the Canon G11 and the Samsung EX1 but the Samsung does have the edge when pixel-peeking. In the real world of print and publication these differences are really minor and negligible.

Video

The real winner with video at least on paper would be the Canon G12 which gives HD video where the others do not. I did not test video between the cameras.

Practical Controls

I mostly use aperture priority and manually select my focus point. Exposure compensation on the G11/G12 is easy with a dedicated dial. On the Samsung the front dial does the job just as fast. To alter the focus point on the G11/G12 you need to push the focus point selector and then use the rear thumb-wheel to move the selector around. Same on the Samsung, but on the latter I could do with gloves on, I could not with the G11.

File Quality Compared to a Big Sensor Point-n-Shoot

Just for fun, I took a few comparison shots between the Samsung EX1 and the Sigma DP1x which is a point-n-shoot with an APS-sized sensor. The Sigma has a dSLR-sized sensor, a prime lens (28mm equivalent) and delivers stunning image quality. How did the Samsung shape up in this comparison? Here is the overall scene:

Fort overall

Fort Detail - Samsung EX1

Fort detail - Sigma DP1x

The Samsung can not compete with the big sensor on the Sigma but the Sigma is a specialty camera with a fixed prime lens. Really, it is not fair to compare the two cameras but we can clearly see less colour fringing and much better resolution in the Sigma file. To see how the Sigma DP1x compares to the Canon G11 and the Canon Rebel T2i (a 35mm dSLR camera) check out this review.

Conclusion

The Samsung EX1 gives the Canon G11/G12 a run for the money. For those who love a fast wide angle lens, the Samsung comes out on top. Personally I am willing to give up some telephoto reach for a lighting-fast super-wide lens. But that’s me. I think the controls on the Samsung are better than on the two Canon cameras mostly because I hate Canon’s crowded back panel. And I prefer Samsung’s bigger LCD. The Canon G11/G12 has the edge for longer telephoto shots and closer macro. The G12 has HD video and 4-stop image stabilization. I did not do any high ISO comarisons so I can not comment on whether the new HS system on the Canon G12 gives better high ISO performance or not. Personally I prefer a faster lens at lower ISO than a slower lens with better ISO performance. In the end, I think it is a draw and which camera you choose depends on your needs, wants and preferences. If I did not already own the Canon G11, I would definately buy the Samsung EX1/TL500. If you want a tilt-swivel LCD point-n-shoot camera then your two top choices to consider would be the Canon G12 or the Samsung EX1 followed by a used Canon G11. Based on current prices the Samsung EX1 is the best buy of the bunch – see below!

For other reviews of the Samsung EX1/TL500 see:

Luminous Landscape

dpreview

Steve’s Digicams

Buy the Canon G12 ($450), buy the Samsung EX1 ($350), buy the Sigma DP1x ($600) — the Canon G11 is discontinued and only available used.

A Field Review of the Sigma DP1x

Posted in Photography Gear, TCBlog with tags , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2010 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

The Sigma DP1x was announced in Feb. 2010 but didn’t really make it into stores until this September. The Dp1x is a niche camera designed for photographers interested in high quality files in a compact package. This is a small camera with an SLR sized sensor. In fact, the sensor is from 7 to 12 times larger than the average point-n-shoot camera. The camera comes with a 16.6mm f4 lens (equivalent to a 28mm on a full frame dSLR). In theory, the combination of a prime lens and a big sensor should give this point-n-shoot a real advantage in producing quality files over a regular compact camera.

I thought it would be fun to try the DP1x as a landscape ‘point-n-shoot’ camera. I am a fan of wide angle lenses for my landscape photography (24-28mm is my most used lens range) and I am also a fan of prime lenses, so for me the DP1x was  great to try (one lens, small camera, ‘big’ results). I am not going to spend a lot of time on the technical aspects of the camera. For that stuff  go to the Sigma Dp1x site which explains the concept and design of the camera. All I was interested in was how the camera handled and what kind of files it produced in field conditions. As well, readers should note that I am sponsored by Sigma Canada. I hold no punches in this review but some people might be hesitant about my objectivity. I direct reader’s to some other review sites if you want other opinions: Trusted Reviews, Let’s Go Digital.

One last caveat, I am a working photographer and not a camera reviewer. All I can tell you is what I like and dislike about a camera. Also I can only compare this camera with other digital cameras I own or have owned. The only point-n-shoot digital cameras I have used extensively are the Canon G9 and the Canon G11. I do make some comparisons about performance of the Sigma Dp1x against the Canon G11 (and against its bigger cousin the Canon Rebel T2i)  even though this is like comparing a cheetah with a house cat.

First Impressions

When I first unpacked the camera it struck me as a little ‘plain’. Let’s just say this camera is not a fashion statement. But later I learned to appreciate its simple design and layout. Secondly, I was surprised that the lens which sticks out of the body actually expands out even more when the camera is turned on. I suppose this is a design function of the large sensor but it just seemed weird to have a ‘retractable’ fixed lens. Also the camera does not have a built in shutter-like lens cap like the Canon G-series but instead uses a regular lens cap like a dSLR. The controls seemed pretty intuitive but I did need to look up a few things up to understand how they worked (like how to get auto bracketing). Finally the LCD screen on the back of the camera is disappointing, not too large and not very bright and ‘snappy’.

In the Field

I took the Sigma DP1x in the field with me on the Fire and Ice Photo Tour 2010 and then used it subsequent to that to make photos around the house and on short excursions. To see some samples of the kinds of shots I took with the camera check out the my Daily Snaps. To summarize, below is a list of things I liked and disliked about the use of the camera in the field:

Dislikes

  1. I really do not like to have a lens cap on a point-n-shoot camera. I am used to the built-in lens cap on the Canon G11. I hate having to remove the lens cap on the Sigma DP1x whenever I want to shoot (I always misplace it in some pocket). Also the camera won’t turn on unless you remove the lens cap. This means if you just want to playback photos for review, you’ll need to take off the lens cap before the camera will turn on. Can you say annoying?
  2. The LCD is smallish and not too bright or snappy. The LCD is functional except in bright sunlight where it is too dim to really see what your doing. I had to use a Hoodman Loupe over the LCD in bright daylight to compose photos. And in dimmer light like dawn and dusk, the LCD was very grainy. Canon cameras, and especially the G11/G12 have an amazing bright, snappy, beautiful LCD. The display on the G11/G12 just out shines the  Sigma display (see photo below).
  3. Auto-focus in dim light was sometimes problematic. The Canon G11 could focus in much dimmer light than the Sigma DP1x.
  4. Sometimes white balance would appear to change from one shot to another or from one ISO setting to another. White balance seemed most consistent at 50ISO. No problem if you shoot RAW, but a real problem if you shoot in JPEG mode.
  5. When shooting RAW images it takes ‘forever’ to write the images to the SD card. Faster cards help but the Sigma is notorious for being slow at writing RAW files. A single RAW images takes 5 to 7 seconds to write to the card. Do an exposure bracket of 3 RAW shots for HDR and you’ll be waiting for about 20 seconds before the camera is ready to shoot again! This wasn’t so bad for landscape photography but for street photography, this might be a serious drawback.
  6. Movie mode is pointless at 320 x 240. Why have a big sensor with such tiny movies? Why have a movie mode at all?
  7. Battery life  is ok, but not great (250 shots at 25C). I could shoot all day on one battery even in cold conditions (around freezing) but I needed to keep the camera fairly warm between shots in order to keep the battery charge up (I carried it in my coat)
  8. No macro mode. The Sigma only focuses to 30 cm (1 foot) and so macro photography is out of the question.
  9. No face recognition auto-focus. I have gotten spoiled by face recognition on the Canon G11. It works great to automatically recognize and on a face in the frame. The Sigma DP1x is not a spontaneous people camera.
  10. Why is the lens only an f4? I was hoping for at least a f2.8 lens for lower light and thin slices of focus applications.
  11. And why no Optical Stabilization built into the lens? A point-n-shoot is for hand-holding and OS (IS on Canon) really helps us get sharper shots.
  12. No tilt swivel LCD screen. I am getting addicted to the tilt swivel screen on digital cameras and wish every camera (even pro dSLR’s) had these wonderfully flexible displays.

©Darwin Wiggett

The Sigma LCD on the left is very dim and flat even with the screen turned to its brightest setting (as it was here). The Canon LCD at default settings is bright, contrasty and colourful (overly saturated IMO). I think the Sigma shows colours accurately but the screen is often too dim to compose photos well.

Likes

  1. I like the simplicity of the design. The Canon G11 has so many buttons and dials that it reminds me of an airplane cockpit. The Sigma is clean and sparse and the controls are intuitive and well laid out. How refreshing!
  2. My biggest pet peeve with the G11 is that they put a whole lot of camera controls on the back of the camera right where your thumb is supposed to rest to hold the camera (the same is true of the G12). I am always accidentally hitting some button with my thumb on the G11 when I do not want to. And forget about wearing gloves when shooting with the G11! Imagine my joy to find that the Sigma has a ton of space for the thumb (see photo below). And the controls are easy to access even with gloves on. Winter photography is easy with the Sigma camera. I could even use the controls on the Sigma by feel when looking through the Hoodman Loupe.
  3. With both the Sigma and Canon cameras, I almost always select my focus point manually. The Sigma is much faster to use in this regard than the Canon.
  4. If I need to use manual focus it is super easy with the Sigma with the handy manual focus thumb dial. Trying to manually focus the G11 is like trying to milk a cow in handcuffs (with your hands behind your back and with giant mittens on).
  5. Changing the aperture, using exposure compensation and getting into auto-bracketing mode is so much easier and so painless with the Sigma. Canon requires that you push three buttons, stand on your head and sing the national anthem backwards to change these things (except exposure comp).
  6. The QS (quick select) button on the Sigma makes changing ISO, white balance, flash modes, metering modes, image size, picture style and motor drive settings so fast and simple. Hurray! Canon makes these cahnges an obstacle course!
  7. In aperture priority the Sigma meters and functions down to 15 second exposures. The Canon G11 stops functioning at 1 second in aperture priority. In order to shoot exposures longer than 1 second with the Canon G11, I need to switch the camera to manual mode and then changing aperture and shutter speed is painful requiring Canon’s famous three button, thumb smashing, curse the world dance.

The Canon G11 back controls

The Sigma DP1x back controls

The Sigma DP1X (bottom photo) has tons of space for the thumb and the controls are well spaced out for easy access. The G11 (top photo) has no space for the thumb and all the back panel controls are jammed together in a minute little space. Good luck not accidentally hitting one of these buttons when you hold the camera!

Image Quality

For me this is where the wind meets the sail. Does the bigger sensor and the Foveon technology of the Sigma DP1x give us great images as promised? Let’s take a look.

Below is a comparison shot of the same scene taken with the Canon G11 at maximum aperture of f8, the Sigma Dp1x at f11, and the Canon Rebel T2i (an APS sized dSlr) using a Sigma 17-50 f2.8 lens at f11. All images were shot at 100 ISO and all images were processed with the same settings in Adobe Camera Raw. There are distinct colour differences between each file, none are right or wrong, just different. Which one is ‘best’ is simply a matter of preference.

When we look at the details of each file, we notice a difference in sharpness between the small sensor G1 (top photo) and the larger sensors on the Sigma (middle) and the Rebel (bottom). I enlarged each photo at the point of focus (the grass blade to the lower left) so that differences in DOF are not responsible for differences in sharpness. To my eye the Sigma is slightly sharper than the Rebel but not by much.

Moving on to a more colourful object (my jeans on my bed), the image below shows how each camera renders the scene. Each camera was set at f5.6 this time at 100 ISO and all images were processed using the same settings in Adobe Camera RAW. The top photo is from the CanonG11, the middle photo from the Sigma DP1x and the bottom photo from the Canon Rebel T2i outfitted with a Sigma 17-50 f2.8 lens. Again we see differences in colours and in contrast. To my eye (as I remember the scene) the Sigma seemed to handle the accuracy better (but this is purely subjective).

When we look at the details of each shot at the point of focus we see that the larger sensor cameras had more detail than the Canon G11 (top) but the Sigma DP1x (middle) significantly outperformed the Rebel (bottom). Also the colours of the Sigma  DP1x really are vivid but true in hue (the Foveon sensor advantage?).

In another test with just the two point-n-shoots battling it out in a high contrast scene, the two cameras gave very different results. The G11 is the top photo, the Dp1x is the bottom photo.

When we look at details of the two photo, the Sigma just blows away the Canon in terms of resolution.

I did a shot in low light in my bedroom to see how well each point-n-shoot handled longer exposures (4 seconds at f2.8 for the Canon, 8 seconds at f4 for the Sigma) and how much I could force a shallow slice of focus by using the widest aperture on each camera. Also it was interesting to see how both cameras handled the green apple colour of the walls. Again the Sigma (bottom) really seemed to give accurate colours while the G11 (top) struggled with the intense greens turning them more yellowish. Also notice the distortion in the Canon lens at its widest setting (barrel distortion). The Sigma does give a better thin slice of focus than the G11 which has a hard time giving blurred backgrounds even at f2.8.

I rarely shoot with any of my cameras at higher ISO’s. I prefer to use ISO 100 or lower whenever I can and I use a tripod a lot. But I did a comparison of ISO between the two point-n-shoot cameras and the Sigma seem to fare better than the Canon as would be expected for a bigger sensor camera but not by as much as I thought. It looks like the Sigma gets a little softer as ISO goes up. I processed all the files at the same settings with no noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw. The Canon G11 is on the left and the Sigma is on the right. The ISO settings from top to bottom were ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, and 3200.

I need to test further the ISO performance of the Sigma DP1x and see if it can perform as well as the Rebel and other APS sensor dSLRs. More on that in a later post.

Conclusion

The Sigma DP1x is a specialty camera, no question about it. It is not an all around point-n-shoot that is versatile to use like the Canon G11. If you want a ‘do everything camera’ then the Sigma Dp1x is not for you. But if you want really great files and do not feel limited by a prime wide angle lens, then the Sigma is a top performer. I absolutely love the handling of the camera (Canon take note!) but the main short coming for me is the DP1x’s weak LCD display (it is dim in bright light and performs poorly in low light). If Sigma upgrades this camera with a better display screen, gives it a faster lens with OS (Optical Stabilization), and improves auto-focus in low light then they would have an absolute killer point-n-shoot camera!. For me, as it is now, and despite its shortcomings, it has still found a way into my camera bag because of its amazing image quality and use-ability. Now I take two cameras with me, the G11 and the DP1x. I almost always go for the Sigma first especially for important images where quality is my number one concern.

Below are my review ratings for the Sigma DP1x

Image Quality 9/10

Build Quality 8/10

LCD and Image Display 6/10

Handling 8.5/10

Features 7/10

Price 6/10 ($800 MSRP)

Total = 7.4/10

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