Winter Color: Mammoth Hot Springs, WY

Photo: Sigma DP2, ISO 50, f/4, 1/1600 sec.

I’m deep into reviewing the technical performance of a number of mid-sensor compact cameras right now for Backpacking Light. I just put the Olympus E-P1 review to bed, and you’ll see it published there next week.

In addition, I’m looking at the Panasonic GF-1 and the Leica X1, and comparing them all to my baseline high-image-quality-compact, the Sigma DP2.

That means I’ve been using the Sigma DP2 a lot more lately, so I can really understand what we’re comparing here. It’s pretty easy to shelve an old camera and say that the “latest new thing” blows it away.

But, I’m finding that with the Sigma DP2, it’s a tough little cookie to blow away. You’ll see this loud and clear in my review of the Olympus E-P1, which is sort of underwhelming when I compare prints enlarged to 16″ x 20″ from both cameras (hint: Sigma DP2 images were unanimously preferred by viewers), which the Sigma DP2 providing more detail (in spite of lower resolution) and seemingly more aesthetically appealing color tonality.

The image above reveals the incredible power of the Sigma DP2’s Foveon sensor at capturing color information. This was another one taken at Mammoth Hot Springs last weekend. Very subtle diffuse sunlight was bathing small bits of the terrace in the foreground, while most of it was shaded, and backlight by a sun that is screaming behind a cloud just off camera. Talk about a dynamic range nightmare.

I imported the X3F file from Adobe Camera Raw 5.5, and was easily able to recover all of the image data contained in both the highlights and the shadows. Once it was in Photoshop, I then used a layer mask to adjust brightness and contrast in localized areas of the image to bring the foreground out a little bit. The result is shown above: rich, beautiful color, and image depth, that easily competes with what the Olympus E-P1 is capable of producing – at half the weight and size.