Experiencing the impact of the DP
Hiroshi Iwasaki has been working with Sigma, from its 2012 SIGMA GLOBAL VISION line of lenses to the shooting of its products. He is also a dedicated DP Merill user. He always makes an in-depth performance comparison and claims to only use equipment judged the best. Firstly, we asked about his first encounter with DP cameras.
“I heard of SIGMA producing cameras with a specialized sensor, however I had never heard of DP. I want to go above and beyond to acquaint myself with their products, so I purchased a DP1 Merrill and took a private trip to Yakushima Island in southern Japan. First off, I was surprised that the batteries didn’t last. (laughs) But when I processed the images on my PC on my return to Tokyo, I was truly surprised. It evoked the sense of the world in front of my eyes at the time I shot them, a feeling I had never experienced before. Before mentioning the ease of shooting and developing, I was overwhelmed by the pure quality of the images. For me, that is my DP experience.”
There are photographs I can only take with this camera
In his work and in particular landscape photography, Hiroshi Iwasaki makes sure to bring the DP1 Merrill. Though described as a camera for Sigma lovers, it is not why he uses it. “I completely disagree. My thinking is that I use the best equipment for the job, above everything.
All the more so as a professional. I basically like pan focus. A bokeh effect is an effective way to bring out part of an image, but it means excluding the “moment” of the complete scene, while on the other hand, complete pan focus gives a ‘flat’ impression, so it’s very challenging. However, a photograph taken with a DP has the feeling of depth and perspective. Perhaps the reason is the resolution. The reason I use the DP is that I decided only it is capable of the standard I require for my landscape photographs.”
Conventional digital cameras would squash minute grains of sand or foliage, such as in the texture of the waves or sky, the outline of mountains, or in smoky air. However naturally the landscape photographs are printed, there are always incredibly subtle changes in tone and color.
Photography is primarily a form of expression chosen from the best of a variety of film, lens and camera body to shoot with. The best equipment choice should bring more diversity to seek the best results, as Mr Iwasaki says. As it is, this mirrors SIGMA’s development philosophy.
The strength of “Panchromatic”
“What surprised me first regarding the ‘image quality’ was definitely the sensor. The biggest problem with digital cameras is the break in tone. However an image from a DP has very little of that. The tonal gradation is rich, with subtle gaps in tone. I feel it doesn’t break up when processed and that it can endure anything. The image is close to the “tenacity” of film. It’s deep, not too dissimilar to the quality of monochrome” says Hiroshi Iwasaki.
The Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor, exclusive to Sigma cameras, is the only sensor with a ‘vertical color tiered’ system, a three-layer vertical structure, with each layer absorbing light wavelengths in order from the shortest to the longest, similar to color film.
The greatest feature is the fineness in detail provided by the high resolution. Looking at the color spectrum chart, you can tell, for example the red, blue and green color wavelengths capture enough abundant information from any band. This “Panchromatic” trait is sensitive to all color information, including the intermediate color gamut which cannot easily be conveyed, and it’s this that makes the source of the Foveon sensor’s imagery unique and irresistible.
Hiroshi Iwasaki was awakened to this most when he adjusted the halftone parameters with the ÅeX3 Fill LightÅf feature contained in the SIGMA Photo Pro software. He believes the delicacy of the adjustment functions in finishing off the image without heavily tweaking it is very important.
The lens is the key
“So we could say perhaps that the selling point is the quality of the sensor. But to get the shot, the lens is the decisive factor. Normally, we are used to seeing finely detailed images, so we take more notice of the effect the lens has alongside high resolution. Though the sensors are at the high end of pixel resolution, there are no lenses that have the appropriate optical performance to match it, and if there are, they would be considerably expensive. However, in the case of the lens on the DP, I feel the intention is to drastically deviate from the aberrations. It’s hard to believe it’s on sale for around USD1000. It’s perceived that the lens would perhaps rely on the sensor’s character. However, in fact I reckon an optimized lens plays a big part in showing the capabilities of this monstrous sensor.”
Foevon’s 2nd generation Merrill sensor is an important turning point in technological evolution. Adding the unbeatable optical performance of this Merrill lens for an unshakable prime lens focal style combined with the sublime Merrill sensor’s pixel pitch removes aberration and finds the resolution limit. Especially when there is even a little magnified chromatic difference, even with enough resolution a sensor would record any discrepancies in the image. The DP lens ideally balances the sensor, lens, resolution and photographic expression.
The Quattro is on another level
With the development of Quattro sensors, we now have available a 3rd generation ‘dp2 Quattro’ in the DP series. The traditional vertical color separation system hasn’t changed, but the upper layer (currently the blue layer) which carries brightness and color information is integrated with the color information and bottom layers (green and red layers) so four pixels are arranged as one pixel and physically increases the size of the photo-diode. This improves the S/N ratio and sensitivity.
The Quattro sensor keeps the fundamental, high quality “Panchromatic” images of the Foveon sensor that is the rich, vivid and realistic detail of the “Foveon look” Even with the increased resolution, the expansion of data is rationally managed while adding a wide range of improvements.
“Speaking for myself, I’ll be closely associating with this sensor for a long time, but I feel the Quattro is a step up for many reasons. Even when I look at a RAW image, the quality is different. Of course, I haven’t felt I have digested them and there are people who would prefer an earlier image quality. However I feel the tonal gradation is smooth and fine, and overall close to perfect”.
The dp2 Quattro changed the design of the sensors to avoid bloated image data, but to handle the enormous amount of data, the infrastructure and layout are optimized too.
“I was surprised at first by the appearance” (laughs). But unlike before, I am not concerned about body heat emitted while shooting. The processing time has become faster. I thought for a high-pixel camera like this, a cable release would be essential but I am happy that it is already prepared for that. The dp2 Quattro lens is the same as the Merrill. It is clear what changes have been made.
People who deal with photographic expression would understand
“If you do take photographs with the dp2 Quattro, you would understand the basic thinking hasn’t changed from the previous series. That is to develop the best camera to take a fully-formed photographic creation at the highest quality. I believe photography is to capture your own feeling at the time the shutter is released. To then recreate that moment and bit by bit touch up the gaps that would definitely appear is, I believe, the essence of photography. That sense of fun in photography reemerged with the DP Merrill, and I feel the dp2 Quattro would be more practical. have to get the most out of it. I guess it’s a good tool to have by my side.”
Born in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. After graduating from photography school, taught by Yuzuru Akimoto and Susumu Okubo. Became freelance in 1998, photographing mainly still life in advertising and magazines.