Eric L. Woods

Legend vs. A Weird One – Round 2: Contax T2 and the Sigma dp2 Quattro

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Was motivated to create this post after kicking about with a camera I recently wrote a blog post about that then went on to fare better than it had any business doing (in my opinion anyway) in a direct comparison with another legend. The Sigma dp2 Quattro. As I mentioned previously before the purchase I had read that this camera can produce image quality that rivals medium format cameras. After initial testing and now that previous post I would have to agree. Had tested it against the ultimate image quality film size (Shh. I am purposely ignoring the existence of large format film cameras here because I have no interest in pulling a 4×5, that showed me that large format was not really for me, out of its case.), but what of other film format contenders? Figured another round was in order. In the previous conclusion I stated that the sd Quattro was:

…a digital camera that slows you down to film shooting speeds due to some unique idiosyncrasies…

But functionally the completely manual Hasselblad and Sigma are wildly different. Figured a fully automatic 35mm film contender that offered AF and autoexposure was in order. I could have gone with a more pedestrian offering like the, also far better than it has any business being, Konica C35 AF2, but after it’s last showing I decided to pull no punches and come out swinging. (Thus satisfying my daily sports metaphor quota in one sentence.) I would use a camera that represented the pinnacle of film darling insta-twit-face-tube hype-dome. On to round 2.

The Contenders

Film 35mm Legend

Contax T2

Digital Weird One

Sigma dp2 Quattro

Ground Rules

  • Shot back to back walking about the American Tobacco campus in Durham because I had not been there in a bit.
  • Made a swipe at matching the framing. Easier than I expected given the different equivalent focal lengths. But the OVF only T2 and backscreen only dp2 meant framing nearly matched from the same position held to my eye then in front of me.
  • In camera metering for both.
  • Shooting modes:
    • T2: After confirming the flash and aperture settings work when I first got it I always just leave it in full auto and it has never let me down yet. Plus it is the only way you will ever get to f/2.8 since the widest manually selectable aperture is f/3.5 for some reason.
    • dp2 Quattro: Started flipping back and forth between S mode at 1/2000s in full sun and A mode and f/2.8 in the shadows but due to oddities like f/2.8 not being available at 1/2000s I just punted and put it in P mode by the end and just let just camera sort it out… like the T2.
  • Did not mess with either results much in Lightroom. Adjusted all with a light application of the Lightroom stick to get them where I like.
  • I believe Lomography 400 like last time would have been a better film choice, but Agfa did just fine as long as you do not pay too much attention to the color differences.
  • My daughter came along for the walk. Not a ground rule I know. Was just nice to have her along and I wanted to mention it. Life is good.

Here are the shots, T2 first, with my thoughts afterward.

Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2
Durham - American Tobacco
T2
Sigma dp2 Quattro
dp2

My thoughts this time? Honestly?

What in the whole heck did Sigma manage to do here?

Last time I said it was a lot closer than I thought it would be. Did the comparison as a joke, like when I wrote a comparison between the Leica M3 and a FED 2 for KEH, I said. Well after two comparisons I am not laughing any more.

You see I started the day with the Contax T2 and I really liked the shots I got with it. Here are some shots I took before the comparison started.

Durham - American Tobacco
Durham - American Tobacco
Durham - American Tobacco

Lovely. Fine. I really like these images. But there was something different after the comparison. Having access to a Contax T2 I put it away and continued shooting with the dp2. Was not a conscious decision. It is just the camera I wanted to continue shooting with.

Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro

So what does this mean? Still processing things if I am honest.

Last time I said if you have wanted a Hasselblad, get a Hasselblad. But this time I am not so sure. At the current inflated asking price I cannot recommend a Contax T2 with a clear conscious unless you have it like that and price is not a factor for you. It is a great camera, but I would not likely buy it at the current asking price.

Last time I said if you have a Hasselblad, keep it. Given the aforementioned Contax T2 inflated price that advice remains the same.

But as great as the Contax T2 is it is missing one crucial feature that the Hasselblad has. The shooting experience.

Hasselblad 501c

The real party piece of the T2 is not the shooting experience, but the ease of use combined with the great resulting images.

So. Image quality over shooting experience. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, from me talking about the Sigma dp2 Quattro.

Do not get me wrong. The Contax T2 performed every bit as good as I had hoped it would. But at the end of this back to back comparison I was struggling to come up with T2 advantages. There are feature advantages:

Ok… We are at the part I do not feel comfortable talking about in open forum for concern of backlash from the less hinged film adherents. Image quality.

Last time I said:

If you want a good bit of that medium format look with a digital camera that slows you down to film shooting speeds due to some unique idiosyncrasies check out the Sigma dp2 Quattro…

So here is the thing. Come a bit closer. I am going to say this very low…

I like the image quality of the Sigma dp2 as much as the Contax T2 and sometimes more.

There I said it. Whoo. That is freeing.

But admittedly all is not rosy with the dp2.

I will concede that the backscreen is nigh indecipherable in midday sun, but with a well placed hand and proper positioning I managed to frame and focus without too much trouble today.

The other demerit has to do with film comparisons. As wonderful as the dp2 performs when you hit the mark exposure wise it is not as forgiving as film when you do not. Blown highlights are not as recoverable as film or some more recent digital sensors like the A7III. Deep shadows are lost forever as well. Unfortunate, but you cannot have it all. Overall I find that when you play by the dp2’s rules it is not that big of an issue for me.

Add in the fact that you can still buy an Sigma dp2 Quattro brand new for a bit less than a no longer made, you are fresh out of luck if it breaks Contax T2, and a used dp2 for even less, and I would lean to the dp2 before the T2.

I completely understand that some would say, “At that price point why not buy a normal camera like an A7II or an EOS RP?” But I doubt anyone that reasonable has read this far. But I think I am finally getting my head around why I like this camera so much. The audience.

The Sigma dp2 Quattro is not a cameras that would interest a typical digital shooter. Too many functional compromises to be made for those who prize convenience over image quality.

What Sigma has actually done, whether they intended to or realize it, is create the perfect digital on ramp camera for those who prize image quality or a certain look that is associated with film first and foremost and have already accepted the functional limitations of shooting film.

Reasoned folk will balk and I get why. But Sigma has never seemed interested in making cameras for reasonable folks. From there early DSLRs, to the earlier dp Merrills, to the sd Quattro and sd Quattro H, and the current fp and fp L they do not seem interested in competing with mainstream offerings. Sigma seems to have more of a Morgan mindset than Miata. While many are not what I am looking for I applaud them for doing something different. I am glad they seem to make enough off of their lenses to fund such offerings.

But if…

  • …film is your thing here is a digital camera that can match some of the slow it down process aspects of film while rewarding you with stunning images when you get it right it is worth a look.
  • …digital is your thing but you want something a little different that can slow you down a bit and can be thrown in a bag to tag along… while rewarding you with stunning images when you get it right it is worth a look.

Let me be clear. This is not a logical camera choice. (But logic and photography? Come on. If you have read this far I wager those are two words not meant to be anywhere near each other.) I am not saying it is a “better” conventional choice than other digital point and shoots on the market. I am not saying it is better than a Contax T2. If you want a Contax T2 I am not saying that you should not buy a Contax T2.

But I look at it this way. Folks spend way more than $899 on storied brands with limitations that are accepted based on experience and resulting image every day… without a lens built in. And that is accepted by the masses. There are plenty of other premium. compact point and shoots on the market whether used film ones or current digital ones that cost the same or more. I have tried a few of each and I would take the dp2 first. Like those cameras folks looking for normal, logical, or value would be much better served shopping elsewhere.

But for me this camera has provided such excellent image quality it has knocked quite a few much, much more expensive film and digital cameras off of my dream shopping list. So much so that unlike other point and shoot cameras that I have had and still have that stay at the ready in my camera bag this dp2 has been with me just about every day since I have had it. Will it stay this way? I do not know, but it has already held my attention longer than any other all in one camera I have ever owned or tried. And that is a good thing.

I do not spend a lot of time talking about Foveon technology or trying to describe what I like about the images this camera produces. This is mainly because that is a very subjective criteria. But I do believe that there is an objectively excellent quality to the images this camera can produce that is better to show rather than trying to tell. You may see it. You may not. But for me it is there. A few more sample images from the same day are shown below.

Happy shooting.

-ELW

Sigma dp2 Quattro
Original Uncropped
Crop - Sigma dp2 Quattro
Detail Crop 1 of Above
Crop - Sigma dp2 Quattro
Detail Crop 2 of Above
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Original Uncropped
Crop - Sigma dp2 Quattro
Detail Crop of Above
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
Sigma dp2 Quattro
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