Sigma DP1 vs. Ricoh GRD

Sigma DP1 vs Ricoh GRD
Many fellow photographers have asked me about my opinion on the Sigma DP1 compared to the Ricoh GR Digital and these cameras don’t even fall into the same category – both are suitable for street shooting though… I have owned and used both cameras from the minute they came out and immediatedly fell in love with the original version of the Ricoh GRD (I now own the Ricoh GRD II).
While being a very compact camera, the GRD does not lack the features many photographers wish for in a point-and-shoot camera. Every single dial and button is well thought out and in the right place, some buttons are even customizable, the little Ricoh has everything a photographer could wish for and the menu is easy to navigate and logical, even without looking at the User Guide.
The camera easily fits into a shirt pocket and the rubberized grip makes the GRD easy to hold, even for extended periods of time. Even better, when shut off, the lens retracts into the body and gets protected by self-closing blades. I don’t think this little wonder is much larger than a pack of cigarettes, but I gave up on that habit a long time ago…
The Ricoh’s autofocus is somewhat slow and I would focus the camera manually, as I would do with almost any other camera anyways. MF is surprisingly easy to use as one can hit the up/down button and distance and depth-of-filed are shown on the LCD. f2.8 is a nice thing to have and the DOF of the camera is massive due to the small sensor, and there we go with the obstacles…
The only thing I wish for in the GRD is a larger sensor, as the tiny 1/1.8″ sensor develops quite a bit of noise even at ISO 200. I happen to love film grain and the Ricoh’s noise pattern has a pretty pleasing cluster-ish appearance that resembles pushed film pretty well. Street photography oftentimes requires shooting at ISO 800 or even 1600 and the little GRD fairs pretty well, even though the images loose some sharpness and detail, but Ricoh doesn’t apply any noise reduction in camera, which I truly appreciate. Larger prints can be quite rough looking, but that’s the charm of it -at least in my book-.
Shooting RAW with the original GRD was out of the question, but writing speed has become very useable with the GRD II and faster SD cards, I’m using class 6 cards at this point.
Since the tiny sensor has always been the culprit in the GRD, I couldn’t wait for the Sigma DP1 to come out, since the day it was announced in 2006. A smallish camera with a large sensor! wow – you can’t c-a-n-t imagine the excitement of yours truly! A DSLR sized sensor in a pocketable camera…

Finally I got my grubby hands on it when it was barely available in Summer 2008, and boy, I had to work hard to make this camera work for quick street shooting!
The camera is quite a bit larger and heavier than the GRD, and the lack of a handgrip makes it quite uncomfortable to hold the camera for an extended period of time. First I used some self-adhesive leatherette in some spots, but later on, I attached Richard Franiek’s custom grip, which vastly improves the DP1’s ergonomics.
The lens is protected with a lens cap and the lens extrudes for another inch when turned on. None of this bothers me, but if you’re looking for a truly pocketable camera, the DP1 is not for you.
Out of the box the camera was pretty unresponsive and would lock up for a few seconds after every shot. First thing in order was to deactivate the pokey contrast autofocus and solely use the focusing dial on the rear of the cam, which is a pretty neat feature and I think the dial is a little bit more intuitive than the buttons on the GRD, but this is a minor quibble of mine only. After turning off the quick preview (or review on other cameras) the DP1 was responsive enough for selective street shooting. The camera still locks up, until the image is written to the SD card, which is fine in terms of shooting rhythm, if you’re used to -say- shooting a film Leica M. Interestingly the DP1 would work in burst mode for 3 shots per second without locking up after the first shot.
The DP1’s menu could be somewhat better organized, but is workable after all and with the introduction of a firmware update, Sigma allowed for customizable buttons, which gives me the ability to switch ISOs on the fly -one of the most desirable features in a digital camera in my opinion.
Up to this point the Ricoh GRD wins ergonomically, but what really counts is the final image… and that’s where the Sigma DP1 blows my mind! I shoot RAW with any of my cameras, but with the DP1 this is an absolute must, since the final image needs to be processed in Sigma’s Photo Pro software on your computer. By now Adobe Lightroom reads the DP1’s RAW files, but SPP has a slight edge in terms of image quality. The software is not pretty, and rather slow, but gets the job done -more ore less- intuitively.
Sigma’s Foveon sensor clearly ticks differently than a Bayer sensor and DP1 files are extraordinarily sharp and crisp – noise isn’t even an issue at ISO 800 in halfways decent light. Don’t get me wrong – there is noise, but the grain is so fine that it really is not an issue, I may even add film grain, as I do with EOS 5D shots… In low light -i.e shadowy streets, or the subway- images suffer from blotchiness in the shadows, which works fine in black and white, but not so in color… I push the DP1 frequently to ISO 1600 and I’m more than satisfied with the results.
DP1 color images shift somewhat to warmer hues, yellows and reds are generally a bit prominent, this can easily be fixed in SPP. Converted to black and white, the tonality of DP1 images -again- blows my mind, there is a subtleness to the tones other camera’s files fail to deliver. I strongly advise you to get the additional lens hood, as the DP1’s lens is quite prominent to flaring.
Last, but not least, Sigma pushes the DP1 as a 14MP camera, which is not entirely true, since we’re getting some 4.7MP in three layers -and again, the Foveon sensor ticks entirely differently and the DP1 can indeed compete in the high megapixel arena.
At the end of the day, both are capable cameras… if you’re looking for image quality, I’d vote for the DP1 -hands down-. If you’re looking for pocketability and superb ergonomics, go for the Ricoh GRD.

Buy the new Sigma DPx Merrill or Ricoh GRD IV on amazon: 28mm Sigma DP1 Merrill | 45mm Sigma DP2 Merrill | 50mm Sigma DP3 Merrill | Ricoh GRD IV

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