The Sigma DP2 goes right back to basics, offering a fixed-focal-length lens in a sturdy, compact body with hands-on manual controls and a total absence of gimmicks. It also uses Sigma's Foveon X3 sensor, which acts more like traditional film and produces a very different kind of image quality. It's available now for around £530.
Sigma's plugging on with these Foveon sensors, even though every other manufacturer seems to be ignoring them. Perhaps it's the 4.7-megapixel image files that put people off? But each pixel in a Foveon image has been assembled from three different-coloured pixels on three different layers within the sensor. That's just how film works, and it produces pictures with far sharper detail than those of a conventional single-layer sensor. If you stop counting pixels and just look at what this camera can resolve, you'll find it easily outperforms any other compact and is a match for a 10-megapixel digital SLR.
If the clarity of the DP2's detail doesn't win you over, the simplicity of the control layout will. This is how cameras used to be -- a box with a lens, and just enough controls to let you get the picture you want. With the DP2, you get pro-style program auto-exposure, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes only. There are no scene modes, no face detection, no zoom, no auto scene detection -- this is not a camera for beginners or casual snappers.
You get autofocus, of course, but you can also focus manually, and with some precision. You do this not by using a magnified LCD display but with a clearly-marked dial overhanging the back edge of the top plate -- perfect for that lost art of 'zone focusing'.
The Sigma Photo Pro software which comes with the camera is worth a mention too. It's designed specifically to exploit the properties of the Foveon X3 sensor, and, although the DP2 can shoot JPEGs, you're much better off shooting RAW files and converting them with the software.
The DP2 does have some weak spots, though. We complained that the original DP1 was just too slow at processing and saving image files, and the DP2 can be frustrating in that regard too. The memory buffer can hold up to three RAW files and four JPEGs while you're shooting, but the flashing memory-card lamp is off-putting, and you can never be quite sure that the camera's ready for the next shot until it goes out.
The LCD screen's not very good, either. With so many decent displays around -- even on the cheapest cameras -- surely Sigma could have found a better one than this? It's got 230,000 pixels but still looks grainy, and it's got a rather cold, under-saturated look about it too. There is, however, a rather good clip-on direct-vision viewfinder to go with this camera. It costs about £150 extra, but it's really bright and clear.