Home > estonia, europe, gear talk, philosophy, Photography, technology > Sony NEX-5 versus Sigma DP2, looking for the perfect travel camera

Sony NEX-5 versus Sigma DP2, looking for the perfect travel camera

Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Here is a gallery of some of the photos I took while in Tallinn, Estonia.

The two cameras I used were the aging, yet still very capable Sigma DP2, and the new, hot off the shelf Sony NEX-5.

I pretty much stuck with the 16mm (24mm equivalent) f2.8 lens on the NEX-5, and when I needed a bit more reach I used the Sigma DP2 with its 41mm equivalent field of view.

And as happy (dare I say ecstatic?)  as I am with the NEX-5 and 16mm pancake lens, I do have to say that I actually prefer the images from the Sigma.  The sharpness, color fidelity, and dynamic range of the Foveon sensor continues to astound me.

While I was travelling, the excellent LCD on the NEX-5, and the comparatively horrid LCD on the DP2 had me thinking that the Sony was going to be the one with the superior image quality.   But after downloading the images and viewing them on a large monitor, I am once again caught between two systems.

I love the wider choice of focal lengths on the NEX-5 due to its interchangeable lenses, as well as its superb image quality at higher ISO’s.  The flip out LCD is also a great feature, especially when doing street shooting as it lets you shoot “Rollei-Style”, looking down at the LCD, instead of upright and pointing the camera from your face.  I could do with a few more external buttons and less menu digging on the Sony, but after a day of shooting that part became pretty transparent to me as I got more used to it.

Yes, the new Sony NEX-5 coupled with a pancake lens is a very compact, and portable travel camera.  It really is a pocket camera, and I very much enjoyed travelling light and not toting around a DLSR with a sack full of lenses.  Considering all this, it would seem that the Sony had pretty much nailed it with the NEX-5, making it the perfect travel camera.

But in situations with adequate lighting, the Sigma DP2, with its seemingly anemic resolution of 4.7 megapixels, actually mops the floor with the Sony NEX-5’s and its 14.2 megapixels when it comes to resolving power and pure sharpness.

This could be partly to blame because of the Sony lenses, which do not have a reputation for being very sharp.  But I think it has more to do with the sensor technologies being used, and the resolution advantages of the Foveon sensor technology compared to CMOS and CCD type sensors.

The Sigma is capable of producing astounding images, if you know what you are doing, AND you can put up with its horrid user interface which pretty much cripples what could have been an excellent all-around travel camera.

The DP2 used to be burdened with an extremely slow focusing system, but some recent firmware updates actually solved that problem.  (THANK YOU SIGMA!)  And while you are not going to be doing any sports type photography with it (not without manually pre-focusing anyway) it now has a respectably fast and responsive auto focus mode.

So once again, I have come to the conclusion that there is no single perfect camera.

Although, if a person were to use a Sigma DP2 with its 41mm field of view, AND a Sigma DP1 and its wider 28mm field of view, you may be able to cover most all of your bases for a lightweight travel cameras setup, the benefit of which would be you could share batteries and memory cards between the two, carry only a single battery charger, AND not have to take along a netbook or other portable photo storage device since more than 1,000 RAW images fir on a 16GB SD memory card.  This is all thank to that measly 4.7 mega-pixel resolution.   But don’t let number fool you into thinking the image quality will suffer.   The proof, as they say, is in the pictures.

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  1. August 20, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I totally agree with your findings. Especially when it comes to the dynamics of mega-pixels. I was always in favor of the Foveon sensor on the Sigma to capture great images(as I also have the DP2 for traveling). The NEX-5 has the advantages of interchangeable lenses, which is a BIG plus for me. So there you have it. When the 2nd revision of the NEX-5 comes out I may pick it up. For now it’s the DP-2 and EOS 7D (for action) when traveling. 😛

  2. Kryn
    August 26, 2010 at 1:54 am

    Hey Jeff,

    It’s been a while since i managed to visit your site. Apparently it’s on the chinese firewall’s list of least wanted. No idea why…
    Anyway, as you may recall, I’m in Shanghai now. Well, actually, right now i’m in your home state Michigan (Grand Rapids) for work. I have yet to find a blog site I can use in CHina. Once I do, I’ll be posting my pics and stories again.
    It’s good to read some frequent posts of you again, and I hope you are enjoying your visit to Europe!

  3. DSG
    February 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Perhaps you have just failed to take into account that Foveon sensor resolution is not the same as Bayer sensor resolution? The two are fundimentily different.
    A 4.6mp Bayer sensor has 4.6mp in B&W, but less in colour. A 4.6mp x3 Foveon sensor has 2-3x more resolution than a 4.6mp Bayer sensor, in both colour and B&W.
    So whilst they may be identical spacially, its very obvious that its the total number of actual pixels they have that makes a huge difference in what they can resolve.
    Your NEX may have a total of 14million pixels but it only has 3.5 million red pixels and 3.5 million blue pixels which is over 1 million less red pixels and over 1 million less blue pixels than the DP2 has…Thats why the DP2 can match or even exceed the image quality of your NEX.
    The SD1 will be a whole new ballgame, with noticably higher effective resolution than any current DSLR, including the Canon 5DMkII. That sensor will eventually find it way into a compact Sigma DP body, so the future for Sigma compacts is looking pretty good!

  4. February 27, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I’m a supporter of Sigma’s Foveon and I personally use a Nex-5 + 16mm f/2.8 a lot when I’m not carrying my Canon DSLRs. I agree with DSG above says about resolution comparisons. In my experience, when the same lens is used on a Bayer camera and a Foveon camera, the MP conversion is almost exactly 3x (just like what Sigma says). With all that said, Foveon still has issues when it comes to colour accuracy both at the pixel-level and at the frame level. Hopefully they’ll find ways to improve in the future.

  5. 3Face
    February 28, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    yup same struggle i have. i got myself a dp2 and then i tot i would be happy with the latest and greatest from sony. But each time i process the images, my heart went for the dp2.

  6. Aurin Ræder
    February 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    My lovely lx5 is a joy to use after the dp2 struggle:)

    Funny that after having used dp1&dp2 exclusively the last years, i find almost zero bayer photos interesting or inspiring, so happy i did not expect anything from my new camera, and could concentrated on having great controls, especially the aspect selector!

    foveon inside a good body would be such a revelation

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