The best digital cameras are always the biggest. Squeezing in all the good stuff—light sensors and top-quality optics—inevitably results in some bulk. But lugging around a professional-caliber digital single-lens reflex is like pocketing a cantaloupe. The engineers at high-end camera maker Sigma were determined to shrink it all down to something more totable. It wasn’t an easy task. Most pocketcams use a light sensor the size of a dime. Sigma chose a chip the size of a Wheat Thin: the same 14-megapixel Foveon the company puts in its top-shelf professional models. Getting enough light onto it would entail a correspondingly bigger lens, and keeping it cool would require plenty of room inside for air circulation. Or at least that’s what everyone used to believe. It took Sigma two years to completely rethink the basics of camera design, but with the DP1 the engineers finally crammed the Foveon into a pocketable package. Here’s how. (link)
1 // Heat
The DP1′s densely packed innards generate a lot of heat, which can degrade the image. To compensate, engineers turned the entire front of the camera body into a metal heat sink.
2 // Lens
The DP1′s optical protrusion may look telephoto, but this camera has no zoom. The lens, which extends outward when you power up, has the highly focused task of producing an image circle large enough to bathe the 13.8 x 20.7-mm Foveon chip in light.
3 // Focus
The six pieces of glass that make up the lens must be constantly shifted and adjusted to bring your image into focus. To keep the camera compact, Sigma sourced the smallest mechanical parts available and developed an internal focusing system that moves elements within the lens rather than the barrel itself.
4 // Processing
The Foveon draws more power than your average point-and-shoot, but without the benefit of a big DSLR battery. To save juice, Sigma reduced onboard processing, so the image comes out extremely raw. Pros call it pure.
February 24, 2009