Aug 182014
 

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Got IQ? The Sigma DP2 Quattro Review. 

Here I am again with yet another Sigma DP body. This time, the newest super funky DP2 Quattro model. I have never seen ANYTHING quite like the design of this Quattro and after using it and shooting with it I can state up front that I actually adore the style and design. For my hands, it feels superb when out shooting and when held correctly it really is easy to shoot with, and a joy. The last time I was with a Sigma camera it was when I reviewed the DP2 Merrill. I loved the Merrill for its amazing image quality, which was the best I have seen in any small camera. Very much like Medium Format and in some ways even better.  Now the Quattro has taken that image quality, improved the AF speed and other aspects and then jammed it into an all new body that is worthy of a whole conversation in itself.

Out of camera JPEG of my Fiancee’ Debby. This is complete OOC. Just resized to 1800 pixels wide and no sharpening. You can see the larger size if you click the image. For me, this is gorgeous out of camera color and IQ. From detail to color to bokeh. It looks fabulous. 

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So what is the Quattro?

The Sigma DP2 Quattro is a super funky designed camera that houses a new Foveon sensor and it will give you some of the best image quality you have ever seen, period. Even when shooting JPEGS. IN fact, I much preferred shooting the enhanced resolution JPEG’s over shooting RAW as shooting RAW is a process. Why you ask? Well, shooting RAW means you have to process those files in the Sigma Slow Photo Pro software as the files from the Foveon chip are not compatible with any other software. This means, no using lightroom for your Sigma DP2 files.

The Quattro has a 29MP Foveon X3 Quattro CMOS image sensor which will give you 5424X3616 files. The color and detail in these files is absolutely beautiful. Some of the best I have ever seen.

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The Quattro has a unique design as well and does not look like any other camera I have seen or used. It is long, oddball and with a strange reverse grip. When I first held it I was saying “OH NO! What have they done? The grip does not feel right”!. Then after  few hours of use I was saying “This feels great! Shooting with two hands feels natural and easy”.

My Quattro Video Overview

Basically, the design..while odd..is very effective for me. I have small hands but the camera fits me well and the buttons and dials are easily within reach.

Image quality is through the roof and when browsing over images I took, which were mainly quick snapshots, I was continually blown away by the complete lack of adjusting the photos. No need for changing or adjusting color, no need to sharpen, no need to fix exposure and no need to change ANYTHING. Out of camera JPEGS were just so pleasing with a rich file and crisp 3D feeling images. The Quattro, IMO, offers the most pleasing IQ from any DP camera to date though I have found the Dynamic Range to be on the lower side when compared to other cameras like the E-M1, A7, etc. When you blow a highlight you will not be able to bring back the detail if it is severely blown.

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The lens is a 30mm f/2.8 that gives us the equivalent of a 40mm 2.8 with the APS-C sized sensor. The lens is sharp and with great color and rendering. The Bokeh is smooth and pleasing and there is plenty of detail to be found here. No complaints on the lens at all.

Build quality is also fantastic and a step up from the previous versions. It feels solid and well made but I do have one major complaint. I feel it is a big one. The door that houses the SD card is not a door at all but a rubber flap that has to be pulled out and moved to the side to access the SD card. Over time this rubber will break off and this will mean that the SD card compartment will be exposed to the elements of dust, dirt and moisture. Horrible design on the SD card part. Sigma should actually fix this in the current production and replace it with a legit door. Not sure who designed that or who approved of it but it is the worst design SD card compartment cover I have seen.

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The Sigma is also missing any kind of EVF or OVF and the LCD does not tilt or swivel. If Sigma would have added these two things they would have had a serious camera that would be tough to pass up for those who love their image quality. The brand spanking new Foveon X3 Quattro direct image sensor is quite a bit different from the previous Foveon sensor due to a new top layer with a higher res. This should now give more detailed results with faster image processing and overall speed. So Sigma has reworked their sensor tech and the 29MP Quattro is said to give the results and resolution of a 39 MP normal sensor. Pretty cool.

Here is what Sigma says about their creation:

“Unique and without peer among image sensors, the Foveon direct image sensor is similar to traditional color film in that its multiple layers capture all of the information that visible light transmits. Vertical color separation technology produces incredibly rich color gradations, which in turn make possible texture and expressive power that are immediately apparent to the eye. Even when you are photographing an object with a single color, the sensor captures the full gradation perfectly, with no discordant jumps between lighter and darker areas. Proof that capturing color accurately one pixel at a time really makes a difference, these perfect gradations are at the heart of what we call “full-bodied image quality.”

While delivering this rich, colorful, ultra-high resolution that optimally replicates what you see in the real world, the new dp offers image files of a reasonable size in an easy-to-process format. To achieve this combination, we thoroughly rethought and redesigned every aspect of the camera, including the sensor, engine, lens, body, and interior layout. The result is a camera that carries on the dp tradition and gives you unprecedented image quality.

To a radical degree, the new-generation dp series embodies SIGMA’s philosophy of creating cameras that produce works of art. Featuring the highest level of fundamental performance, this series unites artistic expression and daily experience as no other cameras can.”

As it stands, the camera produces some of the most gorgeous colors and files I have seen…comparable to real medium format files but are the weaknesses enough to put you off from buying it? Let us take a look at everything in a little bit more detail.

My son Brandon and my Nephew John while visiting the domes of Casa Grande, AZ. Sigma Sp2 Quattro at 2.8. This is from RAW. Click it for larger!

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The Auto Focus speed of the Quattro

With the DP2 Merrill the AF speed is what killed it for me. Even the write times to the card were horrible. I wanted to love the DP2 Merrill and buy one as I started to get addicted to the image quality. At the end of the day I could not do it as when it launched it was $999 and for me to spend a grand I need a camera that will not frustrate the hell out of me to get a shot. The DP2 Merrill with its quirks and annoyances put me off from buying one, even at the current price of $699. It is just too slow and doesn’t feel right in the hand to me. You can read my review of that camera HERE.

With the Quattro I had hoped that Sigma improved the Auto Focus speed. If not, it would be the same thing for me and the design would not have saved it.

After shooting the Quattro in many different conditions I have found the AF to be much better this time around but still on the slow side of the tracks. It will not compete in AF speed with the Olympus E-M1 or E-P5, the Fuji X-T1 or the Nikon 1 series. It is nowhere near DSLR Focus speeds either, but it is much better than the old DP2 Merrill. The camera is full of flaws but IQ is not one of them.

When shooting in decent light it is quick enough to get a grab shot though not fast enough to catch a super quick moment. Even with the speed increase, which also is seen in write times, it does not even come close to making the Quattro any sort of action camera. I still say that this camera is best for static subjects. Portraits, scenes, landscapes, urban decay, etc. This is where the camera will excel. I have found the images to have a medium format feel in color and details. In fact, the IQ is so special with this camera that I feel the speed increases seen, while still slow, make the camera worth a purchase for those who value superb color and IQ. For portraits this camera just gets it right and if used from ISO 100-800 you will not be let down by the IQ. If coming from a Merrill of even older DP2 you will find the speed increases very welcome indeed. Just do not expect a speed demon, as it is in NO WAY a speedy camera in operation.

The next three images..all OOC JPEG

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What the DP2 Quattro is missing, in my opinion

While I have been enjoying my time with the little Quattro I have been wishing that it has a few things that it does not, and if it did, it would make it complete IMO. For one, I love the fact that it is so simple. It is a device built for one thing, all out image quality without any stress of color, sharpness or quality. In this regard, it just works. Image after image, even of plain old mundane subjects looked superb, reminding me of the old Leica M9 in many ways with the crisp yet pleasing details and slide like film color. Add in some medium format smoothness and you have a camera that REALLY delivers in the IQ department. I know I said this already but for me, the IQ is almost worth the asking price alone here. Add in the funky design (which I love) and the ease of use and you have a real camera that photo geeks and enthusiasts will really enjoy when shooting in good light.

But the DP2 is not perfect, far from it.

For starters, there is no EVF  here. An EVF embedded into the body would have just added so much to the experience. When out in bright light the LCD gets hard to see and framing your shot is basically not possible. It turns into a guessing game for everything. An EVF would have solved this and made it more enjoyable to shoot. Sigma is releasing an OVF (Optical View Finder) for the Quattro but there are issues to using an OVF with a digital camera.  For starters, let’s say you shot with the LCD off (which is as easy as a button press away) and wanted to frame with the OVF. You will not get an exact framing nor will you know where the camera focused. If you want precise focus you will need to use the LCD. An EVF would have been perfect.

Also, the LCD does not swivel and while I appreciate this being done to keep clean lines and save on thickness, it hurts the usability because without the EVF or a tilt LCD it takes away points for versatility. Then we have the shoddy high ISO performance. I have been using the Sony A7s as my main camera for months now and have become quite spoiled with the ability to shoot anywhere and at anytime. With the DP2 Quattro forget low light interior shots or ISO above 800. After ISO 800 the noise gets nasty and even with color I would prefer to stop at ISO 400. This is one area where the Foveon sensors just have not been able to improve upon. At base ISO and up to 400 the file quality is outstanding in color or B&W. After 400-800 you will want to go B&W only, and yes, you can get good results at ISO 3200 with B&W. OOC B&W mode looks great.

So while the IQ and design is beautiful (for me and my tastes) the camera still lacks due to not having an EVF, swivel LCD and not so great high ISO performance.

With that out-of-the-way, if one wants a camera for certain subjects like portraits, landscape or scenic type of stuff then the Quattro will deliver better than almost any other camera. I feel it has better IQ than the Leica M9 that came in at $7k. From color to detail, it is stupendous. If we treat it like a “Mini Medium Format” then it is understandable  that it is lacking in many ways but up there with the best of the best in other ways.

As long as you know what you are getting with the Quattro then it is highly unlikely that you will be disappointed with it. I recently saw a YouTube video review of this camera and the guy concluded with “It’s a piece of crap”. I have never seen such a horrible review as the guy had no idea how to use it to its potential. The Quattro is far from a piece of crap and is highly capable when it comes to making/creating an image. From the color to the detail to the rich file. You just have to realize what it is and what it is not!

The NONO’s: No action shots, no low light interior or night shots, no easy framing in harsh sun. Battery life is below average but camera comes with two of them.

The WOW’s!: Gorgeous MF like IQ & color, unique design and simple menu setup. OOC JPEGS look fantastic.

There more OOC JPEGS…

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The Shooting experience with the Quattro

The DP2 Quattro, as previously stated, is a unique design. I am a HUGE fan of those companies that go outside of the box when it does to design and features. I love to see companies push the envelope and do or try things that no one else does. When I saw the design of the Quattro before it was released I was very excited about it because it was something different from the normal ho hum camera shape. I found the DP2 Merrill to have an awful body design. The Quattro, while odd at first while holding it soon becomes comfy and natural. I had zero issues using the body, holding the body or controlling the camera. The magnesium alloy body feels solid and secure and everything is top quality (besides the dumb rubber SD card cover).

Brandon getting the shot with his Diana camera. OOC JPEG. Blown highlights outside in the sun. 

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Using Auto Focus with the Quattro is a much nicer experience over the DP2 Merrill, which was borderline unusable for most situations. At least now we have a somewhat snappy AF and while it will hunt in low light, it is not bad at all. I expected worse, so it exceeded my expectations in the Auto Focus speed department. The Quattro does not do the fancy tricks that other cameras do. Video? Nope. Fancy built-in effects? Nope. No panorama, no smile detect, etc. It is a simple camera with a simple design and button layout.

The Menu system is superb. Clean, elegant and easy to browse. I wish all were like this. It reminds me of a Leica menu in its simplicity and the quick menu is so clean, so easy to navigate and make changes. I love it.

When I washout shooting with the DP2 Quattro I always loved taking it out of my bag to shoot and I even had a few people ask me what it was I was taking pictures with. It is a conversation starter and stare getter for sure, so forget about being stealth with the Quattro. Never once did I have an issue with anything and it always delivered the goods. I had a wonderful time shooting with it unlike the previous DP2 Merrill.

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It’s all in the details

Even when shooting JPEG you can see the immense detail in the image. Below are three images with 100% crops embedded. You must click the image to see it with the crop. Remember, these are from JPEG!

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High ISO Test and Crops

The Sigma DP2 Quattro, or any DP camera for that matter is NOT a camera made for low light shooting. In fact, for best IQ keep this camera set to ISO 100-400 and no more than that. Yes, very low on the ISO scale but there are always trade offs as there are no perfect cameras. The DP2 Quattro is a camera to pull out of the bag when there is good light available. Then it will reward you with beautiful colors and results.

I am posting a few high ISO files below starting with base ISO 100. I them move on to 400, 800. 1600, 3200 and 6400. The best are 100 and 400 but see for yourself. Once you get to ISO 1600 problems start to creep in including odd color shifts and reduced DR. Stick from 100-800 and you will be just fine.

For best viewing experience, right-click and open each image in a new window. These are full size files from the camera, OOC JPEG

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JPEG vs RAW comparison

I have found that shooting the Quattro in JPEG  to be quite good. In fact, with all of the hassles of processing the RAW files of the DP2 Quattro I would just shoot JPEG for 95% of what I shoot. If I was shooting something very special that I was going to print large t hen I would process the RAW file for sure. Below are two images, one out of camera JPEG and one processed from RAW.

JPEG is up top, RAW underneath. Right click and open in a new window to see the files in their full size. 

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Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Outstanding Medium Format image quality!
  • Unique design and shape that works well for my hands
  • Conversation starter
  • Detail, color and 3D feel is all here
  • Camera ships with two batteries and full charger
  • 30mm f/2.8 lens is sharp corner to corner
  • Sigma’s best DP to date
  • Faster Af and processing over previous DP cameras
  • Great JPEG engine
  • Super JPEG size:  7,680×5,120
  • Superb for B&W shooting
  • OVF is available for those that want one
  • Good Dynamic Range up to ISO 800
  • Menu system is simple, clean and elegant
  • Most Unique camera of 2014!
  • IQ puts most other cameras to shame…really.

Cons

  • Still slow to AF compared to other (non DP) cameras
  • No swivel LCD
  • Must get exposure correct as it is tough to recover highlights
  • SD Card rubber “door” will break eventually
  • No kind of EVF even possible
  • Shape may be trouble for some
  • Battery life is not the best, sucks down quick.
  • Fixed lens means only 40mm equivalent
  • Limited ISO use, best from 100-400
  • Dynamic Range suffers after ISO 800+
  • RAW files can only be opened and processed by Sigma Software, which is SLOW as molasses.

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Who is this camera for?

The Sigma DP2 Quattro is a camera for camera pros, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. It is not a P&S for a new camera buyer or for someone without any knowledge of how a camera works. It is for those who crave detail, rich color and unreal micro contrast. It is for those who want a Medium Format look and feel in a camera that is much smaller and lighter, as well as cheaper. It is a camera for portraits, landscapes or still life. It is not for someone who wants to shoot running kids inside the house. No way, no how. If you shoot outdoor scenes, landscape or people and you want a camera that will deliver some of the most beautiful files you have seen, the this may be your camera. I find it works great as a 2nd camera for special situations or those moments when something like this will work for you.

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Final Word

As I sit here and think about my time with the DP2 Quattro I am extremely pleased and happy with the image quality. It exceeded every expectation and beats out some much more expensive cameras when shooting in the iSO 100-400 range. For IQ, this is one of those camera that just scream out with it. It doesn’t get better in IQ even in the 3K range! It was reminding me of such cameras as the Leica M9, Sony RX1R and even a few Medium Format cameras when it comes to IQ. That is some pretty impressive company, especially when you consider that the camera sells for $999. Well under the others I mentioned.

But will the IQ be enough for most of you who are in the market for a new camera? Probably not. The Sigma DP Quattro would not make for a good “one camera” to own because it limits your shooting to daytime or good light, ISO 100-800 for color shooting and it does not offer an EVF or swivel LCD. The Battery life is tough (but it does ship with two) and the camera does not do video or the gimmicky tricks that some other cameras do so well.

The DP Quattro is about one thing and one thing only…making memories in decent light with the best quality possible in this size and format for under $1000.

The Auto Focus has improved greatly from the DP2 Merrill I tested but it is still lacking in speed when compared to other cameras. I never found it unusable or missing the shot, not at all, but again…it is only good for still shots, NOT action or moving subjects and in low light it slows down and hunts. The DP2 Quattro has the all new sensor that delivers faster speed and better performance across the board and the 29 MP Foveon sensor is said to give the same results as a standard 39MP sensor. I would not argue that point. The battery life has improved from the Merril’s 50-60 shots per charge and now I can get about 120-140 shots per charge The two batteries supplied should be good for a day of shooting as long as you are not a speed demon machine gun shooter (if so, this is NOT your camera).

Shooting the Quattro is something you will either LOVE or HATE. If you can get along with the funkytown design then you will enjoy shooting with the Quattro. If you find the grip odd or off, then forget it.

Me, I love the design. I think it is the loveliest camera design of 2014.

So will I buy one? When B&H Photo sent me this camera to review I assumed I would “like” it but not “love” it. Well, I fell hard for the special image quality which does have some magic embedded in it. I also enjoyed the faster AF and write times and beefier design. I hate the flimsy rubber SD card “door” but overall enjoyed my time with the camera. I feel it is worth the $999 if you are after IQ for landscapes or portraits and as a 2nd camera for those times when you want the Foveon Look. So I have to ask myself if I would use it enough. I have a Leica, I have a Sony A7s and still have an Olympus E-M1 lying around. Do I need this one? NO, not at all. Do I want it? Sure, I would love to own it just for the IQ, color and design. I feel one day this camera will sit in a museum for its unique yet oddball design! It may be a flop sales wise but it sure is unique ;)

So would I buy one? Yes indeed, if I had the spare $1k to spend, without hesitation. If I can save some cash I may just go for it. I passed on all previous DP models but this one is my favorite without question. I can not image ANYONE being disappointed with the image quality. Just beware that you will need light because after ISO 400 or 800 the IQ degrades fast.

I would love to test this camera and the upcoming DP1 (28mm equivalent)  during my upcoming Southwest workshop as it would create some breathtaking images I am sure. I may have to buy one just for that trip :)

WHEN YOU SIT AND THINK ABOUT IT…the Sigma DP Quattro beats the Leica M 240, Sony A7 and others for Image Quality, has Auto Focus (the Leica does not) and comes in at $6k less (than the Leica) but includes a lens where the Leica does not. When you look at it in this way then it is a no brainer and worth the cost if you value high image quality above all. Just be ready for what this camera does NOT do well (low light, action, etc).

Overall it gets a recommendation from me, and a high one..but only if your main concern is image quality and you do not need a camera for low light or for fast moving subjects.

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Where to Buy

The Sigma DP2 Quattro is available at the links below from my recommended dealers:

B&H Photo – You can see or buy the Dp2 Quattro at B&H Photo HERE

Amazon – Buy the Quattro at Amazon by using my link HERE

Outside the USA? Use my Amazon UK, Germany and Canada links HERE.

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Jan 232013
 

UPDATED Comparison: Hasselblad 39C vs Sigma DP2M reloaded by Michael Ma

Hi Steve:

Thanks for publishing the quick Hasselblad/Mono/Sigma DP2 Merrill comparison (see that one HERE). I don’t know if you post follow ups but the post generated a lot of heated comments and one key issue people pointed out (rightfully) is that the Hasselblad was not designed to be shot wide open under limited light. I think everyone agreed that the Monochrom is incredibly sharp so I’m leaving it out of the comparison.

I took the Hasselblad and the Sigma out to the roof and shot a few pictures. And here are the results. This time, the Hasselblad is noticeably sharper and the image rendition is more accurate. However the Sigma followed closely and it is very impressive.

 

· Hasselblad 503 with winder CW, 80mm CEF Zeiss Lens, 39megapixel CF39 back vs Sigma DP2 Merrill

· Overcast but bright day, around noon time. Both cameras were shot at F11 and 125s, focused to infinity.

· Both pictures are right out of the cameras. No exposure/contrast adjustment or sharpening.

 

Hasselblad Shot. Notice the overall tone of the image. Smooth and warm. This is a little warmer in color than the actual day condition but came out very nice. The texture is almost creamy

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Hasselblad 100% crop. Very sharp and detailed. Some noise in the shadows even at ISO100.

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Sigma shot. It is incredibly sharp but has that clinical look. Not as pleasing as the Hassey in the rendering. The sigma has a bigger DOF (the flower pots in the front are perfectly in focus while they are a bit soft in the hassey).

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Sigma normal size 100% crop. Again, very sharp here although not as sharp as the Hasselblad. The normal size conversion converts the X3F file into 4704×3136 file. The details are there and the colors are vivid.

Sigma Normal size crop

 

Sigma double size: Sigma also has an option to export its files into “double size” TIFFs for bigger prints. This turns the file into a huge 9408×6272 file (over 100mb). This is considerably larger than the Hasselblad file. You could see the loss of details here but it probably won’t show up in prints under 40cmx40cm. (click it for full size 100% crop)

Sigma Double Size crop

What does all these pixel peeing prove? Hasselblad owners can be rest assured that the performance of their systems cannot be matched by the Sigma Merrills, while Merrill owners can rejoice for owning such an incredible machine. It is unquestionably the sharpest tool in the ASPC sensor class. Although the system has its quirks and trade offs, when it comes to image quality (which is ultimately what we need), it can play with the medium format big boys. So, why not have both? A Medium format or a Leica Mono plus a Sigma DP2 would formidably setup for any demanding photographer.

 

Aug 292012
 

The Sigma DP2 Merrill Review- Gorgeous image quality, slow as molasses and irritating squeaky operation!

The Sigma Dp2 Merrill has been in my possession for a while but it is going back. In other words, I am not going to purchase it. But not because of the image quality. Before I even write one more paragraph I have to say that the image quality of this camera is flat-out amazing when shooting at low ISO with good light. I found it better than the Leica X2, Sony NEX-7, or just about any other comparable camera I have shot with in recent times. Using a 46 Megapixel Foveon Sensor, this Sigma DP2 Merrill is the 1st “DP” model I have seriously considered purchasing. With its 30mm f/2.8 lens that is razor-sharp giving you a 45mm f/2.8 equivalent, it is a perfect match to the sensor inside. Sigma also has a DP1 Merrill coming that will feature the same insides but with a 19mm f/2.8 lens giving us a 28mm equivalent.

This is a pretty extreme crop from a RAW file processed with the Sigma Photo Pro software…

The incredible IQ of the 46 MP Foveon Sensor

FACT: The IQ from the Sigma DP2 Merrill and its 46 Megapixel Foveon Sensor is GORGEOUS, RICH, and with SUPERB COLOR. The files are loaded with detail, and I am just talking about JPEGS! In fact, I have never seen such good JPEGS before and the RAW files take it up another notch with more detail and richness. The Sigma goodness you have heard about is true..when it comes to flat out image quality.

This review will feature images with the DP2 Merrill shot in JPEG and RAW.The JPEG’s rock and the RAW’s roll so either way it is all good. Sigma knows it’s stuff when it comes to Sensor design. In fact the IQ from this camera is much better than my capabilities as a photographer.

The Foveon Sensor Technology as used in this camera was developed by Dick Merrill who passed away in  2008. Today Sigma continues his research and has dedicated this DP2 model to him just as they did in their flagship DSLR the “SD1″. Sigma has MANY fans of this sensor technology and also many who dislike the sensor. With cameras that have always been uninspiring to use, the DP series has never made it to huge sales and success but rather is in use by dedicated fans of the brand and the Foveon sensor technology. I have seen some amazing photographers use the DP series with impressive results and while they may never take over the mainstream buyers, Sigma has the best sensor I have ever come across in almost..almost any 35mm digital camera and the lens in the DP2 Merrill is also outsanding.

The DP2 has a nice smooth rendering and even in full harsh AZ sun (as in the image below) we get a nice Dynamic Range and tones. Shot as a JPEG. This girl was singing for a quart of oil. Her and her BF were dead broke and their car leaked out all of the oil while traveling to Texas. A man came by and gave them $5 and they went in to buy the Oil. I asked for their picture and gave them $5 for some water, which they went in to buy immediately. To be young and adventurous again…

Here is what Sigma has to say about the lens built into the DP2 Merrill:

“The camera is compact and lightweight, and include “F” Low Dispersion (FLD) glass to correct aberrations and Super Multi Layer Coating to reduce flare and ghosting. With the 46-megapixel, full-color Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor, the new DP cameras capture all primary RGB colors at each pixel location with three layers, which results in incredibly detailed images with a three-dimensional feel.”

I agree with what they say above 100%. Notice they do not say anything about fast focus, fast operation, etc. :)

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The Sigma DP Series..great image quality but slowwwwwwww ( I know, I know..I keep saying this)

I reviewed the old DP1 years ago when it was launched and enjoyed the IQ  but did not enjoy the teeny files and low resolution. I said back then that if Sigma could do this with a large megapixel Foveon then it would be a camera to seriously consider even with the slow as a turtle focusing and writing to the card. But that was 3 years ago so I assumed that with this special $1000 DP2 Merrill that Sigma would have sped up the feel and operation of the camera. I assumed that I would no longer have to sit there and wait for the AF to lock or the files to write to the card. Wrong. It is pretty slow when you compare it to the cameras that are out today. My little Sony RX100 is blazing fast with AF..the DP2 is very slow in comparison.

BUT it is not horrible. You can still take it out and shoot though you will not get any spontaneous moments. The image below was supposed to be of this dog licking a boys face but by the time the camera focus and fired the boy had moved away and the dog already pulled back. Even so, I ended up with a cute dog pic :)

You can get an idea of the camera operation if you take a look at the video review I did below. You can also see the AutoFocus Squeak I have going on in this specific camera as well as the write times….why is it that Sigma cannot attain the level of AF speed that modern cameras in this price range deliver? Why is my sample squeaking when it focuses and why is the write time so slow? It seems to me that at this price point Sigma could have beefed up the processing and had some better quality control.

So to be clear and to sum it up…The AF is slow, the write time is slow, my camera squeaks and it retains that special “Sigma” usability factor, which is slow and sluggish. It hunts in low light when you try to AutoFocus and the high ISO is not the best by any means. This is more of a low/base ISO camera IMO.

With that said, I can not argue or complain in the slightest with the IQ. It is beautiful, and I am talking about out of camera JPEGS as well as RAW here. It seems Sigma did get this right as well as white balance, sharpness, detail, and everything where it REALLY matters, the final output of the images.

Rich JPEGS right from camera. Dynamic Range again, is superb. Color is great and the detail and subtleties are wonderful. The DP2 Merrill delivers in the IQ department no doubt. This is their best sensor to date.

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So just how good are the OOC JPEGS and the RAW files?

Like I said earlier…I shot all images in JPEG and RAW but since Adobe does not support the RAW files from the Sigma I had to download and install Sigmas Photo Pro software which while better than the Sony software that they supply with their cameras is still a bit slow and cumbersome (and crashed about 6 times on my iMac). I had to use it though as it’s the best way to process the RAW files from the DP2 Merrill, and it works great giving superb detail and color.

Below are a few shots that you can click on and open up a larger version with a full 100% crop embedded into the photo. YOU MUST click it to see the full crop and the detail. The 1st two are shot in RAW and then I will post up a comparison between the JPEG and RAW versions…

These 1st two shots are converted from the DP2 Merrill’s RAW file – click them for larger and full size 100% crop

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and now a comparison between the JPEG and RAW files with crops…

JPEG

If you click on the JPEG image below you can see it gives us really good detail and tones…

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RAW

…but click on the RAW conversion and you will see MUCH better detail and tonality…RAW takes it up another notch for sure.

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and one more…

JPEG

same as before – good color and sharp

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RAW

MUCH more detail – almost too much…and I prefer the JPEG color in this image but it does show how much more detail can be pulled from a RAW file.

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The Build, Design and Feel

The build of the DP2 Merrill is very good. In my hand it feel solid, simple and well, brick like. It is shaped like a brick with a few buttons and a dial attached. It doesn’t have a blingy look, fancy features or anything special about its design. Compared to a Leica X2 it appears very plain, which many will love. My best friend thinks the design is perfect. I think it is a little bit dull and industrial but the design is not what we buy a camera for. We buy a camera to use it to create memories and capture life so as long as it captures the image I frame that should be all that matters. The camera has a metal body and construction and feels good but very blocky.

So all in all I have no complaints with the build quality or design. It is what it is, a Sigma DP series camera. The special part of this is the Sensor and the quality output, especially for the size. It is not a “pocket” camera any ANY means but it is not anything close to DSLR size either. It is more along the lines of a Leica X2 size wise.

The image below of my Son Brandon was shot in JPEG and converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure 3 – the DP2 Merrill has a fantastic lens that performs well even wide open. 

High ISO performance at 100-1600 ISO

The high ISO of the DP2 Merrill is not the cameras strong point. To see the beauty and quality from this camera you MUST shoot at low ISO in good light. Period. This is not a quick point and shoot camera to take of your children running around the house at ISO 1600. If you try this you will be highly disappointed. The DP2 Merrill is for “the patient photographer” – much like a Leica M shooter. Frame, compose, set, focus and shoot instead of “lift and fire away”.

Below are some high ISO crops to show you ISO 100-1600 for those who want to see what to expect in low light.

So bottom line on ISO and the DP2 Merrill? It is not horribly bad but it is nowhere near the better comparable price range cameras. My suggestion is to keep the DP2 to good light and low ISO and you will be extremely pleased with the output. If one thing has stayed the same with the Sigma DP series it is that the camera still lacks in comparison to other cameras where ISO is concerned.

DETAIL!!

The DP2 Merrill can do a few things VERY well. One of them is to reward you with gobs of detail in the files, and I am not talking about harsh detail either. Some CCD and CMOS cameras will give you detail but when viewed at 100% there is smearing, jagged edges or not so detailed details. While they do a fantastic job the CMOS Foveon sensor in this DP2 is pretty special. The lens on the DP2 Merrill is fantastic. It is sharp corner to corner, has pleasant Bokeh and is pretty much free from any serious or visible distortion (in my real world use anyway).

Want detail? The DP2 Merrill can give it to you! Click image below for full size file from RAW and view at 100%. 

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Here is a shot taken in JPEG mode with a 100% crop from JPEG – click on the crop to see it 100% full size – impressive for an OOC JPEG huh?

Sigma hit it out of the park with the 46 MP sensor because we finally have that Foveon look, Foveon color and Foveon detail with much more resolution than previous DP series cameras. Sweet! This is great news for fans of these sensors. FINALLY a camera for Foveon fans to be excited about.

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Other features of the DP2 Merrill

This camera is not about all of the fancy features that many camera companies are stuffing into their cameras these days. You will not find any HD Video, you will not find any 5-Axis (or any) Image Stabilization and you will not even get a tilt screen or EVF/VF of any kind. There will be no self portrait mode, no panorama mode and no WiFi built in. What you will get with the DP2 Merrill is a simply designed basic camera that excels at one thing, all out image quality.

The camera can shoot video but I wouldn’t recommend it. The camera also does time-lapse with its time lapse mode, which I am surprised they included seeing that other than that the camera is pretty plain jane. No art filters or photo effects are included either.

The DP2 Merrill is made for a select group of photographers. Those who want this camera KNOW they want this camera and they know about and accept the limitations of speed. You buy this one for its image quality and size and nothing more.

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The Pro’s and Cons of the Sigma DP2 Merrill

PROS

  • The image quality and sensor are beautiful – in the right hands there could be some astounding photos taken with this camera
  • The build is solid
  • The layout and controls are simple
  • The menu layout is easy to navigate and understand
  • The color, detail, dynamic range and overall look of the files is impressive
  • APS-C sized CMOS Foveon 46 Megapixel sensor provides tons of resolution..finally!
  • 3D feel to the images, more so than any other camera I have used (besides full frame cameras like the M9, 5DII, D800, etc)
  • One of the more “magical” compact cameras available today in regards to the luxurious IQ
  • You can use manual focus using the dial on the lens and it works good

CONS

  • A battery hog..which is why Sigma ships this with TWO batteries (you better get a 3rd)
  • SLOW to Auto Focus
  • My camera had an annoying squeak when focusing (see the video in this review for example)
  • RAW files can not be opened with Adobe software so it’s Sigma Slow Photo Pro
  • High ISO performance just average but this is a LOW ISO camera
  • Too Expensive at $1000 – $700 would be better (though half the cost of a Leica X2 with better IQ, just seriously deficient in other areas)
  • Write times to your SD card can take up to 18 seconds per image (see video for example) when shooting RAW or as little as 12 using super fast SD cards

Bottom Line Conclusion

I know I sort of made fun of the Sigma DP2 Merrill in the title photo comparing it to a 1982 Commodore 64 Computer system but in all reality this is a serious tool for those who are serious about image quality. Just be aware that with this gorgeous sensor comes a camera that is slow to AF, hunts in low light, has slow write times and is built like a brick, literally. Sigma has come a long way in regards to the sensor since the early DP cameras but they have inched along slowly when it comes to usability and speed.

My camera had an annoying as hell squeak when using the AF (see the video above to HEAR it) and I am not sure if others have this issue or if I had a bad one but just be on the look out for squeaky AF. If you encounter it then return the camera. Maybe mine was the only one with this issue, who knows…but I think I have a defect in this sample which tells me QC may not be up to snuff.

Basically no one would be disappointed with the Sigma DP2 Merrill Image Quality. No one. It has deep and rich color, superb dynamic range, gobs of detail and this time around has plenty of resolution as well with super large 50-60MB files.

The JPEGS are fantastic but the RAW files are even better and I feel that Sigma has a camera that many will love and some will hate. It can be frustrating to shoot anything that moves so it is NOT recommended as a point and shoot or if you are looking to take photos of your running kids or pets. It is not recommended for low light shooting indoor either. The DP2 Merrill excels with landscape and even portraits. If your subject is still and you have enough light the DP2 Merrill can handle it.

I had a love/hate with this camera but am still not comfortable enough with the operation speed and low light performance to buy one for myself. What I do know is that the image quality is the best I have seen from any small camera to date. It’s damn impressive and if I had this for a couple of months I am sure I could create some gorgeous photos with it. What you see in this review was basically a collection of snaps with the camera for the week and a half that I had it.

Not much else to say that I have not already said. It’s a simple camera and this is a cut and dry review. Astounding IQ capabilities with slow AF and operation. If it were $699-$799 I’d probably own one for those moments when I want light and high quality for landscape, buildings, or portraits. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the files from this camera are VERY 3 Dimensional in their feel. I LOVE the rendering of this camera..period. Just wish it was a bit more responsive, if so then I would have bought it.

If you feel the this camera is for you then the DP2 Merrill can be bought for $999 from B&H Photo, my recommended dealer who I have purchased from for over 18 years!

B&H Photo Sigma DP2 Merrill Page

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