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

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


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

Hasselblad crop

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).


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.



  1. I don’t what the value is showing pictures right out of the camera. That is nothing but the raw information, ready for post processing. Just getting the white balance corrected would improve each image tremendously. No excuse for not correcting for white balance.

  2. The Sigma is sharper. The only Bayer camera that comes *close* is the Phase One IQ180 at 80 MP. A whole ton of megapixels to match up with the Sigma. Even then, I have studied sample images by both (landscape shots are the best) and my conclusion is – Sigma still wins slightly. They have that slight image accutance that bears the most resemblance to film cameras of old. Now Sigma is coming out with the Quattro sensor which they claim is even sharper…..

    I wonder why they don’t produce a full frame Foveon sensor at 30+ MP which should BLOW away all the Hasselblads and Phase Ones. Period.

  3. The last comparison, DP2m looks a lot sharper, but the result is opposite now.

    I’m wondering what kind of test condition makes the difference.

  4. ‘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’

    ‘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).’

    Understatements of the year, so far!… I think I’m gonna have to go to Specsavers.

    And why shoot at f11? On a subject that looks to be about 40ft away? What is the point of all of this?

    Have I missed something, here?

    • I have similar thoughts. I was really interested to see the comparison when I saw the title. Then I saw the f stop setting and I just don’t get it. I don’t mind the choice for Hassy, but for Sigma that’s totally different setting. Much wider DOF (as You noted) and stronger diffraction (obviously). I have to say, Sigma looks pretty great @f/11, but even mediocre aps-c lenses at f/11 are less sharp than @f/8. That Sigma’s lens is well corrected and I bet it’s sharpness is limited mostly by diffraction already at f/5.6 and wider.

      If one think of pupil entrance size, f/11 on Hassy is 7.27mm and that’s ~f/4.1 on Sigma. If the Sigma was positioned a bit closer (as it offers a bit wider FOV), probably ~f/5.2 (60mm sensor diameter on Hassy vs. Sigma’s 28.3) would be perfect.

      I wonder how Sigma at about f/5 (f/5.6 or f/4 would be perfectly fine too, imho) would compare to Hassy. Ideally with both pictures from RAWs edited to (roughly) match the colors and exposure.

      I saw the comparison of Sigma to X-E1 (with Fuji 35 f/1.4), both @f/5 and although Fuji looked great (even @100%), Sigma was clearly sharper – crazily sharp from corner to corner (save for the bottom of the scene, that was not in focus).

  5. I’m sorry to sound snarky, but dude, this only shows how badly both cameras can miss white balance. The Hasselblad has a strong pink cast. It looks like it was shot through a really cheap FL filter. If it wasn’t then the camera is amazingly deficient, especially for one of the most expensive cameras you can buy. The Sigma has a distinct turquoise cast. I find it hard to believe they are this far off in natural light.

  6. At the risk of sounding stupid, would it be possible to ever get these types of shots taken by an actual photographer? There’s no composition, the light is crap and there isn’t a single thing that makes me want to look at this. I could train a chimpanzee to take the time to compose an effing frame. Seriously.

    • Most of us aren’t pros and could care less that sample images are just snapshots. Art is not the primary focus of the article.

  7. cool article…I’ll take both cameras please! and the Monochrom. The DP cameras shouldn’t be overlooked just because of the reputation. I’ve gotten the most “medium format” looking shots from my DP1 than ANY of the other digital cameras, including a full RED EPIC-M setup with PL glass.

    btw..the author wrote “pixel PEEing” instead of “peeping”. 😉


    NO WAY!

  9. Maybe Sigma needs to reach out to the open source community for some ideas on speeding up their processing and extending battery life. It is obvious by the present and past samples that they have the IQ part nailed down.

    Of course if all they want is the true believer, then the camera is fine as is. Market share isn’t the end all. Just ask Apple. They built an empire by first building computers that appealed to the true believer.

    If I had the money, I’d have a Merrill.

  10. So much has to do with workflow. Using the DP2 Merrill with a standard workflow is a flawed approach due to the differences in technology…. I have been testing for the last few weeks and have tweaked my workflow for the DP2M and as a result the images are the best I have ever seen at ISO 100. Using the double res in the SPP is not the best option to keep total image quality – again workflow is everything.

    Stephen Schaub

  11. I find Image qualities are somewhat like the taste of wine and the sound of audio gear; very much contaminated by the abilities and afflictions of the individual, frequently coloured by mass opinion and difficult to properly communicate objectively. Sadly, I’m not immune. I had a dear friend who would call me, sometimes in the middle of the night, to describe the incredible sharpness of a most recent version of an already great Leica lens. All this from a magazine image and article – in Leica Magazine… I sometimes wonder if monitors are worse than magazines. At least ‘quality’ magazine and books are printed to closer tolerances than the two ~107 dpi monitors sitting on your and my desk are manufactured, differently aged, and calibrated. How can you and I discuss image quality nuances? As for the extreme pinky Hasselblad shot – tones now curiously similar to some of my easily forgettable, poorly processed and washed EP2 prints made more than a while ago…

  12. To me the Sigma wins hands down and thats not even considering the massive price difference! The Sigma images dont normally look clinical as they normally look as close to film as possible so dont know why these ones do? The Hassy images to me look plain awful but hey each to their own as they say:)

  13. I said it last time and I will say it again. Nothing looks like Hasselblad. Thank you for the post.

    • Yep ! Greaaaat little beast for the price.
      The only drawback is that you have to carry 3 spare batteries with you.
      Manual focus works fine, the body is very well built and the files… 😉

  14. I’m looking at the images on my calibrated monitor at work, and if I’m honest, those Hassy images look horendous. VERY flat, no dynamic range and tinted a horendous color.

    Sigma gets you white clouds, black blacks, and I can make out the subtle occlusion of the pots on that back wall. Look at the cabnet doors inside that window on the Hassy v.s. the Sigma…night and day.

    I think it’s safe to say, that if we could more easily process those Sigma images (I think LR doesn’t support?) that they produce RAW data that would enable you to produce ANY look you desire with ultimate sharpness and detail.

    I can’t wait till someone puts this sensor in a more “normal” camera….

    • Agreed 100%. How is it that Sigma can make wonderful lenses, a fantastic sensor but not a decent camera?

      I’ve been seriously considering buying a DP2M for a while now but despite it’s wonderful image capturing capabilities the camera itself is an absolute mare for capturing anything that moves plus you need to carry 5 or 6 batteries around with you all the time. Come on Sigma, time to up your game and make cameras that can do all the most basic things well.

      • I actually like it as a camera quite a bit…. not fast AF but a lot faster than most manual focusing and quite accurate in decent light…. as a film shooter it was an easy transition… if I was use to a state of the art Nikon or Canon then no…. after shooting with my M9P this was perfect for my need and the first digital camera that has files that feel like near LF film to me. With regards to battery… I have 3 and NEVER use more than two in a day. I do not use the screen for focus but rather the optional viewfinder which is quite nice.

      • I usually carry an extra battery, but one battery usually gets me through the day. All depends what your day is. If you’re shooting a wedding then you will need extra batteries. If you’re day is capturing anything that moves then get the right camera for the job. Stop the whining.

  15. Interesting, in terms of resolution, they seem fairly similar to me, but I think resolution in digital stopped being an issue a while ago, even 6MP is better than you’d think.

    If resolution is the only benchmark, then it’s very hard to justify Hasselblad digital gear indeed, but lots of people will want it for the look medium format gives them. Also, if you’re a pro, probably best to look like one and show up with a big camera.

  16. Thank you for your interesting comparison. In my personal opinion we’re putting way too much focus on sharpness and detail (no pun intended). The famous quote of Ansel Adams “There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept” still holds true. Of course I fully appreciate and adore the capability of modern sensor technology and don’t want to miss it. However, looking at the wall in my living room with it’s A2 sized prints (about 23.5″x16.5″ for our metrically challanged friends) – some taken with an APS-C 6 MP camera about 10 years ago, we should not fall victim of photo industry which wants us make believe only full frame megapixel monsters or specific sensor technologies like the Meryll will lead to good results.

    We’re living in wonderful times with all these technologies at hand, but don’t let us forget about the artistic value of an image. Thant said, it’s nice to see how even APS-C cameras are pushing the limits further.

  17. The nice thing about the foveon sensor is that it breaks the defraction barrier……the pits are just as large as on a Bayer sensor. But since no Bayer array is used the color info is much more accurate (sampled at the spot so to speak and not resampled) and sinse fewer pitts dot the sensor surface well the pitt sizes can be larger to. In my view the Sigma Meryll system is a great camera be it with an interface that limits it’s use to all but architactural, posed protrait, food, and landscape photography…….the DP1 is tediously slow for instance, so all action photography (or VR photography) is out of the question. But hey that cover about all of my photography needs, but I would love to see a foveon in a more capable camera system…….(I hoped the M10/M240) would sport one……

    Greetings, Ed.

    Greats, Ed.

  18. Both pics look pretty bad and are poorly white balanced. Sigma is much sharper. If you really want to do a serious comparison then you need to be very accurate in using manual white balance on a gray card. Also try to take a pic of a subject that brings out the potential of these cameras so we can see how they reproduce color and contrast.
    Find some forest, green grass, flowers, sunset, something compelling.
    Don’t shoot anymore pics of a dead wall, this tells us little about the potential of these cameras.
    I welcome a followup but find a real powerful scene to photograph first that presents the full gamut to these cameras.

  19. No one shoots Hasselblad without Phocus or Capture One then Lightroom at least but more likely CS6 as the final post workflow.
    The color, which I’ve never looked at beyond the iPhone 5 I’m on now is totally irrelevant to the presumed unsharpened capture. And it can’t be seen in RAW only jpeg online anyway. Dropbox/FTP and a fully calibrated prepress level Eizo monitor anyone?
    Geez. Give the guy a break. ;-)~

  20. I think they both look ghastly. The Hasselblad image is rusty, with the small wedge of sky unrecognizable. The Sigma looks better, but with a greenish tinge. This scene has so little variation in color I’m not sure any camera would make it look good, but neither of these has done it. What is the right tool to accurately render beige on tan on a gray day? Does it even matter?

  21. Sorry Gents, but either you have gone all bonkers, or all my monitors render the Hasselblad pics into something horribly reddish..sorf of like sun damaged photo look. Also, I see some bad chroma noise in the Hasselblad’s windows shot.

    • I was waiting for someone else to comment on the colour of the Hasselblad photo… I haven’t seen white balance as bad as that since the 1990’s

    • I thought it was maybe the screen on my new laptop giving me strange Hassy hues but alas no after looking on my calibrated main system screen. A clear win for the Sigma.

    • Yep, thank goodness you guys noticed that – I actually re-calibrated my screen as I thought there was something wrong with it!! I could never afford either, but if I could it would be the Sigma hands down. Great comparison review though.

    • I agree. I’m almost tempted to say they forgot to include the hot mirror filter. It looks a lot like my modified Nex which can do full spectrum photography 🙂

  22. Congratulations for your articles on the DP2, Michael.

    After reading several reviews of the Merrills, including Steve´s and your two articles, I purchased a DP1 Merrill a couple of days ago. I hope to receive it tomorrow. 🙂

    I needed a small camera to have always with me (jeans/coat pocket size), which delivers the MAXIMUM IQ and detail.

    In my seek for such tool, I have owned: Ricoh GRD IV, Sony RX100, Leica X2 and Fuji X100.

    The closest of those to my needs was the X2, but after a few months, I finally realized that the 35 FOV was too narrow for me, and I gave up on it, though it’s an amazing camera. (I don’t like extensible lenses, anyway…)

    The funniest to use was the Ricoh, without any doubt. I didn’t like the RX100: no grip, big extensible lens, too “electronic” look in its pictures…

    The most complete in every aspect was the Fuji X100, with the known quirks, of course, but as I said, I’m more confortable with the 28mm FOV.

    So this DP1 hopefully would fit my bill.

    Thanks to both Steve and Michael for reviewing these Sigma Jewels. You have opened my eyes. When I saw the samples in Sigma’s website, I was AMAZED by the IQ, fine detail and microcontrast. Very similar to my M9’s in the size of an X2!!

    I think that I can live with its slow writing times, short battery life, slow autofocus and bad High ISO performing.

    I never shoot above ISO400 in the street anyway. 🙂

    Best regards,

    Miguel Angel

  23. Viewed at the size given when clicking on the image the Sigma is definitely sharper. The 100% crops make the comparison difficult due to the large Hasselblad file size. Conclusion for super large go Hasselblad otherwise Sigma – if sharpness is your concern.

    Sharpness of the eye and the mind is of more concern for a good photograph.

  24. Hi Jim

    totally agree. I also found it not as sharp as I had expected, but I love that look. Looks totally like the film backs!
    Not a pixel peeper but also not against it. I’m just impressed with the Sigma immeasurably and wanted to use the CF39 to provide a benchmark.


  25. Fun times. But in our decade long experiences with H series Imacon/Hasselblads the single shot 39 was not always that sharp. Both 22s, some 31s and a goodly number of 39s were not sharper as the grew pixel counts. Multi capture backs further have muddled our commercial results.
    Regardless, “most” 39 single capture backs are fine. But why would you bother unless you’re a dedicated stump/peeling paint shooter or have clients with 30″ Eizos like we use?
    I still have more fun with my OMD over all the boat anchors used for my real work.

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