Review: The Sigma DP3 Merrill

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You’re probably wondering why this DP3M doesn’t look anything like the press release photos – my friend attached a RRS grip and plate to it, and rightly so; without it, the camera is not very comfortable to hold.

I eventually caved to both pressure and curiosity, and borrowed the Sigma DP3M from master printer and good friend Wesley Wong – who has the DP Merrill in all three flavors. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, Sigma has been going their own way with the DP series of large sensor compacts; all of their cameras now share the same 14.7 MP (effective) three-layered Foveon sensor, with a 4.99 micron pixel pitch and true color/ true resolution information across all photosites. In a nutshell, the difference between Foveon and Bayer sensors is that the former records actual RGB values for each pixel, but the latter only records R, G or B, interpolating the other values from neighboring photosites. It’s difficult to determine precisely just how much resolution loss Bayer interpolation causes, but in my experience it seems to be around 50% or so. Sigma claims that the camera has the equivalent of 46MP (being 15.3 total MP x3 layers) – but this is really pushing it; images upsampled this far simply do not have the pixel-level ‘bite’ of a good Bayer file.

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If you’re thinking Foveon technology is too good to be true, you’ll be masochistically pleased to know there’s a catch: because of the layered design; by the time light has been filtered through the first two layers, the signal from the final layer has to be amplified considerably. This of course results in higher than normal noise; the early cameras – I used a first-generation DP1 – were basically unusable above base ISO, despite having very large photosites. It’s nowhere near as bad in the latest generation, but it still won’t be competing with a Bayer sensor for low light performance – more on this later.

It’s important to take a step back and look at what the DP-M cameras represent as a whole: an alternative to the norm. They have significant compromises, but we should still give Sigma credit for innovating and sticking to their guns (though admittedly they do make some pretty lousy consumer zooms, and pricing of the SD1 was just insane). Lately, competition in the large sensor-fixed-lens-semi-compact market – I’m sure somebody will come up with a snappy acronym soon – has been hotting up; in the past, the DPs had this market to themselves almost exclusively. Even more so when prices started dropping for stock clearances; I still remember seeing DP1x and DP2x cameras going around the US$300 mark, though they had the much older sensor. Today, all of the DP-Ms are priced between US$800-1000, depending on the lens. The cameras are almost identical, except for the lenses – you get 28/2.8, 45/2.8 and 75/2.8 macro equivalents. Casual experience with the other two suggests that there really is almost no difference in normal use. It’s an interesting solution to the lens problem: the optics are very well matched to the sensor, and even carrying three cameras isn’t that bulky. I’m actually in favor of this in practice for several reasons: the optical results are better; you can optimize your camera setup to the focal length you’re using; there’s redundancy; and finally, there’s no need to fumble for lens changes when an opportunity presents itself. (Of course, you are carrying and paying for several bodies, so for this to be a workable option, there are size and price constraints.)

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Having had the chance to use any one of the three, I opted for the 75/2.8 macro-equivalent DP3M for two reasons: firstly, fixed long-lens cameras are pretty much unheard of, making the DP3M unique; secondly, the very close focus distance made me curious to see how it’d stack up for product photography in the studio. I think the other three cameras are similarly specialized – the DP1M/ 28mm is probably the landscape pick; the DP2M/ 45mm for general-purpose use, and the DP3M/ 75mm is of course good for portraits and still life work.

Let’s get the bad things out of the way first: the minimalist design looks great, but is an ergonomic nightmare. Without the RRS grip my friend installed, it’s simply not comfortable to hold at all; the edges dig into your fingers and the camera just wants to twist out of your hand because the surface isn’t very grippy at all. Next, it’s not quite as slow as everybody makes it out to be, but it’s just slow enough that it will test your patience. The lack of speed is apparent in everything – focusing is similar to the first generation X100 or Leica X1, and that’s with the focus limiter set to a generous 1m; it’s worse without – but I suppose at least they let us choose the limit distance at all. Menu navigation is not as responsive as it could be; everything feels just slightly laggy. Playback is slow; write speed is excruciatingly slow – we’re talking 10-15 seconds with the fastest cards available – good thing it has a decently sized buffer. Seven raw files may not sound like a lot, but when it takes an age to shoot it anyway, I never found the need for more. Startup could be faster, too; the GR and Coolpix A leave it in the dust. Finally, there’s the battery life – or lack of. Even Sigma acknowledge this by including two batteries in the box; you’ll need them. The best performance I managed was about 120 images before the camera gave up. I’m sure there are good reasons for all of these things – large (up to 60MB) files; having three layers of sensor sites active, etc; the reality is that there are other cameras that shuttle around a lot more data – the RX100 comes to mind – and have larger active sensor areas, and none of them have such poor performance.

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Actually, that wasn’t too bad: there’s only one paragraph of bad things. If you’ve made it this far, there are many, many more positives to this camera. In use, the level of customization is excellent; as mentioned before, you can not only configure the minimum focus distance for the limiter, but you have a limiter in the first place! Setting shortcuts on the D-pad is easy, and you can have two sets using the QS button. In fact, almost all of the button and shooting behaviours are customizable; I didn’t find anything I wanted missing – which says a lot. Overall configurability isn’t quite as good as the Ricoh GR series, but it’s comparable to the Olympus OM-D. There’s only one thing missing from the controls, though – that’s another control dial. The DP3M’s sole rotary is a jumbo affair under the shutter button, and easily turned with your forefinger. The trouble with this is you have to use the left and right keys for exposure compensation or shutter speed in manual mode, and that’s not so fast in practical use. While we’re on the subject of buttons, I don’t like the power button placement – it’s a stretch to reach with your index finger, and you often land up hitting MODE instead – which feels the same, and is right next to it.

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There’s also the build quality: it’s pretty solid, all-metal, and put together in a way that inspires confidence. This includes the lens barrels, too; they also have nicely-damped focusing rings that are a pleasure to use, even though they’re fly-by-wire; you have enough fine control over the lens movement to focus accurately and easily. If only they’d put an aperture ring on there, too; it’s not as though there isn’t enough space. The camera’s hotshoe is compatible with Sigma TTL flashes and centred over the lens for use with an optical viewfinder; I can see this being useful on the DP1M and DP2M, but not precise enough for the longer DP3M. I’ve left image quality for last, deliberately: there’s a lot to talk about here, especially because comparisons aren’t exactly like-to-like.

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100% crop from previous image.

Let’s start with the lens: each of the cameras has a short-backfocus optic matched to the sensor; the DP3M has a 50/2.8 with a 10/8 optical formula, capable of focusing down to 22.6cm and achieving magnification of 1:3 (on APS-C; this is about 72x48mm minimum subject size). It’s multicoated, has a 7-element iris and a leaf shutter that tops out at 1/2000s – but you need to be at f5.6; wide open, you get 1/1250s. I don’t believe this is the same design as the 50/2.8 macro that Sigma also offers in a variety of other mounts; it’s much smaller, for starters. Maximum aperture may be moderate, but it delivers – on the extremely high resolution Foveon sensor – even wide open, and in the corners. I think it improves a hair when stopped down to f4 or smaller, but I honestly can’t see the difference most of the time – it’s that good.

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The only time you see hints of the lens not quite matching up to the sensor is when shot wide open and near minimum focus distance; I don’t think it was optimized for close distances, as contrast reduces and we start to see small traces of uncorrected coma. That said, all of this is gone by f5.6 and things are perfect again. Lateral chromatic aberration is almost completely absent, even against high contrast subjects; there are traces of longitudinal chromatic aberration close up if used wider than f5.6. Bokeh is nice and smooth – both in the foreground and background. If there’s anything that I have to dock the lens points for, it’s mild pincushion distortion and some slight flare – but in all fairness, I didn’t have the lens hood, either. In short: the lens is really quite excellent, and supports my preference for matching optics to a sensor.

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Time to take a look at the sensor. I should start by saying I’ve only seen this level of pixel acuity in a small handful of cameras: one is the Leica M Monochrom, that doesn’t have a Bayer sensor, and the others are all medium format. Even then, there’s a very slight but noticeable advantage to the non-Bayer cameras. There is no question that the DP3M is punching way above its pixel count; I’d say it’s probably resolving at a level not far off the D800E. Continuing the good news, color is mostly accurate; as one would expect from a sensor that samples each channel at every pixel location. However, I found it to look a bit ‘thin'; it’s hard to describe, but images from the Foveon cameras look as though the red channel is slightly desaturated compared to the others, which I suppose is a consequence of the sensor architecture. It’s not an unpleasant look, but certainly a very unique one; limpid clarity is what comes to mind – something akin to cold mountain spring water. I personally find most native Bayer output to be a bit too Disneyland and requiring some toning down anyway.

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Whole test scene.

DP3M resolution comparison
Comparison – click here for 100% version. From left to right: 100% crops of Olympus OM-D with 14-42 X (I didn’t have any other lens that could could closely match the FOV), Sigma DP3M and Nikon D800E with Zeiss-Hasselblad CF 80/2.8 (closest I could get to 75mm in a prime) and 24-120/4 VR. This represents the best of the 15MP Bayer cameras, the Foveons, and something else for benchmarking. The top row shows the cameras at their native output sizes; the bottom, upsized to match the D800E. No sharpening was applied other than converter defaults; I did my best to match contrast on all images without changing native color balance. It’s clear that as good as the OM-D is, it’s clearly left behind by both of the other cameras, which is to be expected. Repeating the test with the 45/1.8 didn’t yield any improvement – shown in isolation, this is a fair showing for the OM-D. The Sigma shows single pixel detail at native size; however, we’re clearly starting to see artefacts and general coarseness in the file upsized to match the D800E; note the ‘blockiness’ in the leaves compared to the D800E file. The DP3M doesn’t seem to be resolving any more detail – see the leaves again – but not much less, either – see the bricks. Interestingly, the difference between the 24-120/4 VR and Zeiss 80/2.8 is there, but not as noticeable as one would expect. I initially performed this test with the 85/2.8 PCE – but that gave too much of a magnification advantage to the D800E, and is incidentally a much superior lens to either optic used here.

ISO comparison series
Sensitivity test. Click here for 100%.

We get resolution in exchange for noise, it seems. Though the camera isn’t as bad as most people make it out to be, ISO 800 is the limit if you value color accuracy; anything above that starts to show noticeable channel-specific noise, depending on the color temperature of the ambient light. The images aren’t actually that noisy – the color is just isn’t at all accurate, and at the two highest sensitivities, some very odd large-patch artefacts can be seen. I’d be comfortable with ISO 1600 and perhaps even ISO 3200 in black and white. The good news is that the files do take noise reduction fairly well; even at ISO 6400 there isn’t much loss of resolution (with the default settings in SPP) since there was so much to begin with; resolution at this point is comparable to a good Bayer camera at low ISOs. Dynamic range at base ISO appears to be comparable to or slightly better than the 16MP APS-C Bayer cameras; individual channels don’t seem to clip as quickly. However, you quickly start to lose the shadows as you go up the sensitivity scale; it’s easily a stop or more per increase in sensitivity.

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Up til now, I haven’t really talked about SPP – Sigma Photo Pro. This is the free software that you need to convert the DP3M’s X3F raw files; it’s similar in feel to Lightroom, but nowhere near as powerful or fast; in fact, the software is downright clunky, and has a lot of odd glitches – if you open a file to process and close it, you lose your place in the thumbnails and go back to the start, for instance. You have to render files at full size before you can preview at 100%. The adjustment latitude for the highlight and shadow recovery sliders is very limited, and there doesn’t seem to be any curves function. Overall operation just feels mired in treacle; it’s not for want of processing power on this end – I have no problem opening a dozen 16-bit raw files from the D800E in Photoshop and working on them with 2000-pixel wide feathered brushes. At least the files come out of camera looking remarkably natural and with a very pleasing native tonal map; they don’t require that much work. Monochrome conversions are excellent, perhaps the best and most flexible digital solution I’ve seen to date – the M-Monochrom doesn’t give you any post-capture flexibility for channel mixing, and medium format digital still lags in tonal response.

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Since nobody else seems to support the DP-M’s files, we have no choice but to suffer the intermediate step of working the files in SPP, exporting a 16-bit TIFF, opening them again in ACR to make some other specific adjustments like extra highlight/ shadow recovery or gradient filters, and then processing in Photoshop – needless to say, this is an extremely slow process. At least there won’t be too many files to process, since you’ll either have run out of battery or been limited by the speed of the camera. I would love to see just how much latitude the camera’s files have when run through a proper piece of software like ACR; that said, given what Adobe have done with every other non-Bayer file – Fuji X-Trans comes to mind – I don’t have high hopes here, either. It’s such a shame, because the poor workflow further cripples the camera’s outstanding imaging potential. I could happily use this for commercial studio photography – including watches – image quality is more than sufficient, and in the studio I use live view on a tripod anyway with the D800E. What gives me pause is not the speed, not the battery life, not the ergonomics – it’s workflow for dealing with large numbers of chunky files.

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With every iteration of the DP series, Sigma improves a bit – but what it really needs is more of a radical change; make one body, make the lenses interchangeable, don’t worry about exposed sensors, and leave the software processing to Adobe. All of the other things – operation speed, ergonomics and battery life – are easily solvable; changing the camera’s shape would make it more comfortable to handle, allow installation of a larger battery, which could in turn support a more faster and more powerful processor – and you’d have a killer mirrorless system. As it is, this camera challenges the very best of the 35mm full frame DSLRs on image quality; it’s probably better than the previous generation of medium format digital backs, too. And it still beats the current ones on high ISO performance. If you have to have the ultimate image quality in as small a package as possible, there’s no other option – and I think the compromises simply aren’t that much of an issue when compared to the alternatives. I might actually pick up one for myself…MT

The Sigma DP1M is available here (B&H, Amazon); the DP2M here (B&H, Amazon) and the DP3M here (B&H, Amazon).

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. With the huge discounts in the Merrils I’ve ordered a DP3M for myself (still wainting the camera). I want to know if your opinion have changed with time? Did you pick up one for yourself?

  2. hoi Ming,
    Would you suggest the little wonder of bricks (now @~400euros) for studio macro products assignments? (like for example for cosmetics,skin care products etc..)
    what taste did it leave you after the watches shot, now that months have passed by?
    is the quality (texture, acuity etc..) and color reproduction there? or i would need to go to PS like i do for my nex6?..
    Your point-of-view as always is highly appreciated :-)

  3. Enter Quattro! :)

    What do you think of the new design? It looks very strange and definitely not retro.

    The new sensor has a new strategy. Hope the ISO performance is better.

    • I admire them trying something different – both on sensor and design. However the design looks like it will either ‘work’ well for you or not at all, depending on your hand shape…

      • Interesting experiment indeed. We can perhaps expect the ISO performance to be at least 2 stops better which will make the camera useful in more circumstances. And lets hope that the price will not be astronomical like medium format cameras.

        • I’d imagine it’d come in about the same price as the outgoing one – 800-900 USD?

          • $800-900 would be a fantastic price for Quattro if it is two stops better than the Merrills and has superior ergonomics! :) And if Adorama decides to give $200 rebate during thanks giving like it did with the Merrills, it will be a steal. ;)

            • The CEO of Sigma has said in an interview that the ISO improvement is by one stop. So it is still remains a low ISO (perhaps 400) f2.8 camera. Apparently there are practical difficulties in engineering a lens with larger apertures (say f1.8) for mirror less cameras. Don’t know if the new lens is sharp at f2.8. Unless the camera is easy and intuitive to use in the field, it may remain the favorite of a very small section of users.

              • Improvement is improvement, but it might not be the game changer everybody seems to think it is. That said, the difficulty isn’t engineering the lens – it’s making it small enough. The fast M4/3 primes are pretty darn good, and they’re not that big, either.

  4. Thanks for a great review, I just ordered a DP3 Merrill, looking for that image quality. You sample Photos say it all
    I only wish for a better work flow. Come on Adobe support Sigma raw files.

  5. Ming, how does the IQ of Ricoh GR compare with that of Sigma DP3 Merrill?

  6. Konstantins says:

    Hello! I really need your help. I have Nikon D7000, but I want compact camera with fix focal for everyday°. What you think about Sigma DP3 and Fujifilm X100S? Which camera are better? I need expert advice! Thank you very much. Best Regards. Konstantins.

    • One’s an 85mm camera that basically has to be shot on a tripod at low ISOs for best results, and it’s slow to focus. The other one is a retro-styled 35mm faux-RF with a viewfinder. Not really comparable…I say try them out and buy whichever you prefer.

  7. Hi Ming,

    Yes that’s a possibility but I thought diffraction kicked in at F11.Will report back on my findings. Thanks!

  8. Hi Ming,

    Thanks for this great review. The Merrill’s are, in my opinion exceptional cameras. I recently purchased the DP1 and have found that the focus within, perhaps 4meters or so is pin sharp, even close ups, and I mean almost macro are sharp as a tack. After returning from a recent trip to New Zealand I noticed that the far background, (example: trees on the other side of a lake, quite some distance) seemed to be a little on the soft side. I’m not just talking edges but centre of picture too. So I began to wonder if there was something wrong with my lens? Perhaps I’m being too picky but there is an issue. I was shooting 100ASA, F11 at 160th of a second, so no chance for too little or too much aperture. I goggled this but have seen no similar posts. I was wondering if, in your experience, if you have encountered anything like this? My next move will be to contact Sigma through their Australian distributor.

    Thanks, Jason

  9. Hi Ming,
    Would the Ricoh GR or one of the Sigma DP series be a good candidate for long exposure photography that could take ND filters? Have also looked at the X100s too. Looking for something in the digital line that is small and light for travel and could be used for landscapes and a environmental shots. Thinking it could accompany my film camera which is a Leica M6, my Hasselblad 501cm is just a bit too heavy for minimalist packing on airlines:)

    Dee

    • The GR actually has a built in ND filter already; probably not enough for super-long exposures though. Any or all of those would be fine options.

  10. Thank you I’m new to your blog. So happy to be reading your reviews. Can I get two answers?

    Given that camera ergonomics etc. can be very personal, I can figure that part out, but what I’m needing because of your experience with many high quality lenses, is some guidance for two cameras with excellent IQ and 3D look (I do see it) in a non DSLR camera. One for “I’m going out to take photos” and another pocketable “always take with me just in case”. Seems like my short list could be choosing between DP Merrills, GR and Leica X Vario (Budget doesn’t go to rangefinder Leica). Moving and static subjects, often in low light situations (tripod use OK).

    Which brings me to question 2. I have a DP1 m that is giving me poor shadow detail (as you note in your review) but wonder if as I’m new to digital processing, you are suggesting I turn off noise reduction in camera and add it in post processing or vice versa?

    • 1. I’d take the XV off the list. It doesn’t have the pop, to my eyes. The Coolpix A should also be there.

      2. I don’t have enough experience with the Sigmas to say, as there may be some benefits to doing it in-camera before any data is compressed. Why not just try it yourself and see which you prefer?

  11. I’ll have to say (this comment has nothing to do with the camera). You’re photos never cease to impress me.

    I’ve just discovered your site about two weeks ago. And it’s been a joy. Then I got to a point where I thought. Ok. You do a lot of the same. Or… I’m not into some the vignette in some shots… Or… Bla bla bla. Or. You’re too opinionated. I got cynical. For whatever reason.

    Now. This review. The sample images. Simply blew me away. It’s the run down nature of the subject you chose. Absolutely awesome. And hence being impressed. Once I get tired of one type you show. You throw something else out and don’t fail to amaze.

    Thank you for this blog. It’s really been a joy to read. And really the only photography blog that really gets me thinking. There’s too much out there when you’re looking to improve that headlines, “7 ways to improve your landscape photography”. Or. “100?stupid PhotoShop techniques to make your photos look like a gimmick”. You don’t do it. And that’s why I come back to your blog over and over after searching for even anything else meaningful on the internet to help improve my photography.

  12. I was very pleased to see you do a review for this camera. You’re one of the few camera writers whose opinion I actively seek out; most of the others suffer from hyperbole or are clearly being influenced to say nice things.

    It is a camera of tradeoffs, for certain. I rarely if ever shoot it over ISO 100 (maybe up to 400 for monochrome), but what I get from it there is fantastic. Zooming the picture in Aperture is almost more fun than looking at the whole picture. I agree also that the RAW files don’t actually need that much work to get them to look really nice, unless you get it totally wrong at the moment of shooting.

    The very fact that it is so unsuited to certain things actually, perversely, makes me try and shoot them with it. I shot some parkour with it last weekend (it’s on my blog which is linked to my name here), and if you make a list of “cameras with which you would never shoot parkour”, the DP3 would have to be on there somewhere. But when you nail a shot, wow. It’s also somewhat more satisfying to get a good action shot with a DP3 than with a Nikon D3, for instance.

    Anyway, good review and I’m glad that there are others who appreciate Sigma’s trying something different.

    • Thanks Mark. I think you could still probably shoot action with it – I’d prefocus and spot meter for the highlights – though I agree, it wouldn’t be my first choice. That said, I shoot street with medium format film…

  13. John Lee says:

    I have a DP1M. Pitted gainst a D800 with Carl Zeiss 25 f2.8 (which renders landscapes with a lot of typical Zeiss micro contrast bite), there is hardly anything between them. If anything, the pop that you get from the DP1M is perhaps more obvious to the eye and the colours are stronger. Detail rendition is astonishing for a small simple camera that cost less than the Zeiss lens. Pixel-peeping will show the DP1M to probably hold more detail on a 1:1 with the Zeiss but the lack of pixels (15mpix) lets it down eventually.
    The slowness of the camera in use and the limited ISO range is no problem to me as I was brought-up on film; Kodachrome 64, Velvia 50 being my favorites. Does anyone remember manual film-winding with the thumb crank?
    The AF is not the fastest but for general use on bright(ish) static objects – it is fast enough and importantly – accurate.
    The software is a pain to use but hey – it’s way better than waiting for film to get developed. The camera’s meter tends to do such a good job that there is not a lot of post processing anyhow.
    This will never be my only camera due to the limited lens – only 28mm, the slowness in operation and lack of pixels. But there is a place for it in my camera bag next to my D800 and Zeiss and Nikkors.
    Then for those days when i want to travel light, I will leave the heavy gear at home without worrying unduly about being too lightly-packed. And hell, the camera is, contrary to all that is said about it – FUN!
    It doesnt need to be taken so seriously. I am an enthusiast like most of the readers of this site and whether I get that great shot or not is not a matter of life or death. I actually enjoy the whole process of taking pictures and am not just a trigger-happy gear jockey. The challenge that this camera brings with it and the extra-ordinary results it rewards me with when I get it right – which are in many ways easier to obtain than from my D800 – is what MY hobby is all about.
    So haters of this camera – pls lighten up. If you dont like it – dont buy it. But accept it for what it is. Not perfect but what camera is?

  14. Tom Liles says:

    Friends, Photogs, MT-trymen…

    I am a Merrill owner — DP1M and DP2M — my first camera was the DP1M. Don’t ask [and it wasn't really my first first camera; don't ask again]. So I’ve been waiting with BAITED BREATH for what Ming would have to say about the X3 Foveons and these lenses. Just my luck [and the opposite for everyone else!], I haven’t had time to chime in.

    I want to agree and lend a voice to everything Monsieur Michael Ward has said. Especially re: functionality; I recall people lionizing the GR because you could shoot it one handed—well that’s an easier proposition with the DPMs, in my view. This said: why are you shooting these cameras one handed!? Tripod them down, use base ISO, invite all comers to try and match you for resolution, fidelity, color, you name it. And then remind all comers what you paid for yours and what they did for theirs. Then savor the next few moments of silence. Anyway, functionality, the DPM matches the best functionality out there, any camera, in a modern way [no shutter speed dials or aperture rings; you get the 21st century equivalent]. Shutter, aperture, exp comp; ISO etc on the Q dial. Straight no chaser: you want scene modes, etc., go somewhere else.

    I also want to agree with Steph. From Steph’s point to mine: these cameras are not immediately flattering to people in portraits: skin pores, blotches [not noise, actual skin blotches], wrinkles and bad make-up are all resolved in terrifying detail. My first few shots with the DP1M were close ups of friends in my office and it was a horror show when I opened them up in SPP—they looked like a cast of extras from The Walking Dead, caught mid-make up. I have since learned that SPP controls are a little counterintuitive and the default set-up is not for transparent, not for “what you saw is what you get, flattened, on screen now,” rather: what you saw was what you saw, but I deem that it needs sharpening and luminance noise reduction and etc., etc., oh and by the way no one told you but I’m calling that “0” on a slider… With a little tinkering [highly annoying when you have to do it for each frame] you can get better results and eventually have an amazing image come out the other end but it’s not “business as usual.” This ties in to Mr Ichiro Sony’s point, which I also strongly agree with.

    …images from the Foveon cameras look as though the red channel is slightly desaturated compared to the others, which I suppose is a consequence of the sensor architecture. It’s not an unpleasant look, but certainly a very unique one; limpid clarity is what comes to mind – something akin to cold mountain spring water

    This is one of the best lines I’ve seen written about the Sigma Merrills anywhere. AGREE. The penny drops. I don’t have the experience, knowledge or skill to be au fait with which cameras do what with color. But just from sheer use and screen time I knew my Merrills were different. It’s funny about the red channel, because I find a slightly red, crimson red, magenta-y red, pollution in some skin tones [usually caucasian], particularly lightly shaded areas. Though, spot on MT, I’ve always felt there was a green/turquoise-y feel to the output, like a thin film of something was placed over the images. WB tuning won’t make it go completely away. It really doesn’t compliment lighter Asian skin tones much, it makes people look like they’re car sick [though this is mostly fixable]. I also find a kind of color “bleeding,” where the color of an object is sometimes smeared over into surrounding objects. This is at very high magnification, 100%+, but still a feature. I’m not sure if it’s the Foveon or the software, or both. I am sure that it happens [though all my evidence is in the trash!].

    I want to pick up on what bubuli said. I agree and sympathize with his experience. I was/am there too. And it’s a shame that no-one helped and bubuli got rid of his camera. Them’s the breaks, I suppose. But I feel ashamed about it.

    I kicked of my photography hobby [habit? addiction?] in January of this year with a DP1M purchased on complete whim because of the hot words of an excited photog visiting our office, because the camera looked cool to me, and because it wasn’t the unorthodoxly orthodox choice of a DP2M. And probably because of a ton of subconscious reasons about wanting to get into photos that I wasn’t aware of at the time [even now?]. So I got one. I went out, took photos. Converted them in SPP, then edited in iPhoto [I've only been on "proper" editors for a few months; as an aside, if iPhoto had colorspace management options, it'd be all serious but casual beginners ever needed]. I quickly noticed a HELL OF A LOT of ugly chroma noise, flat out green and magenta blotching all completely visible and horrid and an eyesore at low resolution view [25~33% etc]. You can’t screen that out with noise reduction algos. But here is the thing:

    THIS WAS HAPPENING AT ISO 100.

    Yes. Go out, take a picture of asphalt, concrete, noonday sun, whatever you like, base iso —> anything even slightly shaded, zoom into 100% there is noise FRONT AND CENTER. Totally visible. I could/can even get noise on these concrete/asphalt grey tones in the sunlight
    I was so taken aback by this, was sure I had a lemon… but was still a beginner, maybe it was something I was doing? I searched and searched and searched for answers [obviously Foveon specific ones]. Found none. I found the DPM group on Flickr, run by the brand/creative director of Sigma — Mr Shinzo Fukui — a pro photog here in Tokyo. Shinzo has left Sigma just of this week, by the by; it’s a shame as he seemed like a really nice guy [to have there]. I’m sure it was an amicable split; Mr Fukui’s friend, Rowland Kirishima, [another pro photog] is running for public office in the upcoming elections, and I think Mr Fukui is helping him on the team [and couldn't commit to both his Sigma position and that]. So I found the DPM group. Found it had quite a few members; asked the question. COMPLETE SILENCE. I tried again, COLD SHOULDER TREATMENT. I felt like bubuli must have, i.e., oh well, sod off then! Whatever happened to solidarity, eh. I’ve since had nothing but great experiences with people who share the same hobby and people who are lucky enough to get paid to do it. In large part from this site, its commenters, and its illustrious owner.

    — Insert round of applause here —

    But it was quite surprising to find zilcho help from people who’d joined a community [for the purpose of...?] So I was now VERY sure I had a lemon since no one even felt inclined to acknowledge what I’d said => it must be just me syndrome. I went back to the camera shop camera in hand refund or exchange in my head. And got a bit of schooling from the shop staff, who did still offer to swap me for another camera, or give a refund. I didn’t take them up. Why, because in-store we got four out of four cameras to do what mine was doing. This noise is a few parts WB effects, a few more parts bad shot discipline, and plenty of parts the way the Foveon captures. Ming, knows it after only a limited time with the machine:

    We get resolution in exchange for noise, it seems

    I think so. I’ve also become familiar, recently, with the fact that Bayer sensors, do this too. Deep, dark tones, under low lighting or high chiaroscuro are noise sodden on Bayers too. I was walking past a Louis Vuitton store and their product photography on the store windows was very interesting. Being in the habit now, I wanted to see what those photos looked like, my nose up to the glass: you bet I saw chroma noise all over the darker tones [I must have been at something like 200%]. But even so, Bayers don’t just give you sudden blotches of green and magenta all over the shadows AT BASE ISO or thereabouts; and they don’t do chroma noise as noticeably as Foveons do in the deep tones where the signal is low. This goes back to Mr Ichiro Sony’s point yet again — which is key — Foveon is off the wall, avant-garde, alternative technology. As Ming said in the comments too, the problem when there isn’t quite enough money to go around… Sigma can’t just sink bllions into Foveon technology as Canon, Nikon, Sony, Kodak already have [cumulatively] into Bayers. Sigma are also on their own so they can’t share know-how or even buy it. It’s amazing, really, that they’ve got this far, this quickly.

    In a way Foveon is what they call “Galapagos” technology: evolving on its own, separate from everything else, in isolation. I don’t think it’s coincidence that a voyage to and survey of the Galapogos, and not the same on his home turf, was what crystalized a revolutionary new theory and movement [Charles Darwin and his On The Origin of Species]. I think the same can be true for Foveons.

    This is my desert island camera. Literally.
    [all three please!]

    • One-handed operability matters not to shoot it one handed, but quickly set it and get it ready, and not have to move your stabilizing left hand to a button-pushing position that might destabilize things and require another shuffle – and delay – to get them back into place.

      My gut feel is that the Foveons will work well with high key subjects, and not at all well with low key ones – unless you expose past your intended point and then bring it back with a curve, ‘crushing’ the noise into a much darker floor. This is doable but requires a slight shift in the way you shoot.

      As for the groups: so much hint that whatever people are personally aligned to is less than perfect – much less any actual criticism – and you’ll forever be ostracised as a pariah. A lot of people find solace and community in their gear to make up for their abilities; it’s the fundamental core of DPR, for instance. Otherwise, be prepared to use your own eyes, make up your own mind, and bear the consequences. Welcome to my world…

    • Now that Tom’s weighed in … ;)

      I’ve been on a Saul Leiter kick recently, partly because of recent comments here and also because of Tomas Leach’s upcoming film on Leiter. I found this very interesting interview with Leiter, and I think this quote is particularly applicable here (and anywhere else specs-oneupmanship exists): “Sometimes I worked with a lens that I had when I might have preferred another lens. I think Picasso once said that he wanted to use green in a painting but since he didn’t have it he used red. Perfection is not something I admire. [Laughs]. A touch of confusion is a desirable ingredient.” (from http://photographyinterviews.blogspot.com/2009/04/saul-leiter-quiet-iconoclast-saul.html)

      I think anyone who’s been involved in a creative endeavor has often found themselves performing at a higher level with better output when there are more constraints, not fewer. As Ming has put it, we are well past the point of sufficiency with almost any current digital camera, and the irony is that instead of freeing us, it’s made many of us worry more about the technical aspects of the camera than the creative endeavor it’s supposed to facilitate. Why this is I will leave to the psychologists.

      Anyway, this is a longish way of saying that whatever camera we pick will always have some kind of fault. The trick is to not only accept its faults, but make them part of your creative process.

      I also want to say that the picture of the white lilies is spectacular! Talk about using the strengths of the camera well and showing them to us in such a beautiful way.

      BTW, when I was in school, one of the inventors of the Foveon sensor was still an active professor there and taught the analog VLSI class. The things he could make silicon do was just incredible. And in this collection of very smart people (there were something like 30 Nobel laureates with 31 prizes in our history at that point), he was considered to be one of the really smart people on campus. On top of it, he was a nice guy, and everyone liked him too.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Andre, I’ve been under a cloud since that off-the-top-of-my-head roll call of glory the other day—seconds after posting I realized I hadn’t typed your name though it was one of the ones that popped into mind. That miss has just niggled away at me for days. So here’s me bulldozing in just to supplicate at your feet. Always enjoy your comments.
        [And thank you again for the ballet anecdote the other day]

        Hold the phone, Andre. You were at school where one of the Foveon guys was teaching? Now we really are in supplication territory. Tell us more! Come on, it’s days after the fact now so as far as I’m concerned the bar is open: let’s stroll off topic to our heart’s content [I think MT doesn't mind a bit of banter when the coast is clear].
        As a fan of the cameras and the technology [and a hopeless anorak] I’ve been meaning to get the George Gilder book The Silicon Eye charting the invention of this platform. Perhaps will get around to it someday. After I’ve gotten through that diamond you just dropped: “Photographers Speak” —> What a site!

        If you like films Andre, here’s a nice film analogue [not 1:1 analogue, but being slightly off kilter is the joy of these things]:

        Cinephilia and Beyond

        Seriously seriously seriously good site. The person/people who do it should be knighted, sainted, anointed, gilded, pampered, preened, honored and stroked tenderly for their work there. I have spent DAYS just going through Cinephilia posts. Don’t tell the Boss.

        And on that note, back to work! :o :)

        • Ha! Thanks Tom, but please no supplication here, except for Ming’s work and efforts! Thanks for the link — I am not a hardcore film person, but it does look like a very interesting collection of interviews. Have you seen the Keanu Reeves (yes, that Keanu Reeves) documentary on how Hollywood is dealing with the digital/analog divide? Because of his connections, he’s able to interview people like Martin Scorsese, and there are interesting tidbits in there. I think it’s free on many of the video streaming services, at least in the US.

          Carver Mead was still an active professor when I was at Caltech in the early 90s. I never had him as a teacher (something about being completely intimidated by his analog VLSI class), but did attend some talks by him, including a reprise of his famous how small can transistors get talk that he gave to our digital VLSI class. I remember when I first heard about the Foveon idea that it sounded like a great idea, and that none of us were surprised that Carver was involved. He was thinking a lot about biomimicry (as they call it these days) concepts in terms of silicon implementation then. The Wikipedia article on him has a nice list of his contributions — and I think Gilder’s written two books that have Carver in them, but I haven’t read either one yet. Foveon is just one of the latest things in his quiver. The capacitative touchscreens we all take for granted on our smartphones was one of his inventions, which came out of his interest in simulating neural networks in silicon.

          Ming, I’m not sure he’s doing anything with Foveon these days. He tends to pioneer the interesting stuff and then move on.

      • White lilies – thank you; at that size, you can’t see they’re not real :)

        Does your professor have anything online? I’d be curious to see what the inventor of the technology can do with it…

    • thank you so much!!

  15. I have the Sigma DP2M. I am fascinated by the pictures that comes out of this camera. It seems layered like film, though it’s not film obviously. Still, I love the detail and am a fan of the DP series, even though they have so many quirks that are irksome. I have tried so many digital cameras over the years and some just drove me nuts but with crummy results as well. At least this camera has potential. You just have to know its limitations and know how to work it. I don’t find the limitations to be that vast like some people moan about. I really would love the DP3M one day as well. I am hoping the prices drop like they did in other countries. Still waiting patiently in USA.

    I just wish someone would write a great user guide to get to know the camera better, and the software. Someone out there must be an expert in all Sigma DP cameras! I just feel that I don’t know enough about the cool features or how to utilize them. It would be great to know such things.

  16. Darrell says:

    Ming

    I’m glad to see you review a Merrill product. I’m an OM-D user who has owned a DP2M for a few weeks. I had read all the advantages about resolution, microcontrast, fabulous lens, etc so I got the DP2M to try it out, and I do see those advantages in my results. But the thing that struck me most with my first Merrill images compared to the OM-D was how much better the Merrill was at holding highlight detail. I’m wondering if you could comment on whether you noticed that too. Your shot of the white lilies against the white corner seems like something the DP3M would do better than an OM-D or other Bayer. This effect is noticeable even in the dpreview comparator (for the DP1M, all they have tested so far) when you look at near-white surfaces, whereas resolution differences don’t seem to be all that high.

    • It’s holding highlight detail at the expense of shadow detail. You’ll see the shadows simply go to mush if you try to recover them very much at all; there simply isn’t the same latitude you’d get with a CMOS-based camera. In fact, I think it renders more like a CCD camera in this respect – with both its tonal benefits and technical limitations…

  17. Appreciated your review quite a bit since I recently bought the DP3 myself. I have found that the quick button for QS menu and the focus button as well are extremely useful. I use them all the time along with the dial for focal length and the wheel for exposure compensation. I find myself wishing that the my OMD had a similar configuration. In that sense the easiest digital camera to work with (Leica M9, Olympus OMD, and Panasonic G3). The battery issue if overblown in my opinion. Very small and light, less expensive than other cameras (better be) and very easy and quick to change in the field. Seems like a good trade off for the size and weight of the camera. I have two questions that I may have missed in your review: (1) did you use a tripod for the photos you showed us and/or have you tried it with a tripod or monopod? and (2) Did you try the close focus almost macro capacity of the camera. You’ve done excellent reviews of macro lenses on this site, so it would be nice to hear your opinion about this as well. I am moving toward using the 75mm equivalent lens for landscapes by stitching together 2-3 images into one in Photo Shop. Still haven’t tried it yet, but it seems to a natural use for the DP3 camera. But alas, probably will require a monopod or tripod which I’ve resisted for everything except Christmas group photos indoors when I need to run around and get in the photo myself.

    • 1) Yes, for some images.
      2) The watch near the end was shot with the camera at almost minimum focus. You’re the second person to ask about macro capability; I clearly commented on the lens for such purposes in the review and included a commercial-grade sample!

  18. In the example presented for comparison with the D800E, the facade of the building with foliage, dp3M shows more detail than the D800E.
    I did a test by expanding the original crop the equivalent of D800E, using PhotoZoom and working accentuation in photoshop.

    • The DP3M shows more contrast but not more detail. Your method is flawed because it’s interpolating contrast data only; the DP3M has higher microcontrast to begin with, which any upsampling program will extrapolate and create a false resolution result. It merely looks like more detail.

  19. DP3 with all of it quirks and molasses speed and poor high ISO…NO WAY!! The new Sony RX1R is what you should have. It’s RAW conversions can be done in Adobe and are almost of Medium Format quality…fits in your coat pocket too! And if your a 28mm kinda guy well then just take a few steps backward before you pull the trigger! :)

    • Err…no. Firstly, it definitely is NOT medium format quality. I’ve got a medium format digital back, and only the D800E approaches it in resolution, but still lags noticeably in rendering and color. The 35mm FL does not render like 28mm if you ‘take a few steps back'; moving further away will not fix the different perspective relationship between foreground and background. Even worse, there are some times when taking a few steps back will put you over a cliff.

      And we are also forgetting how hideously expensive that camera is…

      • It may not have the number of pixels as MF but from what I’ve seen from the RAW conversions (NOT OOC) that come from the new R (AA Filter removed) it does in fact come surprisingly close to MF in detail (you must test it for yourself!). How can you say “it definitely is NOT” without first testing the device?!? And “hideously expensive” …REALLY? C’mon Ming the RX1R is half the price of its closest equivalent IQ and detail wise (D800E $3200 Zeiss T35 $1800) and it fits in my coat pocket! You don’t hesitate to pay hideous money for the watches you dig and yet they give you less accurate information than that of your iPhone. How much do you think Sony should charge for a full frame sensor and high quality Zeiss glass that fits in your coat pocket? I would take the D800E/T35 anvil with me 20% of the time for street shooting. I will take the diminutive RX1R with me 100% of the time. As for “perspective relationship” I agree with you…but sometimes I just do better when I challenge myself :)

        • At the pixel level, I’m not doubting the resolving power. But I question color accuracy and DR though, simply because of pixel size.

          I can say it’s definitely NOT because a) it’s a derivative of the D600 sensor which falls short of the D800, let alone D800E; and even low end medium format is on par or better than that. I’ve owned all three, and medium format digital. You’re making assumptions about the watches I own; most of what I post is commercial work and they don’t belong to me. Those that do are chosen partially because they don’t drop in value; I’ll recover at least what I paid, or make a bit when I sell them. Try doing that with a digital device of any sort…

          Here’s another way of answering your question: how is the camera four times better than a GR?

          • HECK YEAH!! 4 times? To me its 10 times, 100 times better. Better is completely subjective as far as I am concerned. If I wanted an APS-C camera then I’d buy a D7100 with the 35 Siggy ART lens in fact I did and it’s awesome but its output IS NOT FULL FRAME. My eyes see a big difference from APS-C to FF so not a comparison that works for this conversation. Anywho I’m just as happy to agree to disagree with you. I come here for the reviews and I am really hoping that someone will send you an RX1R to play with for a few weeks. In the end, I rarely disagree with your assertions when they come by way of a “hands on” review. I’m just not a big fan of bandying about with camera specs – gotta see it, touch it and test it or it wont scan.

            • Same problem again: the D7100 + 35mm is NOT the same FOV. You can’t compare that with a true 35mm FOV.

              I’ve shot with the RX1 and examined the files; ergonomically – sorry, doesn’t work for me at all. File quality is the same as the D600. I’m sure the RX1R will improve on that, but not by as much as you think.

              Given up requesting Sony products for review because a) they never arrive and b) I don’t have time to waste on being disappointed!

  20. Michael Stout says:

    Ming, enjoyed the review. Was wondering when curiosity would get the best of you. I have been gleefully using the DP1 and 2 for last several months. While much of the grousing throughout the web about the camera’s shortcomings are correct, it seems to miss the point. These are not all purpose cameras. For instance, I just returned from a photographic vacation to New Zealand. My OMD with the 12-50 and 70-300 were excellent all-purpose tools for 99% of what I wanted. Up to prints of 15 inches, the kit lens is very usable and extraordinarily flexible. There were a few occasions when I thought I saw something special and the resultant print might be larger, so put a DP on the tripod. It stays at iso 100, 2 sec delay. The lack of grip, delay in writing, pitiful battery life just don’t come into play. This year’s backpack weighed almost nothing. The last trip with full frame body, APC sized backup and required lenses weighed a ton. Also, 300 images from OMD in lightroom and 10 from sigma through SPP did not represent much hassle.
    Very much enjoy the website, thanks for all you have given.

    • The answer is once I was able to borrow one :) Not sure I agree on the 12-50, though. Mine was woefully terrible and looked soft even at 8×10″!

      Absolutely with you on less being more, though.

  21. Mr. Ichiro Sony says:

    Excellent review of a DP Merrill camera. These are excellent cameras that are free from the boring, follow the crowd Bayer sensors. I wish more companies innovated in this area. Fujifilm’s X Trans sensor is still a Bayer at heart in that it interpolates color data.

    Sigma is to be commended heartily for their work with the Foveon sensor!

  22. “make one body, make the lenses interchangeable” — that part of the text reads like it is describing the [already extant] SD1 ?

  23. Jae Yoon says:

    How do you the lens compares to the Olympus 60mm F2.8 on an OM-D?

  24. Thanks for the review. I have read a few on the internets. I really want to like this camera, I really do. I always get down to the ISO limitations. (Yeah I know when I shot film they were even greater) Then you have once again confirmed how poor the Sigma software is. Since I love Aperture I just don’t see me purchasing this camera. I want to though. I really do.

    • Ultimately, the question is whether you like the files enough to live with the limitations of the software…I suppose given the nature of the camera, one isn’t going to be outputting that many files anyway, so perhaps it isn’t that bad.

  25. Ming, outstanding images and review as always. One correction; SPP is not the only option. Iridient Developer also supports the DPM line, and they just released their v.2 processing algorithm for the DPM series of cameras. I do agree with you that SPP is lacking, and I’d honestly say it is an embarrassing piece of junk from the interface, stability, and speed. It does put out nice TIFF files for processing in a real editor, thankfully.

  26. sergeylandesman says:

    Love the colors!

  27. Thank you for your review Ming. I’ve had DP2M since March and took it for few trips already (Palermo and Corfu last week). It’s a little high resolution monster and is probably the only camera which can give you MF look below £3000. It’s also solidly built which I unfortunately tested last week by slipping on the rocks by the see – I literally smashed the camera against the rocks and there’s nothing wrong with it.
    On the subject of SPP, there’s very powerful feature called X3 light which works really really well and can recover a lot from underexposed photos. I’m always surprised hom much data is recorded in the raw files, slightly overexposing and then moving exposure slider to the left in SPP.
    As you mentioned, there’s some magic in B&W conversions and I haven’t seen better conversions than the ones I’m getting from Foveon files.
    My DP2M works in tandem with Fuji X-Pro1 (low light and wider angles of view) and occasionally Leica M6. Thinking about replacing Leica and lenses with Sony RX1R – are you planning to review it or if you have any experience with it if you could comment on it. Thank you for all your articles, always excellent read.

    • Forgot to add, I use grip from Mr Franiec, it’s really well made, cheap and looks like its been part of the camera since day 1. It improved the handling dramatically.

    • There’s MF film, but you’ve got to deal with film developing and scanning :)

      Agreed on the B&W conversions – I think it’s the fact that the camera is recording true luminance at each pixel value.

      Not planning to review the RX1 or any more Sony products – their local offices are very difficult to deal with. They won’t give me loaners, and are extremely bad paymasters. I was contracted to give a workshop at the start of the year and haven’t been paid – it’s now been nearly five months!

  28. Sigma sensors plus Fuji bodies and lenses would be the heaven!

  29. excellent review Ming. I briefly owned a DP2 merril that I ended up not like at all and sent back for a leica x2.
    I would not even have oredered it if had the chance to read this review upfront, it.
    I didn’t care of slow operation and all the physical limitations of the camera, I basically got annoyed by the overwhelming microdetail. While it is appreciable for some occasion it really won’t fit any style of photography, the contrast you get in the detail is so important that I felt it made my pictures look less effective, the eye of the viewer getting lost where you don’t want it to go.
    It was a nightmare for me as it required very obvious composition and therefore the pictures felt boring to me. This is a very personnal opinion though.
    I also didn’t like the color tones out of camera at all which no one seemed to bother with, your review really point it out nicely.
    Again some may love it, it felt very wrong to me and I hate to have to do the same corrections again due to the camera output.

    • Thanks. Too much detail? Or the kinds of things you shoot not being suited to unflattering resolution (or fast run-and-gun documentary style photography)?

      • Take your picture of the man sitting on the porch as an example, I personally think all the detail is unecessary and harms the strength of the image a lot. I am sure this picture would have been much much better with another camera.
        definitely not the photographer’s fault :) , if I imagine how a classic photography by cartier bresson for example would look like if taken with such as a camera I am sure it would be boring as hell because detail can often harm a good picture if not weight reasonnably.
        the detail on the ground for example draws too much attention and is typical of the microcontrast this camera produces, it emphasize every rock while I think these details shouldn’t be there so your attention is on the character and the overal scene around him. Your eyes shouldn’t be attracted at all by this area, but to me the pictures of this camera suffer from this, you can’t help looking around, the detail being so crazy.
        I am an illustrator so that may be the reason why I am very sensitive to this. when working on illustration it is easier to realise where detail is needed or not, and often too much detailing is killing the image.
        As a photographer you can’t cheat and get it all so I think the optics are crucial. with this camera I felt everything that is on focus is a mess and not interesting and agressive to my eyes.

        • I disagree; if you’ve ever had to make large prints, you need all the resolution you can get with digital – the files lack the same fractal structure as film, which means the pixel-level structure is very quickly apparent. Don’t base your opinion on a web-jpeg which has been botched by Flickr’s downsizing algorithm…

          • you’re welcome to disagree Ming I am not trying to convince anyone, just sharing a different opinion :)
            I agree jpg and flickr won’t do any good to the pictures, but I actually got my opinion from the raw files I took myself,
            unfortunately I haven’t kept them but I tested the leica x2 next to the dp2 merrill for a couple days taking roughly the same pictures and the difference in render was very obvious to my eyes, always in the advantage of the merril in terms of image definition, but so much more pleasant to the eye when out of the X2 in my opinion.
            For example I remember being struck by how how the merrill rendered a football field compared to the leica, the grass looked smooth on the eye on the x2 files and the image was well balanced while the merrill rendered a crazy amount of detail which was very unpleasant to me, the ground which was a third of my composition at most took all the attention, due to the fact that the grass field offers way more microdetail than the sky.
            I noticed that on vegatation a lot, you can actually see this on your crop of the buildings photo, the foreground tree is rendered very differently compared to the other cameras and they all went through the jpeg/flickr process.
            It feels like the contrast is in the detail so the whole tree looks flat, while the other cameras picture larger areas of shadow as they don’t emphasize all those details.
            Anyway, I obviously am not the client for foveon sensor it seems, but I can see the advantage in sharpness would be a benefit to many people. despite not being very sold on the oberal images, I each time could hardly beleive the raw files I was opening came from that tiny camera, the definition really is highly impressive.

  30. I’ve had the DP2M for a short while…and honestly I could have lived with all the quirks (battery life, ergonomics, and even the rage-inducing SPP software) but for my usual subjects (people–ok, my kids–in available light) the green/yellow blotches in the shadows, along with the posterization (forget about lifting details in the shadows!), it’s just too much compromise for me. It’s discussed in forums (although not very widely)…and it’s a problem that exists, and not a lot of owners seem to be bothered by it because they use it mostly on landscape photography.

    I asked Lloyd Chambers on this issue since he’s too fond of the camera but he never gave me a direct answer and instead wanted me to subscribe to his paid site :-|…although he did say along the lines of using ETTR to avoid/minimize the problem…but I no longer have the camera to re-do the test.

    • It’s not forgiving of exposure, that’s for sure. (I presume you mean at high ISO.) It has to be shot more like MF digital or slide film to get optimum results. This is a consequence of the sensor’s architecture.

  31. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    Very interesting review. One question, your samples of Sigma at high ISO (1600, 3200, 6400 ) show very little noise and grain belying the fact that while Sigma outperforms it`s APS-C rivals at low ISO, it breaks down at high. What`s up?. By the way, your comment about matching lens to sensor is the proof that Ricoh took the right way. My A12 50 is nearly as good as old Summicron 35/2 , at least in my eyes and while Ricoh doesn`t make 75mm eqv., a Summicron 50/2 with m-unit makes a very neat 75/2 eqv combo.

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      By the way, you haven`t said anything about Sigmas performance as a watch cam, I mean close-up lens, comparing to your usual gear ( OMd-5 and Nik 800 )

    • Not sure I understand your question – if you look at the 100% crops, you’ll see that the Sigma is noticeably worse at high ISO; it’s not the noise that does it in, but more the color shifts. The sensor photosites for the different colors are layered over each other; the more amplification you need for the colors/ channels underneath, the more noise. I think this is the cause of the odd saturation shift we’re seeing.

  32. Usability is the main driver in camera design since 100+ years. It can’t be that difficult for Sigma to come up with some nice improvements. No one expects them to reinvent the wheel.

    Anyway, thanks for the review. I’m downright impressed by the IQ

    cheers
    Stefan

  33. Great camera when it comes to resolution but in a totally unfriendly package, who knows why they are doing it this way. Sometimes I would love to talk to people behind it.

    • I think this is the problem when there isn’t quite enough money to go around – IQ is prioritized at the expense of everything else…shame, because the lens and sensor have a lot of potential.

    • Please enlarge on totally unfriendly… The low ISO ceiling is a technical limitation, but from my perspective the DP2 is just the reverse quite user-friendly. The menu structure is better than most, the controls are well spaced and placed for the average hand size unlike the OMD which are too small and too close together in a couple of instances. The manual focus by wire is very well implemented compared to a few of the compact system cameras. Very much in the less is more vein its quite a good little camera! I am preparing a few IQ comparisons that will be able to be seen on perceptivelight.com Leica versus Sigma, who would have thought…

  34. Fascinating read Ming. I was thinking the same thing as Polo. GR + DP3M seems perfect.

  35. I had the use of a Leica M type 240 last March it was loaned with the latest iteration of the 35mm Summicron and a Noctilux. I had this kit over the weekend so I really gave it a good testing with many of the kinds of images that I make regularly. Although the weather did not cooperate. I’m still waiting for delivery of the M and quite frankly I am uncertain that I want it until such time as the firmware bugs are resolved. Enter the DP2 Merrill which I took delivery of last week as a stop gap. I needed a camera with first rate IQ I had read enough about the Foveon sensor to realize that the logic behind the design is sound but as with all good ideas perfection takes time. Three (or 4?) generations on it has matured into a stable technology. It has limitations but I can live with those.
    My first impressions, it lives up to everything you have said about it Ming and I like it very much. I concur that the software is horrid however there is an alternative Iridient developer from Iridient Digital http://www.iridientdigital.com. It does almost everything that ACR does plus a bit more. LAB colour space is included in a different way to Photoshop and it makes sense to utilize the power of LAB at the RAW conversion point. I have been using ACR since version 1 and LAB since PS 3 or 4 so going back to vanilla flavoured RGB does not appeal to me in the least. So far I think that Iridient developer can ready an image to print level except for sizing and cropping its a must for any one considering a DP 1,2 or3. Iridient developer also handles noise very well I have not done a like for like comparison yet but it seems the same or better than ACR. I am going to try some higher ISO shots soon. I mostly work at 100 ISO any how.
    The equivalent of a 40mm lens sits very well with me, its the way I see the world. I also purchased Sigma’s close up lens specific to the DP’s and in an other first its the only supplementary lens that I have used in over forty years that produces no chromatic aberration at all. That is quite an achievement and Sigma should promote the DP’s more because like you say Ming they are that good. The fly by wire manual focus is very good, but like 90% of live view screens very difficult in full sun so a hot shoe view finder is essential out of doors, fortunately the auto focus is good enough to allow this. It also offers the prospect of longer battery life with the screen turned off. It does, make that definitely needs a grip. In the dry Australian climate, its also quite cold at the present it is easy to drop things and even after one week it almost happened. So that end I have ordered the JM Milch grip (m@milich.com) Luminous landscape did a review. The only other issue is power consumption I tried shooting a dozen or so HDR images composed of three images each and the it emptied one battery very quickly. So six batteries with a car charger have been duly ordered… I might buy the other two DP’s I have not decided yet. Will they replace a Leica, hmm with a few limitations it probably could as long as I work on a tripod or in full daylight. Its a limitation, but to anyone used to using film it might not be an issue. All in all the DP2 is a very welcome tool in the bag… Thanks for your review of the DP3 its very tempting!

    • Iridient Digital looks very nice. It is said to properly handle Fuji x-trans RAW files as well. MAC only though…

    • How does Iridient handle dodging and burning? If I have to put another PS step in anyway, it’s a bit of a pain. Still not ideal. I think I’d be more tempted if ACR properly supported the camera. As it stands, I’d rather shoot with the D800E if I need ultimate portable resolution.

      As for battery life – I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out why the GR (on the same battery, as you point out) manages 3-400 images per cahrge instead of the Sigma’s sub-100…

      • Iridient Developer has no functional editing as such, it is a ‘Developer’ only, but my opinion after a few days use with it, it has some nice features and what it does it does well. I don’t use Lightroom because there is no implementation of LAB for the same reason its ‘another PS step’! So for me if I have to use Iridient Developer instead of ACR its about the same amount of processing time!
        With regards to battery life I suspect two possible things 1, the Foveon is power hungry, three sets of sensors as opposed to the Bayer sensors single layer 2, Sigma is not an electronics company and therefore probably doesn’t have access or the scale of purchase to the same technology that the likes of Canon, Sony have access to. I believe even Nikon buys in many of its electronic components. the Upside to the poor battery performance is that the batteries are as cheap as chips compared to many other manufacturers batteries and they are tiny so carrying half a dozen is no great sacrifice. With the DP2’s quality of output an A2 or A1 looks to be possible I can imagine that many art photographers would be interested in this camera. The monochrome from this camera is very nice first impressions remind me a bit of Agfa films again not unlike Leica’s output it has that timeless quality…

        • I guess one other reason for the poor battery life might be the fact that all three DPMs sport two “True-II”-processors to speed up image processing. And yes, image processing should be rather complex, compared to Bayer/X-Trans demosaicing…

          • A possible solution…outsource R&D on semiconductor-heavy stuff to Israel lol (I’m not from there btw, but amazed how they managed to bring down the energy hunger of Intel CPUs, of which all have been developed in Israel since the early 1990s…)

          • I’d have thought it’d be simpler, if anything – read off your RGB values from each site, write straight to file. You don’t have to do any interpolation to figure out what those values should be.

            • Maybe…but I thought I heard that and I figured there oughta be a reason why they packed in two processors. Of course there is a lot of data to handle. Maybe it’s not more complicated than demosaicing “mathematicly” but probably still needing much more processing power (considering how long it takes to make adjustments to X3F-files in SPP).

              • My guess is because there are 45-million bits of information to handle with every frame, and having two processors would speed that up? How well they use the processors is quite another matter entirely…smaller companies with less money to spend on software efficiency can also get the same results through brute force by adding more processing power.

            • Btw…completely forgot…I loved your review. Thank you very much! The pictures are beautiful as well. Gives me hope that it is possible to get acurate colors…still struggle a bit with that with my DP1 and DP2 Ms (probably getting the DP3 soon as well) – especially when skin tones are involved…at the moment people in my pictures tend to look like “floaters” (aka drowned bodies).

            • I also have the full set of DP merrills and I enjoy them alot. Brings back the Zen in photography (for me).

              No it is not as simple as just reading off RGB values. It is highly complex to translate the values to RGB space. There are no colour filters in the sensor so the colour separation is done by sensor depth. You need then to decode these values afterwards. That is why if you use the monochrome mode in SPP and turn the colour wheel to 100% blue, you get a less noisy image at elevated ISOs. It uses the data from the top layer like it was something similar to the Leica Monochrom M.

              So battery consumption will be much higher due to that things are not as easy as with interpolation Bayer sensor data and that it records 3 times more data.

              I think that in order for post processing to be faster one should take advantage of GPU processing powers, but SPP does not at the moment. I have no hope for Adobe supporting these cameras, it has problems even with x-trans when other software can do it easily.

              For me the DPs are a step back from the point and shoot philosophy of modern DSLR/Mirrorless towards the old ways of shooting. You need to take some more time and shoot. For me that has given a higher ratio of photos to keep and fewer duplicates. Write time has never bothered me as one can operate and take new photos while it writes. As for batteries, one can pick up cheap ones for $5 a pop.

              So yes, the Sigma cameras represents something different, something better, with image quality as the focal point, not gadgetry.

              Enjoyed you review a lot. Hope to see more.

              • I also shoot with a film Hasselblad. Oddly, that’s faster…

                • So you develop your film faster in the darkroom? Thought that took more time. OK, no problem, but if you learn to use SPP you know the tricks, and it is not so slow.

                  • No, I meant the whole shooting process from working to say 10 complete portfolio-grade images…

                    • If you say so. Assuming we are not comparing 24 film photos to 420 digital. I don’t find it that slow to be honest, not much more than post processing other digital RAW files. I usually review the JPGs and develope those RAW files that are worth developing. But then again I’m not in a hurry either. :-) If one works in PS, ACR or similar, then SPP can batch convert all RAW files to tiff, but you loose the advantages SPP has with the RAW data.

                    • Looking at my usual hit rate – 70% for film, 2-3% for digital. I process and scan two rolls of 120 or go through ~300 raw files. It takes the same amount of time.

                      As for SPP > TIFF > PS – I agree, no point unless you’re making all of the adjustments in SPP and just using PS for final finishing, which puts you back to square one.

                    • That is what I was trying to say :-) Digital makes at easy/inexpensive to take a lot of pictures. But why do you think you have a 70% vs 3% hit rate? Is it because it is easy to take many digital photos one does take many duplicates, time spent before to take the photos that differs film vs digital, lack of review screen, different iq requirements.. Assuming it is not due to sensor size and rendering: MF vs FF or mFT. Would be interesting to hear your opinion on that.

                    • It’s because I am less willing to accept minor imperfections with digital, knowing that you have the possibility to get it 100% right 100% of the time. It’s also because digital is mostly client work, and I’m paid to a) get it 100% right and b) have backups. Film work is personal. This means I approach both with very different mindsets. I think part of the charm of film lies in the imperfection…we accept and understand that it’s not going to be a perfect reproduction, and to some extent that’s why we shoot film in the first place.

  36. So do you think a DP3M on shoulder strap and a GR in pocket would be a good combo? They even share the same battery…

    I think it would make sense for Sigma to adopt a modular approach like the GXR as the three DPxM basically shares the same body.

    • It could work…but the DP3M is the opposite of the GR when it comes to responsiveness.

      • That’s why one would need a GR in the combo: Take a shot with DP, whip out the GR from the pocket, turn it on, take a few shots with GR, turn it off, put it back in the pocket, while the DP is writing. :)

        That said, my current combo is a ZM planar on GXR-M + GR. It would be basically a response time+battery life+ergonomics/UI+high ISO vs sheer amazing resolution at base ISO. I am not sure I would make the jump. For someone who needs the sheer resolution maybe yes.

        Thanks for your review again. Well balanced and level-headed as always.

  37. Vincent says:

    I found this review fascinating as it seems there is a producer in the market focusing on very high definition at an affordable price. But I have a question I will ask after introducing myself photo wise.

    I used to shoot 70% BW and 30% colour photos with 2 Mamiya 7, a 43mm and a 80mm…
    Then film development became a very expensive task to ask… And the quality of digital was nowhere near what I was used to with the Mamiyas… So for 10 years or so, I did photos without any artistic ambition, as I was a geek about definition. After reading and guessing it could match the pleasure I had with the Mamiyas, I recently bought the Monochrom, with the 21 f3.4 and the 90 f4 . It does the work, but I still don’t have colour… (Obviously I wasn’t the fastest of the shooters with my two Mamiyas)

    Do you think the DP Merrill would complete my combo? I am not keen on another Leica for the colour, as I don’t think their colour stuff matches the quality for the price of the Monochrom, which is delivering just fantastic (to get the old ISO 400 feel, you need to shoot at least at ISO 2500) BW with an old 6×6 or 6×7 feel (the “3D” feel), with some drawbacks though:

    1. I find myself in constant need to adjust the ISO to shoot at least 3.5 stops above usual speed, typically at 1/125 with the 21, and at least 1/750 for the 90 (I may be older and trembling a bit, but I think you only get the fantastic definition it can deliver with super high shutting speed compared to more classic cameras). You the expert may want to write a post later on this other issue.
    2. The noise becomes huge when underexposed, so one need to be careful with high contrast in high ISO

    As it is my first post on your blog, may I congratulate you for the quality of it

    Best,

  38. Small formats will never render the same way as larger ones – the FLs for a given FOV are not the same (with the attendant DOF properties etc.)

    Hard to answer your question because the high ISO noise from the Merrills does not look filmic at all, unless B&W (and you already have the MM for that). And I don’t think you need 3-3x5x – 2x is usually enough.

  39. A new model announced: http://www.sigma-global.com/en/cameras/dp-series/ Larger battery, 14 bit Raw and more blue pixels (??)

  40. That does look interesting, for many reasons. But not least because somebody actually thought about evolving ergonomics/ handling beyond retro.

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