Review: The Sigma DP2 Quattro

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Normally, we  look at a camera from a holistic point of view and compare it to the competition or the class leader. This unfortunately doesn’t make sense for extreme outliers like the DP2Q; we’ll have to do something a bit different. This review will look primarily from the point of view of image quality, and whether we can live with everything else. This is the opposite from every other review I’ve written to date, and the reasons for this will become clear soon enough. The other big change will be considering workflow and software as part of the camera package: it’s impossible to do anything else, since unlike every other camera, there is no universal workflow we can apply. Those of you who do not like caveats, are unable to look at something objectively, or are not open minded, I suggest you save yourselves some angst and stop reading now.

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16mm, anyone? Apologies for the camera shake: it’s very difficult to photograph yourself holding the camera in the actual grip but still being able to get your other camera-hand far away enough…

We will start in reverse: with image quality, because there are so many other compromises that this is really the only reason to even consider one of these cameras. Regular readers will know that my printmaster Wesley Wong is a big fan of the Sigma cameras; he loaned me the DP3 Merrill used in the earlier review here and has a full set of all five. Looking purely at the pixel level quality of the files, there is a good reason for this: under optimal conditions, these cameras put out some of the purest and highest-acuity pixels I’ve ever seen. They can go head to head with any medium format digital camera, and in the smaller format realm, only the D800E/ D810 combined with Zeiss Otuses can come close. Note first caveat: at the pixel level.

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Toil

And here the problems start already: how many ‘pixels’ do these things really have? Ostensibly, native output size gives you 20M dots or thereabouts. SPP – Sigma Photo Pro, the de-facto conversion software – gives you a double size option that outputs about 80MP. I think that’s hugely optimistic, as at the pixel level things turn to mush; you lose the single-pixel detail that charachterizes all of Sigmas’ non-Bayer cameras to date. Working downwards from the 80MP file, I think equivalence is somewhere around the 33-38MP mark: the closest benchmark I can find is the D810, which sometimes outresolves it, sometimes not – depending on subject matter. If the Bayer algorithm plays nice with the subject, you’ve got more real pixels; if not, then you have interpolation losses.

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Origin

Unlike the previous Merrill sensors, the Quattro does have interpolation; we used to have RGB values at each indivdual photosite, but now we have 20M blue photosites stacked on top of a further 5M red ones and 5M green ones; Sigma claims 39MP equivalent resolution, and I think they’re not far off. However the idea of equivalency is somewhat nebuluous: with AA filter, or without? What quality of lenses? From the middle, or the edges? Etc. Second caveat: in practice, I find that under optimal conditions, the whole single capture resolution of the Quattros to be more or less the same as the D810 and an excellent lens – say Nikon PCE or stopped down prime. If we put an Otus, APO-Sonnar or APO-Lanthar on, things swing in favor of the D810. But it is worth noting that the matched lens-sensor pairing is really the way to go when it comes to optimizing performance and size; the GR and Coolpix A are great examples of this; as is the fact that all normal lenses of similar performance for the D810 are quite a bit larger than the Quattro, let alone the Quattro’s lens.

DP2Q-D810 comparison 1
First of a series of examples; DP2Q at left, D810 with 45PCE at right. Shot at base ISO for both cameras and f5.6 for the Sigma, F8 for the D810 to compensate for the different formats. At these sizes, the DP2Q appears to have more detail – because it certainly has blockier microcontrast. Neither camera has been sharpened; the DP2Q file was saved as the ‘double size’/ 80MP option in SPP 6.2, then downsized to match the D810 in PS CC. But look again at 100% example 1; example 2; example 3; example 4. They are from the same pair of images but different portions of the frame to rule out lens advantages. Not so straightforward, is it? Remember that you’re looking at the very best case scenario: timer/MLU/EFC on a solid tripod, optimal apertures, optimal focus, base ISO. The real world handheld isn’t quite as good.

The advantage is not always quite so clear cut, however: it’s worth noting that the multilayer architecture of the Quattro sensor means that its color accuracy is noticeably better than any Bayer camera; it doesn’t suffer from odd clipping or tonal inaccuracy in only very slightly saturated areas. It also doesn’t have artefacts in areas of high chromatic frequency where luminance is relatively similar. It also means that you can get a relatively clean ~20MP B&W file out of it at high ISOs using only the blue (top) layer; there’s much less noise since there’s also less amplification of the signal required for not having to pass through the other layers of sensor.

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Inclination

Those of you who were paying attention will have noticed the ‘optimal conditions’ limitation. The [shooting envelope] of this camera is very, very small indeed. Expect something of the order of the previous generation of CCD-based medium format cameras, and you won’t be disappointed. If you buy a Quattro expecting comparable usability to other large-sensor fixed-lens compacts like the GR or X100T, you’re going to be very disappointed indeed. The Quattro’s limitations are both what I think of as implementation-driven (AF speed and battery life mainly) and sensor-driven (limited high ISO capability, workflow). If you use the Quattro on a tripod at base ISO, the output will blow you away. If you try to do low light documentary, you will probably find an iPhone to be a much better tool and deliver better results.

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Stool

This is where things get ugly: despite another generation of evolution of body design, it seems Sigma have not gotten many things right. For one, the design is nearly impossible to hold in any ergonomic fashion. It is more hand-unfriendly than even the Df, but at least it isn’t as heavy. I cannot honestly figure out how to hold it in landscape orientation. In portrait orientation, I use my left hand underneath like one of those old cine cameras; the LCD hood comes in useful as face bracing for stability. Button placement leaves me scratching my head, too – no matter how I put my right hand, the first button that falls to thumb is always the display mode settings – it should really be programmable AE-L or quick settings since both of those are more frequently used. And what were they thinking by putting the SD card slot under a flimsy rubber tethered cover? Hmmm.

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Planarity

Then we have AF speed: in good, bright light – it’s barely on the side of fast enough and noticeably better than what I remember of the Merrills; once you get into typical indoors-at-night territory, you’d better either be prepared to wait for some time for focus to lock, or take your chances with manual. The live view gets pretty grainy and coarse, too – which makes it even harder to focus or determine if the camera has nailed it or not. I could see decoupling AF to one of the back buttons being a viable solution, but I couldn’t find any way of disabling shutter-AF, either. I suppose it’s indirectly a good thing that ISO 800 is only usable in an emergency (1600 for blue-channel B&W); anything darker needs a tripod and means you won’t miss fast focusing anyway.

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Untitled

We then have battery life. The Merrills were notoriously power-hungry; I’m pretty disciplined about power use, but never managed more than 100 shots per charge on one of those. Sigma claims that the Quattros double that; probably because the battery itself is double the capacity. Nevertheless, I’m still wary when a camera includes two batteries in the box (are you taking note, Sony? If battery life is going to be poor, at least acknowledge it instead of taking advantage and extorting you for a spare). It seems power consumption is really linked to runtime and nothing else: if I leave the camera on but take only a few shots, I’m dead in about 45 minutes. If I power on only for the shot, I’ve been able to squeeze out 300 images per charge. But I do really feel like the camera has me under time pressure; much the same as the A7II did. Fortunately, the external charger is pretty fast, and official spares are relatively cheap at $30 each.

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Irregularity

Let’s not even talk about SPP: whilst the software is much better than the earlier versions I’ve used, it’s still extremely slow even on a machine with plenty of ram that can handle changes to large 50MP Bayer files in real time. It’s also not very intuitive. One surprising omission is the ability to do any sort of color profiling of indivdual HSL channels; either that or they’re hidden in such a nonintuitve place that they might as well not have been included at all. There’s one other thing I’ve not been able to figure out: why the initial instant preview looks so different to what comes out after the converter has finished rendering.

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Obligatory cat

Batch processing is painful (and you really need to treat each file individually, because there isn’t a blanket set of adjustments that works in general) and the response of various sliders doesn’t seem consistent – ‘Exposure’, for instance has very little effect except for large motions, but ‘X3 Fill light’ seems to vary wildly with just a small portion of that slider’s total motion. Overall, it’s about the worst workflow I’ve ever experienced: even after taking on average five minutes to output a flat TIFF file to work with, I still have to run it through ACR and PS to get the output I want. And no, there’s no easy way to get to a final output file using SPP only. There are just too many intermediate workflow steps involved to get to ideal output – clearly, this is not a camera for prolific shooters. It is worth mentioning that their B&W conversions actually produce very good results; whether this is a consequence of the sensor architecture or the software routines isn’t clear, however – and there’s no easy way of finding out, either.

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Stool shadow

Sigma does deserve credit for doing some things very, very right though: the LCD magnifying hood is a perfect solution to stability, daylight visibility of the screen, checking focus, and not having to add the cost or power drain of an EVF. The hood has a portion that screws into the tripod mount (but leaves you another mount hole), sits flush with the camera, and allows the magnifier itself to slide in from the side; it’s secure yet easily detachable if necessary. Both pieces are very, very well made; the diopter adjustment is possibly the most precise and elaborate I’ve seen, and even the eyepiece cap is machined aluminum. It really feels like a rigid single piece when installed – which is good, because your left hand is going to be using it a lot to grab the camera with.

Overall build quality is really excellent, and the camera feels solid in the hand. The menus and electronic portion of the camera is responsive, well thought out, and only has a couple of minor omissions – the ability to set lower auto-ISO thresholds, and exposure value increments. Shutter response time is instant, but it’s a shame that shot to shot time is not – though the camera does have a 7-shot buffer, it takes a few moments after capture for it to go back to being able to record again, and a surprising amount of time to record even with a 95MB/S UHS I card.

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Urban Mondrian

I have a theory about battery life and design. It’s clear that the sensor is indeed very power hungry; the amount of heat being dissipated through the front of the camera is considerable. After half an hour or so of shooting outdoors in the tropics, the camera verges on the threshold of uncomfortably warm across its entire front surface, even the lens mount. This necessitates a lot of surface area to radiate the waste heat, otherwise you might land up with even more noise problems – and something physically dangerous. It does not, however, explain the very odd grip shape. Just rounding off that front edge would have made an enormous difference in feel and ergonomics. I suppose all of this amounts to making the Quattro a very good studio camera – use it at base ISO on a tripod where you don’t have to carry it, plugged into an AC adaptor where you don’t have to worry about power, and then use the 1/2000s leaf shutter to sync to your heart’s content.

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Vehiclular camouflage

No doubt then, there are a lot of promises and a lot of compromises. Under ideal conditions, the image quality of these cameras still remains superb: there is nothing at this size and price that can touch them resolution-wise; there is very little that can come close in color accuracy at any price, and not without significant postprocessing effort. The bottom line is that the files are really quite addictive, and also have quite a bit of dynamic range and postprocesisng latitude. That said, when either end of the tonal scale goes, it doesn’t go in a nice way: highlights can clip a little abruptly, and shadows get noisy/ gritty/ muddy. But in every case, I’ve found there’s a lot more dynamic range than what I see on the back LCD would suggest.

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A window beyond

Sadly though, the multiple layers of the sensor still mean that the red and green photosites on the lower levels still have to be amplified considerably; noise above ISO 400 starts to become noticeable, objectionable past ISO 800, and unusable except for blue-channel only monochrome at 1600. Frankly, I’m not sure why they bothered offering 3200 and 6400; they look like selective color filters. It isn’t the amount of noise that’s actually objectionable; it’s the very strange nature of it that is no doubt due to a combination of interpolation, a very clever noise reduction algorithm, and strange things that happen (color blotchiness, mass tonal shifts in certain areas, nonlinear highlight/shadow behavior) when you amplify the different color channels at different strengths. I would basically shoot this thing at base ISO, or perhaps up to 400 in a pinch. Beyond that, you’re giving away a lot in image quality; I’d actually say an E-M1 image looks better from somewhere between ISO 800 and ISO 1600. The D810 starts pulling away at 400 and above.

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Trees without trees

One important final point to note: whilst the lens of the DP2Q is excellent, an a very good match for the sensor, and it handles shooting into the light just fine – the sensor does not. There is some rather spectacular flare or internal reflection or interaction between the layers of the sensor that mean you cannot really have a bright point source in the outer edges of your frame without some seriously bad (and very obvious, because it’s usually bright green) flare. If the source then moves to the center portion, the problem mostly goes away. Not a deal breaker, but it can be quite annoying if like me you like your sunstars and backlighting.

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Strange flare: the green cast in the lower portion of the frame is caused by the sun at top right.

It is quite difficult to come to any sort of definitive conclusion on the Quattro: it somehow manages to be a polarizing camera even relative to itself. It really has no competition other than its predecessors; anything about the same size/volume has much lower image quality. Anything with the same image quality is significantly larger and more expensive. If you want the best possible image quality, but on a budget: this is the way to go. Or rather, a set of three would be the way to go. You may however want to try the Merrills first: they’re more ergonomically friendly, optimal image quality isn’t really that different*, and with a little legwork, they’re also half the price. (You do lose the ability to attach the LCD hood, though, and battery life is 1:3 in practice.) Personally, I thought it made a very good ‘urban sketch’ or ‘urban painting’ camera – small enough to be unobtrusive, high enough quality to Ultraprint if desired. The ergonomics weren’t quite as much of a headache as I expected, though they’re far from optimal; what was an issue was the really slow workflow. You could I suppose just shoot JPEG, but that’s leaving most of the file quality behind. I can’t help but feel the DP2Q is another near miss: sort out the grip, give it ACR support, and we can forgive the limitations of the sensor simply because of what it can do.

*And there are a lot of convincing, scientific tests I’ve seen online that suggest the Merrills may actually deliver better results under some specific situations because they do not require any interpolation and deliver true RGB values for each photosite.

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Urban Rothko

In the end, it’s going to boil down to whether your priorities are image quality and price, or versatility and price, or image quality and versatility with no consideration to price. That basically makes the options Sigma, other mirrorless, and D810-based. Remember that if you need another focal length with matching image quality, you’re going to have to buy another whole camera. And there are only 21-45-75mm-e options; anything else will require adaptors and the associated lowering of image quality. I’m not sure even a set of Quattros or Merrills is going to be flexible enough to be your only system unless perhaps you have very limited and specific shooting needs; most photographers are going to be better served by versatility. But I can see the appeal of adding one to cover your most frequently used focal length in a very high quality and relatively compact/ affordable way; what I can’t answer is whether any of the camera’s limitations or ergonomic flaws are going to be deal breakers for a particular individual. Perhaps my thoughts on the Quattro are best summed up this way: better than the Merrills, for every situation I’ve encountered, yes; D810 and medium format owners can safely pass; everybody else, look at the files first and then decide – better yet, try to convert some raw files yourself. There really is something seductive about this level of image quality. MT

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The Sigma Quattro is available here from B&H in 28mm-e DP1Q or 45mm-DP2Q flavours, along with the LVF-01 LCD hood and spare batteries.

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Comments

  1. Since this review was written, Sigma has released a firmware update that allows you to shoot RAW as DNG files, which should greatly ease workflow for those using Adobe software. This is for the dp0/1/2/3 Quattro and the sd Quattro and sd Quattro H.

    Having used this same camera side by side with a Pentax K3-II, it is kind of infuriating – the Pentax falls so easily to hand, and works so quickly and intuitively, plus has so much better dynamic range, is supported by almost everything like LR/PS and DXO Optics Pro – yet the sharpness of the dp2Q and “something” in the images, has me continuing to struggle with learning how to use it properly, in hope of creating some great landscape pics…

  2. Thorsten Vieth says:

    I purchased Workflow III recently and am also a fan of the DP2Q. Not my main camera, but I really like the results for specific types of work. Now, I tried to find a concise description of a workflow for the DP2Q (or any other Foveon camera) with Workflow III and didn’t find anything so far.

    Here’s what I’m doing right now, and I’d appreciate if other Foveon owners that use WF III (or even Ming himself) could pitch in if I’m doing anything stupid:
    – White Balance and Exposure in Sigma PhotoPro6
    – Export as 16bit TIF (sometimes in original size, sometimes double size using S-HI if I need to)
    – Open in Photoshop CC
    – Use CameraRaw Filter to white balance again, correct exposure, straighten perspective
    – Continue with the rest of the WF III as per normal
    – Save

    Thankful for any feedback!

    • There isn’t, because workflow with the Sigma cameras is contingent on whatever you do with SPP – and that’s a whole other kettle of fish (with no possibility for profiling). The way I see it, the only thing you can do is get to a flat TIFF file, apply your color profile in ACR or LR (open TIFF in ACR) and then carry on the normal workflow from there. However, it’s important that you use SPP to do most of the heavy lifting for recovery etc. since it seems to work in a very different way to pushing and pulling afterwards in ACR.

      • Thorsten Vieth says:

        Thanks for the comment. That’s helpful. I’m not entirely clear what you mean by “apply color profile.” When I export from SPP, I’ll export with Adobe RGB profile. Do I then need to assign anything else?

        • You probably want to make a color profile for your camera at some point to ensure neutral colors (i.e. photograph a color chart and adjust appropriately, per workflow II) which you can then load as a default for ACR.

          • Thorsten Vieth says:

            Got it, thanks. Any final tip for which cost effective color chart to get?

            • I prefer the Xrite Passport.

            • Hi, I’m in the quest of trying to build a camera ICC Profile for the dp Quattro (which I presume to work with the new sd Quattro) using a R1 IT8 chart by Wolf Faust…with either Profile Prism by ddisoftware or any other profile making solutions. I do art reproduction with the dp, and the Standard Color Mode has been by preferred choice over Neutral. It seems to be closer to reference. The use of very high CRI lighting (preferably >95) is mandatory to get it within 90% accuracy at capture.

              • Thorsten Vieth says:

                Hi Wesley, I’d be very interested in your profile once you’re done with kt and if you are willing to share. Let me know. Thanks!

  3. I had the impression, based on the specs at least, that Merrills are ‘purer’ Foveon machines and deliver better, ‘truer’, IQ than Quattros. What do you see now that you used both?

    • Honestly – I have no idea, mainly because it isn’t clear to me what SPP is doing to the files behind the scenes. Neither one delivers accurate color, as far as I can tell, and they’re impossible to profile unless you use the exact same SPP settings every time and apply profiles afterwards in ACR, but that doesn’t always get the most information out of the file either, since shooting situations often differ…

  4. Yesterday Sigma introduced *two* mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras with the Quattro sensor!! They do believe in Quattro, don’t they? 😉

    • Well, it would be odd if they released the older sensor as ‘new’ – and effectively admitting hey got it wrong. The APSH variant does beg the question why they didn’t just go to FF since there isn’t that much difference in size.

      • Yamaki-san appears to be a man of rare clarity of thinking in his interviews and yet Sigma has made a series of blunders with Foveon cameras. Fortunately the new cameras don’t appear to be ergonomic disasters like Quattros. But those buttons on the right side of LCD will be difficult to use when seeing thru the OVF.

        • BTW Ming that “Trees without trees” picture is very lovely!

        • I agree; the ergonomics of their cameras are rather puzzling. I honestly don’t understand the EVF placement – it makes the LCD a guaranteed nose-print gatherer, your thumb is probably going to land up in your eye. I really pity the left-eyed shooter…

          • Interesting that these new cameras have sigma SA mount. Wonder why Nikon and Canon can’t do something similar with their DSLrs- ie take away the mirror, replace OVF by EVF and retain F/EF mount so that long time loyalists can continue to use their SLR lenses with the mirrorless cameras. And why didn’t Sigma do the same with their DSLRs – why invent a new form factor when the mount remains unchanged. All said and done DSLRs have better ergonomics than the best of the mirrorkess cameras.

  5. David Koschmann says:

    Thanks for the great review. I am close to buying a Quattro but I am still confused about possible print size. I love prints and want to take advantage of a printer that can handle 17″ wide paper so that means 15″-16″ image size on the short edge. I read that large prints are possible but I don’t see how that is actually achieved when looking at the raw image pixel size. Does the software interpolate a larger size or would you convert to jpeg before printing? I spent many years lugging around a wooden view camera and I think the Quattro would fit my style nicely.

  6. Ming, I have a dp2 Quattro I bought during B&H’s sale @ $499 that lasted for one week. You mention the Ultraprint aspect to this camera, I am curious to know what you calculate the “contact print” size of this system, i.e., you say the D800 is 10″x15″. I have been using mine to photograph with a round flash @ the local Farmer’s Market and have been getting some outstanding results with the produce and products as well as headshot portraits. Look forward to getting a dp3 and just may try the dp3 Merrill just to see the difference. Thank you for your very clear and in depth coverage on this site. Big Up!

    • There is no easy equivalence because the Foveon sensors resolve a bit more than Bayer sensors, so e.g. 300PPI Bayer isn’t the same as 300PPI Quattro/Merrill. I’d say the 15MP Merrills have slightly less resolving power than the 36MP D810, and the Quattros a touch more. So perhaps 2:1 is a good rule of thumb. You might have trouble Ultraprinting without our modified hardware, however. 🙂

      • Ming, thank you for the timely response. I understand your drift about Bayer vs. Foveon. I am curious about your “modified hardware”, tell me. I sell matted fine art prints in 8×10 and 13×19 printed on Canson Platine Fibre Rag and I intuited your Ultraprint concept as I printed and matted these two sizes. I use a Nikon D800, and was delighted to find your Ultraprint blog entry to confirm my intuition.

        Thank you Ming for providing such a high level of technical expertise together with respect for the medium, your own work and the work of others. And, moderating such a productive and educational comment section.

  7. Gov Pavlicek says:

    There is another point that is seriously troubling with the Sigma sensors that is missing here: the dynamic range is limited. It is worse than Canon APS-c at low ISO let alone high ISO. So a lot of shadows are blocked in demanding scenes.
    Second point: when I look at landscape shots with said DR (and lots of them) all foveon tend to have a cyan sky and the clouds look oversharpened. There seems very little tonality in it. Here these cams cannot even come close to what a 1″Sony sensor does in these circumstances. So for landscaping, from what I have seen a MF cam is not just miles ahead these are just incomparable. That is sad, because I wanted to have the DP2m after fantstic shots by for example Michael Reichmann. The landscape shots were offputting, sadly.

    • I’ve never known a digital camera to get colors correct straight out of the box. I hope you don’t think that Michael or Ming ignores post processing. I just picked up a Lightroom book, 700 pages. Ming offers wonderful post processing tutorials, a great investment. We spend thousands and never learn what to do with the information from our cameras and lenses. If you don’t want to do that then an iPhone is your ticket. If the clouds look oversharpened, is it the sensor or post processing? Cyan is an appropriate color for the sky, as is blue and endless variations. Then again, where are you looking at DP2M images? Certainly not your own. Why aren’t the shots by Michael Reichman worthy examples of what the camera can do? Have Michael and Ming post process the same image and they’re going to look different. It’s what you do with the information after it leaves the camera that matters.

  8. Ming, some of those Quattro pictures are as great as a great painting! Love the colors and composition!

    Any chances you’ll be working out DP0 Quattro? It has a very unique (for a fixed lens camera) 21mm focal length.

    • Thanks. Probably not – I rarely need anything that wide, and when I do it’s usually under documentary situations in which a Sigma would be my last choice for many reasons…

  9. I don’t understand Sigma. With earlier Foveon cameras the big problems were: Slow write times, crummy battery life, SIgma Photo Pro and lack of support in Adobe tools, and slow AF. Did I men tion slow write times? And then therea re the sloooooooow write times.

    Perhaps it was also wrong of Sigma to label the SD1 a profesional camera when, alongside those handicaps it has an easily broken pop-up flash, only one card slot, and weather sealing that does not seem as effective as Canons.

    But given that the problems were mainly operational (because plenty of photographers would be willing to shoot at 400 ASA and below to get the Foveon IQ) what do Sigma do? The mess abuot with the chip itself (whihc was good enough) and release another trendy, well put-together, but ultimately stupid new body.

    The Foveon technology could hardly have ended up in less capable hands.

    • You’re mentioning Adobe tools. Do you mean Camera Raw? The earliest DP versions are supported. Could it be that you should instead complain to Adobe? You can’t compare write times, different sensor technology from other camera companies. Personally, the long write times on the Merrills have never been an issue for me. Their cameras were not designed for action photography, even so there is no wait to take several pictures in succession. Originally, I never noticed the longish write times. Not until I started reading comments. By the time I was ready to take the next picture the previous image was long written. If write time is the most important criteria, then I would find something else to use. It’s still only a few seconds. Who can be in that much of a hurry? No single camera does everything perfectly. It’s like complaining that a Mercedes isn’t good for hauling cement blocks compared to a truck, or a truck doesn’t get the gas mileage of a Prius. Professional is more than often a vague description for all manner of items we buy and use. All Canons have more effective weather sealing than the SD1? Where is that testing posted? You broke your pop up flash, not good. It happens enough on a lot of cameras, when people are careless. If the Quattro is a mistake, hopefully sigma will learn from it. Other companies have had their share of mistakes. It’s not for me, but I read that other people like the Quattro body. And, there is a choice, the Merrill is still available. That along with the RRS grip is an effective combination.

    • “Only one card slot”.
      Wow. So, all the professionals that are using cameras with only one card slot are:
      A – Not “professionals”
      B – Not using a “professional camera”
      C – None of the above: they just use the camera needed for their work, be it with or without two card slots.
      😉

      • I’ve actually never used the second card slot in any of my cameras. There’s a card in there, but…I must be a rank amateur hack. 😛

        • Really? Not even as a backup? I just had a card fail on me while on vacation. Only the second time in around 7 years shooting with DSLRs, but still, one of those times really sucked, because the body only had one slot. This last time was fine, because the D3s had a card backing everything up. Digital files don’t exist unless you have backups.

          • Well, the cameras that really need it because they do suffer card failures frequently – just about every Leica I’ve ever had – don’t have them.

            The illusion of security with dual cards may well be just that, because if a write error is what corrupts one card – and it usually is – then the same write error has a high chance of occurring with the second card at the same time, too.

    • I prefer the DP Merrill cameras over the Quattro which loses that Foveon look. The point of these cameras is the Foveon sensor and what files it delivers. Once Sigma changed that Dynamic I grabbed the DP3M, (already own the DP2M).

      I don’t care about anyone else’s impatience in waiting for a file to write. I just keep using my DP Merrill cameras with my extra batteries, taking pictures while the camera writes. Then I use the SPP program that everyone complains about while listening to Sinatra or other music. Then I revel in the beautifully detailed photos that have that 3d effect and colors reminiscent of Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides. I have many cameras and none of the files look this wonderfully detailed for this price or this size camera. I’ll take the quirks, save my back from carrying a big machine gun shooting D-SLR. Not everyone is in a rush or aggravated that the camera doesn’t go at the speed of light. Some people take their time and are rewarded with superior files. The DP Merrill is not for everyone. I am so glad so many people hate them and have no patience. Please leave the camera to those who do. One thing is valid, there aren’t many cameras that can beat the Foveon files no matter what the perceived quirks.

      • I can’t say anything about the Merrils, since I have never tried one, but I can say that I got a dp2Quattro and its IQ is awesome. I consider it not a swiss knife, but a specific tool: the photographer must know what to do with it, and what it can do.

        After two weeks of dp2Quattro I bought (received two days ago) a dp3Quattro. Just to say. 🙂

        • If you’re happy with the Quattros, that’s great. The Quattro is amazing, just not as DP Merrill amazing, but that’s okay because they are still better than most compacts out there for dynamic range and file results. DigiLloyd has excellent reviews on his website about both series cameras, though you do have to pay a year subscription to access them. Between Ming’s website and DigiLloyd’s, you can’t go wrong for reviews.

          • I was already considering the year subscription to DigiLloyd, but luckily I have usually the chance to try gear from my fav local shop or from an early adopter friend (he buys almost everything..).
            I have found a “used” dp2Quattro with less than 100 shots taken, for 500 euros, flash included.
            And the dp3Quattro was a display model found in Belgium: actually it can’t be found on ebay in Europe. Still I got it for an interesting price.
            Their shape is so strange that often it attracts people curiosity, and sometimes it’s nice to bump into someone showing a thumb up here in Venice while saying “that’s a cool camera!” 🙂

            The only thing that makes me “curse” Sigma is the lack of an EVF: under bright light it’s a pain to see things on the backscreen (I’m referring for example at macro shots).
            A loupe will surely be of some help (helping also for a more steady shot), but is useless at strange angles: a swivel EVF would be more than welcome.

            • I agree about the lack of viewfinder. My eyes aren’t what they used to be. I live in Arizona which is bright sun all the time so I totally can relate to your observation. Still, I will gladly use these Sigmas over an inferior product. there is absolutely nothing out there that compares to the Foveon sensor. Even without a viewfinder.

            • I found the LCD magnifying hood to be extremely useful.

      • Think of the DP like digital alternatives of a TLR medium format film camera.

  10. Thanks for this,

    As your refer to it in your conclusion, the DPM might work just as well. Cross referring your other post to the “mystery camera”, I bought a DPM to teach photo to my daughter, not the mystery camera, because I thought the serious limitations the DP have are the best limitations one can have when taking photos. Link exposure time with light, focus manually (I find the manual focusing awesome, even if it feels a bit shaky, and we are now only using only this mode), and when a photo is a good one, a lot to process from (personally, I convert the whatever number of photos to tif and work the tif in Lightroom, love it as well).

    Cheers,
    Vincent

  11. Interesting review. Some times ago, after taking in account the caveats and limitations of the original DP Merrrils, I seriously tought to buy one of them to have an affordable digital version of my old Mamiya med format film camera. Same shooting intent, tripod use, slow consideration for composition etc… I reconsidered just because Sigma here in Italy is so BAD managed that if you buy one of their cameras and have problems, you are essentially left alone in the dark…

    • Sadly, poor customer service is not just in Italy and not just by Sigma, but many other companies around the world too…

    • I bought mine one week ago, here in Italy, and still “testing” it. The only drawback is the slow Sigma Photo Pro, but I don’t care about that so much: as said, the dp2 is not a Swiss knife, but a specific tool. You use it in a well determined way, knowing what you are doing, and this applies also to the post production.
      As Ming wrote, it’s not that Sigma has a specially bad or absent customer service: the official importer gives you 3 years of warranty, but you need to give the camera to the store where you originally bought it.
      Having said so, the Sigma dps seem really well built.

  12. I just can’t wait for my dp3Q (with the 1.2x teleconverter) and eventual dp0Q to arrive. Bring them on, baby!

  13. Thanks for a very clear and fair-minded review. I use a DP2M and DP2s and am not tempted to switch to the Quattro, mainly because of the new design and the many problems reported with processing of Q images. Sigma has also failed to produce convincing official sample photos from the Q range – and some of those that have been displayed are truly awful. This is a strange way to do your marketing, to put it mildly. The Merrills were given special websites with some excellent samples to showcase the image quality. I find the DP2M and the DP2s are much more versatile than many people say: both are fine in monochrome at 400ISO and above, and I’ve managed to do some satisfying street and family photography with them. At base ISO in good light, the images can be spectacular – as you said about the DP3M, Ming, there is a rinsed-through clarity. I can live with SPP and tolerate the occasional weird colour shifts (a lot of unexpected purple above 400ISO!) in exchange for the loveliest colour, depth and micro-contrast I’ve ever experienced. Once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to go back to a Bayer sensor.

    • The Quattro initially had image issues (jpeg rendering, highlight compression w/ some backlit subjects, etc) as a result of problematic SPP algorithms…for which 6.2 provided solutions. In our tests, the Merrill wasn’t worth the trouble (battery life is beyond unacceptable). Mind us all, the Quattro is still being improved. If you dial down SPP sharpening and NR I think you’ll agree the texture of the Quattros is more pleasing in print form.. But don’t take my word for it – compare and contrast your own raw files!

  14. Hi Ming, thanks for looking at this one.
    I find that the issues with the work flow are somewhat nullified due to the shot discipline required when shooting. Although slow I find the software is actually quiet simple to use,and I find that 90% of shots require very little work.
    If you consider this is basically a digital camera loaded with spools of quality 100/200 asa slide film coupled with a black and white option up to 1600, The fact that its fitted leaf shutter, that you can flash sync 1/2000sec is also worth noting as a real advantage over FF options. Many would find these cameras too frustrating coming of a Dslr’s, however you can do a lot with these machines if your willing to experiment and accept their limitations. In the perspective of the history of the medium. I really cannot find much too complain about.

    • Agreed re. flash sync, but I honestly haven’t found enough situations that require it. I suppose if I did it wouldn’t be too hard to justify the additional hardware. Quantity/ throughput and consistency are higher up my priority list at the moment.

    • Yes, exactly. In situations where I would use a flash on any camera, the Sigma flash works very well. With film there is almost an obsession to shoot with the slower films, improving quality. With digital there seems to be an obsession with high ISO, to the point of sacrificing quality. I find for myself, that in most situations that require a high ISO I would prefer to use a flash. With my DP1s I’ve been able to shoot successfully at 50 ISO on a tripod at sundown, as I would with Velvia. I know enough people that mainly shoot large format film, but also carry around a small digital camera for those situations where large format is inconvenient. Ming, as per his reply to you, mentions that he has priorities that can’t easily be satisfied by the Foveon workflow. This has been true for a lot of photographers, with other cameras, for a long, long time. Leica, as good as it is, isn’t the perfect camera for all situations. Nor, is a DSLR for those who need to travel light. I’m agreeing with you, there isn’t much to complain about.

      • Ming, So what is a good, workable LCD hood for the DP Merrill Series cameras? I totally would love to get one or two. Mind you, I don’t want to scratch or ruin the LCD applying it. I heard Hoodman is good. What do you think? I live in Arizona where it is light bright every day. LOL! By the way, I don’t know what i keep coming back to this comment section and review. it totally resonated with me, even if it is a Quattro. probably because I love the Sigma Foveon so much.

        • Check out the Kamerar Magview 43. It’s cheap, has decent optical quality, and works well. There’s a metal frame you stick onto the screen and the magnifier attaches to it magnetically. I walk around with the magnifier on a lanyard around my neck and before I take a shot, I attach the magnifier to the frame (it’s self-aligning) and raise the camera to my face. It works fluidly in practice. It also doesn’t interfere with the RRS plate and grip on my DP3M.

        • Not tried the Hoodman, but I use a Zacuto Z-finder Pro on my D810 which is excellent. It attaches to the tripod mount, so no sticky tape required. I think there is a rubber band option too.

  15. When the Foveon sensor was first disclosed….how may years ago was that?….my reaction was, “OK — here’s the future. Game over for conventional sensors.” Now, all these many years later, it’s still more of a curiosity and a cranky one at that. Seems the story I read so long ago must have been overly simplistic, or the writer too accepting of the inventor’s claims.

    • ??? What “story” are you referring to? Very few new things are perfect from the start. “Conventional sensors” are still evolving. But, even so, some of us still love the older CCD sensor. If you take the time to read Ming’s review and many of the comments that follow, you will learn about the strengths of the Foveon technology. You should learn that the sensor is more than a curiosity to those who have actually used the Sigma cameras. Innovation is good, curiosity or not, it spurs thinking and innovation. I, for one, after reading several positive reviews of the original DP series purchased the DP1. It fit right in with the way I work. I mostly shoot with slow speed films, but keep a separate camera to shoot high speed film when necessary; no big deal. The same with digital. I use a camera other than the DPM’s, that is better suited to high ISO; but is not a match for the DPM’s at low ISO. Again, no big deal. The situations where I need a high ISO camera I’m not expecting the same quality as DPM base ISO. As with high speed film, I’m looking to get the picture. The PP software was never an issue for me until I started reading about it. I just accepted it as a slower than processing with Photoshop, but nowhere as slow as working in a darkroom. The PP software has now improved incrementally, so there is progress.

      • There is a third alternative which should be added to the last line of my comment above: it may well be that my understanding of what I read was too simplistic. I can’t recall where I first read of the Foveon sensor, or precisely when. It was at least a dozen years ago. My reaction was enthusiasm for the elegance of the approach and assurance that it would leapfrog the CCD technology then current and everything else then in the pipeline. What I didn’t appreciate was the time needed to bring it to market in a commercially viable form. Nor was it obvious that camera makers, other than Sigma, would be slow to adopt and adapt. I thought the Foveon sensor would sweep the field to become the new standard. It’s probably my own unrealistic anticipation that set me up.

      • The presentation of the Foveon sensor technology has usually been overly simplistic.

        The sensor does not directly record clean R, G and B values for each pixel. Instead, light intensity is sampled at three depths in the silicon, and colour is reconstructed from knowledge of the laws of absorption of the light in the silicon which depend from the wavelength. From top to bottom, it is bit as if the sensor was recording R+G+B, R+G and R values.

        That would still be straightforward but, in practice, the way the different colours are attenuated in the silicon are not very different, but the attenuation is very big, with the second and third layers receiving much weaker signals than the top one.

        What this means in practice is that colour has to be reconstructed from very weak, noisy information with little discrimination, which explains why colour images at higher ISO suck so much, and why B&W images generated from the blue channel (and more probably the top sensor in SPP) work so much better. Foveon sensors also have problems with very saturated reds, where the software has no longer the information to guess the colour.

        Interestingly David Coffin, developer of dcraw, had a hard time decoding colours from X3F files and ended up interpolating between neighbouring sensors in some cases! The dcraw X3F decoding routines are so complex they are only ones that are not free in dcraw, which shows that the Foveon tech is not so simple.

        I am not saying Foveon is an inferior technology – I had a Sigma DP and loved it for what I used it for – but I am convinced it has some inherent flaws that make it inferior to Bayer sensors in a number of applications.

        • “Interestingly David Coffin, developer of dcraw, had a hard time decoding colours from X3F files and ended up interpolating between neighbouring sensors in some cases! “

          That sounds like Bayer deinterpolation to me…

        • “I had a Sigma DP and loved it for what I used it for – but I am convinced it has some inherent flaws that make it inferior to Bayer sensors in a number of applications.” Yes, of course… Bayer is not perfect either. If it’s digital whether it be music or photography we’re constructing a picture from bits of information to create a reasonable analog interpretation. When we print we are laying down tiny droplets of ink, attempting to make it look like an analog print. I think it’s incredible that it all works as well as it does. But, go find a good Cibachrome created in the darkroom from, say Kodachrome 25, and there you have a reality check. When I shot Kodachrome and we had a choice between Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome 64, I always wanted to shoot the 25. Someone far smarter than me once simplified the digital process. Think of it as knowing the weather at two cities 50 miles apart and with that information trying to predict the weather for everywhere in between. You hit it, “where the software has no longer the information to guess the colour.” Meaning, if the information were there, the software would still be guessing the colour. In the end we’re still trying to recreate analog.

    • Nope, I think it’s a case of software development to a large extent: the Bayer conversion has gotten better and better with each iteration of software because of the demand; we haven’t had that with the Foveon conversions. There’s of course been hardware development too as a consequence of market size and the amount of available R&D funds. Recall even the last generation of CCDs were really only usable up to ISO 800 or so with results we’d deem ‘acceptable’ today; Foveon just hasn’t caught up.

      • Ming, What software are you writing about? Bayer and Foveon conversions are different enough. Therefore, how would you measure “caught up” or not caught up? What I have noticed about SPP, in particular, is that it is at it’s best when it is a fresh copy. This has been my experience each of several times that I have loaded a fresh copy. But, for the most part, I don’t feel restricted by either the hardware or software.

        • Look at Adobe’s development budget for software vs. Sigma’s.

          • Using my raw files I can get my image to 95% where I want it very quickly in SPP and then make small adjustments in Photoshop. Custom white balance and exposure are normally very good straight out of the camera so there isn’t much work to do in SPP. If going straight into Camera Raw would be that much better then the Foveon files might be even better than we are currently seeing, so that’s hopeful. Raw images from the original DP series I believe can be processed in Camera Raw.

            • Nope, ACR does not support any of the Foveon cameras. It may not be a better conversion if all things were ideal – a lot of software does incrementally better than ACR – but none of it allows a) consistency across multiple cameras/systems or b) easily extracting that file quality.

              • I just brought a DP1S raw file into ACR and it works beautifully.

                • That’s interesting to know, I stand corrected. Perhaps we have hope after all for the Merrills and Quattros…how did you find the results compared to SPP? Did all of the usual adjustment options work correctly?

                  • Whatever adjustments that I applied worked. I was brief. Now I recall using ACR exclusively with the DP1s until I bought the Merrill’s sometime last year. I may have compared the results, but it has been awhile since I processed files from the DP1s. But, because ACR is smoother in operation I was probably using it instead of DPP. I hadn’t thought to check if ACR had caught up with the DPM set of cameras. It took me awhile to recall that I had been using it with the early DP series. The photo that I worked with today from the DP1s looked very good and with minimal work. I seem to remember that the performance from the early DP cameras was being compared to the best of the best, and even medium format. Talking with the representative from Sigma US was interesting. No matter what camera I talked about, film or digital, he knew the camera. In conversation it seemed that they were trying to build the best possible camera for themselves and then offering it to the rest of us. It reminds me of the history of the Hexar AF, with the same elements of philosophy, design and execution; excepting the ergonomics. But, add the RRS grip for the Merrill and I’m all in.

                    • I used ACR with my SD14 files. Seemed fine. Usually had to cool the white balance. I loved the output but the limitations put me off eventually so I sold it for a 5D which was much more versatile but not as good in ideal conditions.

  16. Thanks a lot Ming for this review and for all what I have learned all this years thanks to you.
    Well, I own a DP2Q since some months ago and I can say that it is the most powerfull and the best ART INSTRUMENT I have ever had and that includes a Nikon D700, a Fuji XPRO 1, Etc.
    Thanks a lot SIGMA for such a wonderfull tool, please keep in the right path with Foveon technology and your success will be unavoidable.By the way and, regarding the wokflow, Ming is again 100% right and a decent SPP sould be a must in your strategy 😉
    For B&W I only use SSP and NIK efex pro and some times a bit of PS but for color images I´m starting to test Helicon Filer 5 with very promissing results.
    What a DP2Q is capable to do has to be seen to be belived !!!: Here you can see my humble attemps to produce artistic expresions ;-):
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmino/

  17. Does that viewfinder on the Quattro fit the LCD of the DP Merrill Series as well?

  18. Several of my art friends and I all bought DP2 Quattros when they dropped down to $499 last year. Having also used the DP2 Merrill extensively, I think the Quattro is the better choice: optimized resolution, better color balance, slightly faster in-camera processing, optional viewfinder accessories, better battery life and screen quality.p…though as Ming said all are sub par to the “modern” camera.

    The battery drain of the Merrill is reason enough for me to avoid picking it up.

    Prices will drop soon.

  19. I own two of the Merrills, the DP2 and the DP3. I also have the original pre Merrill DP1. For those wanting to try these cameras on the cheap, the original cameras are still very good, my DP1 at 50 ISO on a tripod is very impressive. The low ISO doesn’t bother me, reminds me of shooting with low speed Kodachrome or Velvia. With the Merrill series there were those complaining about the ergonomics, RRS sells a great combination of plate and grip. There are other after market grips but most are a bit to small, depending on the size of your hands. There have been comments about the Sigmas not having interchangeable lenses. Having talked to a representative from Sigma I learned that each lens is hand fitted to the camera body. Also, worth mentioning is the leaf shutter, which is essentially makes the camera vibration free and thus contributes to the overall picture quality. Thus there is more than the sensor involved to make the Sigmas great picture taking machine. More credit should be given to the overall purposeful design. A well fitted lens and low vibration are critical to good pictures, perhaps critical to the performance of these cameras. Shutter vibration is something to consider. Some of the most highly regarded cameras are low vibration, the Rolleiflex, Mamiya 7 and Hexar AF. The Rolleiflex and Hexar have fitted lenses. I only keep one lens on my Mamiya 7 and that camera is calibrated for that lens, it matters. I mention this for those who have been critical with Sigma for not offering interchangeable lenses on the DP series. And, of course, easier to incorporate the leaf shutter. Other cameras that I use vibrate enough that I can feel it in the tripod legs, not so with the Sigma DP’s. My experience is those camera with noticeable vibration on a tripod are sometimes best hand held where they are better damped. The person that I talked to at Sigma was located in the US and he was passionate about photography, more so than anyone else that I’ve talked to from other companies, although I’m sure they are there. He was eager to talk photography and not just about the Sigma cameras. Thought it worth a mention.

  20. Alan Gillis says:

    Back in 2012 I found a DP2M shot on flickr that amazed me. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge into Foveon waters, have a look,
    【20120803~4_富士登山】09

    Mountain climbing in Japan, taken by foxfoto_archive that reminded me Ming of your earlier Kodachrome cinematic style. The colour palette and tonal range from the Foveon sensor is astounding. It’s F8 at 100 ISO, and 1/50.

    If only one could get this kind of richness and mystery in a cityscape. But then one is stuck with monochrome with some fruit tossed in. Rarely, is there enough colour and mood, though you’ve nailed it like in your Radio City Music Hall crosswalk of a year ago. Maybe you should try adventure trekking? Or on safari with Ming. Have a jungle handy, nearby? Skip Africa I’d say from experience. Better the jungle you know. Ha!

    • Beautiful. Thanks for posting.

    • Well, that kind of color/tonality requires both cooperative light direction and subject; you don’t often get that. It’s possible to replicate with a conventional sensor, I just haven’t had the opportunities recently. A camera can only replicate/transmit what is already there…

    • Amazing resolution / clarity and detail when you view the large original file. Agree with Ming though…

  21. Kristian Wannebo says:

    This sensor *is* tempting.
    I might want it in the form factor similar to the GR,
    (carrying a couple would then be comfortable enough),
    or as a mirrorless.

    Thanks Ming for your thorough analysis,
    it will keep my GAS comfortably asleep a bit longer.

    • But it would have a shooting envelope like the first GR.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        – – as your analysis made clear! 🙂
        It would be a little like packing a Superikonta 6×6 with Tessar 3.5 loaded with ISO 50.
        ( Say, the first sunny day the ice brakes and collects in sculptures on the beach.)
        And I do also want that all covering shooting envelope in my pocket,
        but I know I never will…the laws of physics!

  22. I love my three Merrills, but they perfectly fit my shooting style: tripod, base ISO and a considered, slow approach. I paid about $400 for each one–an absolute bargain. Only thing that really gets to me is the software. Ming, if you ever figure how to stop the preview image in SPP from disappearing, please let me know.

    • That is a bargain considering what they can do, but also I think reflective of the compromises (which might not matter depending on your shooting style).

      Sorry, no idea with SPP…

  23. Thanks for the interesting review Ming. Thanks for the wonderful and rich images too.

    There were moments back in time I thought these cameras would be mine. The perfect 3-fixed lens compact camera ‘system’ has for years been on my wish list and so has the ‘perfect’ 24-70 f2 image stabilized full frame zoom. The latter would be the answer to all my dreams about the one to go camera with several focals built in.
    When I first time heard about the new Foveon sensor I visualized a camera series much like how the Sony A7 series looks like today. Good grip and EVF etc. It was really a downer when I saw the first images of the design, and it was even a worse downer when I saw how the first SPP iterations dealt with the files.

    That made me buy the DP1, 3 and 3 at a moment they were down to 350/Euro piece tax. excluded.

    Now so many months later I am ready to do the ballet with the tripod and SPP. Just seriously fired up all three of them. I wonder where the tight shooting envelope will take me?

    Meanwhile I am still waiting for the mentioned perfect zoom lens for my D810.

  24. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    My penny for your thoughts, so to say. It looks that Merrils are basicly on the tripod, low ISO, very good lens-sensor idea. What supprises me, is that Sigma being quite innovative company (lenses) , didn`t go the sadly neglected Ricoh GXR design route. They could build body with better and articulated LCD and to keep it simple in a form of cube, that would take separate lens units. Looking at GXR lens modules, one can see that even keeping the sensor cool would be easier too.

    • The GXR should have been bi-modular – body, sensor/mount and then lenses of choice. That way you could have the best of M or M4/3 or whatever else with a matched sensor…too bad they abandoned it.

      • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

        As the matter of fact Ricoh did it with m-mount; body-sensor-lens. You are right, they could make m4/3 module, a one inch one for videos and so on.

    • I have to say that the Merrills are quite usable as handheld cameras. It takes a little planning and anticipation, because the AF is not the fastest, and the camera takes 11 seconds to write an image to a card, but it’s doable, and the majority of my keeper DP3M photos are handheld. Many of them are street candids too, so it’s not all static subjects.

      When I took Ming’s San Francisco Masterclass, I did most of it with the DP3M paired up with the GR. I used the Olympus E-M1 for a day or two because I’d brought it and felt obligated to at least try, but the DP3M and GR combo spoke more to me than the E-M1, and it was almost a chore to use the M1. 4 batteries was just enough to get me through one day, but more prolific shooters may want more. Also don’t forget to get additional chargers, the more batteries you have. I have a really dodgy-looking one from eBay that’s basically 4 3rd party chargers glued together. It hasn’t burned down my house yet …

      The processing is a gigantic PITA (and made me late for a couple of classes …), but the results are really addictive, and there is no substitute until you get to a D810 and very good lenses, like the Zeiss 2/135, 2/25, Otii, or my new favorite, the Nikon 24PCE.

      Put another way, I sold off my m43 system for the D810, and kept the DP3M and GR. It doesn’t hurt that the GR and Merrills share the same batteries too.

      I wish there was a bulb mode and cable release on the DP3M though. That’s really all that’s keeping it from fulfilling its role as a portable MF camera. I see that the Quattros now at least have a cable release, but are still limited to a maximum of 30-second shutter speeds.

      • One more thing: I found it immensely useful to have an LCD magnifier. I use the Kamerar Magview 43, which is cheap, has good optical quality, and fits without interfering with the RRS grip and plate.

      • I do recall you having a lot of trouble seeing what you were composing during our night session though…honestly, low light gain of the LCD is one of the weak points on the Merrill (and Quattro) – biggest limitation for long exposure photography, IMO.

        • Yes, true. I would not advise anyone to try to use Foveons for long exposures at night! Or maybe bring a bright flashlight, too (which is now part of my standard kit).

      • jonathanwatmough says:

        Yes, you can totally photograph children with a DP3M, and get a surprising number of keepers. The file processing workflow is a killer though, but not so bad as long as you simply batch process straight to TIFF.

  25. I think you are being far too friendly on SPP! Iridient is an alternative that some like. That said (having owned 6 different Foveon cameras) I will probably buy the DP0Q just to get a taste of the Quattro and a different focal length.

    • Yes, after a while I may consider trying for a used DP0 Quattro, on the theory that dealing with the software and other oddities drives a lot of people nuts, and a DP0Q is bound to show up in fleaBay in a year or so. I enjoy the Merrills, often grab one when I go out to hike, taking along a tripod – total of 2 kg of gear, which is a lot lighter than my usual.

  26. When I saw what you were reviewing I smiled, because in these days I’m up to get a dp2 Quattro from an auction, and when I did my offer I thought “ok, if I’ll find it too much frustrating, reaching the point of depriving myself of the pleasure of shooting, I’ll send it to Ming, perhaps he will make good use of that!”. And here’s your (as usually great) review. 🙂

    One question, perhaps silly, to you and to the readers already using these “exotic” cameras: what if you convert immediately the Sigma file in a TIFF file and work on it on a different program? Is there also a loss of data, along the loss of time spent in doing it?
    Or some adjustments, such as white balance, exposure, are better done through SPP?

    Thanks in advance, and great review and photos as always!

    • Better to do any adjustments requiring some manipulation of the source data as close to the source as possible, so I’d want to get global white balance and exposure/shadow/highlight recovery as close to final as possible before doing the local manipulations. The problem with SPP is not just speed – there’s no way to put in a color profile, either.

  27. I do not understand Sigma. First of all I do not understand why they have deserted the original concept of recording full colour information at each pixel location. Secondly, do they not have any photographers on the staff to protect the company from imaginining that such an absurd and impractical shapes as the Quattro is ever going to be accepted by many photographers?

    And do they not realise that in terms of AF and battery life and general usability they are in competition with NIkon and Canon, two companies that really know what they are doing in that area. If Nikon or Canon ever decicdes to go with a multi-layer chip then I expect that the Foveon, and Sigma’s experiments with it, will be doomed (if they are not doomed already – in the long term). Perhaps then they’d concentrate instead on adding weather-proofing to their best Nikon and Canon fit lenses?

    I use a SIgma SD1 and as I rareley need anything faster than 400 ASA I am quite happy with it. Nevertheless, even here SIgma does not seem capable of joined up thinking. The body is tough and weather sealed, yet Sigma makes no weather sealed lenses, and appears to have no plans to do so. How stupid is that? Even more stupid than a “professional camera” that takes on a single card, and a CF card at that. [Well it claims to be “professional” but I am pretty sure that it would not survive a four-feet drop onto concrete and cary on working, with just a few cosmetic scratches, as my brick of a Canon 1Ds ii N recently did]

    The temptation to just go with the mainstream and a Nikon D800 for almost indistinguishable image quality and much greater versatility is always a temptation.

    And yes, as an amateur I don’t mind converting my raw files to TIFFs in SPP. I am a programmer so it is easy for me to automate their processing in batches of 50 or so. [Not more as that sems to make SPP crash] and run it overnight. But if I were photographing for a living the workflow would be intolerable. Ther is obviously a lot of cleve code and hard work embodied in SPP, but we have become used to the excellence and reliability of Adobe’s products, and that is what SIgma have to match if they hope to attract enough converts to keep developing the multi-layer chip.

    • Sorry about all the typos, but there seems to be no way to edit my post!

    • You’d probably tell the difference between the D800 (or 810) the minute you go over ISO 200 🙂

      Leaving things to batch process overnight is really not an option. Especially for only 50 images – that should take no more than an hour to an hour and a half from end to end.

      • Common sense tells me that the D800 would do everything I could possibly want adn give me all the resolution I could possibly need. In the days of film I used Nikons (FMs, FM2s, an F3 and an F100 amongst others) and enjoyed every one.

        Re processing 50 images in SPP, I did not explain myself very well!! I process hundreds of images overnight. However I use some simple software I have written to process them in b ches of 50 at a time, stopping and starting SPP between batches, as I have found that SPP invariably crashes if I just throw my whole day’s shooting at it. It usually manages to get through batches of 50 with no problems.

    • The Quattro is still recording full color information at each pixel – it’s just averaged underneath, but can be de-averegaed and the top layer responding to all wavelengths mitigates that as an issue. It’s still very different from a bayer design where at every photosite you are throwing away all but a narrow band of light that reaches you; the Quattro is still making use of all the incoming light without filtering any out.

      Sigma does make a few weather sealed lenses – the 120-300 is, I think the Sport version of the new 150-600 is also. It could be that’s a distinguishing feature of the Sport line which would need weather sealing more than the other lenses.

      For the times when I want greater versatility, I use an iPhone. Nothing wrong with using a mix of gear, some of which is more special purpose than others. I also do bring along an SD-1 with a longer lens (70-200) when traveling to some particularly scenic locations, I find that paired with two DP cameras makes for a pretty compact travel kit I can easily bring as carryon in pretty much any airplane.

  28. Great review and photos! I own the DP2 Merrill, and while I find landscape shots to be spectacular, even without a tripod, portraits are sometimes disappointing with weird skin tones as someone already commented. Also low light parts of a picture have sometimes color artifacts, so you can’t lift up the shadows much. B&W is spectacular though, but I’m a bit tired to be forced to B&W in average light situations. I considered the Quattro to get the same kind of quality, but with better skin tones. And it seems a bit faster to operate, that’s also a plus. I also considered replacing the Merrill with a Sony RX1R, in hope of not losing too much in terms of details, and I would have access to high ISO and (limited) video. Would you have any thoughts on that ? I think you “played” with the RX1/RX1R, you think the Merrill / Quattro is really far ahead ?

  29. Frank Nürnberger says:

    The cat shot is extremely well done. If you would have told me that is a rather unknown shot by Cartier-Bresson, I would have wonderer why this masterpiece wasn’t known more widely. Also, I’d be amazed that HCB would have a shot with such a high technical quality 🙂

  30. Thank You Ming for great review.
    Did not try Quattro, but as an owner of DP2 Merrill, I find a lot of similarities in the two. DP2M also has the flare issue. But the bigger issue for me is that I have no idea how to get skin tones right in natural light. 90% of the time, even in bright light, where any phone camera or DSLR gets it right, DP2M gets it some kind of greenish. And I don’t even speak about the results in high contrast situations (would be perfect Walking Dead camera, almost no need for actor’s makeup). Any tips on that anyone?

    • This is one of the biggest limitations with the workflow: there is no way to profile the camera and have the color adjustments made automatically, other than to keep one fixed set of settings for the conversion, then apply a PS/ACR action. All of this of course takes time and results in extra (possibly lossy) data manipulation…

    • I have both the DP2M and the DP2Q, the DP2Q gets skin tones better than the DP2M out of camera. The DP2M can do pretty well if you use a custom white balance, and also the Neutral color mode (the default I think is Standard).

    • Color rendering is the primary reason to go for a Quattro over Merrill. Even the DP3M had more natural skin rendering than the DP2M, but with the DP2Q I don’t worry about the green tint anymore. Set the DP2Q to Portrait mode and you will also have lower micro contrast and more delicate transitions so you don’t add 10 years to the age of your models.

  31. I am feeling that the FOVEON system sits in an drawer, and never gets out there! Fine with me!

  32. Chris Searle says:

    A great, well balanced review. Foveon so polarises opinion that I’ve become used to seeing damning/dismissive reviews followed by trollish comments from infuriated owners. As a fan of the DP2M and the DP3M I’m disappointed that the image quality has not really been significantly improved, particularly in view of the price that it is now possible to obtain a Merrill for. It would be extremely difficult to live with any Merrill as your sole camera but as an adjunct to a DSLR and/or a mirrorless I find them unbeatable when ultimate resolution is required.

  33. Wonderful review Ming and great images! Thank You!

  34. Great review. I am very tempted by these cameras and the Merrills now that they are cheap. The workflow issues as you describe though really eliminate these as a choice for me as a work camera. As a hobby camera though I am still intrigued by the matched lens/sensor concept and want to give it a try. Your example images are selling me on it too (the colours are rendering beautifully) but methinks most of the image quality is coming from the thing holding the camera and not the camera itself 😉

    • I can say for sure that there’s less PP in these than normal, simply because of workflow flexibility/ limitations and time…color awareness and ability to profile or preset is one thing sorely missing from SPP. Also, my tripod must be quite talented because I didn’t hold it most of the time – it really isn’t the sort of shape that encourages that… 🙂

  35. A good overview, though a correction is that the top layer is NOT blue. It responds most strongly to blue (really blue/green) but is recording some values for pretty much the whole visible spectrum of light – the lower layers respond to visible wavelengths differently, the middle one most strongly to green, the lowest one to red – but they too record the visible spectrum. It’s the relative measurements of the layers working together that give you a final color, with the fact the top layer records luminance differences for all wavelengths being the reason why you can still get single pixel detail from the camera.

    SPP is slow for editing single images. What I’ve done to work around that is to do mass adjustments using the Batch Edit tool – you say you can’t really do batch adjustments, but what you can do is to rough adjustments based on the preview images like, say lowering exposure to recover highlights and applying Fill Light (I never use +0.3 for fill light myself because the effects are too strong). Batch Edits save all changes into the X3F file (changing scores of images in just a few seconds), then you can batch save the whole lot of them in one go with all custom adjustments applied, and bring the generated TIFF files into Aperture or Lightroom for final editing. That makes more sense anyway since SPP does not do cropping or rotation – fundamentally it was only ever meant to be used for raw conversion, not to produce finished images.

    You can always go in and apply further edits to individual images if the initial adjustments are not quite right.

    I’ve always thought the DP cameras would make excellent additions to a camera kit that included a DSLR – you can use it like a prime lens and a spare by in a pinch. Or as you say you can use them in sets – I’ve travelled a lot with the DP-1 and DP-3 cameras (in various iterations) and the combination has been really excellent.

    I have often done the same the same thing Andre mentioned before where I convert the AEL button to focus lock, that way I can carefully focus once, lock focus and shoot a number of images without worrying about re-focusing. Focus lock is disengaged any time you turn off the camera or make adjustments to things like ISO, so it’s not like you’ll forget it is on.

    Personally after a lot of use I love the shape of the Quattro, to me it feels very nice and I really like how secure it feels in my hand when I’m carrying it at my side.

    • The top layer is not blue? I suppose that would explain how light makes it through the other layers, but isn’t exactly what Sigma is claiming.

      Each photographic situation is different (moreso with something where you are only chasing image quality like the Quattro) so batch processing doesn’t make sense since you’re going to land up making more individual edits anyway; it was faster just to have default settings that get you 90% of the way there 60% of the time and tweak as required.

      • Sigma simplifies things in describing how the camera captures information, like I said the individual layers are most sensitive at Blue/Green/Red respectively – but it’s really hard to understand the math involved when what you get is a mix of results for all three layers.

        The easier way to think about it is the closer to red the incoming wavelength is, the better chance it has to make it deeper into the sensor. So while most red light will make it pretty deep, seem will not – that’s what the top layer senses. Most blue light will not make it past the top – but some will, so even at the bottom some of that will get through.

        They actually do allude to this in Quattro materials where they carefully talk about Top/Middle/Bottom layers, instead of “Blue/Green/Red” layers for example…

        Batch processing actually makes sense for even a single image, if you know what kinds of settings you want. For instance I know I want to recover highlights in a particular image I can see from the review is over-exposed, I go down about a stop, perhaps add +0.1 fill light. (that’s a very common batch edit I do for any image from a shoot that seems over-exposed). Then after the resulting image is exported I import into Aperture, and if it’s too dark I can just bring the exposure back up as needed.

        Or say I accidentally left custom white balance on when I had changed locations, I can quickly convert the white balance to auto in a following image. It’s much faster that opening even just a single image because of the load time before you can change settings.

      • Sigma’s top layer is indeed more sensitive to short wavelengths, however compared with typical Bayer blue filtration it is broadly sensitive. Its peak sensitivity is at 430nm (violet) but the relative sensitivity at 600nm (warm yellow) is still 40%! The middle layer is even more remarkable, being nearly panchromatic, with a soft peak around 510nm green, and sloping below 30% only in the violet range! Here is Sigma’s own chart of the spectral response at the 3 layers:

        For comparison are typical Bayer RGB spectral response curves, these being from the Red Epic Dragon sensor:

  36. Well written again.
    For me the Merrills still out do the Quattros, and the Quattros are good…my opinion 😉 ….. but we are spoiled in todays photographic world with todays technology. It’s a shame that the tech geeks have no vision with such a plethora of cameras which are all good, but serve different purposes.
    So pick your tool and go shoot the world. Cheers.

    • Thanks.

    • The Quattro lose that Foveon look is what i read on DigiLloyd’s review. In trying to increase ISO among other things, the compromise is the full use of the Foveon Sensor. The Quattro is now more like a Bayer sensor camera. I like the Merrills much better. I’ve seen compared files of Quattro and Merrills, and the Merrill cameras had more detail.

      • They do lose the Foveon ‘look’. But they’re not quite Bayered, either – I suppose somewhere in the middle is probably closer to reality.

        • I wouldn’t trade the Merrill for the Quattro. I want the whole Foveon look. The Quattro IMO is not so much improved in performance enough for me to abandon Full Foveon sensor and its massive detail. I saw the difference in DigiLloyd’s shots between the two cameras and there is a big difference in the files to me. Plus the Quattro is so ugly in its design, I would never buy one for that reason as well. Now if it shot like a Ricoh GR with its snap focus and all of the other lovely features, looked like the Ricoh, but had a Foveon sensor in it? Well then, I would buy one. 🙂 I just didn’t like what happened to the Foveon sensor or design of the camera. The DP Merrill is the sweet spot for me. I don’t care that the batteries don’t last as I have extras, and I shoot slow enough with this camera, and all the aggravation with SPP is still absolutely worth it to me. What I love about your review is that you explain this in the beginning, and you nailed it. Fo some photographers the picture is the final vote and whatever I have to do to get results so lovely as with the DP Merrill cameras, then I will do it. I am stunned overtime by the results just as I am aggravated, but I tell ya, the results are so stunning that it trumps the aggravation every time. I hope everyone stays away from the Merrill and buys into the Quattro. I like having the Foveon all to myself. LOL!

  37. Interesting read! I was tempted by this when it came out, but I figured that it would have to be a definite improvement on the Merrill to convince me. Well, I’m not convinced, and your very reasonable analysis of the Quattro bolsters what I already thought. Plus now that there is (even a little) interpolation going on, it feels in that way like a step back. I’m still stunned by what my DP3 Merrill gives me, and it doesn’t seem to be worth an upgrade for (if I’m reading your review right) a marginal improvement in IQ and no real difference in handling / post-processing. If I really want to be able to do that with decent battery life and ISO, then your review also makes it clear what the options are…which is to say, somewhat expensive! Ah well, quality costs…

    • Probably not. Having used the DP3, I think the only thing the Quattros gain are a bit of battery life and perhaps another stop of ‘high’ ISO – not really good reasons to spend the money, IMO.

      • I’ve also used both, I think there is more gain than that – the gains I see (in addition to what you mentioned) are:
        * Much better rear LCD (higher resolution and better color)
        * Much faster writing times with a fast card (which means even with the same size buffer you get more shots before the buffer fills)
        * Digital Level (ok that’s not a big deal, but still useful at times).
        * Colors out of camera using AutoWB are more pleasing.
        * JPG from camera much more directly usable (sharper and closer to what you get from RAW conversion).

        Also a possible benefit that I’ve yet to see anyone explore is that the Quattro has an in-camera RAW converter. Using a combination of in camera settings for things like tone control (wider dynamic range) and overexposure would be interesting to see how they fare compared to SPP producing images.

        • Compared to the previous Merrills, I agree. The problem is compared to the DSLR and mirrorless competition – the LCD is still worse, writing times are still forever, and digital levels are standard. You’re probably not going to be shooting JPEG or using in-camera conversion if you’re going to bother using one of these though – it defeats the point of buying one to chase ultimate image quality.

      • Exactly. But please, everyone, don’t buy the Merrill cameras. they are so difficult to use. 😉 😉

  38. Ming,
    Great review. I agree, there is something very seductive about that level of image quality.

    • Thanks. The problem is there are easier ways to get there – but not necessarily cheaper. Perhaps a second hand D800E should have been thrown into the equation…

      • I love Nikon but hate carrying around all that gear. I am older and like to carry lightweight equipment. I’m not a pro, just a happy enthusiast. For me, the lovely D800E with its lovely design and rapid fire is overkill. Now, if I were getting paid on a regular basis, I’d buy Nikon or even Phase One, but because I am not, and am older, I love the light weight of the gear. I do wish they had viewfinders. I am tempted to buy a Hoodman Loop or if there is a nicer style loop for these, I’d like to know. (For the DP Merrills).

  39. Very interesting, well-considered review of a rather … complicated camera, Ming. Sometimes, as an avid DP3M user, it feels like Sigma is daring us to like their camera by adding more thorns to it. I think the straw that broke my camel’s back is that funky form factor. If they’d left it a brick, I might have been tempted, because at least it was a small brick and you could attach things to it to make it easier to handle.

    On the DP3M, I use the AF-L function on the back so the AF is locked to some distance, and then I recompose. That’s about as close as I could make it come to disassociating AF from the shutter button. The 9 distinct, non-movable AF points are annoying too, but they are very accurate — far more than any other camera I’ve used, especially considering the focal length.

    • Thanks Andre. Sometimes the camera won’t focus at all – especially if light levels are anything much worse than average home-at-night levels. AF-L is the only reliable solution I’ve found too.

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