Sigma DP2 Merrill

Everyone who has used a DSLR or a Professional SLR will know that they are big, heavy and often garner surprised reactions when they are pointed at someone. I personally also get quite frustrated at the changing of lenses and I prefer to have a fixed focal length (also called prime lenses) over zoom lenses. In the days of fim you could buy some really nice and small SLR cameras like the old Olympus OM series or the Pentax LX series - even my Nikon F3 is very small by our current standards. Alas you cannot today get a good digital camera is a very small form factor - or can you?

About 4 years ago I bought a camera called a Sigma DP1 as it was quirky and promised great picture quality, even if it had only aorund 4 mega pixels. It kind of did deliver on the promise, but it was a complete pain in the backside to deal with. It was almost great, but like a lot of "almost" things, there were too many negatives to get around. It still sits at the back of a drawer here. I got a few very nice photos out of it, and one remains as the wallpaper on my iPad. 

Fast forward to today and Sigma obviously has listened to a) those looking for top of the range results from a small camera and b) those who simply got frustraed by what could have been with the old DP1. In comes the new Sigma DP 1 and DP2 Merril. The very cool Foveon (look it up, I cannot be bothered typing out all the details) now has 15 real megapixels (area) driven by 45 million photo sensors - so so one sensor each for R, G and B at least site. This is fabulous - the best sensor now in a small body. Add on a lens that is engineered for the camera and has a reasonable rating of f2.8 and you have a potential winner.

Not a thing of beauty, but actually it is a very simple and well made design. So I give it a thumbs up for design and construction. Since the sensor is an APS-C size, the 30mm lens delivers a "standard" 50mm equivalent. Is it sharp? It is unbelievable! I have never seen files as good as these out of anything less than my US$7,000 Canon EOS1Ds Mark III camera. And it fits in a pocket - ok, a big pocket, but still a pocket. The AF actually works - there is a trick to is, but I get consistently good results from it. The colours are simply stunning and the detail is amazing. The files themselves are 44MB in size for RAW, so there is a lot of detail there.

However, that file size gives a clue to the biggest issue with this camera - the speed to process a capture and the battery life. Files the size of these take tiem, and the DP2 does take lots of that to process and save. Additionally all the effort required chews up the batteries very quickly - in fact you will be luck to get 90-100 frames out of one battery. No small wonder that Sigma includes an extra battery in the packaging. Overall not a huge issue - I don't go blazing away with mine and haven't noticed any real issues. I have a totla of 6 batteries for the 2 x DP cameras I have and that gets me through a day of shooting.

There is one very painful thing about the whole experience that is not even due to the physical camera itself. That is the processing of the RAW files. Since the Foveon sensor is so unique, these files are not supported by either Lightroom or Aperture, so you need to use the simply dreadful Sigma Photo Pro engine to convert them into JPG or TIFF output for further work. It is a pain. While the software is actually reasonably good at what it does, I ahve no interest in learning yet another piece of complex software having mastered Lightroom and Aperture. PLEASE SIGMA WORK WITH THESE VENDORS TO SUPPORT YOUR CAMERA. I would LOVE this camera if I could do the RAW processing in Lightroom and feel the results would be even more incredible than I already get. Currently I decode the RAW and use a standard (read bland) set of parameters to porcess into TIFF files that I then take into Aperture to finish off and archive.

So would I recommend it? Well yes, but not to someone for a "point and shoot" type of camera. I use it to replace something like a Hasselblad (yes it is that good) as a slow walk around camera. It makes a wonderful travel camera, but not a good street camera as it is too slow on getting it all together to take the photo. Take a look at these shots as evidence that you can really get amazing quality from a small and unobtrusive camera….

I got mine at Map Camera in Shinjuku and will soon be buying the matching DP3 with the 75mm equiv, lens.


Pumpkins in Asakusa


Fabrics in Nezu


Unhappy curtain in Asakusa


Tori at the Inari Shrine in Nezu




Flowers in Yutenji


Happy Hana on her first day in Japan


Bar stools in Naka Meguro


Children crossing


Used prayer sticks, Kyoto


Coins, Arashiyama, Kyoto


Leaf, Kyoto


Last leaf, Kamakura


Old bike. Kamakura


Fresh sake sign, Kamakura


Plates for sale. Hong Kong.

© David Runacres 2014