Stonesteps sunset

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sigma DP-2 Merrill

I am not going to even try to hide my envy. We have gone over this before. Kip has the best toys around. Bike, stereo, camera, he is a truly discriminating chap. Not only that, he is taller, richer, thinner and smarter than I am. In short he really pisses me off.

Kip's latest acquisition, not made without a considerable amount of mental agony and soul searching, is the new Sigma DP-2 Merrill camera. I don't talk a lot about tech stuff on the blog but this camera rates a mention. It is like a Frankenstein's monster that should never have been born.

Imagine an ugly duckling of a camera that looks like a point and shoot, comes packed with dreadfully buggy software, takes 10 seconds to write to a card, can't be practically handheld, has crappy battery life, lacks a flash, has a fixed focal length lens and can't shoot very well in low light. Raw files are huge, 45 to 55mb behemoths. Most sane people would run the other way. But this camera was made by some really sick minds. Imagine taking three 15.6 megapixel Foveon sensors and stacking them together, giving you a 48 meg beast that shoots like a ridiculously expensive medium format camera.

Sigma has done just that with the three cameras in this series. This one comes with a 30mm f/2.8 lens equivalent to 45mm focal length in a dslr. The line was named Merrill for Richard Merrill, one of the inventors of the sensor technology, along with Dick Lyon and Carver Mead.

Kip brought the camera to our Saturday morning photo group meeting at the coffee shop. Reardon was explaining and demoing his Larry Vogel six part workflow with the Nik filters for the group and Kip and Tom were a-b testing the new Sigma.

Let me just say that this camera is beyond impressive. You can read the reviews in Luminous Landscape here. The level of detail and color saturation is freaky. This camera originally sold for just under 10k, they evidently forced it on some dealers who couldn't sell it due to its inherent limitations and had to dump them. Now it sells for around eight hundred bucks.

Kip didn't need to do this. He already had the killer Leica with the ridiculous .95 lens.

We did a test, taking pictures of the same headlamp with my Nikon 7000 and the Sigma. While there was a little chop to his image, the level of detail and saturation was far greater. And it turns out that it was on some sort of reduced RAW setting (there are three of them and it is difficult to dial in the largest RAW setting), the Sigma ostensibly had one arm tied behind its back.

The Sigma photo is to the left, Nikon on the right. Note the paint deformation that is captured by the Sigma that fails to register with my camera and the incredible richness of the yellow.

Now this was a seat of the pants a-b, we could have been much more scientific and made sure that apertures and speeds and iso's were matched. I would like to be more precise in my comparison next chance that I get.  But to say that I was impressed is an understatement.

After he found out that he wasn't even in the full RAW mode he sent this image along last night.

Frankly, the level of detail in the images produced by this camera are well, freakish. I went online and saw some of the photographs that are being created with this beast and they are stunning, on the order of Hasseblad or Mamiya's. This is a camera for geeks if there ever was one.

This camera's deficiencies have been well described and duly noted. If you are willing to put up with them I think that the rewards outweigh them in spades. Kip, you did it again.


Michael Cartwright said...

Thanks for the heads-up on this article, Robert. I'll look forward to visiting Luminous Landscape to read more about the camera. The A/B comparison shots of the headlight were really something. The Nikon's no slouch, but in comparison to the Merrill it looked like it was just calling in its effort. It appears camera technology isn't yet through with us.

Anonymous said...

Hi Robert,

The photo differences you illustrated in your Blast were phenomenal. I know the hawk photo used a lens but do you think the damage could have been to your camera to make such a difference in the same two photos at ostensibly the same time?

Just asking because there was such a major difference.


Blue Heron said...

No it wasn't on the lens when it took the spill. The difference is a 46 mb Fovean versus the standard Bayer sensor. I will say that there were more artifacts in his shot. But it is one fucking unreal camera/piece of junk.



Anonymous said...


A further discovery--upon closer inspection, the paint "defects" revealed in the Sigma photo but not discernible in the Nikon photo were actually reflections of a light stand and power line above the car. Again, I'm simply amazed at the resolution of this sensor.