Sigma DP2 Merrill Review: Clumsy Body, Beautiful Sensor

Illustration for article titled Sigma DP2 Merrill Review: Clumsy Body, Beautiful Sensor

Sigma is better known for its camera lenses than its cameras. But the company also makes a ridiculously strong imaging technology—the semi-legendary Foveon X3 image sensor. The Sigma DP2 Merrill is Sigma's latest attempt to mobilize this sensor in a camera. Can it crush?

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What Is It?

A compact $1000 camera with a 23.5 × 15.7mm Foveon X3 image sensor and a 30mm fixed lens.

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Who's it For?

Fussy photographers who sweat the details of their images.

Design

A big, black, rectangular block with a lens hanging off. The on-body controls are minimal.

Illustration for article titled Sigma DP2 Merrill Review: Clumsy Body, Beautiful Sensor

Using It

The Sigma DP2 Merrill is best used in semi-automatic modes, like aperture priority, with the autofocus turned on. It's designed to be used in fully-manual modes, but the LCD's crap quality makes a guessing game out of manually focusing and fully controlling exposure.

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The Best Part

Unloading a day's worth of photographs onto your computer, only to realize that they're beautiful. This camera's guts are impeccably designed.

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Tragic Flaw

Its body—the weak LCD, the limited controls, the generally unpolished construction—will almost certainly get in your way.

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This Is Weird...

The three-inch LCD looks terrible in spite of a its high resolution—920,000 pixels!

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Illustration for article titled Sigma DP2 Merrill Review: Clumsy Body, Beautiful Sensor

Test Notes

  • So what's so special about the camera's Foveon X3 image sensor? It's the same APS-C size as cheap DSLRs like the Canon T4i and sweet mirrorless cameras like Sony's NEX line. But the DP2 Merrill has 46-megapixels (sort of). It's really just three 15.4-megapixel layers stacked on top of each other—one layer of photodiodes for each of the primary colors.
  • True to its design, the image sensor's color rendition is impeccable. Photos taken at ISO 800 or lower are noise free. This lens is sharp.
  • On the other hand, the camera's image quality falls apart at high ISO.
  • The camera's battery is only good for 50-60 photos, which is very low compared to basically every other camera on the market.
  • The DP2 Merrill is compact and lightweight, but it won't fit in your pocket. Strolling around with it hanging from a neck, tourist-style, is quite enjoyable—it's ideally suited for street photography.
  • This sensor is also available in the DP1 Merrill, a 50mm fixed lens version.

Should You Buy It?

Probably not. The DP2 and DP1 Merrill are Sigma's second try at building a compact vehicle for a Foveon X3 sensor, and this camera still feels very much like a concept. The imaging technology is incredible, but the box it's inside of isn't quite there yet. For this price, that's a big compromise.

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This camera will make some pixel-peeping nerds very happy, but most people will probably be frustrated with its usability. That said, if Sigma keeps improving this concept, we've got a lot to look forward to in the future.

Sigma DP2 Merrill Specs

• Price: $1000
• Sensor: 46-megapixel Foveron X3 (23.5 × 15.7mm)
• Lens: $1000 Sigma 30mm/ f/2.8
• Max ISO: 6400
• Image: Up to 4,704 × 3,136 (x3) pixels
• Video: 640 x 480 @ 30 fps
• Screen: 920,000 dot, 3-inch LCD
• Weight: 11.6 ounces w/o battery
Gizrank: 3

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DISCUSSION

Seems like a very accurate review. The pictures look fantastic but for $1000, I'd want something more polished than a black plastic box with a fixed lens and a crappy LCD.

For $1000, we are looking at DSLRs and plenty of APS-C or micro-four-thirds cameras that will also produce amazing photos, and be 100x less clunky. At $1000, we're talking Canon 60D or a Sony NEX-6. Both are arguably the best cameras you can get at this price point. Both have an APS-C sensor, both have interchangeable lenses, both have a better processor, better LCD display, better features, accessories, very high build quality, etc.

I couldn't justify buying any other camera for $1000 when these two cameras exist, let alone a clunky plastic box.

Edit: I guess I should also mention the Nikon D7000, which is about $1000 for the body, also a great choice.