Cameras

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 mobilise this sensor in a camera. Can it crush?

What Is It?

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

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.

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.

The Best Part

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

Tragic Flaw

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

This Is Weird…

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

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 EOS 650D and sweet mirrorless cameras like Sony’s NEX line. But the DP2 Merrill has 46 megapixels (sort of). It’s really just three 15.4MP layers stacked on top of each other — one layer of photodiodes for each of the primary colours.
  • True to its design, the image sensor’s colour 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.

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: $950 RRP in Australia
• Sensor: 46MP Foveron X3 (23.5mm x 15.7mm)
• Lens: Sigma 30mm f/2.8
• Max ISO: 6400
• Image: Up to 4704×3136 (x3) pixels
• Video: 640×480 @ 30fps
• Screen: 920,000 dot, 3-inch LCD
• Weight: 329g w/o battery


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