Sigma DP-1 Merrill Verdict

May 08, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I’ll be packing up and sending back the Sigma DP-1 Merrill later today. I’ve given it a pretty good trial and while there’s much to admire it’s clear that it’s not the camera for me.

Before my final thoughts, just a codicil to my comment in the previous post about chromatic aberration. Here’s a slice of the image I referred to, at 100%:
Grab14-16
The colour fringing on those twigs should be really obvious, and it’s possibly the worst I’ve seen in any image I’ve ever run through Lightroom… but is it in fact chromatic aberration (i.e. a lens issue) or could it be a result of the unique design of the Foveon sensor?

Fringe issues

I haven’t discussed this in detail, and don’t intend to now: Sigma’s own site gives plenty of info on this. But in a nutshell, ‘normal’ sensors use a matrix of receptors sensitive to red, green or blue light, all in the same plane. The Foveon sensor, on the other hand, has a three-layer structure which is more akin to traditional film.

Chromatic aberration means that the lens is failing to focus light of different colours at exactly the same distance, and can therefore lead to coloured fringes. But Sigma is one of the world’s best lens makers, and I really wouldn’t expect CA to anything like this degree, especially as the lens is a prime (28-mm equivalent) and not a zoom. But because the sensor has three layers, light striking this at an angle might not be recorded in exactly the same place.

If this is the explanation, then I think it should be easily corrected in post-processing, or even in-camera in the case of JPEG images. Sigma’s PhotoPro software does do this, but the setting is easily overlooked and I’m a little surprised it isn’t enabled automatically.

Overall verdict

Actually, software issues are – as I’ve already suggested – one of the reasons why this camera is not the answer to my hunt for a pocketable camera that still delivers great quality.

Yes, the DP-1 can deliver excellent image quality, though Sigma’s claims that it is equivalent to 46 megapixels, or that it is superior to ‘normal’ sensors as found in most DSLRs don’t stack up for me. Sharpness and recording of fine detail are excellent – competitive with DSLRs of the same sensor size if not superior – but to me dynamic range performance is equally important, if not more so, and here the Foveon sensor does not measure up to my Nikon D600, or the D7100 I’ve been using. Quality also falls off more sharply at higher ISOs than it does with the SLRs.

Still, used carefully, excellent results are possible, but I don’t have the patience. Waiting 15 seconds before I can check the histogram for an image is a pain, and running every image through Sigma’s clunky software before I can open it in Lightroom is even more so.

Another real black mark against the camera is the lack of an eye-level viewfinder. Obviously you can’t have a reflex finder in a camera as compact as this, but a decent electronic viewfinder is perfectly possible. I don’t think it would need to make the camera significantly bigger or heavier either; other makers have managed to produce cameras with an APS-size sensor and an EVF in a smaller body.

One final problem is the truly woeful battery life. Even turning the screen display off between whiles does not help much.

So, sorry Sigma – and many thanks for the loan – but if you would like me to buy a camera like this, or recommend it to anyone else, you need to fix at least three of these four issues:
(lack of) viewfinder;
operational speed;
battery life;
(lack of) direct Lightroom support

Get somewhere with those and I could be really interested in trying a Mk2 version.


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