I’ve been recently looking into upgrading my camera. I had a Sony NEX-5N and was pleased with it as a small compact camera (having previously owned larger DSLR like the Canon 5D.) One day on a trip I was caught in a windstorm and dust and dirt filled my Sony NEX t the point that it has never been operational since.
Why Sigma DP3-Merrill?
I was considering a variety of cameras, then I came across this image:
If you zoom in to 100% you’ll see amazing detail. In fact at 100% here’s a crop from that image taken by photographer Kazua.
Quality Examples (from Flickr)
When I first saw the above image, I was thrilled. There was an edge to edge detail and 100% crop quality I had not seen in digital images. It was clean. So I looked for more images taken with the Sigma DP3-Merrill… and I found these (click to go to flickr, once there click to zoom in 100%):
In the above shots, you’ll notice an unreal and magical quality of detail. There is a sharpness that is edge to edge. Typically with other camera bodies we would see a slew of “what lens are you using?” But with the Sigma DP series, it has only 1 lens. The DP3 Merrill is a 75mm equivalent, f/2.8. What we can safely say about the images above, they are great examples of what the camera can do.
It is true that the photographer is a large part of quality level. However, see for yourself. Search Flickr for “Sigma DP3 Merrill” and sort it however you wish. You’ll see a variety of shots from different people. Even the “ho hum” quality is a shot above the best digital cameras on the market today.
The Bad Side of Sigma
The camera is not without it’s faults. While it produces an amazing image, the negative reviews out there point out several key problems:
- Slow: It’s incredibly slow to take a shot
- Slow: It takes about 10 sec to save a shot to disk
- Slow: Burst mode can take 4 shots per second, but when you’re done it takes about 30+seconds to save all the images to disk
- Raw file is not readable by 3rd party software (must use Sigma software)
- Low Light quality is poor
- Any ISO above 400 will look bad in color
- Difficult to impossible to take any action shots (sports, kids running around, birds in flight, etc.)
- Poor battery life (estimated 80 shots per charge.)
Some of those complaints are pretty bad. Not being able to get a clean shot above 400 ISO reminds me of my first DSLR (an old Nikon that got noisy at 400.) I couldn’t do low light photography in color… But I did find a work around… I would shoot high ISO in black and white, or I would shoot with a wide lens. In the case of Sigma, you would have to buy another camera body to get a wide lens.
Sigma’s marketing would require a person to buy 2 or more cameras. The Sigma DP1 Merrill is a wide angle, suitable for photography, but lacking in the detail you would see in the DP3 Merrill. People photography tends to be lacking on the DP1, but it gets some great wide angle shots in landscape. The DP2 is a 50mm equivalent. The DP3 is the nice 75mm portrait/closeup lens.
Currently you can get a new Sigma DP1 Merrill or DP3 Merrill for about $699 each.
I really haven’t found a camera body that’s sensors can replicate the detail and color depth of the Sigma Merrill series cameras. The closest I could find would be:
- Sony RX-1 ($2700)
- Ricoh GR ($600)
The Sony RX-1 is pretty expensive. I was a bit surprised at its price range and I’m not quite sure why it’s so expensive. It seems to out price their A7 series.
The Ricoh GR is priced slightly lower than the Sigma DP3 Merrill.
Both the RX-1 and the GR are without the many faults listed on the Sigma DP3… Meaning, they handle low light situations much better, shoot with less noise in high ISO, video is of high quality, fast action in shutter response as well as saving files to disk, Sony is known for having wifi file transfer as well. Sony also has in their cameras all the creature comforts of specialty modes to take shots with special processing.
Between the two of them, the RX1 is definitely the stronger contender. Its images were closer to what the Sigma DP3 Merrill can obtain… of course the RX-1 has advantages in low light and with faster moving scenes, etc. But in the same studio or well lit scene, the DP3 appears to me to have much more detail and color depth.
Here are some sample RX-1 and GR shots. Zoom in to 100% and see the quality difference. I tried to capture images of similar style. I grabbed landscapes, portraits and b/w.
Low Light Comparison
Sigma DP3 Merrill Low Light
Sigma DP3 Merrill
I couldn’t find much action shots on Flickr for this camera… probably due to it’s poor ability to auto focus fast enough for quickly changing scenes.
Similarly to the Sigma, I couldn’t find many action shots taken by the RX-1 on Flickr.
Sigma DP3 Merrill
The DP3 has a slew of awesome macro photos.
It appears the focal length of the RX-1 doesn’t lend to great macro shots.
After looking at countless images… I think the Sigma DP3-Merrill has one of the best sensors around. It comes at a cost in performance. You get less battery life (80 or so pictures per charge), slow responsiveness in the action, as well as the saving to disk, less video quality than other cameras on the market… and any shot over 400 ISO tends to suffer noise.
However, in bright scenes, or in studios – the quality that the DP3 creates really can’t be beat.
The Sony RX-1 is a close runner up. But it costs about 3x the amount of a DP3 currently. The RX-1 Also seems to have issues with fast action (I can’t find anyone really photographing fast scenes well), and it also seems to be limited with a poor macro capability.
The RX-1 also has a classic quality to other CMOS sensors when it comes to variations of green. Take a look at this crop:
The picture to the left was from a RX-1 image on Flickr. Notice how the greens are soft and somewhat merge and mix with each other? I’ve had this problem with my old Nikon CCD sensor DSLR, my Canon 5D and my Sony NEX-5N. It’s a classic problem with digital cameras.
It’s not “BAD” but it’s not as good as a performer as the Sigma seems to be.
There is also a softness to the 100% view of a shot from the RX-1.
Low light / high ISO, I thought the RX-1 was ok, but performed less than the Ricoh GR. Considering the price tag on the RX-1… I’m not sure I’d go for it as it had a few drawbacks the other two in this test didn’t have.
Overall the image quality of the Ricoh GR was below that of the Sony RX-1… and far below the Sigma DP-3 Merrill. But it did out perform in low light. It also seemed to handle action better. It did ok with landscape and reproduced colors nicely – yet it just had that overall “soft” feeling when compared against the DP3.
My goal was to show the greatest potential of shots (taken from highly skilled photographers) on each camera. But I also included some handheld travel style snap shots. I wanted to get a good idea of what is possible with each camera from a low skill level to a high skill level. I avoided images that appeared to be post processed.
In the end, I have to say that if I were needing a camera for studio work (models, clothing, merchandise, food photography) I would probably go with the Sigma DP3 Merrill. It seemed to out perform.
For landscape, the Sigma DP series seems to do well there too. It isn’t until there is a low light condition that the DP series starts to fall short. Quality color shots must be under 400 ISO. The work around with high ISO grain is always to go monochrome. Indeed it appears most Sigma photographers know this and their low light scenes are usually b/w, or they use a stand or tripod for longer exposures.
As an all around camera, the Ricoh is probably one of the better choices in the three compared here. It seemed to handle well in low light, with action shots, etc. It did an amazing job in b/w, pulling in detail and dynamic range of monochrome so well it made some images appear magical. Much like the Sigma.
My choice is still pending, but I’m siding with the Sigma DP Merrill series. Most likely DP3-Merrill. I will put more attention on the Sony RX-1 though. I want to see more of its capabilities before scratching it completely off the list. I do find the RX-1’s price tag to be outrageous for what it is.