Whats the back story?
In the past year or so I have gone through a spate of purchasing even more camera gear than usual. The thing was years ago I owned the Canon 5dMk2 with L glass but as I ultimately fell out of love with the thought of hulking around a shit load of gear from one place to another I never bothered to upgrade. In fact quite the opposite. In 2012 when traveling through India by motorbike from Goa to Shimla I grabbed a Pentax k-r and an old 50mm. That was all I took and it was refreshing to be able to travel light. After having a play with Lightroom for the first time last year I was back in love with photo taking and began a search for a camera with great Image quality in a small package. Something that I can use for the product shots on this site and also shoot with whilst travelling. I went through NEX, Fuji X series and I even picked up another Pentax (the K-50) for its weather sealed capability. After much debate and a recent price drop, I picked up a Sigma DP2 Merrill. Its a peculiar camera which seemed to be the marmite of the photography world and I was either going to love it or hate it. If you came expecting a full tech spec review I'm sorry to disappoint, this is more to address the issue of what it is like to live with the Sigma DP2M as a main camera.
What is the Sigma DP2 Merrill?
Well, it's a small camera system with a fixed lens, no mirror and very unique sensor. The Sigma DP series is available in different focal lengths with the DP1 (19mm), DP2 (30mm), and DP3 (50mm). I knew I wouldn't be getting the full selection so opted to go with the DP2 Merrill due to it performing similar to a 50mm on full frame with regards to field of view. This allowed me to shoot my 2 main styles of street and stitch panorama without too much difference from using Pentax's excellent 35mm f2.4 lens.
Camera selection aside the real reason I wanted to grab the Sigma DP2 was for its Foveon sensor. Its something I wanted to try for a while now and I am really happy I have, its a beast. The camera's sensor has gained a kind of cult like following for its insane ability to capture detail unlike any other its size as well as its ability to hold up well when printing at a high resolution. Some even go as far as to compare the resulting images with Sony's full frame sensors and even some medium format offerings, hmmmm, maybe. The thing is I couldn't care less for pixel peeping people on forums that argue about this sort of stuff like the minutest of differences actually matter. Its about as sad as it gets, its the photographic equivalent of headphone measurement enthusiasts and Head-fi forum users. As a non professional all I want to know is if I print really big will these images hold up. And with the DP2 they do and way better than anything I have used before.
Whats it like to use the Sigma DP2 Merrill?
Well this camera is not for everyone and certainly not as your only camera so first I want to talk about my other camera. I have settled on a Sony RX100. The Rx100 is my snapshot workhorse my go to if I want to take a stunning picture with minimum hassle, it goes with me everywhere and makes cool images. At first I was a bit scared going to an even smaller than 4/3's sensor but I needn't of been the images through its lovely Zeiss lens are stunning and you can see why its so popular with serious photo enthusiasts around the world. The thinking was that this would do everything I just wanted a shot of and the Sigma DP2 will handle my creative side, my side that really thinks about a shot and how I want it to turn out. So far this has worked out beautifully with me and in the past few weeks I have managed to put together some shots that I really love.
How about this 5 image Foveon stitch overlooking Perth, Scotland. For this it was onto the mountain bike for a short yet lung busting cycle to the top of Kinnoull hill (the first 2 shots show the climb up) and then an epic blast back down. It was more than worth it for the views alone let alone this shot below.
A big part of the stitch style of photos I like to do means I don't really need to work fast. I take my time composing the shot, getting my setup just right and then proceed to take as many shots as I would require for stitching. I then follow up by doing the same stitch shots but with exposure adjustments (eg. -2>0>+2) just in case I want to make a really epic HDR + Panorama shot. So the above kind of negates the speed of use issue that many have with the camera. Its true that the camera takes an age to write to an SD card but as I mentioned i am never in any real hurry when making these shots. ISO performance, as many have noted, is dismal. To be honest the highest I even bother with going is ISO200 but generally I stick with ISO100 and work around by using a tripod. When doing street stuff I will switch to the Sony RX100 if the light is that bad.
So the camera is very useable, way more than people may have eluded to in the past but they are right about the software. The software is extremely slow regardless of computer the computer I used to process with (a MBP 15 and MBP Retina 13). You have to process the X3F files using Sigmas own Sigma Photo Pro software as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop cant use them. The workaround for this is to do some simple adjustments in Sigmas software and bulk export a set of files from X3F to TIFF format for processing in my regular style in Lightroom. The conversion adds a little time to my workflow but again I do photography for fun and unless you are under pressure as a Pro to get work out the door the amazing image quality is well worth the trade off.
*Note: Recently there has been some hope in that there is limited support given for X3F files in the Affinity Photo software for OSX users. If this comes together it will be a huge boost for fans of Sigma Foveon cameras.
So will I keep using the DP2 Merrill?
Absolutely, the camera is just incredible when it comes to the images it puts out, never before have I spent so much time zoomed in with my jaw on the floor about the detail retrieved. The lens is amazing as is the build quality and the I think the peculiarities of the camera have made me a better photographer. The Sigma has made me slow down and think about shots as opposed to constantly pressing the trigger and choosing the best shot later as so many people seem to do. Anyway, I will let the shots in the below speak for themselves. The original files are simply too big to host on this site but trust me you can just zoom and zoom and zoom and there is barley a pixel in site.
*Update - At the start of next week will be the first in a series of youtube videos on the my new channel I shoot sigma, workflows and tips for using the DP cameras.
My Must Have Sigma DP2 Accessories.... yes I actually use these myself, the lens hood is shown in the first 2 pictures.
Sigma DP2 Portable Charger - a must have as the camera eats batteries.... spare batteries also required.
Camera Eye Loupe - I use this model to see the screen in bright light attached with a bit of modification.