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Sigma DP1 Merrill Review

The first thoughts about the DP1m are being considered.  It is sitting beside the DP2m on my Desk.  A combined total of 6 Batteries and a weekend shooting rusting steam trains have produced some interesting pictures that I quite like.  I'm caught somewhere between ecstatic and perplexed and I've got some lens/sensor combination thoughts.  

Look and Feel

First observations are a bit obvious - the DP1 Merrill  is incredibly similar to the DP2m Aside from the 5mm difference in the protrusion of the lens from the body, and the name - externally they are identical.  The DP1 m feels good in the hand and the controls feel natural and accessible.  I'm a fan of the new command  wheel and I find it quite natural to use.  The buttons and dials have the same quality feel as the DP2m - If one were blindfolded, it's impossible to tell them apart.  

I tend to work either in 'manual' or more frequently in 'Aperture Priority' mode and I find as a general statement, that a rotating dial to control aperture more ergonomic and intuitive than a rocker switch or arrow buttons.  The arrangement on the DP1m and DP2m I find to be as good as the rotating aperture ring found on the Fuji X100  and the lenses of the Fuji X-Pro and of course on the many  Leica and SLR lenses. So it's good to use in the field. 

File Quality & Size

The first few files out look wonderful (at first glance...)  on closer inspection, into the corners, there is a bit of distortion and fall off in sharpness.  I'm not sure it matters in the real world especially given that amazing angle of view.

Show stopper?... No.  

Of concern?...  having just examined shots from the latest batch, I found myself smiling quite broadly.

After quite  a few frames, I feel comfortable saying that the 19mm (28mm) lens is not quite as crisp across the frame as the 40mm in the DP2,  but for all practical purposes there is a very great deal to like about the DP1.   

Transient

The Lens

The 19mm lens of the DP1 here means a real world '28mm' as a full frame 35mm Film equivalent.  Personally I love the 28mm angle of view and the fact that the minimum close focus distance decreases to make an interesting combination of angle of view and closeness of subject.  

The Ricoh GR Digital II, III and IV all use the 28mm equivalent angle of view.  This was my favourite camera, and I know a few photographers that feel it is crying (screaming) out for a better sensor. The GRD Sensor is amazing given its physical size but it seems to make sense to put a larger sensor in it rather than performing miracles within such confined boundaries....  Now if the GR had a Foveon sensor behind that wonderful lens, I wonder if any other camera  could compete.  (I'm daydreaming I think!) 

Suffice it to say that all the strengths of angle of view, reduced close focus and the Foveon sensor  have me really excited about the DP1 (I'm already a fan of the DP2m)  

At this point it might be useful for the reader to note that I paid full list price for both the DP1 and DP2 they are both here in front of me as full production versions of the cameras.  I had slightly mixed feelings about the images from the DP1m until I took several batches and looked at them as pictures rather than as collections of pixels.  I then melted and found a lot to admire in the DP1 and if like me you like the 28mm view of the world - there is really no other option.

Image - Sensor - Lens

My subjective findings are quite straightforward: I am learning what this sensor is capable of - and the files from the DP2m show less distortion and quirks than the files from the DP1.  The DP1 files benefit from the slightest nudge of sharpening in Lightroom.  This is often not required for the DP2.   Now I'm no lens tester, but I take a lot of pictures and it's my opinion based on the picutes I've seen, that the DP2 is easier to live with and produces files that make more of the sensor than the DP1.  

One other observation.  The resolution of the lens means that motion image degradation - motion blur, camera shake - call it what you will - is something that impacts upon ultimate image quality more than I have experienced before.  The sensor is so good that the final images really do benefit  for a fast shutter speed or use of a tripod.  It's not a problem and the images look fine on screen but when you zoom right in the evidence is there even with some pretty fast shutter speeds used handheld.

The shallow depth of field that this combination of sensor size and lens means that further caution is needed when shooting handheld. So beware.


Confession....

 I have lost count of the number of times I've raised the camera to my eye.  Every time I feel foolish and glance around to see if anyone noticed! Of course there is no optical or electronic viewfinder. This is the one main problem I've found with the DP Cameras:

I enjoy the experience of using a viewfinder -

• The SLR is a good solution to framing and timing a picture.
• The Leica Rangefinder is a wonderful way of framing, focussing and above all timing a picture (If you've never tried it I really would encourage you to try)
• The new cameras from Fuji in the X series have wonderful hybrid viewfinders, which is a clever solution to the parallax issue and low light shooting. 

Of course, there is always the option of adding external viewfinders and Sigma have even altered the angle of the external LED so that it is easier to see when one is using an external finder.

 I am very drawn to the DP series image quality and in order to get that quality , there is a compromise to be made... (or buy the SD1)  This is a significant rather than a major sacrifice though but I am reminded of it several times a day when I raise it to my eye....

 A brilliant camera within certain boundaries and for certain photographers - including me.  I just wish that the camera had a window finder....


Sigma DP1 Merrill 1/125th sec @ f8.0 ISO100 

Sigma DP1 Merrill 1/125th sec @ f8.0 ISO100 

Conclusion

The DP1 and DP2 suit my personal fascination / obsession with colour and texture found in old things and surprising places.  
I do recognise that I'm a bit odd.
The DP cameras are a bit odd too:  They were designed to produce unrivalled (in a compact camera format) high resolution images of a quality that equate to the old medium format film cameras and Sigma succeed in my opinion.

They don't focus all that quickly,
They write huge files to a card quite slowly,
They don't quite fit in your pocket and they dont have (thank goodness) face recognition(!)  -
They don't have a built in viewfinder

These cameras are for photographers who prefer to work more slowly, capturing the light and using their own judgement about the faces they want to recognise. So it's not a tool for parties then, nor for sport, or even for street work particularly, but for a few odd folk like me who like the satisfaction of producing reasonably high quality images, at moderate pace, the DP1/2 are very hard to beat.

I recently sold my Leica M8, my Fuji X-Pro1 and 18,35 and 60mm lenses as well as Zeiss 21mm and 28mm  as well as my D700 and associated ecosytem of lenses, flashes etc, simply because I know the camera I will reach for will invariably be the DP.  That said, I may revisit the brilliant X100 as a low light, flexible friend to cover for those rare times when the DP just cant help me.... or I may just possibly indulge in the iPhone5.  More on iPhone as go anywhere later.  

I hope the ramblings to this point helps anyone who is trying to decide if the DP1/2 is the right machine for them... I think you need to think carefully about when you actually take pictures, and the subject matter.  

Then buy one.

You can read the DP2m first impression here....

Sigma DP1 Merrill 1/1000th sec @ f5.0 ISO100 

Detail from the shot above 100% screenshot from Lightroom.

I am getting a few requests for RAW files for the DP1 and so I publish above here a straight from Camera JPEG with all settings on zero - no contrast, saturation or sharpening. And you can download the RAW file here  It is underexposed  and would be corrected in SPP.  >> DOWNLOAD <<  Please be aware, This is a 53MB File.