Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Thought Of The Day: Sigma Merrill And Low ISO

I mentioned last week that I'm considering purchasing the Sigma Merrill DP1 digital camera. Someone suggested that I might also consider the Sigma Merrill DP2, as it might suite my style of photography better.

For those that don't know, these Sigma cameras have a unique sensor called the Foveon. It has 46 megapixels on an APS-C sized sensor, but the way the sensor works it actually equates (in file size) to about 14 megapixels. However, because the images are so incredibly sharp and filled with so much fine details, in practical purposes it is more like 30 megapixels.

The sensor works great at low ISO, but as one goes higher in ISO the image quality quickly degrades. By ISO 800, the camera is only marginally usable. In other words, the Merrill DP cameras are one-trick-ponies.

I was asked why I (or anyone) would be interested in a one-trick-pony camera. There are plenty of versatile cameras out there, so why buy one that does only one thing well?

The first thing to come to my mind was National Geographic magazine. Back not long ago when film was king, the publication was filled cover-to-cover with photographs captured on Kodachrome, typically ISO 64 or ISO 25. Sometimes they'd publish images captured with ISO 200 Kodachrome (gasp!).

My own film preference has always been low ISO. Sometimes for a more gritty look I'd use a higher ISO, but the majority of my photographs that were captured on film were ISO 100 or less.

Yes, you can make the argument that while I mostly used low ISO, I still had the option of using higher ISO films if I wanted. That is true, but mostly I didn't. So I don't believe being limited to low ISO is any sort of problem. That is what I have already been doing for years and years.

Besides, the Merrill DP cameras are not limited to low ISO. It is just that the quality degrades quickly from astonishing at ISO 100 to usable-under-the-right-circumstances at ISO 800. I found some nice images captured on these Sigma cameras where ISO 800 was used. Heck, I saw some black-and-white images that looked perfectly fine that were captured using ISO 1600. So these cameras are not completely one-trick-ponies, but I think most want to take full advantage of their biggest strength.

It is clear that the Sigma Merrill DP cameras are not for snap-shooters, but for those interested in amazing image quality and are willing to put up with some inconveniences to achieve it. No, they're not for everyone, but I think they'll be one in my hands in the near fut


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