Friday, August 9, 2013

Sigma DP2 Merrill Black & White

Abandoned Homestead - Tehachapi, California
I've been working like mad on an upcoming full review of the Sigma DP2 Merrill camera. A lot goes into a camera review. First of all, a whole lot of photographs must be captured in order to understand the camera and also to understand the image quality. The camera has to be put through the test, used in harsh or unusual situations to understand its limitations. Then all of that has to be analyzed, with strengths and weaknesses categorized as important or unimportant. Finally, the words of the review must be typed and reviewed, and it must be written in a meaningful way. It is a long process.

What I wanted to bring up today is the DP2 Merrill as a black-and-white camera. The camera is known for fantastic rich and natural colors, but what I'm really surprised and impressed with is the camera's black-and-white images.
Forgotten Utah - Tehachapi, California
Why black-and-white? Well, there is a fine-art quality to black-and-white prints. They have a different emotion than color. They tend to be more dramatic. My opinion is that if color is not important to an image, then it should be converted to black-and-white.

What makes the images from the DP2 Merrill so good for black-and-white? There are many factors, actually. One is the sharpness of the images (thanks to the fantastic lens and Foveon sensor). Another is the depth look (some call it 3-D, but I wouldn't) that Sigma cameras are known for (see the top images). Still another is the digital noise which can look more like film grain than noise. However, I believe that the number one reason this camera makes such nice black-and-white photographs is the three color layers of the Foveon sensor.
Historic Brite Ranch Cross - Tehachapi, California
A Foveon sensor works much different than other sensors. Most sensors (both Bayer and X-Trans) have pixels that are sensitive to either red, green or blue. Green is used for both color and luminance, while red and blue are used mostly just for color. When converted to black-and-white, there is little luminance data for red and blue. Foveon sensors have three layers, one sensitive to red, one to green and one to blue, providing luminance data for all three colors.

The advantage to that is in tonality. In my opinion, the DP2 Merrill does an outstanding job of not only capturing a large tonal scale, but more importantly keeping the delicate gradations intact.
1955 Chevy Pickup - Stallion Springs, California
Another advantage is that the color channels can be mixed however one sees best. One can use the red, green or blue channels individually, or in any number of combinations. It is fascinating how each color layer captures the scene different. With a typical sensor, you are (for the most part) stuck with however the green sensitive pixels captured the scene. Not so with a Foveon sensor.

With the DP2 Merrill, because of different noise issues, color photography is limited mostly to ISO 400 and lower. But convert to black-and-white and the camera is perfectly usable up to ISO 1600. The camera has been called a one-trick-pony, and while it is not nearly as versatile as some other cameras, it is certainly not a one-trick-pony.
Motorcycle Engine - Tehachapi, California
For black-and-white images, I find that ISO 200 to ISO 400 is the sweet spot. I tend to add noise in post-processing  to images captured at ISO 100.

All of the photographs in this post were captured using a Sigma DP2 Merrill over the last few days. I converted them to black-and-white using Sigma's Photo Pro software and did some minor further post-processing using Paint.NET.


  1. how's the settings (contrast, brightness and saturation)

    1. Thanks for the comment. I almost always use RAW when using the DP2 Merrill, and so contrast and saturation are whatever I make them. Brightness has to do with exposure. But overall, generally speaking, the camera is excellent at all three of those.