Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sigma DP2 Merrill - First Images, First Impressions

Yesterday was a good day. A Holga lens that I had ordered for my Samsung NX200 arrived in the mail. Then several hours later UPS knocked on my door with a package containing a Sigma DP2 Merrill.

I opened the box, charged the batteries, set up the camera as best as I could figure out, downloaded Sigma's RAW software, and began to test the camera.

Now I've heard that high ISO images from the DP2 Merrill are terrible. I believed that, but wanted to put it to the test to see for myself. So for the first photograph from this camera I set ISO to 3200, with images saved as RAW and JPEG.

I don't normally use ISO 3200 for any camera, no matter the situation. I know some cameras do a good job with high ISO, but even with those cameras I would never use ISO 3200 for anything remotely serious. So this test was more to understand the limitations of the DP2 Merrill than anything else.
Boy - Stallion Springs, California
This is an example of ISO 3200
What I discovered is that the ISO 3200 JPEG is trash, and the ISO 3200 RAW is nearly trash. I had to do quite a bit of fiddling with the RAW image to get something usable, and even then it is only marginally usable. I think with enough post-processing and when converted to black-and-white, ISO 3200 images captured in RAW are usable in the right situations, but just barely.

The sun had just set by the time the camera was ready to go, so I pulled out a tripod and captured an image at ISO 100, which can be seen below.
California Country - Stallion Springs, California
What I'm most impressed with, and really what blew me away, was the fine, sharp details of the image. Photographs from this camera cannot be fully appreciated without viewing them large. The DP2 Merrill is meant for large photographs. 100% crops can be made into 8"x10" prints, and no one would know. Below is about a 130% crop from the above image. Those homes are about one mile away from the camera.
California Country 130% Crop - Stallion Springs, California
The other thing I noticed is that the ISO 100 images need very little post-processing--they look good straight out of the camera. A few small tweaks here and there will got the images to look as I wanted them.

Speaking of post-processing, Sigma's Photo Pro software is just fine. You have to use this software if you use RAW format. I had heard that it was terrible, but it isn't. Yes, it is limited in what it can do, but it is capable of doing what most photographs require. For those images that need a little more work, save as TIFF and continue editing in your software of choice. In the little that I used Photo Pro I had no issues.

So far, the Sigma DP2 Merrill is living up to the hype of exceptional image quality at low ISO. You could compare it to using 35mm Kodachrome 64 with a great prime lens. Only it might actually be better than that.

Look for an upcoming review of the Sigma DP2 Merrill.

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