Friday, February 21, 2014

Sigma DP2 Merrill vs. Nokia Lumia 1020

The title of this post sounds ridiculous. The Sigma DP2 Merrill vs. the Nokia Lumia 1020. Really? Absurd.

The two cameras are in different classes altogether. At best it's comparing apples to oranges. So why am I doing this? Become someone asked me to.

You see, in my review of the Nokia Lumia 1020 I mentioned the Sigma DP1 Merrill as a similar camera. Why? Because they are both wide-angle fixed-lens compact digital cameras.

I don't own a Sigma DP1 Merrill, but I do own a Sigma DP2 Merrill. Those two cameras are identical other than focal length (28mm-equivalent and 45mm-equivalent, respectively). So what applies to one applies to the other regarding image quality. So perhaps this comparison is a bit less absurd than it initially sounds.

What I'm not going to do is studio tests and comparisons of 100% crops. I want to give real world, real use impressions. Can the Lumia 1020 hold its own against the DP2 Merrill?

The Sigma DP2 Merrill has a 46 megapixel APS-C sized Foveon sensor. The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 41 megapixel 1/1.5 sized Bayer sensor. One could not find two sensors that are more dissimilar, despite the similar megapixel count. Foveon sensors are entirely different than Bayers sensors, with both good and bad qualities. Yet, upon closer look, there are some surprising parallels.

The Lumia 1020 actually has significantly more resolution than the DP2 Merrill, as 46 megapixels on a Foveon sensor equates to (roughly) 28 megapixels on a Bayer sensor. The Lumia has 38 megapixels when used in the 4:3 aspect ration or 34 megapixels when used in the 16:9 aspect ratio. That's a big difference. However, the DP2 Merrill is sharper, I think due more to its lack of an anti-aliasing filter (which blurs the image slightly to prevent moire pattern distortion) than the lens. Foveon sensors do not need anti-aliasing filters while Bayer sensors do (although not all cameras with Bayer sensors have one).

The Sigma camera has less resolution but is sharper, the Nokia camera has more resolution but is not as sharp. I'd like to say that this is a wash, but I give a slight advantage to the DP2 Merrill here.

The Sigma DP2 Merrill has significantly more dynamic range than the Nokia Lumia 1020. It's not even close. This is the biggest advantage of the Sigma camera over the Nokia. Some workarounds for the Lumia 1020 are fill-flash or even HDR processing.

High ISO performance is one area where the Nokia Lumia 1020 outperforms the Sigma DP2 Merrill, although not by a large margin. Neither are good at high ISO, but the Lumia 1020 is noticeably better.

The Sigma DP2 Merrill has a maximum aperture of f2.8 while the Nokia Lumia 1020 has a fixed aperture of f2.2. Minimum focus distance on the Sigma camera is about 11 inches while it's about six inches on the Nokia camera. RAW files from the DP2 Merrill are in a format that only Sigma software recognizes, while RAW files from the Lumia 1020 are in the more universal DNG format. I'm sure there are some other differences I'm missing, but you get the idea.

What I'm more interested in here is real world use. I found two photographs from each camera of the same subjects. I captured the Sigma DP2 Merrill images last August within a few days of receiving the camera. I was still trying to figure everything out. I captured the Nokia Lumia 1020 images last week within a few days of receiving the camera. Once again, I was still trying to figure everything out.

Despite the many months between the images and different seasons that they were captured in, the lighting was fairly similar. I did not plan this post and so no effort was made to create the same photographs. I just happened to have created these images. There is nothing scientific here.
Keep Out of My Dreams - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Sigma DP2 Merrill.
Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Nokia Lumia 1020.
The vision of the two images above were completely different despite being the same subject. There is no doubt in my mind that the bottom photograph, which was captured using the Lumia 1020, is the better of the two.

I think the take away is that it does not matter what camera was used. I could have just as easily created the top image with the Nokia and the bottom image with the Sigma. Photographic vision is much more important than equipment. 
Dilapidated Barn - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Sigma DP2 Merrill.
Broken Barn - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Nokia Lumia 1020.
The two photographs above were captured on the same day and time as the previous two. In fact, the two scenes are on the opposite sides of an old country road, literally right across from each other.

The biggest difference between the two barn photographs is focal length. If I cropped the bottom image and I could make them look even more similar. Is one better than the other? Not really. They are almost identical. You have to look up close at the full size images to really notice that the Sigma DP2 Merrill image is slightly better (click here for the full size Dilapidated Barn and here for the full size Broken Barn). For practical purposes, they are so close in image quality that it really doesn't make any difference which camera was used.

The take away is that, while in most circumstances the Sigma DP2 Merrill is slightly better, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is not very far off at all. If you are not picky about tiny details in 100% crops, you would not be able to tell the difference between images from the two cameras.

By far the largest difference between the Sigma DP2 Merrill and the Nokia Lumia 1020 is that the former cost me $720, while the latter cost me $100. The Nokia doubles as a cell phone, too.

Part 2

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