Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Comparison: Sigma DP2 Merrill Vs. Sony RX100 II

I wanted to compare my Sony RX100 II with the Sigma DP2 Merrill, but I haven't owned a DP2M for almost a year-and-a-half now. A few weeks ago I found myself passing by a location that I had previously photographed using the Sigma camera. The lighting was similar, so I decided to stop and attempt to recreate a couple of images.

Now I've done a more controlled test comparing the RX100 II with a Nikon D3300 with a prime lens attached. This new test was far less controlled. I was going off of memory trying to recapture scenes photographed over two years before. I got a lot of things right but also a lot of things wrong. Even so, I think there's enough commonality between the images to form some conclusions. Besides, this is much more "real world" than controlled tests are, anyway.

The reason that I wanted to do this comparison is because when it comes to low-ISO image quality, Sigma's Merrill cameras are tough to beat. The cameras combine the multi-layer Foveon sensor with a fantastic fixed-focal-length lens. The Merrill cameras have plenty of downsides, but at base ISO, they produce image quality beyond what many DSLRs are capable of. My impression of the RX100 II was that it comes darn close to Merrill-like quality, so I was curious just how close it actually gets.

The DP2M photographs were post-processed using Sigma's Photo Pro software and Paint.NET. The RX100 II photographs were post-processed using Phase One Capture One Express and Alien Skin Exposure 7. There's a significant difference in the way that the images were edited.

Let's look at the first photographs:
Forgotten Road Markers - Rosamond, California
Sigma DP2 Merrill
Forgotten Road Markers #2 - Rosamond, California
Sony RX100 II
As you can see, I didn't get the angle quite right and I'm also a little closer to the sign in the bottom photograph. The lighting is a little different: slightly softer and angled different in the top image. Notice that the white sign is front illuminated in the top photograph and not in the bottom photograph (this is because one photograph was captured in the month of September and the other in November). The desert brush has changed a little, too. But, overall, the two photographs are quite similar.

The original image, captured using the Sigma DP2 Merrill, is the better photograph, but only by a small margin, and mostly because of environmental factors. If both photographs had been captured at the same time on the same day, you would have a really tough time distinguishing which image came from which camera. 

Now let's look at them closer:
Sigma DP2 Merrill Crop
Sony RX100 II Crop
I cropped the photographs significantly, but I actually cropped the Sigma image more than the Sony because the sign is a little closer in the Sony image. You'll notice that they're both extremely similar.

Studying the photographs, I can form three conclusions: the Sigma camera has just a little more resolution (which I already knew), the Sigma camera has a slight dynamic range advantage, noticeable in the shadows (Sigma's camera actually has more tolerance in the highlights, so I overexposed the image slightly and then corrected the exposure in post-processing), and the Sony camera does a pretty good job of keeping up (despite the much smaller sensor and zoom lens).

Here's another comparison:
Joshua Tree - Rosamond, California
Sigma DP2 Merrill
Joshua Tree #2 - Rosamond, California
Sony RX100 II
The lighting is much different in these two images. You can tell that the top photograph had been captured closer to when the sun first crested the horizon. Light changes quickly around sunrise and sunset, and a matter of a few minutes can have a noticeable impact on a photograph.

My angle is quite a bit different. I initially tried to capture the image a little closer to the original, but a Joshua Tree that is just outside of the frame on the right grew and would have appeared in the bottom photograph. The lower point-of-view in the top image (which places the horizon in the bottom third of the image instead of the middle) is far more pleasing and dramatic.

Again, the original DP2M image is better than the new RX100 II image, but mostly due to environmental and composition reasons, and not gear-related reasons.

Here's a closer look:
Sigma DP2 Merrill Crop
Sony RX100 II Crop
I cropped the images significantly, and (unlike the first set of photographs) they're almost cropped the same amount (the Sigma image is cropped just a tad more than the Sony, but not by much at all).

You'll notice that the sharpness is almost identical in the two crops. There is more "grain" or "noise" in the bottom photograph, but that's most likely because I added some artificial grain in post-processing to give the image a more film-like look. The color is different, but that's because the lighting is different, so that's to be expected. Really, there's not much difference between the two cameras.

There are some very small differences in image quality between the Sigma DP2 Merrill and the Sony RX100 II at low-ISO, but the differences are very tiny and insignificant and difficult to spot even when viewed up close. The DP2M has a small resolution and dynamic range advantage, but otherwise the image quality at low-ISO is basically identical. That's quite amazing, considering that the Merrill camera has a larger sensor and a fixed-focal length lens, while the Sony camera has a smaller sensor and a zoom lens.

Perhaps the biggest lesson in this comparison is that gear doesn't matter nearly as much as good light and composition. What the photographer does with the gear that he or she has is more important than the gear itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment