Sigma DP3 Merrill First Impressions

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: Pixel = Picture Element. Sensel = Sensor Element.

The Long Version: This is not a review of the Sigma DP3 Merrill. It has already been scrutinized by some of the best and there's really not much to add; these cameras are not creatures of nuance and subtlety. The DP series, and the 75mm-e DP3 in particular, is so unambiguous that anyone who has looked into it should have no doubts about whether or not it's a suitable camera for them. Anyone who hasn't looked into them already should probably stop reading now, because nothing good will come of it.

As I said, there are already some great reviews out there. But I'd like to single out their essence, which comes from Lensrentals: "if you want some amazing images, but not a lot of them and never very close together, this camera is a blast."

But there is a question I can address: Why not hold out for the recently-announced Quattro?

There is value, both financial and personal, in being a late adopter. This is something that I learned from Bill, although naturally it has taken me time to appreciate his wisdom.

Sigma's Merrill generation is a known known – none of its many flaws or strengths should surprise any purchaser with an internet connection. (Any purchaser without an internet connection is in for a nasty shock when they learn that the necessary raw-processing software is download-only.) But despite being superseded by the Quattro the DP3M can still have its age measured in months. So why hurry to pay the highest price for an early production unit of an unproven design? Cameras are invariably rushed to market with insufficient testing, and problems can strike anyone. Canon, Fuji, and Sony have all had light leaks, Nikon had the D800 autofocus misalignment, Sigma had the SD1 Merrill pricing, and so on.

Yes, I'm sure the Quattro will be a better device with less mid-iso noise and slowness, but it doesn't add what I miss most with the Merrill. There's still no EVF or tilting LCD screen, and there's still no cable release or even WiFi triggering option. And some of the dpQ's improvements don't help me: the bigger batteries will let it record more rolls of film per charge to its memory card, but the Merrill takes the battery that I already use in my pair of Ricoh GRs. Synergy matters.

Besides, the dpQ doesn't have that old Foveon three-sensels-per-colour nostalgia – I've wanted a Foveon camera since I first tried an SD9 a decade ago, so the Quattro sensor design feels like a very very small betrayal. And in another generation or two the technology pioneered in the dpQ will be even better, making the upgrade more significant when a cable release or EVF finally make an appearance.

For what it's worth, the DP3M reviews are absolutely right, but it still takes some experience with the camera to really appreciate them. The battery life is dreadful; I exhausted one by taking six photos and going through the initial setup process. Autofocus is at least as slow as any compact camera made in the past few years. Shadow noise at iso500 in indoor lighting requires countermeasures. And yet when it all works the files really are amazing.

The Sigma DP3 Merrill is a best-case camera. What's wrong with that? When I have worst-case needs I'll pick up my D800 and its suite of excellent prime lenses. If I want a more normal pocket camera I have the ultra-sharp wide-angle GR. And when I need versatility over image quality I have my Nikon V1, which is perfectly capable of producing mediocre results across an expansive range of focal lengths. The DP3M is a city-friendly camera that can produce exceptional results when used appropriately, and it just so happens that its comfort zone and mine are almost identical.

I just need to buy more batteries.

last updated 2 may 2014


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