Sigma DP3 Merrill

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: Okay, but seriously…

The Long Version: The Sigma DP3 Merrill is a camera that puts the decimal point in the wrong place. My comfortable high-iso limit is iso640, it takes about 50 photos per battery, writing a burst of one raw file to a fast memory card takes 13 seconds. Even its memory cards hold just a fraction of the images its pixel count should suggest, and it needs clunky raw-processing software that predates the invention of 'workflow'. The DP3M could be from the dawn of consumer digital cameras.

The Merrill lacks basic abilities that are included in any half-decent point and shoot these days. No image stabilization, no flash, poor LCD quality, and no concessions to shapes that the human hand can hold. Forget about modern conveniences like viewfinders, tilting LCD screens, or remote shutter releases. Every nitpicking review and every negative word ever written about this camera has at least some truth to it, and often quite a lot.

And yet it doesn't matter. The Sigma DP3 Merrill is a magic camera.

Some equipment creates uncommonly compelling images in a way that has nothing to do with the users' skills. Of course this undefinable ability won't perform for every owner, or even consistently for the fortunate ones, but when it's right it's unmistakable. The DP3M has this magic.

The DP3 Merrill creates my favourite photos. It's neither my favourite nor my best camera, but I can lose track of time looking at images that should have been nothing but snapshots. I want to use it out of all proportion to its operational merits, and despite all of its shortcomings. It's capricious, but give it its due and it can be benevolent and gracious; treat it carelessly and suffer its anger and wrath.

Would you choose a flawed and frustrating camera if the results have the potential to be exceptional? That question can only have a personal answer. Most people, quite sensibly, will say no outright. There are plenty of really excellent cameras out there that don't carry the Sigma-Foveon baggage. A few will say “yes, sometimes” – this is the group that I find myself in. Some people, I suppose, will give an unqualified yes. There are certainly more difficult ways to make art, and creating art is the only purpose for a machine like this.

last updated 14 sept 2014


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