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Sigma DP1 Merrill — Really Interesting Sensor, Crashing Sigma Software

Sigma DP1 Merrill

The Sigma DP1 Merrill is capable of some astoundingly sharp results with its 14.25 megapixel X 3 sensor (14.25 megapixel finished RGB images but each pixel has full RGB info, Sigma calls this 45 megapixels and the files are indeed huge in the range of 50-60MB each). The DP1M 28mm (equiv) lens is excellent; it’s far better than the lens in most point and shoots.

The problem is that the Sigma software is non-functional— it crashes 100% of the time on my main machine when I try to even start editing a file (immediate rainbow beachball, then guaranteed crash within 5 seconds). It crashes every 2nd or 3rd file on my laptop, and on my other Mac Pro it crashes 100% of the time also.

So until Adobe supports DP1M X3F files, I am dead in the water as far as making use of the 500 or so (some quite beautiful) Sigma DP1 Merrill X3F files that I shot on my trip. So I am delaying the bulk of my review, since it takes me 10X as long to deal with a DP1M file as with other brands, due to the software crashes and multi-machine hassles to get an output TIF generated. And the Sigma software is sloooooooow also, even on the fastest Mac laptop available today.

With eccentric color rendition (though with a certain funky appeal), the Sigma DP1 Merrill also makes an outstanding black and white camera. The truth is I’d rather use it than the Leica M Monochrom for black and white, as it is far more fun to shoot, faster and easier to use, has autofocus, focuses closer, and produces vastly more versatile files (color, or black and white in infinite variations from RGB).

The DP1 Merrill (28mm equiv lens) and DP2 Merrill (45mm equiv lens) can be had both for about $2000, which is 1/4 the price of a lens-less Leica M Monochrom. If Sigma could make a Sony RX1 style camera with a full-frame version of the sensor, this would become extremely interesting to me.

Peak quality in black and white from the Sigma DP1M won’t match the Leica M Monochrom, but so what— one saves $9000 over the minimum Leica MM system (with lens). Yes, $9000 (nine thousand US dollars). OK, only $8000 if you buy a Zeiss ZM lens for the Leica MM. That’s a lot of red vines, which taste better than a red dot anyway, though I like Panda better.

You will need both of the batteries shipped with the DP1 Merrill (yes, it ships with two batteries for reasons you’ll quickly understand!). I would need 5 or 6 batteries for a day’s shooting, no kidding.

I deem the Sigma DP1 Merrill worth of serious consideration for some users and uses, in spite of its quirks. Presumably the DP2 Merrill (45mm equiv lens) offers similar quality, but I have not used the DP2M, and 28mm is much more useful for all-around shooting. I would like to see a DP0M with a 20mm equivalent lens.

The software thing remains a serious problem that seriously undermines the whole Sigma camera line and Sigma’s seriousness as a company too, as it seems to have hardly changed since I used it two years ago (for example, it is still 32-bit, let alone the frozen-in-stone terrible GUI). A product is the sum of all the parts needed to use it, and right now the DP1M is a 2-legged table. No professional could seriously consider such awful software.

I would gladly work with Sigma to resolve their bugs, if only they would contact me.

Update: I received a revealing email from Sigma PR to an internal Sigma decision maker (sent to me accidentally!), which indicated that Sigma would be stonewalling me on this issue. Clarity is refreshing. But since I want to see Sigma improve their products, I remain open to working with them, if they do the right things here on out.

Olmstead stump after dusk
Sigma DP1 Merrill, 30 seconds @ f/6.3, ISO 100
Olmstead stump after dusk
Sigma DP1 Merrill, 30 seconds @ f/6.3, ISO 100
Actual pixels from above
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