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Reader Comment: Sigma DP3 Merrill

Reader Jeff L writes:

You often mention lighting conditions in regards to the Sigma DP3. How do you feel the camera would perform, off a tripod at closer focusing distances when shooting closeups of flowers and large insects in very low light levels at base ISO setting at shutter speeds of 1 or 2 seconds?

Last year I tried a DP2 but the software drove me to near insanity. Geeze if only the files could be converted to DNG or better yet if Sigma could just provide decent software. It is freaking ridiculous.

DIGLLOYD: As for lighting, the Sigma/Foveon sensor performs very nicely in daylight, ideally near 5000°K. It is not so happy in tungsten light or strongly blue light. In those extremes, color accuracy will suffer due to the nature of the filtration for color on the stacked photosite design. Filtration as with film might possibly help for lighting conditions that are outside a reasonable daylight range, but as yet I have not done such tests.

Terminology: that 'Merrill' suffix is all critical: it means the current 14.75-megapixel APS-C sensor, the previous generation being low-res and generally not acceptable. Hence (my shorthand): Sigma DP1M, DP2M, DP3M.

That said, I prefer to think of the Sigma/Foveon sensor in the DP Merrill cameras as having a unique personality. Just as photographic films varied in their characteristics (consider Kodachrome, vs Fuji Velvia vs Fuji Astia vs Agfa), the Sigma DP Merrill has something to offer outside the ordinary. Which one can criticize or embrace.

Morever, the sheer clarity of imagery is something to behold, and so color accuracy is almost beside the point—for many uses. I would dearly like to see a ~30 megapixel full-frame Sigma/Foveon sensor, or even a 30MP APS-C version with a base ISO of 50 (for quality). The lenses on the DP Merrill camera can be said to be equal (or better) in performance to most high quality DSLR lenses. Sigma made the right choice by sticking with f/2.8, keeping optical performance very high.

I take “off a tripod” to mean “shot on a tripod”—the image quality can be spectacular at ISO 100 or ISO 200 (ISO 100 is technically superior with careful exposure). The tulips image which I printed 40 inches wide was an 8 second exposure.

The recent Sigma DP3M examples are also gorgeous, and were shot handheld (faster, much more variety possible in one shoot versus slowing down to use a tripod). The DP1M and DP2M offer similar quality. But for overall sharpness and bokeh “feel” I think the DP3 Merrill is now my favorite.

Software

Yes, the Sigma Photo Pro software has some serious usability and reliability issues, but usually I can (eventually) get the job done. I do like the output quality.

Iridient Developer is another alternative for Sigma DP3 Merrill files, with some unique features too, such as an XDR monochrome mode. Noise reduction needs to be done explicitly in IrDe (it is implicit in Sigma Photo Pro, always a minimum amount).

Perhaps ACR will soon support the DP Merrill cameras also, because the previous DP cameras were/are supported.

Spitting llamas

Llamas spit. Hence the DP3M is a much better choice for Lorenzo. Poor creature— some mentally ill M*F*r poisoned the sheep that Lorenzo used to stand watch over (who did it is known, but unprovable to the police). He’s probably stressed and lonely now, as he has no company; he never used to spit at me.

Lorenzo the Llama
Sigma DP3 Merrill, 1/60 handheld @ f/2.8

The actual pixels crop below (shot wide open at f/2.8) shows why I like the Sigma DP3 Merrill for close-ups; it focuses to 1:3 if need be. With a tripod and f/8, the detail here would have been incredible (as shown, depth of field is razor-thin). This is also a very difficult color of flower to reproduce, especially getting fine detail with color-on-color.

Actual pixels crop
Sigma DP3 Merrill, 1/80 handheld @ f/2.8 , ISO 200

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