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Sigma DP2 Merrill

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Sigma DP2 Merrill Overview

Posted: 02/08/2012

With a major sensor and processor upgrade, the new Sigma DP2 Merrill becomes the highest-resolution fixed-lens rangefinder-style camera on the planet, at least by Sigma's reckoning. (That is, apart from its wide-angle twin, the DP1 Merrill.) If you're looking for a super-high resolution walk-around camera with a roughly normal focal length of 45mm equivalent, the DP1 Merrill certainly deserves a closer look.

(If you've read the preview of the DP1 Merrill, you know pretty much everything about the Sigma DP2 Merrill as well. The only differences are that the DP2 Merrill is a normal focal length camera, with a 45mm equivalent lens, and a slight difference in body size and weight.)

While earlier upgrades to the DP1 and DP2 models were relatively minor, the new Sigma DP2 Merrill is really an entirely new camera, despite using the same model number as the previous generation. (The "Merrill" in the model name is homage to the late Dick Merrill, a co-founder of Foveon and co-inventor of the Foveon technology.) Incorporating the same 46 megapixel/14.8 million photosite sensor as Sigma's SD1, the Sigma DP2 Merrill should easily outstrip the resolution of any other rangefinder-style camera on the market. While 14.8 million pixels in the finished files may not sound all that impressive, we found that images from the SD1 held their own quite well with those from 24-megapixel full-frame SLRs. We expect similar performance from this new DP model. (See the note at the bottom of this preview for more detail on pixels and resolution with the Foveon sensor technology.)

As noted, the massive sensor upgrade is only the tip of the iceberg here. The Sigma DP2 Merrill also received dual TRUE-II processors to handle the increase in data, a new lens, a new body, and an all-new control layout. The f/2.8 lens on the new model is a bit longer than that on the original, with an equivalent focal length of 45mm (30mm actual), up slightly from the 41mm equivalent that went before it.

While it looks smaller in the photos, the Sigma DP2 Merrill is actually slightly bigger and beefier than its predecessor, with dimensions of 4.8 x 2.6 x 2.3 inches, and weighing in at 11.6 ounces. (As compared to the DP2x's 4.5" x 2.3" x 2.2" and 9.2 ounces.) That's a modest handful; larger than some smaller Micro Four Thirds models, but considerably smaller than other high-end cameras like the recently announced Fuji X-Pro1. The larger body size does permit a 3-inch 920,000-dot LCD monitor, a big step up from the 2.5-inch 230,000-dot screen on the earlier model.

The Sigma DP2 Merrill's control layout is new and different from that of the DP2x's in a number of respects. Rear-panel controls are largely similar, although the button spacing has changed somewhat, the zoom in/out buttons have vanished, and there's no longer a control wheel under your thumb at the top of the rear panel.

The top deck has changed even more, with no dedicated mode dial as before, but rather a Mode button, presumably to be used in conjunction with the dial that now surrounds the shutter button, and also serves the zoom in/out function as well. The other big change is that the earlier internal flash has also been dropped, so flash photography will now involve an external unit attached to the standard hot shoe above the lens.

All in all, the Sigma DP2 Merrill looks like a nice little package for high-resolution "street" photography: We can't wait to get our hands on one!

About that resolution: Like all their cameras, the new Sigma DP2 Merrill uses the unique three-layer Foveon sensor technology that stacks the red, green, and blue pixels on top of each other. The result is a camera with fewer pixel sites than many, but much higher resolution than you might expect because there's no interpolating needed to combine data from the RGB sensor elements. The lack of interpolation also means exceptional detail rendition and fewer artifacts than found in conventional cameras. The tradeoff is poorer high-ISO sensitivity.

The point of all this description is to clarify and explain the megapixel rating of this camera, and help translate it into a more conventional megapixel basis. The official spec for the sensor in the Sigma DP2 Merrill is 46 megapixels, the number of individual photo sensors integrated on the chip. At the same time, though, images output by the camera are only 14.8 megapixels in size (4,704 x 3,136 pixels). In practice, we've found Foveon chips resolve roughly the same detail as Bayer-striped arrays with about 1.5x their photosite count. That is, we thought the 14.8/46 megapixel Foveon sensor in the SD1 (the same as in the DP2 Merrill) resolved about as well as a 20-25 megapixel sensor with a conventional layout.

The raw resolution is only part of the story, though: There are clearly fewer small artifacts in the Foveon images (since there's no interpolation), and we thought images from the Sigma SD1 had more dimensionality (for lack of a better term) than those from cameras with conventional sensors.

There are of course endless arguments over resolution in the digital photo world, but our experience with the SD1 gives us high expectations for resolution and image quality from the Sigma DP2 Merrill.

Pricing for the Sigma DP2 Merrill is set at around US$1,000, with availability from the middle of July, 2012.