SIGMA’s DP2 Merrill produces the finest still images I’ve seen in any compact digital camera I’ve had my hands on, thanks to an optically terrific lens and well off the beaten design path sensor combination. Unfortunately, this is not the compact digital for everyone and, in fact, most casual users and in particular those looking for their first digital compact should probably look elsewhere. For as nifty as this lens and sensor combination is, what’s more telling for the average user is what was not put into the camera. There’s no stabilization, practically a given in most compact digitals these days. Fully automatic and scene shooting modes that many first-time users depend on are nonexistent; the closest you can come is a program auto mode.
640 x 480 VGA resolution video and mono sound lag behind virtually every camera in the class including entry-level models costing hundreds of dollars less. ISO noise performance deteriorates rapidly beyond 800 ISO, leaving the DP2 a relatively narrow range from 100 to 800 for decent image quality. The $1000 price of admission for a DP2 would also cover just about any compact digital on the planet, as well as a number of entry-level DSLRs. You’ll need a pocketful of batteries for all day shooting sessions.
But for a modestly experienced shooter willing to ply their craft, the DP2 can pay handsome dividends in still image quality. Can’t ratchet up the ISO in dim lighting conditions because of noise concerns? No problem – mount the camera on a tripod, shoot a long exposure and trip the shutter with the self-timer. Want to do a high dynamic range photo of a dim church interior? Set up a couple of three-shot bracketed exposures and let your HDR software do the rest. Clearly this is not the camera for most average shooters, but it is a magnificent still imaging tool when operated in a fashion that plays to its strengths.
Tremendous still image quality at and below 400 ISO
Optically excellent lens
Narrow useable ISO range
Poor battery life
RAW support via only SIGMA software at present
AF a bit slower than most current digitals