Sigma DP3 Merrill Review: Bigger Lens, Same Body

by Laura Hicks Reads (1,011)
Editor's Rating
6.40

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 9
    • Features
    • 6
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 5
    • Performance
    • 7
    • Expandability
    • 5
    • Total Score:
    • 6.40
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Outstanding image quality at low ISOs
    • Great color quality from Foveon sensor
    • Optically superior 50mm lens
  • Cons

    • High ISO images are inadequate
    • Slow autofocus
    • Poor battery life
    • Expensive

Quick Take

Lately we have reviewed the DP2 Merrill, the SD1 Merrill and now the DP3 Merrill - a compact camera with a unique sensor and 50mm lens.


Sigma has long been known for the quality of their lenses, but their cameras have always taken a backseat. Although they should easily stand out of the crowd with their unique Foveon sensor and amazing image quality, Sigma cameras lack a few key elements that keep them from reaching the pinnacle of success.

The Sigma DP3 Merrill camera shares an almost identical spec sheet with the DP1 Merrill and the DP2 Merrill sans the large 50mm f/2.8 lens protruding from the front of the camera. Featuring a 46-megapixel three layer APS-C Foven sensor (15.6MP per layer), the DP3 Merrill offers users a bright 50mm lens that becomes 75mm with the 1.5x crop factor associated with these sensors. It unforgivingly lacks an anti-aliasing filter…giving the user a sharper, more resolute image. The DP3 Merrill is clearly designed for the high-end photographer who understands fine art photography and appreciates the amazing image quality of the Foveon sensor. And, as demonstrated with the other two DP cameras, Sigma is perfectly content to be defined only by their sensor. This segregation from the norm is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the Sigma DP series has a few major drawbacks that can make even the most discerning fine art photographer question buying this camera. The DP3 Merrill is currently available for $999.

Build and Design
Outwardly, the DP3 Merrill resembles a small black box. It is simplistic in design and larger than most compact cameras available today. The body is almost 4.8 inches wide, 2.6 inches tall and almost 3.2 inches deep including the lens on the front left side of the body. Shooting weight (without the battery, memory card, camera strap) is about 14.1 ounces. The camera body is metal, made in Japan, has a solid feel and appears well-constructed. The camera accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC and Multi Media Card memory media. Sigma includes a lens cover, camera strap, hot shoe cover, two lithium-ion batteries and charger, USB and A/V cables, a printed instruction manual and CD-ROM software with the camera.

Ergonomics and Controls
The body of the DP3 is finished in matte black paint that is smooth to the touch.  It does not offer a grip of any sort, unless you count a patch of raised dots on the back of the camera where a thumb rest would go. Another set of raised dots on located on the right front of the camera body. It is imperative that you attach the camera strap and use it while you are shooting just in case you lose your grip on the camera.

I am not a fan of the camera’s design. It feels way to boxy in my hands and the lack of a grip makes it uncomfortable to use for long periods of time. That being said, I don’t feel that the DP3 Merrill was designed for extended use without a tripod. The camera was really designed for a patient photographer who can wait out a shot for the perfect lighting while the camera sits contently on it’s tripod base.

The control layout on the DP3 Merrill is identical to the DP2 Merrill – – it is simple and well thought out. At the top of the camera body, the hot shoe, power and mode buttons and a shutter button surrounded by the command dial can be found. A 3 inch LCD monitor is housed on the back, left side of the camera. Next to the monitor are auto exposure lock/delete, quick set, menu and view buttons. To the right of these buttons is a four-way controller including “OK”, focus point and focus mode buttons. A display button at the lower right rear of the camera body can display various data configurations on the monitor while shooting, including a histogram. The manual focus ring on the lens is smooth and consistent in its operation. 

Menus and Modes
The menus in the DP3 Merrill are logically designed and easy to navigate. There are three main menus: capture settings, playback menu and camera settings. The menu button on the camera back takes you to the menu. Select any of these settings, and the camera takes you into the submenus. 

The DP3 Merrill does not provide a retouch menu, solidifying the concept that this camera is meant for the fine art photographer. These photographers prefer to “nail the shot” in camera or use post processing software like Sigma’s Photo Pro 5 to clean up their image. They know that in-camera retouching is simply not good enough. 

Just like it’s predecessor, touching the quick set menu button allows easy access to eight camera functions: ISO, metering mode, flash mode and drive mode on QS1 and white balance, image size, color mode and image quality on QS2. 

Shooting modes are simple – the mode button on the top of the camera provides users to select from video, manual, shutter priority, aperture priority, program auto or three custom settings. 

  • Program auto – an automatic mode where the camera sets shutter speed and aperture; the user may rotate the command dial to obtain different combinations of shutter speed and aperture consistent with the camera’s interpretation of a proper exposure. The user retains a wide variety of inputs such as ISO, white balance, image quality, color space, sharpening, saturation, contrast and others.
  • Aperture priority – user sets lens aperture, camera sets the shutter speed and the user retains a wide variety of inputs as with program auto.
  • Shutter priority – user sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and the user retains a wide variety of inputs as with program auto.
  • Manual – the user sets shutter speed and aperture while retaining the wide variety of inputs found with program auto.
  • Custom 1, 2, 3 – allows users to preset three combinations of settings from the above shooting modes and inputs.
  • Video – allows the user to capture VGA quality video (640 x 480) at 30 frames per second. Maximum file size is limited to 2 GB for any particular clip, approximately 20 minutes filming time. 

Display/Viewfinder
The 3-inch TFT color LCD monitor on the DP3 Merrill consists of 920,000 dots and is adjustable for seven levels of brightness. I used the camera in medium outdoor lighting and found the LCD display generally easy to use. However, I did not have the opportunity to shoot in extreme brightness. Even in medium brightness, the monitor seemed a bit washed out. When I used the camera indoors it was easy to see and use as a framing tool. It was a bit more difficult outdoors, but not impossible.

Sigma makes an optional optical viewfinder for the DP3. The viewfinder mounts on the camera’s hot shoe and has no diopter adjustment for varying degrees of eyesight. 


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