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Sigma DP1 Merrill Review

We review the Sigma DP1 Merrill, the new compact camera from Sigma with a 46 megapixel Foveon sensor.

| Sigma DP1 Merrill in Compact Cameras

Sigma DP1 Merrill Review: Sigma Dp1 Merrill (2)

The Sigma DP1 Merrill is an update to the DP1x with a new body and the flagship 46 megapixel APS-C Foveon sensor from the SD1 / Merrill Digital SLR. Although when comparing the DP1x and the new DP1 Merrill, the camera has been redesigned with a new lens, that matches the specification of the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 mirrorless lens and in some ways could be considered the closest Sigma has come to releasing a mirrorless camera, except you can't change the lens. The two new Sigma DPx Merrill cameras now feature f/2.8 lenses, an improvement over the DP1's f/4.0 lens.

Review based on the Sigma DP2 Merrill Review.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Features

Sigma DP1 Merrill Review: Sigma Dp1 Merrill (7)

The Sigma DP1 Merrill uses the same 48 megapixel APS-C Foveon sensor as the SD1 Merrill, with a Foveon X3 Direct Image Sensor, with each pixel recording Red, Green and Blue, this is designed to be more colour accurate than the more usual Bayer colour filter sensor used on virtually every other camera (excluding the Fujifilm X-Pro1).

Foveon sensor vs Bayer sensor:

Sigma DP1 Merrill Review: Foveon sensor vs Bayer sensor
Image courtesy Sigma

Due to the camera not featuring a Bayer sensor, the camera does not need a "Low Pass Anti Aliasing Filter" this should mean higher resolution being passed to the sensor, plus the Foveon sensor should be able to avoid capturing Moiré - this should benefit fashion photography or anything involving very fine textures.

The sensor is a 15.6 megapixel sensor with Red, Green, Blue (RGB) at every pixel, Sigma say that this makes it equivalent to a 30 megapixel (Bayer) sensor. However the camera outputs an image size of 4704x3136 which is a 14.7 megapixel image.

Key Features

  • 48 megapixel Foveon APS-C X3 Direct Image CMOS sensor
  • Effective Pixels: 46MP (4,800×3,200×3)
  • 19mm f/2.8 lens equivalent to 28mm
  • 3 inch 920k dot screen
  • VGA, 30fps video
  • ISO: AUTO (ISO200~ISO800) ISO100 - 6400
  • Manual / Aperture / Shutter modes
  • Flash hot-shoe

Sigma DP1 Merrill Handling

Sigma DP1 Merrill Review: Sigma Dp1 Merrill (3)

Handling - The camera has a metal body, with a mode button on top instead of a dial. There is also a focus ring surrounding the lens, and the camera lacks a built in flash. The command dial surrounds the shutter release, and on the back the 4 way controller can be used in conjunction with the QS (Quick set) button. In size: it's roughly the same size as the Olympus PEN E-P3 (a medium sized compact mirrorless camera).

Sigma cameras ship with Sigma Photo Pro, RAW processing software specifically designed for processing Foveon X3F raw files. This software is sluggish, particularly if you want to view the images at full size, and not ideal for quick processing, although it does have a number of ways to alter: exposure, contrast, shadow, highlight, saturation, sharpness, X3 fill light, white balance, colour mode, noise reduction and lens correction. It's best to use the software for conversion to a different format for further processing in another application if desired. You can save the image as a JPEG or 8/16 bit TIFF. RAW files are 41 to 55 megabytes in size.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Review: Sigma Dp1 Merrill (4)

Menus – The menu system has a clearly laid out set of options, with record, playback and setup menu screens colour coded blue, red and yellow respectively. QS button gives quick access to options, although it's fairly easy to accidentally set options. QS screens, of which there are two, can be customised so you can get quick access to your favourite settings. Further picture options include settings for contrast, sharpness, saturation.
Sigma DP1 Merrill Review: Sigma Dp1 Merrill (5)

Battery life - Currently CIPA test results aren't listed by Sigma, however battery life was noticeably low, and the camera comes with two batteries in the box. We were able to take 180 shots before the battery went flat. The camera can get quite warm with continued use.

Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

  DP1 Merrill Sony RX100
Shutter Response 0.05 0.0
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.4 0.3
Full zoom - Focus / Shutter Response N/A 0.3
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 4.0 2.2
Shot to Shot without Flash 1.1 0.9
Shot to Shot with Flash N/A 2.1
Continuous Shooting
(shots before slow down)
4fps (7 shots) 7fps (speed priority mode, 15 shots)
Continuous Shooting - Flash N/A 1.6s
Continuous Shooting - RAW 4fps (7 shots) 4fps (13 shots)

Shutter response is good. Focus is not too slow, although not as quick as other cameras. The camera will take 7 photos, then write to card, this can be quite slow, particularly when shooting RAW taking 40+ seconds to clear.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Performance

Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Sample Photos

Sample Photos - For every photo we have shown the JPEG image straight from the camera, and on the right the images converted from RAW. The "gate" JPEG image shows the sky completely overexposed, and using Sigma Photo Pro and the X3 fill light tool has boosted the shadows, as well as brought back the colour in the sky. Worth pointing out is how much extra detail is in the images that have been converted from RAW to JPEG.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Lens test images

Lens Performance - Detail is extremely impressive, and we have done little when converting the RAW files. With the Sigma DP1 Merrill the best JPEG results are when shooting outdoors in bright sunny weather, although using the RAW file better results were available when changing the white balance setting from AUTO and choosing the appropriate option, such as Sunlight. We also adjusted the exposure slightly, boosted the shadows a little, and this has improved colour saturation. There is some purple fringing visible in the shot of the trees above, however the image converted from RAW shows slightly less, as well as showing much better colour. The lens performs extremely well although macro performance isn't a strong point, as the closest focusing distance is 20cm.

Sigma DP1 Merrill ISO test images

ISO Noise Performance - Noise is low at ISO100 and ISO200. Noise at ISO400 is generally quite low, although where it is visible it is reminiscent of film grain, and quite different to noise from other cameras. Noise becomes more noticeable at ISO800, although detail is still very good. Noise is quite intrusive (with corned beef) at ISO1600, which will be particularly unpleasant in skin tones although the noise does appear to affect some colours more than others, and detail suffers. Colour is lost at ISO3200 and ISO6400 - these highest settings are best avoided. There is further control over noise by adjusting the level of noise reduction in Sigma Photo Pro when converting the RAW files.

Sigma DP1 Merrill White-balance test images

White Balance Performance - White balance results are better than the previous camera we tested from Sigma, with reasonably good results when left on auto white balance, although best results are obtained when corrected by shooting RAW. Detail is stunning, with more detail discernable in these shots than shots with 30+ megapixel cameras.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Other sample images

Another sample photo can be found here, showing both the JPEG results straight from the camera, as well as the image converted from RAW to JPEG, using Sigma Photo Pro 5.3.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Digital filters

Digital Filters - The camera has a number of colour modes available in the camera, or they can be applied to the RAW file with Sigma Photo Pro, although black and white / sepia are only available when shooting JPEG photos on the camera.

Video - The DP1 Merrill features VGA video recording at 30fps with mono sound - there are very few options (NTSC or PAL), and the video quality is poor.

Value For Money

There are a number of serious compact cameras, however a very small number feature an APS-C sized sensor, details can be found below:

Camera MP Sensor Size Lens Price
Nikon Coolpix P310 (lacks RAW) 16 1/2.33 inch f/1.8 4.2x £219
Olympus XZ-1 10 1/1.63 inch f/1.8 4x £260
Canon Powershot S100 12 1/1.7 inch f/2.0 5x £329
Fujifilm FinePix X10 12 2/3 inch f/2.0 4x £338
Nikon Coolpix P7100 10 1/1.7 inch f/2.8 7.1x £349
Samsung EX2F 12.4 1/1.7 inch f/1.4 3.3x £429
Panasonic Lumix LX7 10mp 1/1.7 inch f/1.4 3.8x £449
Ricoh GR Digital IV 10 1/1.7 inch f/1.9 28mm £449
Large sensor compacts:        
Canon Powershot G1 X 14.3 1.5 inch f/2.8 4x £449
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 20.2 1 inch sensor f/1.8 3.6x £515
Fujifilm X100 12 APS-C sensor f/2.0 28mm £599
Sigma DP1 Merrill 15.3/46 APS-C Foveon f/2.8 28mm £799
Sigma DP2 Merrill 15.3/46 APS-C Foveon f/2.8 45mm £799
Leica X2 16 APS-C f/2.8 35mm £1499

There are a number of accessories available for the DP1 Merrill, including a lens hood, optical viewfinder and GN14 flash. Further details can be found on Sigma's website.

You'll also need to buy a memory card and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Verdict

The Sigma DP1 and DP2 Merrill is in a group of a limited number of compact cameras with an APS-C sized sensor and a fixed lens, along with the Leica X2, Fujifilm X100 and the Ricoh GXR APS-C cameras. This niche is rarer still due to the use of a Foveon sensor which promises the ultimate in image quality, although this is when shooting RAW. The Foveon sensor is capable of resolving excellent - to stunning - levels of detail far beyond what you would usually expect from 15 megapixel images.

While the body redesign has added a number of useful and needed updates, there are still a number of further issues, namely the camera is larger than many mirrorless cameras, the cost is higher than mirrorless cameras, and the battery life and speed of the camera are worse than competitors. However, if you are a fan of the Foveon colour and extremely high levels of detail at the pixel level, then these are things you may be able to work around, for example with a number of spare batteries.

It's still the case that to get the best out of Foveon sensor cameras you are required to shoot RAW and convert each one in Sigma Photo Pro software. Even when left on Auto settings this produces better results than the camera for white balance and detail. Outdoors this isn't as big an issue, however considering the whole benefit of the Foveon sensor is supposed to be true colour rendition, it's a real shame the JPEG photos come out so poor.

The Sigma DP1 Merrill has an excellent lens and sensor and is capable of producing stunning images with excellent colour and outstanding levels of detail. However to acheive this you have to shoot RAW and process each image in Sigma Photo Pro, making it quite time consuming.

Sigma DP1 Merrill Pros

Clear menu system
Excellent image quality when shooting RAW
New high resolution screen
Impressive levels of detail
Robust metal body
New f/2.8 lens

Sigma DP1 Merrill Cons

Large RAW files (45 to 55mb each)
Poor JPEG results
Sigma Photo Pro performance
Lacks flash
VGA video
Poor battery life


Sigma DP1 Merrill Specifications

Max Aperturef/2.8
35mm equivalent28mm
Optical Zoom0x
Image Sensor
Pixels48Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4704
Pixels (H)3136
Sensor TypeFoveon X3 CMOS
Sensor SizeAPS-C
Sensor Size (width)23.5mm
Sensor Size (height)15.7mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 3:2
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution920,000 dots
Touch ScreenNo
Min Focus20cm
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Manual
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/2000sec
Shutter speeds longest30sec
Bulb modeNo Data
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Spot
  • ESP Light Metering
ISO sensitivity100 - 6400
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Shade
  • Flash
Exposure CompNo Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting4fps
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 640x480 VGA
Video FPS30
Stereo SoundNo
Optical Zoom with VideoNo
Other Features
Image StabilisationNo
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • SDXC
File Type
  • RAW
  • JPG
  • RAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeLi–ion Battery Pack BP-41
Battery Life (CIPA rating)No Data
Box Contents
Box ContentsDP1 Merrill, Lens Cap, Hot Shoe, Strap, Lithium-Ion battery (x2), Battery Charger, Cable, USB cable, AV cable, Manual, Warranty card

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Photographs taken using the Sigma DP1 Merrill

Evening mooringEvening on WindermereOld Slate QuarrryThe Kings BoathouseRusty ShadowsF2Window 2The BeachMontsgurWinter TreeWinter SunsetAmsterdam ReflectionsSt Abbs HeadAbstract 4Triptych

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josa Avatar
josa 11 25 Czech Republic
10 Oct 2012 7:43PM
Is it me or...DP-2 Merrill seemed sharper with better colours...
Niknut Avatar
Niknut Plus
13 3.7k 82 United Kingdom
11 Oct 2012 11:24AM
Very impressive resolution in the Hi-Res shots.....& nice quality in the ISO shots
up to 400......but 800 & above it falls flat on it's face with that horrible colour
intrusion !! (look in the 50% grey areas on the colour-chart test shots)...yuk !!!!!

So 800 for a sharp camera limited to 28mm(equiv), & 400ISO max....I reckon
150 tops would cover it ????????
ronniethain Avatar
11 Oct 2012 10:49PM
The files from this camera are the best I've seen (including from sources other than this review) from any camera short of a Hasselblad. You may not get much in the way of equipment, but your photographs will be better looking than from almost any other camera you could buy. I would prefer a better looking, more versatile camera, but if it couldn't deliver what is now possible with the Sigma Merrill cameras, I would have to ask myself, what would be the point?
cameracat Avatar
cameracat 19 8.6k 61 Norfolk Island
12 Oct 2012 10:13PM

Quote:The files from this camera are the best I've seen (including from sources other than this review) from any camera short of a Hasselblad

Should have gone to Specsavers........Grin

Find a camera that does not produce half decent images at ISO 200 within the 800 quid price range.

Any digital camera that is priced above 150 quid, Should be able to shoot decent images at ISO 400, Not peak at 400......Sheeeeesh....Wink

For 800 sobs, The darn thing should be fantabulous at ISO 6400, Not utterly useless.....!!!

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