The Sigma Merrill series of cameras are ‘not for pussies’, as described by the veritable Michael Reichmann on his website The Luminous Landscape. He maybe correct. Built around a Foveon sensor and world class lenses, the Merrills provide unique characteristics of colour, detail and resolution but also, more negatively, increased levels of digital noise and colour irregularities unknown in the more popular equivalent Bayer sensors seen in most digital cameras.
After several months of owning both a Sigma DP1 and 2 Merrill, I am still struggling to tame both beasts and to get them to do what I want them to do. I am enormously impressed with their virtues; medium format like resolution and sharpness, and when the colours are correct they are pure and strong. The cameras undoubtedly like ‘good’ light and the combination of the sensor and quality lenses sing in the right conditions. However on dark days, when shadows predominate or at night the cameras struggle and the results can be predictably underwhelming. Another constraint is that the ISO must be kept within the 100-400 region, otherwise digital noise and colour become overbearing. Finally the batteries return a derisory 70-80 images per charge, making spare batteries mandatory.
The above image is of the slipway at Burnham on Sea on a grey featureless day which turns the brown sands and mud at Burnham as grey and featureless as the sky. The colour version of this was a disaster. Converting to monochrome though in Lightroom ( there are differing views as to how to get the best monochrome out of these cameras ) turns a failing image into something more interesting and memorable.
It was my intention whilst taking the photograph to convert to monochrome later. Alhough handheld on this occasion, the Sigmas become almost an medium format or even large format equivalent if good photographic practice is pursued. A tripod and a slow, meditative approach brings rich rewards which can be printed as large as anybody might reasonably wish to do.
I am considering taking the Sigmas with me when I return to India in January. They should provide a less conspicuous presence on the ghats of Patna and Varanasi, as well as being lighter and easier to carry. For images from a tripod they will surpass the resolution of my Canon 5d Mk2 and the colours should render the early morning light beautifully.
The remaining images shot on this day can be found here