The menu on the Sigma is nice and legible, with clearly organized tabs aligned horizontally across the top of the screen. The menu has color coordinated tabs for shooting settings, playback, and system settings, with multiple pages under each. The options are clearly laid out and it's easy to find the setting you're looking for.
The best thing about the menu is that the options are organized in short lists in each page, such that no options require scrolling all the way to the bottom of the screen, so it's easy to find your way around. It's an intelligent design that most camera manufacturers are beginning to adopt, though some still just have long lists.
The DP2 Merrill isn't terribly difficult to use, with a menu and button layout that is simple to learn and navigate. The camera lacks a physical mode dial, but it has a dedicated button designed just for switching between the various shooting modes. The rear four-way control pad works great for changing modes or navigating through the menu, as well.
The best thing about the camera in terms of usability is the ability to set up various QS mode setups, which will let you redefine the function of the four-way directional keys. This lets you customize the function of all four keys any way that you like, with the option to save multiple control setups depending on who is using the camera or what kind of photos you are taking.
The Sigma DP2 Merrill is fairly compact, especially for a camera with an APS-C image sensor included. The camera feels like a normal high-end compact camera wrapped in a few millimeters of plastic; it could fit easily in a loose jacket pocket and it's very light compared to other APS-C sensor cameras.
The camera itself does not have the kind of creature comforts you may be used to on cameras with grips. Its body is almost completely without ornament, with only a few raised bumps providing any sort of grip on the camera. It's clear Sigma wanted to keep the body as slim as possible, but a slightly more inventive grip would've gone a long way, as it's precisely the same as previous DP cameras.
The shooting modes on the DP2 Merrill are organized into a single mode menu on the camera, which is brought up by pressing the dedicated mode button on the top plate of the camera. This shows a horizontal list of the four main shooting modes (program auto, shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual exposure) along with video and three custom shooting modes, which can be stored by going into the main menu.
The Sigma DP2 Merrill is designed to be a camera for the enthusiast photographer, and as such is doesn't offer much in the way of scene or intelligent automatic modes. The most automatic mode that the camera can engage in is the program auto, though this easily shifts with just a simple turn of the top control dial. This will largely affect aperture, though it makes constant changes to shutter speed to compensate as well.
The video mode on the Foveon sensor is strictly VGA, with no option for high definition shooting. The Foveon sensor's unique construction has traditionally limited video capture to just VGA at 30fps, so it's no surprise that the DP2 Merrill retains this rating. There are also not very many video controls on the camera, though with only VGA video capability we can't imagine video being a priority for those picking up the camera.
The DP2 Merrill allows users to take a single shot or a continuous burst of shots by utilizing the camera's drive modes. The amount of data that has to be pulled from the image sensor doesn't allow for supremely fast burst shooting, but we found the camera to be generally responsive. The camera also allows users to make use of a self-timer, with options for a two- or ten-second delay, an interval timer, and the camera's "infinite drive" setting, which as far as we could tell in limited time with the unit continually takes images until you tell it to stop.
Playback on the Sigma DP2 Merrill was very limited, with very few in-camera editing options. Playback is entered by pressing the camera marked with a red "play" symbol on the bottom of the back of the camera. Images can then be examined by digitally zooming in with the control dial, or zooming out to view an index of images. In the camera's menu the two pages of playback options allow you to mark, protect, delete, or rotate an image. You can also order prints, view images in a slideshow and turn options on like overexposure warning, whether you want an image to play with sound, or the camera to automatically rotate an image to the correct orientation.
The image sensor on the Sigma DP2 Merrill captures a staggering 46 megapixels of data, but that includes 15.4 megapixels per channel for red, green, and blue. While the model we used at CP+ in Japan was still pre-production, it also offered image size options of 3264x2176 and 2336x1568, with the ability to capture shots in RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG. In JPEG shooting the camera offered three levels of compression—high, medium, and low—with the highest quality returning a roughly 10MB image file at maximum resolution, while a low quality maximum resolution shot was just 4.2MB
The Sigma DP2 Merrill utilizes contrast detection autofocus with nine points for it to choose between. The camera lets you manually choose which point to focus on or it will select for you. The camera also allows for manual focus simply by turning the focus ring on the 30mm prime lens, with a digital zoom magnifying the subject to ensure precise focus. We found the autofocus to be about normal for a point and shoot camera despite limited lighting. It certainly wasn't up to par with cameras such as the Olympus E-P3 or even the Sony NEX series, but we found the same problem with the Fuji X100, the DP2 Merrill's primary fixed lens APS-C competitor.
The Sigma DP2M primarily meters automatically, with the option for evaluative, center-weighted average, or spot metering. The camera allows you to adjust exposure with a compensation of +/- 3 stops in 1/3-step increments. In most of the shooting modes the control dial will also alter a specific setting (aperture in aperture priority mode, for example). Even in program auto rotating the top wheel will shift your program to favor a specific aperture, though brightness is only affected by compensating the exposure.
The main menu for the DP2M allows you to change brightness, though one of the four directional keys is usually assigned to bring up the ISO menu by default. The camera features an ISO range of 100-6400, with the option to let the camera decide the appropriate ISO setting based on the brightness of the scene. There is no way to fix the range that the auto ISO can pull from.
In our limited time with the camera we did not notice noise on the rear screen at any ISO sensitivity below 400, which is in keeping with how this sensor performs on the Sigma SD1 DSLR. We'll have to hold off on making any proclamations about the noise performance until we get the camera into our labs for a full test, however.
The Sigma DP2M includes a variety of white balance modes and presets, with an automatic and custom white balance value available. The camera includes six white balance presets, including daylight, cloudy, shade, flash, incandescent, and fluorescent values. The custom white balance only allows you to store a single setting, without the option for multiple values that you can switch between.
The specs and the camera itself do not mention image stabilization in any way, with no option referencing stabilization in the camera menu itself. Therefore we have to assume that the camera does not feature any kind of way of correcting for camera shake, either optically or digitally by increasing sensitivity.
There are some basic color modes available on the DP2 Merrill that will alter the color balance of the images captured. There are seven color modes in total, including standard, vivid, neutral, portrait, landscape, black & white, and sepia. The camera also has several "picture settings" which are sliders that let you alter contrast, sharpness, and saturation on a +/- 5 stop scale.
The image sensor on the DP2 Merrill is a model bearing the company's Foveon X3 15.4-megapixel image sensor, just like the company's $6000+ SD1 digital SLR. Foveon sensors are unique in that instead of featuring a Beyer pattern where an image sensor's photosites are gather 1/4th red, 1/4th blue, and 1/2 green information (extrapolating proper color from the patterns therein), the Foveon X3 sensors have essentially three 15.4-megapixel layers on top of one another—one green, one red, and one blue. The result is three times the color data available, with each pixel the result of three photosites worth of information from different parts of the light spectrum.
The theoretical result is vastly superior image quality and detail, because a final digital image is not merely an educated guess at what an individual pixel's brightness and color detail entailed, but an actual measurement. Clearly, normal Beyer pattern image technology is getting along just fine (nearly every other company uses some form of Beyer pattern on their sensors, though companies like Fuji do play with the arrangement).
Having seen samples taken with the Sigma SD1, we expect the DP2 Merrill to be a quite capable camera in the image quality department. We weren't able to take away samples at CP+ and the rear screen didn't really allow for much close inspection. Rest assured, we're as eager as anyone to get this camera in for a full battery of tests to see what this sensor technology can really do on the DP2 Merrill.
The rear LCD on the Sigma DP2 Merrill is a 3-inch 920k-dot TFT color LCD that seems vastly improved over previous Sigma DP cameras. While previous models were also listed as 920k-dot screens, complains were registered that they were lower resolution RGB screens. We didn't notice any major issues with clarity on the DP2 Merrill, with menus and photos looking nice and crisp in playback. Our one issue is with the brightness of the screen, as it seems quite dark and easily affected by glare.
The DP2 Merrill does not feature a built-in flash with the body, though does include flash control options in the menu. The camera includes a built-in hot shoe that is designed for attaching one of a number of Sigma-produced flashguns. The press release for the DP2 Merrill calls out the ability to use a specially designed EF-140 DG flashgun, though the use of full SD-series Sigma flashguns are also an option.
Without HD video capture, there is little reason to have much beyond a simple USB/AV output port on the Sigma DP2 Merrill, which is all you get. The port is hidden behind a small plastic door on the side of the camera, which pops out to reveal the port hidden underneath. The camera supports USB 2.0, without any update for faster standards that are just coming to market.
Both the DP2 Merrill and DP1 Merrill will make use of the BP-41 battery pack from Sigma. The two batteries charge via an external charger, model number BC-41. We weren't able to see these batteries specifically at CP+ in Japan, as the models on the floor were wired in with DC adapters that replicate the shape only. The battery slots into a dedicated compartment alongside memory on the bottom of the camera. Battery capacity and approximate shot rating are not available as of this writing.
The Sigma DP2 Merrill takes SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards via a dedicated memory slot inside the battery compartment on the bottom of the camera. At maximum resolution, a RAW shot with the 46-megapixel Foveon X3 image sensor produces a 45MB file (10MB for JPEG, as it can throw most of that data out), so you won't fit as many shots on a 4GB memory card as with other RAW-shooting compact cameras.
It's rare in the digital camera market to see something that truly innovates. With their DP1 in 2008, Sigma did just that, putting a completely new type of APS-C image sensor in a fixed lens compact camera. The size and sensor combination was bold enough, but the Foveon X3 image sensor in the camera was radically different from any other thing on the market.
While most cameras create a digital image from an array of alternating red, green, and blue pixels (interpolating the actual image's color from that data), the Foveon sensor has three sensors stacked on top of one another—one for each color. This produces three times the data, with each pixel having information from across the color spectrum.
The DP1 was hardly a success however, and several years later Fuji X100 was released to mass acclaim for following essentially the same formula with a more traditional APS-C sensor. Like with most true innovation, Fuji proved it's better to improve slightly and market effectively rather than take the initial risks yourself.
The Foveon sensor has seen drastic improvement since 2008, with the DP2 and DP1 Merrill now including the same 15.4-megapixel model (46 megapixels in total) as their well-received $6000+ SD1 full-size DSLR. All this fits into a simple compact camera that can slot easily into a jacket pocket.
The DP2 Merrill is in many ways the exact opposite of the Fuji X100—it's the yeoman camera, without ornament or embellishment. It's designed to be a vehicle for its sensor, and nothing more. It's not meant to call up distant memories of some faux-nostalgic love of photography; if the Fuji X100 is The Tree of Life, then the Sigma DP2 is a forty-five minute instructional video on wood carving.
That doesn't make it a bad camera, by any means. It's compact, it has a great control scheme, it's a simple camera to use, and there's nothing particularly offensive about its operation. We'll have to get the camera through a full range of performance tests to say more, but Sigma once again has a camera that's a rarity in the market: it just takes photos, period.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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