SIGMA DP1 & DP2 MERRILL VS SONY NEX-7 REVIEW

Venice, Italy

THE SIGMA DP1 & DP2 MERRILL VS SONY NEX-7 REVIEW WITH SIGMA LENSES: A COMPARISON

Since I got my Sigma DP Merrill cameras, I wanted to do a Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review, in particular using Sigma lenses on the Sony Nex-7. For this test, I got the Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN & Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN for the Nex-7, two lenses supposedly very similar if not identical to those built-in the Sigma DP1 Merrill & Sigma DP2 Merrill.

I am a Fine Art landscape photographer, not a camera or lens reviewer. Therefore, you will not see here shots of charts, brick walls or the like. Instead, I brought all three cameras with me to Venice, where I went to work on images for my VIERI BOTTAZZINI FINE ART PRINTS collection. In Venice, I took images with both the Sigma and the Sony cameras, set at the same aperture, at each location I went to. I subsequently processed the images putting them through my usual workflow, working on the Sigma DP1 Merrill & Sigma DP2 Merrill’s batch first, followed by the Nex-7’s batch a few weeks later.

Comacchio & Venice Photography Workshop

As I mentioned above, the purpose of my trip to Venice was to create images for my Portfolio. Therefore, all images you’ll see here have been taken around sunrise or sunset, with filters, on a tripod. This comparison will be meaningful for people interested in a similar application, i.e. the use of large sensor, small cameras for landscape work. For other kinds of work, your requirements, and therefore your conclusions, may be totally different.

Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with either Sigma or Sony in any way. I am a professional photographer looking for the best equipment for my work, I buy all my gear with my hard-earned cash and I don’t get paid by anyone to write articles for my blog.

Let me start by saying that all cameras in this Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review produced excellent quality images for my intended purpose. Both the built-in and the removable versions of the Sigma lenses I used here turned out very sharp all over the frame. Both outputted very nice colours, albeit the Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill’s Foveon sensors showed an interesting green/magenta cast in some images. The biggest technical problem I faced in post-processing, with all cameras in this Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review, has been getting rid of Chromatic Aberrations (CA) and colour fringes. To do so, I used CA removal both in Sigma Photo Pro and in Capture One, but that wasn’t always enough to get rid of it all. To completely rid my images of it, I often had to further clean them in Photoshop.

Let’s look at the images now. Let’s start this Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review with a comparison of images of S. Giorgio Maggiore at dusk, after last light. Sigma DP2 Merrill first, followed by the Sony Nex-7 with the Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN (click on the images to enlarge):

As I mentioned in my SIGMA DP1 MERRILL & SIGMA DP2 MERRILL REVIEW article, images shot with the Merrill cameras often show some colour cast. When this happens, you can choose to edit it out, or play along with it. Here, for instance, I found the magenta spot clearly visible in the middle of the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s to be working well with the subject matter.

However, the colours of the Sony Nex-7’s image are closer to my vision. Furthermore, the Sony Nex-7’s image benefits from having been shot a few minutes after the Sigma’s, resulting in a slightly longer exposure and in a calmer sea as well (incredibly, no boats passed by for a few minutes!). A tiny bit of CA was still present in both images after RAW conversion, more so in the Sony Nex-7’s than in the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s but was easily cleaned up in Photoshop.

The Dolomites Photography Workshop

Both images are evenly sharp all over the frame. Even at this size, however, it is clear that the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s Foveon image shows more detail, despite its nominal disadvantage in resolution (15 Mp vs 24 Mp). All said and done, I went for the Sony Nex-7’s image, which better expressed my vision of the scene. Sure, I could get the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s colours to match the Sony Nex-7’s, but there wasn’t anything I could do to fix the sea in the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s image to make it look like the Sony’s.

In this Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review’s next comparison, we’ll enjoy images of S. Marco at dusk. Sigma DP2 Merrill first, followed by the Sony Nex-7 with the Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN (click on the images to enlarge):

First of all, please note the very different colour rendition in the images above. The DP2 Merrill’s shows a pretty evident green-magenta cast here, and while I got rid of it in part of the image, I left it almost completely uncorrected in the water pool at the bottom of it for effect.

The Nex-7’s colours, however, work better for the mood I was after at the time of the day the picture has been shot. CA was practically non-existent in either image.

Cinque Terre & Tuscany Photography Workshop

Again, both lenses produced very sharp results over the frame, and again the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s image shows more detail than the Sony Nex-7’s, despite the difference in nominal resolution. Both images work well for me here: The Sigma’s has a more “active” feel, the Sony’s a more “peaceful” one. I ended up choosing the Sony’s image for print and to add to my portfolio.

Coming up next in this Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review, Ponte dei Sospiri at sunrise. Sigma DP2 Merrill first, followed by the Sony Nex-7 with the Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN (click on the images to enlarge):

Once more, we can see how different the colour rendition of these two camera and lens combinations is. In this case, you can see how the Sony Nex-7’s image is much warmer on both sides of the bridge, while the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s is cooler on the sides, leaving the centre a bit warmer. This is a pattern we saw in the previous two images as well, and one that works remarkably well for the subject matter here.

Again, both lenses showed no CA here, and both lenses proved very sharp all over the frame. Once more, it is worth noting how, despite the difference in resolution, the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s image is more detailed than the Nex-7’s. I much prefer the Sigma DP2 Merrill’s rendition here, being much closer to my vision of the scene.

Up next, two sunrise images of S. Giorgio Maggiore, with gondolas in the foreground. Sigma DP1 Merrill first, followed by the Sony Nex-7 with the Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN (click on the images to enlarge):

Again, we can see in this Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review the different interpretation of colours rendered by each camera. The Sigma DP1 Merrill always shows a bit of a green cast around the frame, while the Sony Nex-7 tends towards a more blue/magenta colouring of the whole image.

Both camera and lens combinations fared badly here in respect to CA. Despite using the CA removal tools in RAW conversion, I still had to do some pretty heavy cleaning in Photoshop. The sea’s real colour was closer to that of the Sigma DP1 Merrill’s image, which – again – is more detailed than the Sony Nex-7’s. However, I liked my processing of the Sony Nex-7’s shot better here, plus I found that the bird on the pole added a lot to the image. In the end, while I really liked both images, I ended up choosing the Sony Nex-7’s image.

Normandy & Brittany Photography Workshop

Incidentally, one of the main problems when shooting long exposures in Venice is dealing with the passing of boats. While one obviously expects to see boats in Venice, a city built in the middle of the sea, the traffic can make it difficult to use a delayed release, as I did here to further reduce vibrations. The problem is that in the few seconds wait between pressing the shutter and the effective start of the exposure, a boat can appear out of nowhere and ruin your shot. Despite constantly looking around, trying to time boat passages was often difficult to achieve and I ended up with unwanted boats in more than one frame.

Back to our Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review now, below you’ll find a few “singles” from each camera. Enjoy a couple of Sigma DP1 Merrill images first, followed by a couple of Sony Nex-7 images, taken from almost the same location first at dusk and second in the morning of the following day (click on the images to enlarge):

CONCLUSIONS
First of all, let me tell you how much I enjoyed walking around Venice with a very light camera bag and a small tripod, while still being able to obtain results good enough to print big! I am looking at great looking 24″ x 30″ prints out of this series as I write this, and that’s exactly what I hoped to get out of this little experiment.

Back to this Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review, all camera and lens combinations examined here produced very high-quality images, sharp all over the frame and with plenty of details. The biggest technical problem I had with both cameras’ files was dealing with abundant chromatic aberration.

Death Valley Photography Workshop

Under an artistic point of view, which is what interests me the most, I have been very happy with all camera and lens combinations. In particular, I found the sharpness and detail of the Merrill more to my liking than the Sony’s, despite the slight odd colour casts. However, the Sony Nex-7 is definitely the better camera when it comes to flexibility, features, battery life, speed of use and ease of file processing. One of my biggest problems with the DP Merrill series of camera is that Sigma Photo Pro, usability-wise, is closest to be the worst piece of software ever designed. As always, choosing a camera system vs. another is a trade-off that depends on what you shoot and what your priorities are.

That said, the Sigma DP1 Merrill and Sigma DP2 Merrill produce image quality with a look that I could define, for lack of better words, close to medium format. They do in a small, light package, and they suit my shooting style very well. I will keep them and give them a try on future trips as well. As I said at the beginning, your requirements, and therefore your conclusions, can be different than mine – that’s the beauty of it, especially in times such as these, when compact cameras are getting so good.

In short, the Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill and the Sony Nex-7 with Sigma lenses all offer you great image quality in very compact and light packages. You can’t go wrong with choosing either.

Iceland Photography Workshop

Thanks for reading this Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merrill vs Sony Nex-7 review, I hope you enjoyed it! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?

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JOIN THE DISCUSSION

11 thoughts on “SIGMA DP1 & DP2 MERRILL VS SONY NEX-7 REVIEW”

  1. Not sure that I follow your postings. In the sunrise example the Sigma is shot at -0.3EV and the Sony is shot at +1.3EV, both at ISO 100, both at 4s.

    First question is why 4s? ISO 400 or ISO 800 would work for your printsize too, imo.

    Secondly, did you use the same WB settings (spot, average, landscape, sunset, or custom) in both? Frankly, I find the color differences a bit extreme, and think that both cameras are off somehow.

    Thirdly, by comparing at 1.6EV difference, aren’t you handicapping the Nex-7? Less DR, different color response, etc.?

    Lastly, you state that you like to print large (24″x36″), but that 24Mp versus 16Mp makes little difference. I find that odd: at that printsize, the 50% extra dpi resolution should matter. Or are you upsampling the Sigma (and not the Sony) image?

    Kudos on getting up early and taking some interesting pics, as well as putting together the blog and comparisons.

    Reply
    • Henry,

      see my answers below.

      Q. Not sure that I follow your postings. In your example the Sigma is shot at -0.3EV and the Sony is shot at +1.3EV, both at ISO 100, both at 4s.

      A. There is evidently some difference in how the cameras’ meters work, seeing that the resulting levels are pretty much the same;

      Q. First question is why 4s? ISO 400 or ISO 800 would work for your printsize too, imo.

      A.I always shoot at base ISO on a tripod for maximum quality if I can. Exceptions are if I choose a particular shutter speed for aesthetic effects like here (blurring water);

      Q. Secondly, did you use the same WB settings (spot, average, landscape, sunset, or custom) in both? Frankly, I find the color differences a bit extreme, and think that both cameras are off somehow.

      A. That is not possible, because I had to use two different softwares to process the files (Sigma files aren’t supported in anything but Sigma proprietary software, very unfortunately);

      Q. Thirdly, by comparing at 1.6EV difference, aren’t you handicapping the Nex-7? Less DR, different color response, etc.?

      A. No, because shooting in aperture priority the only thing that changes is shutter speed and that has no effect on DR and colour response;

      Q. Lastly, you state that you like to print large (24″x36″), but that 24Mp versus 16Mp makes little difference. I find that odd: at that printsize, the 50% extra dpi resolution should matter. Or are you upsampling the Sigma (and not the Sony) image?

      A. The difference in size is not 50%, more like 25%. Plus, an upsized Merrill size still holds better detail than a Nex-7 file. I approximate the Foveon 15 Mp (or 45 Mp if you believe Sigma’s marketing!) resolution to about 30 Mp of Bayer resolution.

      Q. Kudos on getting up early and taking some interestinh pics, as well as putting together the blog and comparisons.

      A. Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed it

      Best,

      Vieri

      Reply
  2. Color calibration for the Sigma DP cameras is a PITA. It would be so easy switching to DNG raw files like Leica, using the Colorchecker or another tool to batch edit in Lightroom. That’s why I sold my DP2. Sigma refuses all discussions to adapt a better workflow.

    Reply
    • I agree that Sigma should press to have their RAW supported by Adobe & Phase One at least; I read somewhere that it is difficult (or impossible) to use DNG for the Foveon RAWs, but I am not a software engineer. Whatever they did, I completely agree that an alternative to SPP would be great to have.

      Best,

      Vieri

      Reply
  3. Thanks to your nice writeup, which wisely shows us not-full-size images so that we can see the difference the Sigma Merrills make even at ordinary print sizes, am beginning to see the foolishness of viewing the Sigmas as being merely too-slow, too-limited competition to Bayer sensor APS cams.

    Is the Sony Nex an uncompetitive, limited slow dinosaur, because it can’t take 60 frames per second like a Nikon V1? Of course not, because when the Nex’s speed will do, the Nex makes images the Nikon couldn’t dream of. The Nex is a whole ‘nother level of image quality that makes its bulk and slowness worthwhile for a significant bunch of people.

    Is a Sigma an uncompetitve, limited slow dinosaur because it can’t take 10 frames per second like some Nex cams? Of course not, since you’ve made it quite clear that the Sigma Merrills make images the 2012-era Nex’s couldn’t dream of. The Sigmas are a whole next level of image quality that make their slowness and lack of over-iso-1600 quality worthwhile for a significant bunch of people. Pretty cool to be able to walk around with a pair of 350 gram cameras costing $1900 dollars that, in non-sports-and-action situations, let you take photos that it recently took $10000 dollar-plus medium format clunker cams to produce while weighing 5 to 10 times as much.

    Reply
    • Hello,

      thank you for reading and for your comment – I am glad you understood my rationale behind presenting same-size reduced images, which I think are a good indicator of what to expect from each camera.

      I loved your dinosaur example, by the way :) I completely agree, the Sigma offer a lot in a very small and relatively cheap package. That said, I understand that they aren’t an end-all camera: they are a very specialised tool, which can make someone very happy and drive someone else totally crazy :) It all depends on what one shoots…

      Thanks again! Best,

      Vieri

      Reply
  4. Ciao Vieri,

    I’ve just come back from a similar experience myself, using a DP2 alongside Olympus E-P3 in Venice. I have to say I’m still somewhat taking aback by the Sigma colour rendition. Sometimes the auto white balance is just insanely wrong, but even when balanced, the difference between the two cameras is quite remarkable. In particular, in Venice, the bottle green colour of the canal waters (in some places) is rendered in a quite unattractive, flat way by the DP2. Of course it is extremely difficult to say which is “right”, since perception and subjectivity play a huge role, and I’m not really in the habit of dragging a grey card around with me. I’m mostly processing the Sigma files in Iridient Developer, which gives me a lot more control over white balance than Sigma Photo Pro. I did find that the DP2 works very well for night time long exposures, but still, in general it still feels like a bit of an experiment. I don’t think I’d be comfortable committing exclusively to Sigma Merrill cameras just yet…

    Thanks for your excellent writing!
    David

    Reply
    • Ciao David,

      first of all thank you for reading a commenting. I see your point re: the colour rendition of the Sigma, which requires some struggling with SPP to get right. What I found very quirky (not to say straight off BAD!), more than their WB, is their implementation of WB control & adjustment: in SPP, you have to BOTH select a base WB in the “White Balance Setting: to start with, AND fix the tone in what they call “Color Adjustment”, which has a logic apparently according to the way the Foveon sensor works, but it’s very counterintuitive for anyone who had ever used any different imaging software before…

      I never tried Iridient, but from what I have read it has a long way to go to get Foveon colours right; I seem to recall that its developer himself said something to this extent in a post on DPReview (but I might be mistaking of course). Maybe it is worth a try, I’ll try and get to it when I have some time.

      About your conclusions, I agree with you that it is a bit early to commit exclusively to Sigma cameras; I choose to use the 3 Merrill (DP3 is on its way!) as my light, high-IQ, portable landscape/cityscape kit – these three cameras, together with the Nikon P7700, make for a very light and very high IQ portable kit. For “serious” work where portability is less important I use my Nikon gear, no questions about it.

      So yes, in a way it has been an experiment for me as well, but one ending very positively for Sigma :) they sold me on the three-Merrill concept, and I now hope they would make a fourth one equipped with a wider angle lens (18-21).

      Thanks again for joining in, best

      Vieri

      Reply
  5. Actually I finally discovered for myself the importance of the colour correction today. I also forced myself to spend a bit of time learning how things work in SPPs world rather than making assumptions. I realised that the colour working space, in preferences, must be set to Adobe RGB (or EXIF) which is pretty counter-intuitive. ProPhoto just doesn’t work. Actually the only other application that I’ve come across which similarly shifts colours when you change the _working_ space is/was Olympus Studio : what a coincidence, also designed by a camera manufacturer! I also finally realised what the X3F/auto/custom modes do, and now, finally, I’ve got a functioning SPP workflow which produces colour-managed output.

    I think Iridient is worth persevering with. I’ve been using it for many years, it is a subtle, but deep and powerful RAW converter, with a rendering closer to CaptureOne – rather the old v4 than the latest versions. The developer, Brian Griffiths, is very well regarded, and very helpful and responsive. And at least he’s trying. With v2.0.1, most of my X3F files work fine. The rendering is a little different to SPP, but there’s no point in it being the same! In some extreme cases there are some colour cast issues with the DP2M, but he’s working on it.

    When everything lines up ok, and the light is good, and the software works, the Sigma really produces some breath-taking output!

    Cheers – David

    Reply
    • Hello David,

      luckily, I haven’t tried to use ProPhoto colorspace with the Sigmas then! :) I always used it with my bigger guns (digital MF, the Nikons) but for some reasons I didn’t think about it with the Sigmas. RAW processors designed by camera manufacturer do tend to be very bad when it comes to usability, UI and speed/performance – however, they also very unfortunately often produce the best output for their own files, so we are cursed and have to put up with their other limitations to squeeze than extra bit of IQ from our images. At least, such is the case for me with Nikon Capture NX2, the Fuji whats-its-name Silky-pix clone when I used the X-Pro1, and now SPP.

      I love and use Capture One whenever I can, Nikon files aside; I used it for the Nex, for the M8/M9, for my digital backsl I definitely would love it if they added Foveon files at some point, but I am not hopeful they ever will. We’ll see.

      I will try Iridient then and see what I can do with it. One advantage, from what you say and what i read around the various fora, is that they guy is there, is real and responsive and things get done in a decent timeframe compared to the “big guys”.

      Bottom line, you are totally right: when the Photo Gods look down to us, the stars align, the light is good, the software doesn’t crash, no natural disasters strike, etc. the Sigmas really can deliver wonderful images. Too bad you need all this to happen at the same time! It would be much easier if Sigma would have used dng, or alternatively if they would have supported Capture one or Adobe to add Foveon support…

      Best,

      Vieri

      Reply
  6. Dear Bruno,

    thank you very much for your comment, very much appreciated! Light was actually at sunrise, not sunset, but that doesn’t make it any less miraculous to me :)

    I hope you will be happy with your DP Merrill, whichever you might end up choosing. These little cameras require some effort to milk the maximum IQ out of them, but the results are spectacular.

    Best,

    Vieri

    Reply

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