SIGMA SD1 MERRILL VS NIKON D800E REVIEW, PART I

Nikon D800E vs Sigma SD1 Merrill

SIGMA SD1 MERRILL VS NIKON D800E REVIEW, PART I: COMPARING THE CAMERAS AND NORMAL LENSES

I have been looking forward to doing a compared Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review for quite some time now. While I am fairly new to Foveon, I have been using Nikon equipment all my life. In fact, I took my first photograph, decades ago, with a glorious Nikon F and a 50mm, and I have been using Nikon equipment since. Nevertheless, I consider myself brand agnostic: I neither use any brand exclusively, nor do I refuse to use a particular brand on principle.

During my journey with photography, besides my faithful Nikons I have been shooting Leica, Hasselblad, PhaseOne, Aptus, Canon, Fuji, Sony, Holga, Linhof, Silvestri, and more. Part of the reason for doing so is because I am always looking for the best tools for the job at hand; as well, I have to admit that I enjoy experimenting with different equipment, whenever something new and interesting comes out on the market.

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At the moment, to create images for my VIERI BOTTAZZINI FINE ART PRINTS business, I am using mainly a Nikon D3X and a Nikon D800E. These are both wonderful cameras and I am quite happy with Nikon’s offer of both cameras & lenses at this point in time, but – there is always a but, isn’t it?

I actually started thinking about this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review in fall 2012, when I got interested in the Sigma DP Merrill series of compact cameras and decided to give the Foveon technology a try.

I was hooked. The results coming out of these small, portable cameras with fixed focal lenses were so good that I thought about getting a Sigma SD1 Merrill to enjoy the Foveon sensor in a DSLR body, with the choice of lenses and accessories that this allows.

Finally, a couple of months ago, I took the plunge. I got the camera together with a few lenses and started experimenting with it (see my first impressions about the SD1 Merrill on my SIGMA SD1 MERRILL FIRST LOOK REVIEW article, if you are interested).

I am always purpose-driven when I buy and review equipment for my professional use. So, my sole concern is this: will the Sigma SD1 Merrill and Sigma lenses be up to the task of creating Fine Art prints for my business?

First, I need to know how they will compare with my Nikon D800E and its lenses, and whether the difference in sensor size (Full Frame vs. APS-C) will make a big difference when it comes to image quality. Finally, I need to find out whether the prints will be good enough to make me, and my customers, happy.

To find out, I set out to do a thorough Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review testing as many lenses as possible. In this Part I, I’ll examine the cameras together with a normal lens. Let’s start!

Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am not affiliated with Nikon or Sigma 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.

FEATURES
No contest here. The Nikon D800E is without a doubt the most feature-rich camera of the two, offering among others (in no particular order) video, electronic level, live view, possibility to use an external GPS, etc., all features that the Sigma SD1 Merrill lacks. In particular, I wish the Sigma SD1 Merrill offered double card slots like the Nikon D800E: being able to instantly back up your pictures in the field on two different cards provides you with an extra layer of protection that might save your bacon if anything goes wrong with your main card.

I also love the Nikon D800E’s shutter built-in the viewfinder’s eyepiece, which is very useful to prevent stray light to get in from the VF during long exposures, something missing on the Sigma SD1 Merrill. On the other hand, the Sigma SD1 Merrill offers better timer / mirror up control, a more logical organisation of its custom feature sets (selectable on the mode dial) and the very useful QS menus for quickly setting up the most frequently used parameters.

The Nikon D800E has a traditional status LCD on top of the camera, which is very useful to quickly check settings without looking into the viewfinder. The Sigma SD1 Merrill, on the other hand, got rid of the status LCD, and your status information will appear on the main screen pressing the FUNC button. Personally, I prefer Nikon’s solution, but your mileage may vary.

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The Nikon D800E’s features are broadly customisable via the camera’s menus, even too much so for someone. The Sigma SD1 Merrill, conversely, is a monument to the Spartan Camera, following a sort of “the less customisation the better” philosophy that might appeal to some more than others. However, as a big plus, it provides you with many different ways to reach the main controls (direct dedicated buttons, the QS menu and the regular menus).

If you are a professional, the Nikon D800E is a more complete camera, one that you can use for different jobs and customise to suit various shooting styles. While it excels as a studio, landscapes and Fine Art camera, you can use it in a pinch for sports and PJ as well (though a Nikon D4 would of course be better for that). The Sigma SD1 Merrill, on the other hand, is a more limited tool. It excels at landscape and Fine Art too and is pretty good in the studio and with people as well, if you shoot at a slow pace. However, if I had a choice, I’d never take it on a PJ job, and it wouldn’t certainly be my first choice to shoot sports either.

So, while feature-wise the Nikon D800E is the clear winner here, according to what you shoot the Sigma SD1 Merrill can prove to be the best camera for you. For my kind of work, both cameras provide me with all the features I need. Of course, I’d appreciate it if the Sigma SD1 Merrill offered at least Live View, electronic level and GPS, and an easy, built-in way to close the viewfinder’s eyepiece during long exposures as well.

CAMERA BODY AND ERGONOMICS
As I mentioned above, I have been shooting Nikon cameras all my life. Since the advent of digital, in particular, I used the Nikon D70, D2X, D2XS, D300, D700, D3, D3X and the D800E. I can easily say that I can operate the Nikon D800E with my eyes closed and one hand behind my back. I always felt that ergonomically Nikon cameras are among the best out there, and I am really comfortable using pretty much any of them.

That said, contrary to my expectations, picking up the Sigma SD1 Merrill was surprisingly easy. The camera felt really good in my hands, all its controls are placed very logically (with the exception of the ISO button, which requires a bit of contortion to be reached with your RH index finger!) and those that aren’t located where I expected, I managed to get acquainted with in a very short time.

Both cameras in this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review feel really solid in the hand, very well built and easy to hold and use. No winner here for me personally, I’d be equally happy to pick either camera and start shooting with it.

PERFORMANCE
Autofocus. The Nikon D800E is the clear winner here: the 51-points CAM-3500FX is faster, locks more decisively, hunts less and works between -2 EV and 19 EV which is especially important for me, while the Sigma SD1 Merrill’s AF system works only between 0 and 18 EV. That said, for my Fine Art landscape work I only use the central AF point. I never needed AF tracking or 51 AF points (nor the Sigma’s 11, for that matter).

I only prefer the Nikon D800E’s AF over the Sigma SD1 Merrill’s for its low light capability and for that bit of extra decisiveness when locking focus. That said, the Sigma SD1 Merrill’s AF system almost never misses, is about as fast as the Nikon D800E’s and if you work like I do using the central AF point to focus & recompose you’ll not notice much difference between the two. 

Continuous shooting. The Sigma SD1 Merrill, with its 5-6 frames per second, is a faster machine-gun shooter than the Nikon D800E with its 4. However, the Nikon D800E has a deeper buffer, is faster in writing to the card and keeps shooting after the fourth frame, whereas the Sigma SD1 Merrill will stop after the sixth (14th if you shoot at Medium Speed). Since I wouldn’t use either camera anyway for any situation where machine-gun shooting is required, I’d call this a toss-up.

Writing files speed. The Nikon D800E works just fine, even if it’s not the fastest camera out there. You never have to wait for the camera, you can playback your images almost instantly after shooting them and you can access all camera’s functions while it’s writing files to the card. Considering the amount of data that the camera is moving around, it is a pretty impressive result.

The Sigma SD1 Merrill, on the other hand, feels like the camera of yesteryear. It almost completely stops responding when it’s busy writing files to the card, and taking a new picture is pretty much the only thing you can do during such times. In this respect, the Sigma SD1 Merrill feels like a Medium Format digital back. My experience tells me that the Sigma SD1 Merrill’s buffer is just fine: you can take up to 14 pictures in continuous shooting (at Medium speed) before filling the buffer, so I think that the problem is in processing the data and / or writing them to the card.

The Sigma SD1 Merrill uses Dual TRUE II processors, and while Sigma touts that “the Dual TRUE II processes vast volumes of data at blazing speed”, with all due respect to Sigma I have a different opinion about what “blazing speed” means. This is the only performance issue I have with the SD1 Merrill, I find wiring speed extremely annoying and I hope that Sigma will either fix it in FW, if at all possible, or in the next iteration of the camera. In short, when it comes down to file writing speed, there is no contest. These two cameras aren’t just in different leagues, they are playing two different sports and Nikon wins this one easily.

Shutter & Mirror. The Nikon D800E features a classic, heavy-duty Nikon shutter & mirror assembly. The electronically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane shutter is solid, has a long lifespan, features a quick-return mirror and shutter speed ranging between 30 sec. and 1/8000 sec. plus Bulb. However, it’s certainly neither silent nor vibration-free.

The Sigma SD1 Merrill also features an electronically controlled focal plane shutter with quick return mirror. However, Sigma opted for separate motors for shutter and mirror, and created a very silent, incredibly well damped shutter and mirror assembly.

Shutter speed ranges also between 30 sec. and 1/8000 sec. plus Bulb. Bulb is limited to 2 minutes in Extended Mode, and to 30 sec in normal mode. As a result, the Sigma SD1 Merrill is much more silent and creates much less vibrations than the Nikon D800E.

Flash sync speed is 1/250 sec. (1/320 sec. in extended mode) for the Nikon D800E, 1/180 sec. for the Sigma SD1 Merrill. Unless you really need the Nikon D800E’s higher flash sync speed, the Sigma SD1 Merrill’s shutter wins hands down here. 

Battery life. The Nikon D800E uses the EN-EL15 battery, with a CIPA life of 900 shots. The Sigma SD1 Merrill uses the BP-21 battery, with a life of about 300-400 shots (my measurements, Sigma doesn’t provide a CIPA standard measurement). While the Nikon D800E’s battery is enough for a day shooting in the field, with the Sigma SD1 Merrill you’ll need to carry at least one spare battery to be safe. I’ll easily give this one to Nikon.

METERING
Both cameras in this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review meter slightly conservatively, underexposing by 1/3 to 1/2 stop to protect the highlights. When using a f/1.4 lens, both cameras tend to underexpose around 2/3 to 1 stop shooting wide-open. Stopping down improves things, and around f/5.6 both cameras meter much closer to a correct exposure. While I understand the physics of shooting a lens wide-open, I am surprised that manufacturers didn’t implement an automatic meter compensation of sorts to fix this.

Both cameras offer evaluative, spot and center weighted metering modes. The Nikon D800E of course offers more customisation options than the Sigma SD1 Merrill, but in practice they behave in the same way, underexposing more or less equally. No clear winner here.

VIEWFINDER & LCD SCREEN
Viewfinder. The Nikon D800E’s viewfinder cover 100% of the image, is very bright and a pleasure to use. Besides focus points, shooting info etc., it offers an electronic level which I find very useful. The focussing screen is replaceable, a great feature for people using manual focus lenses.

The Sigma SD1 Merrill’s viewfinder is particularly good for an APS-C camera. Is very bright, covers 98% of the frame and offers shooting info and focus points, but no electronic level.

The focussing screen is fixed, full matte and while it works pretty well when used in manual focus, you don’t have the possibility to replace it.

I’d rate both viewfinders in this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review equally good, with the Nikon D800E having the advantage of featuring a replaceable screen and an eyepiece shutter.

While it seems like a small thing, this is actually particularly useful to avoid stray light coming in both during long exposures and when using Live View.

LCD screen. The Nikon D800E’s LCD is 3.2″ and has a resolution of 920.000 dots. The Sigma SD1 Merrill’s, on the other hand, is 3″ with a resolution of 460.000 dots. The Nikon D800E wins here: it’s LCD is brighter, more detailed, clearer and just works better in any light.

THE SYSTEM: LENSES, ACCESSORIES, ETC.
When you buy a camera, you really buy into a system. According to what you shoot, it is therefore wise to examine the whole system in detail before making a choice. For instance, if your work requires you to use Tilt-Shift lenses, then the Sigma is a no-go, and either Nikon or Canon will necessarily be your system of choice. If you also need an extremely wide-angle range Tilt-Shift lens, then Canon is your only choice, short of a technical camera sporting a digital back.

If you need weatherproof lenses, Sigma’s offer pales compared to Nikon’s or Canon’s. One more thing to consider is that while Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax cameras can use third party lenses & accessories besides their own, getting into the Sigma system you’ll only have access to Sigma’s own lenses and accessories. That said, if you need lenses such as a 120-300mm f/2.8, a 150mm f/2.8 Macro, a 180mm f/2.8 Macro, a 50-500mm super zoom, an 18-35mm f/1.8, an esoteric fish-eyes and so on, on any camera, or if you just are into the Foveon’s look, then Sigma is your brand.

In short, buying into Nikon with the D800E you buy into one of the most developed camera systems out there. The lack of a 17mm Tilt-Shift lens aside, between OEM and third-party lenses & accessories there is nothing you will end up wanting. Buying into Sigma with the SD1 Merrill, on the other hand, as things stands today you buy into a system that isn’t as developed as Nikon’s.

As always, only you know whether this is a serious limitation for your kind of shooting or not. However, it is something you’ll seriously have to consider before jumping in one system or the other. For my Fine Art landscape work, with the exception of Tilt-Shift lenses, Sigma offers a pretty complete system, one I felt comfortable with when I decided to move on with my purchase.

IMAGE QUALITY
Comparing two completely different imaging systems is not an easy task, and even less so in a case such as this. We are comparing cameras with different sensor sizes, lenses’ fields of view will not exactly match, nor will depth of field at equal apertures. There isn’t any software able to develop RAW files from both cameras. Sensor technology is completely different. And so on.

Normandy & Brittany Photography Workshop

All this considered, my methodology for this comparison has been as follows:

– Shoot 3 sets of images for each set, re-setting AF every time (using Live View on the Nikon D800E), choosing the sharpest set of the three;
– Shoot RAW with both cameras in aperture mode without any exposure compensation, to be able to compare the two cameras’ metering behaviours;
– Set white balance in software taking a spot measurement on the exact same point of the images;
– Develop the files in Sigma Photo Pro and Nikon Capture NX 2. Since no available software is able to develop the RAWs from both cameras, I went for the software I’d use with each camera for my own work.

In particular, I sharpened both cameras’ files as I normally do for my work (setting Sharpening to -1.0 for the Sigma SD1 Merrill and using a combination of High Pass + Unsharp Mask for the Nikon D800E). I turned off all Noise Reduction and Distortion Correction options, and I left on Chromatic Aberration & Fringe correction at default level for both cameras.

To help you evaluate sharpness, I decided to prepare two sets of files to compare. The first set shows images at native resolutions, while the second features files resized to 30 Mp (6720px wide). My choice of 30 Mp for this comparison is based Sigma’s claim that “the luminance resolution of this sensor is, in fact, equivalent to that of a 30 Mp CFA sensor as measured on the standard B&W resolution chart used in conventional digital camera resolution testing”. Of course, resizing to 30 Mp should favour the Nikon D800E by some margin, since it downsizes the Nikon D800E’s file while upsizing the SD1 Merrill’s. However, I found the results interesting enough to be worth a look.

NORMAL LENSES
For this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review, I decided to compare fast normal lenses, and in particular the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM on the Sigma SD1 Merrill vs the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S on the Nikon D800E.

SHARPNESS
Here is the usual, uninspiring test scene, Sigma SD1 Merrill and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 first, Nikon D800E and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S after (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s start with 900 x 600px, 100% center crops, at the native resolutions of 36 Mp (Nikon D800E) vs. 15 Mp (Sigma SD1 Merrill), starting with the Sigma SD1 Merrill & Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the Nikon D800E & Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S (click on the images to enlarge):

As you can see, in the centre the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S is just OK wide open, gets better at f/2 and is very sharp between f/2.8 and f/8, with no further difference in sharpness between these apertures. At f/11, diffraction kicks in, but the image is still very much usable.

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM, on the other hand, is amazingly sharp wide open, and stays like that until f/8, where diffraction starts showing its effects; f/11 is softer still, but quite usable if you need the depth of field.

The Sigma SD1 Merrill showed a very inconsistent colour rendition between shots here. Please note that these photographs have been taken at a few seconds interval and processed exactly in the same way, and I can exclude any possible external cause for the colour changes, such as light changes or the like. Out of curiosity, I managed to get the pictures to look exactly the same after a few seconds in SPP, but I decided not to do so in order to let you appreciate the camera’s behaviour when left on its own.

Now, let’s have a look at 900 x 600px, 100% corner crops, at the native resolutions of 36 Mp (Nikon D800E) vs. 15 Mp (Sigma SD1 Merrill), starting with the Sigma SD1 Merrill & Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the Nikon D800E & Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S (click on the images to enlarge):

In this comparison, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S is again softer than the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM wide open; they both become very sharp at around f/5.6, where the Nikkor takes the lead. At f/8 they are equally sharp, and at f/11 diffraction starts to make things softer again. For both lenses, f/8 is the sweet spot if you want maximum sharpness into the corners.

In this crop, you can also see how the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S vignettes much more than the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM. This is to be expected, since the Nikkor is a full frame lens on a full frame camera, while the Sigma is a full frame lens on an APS-C camera (thus using the sweet spot of the lens only).

While the Nikon D800E has evidently more resolution, you can see how the SD1 Merrill holds its own very well, and how its files show actually more micro-contrast and fine detail (see inside the tiles) than the Nikon D800E’s files. Indeed, the rendering of homogenous coloured areas looks more detailed, more three-dimensional with the SD1 Merrill.

To level the field a little, I thought it’d be interesting to compare crops at equal resolution. Sigma advertises the SD1 Merrill as a 45 Mp camera but considering Foveon files as three times the resolution of Bayer files with the same Mp count seemed a bit pushing it. So, I decided to go half-way, creating 30 Mp crops (twice the SD1 Merrill’s resolution).

Let’s then have a look at 900 x 600px, 100% center crops resized to 30 Mp, starting with the Sigma SD1 Merrill & Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the Nikon D800E & Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S (click on the images to enlarge):

Now, this is an interesting comparison. The upsized file from the Sigma SD1 Merrill holds details very well against the downsized Nikon D800E’s file, and this is even more interesting considering that downsizing a file reduces noise and improves detail, while upsizing it exacerbates noise and reduces detail. Again, if you check the surface of the tiles, you still can see more micro-contrast and fine details in the Sigma’s files compared to the Nikon’s.

Now, let’s look at 900 x 600px, 100% corner crops, also resized to 30 Mp, starting with the Sigma SD1 Merrill & Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the Nikon D800E & Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S (click on the images to enlarge):

Slightly downsizing the Nikon D800E’s files improves their perceived sharpness here, while upsizing the Sigma SD1 Merrill’s ones exaggerates the un-sharpness of the original image. The Nikon’s files look better here.

I mentioned above that the Sigma SD1 Merrill resolves more detail than the Nikon D800E in areas of homogenous colours, so I thought I’d post a 900 x 600px, 100% crop of an area of the original image that illustrates the point pretty well. Sigma SD1 Merrill and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 first, Nikon D800E and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S after (click on the images to enlarge):

The above crops come from files at native resolution, 36 Mp for the Nikon D800E vs. 15 Mp for the Sigma SD1 Merrill. Yet, as you can see, the Sigma SD1 Merrill’s files shows much more detail in this area of the image than the Nikon D800E’s. It is clear to me, both from this and from hundreds more pictures I have shot so far with the Foveon sensor vs. those thousands I have shot with Bayer sensor cameras, that when demosaicing Bayer images of such homogenous areas the algorithms struggle to render the fine details that the Foveon sees with ease.

NOISE & DYNAMIC RANGE
Noise. The Nikon D800E is a better low-light camera than the Sigma SD1 Merrill. Even at base ISO, the Sigma SD1 Merrill shows more noise in the shadows than the Nikon D800E, and I wouldn’t recommend the Sigma SD1 Merrill for critical colour work at ISO above 400. If you convert your files to black & white using the Monochrome mode in SPP, on the other hand, you can get very clean images up to ISO 1600 and even 3200 if you expose carefully.

Death Valley Photography Workshop

Dynamic range. Of the two cameras in this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review, the Nikon D800E is the more forgiving camera when it comes to metering. Its files have more room to play and recover, and more dynamic range immediately available for you to play with. With the Sigma SD1 Merrill, on the other hand, you’ll have to be much more careful. I always and definitely recommend exposing to the right, to get as much light as you can to the shadows without blowing the highlights. This is of fundamental importance with the Sigma SD1 Merrill: if you’ll do so, you’ll be able to squeeze a lot of dynamic range from your files, almost as much as what you get out of the D800E’s. If you don’t, however, you’ll quickly find out that the SD1 Merrill is much more unforgiving towards those who don’t pay attention to exposure, behaving more like a digital back in this respect.

VIGNETTING
As previously noted, the 50mm Nikon vignettes much more than the 35mm Sigma. Of course, as mentioned above, using a full-frame lens such as the 35mm f/1.4 Sigma on an APS-C sensor camera such as the SD1 Merrill – thus using the centre area of the lens only – helps reducing vignette. Still, if the lack of vignetting is important for you, the Sigma outputs a cleaner file than the Nikon.

BOKEH AND DRAWING
Finally, let’s see how both camera / lens combinations deal with out-of-focus areas (focus is on the ColorChecker card), starting with the Sigma SD1 Merrill & Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM (click on the images to enlarge):

Let’s now examine the Nikon D800E & Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S (click on the images to enlarge):

Judging the rendering of out-of-focus areas, as well as how a particular lens draws, are very personal matters. Since they depend on one’s artistic vision and taste, I will not comment and leave it to the viewers to decide which lens draws closer to their vision.

Technically, you can notice how the Sigma images show some “Bokeh fringing”, that is the colour cast you can see at f/1.4 and f/2 on the books on the far top left, green on the left, magenta on the right of some books’ edges. You can correct that to some extent in Sigma Photo Pro or in Photoshop. Of course, the Nikon ones don’t show this behaviour to begin with, and therefore won’t need any extra steps to correct it.

You can also use the ColorChecker card in the images above to see how thee two cameras render colours. To make things as “equal” as possible, I did a spot WB on all images on the third grey square from the top and used both SPP’s and Nikon Capture NX 2’s “Standard” colour profiles.

IN PRINT
Either cameras in this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review, when used with good lenses and proper technique, will enable you to print up to 17″ wide getting impressive results. You can even print up to 24″ wide with great results, if you know what you are doing. Of course, talking about prints on the internet makes little sense, one literally needs to see them to believe. I am afraid you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that I’ll be equally comfortable printing and selling Fine Art prints using files from either camera.

Master Series Workshop in Iceland Spring 2019

CONCLUSIONS
The Sigma SD1 Merrill is a 15 MP APS-C camera selling for less than $2.000 US. The Nikon D800E is today’s resolution champion among so-called “full frame” DSLRs and sells for over $1.000 US more than the SD1 Merrill. Nikon lenses are considered among the best for 35mm DSLR, while Sigma has a somehow spottier reputation. Nikon lenses of comparable focal length and speed cost generally at least 1.5 times the equivalent Sigma offer. However, Sigma uses a Foveon sensor, which reads full colour information at each photosite vs. the classic Bayer sensor of the Nikon D800E that needs to interpolate colour information, and this is what makes it unique.

The very fact that we are able to seriously compare Sigma SD1 Merrill’s files against the Nikon D800E’s, tells a lot about the quality of the Sigma SD1 Merrill by itself. While the Nikon D800E wins in sheer resolution, the Sigma SD1 Merrill produce files that have exceptional micro-contrast and fine detail, especially in areas of the image of homogeneous colours. The two cameras’ colour rendering is also very different. Colours can be manipulated and adjusted in the digital darkroom to no end, but both cameras produce very good files with very pleasant colours to my eye, files that are perfectly usable as a base to create wonderful images.

The Nikon D800E is a more forgiving camera when it comes to metering, while the Sigma SD1 Merrill will punish you with shadow noise and reduced dynamic range if you expose carelessly. However, if you treat it well, you’ll be able to get fantastic images from the Sigma as well.

So, which camera in this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E review would I recommend for Fine Art landscape work?

Both, actually. The Sigma SD1 Merrill is definitely the best bang for your buck if you are starting from scratch, or if you want to step up your game and haven’t already invested heavily into one particular system. If you already have a Nikon D800E, I’d not sell it to get the Sigma unless you felt hopelessly in love with the Foveon look. If you shoot stuff other than landscape and Fine Art and you can’t afford to maintain two systems, the Nikon D800E is definitely the choice making more sense out of the two.

However, if you are a romantic like me and do not mind spending a bit of time to get your images right and to process them carefully one by one, for Fine Art Landscape work the Foveon look has something special to it that to me makes it worth working with, no matter the headaches that Sigma’s software will give you to get there. So, I will keep the Sigma SD1 Merrill for now and bring it with me to my next outing in Scotland (leaving the Nikon D800E at home this time over), to work with it exclusively for about a month and see what I can do with it.

Iceland Photography Workshop

Thanks for reading this Sigma SD1 Merrill vs Nikon D800E 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

7 thoughts on “SIGMA SD1 MERRILL VS NIKON D800E REVIEW, PART I”

  1. Hello. Nice review, but you should try the Sigma 18-35 Art lens with the SD1. It’s simply stunning. Another extremely sharp lens is the 70mm 2.8 EX DC Macro. Try them if you have the Oportunity. Cheers !

    Reply
    • Hello Antonio,

      thank you for your message. The SD1 Merrill is long gone now, so I am afraid I don’t have a way t try the lens you suggest anymore. Sadly the 18-35 came out too late for me to be able to use it on the SD1 Merrill, but from what I see around I am sure it is a great lens. Best,

      Vieri

      Reply
      • I undertand. Too bad Sigma took a very long time to make top level optics available to the SD series. I’m using them since the SD9 and still have the SD9/10/14 and 15. I was so frustrated with the optics at that time and I just forgot about Sigma’s lenses and started to use M42 and Leica-R lenses on them. It was like a revelation. At least Sigma now has some very good glasses. Cheers

        Reply
        • I find it interesting that this keep happening – not only with Sigma, which delay in providing Pro users with suitable glass is probably one of the reasons why Foveon didn’t take (the pricing of the first SD1 being the other…!); Sony is also known for releasing cameras without the proper lens support (see the Nex family when it came out), Leica did the same with the T system, PhaseOne with their MF system, and so on… To me, the best of cameras with the most amazing technology inside is totally useless without the glass to go with it, and I am sure I am not the only one thinking that way.

          Best,

          Vieri

          Reply
  2. Thank you very much for your post, very good job, Do you test the SD1 with the new Sigma 18 35 F1.8 Art ? Thank you; Cheers Charles

    Reply
    • Thank you very much Charles, I am glad you found this article useful.

      About your question, no, I haven’t got round to it before selling the SD1 Merrill, sadly. From what I have seen, however, the lens is absolutely amazing and I am sure it shines with the SD1 M’s sensor – but again, since I haven’t tried it personally, take it for what is worth: nothing more than an educated guess.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting! Best,

      Vieri

      Reply

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