Some thoughts on the Sigma DP2 Quattro (and comparison with Merrill)

I had a chance to try out the new Sigma DP2 Quattro last week, which is the first of the successors to the DP Merrill line.  I also had something else much more exciting going on last week, so camera testing was pretty low on the priority list.

Sigma DP2Q ISO 200 f2.8 1/500

Sigma DP2Q ISO 200 f2.8 1/500 Daylight WB

 

First, a little context for any who are new around here.  I’ve shot almost exclusively with at DP2m for the past couple years, save for a brief affair with an A7r which I quickly returned (and picked up a DP3m instead) when I looked through pictures and prints and was reminded how much I love the Merrill files.  I’m not going to use the “film-like” cliche, but they do have a rich, dense, organic feeling that I’ve never seen with any other camera.  I’m particularly passionate about black and white work and the Merrills are outstanding monochrome cameras.

Most of my shooting is on multiday wilderness trips.  I go to be out there, not to photograph, though I love taking pictures.  I shoot almost exclusively handheld.

I’ve been pretty excited about the Quattro since it was announced, thinking it sounded like it’d be an even better monochrome camera with its mostly luminance-measuring  top sensor layer and maybe a little better color performance above 400 ISO.

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The Quattro shape has caused a bit of a stir and I feel a bit mixed on it.  I do think it achieves the goal of more stable hand holding and I like the thinner profile, but the larger lens and rear-pointing grip makes it a bit large, especially if you wanted to carry more than one of the focal lengths that will be available.  The stock lens hood on the Merrill is excellent; it does its job flare-wise and also does a great job of protecting the lens while carrying it around one’s neck.  The Quattro hood provides basically zero protection and I think a cheap rubber hood would deal with flare better.

The Q is a bit better speed and usability wise, though I’ve honestly been fine with the M.  The screen on the Quattro, however, absolutely kills the M.  The lack of an EVF is one of my biggest gripes with the Merrill, but the nice bright crisp lcd on the Quattro makes seeing what you’re doing much less frustrating.

Now for the important part.  If you’re looking for carefully controlled scientific comparison shots look elsewhere.  I wanted to get out with both cameras and shoot the way I normally do.  I’m a bit disappointed with the shots I did get; I had two quick evening hikes and was trying to get as many shots as I could before it got too dark, so no great images here.  I do think I got plenty to get an idea of how the cameras compare.  All of these are handheld with some rail-steadying in a couple.  Quattro shots developed from X3F in SPP 6.0.3 and Merrill in 5.5.3.  Sharpening seems to be different with the two cameras, Merrill shots are -.7 and Q at 0.  NR completely off for both cameras.  I adjusted contrast/tone curves in lightroom to try to match them somewhat but no color/sharpening/noise reduction or other settings have been adjusted.  Click for full size JPEG exported from lightroom at 10 quality, no export sharpening.

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DP2Q, f2.8 1/500 ISO 200 AWB

DP2M0012

DP2M, f2.8 1/500 ISO 200 AWB

Here you can see the difference in auto white balance on the two cameras.  I almost always shoot in daylight WB, neutral color on my DP2M.  It’s a bit less noticeable in the exported JPEG but you can see here that it seems that the Q doesn’t quite have the punch and sense of depth that the Merrill has.  The developing conclusion seems to be that the Q slightly edges out the M in terms of absolute resolution but the M has more microcontrast and tends to bring out textures and fine detail better.  So far I agree and in shots like this I prefer the Merrill rendering.

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DP2Q f4 1/60 ISO 200 AWB 2 sec delay resting on a railing

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DP2M f4 1/60 ISO 200 AWB 2 sec delay resting on a railing

 

On distant foliage the Q appears a bit mushy compared to the M, although there are some areas of the above shot where you can see the slight resolution advantage of the Q.

 

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DP2Q f3.2 1/250 ISO 800

DP2M0070

DP2M f3.2 1/320 ISO 800

The monochrome output seems more similar between the two cameras than the color output.  Excellent tonality and noise is generally very pleasing and grain-like.  The Q, however has a significant disadvantage at higher ISO.  With the M, it’s possible to shoot at 1600 and use only the blue channel through SPP monochrome mode which significantly reduces noise and gives a much more usable image even at 3200.  The channel mixer does not seem to have any effect at all on the Q when it comes to noise.

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DP2Q f4 1/500 ISO 800 SPP monochrome blue channel only 100% crop

DP2M0036

DP2M f4 1/640 ISO 800 SPP monochrome blue channel only 100% crop

Here’s another full size ISO 1600 shot exported the same way:

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DP2Q f7.1 1/160 ISO 1600

DP2M0031

DP2M f7.1 1/160 ISO 1600

I’m also not convinced that the Q gives better high ISO (in the Foveon world this means >400) performance than the M.  The Q seems to have less saturation loss in the shadows, but highlight recovery is not nearly as good.  With the M you can overexpose by quite a bit and pull it back in post, which helps significantly with noise.  This doesn’t really work as well with the Q because highlights are lost completely much sooner than the M.

Some more comparison shots:

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DP2Q f5 1/200 ISO 400

DP2M0103

DP2M f5 1/200 ISO 400

 

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DP2Q f2.8 1/200 ISO 200

DP2M0049

DP2M f2.8 1/200 ISO 200

 

 

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DP2Q f3.2 1/250 ISO 200

DP2M0116

DP2M f3.2 1/250 ISO 200

Below you can see how much more life and *desperately trying not to say 3d* pop the center formations have in the M pic

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DP2Q f4 1/125 ISO 200 AWB

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DP2M f4 1/125 ISO 200 AWB

 

I feel like it’s probably wise to reserve final judgement for the release of a more final version of SPP 6 but as it stands I feel happy sticking with my Merrills and fat stack of batteries, especially at the current going rate of half the cost of the Q.  The Q will probably appeal to folks wanting a more natural, smoother rendering for things like skin tones, but I kinda feel like if that’s what you’re after you’d be much better off with an x100/s, Rx1/R, A7s, etc, which will kill the Q in low light, be much more versatile, and still give gorgeous smooth color.  The unique thing that the Merrill brings to the table over Bayer cameras is its pixel level sharpness, rich depth and microcontrast.  Merrill files give such a sense of awe when you first open them that makes you forget what a pain it can be to get there and how limited and finicky the cameras can be; the Quattro just didn’t give me that sense in the short time I had it.  Hopefully through firmware, software, or just people figuring out optimum settings there will be some kind of magic still hidden in the Q.  I’ll keep watching.

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16 thoughts on “Some thoughts on the Sigma DP2 Quattro (and comparison with Merrill)

  1. Quite taken aback by the leaf image in mono. I know the blue channel is very clean and use it to photograph B+w at very high iso with the Merrill’s.

    • Yeah, looks like changing the color channel in SPP doesn’t affect noise at all on the Quattro. The noise reduction does work better on the Q but I still prefer the M.

      • . In many ways the somewhat unpredictability of the Merrill’s I find attractive. I am also finding it hard to comprehend why Foveon users (or are they?) are so focused on Noise and the detail, when the Foveons attraction for myself and many is the subtleties of the light it captures, especially what I see as a very translucent light. I have not as yet come across much discussion on this.There appears to be a subliminal discussion in the hopes and wishes to have a Foveon sensor which acts like a Bayer, which is interesting in its self , but also disappointing. Looking forward to seeing what else you may come up with.
        All the best.

  2. I know what you mean regarding subtlety of light. I love (and prefer) shooting the Merrills on overcast days for this very reason; they seem to be particularly special with what seems like flat and boring light. Thanks for the thoughts.

  3. Many thanks for that comparision! Well. it show clear for DP2M!!!
    In my opinion the AWB from DP2Q is not acurate!!! I do not know why?? Maybe Sigma has forgotten to change the algorithm for the new Foveon-Sensor!!
    I do hope Sigma will come out with firmware-update soon!

      • Hi Brendan
        Well, I not shure if it will work to change WB in SPP! I do think, it is important to adjust the white balance by shooting!!! I will do soon test about the color accuracy of DP2Q! Maybe the color cast can be better, if the WB is correct adjusted on location! But, I will see.
        It is clear, Sigmas has to adapt the algorithm of AWB for the DP2Q! When I think how important it is for the lovely JPEG-OOC (out of cam)
        You can read my blog: http://sigmadp2quattro.blogspot.ch/

  4. Many thanks for this. I just discovered your site via a link from Sigma Rumors. I’ve been shooting with with the DP2 and 3 Merrills for about a year, and just picked up a DP1M after reading some initial reports on the dp2Q. I’m not sure that Sigma has got SPP6 to the point where it can get the most out of the Quattro raw files. At any rate, I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude about the Q’s.

  5. Wonderful analysis, exactly what I Was looking for, comparing Merrill with Quattro. I suspected that there would be no major differences and you confirmed that and even better you demonstrated that the original Merrill still has the edge. The main gain seems to be the battery life and processing speed which is for me not essential since I also got accustomer to the 3 Merrils as I bought all of them. Thanks for sharing your first impressions

  6. Pingback: Sigma DP2Q Link Collection: Reviews, Comparisons, Sample Images, Videos and more |

  7. I have all 3 Merrills…and imho they are completely useless to shooting people…skin tones are awful, dark zones are “greenish”…my previous DP camera (DP2s and DP1) are better in skin tones.
    DP2Q seems to be better….
    Your last image (DP2M https://outlivingblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/dp2m0118.jpg ) of this post have a terrificant “color cast”, the colors of the DP2Q imho are better.

    Hi Arny and sorry for my bad, bad english 😉

    • To be fair that’s mostly a comparison of AWB, which I think kinda sucks on the Merrills anyway. I’ve been getting fantastic colors by just shooting a white card in open sun at the car before I leave the truck on a trip and then use the color picker in SPP on the card and apply that to the batch (other settings: daylight, neutral).

      As for people, they definitely shouldn’t be your first choice if that’s your primary subject, though some seem to be getting excellent results with the 3 for portraits.

  8. Great review, thank you! I did not know about the blue chanel and I directly tested it. That is a great tip! I have tried it with Luminance and Bending noise at default (in the middle) but with no correction I like it much better. I own all three DPM camera’s and love them to pieces. I even use my old DP1, even those pictures never stops to amaze me.

    I do not make the step to the Quattro, I already saw some pictures from it. It is a nice step from Sigma, but I am happy with the Merrills.

  9. Merrill prices have gone through the roof in the last year, since supplies basically ran out. I remember them going new for £300 a couple of years ago, now used ones are fetching £500. I haven’t seen this phenomenon in a digital camera before but it speaks to the Merrills having something very special.

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