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Thread: Another Sigma DP1M Review

  1. #1

    Default Another Sigma DP1M Review

    The Sigma DP1 Merrill Edition was released a quite a while ago, and I recently managed to borrow one through Simon (thank you!). It has also been reviewed rather thoroughly by tomcat (here). I apologise in advance for any repetition(s). I have tried to separate the review into five sections, as follows:

    1. Introduction and First Impressions
    2. Controls and Usability
      • Physical controls
      • Menu system
      • Write speed
      • Battery life
    3. Image Quality
      • RAW versus JPEG
      • ISO performance
      • Long exposures
      • Dynamic range
      • Colours
    4. Lens Characteristics
      • Sharpness
      • Distortion
      • Flare
      • Bokeh
    5. Conclusions and Sample Images
    Last edited by rh89; 11th June 2013 at 04:08 PM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Another Sigma DP1M Review

    1. Introduction and First Impressions

    The Sigma DP1M is a relatively unassuming camera in matte black, with a 19mm f/2.8 lens (equivalent to 28mm), and a 14.8MP Foveon sensor. The first thing that struck me about the camera was its somewhat industrial design - a block-ish body with a lens that is not collapsible (it sticks out approximately 4cm from the camera body).

    I was initially concerned that the design might result in discomfort after prolonged usage, but after a month or so of using the camera, it turned out not to really be an issue for me. The camera does feel solid, while simultaneously being light enough not to be too cumbersome despite its slightly awkward design.

    I was personally very interested in trying out this little camera, as it seems to me to be aimed at landscape photographers who want a light and compact camera with stellar image quality for travelling or just carrying around on a daily basis. I must say that the Sigma DP1M did not disappoint, especially in the image quality department, although it does have its quirks and does require quite a bit of patience to use.
    Last edited by rh89; 11th June 2013 at 11:45 AM.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Another Sigma DP1M Review

    2. Controls and Usability

    Physical controls

    The camera's physical controls are mainly located on the top and back.

    On the back, there are quick-access buttons for various features such as focus, which brings up a focusing scale on the LCD screen, as well as one that brings up the focus point selector. Most buttons are relatively self-explanatory, with the exception of one labelled "QS". The QS button seems to attempt to make up for this lack of dedicated buttons, by providing an all-in-one solution to change various settings.

    A single press of the QS button brings up the quick select menu for ISO (auto, 100-6400), metering mode (matrix, centred and spot), drive mode (single shot, continuous burst, and timer) and flash (auto, red eye reduction, slow sync and slow sync with red eye reduction).

    Pressing the QS button a second time brings up a second quick select menu, this time for white balance, image quality (low to high), colour mode (a plethora are available, ranging from standard to Foveon Blue) and file type (RAW or jpeg).

    While the QS button is certainly a welcome change from having to search through the menu system to make simple setting changes, it simply cannot beat dedicated buttons for speed and ease of use.

    On the top, there is only the power button, mode button as well as the shutter release and a scroll wheel.

    The power button blinks green when switched on, and blinks green again when the camera is powered off. The camera has rather fast startup, displaying the logo for the Sigma DP1 Merrill briefly switching on. Once the camera is started, it is possible to start taking photos almost immediately with very little lag time.

    In the front, there is a focusing ring around the lens, which is smooth and wide enough for comfortable usage. Turning the focusing ring while the camera is in autofocus does nothing - the camera has to be set to manual focus before the ring has an effect. When in manual focus, the an electronic distance scale appears on the LCD screen.

    Menu system

    The menu system is divided into three sections: shooting, playback and general settings. I have to admit that when I first started using the camera, the menu system was less than intuitive for me, although it is no longer an issue now. Thanks to the QS button mentioned previously, most significant shooting settings can be accessed via other means, although the menu still has to be used if one wishes to do bracketing for example.

    The menu defaults back to the first option after exiting the system, which can at times be frustrating because it requires a scroll through to the item you were previously at. Nonetheless, it is a relatively well laid-out menu system that can be understood relatively easily.

    Write speed

    I had been warned beforehand that the Sigma DP1M was an exceptionally slow camera that required extra patience, but nothing really prepared me for the waiting time I encountered the first time I took a photograph with it. As someone used to the lightning fast speed of professional DSLRs, having to wait a good 10 seconds before the file finished writing to the card was a new experience.

    I mainly used Sandisk Extreme 45mb/s SD cards in the camera, and even with that card, the amount of time taken to write a single RAW file to the card was between 8-9 seconds at best. With a 30mb/s card, the write time I measured was around 13-14 seconds for a single RAW file.

    The Sigma DP1M does have sufficient buffer for 7 consecutive RAW shots, but the bigger issue for me is that an image preview of the photograph I just took is not available until the RAW file(s) have finished writing to the card. This means that if I took 7 images in quick succession, I would have to wait for all 7 to finish writing before being able to even preview a single one of them. RAW file sizes ranged from 45MB to just over 60MB per file, which is pretty massive for such a small camera and partially explains the slow write speed, but the inability to preview an image immediately was really a source of much irritation for me.

    Battery life

    The Sigma DP1M actually comes with two batteries in the box, which I think gives an indication of Sigma's confidence in its battery life. For occasional usage, the camera's battery is sufficient, but for serious and heavy usage, even two batteries is grossly insufficient. I only managed to get an average of 80-90 shots out of the camera before the battery ran flat, and I imagine that things would be a lot worse in a cold climate or when doing long exposures. The only real solution to this would be to carry multiple batteries, which although small, could be rather inconvenient. Especially when travelling, the need to constantly keep multiple batteries charged could be an issue.
    Last edited by rh89; 11th June 2013 at 11:44 AM.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Another Sigma DP1M Review

    3. Image Quality (Part 1 of 2)

    Raw vs. JPEG

    The Sigma DP1M is a camera that seems to be meant to be shot in RAW - my own tests and anecdotal evidence from others showed a difference in image quality when shot in RAW as opposed to in JPEG. As the Sigma DP1M is not the fastest of cameras, shooting in JPEG can significantly reduce the amount of time needed to write a file to the card, as JPEG images averaged under 10MB per file, as opposed to RAW's 45-60MB. However, in my opinion, the difference in image quality is significant enough for me to bear the extended waiting time and the sometimes slow operation of Sigma Photo Pro. Sigma Photo Pro is another bugbear - as the DP1M's RAW files cannot be read by Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, they have to be opened in Sigma's own Sigma Photo Pro. While Sigma's program seems to be a decent raw converter with all the necessary adjustments and tools, it is however prone to hanging and is generally slow.

    The following are 100% crops from the same image. The RAW files were converted straight without any adjustment in Sigma Photo Pro.
    The photograph was taken at ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/400.

    For the full-sized version, please click here:

    For the full-sized version, please click here:

    The RAW files tend to have less noise and smoother detail.

    ISO Performance

    The Sigma DP1M performs astoundingly well at its base ISO of 100, with very little noise in the shadows and an overall pleasing appearance. ISO performance continues to be acceptable until around ISO 200 to 400, depending on your personal preference. The grain is pleasing, and gives off the "feel" of film rather than that of a digital image. However, starting from about ISO 400, the ISO performance rapidly degenerates into unusable. This poor performance combined with a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 means that indoors and at dusk, the Sigma DP1M sometimes is almost unusable without a tripod.

    (This is slightly scaled down. For the full-sized version, please click here:

    Long exposures

    Because the Sigma DP1M is largely unusable at higher ISOs without image quality suffering rather significantly, I thought I would have a look at the long exposure image quality of the camera. Unfortunately there is no bulb mode, and the longest shutter speed possible is 30 seconds. I personally would have really liked to have a bulb mode, but then considering the poor battery life and ISO control, perhaps a bulb mode is unfeasible.

    Based on my experience with the camera, at exposures of less than 15 seconds or so at ISO 100, the image quality seems to largely unaffected, remaining sharp and generally noise-free. However, at longer exposures nearing or at 30 seconds, there appears to be some noise creeping into the image, especially in dark areas.

    Last edited by rh89; 11th June 2013 at 12:24 PM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Another Sigma DP1M Review

    3. Image Quality (Part 2 of 2)

    Dynamic Range

    As a camera that seems to be aimed at landscape shooters for whom the speed of the camera is not absolutely critical, dynamic range is an important factor to take into account. I am by no means an expert - I have tried to take photographs of scenes with potentially complex lighting situations to show how well the camera deals with dynamic range.

    Example #1

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Example #2

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Example #3

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Example #4

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    All in all, the dynamic range is rather impressive, although it is by no means the best out there today. My main issue with the images is that it is hard to recover shadow detail without introducing some amount of noise, although even with the additional noise, the image quality is still very acceptable.


    The DP1M gives rather muted colours at its standard setting, which is closer to reality but perhaps not quite what a digital user might be used to. There are settings that boost the colours, but I have found that it is best done in post.
    Last edited by rh89; 11th June 2013 at 02:39 PM.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Another Sigma DP1M Review

    4. Lens Characteristics


    In general, the DP1M's 19mm f/2.8 prime lens (28mm equivalent) is very sharp, even at its maximum aperture of f/2.8. The Foveon sensor results in images that are crisp and which retain massive amounts of detail even when magnified larger than 100%.

    (will insert images later)

    I would not hesitate to use it the DP1M at f/2.8, even for landscape images where sharpness throughout the frame is more critical.


    The 19mm lens seems to have very little distortion - it is close to imperceptible in general use.


    Flare is something I like incorporating into images, and as such I was very curious to see how much the DP1M flared and what its sunstar looked like. I did not use a lens hood, although there was a Minolta UV filter on the lens most of the time. I tried forcing it to flare by shooting directly into the sun, but unfortunately I failed to produce any discernable flare. This is not to say that the DP1M is immune to flare - a quick search online proves the contrary.

    On the subject of sunstars - the DP1M quite easily produced a rather nice-looking 18-sided (I think) sunstar when I shot straight into the sun through some leaves at f/16.


    The bokeh produced by the DP1M ranges from acceptably pleasant to distracting, depending on the nature of the subject and the distance from the lens. I will place more images in the sample image section, but here are two photos illustrating the two extremes.

    Bokeh example #1

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Bokeh example #2

    For the full resolution image, please click here:
    Last edited by rh89; 11th June 2013 at 04:07 PM.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Another Sigma DP1M Review

    5. Conclusions and Sample Images

    In conclusion, the Sigma DP1M is a very capable compact camera, with truly astounding image quality. However, it does have its drawbacks - mainly its slow operation and unusable ISO. The slow operation is something that can be put up with for the most part, although at times it does cross over into the frustratingly slow category. The lack of ability to use the DP1M at higher ISOs than 100 is a very limiting factor, as there are certainly times where the ability to boost ISO would be an advantage. There are often times where using a tripod may simply not be viable, and even shooting on an overcast day not to mention at sunrise/sunset becomes a problem with the lack of ability to shoot at higher ISOs.

    The other thing would be the true "compactness" of the camera - for me it is acceptably compact especially for the image quality it produces, but the non-collapsible lens could potentially be a deal-breaker for someone looking for a truly pocket-able camera. The camera could also perhaps benefit from additional dedicated controls such as the programmable front ring in the Canon Sxx and Sxxx series cameras.

    There have been other reviews that mention treating the camera like a medium format film camera – with a single ISO, and with very limited battery life. However, although that analogy seems rather fitting, the DP1M is still a digital camera in a digital age, and its current set of specifications and capabilities are such that only a very niche market will appreciate it. Still, I look forward to further improvements in future updates of this camera, mainly because the images it produces are really something.

    Sample images
    All sample images are available for view at full resolution in the link below each photograph. The sample images have not been edited, except for placing the note with technical data and website.

    Sample #1

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Sample #2

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Sample #3

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Sample #4

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Sample #5

    For the full resolution image, please click here:
    Last edited by rh89; 11th June 2013 at 04:48 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Another Sigma DP1M Review

    Sample #6

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Sample #7

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Sample #8

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Sample #9

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

    Sample #10

    For the full resolution image, please click here:

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