Limited but Brilliant: The Sigma DP2 Merrill

In 2014 a camera has to be able to work in low light, produce accurate colours, and files that are easy to handle. Modern digital cameras need to be good at just about everything, including video, and possibly even putting images online with built-in wifi. About a month ago I bought a digital camera that does none of these things well. It will take pictures in low light, but they won't be great. Its rendition of realistic colours can be outstanding, but not always. And the files it produces are enormous. These shortcomings are a little ridiculous in 2014, and yet I love using it. The Sigma DP2 Merrill came out in 2012 and I was able to justify buying it because it is unloved and thus relatively cheap. Others have written about the camera's shortcomings, so I'm not going to bother adding to the litany. What this post is about is the things the DP2M does well, and the things you can get away with. One thing I'm finding with it is that the files need very little work: either you did a good job taking the picture in the first place, or you didn't. It's very like using film.

What the DP2M is good for is detail, so let's get that out of the way first. The following not very interesting snap was taken in my garden (yes, the rose in the background really was that lurid). The image below it is a crop of the rose hip on the right in the original image.

Not bad. I don't think I need a macro lens now anyway. The Sigma loves good light. At ISO 100 it produces spot-on colours and sharp images even at experimentally wide apertures, as here (F/3.5):

Liverpool's Futurist cinema, which began life in 1912 as the Picture House, is a sad sight on Lime Street, where it is rotting slowly. There is a campaign to save this facade, but in the mean time, it's a gift to photographers. The next image was taken in colour, but Sigma's Photo Pro software does a great job of handling black and white images, so I'm finding that this camera is used for black and white most of the time.

One last shot of the Futurist, looking moody in the slanting winter sun.

So black and white works well, but what about low light? As all the reviews seem to say, this camera is great unless you stray over ISO 400. And that's true. I wouldn't attempt a colour image at ISO 400, though black and white is fine up to ISO 800. The following image was taken at the Hull Maritime Museum and shows part of their impressive collection of scrimshaw. This was taken in black and white mode at ISO 800, through the glass case of the exhibit, just to make things a bit more difficult. While there is a degree of smudging if you look really closely, I think it is more than acceptable for the web, or even print in smaller sizes. Did I mention that I love the way this camera does black and white?

And here's another one at ISO 800, using an iPad as a light source.

I'm glad I bought this quirky, difficult camera. Its limitations remind me--in a good way--of using a film camera, but its sharpness and the extreme detail are fascinating. It can make the kind of images I've previously only been able to manage with a medium format film camera (a Yashicamat 124G). I've been photographing trees over the past year and have enjoyed the way the Yashicamat handles the mixed light when you get in amongst them. As photographers will be able to see from these pictures, I am still learning to get the most from this camera, but I think the Sigma DP2M is going to be a good companion for the Yashicamat. I cropped this last one to make it square, like the Yashicamat's negatives.