We've been taking a closer look at the latest Sigma products, on show at the Focus on Imaging event in Birmingham, UK. A lot of the buzz at this year's show may be around the big new SLRs from Nikon and Canon, along with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Fujifilm X-Pro1, but Sigma is also quietly showing its recent announcements. The 15x3MP Foveon sensor-equipped DP1 Merrill and DP2 Merrill, along with the Digital Neo 19mm F2.8 and 30mm F2.8 lenses for Micro Four Thirds are all on show, so we decided to dig a bit deeper.

Sigma's DP-series compacts have always had a cult following due to the unique qualities of the Foveon X3 'Direct Image Sensor' that captures full colour information at each pixel location, rather than using a Bayer colour filter array. Previous models in the line have been somewhat slow, with slightly awkward controls, but the latest iterations use a completely new body design. Coupled with the larger and much-higher resolution sensor that's also used in the SD1 Merrill, the DPxM models look like they could be much stronger contenders for a space in enthusiasts' bags.   

Sigma's new DP1 Merrill and DP2 Merrill side-by-side. As with previous DP-series cameras, the two models  are distinguished mainly by their lenses - the DP1M sports a wideangle 19mm F2.8, while the DP2M has a 'normal' 30mm F2.8 (28mm and 45mm equivalent respectively).

Sigma's Merrill compacts are completely different in design to the previous DP models. They're rather unconventional in shape, with lens mounted towards the edge of the body. Most notably the lenses are now fixed rather than extending, and feature 'proper' manual focus rings. There's also a large top-mounted dial around the shutter release for changing exposure parameters (shutter speed, aperture etc), while the mode dial is replaced by a top plate button.

The two cameras offer identical controls on the back, including Sigma's familiar 'QS' Quick Set menu button. 

The back of the camera is much closer to previous DP models, although the up/down buttons and focus dial are no longer required. The screen is vastly improved - it's both larger and much higher resolution, at 3" and 920k dots. One other notable omission is the lack of a pop-up flash - apparently due to space constraints.

Sigma was also showing its 'Digital Neo' interchangeable lenses for Sony NEX and Micro Four Thirds. At first sight these might appear to be the DPx Merrills' lenses sawn-off and re-purposed, but delve a little deeper and they turn out to be entirely different optical designs. The DN lenses are simpler - the 19mm F2.8 EX DN uses 8 elements in 6 groups vs the DP1M's 9 elements in 8 groups, while the 30mm F2.8 EX DN has 7 elements in 5 groups compared to 8 elements in 6 groups. In retrospect this isn't entirely surprising - the DP cameras work with in-lens shutters, while the interchangeable lenses have to accommodate a longer back-focus distance due to the focal-plane shutter. The net result is that the DPx Merrill cameras will be a bit slimmer than NEX or Micro Four Thirds cameras with the corresponding primes mounted.

Here's the 19mm F2.8 EX DN and 30mm F2.8 EX DN side-by-side. Both lenses are pretty compact - less than 2" long - with the 30mm the smaller of the two.  Here's the 19mm with its bowl-shaped bayonet-mount hood. The 30mm doesn't have a hood - according to Sigma it simply isn't needed.

The Sony-mount versions of the Digital Neo have been available for a few weeks, and the Micro Four Thirds versions have just appeared. The 30mm F2.8 is being launched at a very attractive price ($199 / £169 / €199), and it seems reasonable to assume that the 19mm F2.8's cost won't be very different. We think these lenses will be particularly attractive to NEX users, given the system's current paucity of primes, along with the fact that the focal lengths make a bit more sense on APS-C.

We were able to have a quick play with the 30mm on a Panasonic DMC-G3, and operationally first impressions are positive - focusing is near-silent and reasonably quick. It's too soon to comment on image quality, though.