Not a flower in sight: Dp3 goes to Hellfest

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Not a flower in sight: Dp3 goes to Hellfest
4 months ago

Backstory:

I've been to Hellfest 6 years now and my trusty SD14 has been along for the ride most of the time. However, getting pictures in the midst of a crowd using a camera with no live view is challenging to say the least. A couple of years back I acquired a K5 partly because of its high ISO capabilities but more importantly because I figured live view would make life much easier. It did, though high ISO was not the panacea I had imagined and I was never really all that impressed with the output of the K5 (seems to capture a similar level of detail to the SD14 but spread over 3x the pixels so simply doesn't looks as punchy). Fast forward to the recent price drop on the Merrills and I decided on a whim to try picking up a Dp3M to use this year alongside my SD14.  In doing this I assumed that I could crop the frame to about 30% and still have as much detail as the best shots I could achieve with my 100-300/4 AND have live view.

Concerns:

I was a little worried about what I'd read regarding AF performance. Although I bought the dedicated flash I was also a little anxious that it might be inadequate for the task. I didn't really anticipate a big problem in the speed department though for sure the camera is no Ferrari. In terms of high ISO I assumed performance on a par with the SD14 but possibly with the added problem of banding.

Usability impressions:

Well what can I say? I'm very pleasantly surprised in general.

The reputed focus hunting I found not to be an issue so long as the focus limiter is set to something sensible (in my case 2m-INF). With the limiter set focusing is quick and usually accurate, even hitting the mark most of the time in extremely challenging conditions with lots of dry ice swirling around. I did encounter the hunting behaviour occasionally - generally when the lighting was changing very rapidly but this seemed to be because somehow or other the focus limiter had become switched off. In usability terms one of my few criticisms is that it's quite easy to accidentally nudge a button and change settings without realising (especially switching to MF) - but this isn't such a big issue once you're aware of it.

Live view + Foveon is a dream, it really is! I was able to get tons of shots that would have been simply impossible with the SD14. The light weight and easy hand-holdability are a real asset here. Plus it's also much easier to protect a DP3M in the midst of a cray audience than an SD14 + big lens.

I took 5 batteries with me and found I used about 3 per day though I wasn't shooting constantly. For sure this isn't exactly class leading performance but with plentiful cheap and small batteries again hardly a killer.

Performance:

Folks who say base ISO on the Merrills is not as clean as on the previous sensor probably have a point at least in darker scenes. That said, ISO100-150 is near spotless but ISO200 does see a bit of noise and this steadily increases at 400 and 800. Having said that I found ISO800 to be MUCH more usable than on my SD14 and colours are preserved quite well up to that point at the expense of quite a bit of noise and a reduction in detail. Useful in a pinch though. I didn't really encounter any drastic purple blotching problems although given that almost all the images contain dark areas I fully expected to.  There are occasional faint patches but they're barely perceptible. In higher ISO shots they can become more apparent but the noise removal does a decent job of eliminating them.

A great surprise was just how well the the Dp3M works with my EF-500 DG Super. I expected to have compatibility issues but in TTL mode the flash works like a charm.

A note on build quality:

This thing is built like a tank.  I put the DP3 on top of a locker while I sorted through some stuff only for the strap to catch on the door when I closed it.  Camera was yanked off at speed and fell over 2m / 6 feet onto a hard wooden floor.  Totally undamaged, though I needed a drink afterwards...

Conclusion:

The DP3M does exactly what I'd want it to.  I'd say the detail from a Dp3 image cropped equivalent to 135mm on my SD14 easily meets or exceeds the very best I've managed with the 100-300/4 at that focal length.  Of course on the odd occasion when I can get a clear shot at 200-300mm and I want a close up (or better subject isolation) the SD14 still wins, but the Dp3 is a tremendous asset - I took about 5x as many pictures with the DP3 and the hit rate for critically sharp shots is much higher than with the Sd14 simply because the Dp3 is a dream to hand hold.  Being able to quickly swap the flash between the DP3 and SD14 is great too.

Below are a few samples.  The second is a detail drop from the first.  Not claiming these to be works of high art, but they serve their purpose in recording the event through my eyes

Most definitely not static subjects  ISO125 / 1/160s

Guitar detail crop from above

ISO500 shot some 50m+ from the stage.

Another hairy bloke with a guitar (a lot of that around at Hellfest )

Quick n dirty ISO100  detail test, fun to view @ 100%

Sigma DP3 Merrill Sigma SD14
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