Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison

Started 9 months ago | Discussions
Dogonit
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Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
9 months ago

First let me start off with some background. I'm a camera junky. Always have been. I've owned and shot with everything from Hasselblads to Fuji X-series, from Pentax K1000 to a brand new Nikon D610. That said, I am not a pro. Meaning although I've sold some images in the past this is not how I make money, I'm just an obsessed amateur who loves making great photos (to the best of my ability). I've started a somewhat recent Flickr account if you want to see examples of my images from the last year or so:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/93936384@N06/

I've included a lot of background and disclaimer info below, feel free to read, or just look at the images. If you don't read though, don't post up criticisms without going back and reading first! I know this is the Internet, and I do have my flame suit ready, but c'mon people.

BACKGROUND: I've been on a quest for a great Landscape camera that is packable, affordable (aka non-D800E expensive), and that obviously makes superb images - or at least as superb as I can afford. One important factor is that I rarely ever print larger than A3 size prints. Actually, I never do. So a 16MP sensor is sufficient for my printing purposes. That said, it's always nice to have a little more to crop into, or for those fine details. What I'm looking for in an image is (these are my personal definitions, so take with a grain of salt please):

  1. Sharpness - the edge sharpness. I want to see visible and distinct borders between leaves on a tree, or distinct blades of grass in a field instead of just mushy green (for example).
  2. Contrast - as in microdetail. I want to see the subtle shades in the peeling bark on a birch tree instead of just blocks of color (for example).
  3. Dynamic Range - as in ability to capture or recall detail from a wide exposure range. I want to be able to pull an overexposed sky back so clouds are distinct, without losing shadow detail (for example).

I currently have a Fuji X-E1 and X-E2, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Sigma DP2 Merrill, and a newly acquired Nikon D610. Although they are very, very different cameras, it's these last two that produce the best images out of the bunch, so I thought I'd do a mini shootout to see if the D610 (FOR MY USES) was worth packing around. It weighs about three times as much as the Merrill, and is about 2-3 times larger.

ABOUT THE SIGMA DP2 - NOTE BEFORE READING FURTHER: I think we're all aware of the pitfalls of the Sigma Merrill cameras - High ISO disaster, slow write speeds, eats up batteries, etc. But if you're shooting landscapes none of these really matter. It's about getting the best images possible. It's assumed you are shooting at the lowest possible ISO, and you don't need ultra-fast AF with 3D tracking, etc. The Nikon is a much more versatile camera because it does have more features and is much more usable overall, but I have many cameras, and am happy to chase the 2 year-old around with the OM-D (again, for example).

A FAIR COMPARISON: I think comparing the DP2 Merrill to the D610 is more than fair, so don't get on me that it should have been a D800E! That camera is $3,000 for the body. The DP2 is $800, with lens! The Nikon D610 is a full frame sensor with 24MP, the DP2M is an APS-C sensor with 16MP (or 48 if you go by Sigmas marketing speak). If that's not a fair comparison - actually, heavily tilted in the Nikon's favor - I don't know what is. I must say also that I am not biased, as you must be able to tell from my list of current cameras; I have four cameras from four different manufacturers. I did not go into this with any expectations, and please don't claim I somehow manufactured the results. This is all exactly what I shot.

NOT ALL PIXELS ARE CREATED EQUAL: The Foveon sensor in the Sigma and the Bayer-type sensor in the Nikon are very, very, VERY VERY VERY different beasts. When Sigma claims a 48-Megapixel sensor it's an overstatement, but one that's based, at least partially, in comparative reality. The Foveon sensor does indeed have 48 Megapixels! They are just stacked over top of each other, like how film is made. The RGB sensors are translucent, so that the sensor takes a red, a green, and a blue reading for every pixel it ends up rendering, which comes out the other end as a 16 Megapixel image. How is this significant? Well, consider how a Bayer sensor works. The D610 is listed as a 24 Megapixel sensor. Does is have 24 Megapixels? Yes, BUT...each of these pixels picks up only red, green OR blue information. The Bayer filter then takes that information, calculates probable values based on averages from neighboring sensors, and estimates what each pixel's color should be. What comes out the other end? A 24MP image, but it's not really a 24MP image because it hasn't really gathered full 24 Megapixels of Red, Green and Blue data; it's captured somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 Megapixels (because there aren't equal numbers of R, G, B pixels - there are far more Green pixels to record information). If you don't understand this simplified explanation I encourage you to read more technical articles that explain this whole thing in detail. I assure you though that this is an accurate representation of what's going on with each of these sensors. What I'm getting at is this: Don't cry foul when Sigma claims 48 Megapixels. Nikon and Sigma are both over-representing their sensors in terms of the data it collects vs. the final output.

ABOUT THE CAMERAS BEING COMPARED: The Sigma DP2 Merrill is a compact mirrorless camera with a fixed prime lens of 30mm, which is 45mm in full frame comparison. Cost at the time of comparison is $899 USD retail. The Nikon D610 is a full-frame DSLR with (for this comparison) a Nikon 50mm 1.8G lens (regarded as the sharpest 50mm available for Nikon). Cost for camera and lens at time of comparison: $2,250 USD retail. Both cameras additionally have a B+W UV Haze MRC filter attached.

ABOUT THE IMAGES:All of the comparison images were shot within 30 seconds of each other on a typical Seattle early winter day - overcast, but bright. Not raining. I down-sampled the Nikon files to the same dimensions as the Sigma (since the end pixel count is higher in the Nikon). The proportions are slightly different in the images because the focal lengths of the lenses are different by 5mm (roughly 10%). The ISO for all images below is set at 100 for both cameras. White Balance was set to Auto in both cameras (they obviously interpreted the light differently). Likewise, although I've varied the shutter speed/aperture combos throughout the comparison, they are set the same between the two cameras for each shot. Oddly, the Sigma images came out about a half stop darker than the Nikon images. I can't explain this other than it must be either an attribute of the firmware or the sensor itself, or both.

All of the images were shot in RAW, imported to Lightroom (via the required Sigma Pro Photo 5.5 software necessary in the case of the DP2 Merrill) and exported without any editing. I have not applied any sharpening to any of the images (except as noted in the final comparison). In one case (again, the final comparison) I did push the Highlights slider to -100 and the Shadows slider to +100 in Lightroom, for sake of comparing the Dynamic range. I also tried sharpening the image from the D610 a bit because at this edge of the image it was pretty soft.

I will not make any conclusions here because I know it will get too heated. I know what I see, you may see something different. Honestly though, I was surprised what I found. So without further ado:

Nikon D610

Sigma DP2 Merrill

Nikon D610 - 100% Crop

Sigma DP2 - 100% Crop

Nikon D610

Sigma DP2 Merrill

Nikon D610 - 100% Crop

Sigma DP2 Merrill - 100% Crop

Nikon D610

Sigma DP2 Merrill

Nikon D610 - 100% Crop

Sigma DP2 Merrill - 100% Crop

Nikon D610 (Highlights and Shadows adjusted to show Dynamic Range), Sharpened to see if it can get any clearer

Sigma DP2 Merrill (Highlights and Shadows adjusted to show Dynamic Range), Unsharpened

Nikon D610 - 100% Crop, Sharpened to see if it can get any clearer

Sigma DP2 Merrill - 100% Crop

Nikon D610 Sigma DP2 Sigma DP2 Merrill
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Thoughts R Us
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

That Foveon sensor is a marvel at base ISO, no doubt.  It's a hidden jewel.

As you mention it has significant drawbacks that keep it from being practical for use on a more all around basis, but boy does it sing at low ISO.

If anyone could solve the technical problems and get the Foveon to perform decent across a wider ISO range...it would be a huge breakthrough.

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shigzeo ?
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

Holy FRAK! Very nice comparison. One of the finest examples of why DPReview remains the best general camera forum for the english-speaking world.

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goosel
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Thanx
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

Nice comparison.

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Nikon D800
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Zig Ermeson
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

Interesting comparison.  I see some color difference. Foveon has a history of "odd" color casts, but nonetheless, looks like the DP2M is a neglected little jewel, maybe because it isn't a Canon nor Nikon.  Besides having the sharp Foveon sensor, it has one of the sharpest lens available attached to it.

Zig.

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jfriend00
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

Is there any way to discern what image differences are a product of the different lens vs. the different sensor?

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Toccata47
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

Foveon looks sharper, more contrast, noisier. Despite the acuity I prefer the nikon shots in every comparison simply for the color. How do you deal with the foveon files in post?

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imrich
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

Thanks for this data! I always wondered what happened to those Foveon sensors when they made their initial marketing splash, but I lost track of them.

Not a 'nit' but your third image (the first 100% crop) is labled as a D610 image, but the Exif data label says it's the Sigma DP2.

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Dogonit
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Zig Ermeson, 9 months ago

With the most recent firmware update the DP2 Merrill (and from what I've heard all the other DP cameras) have been significantly improved in the area of white balance and color rendition. Also got some neat features like face detection focus priority.

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Dogonit
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to jfriend00, 9 months ago

It would really be impossible to figure that part out unfortunately. I just took what is regarded as the best standard Nikon lens in the nearest focal length to the Sigma's lens. I guess you could compare to the D610 with a Zeiss lens, but it's a little out of my price range. And it's manual focus. I can't imagine it would make all that much difference though given the ratings for the Nikon 50mm 1.G. It's rated as tack sharp anywhere between f2.8 to f8.

Cheers

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Dogonit
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Toccata47, 9 months ago

I agree with the noise comparison, and the D610 does definitely have at least 1.5 stops more dynamic range. I think the color is simply dictated by the white balance, which to me looks a bit too warm, with a magenta hue, in the Nikon photos. This is obviously something that could be fixed in post, however I didn't want to adulterate the images too much and have someone cry foul.

In order to process the Sigma images you have to import into their proprietary software called Pro Photo (v5.5 is the latest update). It's a clunky and slow software, but luckily all you have to do is import it there and export as a TIFF to Lightroom. I made no changes to the Sigma images in Pro Photo other than this file formatting.

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Dogonit
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to imrich, 9 months ago

I saw that too. I can't explain it. I think it's simply an issue with the server rendering so many different images on the fly. They are labeled correctly underneath (I triple checked before posting).

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Ray Ritchie
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

Am I understanding correctly that the raw development of the Sigma image was done by the Sigma software and then imported to LR? If so, was it imported as a TIFF? What further adjustments did LR do?

I suspect strongly that much of the difference between the images is due to the differences in raw development and, possibly, differences in the two lenses, but I'm not sure I fully understand what you did with the raw images and how much of a role LR played.

Ray
My blog: http://www.rritchie.com/wordpress
My Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rritchie/

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Jack Hogan
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to imrich, 9 months ago

imrich wrote:

Thanks for this data! I always wondered what happened to those Foveon sensors when they made their initial marketing splash, but I lost track of them.

Not a 'nit' but your third image (the first 100% crop) is labled as a D610 image, but the Exif data label says it's the Sigma DP2.

Yes, Jeffrey says it's Sigma.  Were these taken on a tripod?

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Jack Hogan
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Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Unsharpened vs. Sharpened resp.
In reply to Jack Hogan, 9 months ago

Jack Hogan wrote:

imrich wrote:

Thanks for this data! I always wondered what happened to those Foveon sensors when they made their initial marketing splash, but I lost track of them.

Not a 'nit' but your third image (the first 100% crop) is labled as a D610 image, but the Exif data label says it's the Sigma DP2.

Yes,Jeffrey says it's Sigma. Were these taken on a tripod?

And here is that very same image after Infocus 'pre-sharpening common' preset (click on Original Size below to see the 2 second alternating animation before and after Infocus)

Looks like the DP2 got some sharpening.

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StillLearning
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Dogonit, 9 months ago

Looked at the first 2 to in original.  The Sigma looks very good but something about the 610 doesn't look right.  On close inspection it has a jittery look and CA galore.  Don't know what lens you were using but I would think it may have some problems. I've seen much better results from the D600 with good glass.  You may have found your portable landscape camera but I wouldn't be able to use a 45mm FOV for landscape photography.  I have a couple of Sigma lenses and they are top notch.

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Dogonit
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Unsharpened vs. Sharpened resp.
In reply to Jack Hogan, 9 months ago

I'm not sure what you're saying here, sorry. I did not add any sharpening to any of the images except to the last image from the Nikon (the crows in the tree).

I did not sharpen the Sigma images. Believe me or don't I guess. If you haven't shot with the Sigma I understand your doubt, but it really does put out images like that without work.

I'm not unfamiliar with post processing and I checked and triple checked all of my settings.

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Dogonit
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Ray Ritchie, 9 months ago

Lightroom cannot read Sigma files, so the files must first be formatted into TIFFs from the Sigma software (Pro Photo). It's a crappy manufacturer's software somewhat like what Nikon gives you with their cameras. I did not apply any adjustments to the image in Pro Photo - simply converted to a TIFF so that the file could be imported into Lightroom. From there the images were treated exactly the same.

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Dogonit
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to StillLearning, 9 months ago

I'm sure the image could be tweaked to look better, this is simply OOC. Same goes for the Sigma files. I could have easily fixed the white balance, sharpness of the Nikon files and I could definitely have tamed the noise in the Sigma files. But I didn't want anyone claiming I favored a camera, so all was left as is.

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Dogonit
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Re: Nikon D610 vs. Sigma DP2 Merrill - Lengthy with lots of samples for comparison
In reply to Jack Hogan, 9 months ago

No, they were all shot handheld. Shutter speeds were more than fast enough for it though and honestly, if the Nikon requires a tripod at 160th it's kind of a useless camera for what they claim it's for.

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