An irreverent look at the Quattro vs Merrill thing....

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absquatulate Senior Member • Posts: 7,768
An irreverent look at the Quattro vs Merrill thing....
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Now the dust has settled from Sensor wars.....I've had my SD Quattro for some time and shot quite a bit with it so I thought I'd try and put some objective thoughts down, which might help those who've only had one or the other, or neither, with an image or two as examples. To give you the background, I have all three DP Merrills, and I've also owned the DP2X and the SD15, so I'm very familiar with the later generations of foveon, including SPP in its various iterations.

Right off the bat let me qualify all of this by saying I've had great results from all of them, and this isn't about which is better, because there is no one size fits all as far as I'm concerned, they're just different, significantly so IMHO. So firstly let me deal with the Quattro (SD-Q) and what I see as it's positives:

Quattro Positives:

1. Great colour in varying light, no doubt about it, the Quattro holds colour better, especially when the light is on the edges for these sensors, it's more consistent.
2. Versatility, compared to the Merrill compacts it's much easier to shoot with an interchangeable lens camera with an evf, and if you think the evf is bad go and shoot with a DPXM in the sun...then get back to me and I'll explain why your camera isn't broken.
3. Lifting the shadows - definitely better than the Merrills, which isn't much of a comliment, and just as well as I'll come on to. The Quattro sensor goes where Merrills fear to tread.
4. Mono - for the low contrast look it's nice, quite film like in its rendering, not so much for high contrast.
5. SFD - I haven't used it in anger yet but I will, it's a very nice to have, I'm especially looking forward to the write times....
6. JPEGs - I don't shoot jpegs but they do look pretty good when I've tested them.
7. DNG capability - another nice to have.
8. Battery life? - getting there Sigma, not sure about the drain on the dylithium crystals though, must be pretty intensive
9. Ergonomics - Pretty good, a couple of niggles with the dials, more user familiarity than anything else, I'm getting old.
10. Durability? I have no idea, but all good so far and it feels like it's built to last.....like my wife.
11. Street cred? - Same as the Merrills "What the hell is that?" I like that, never been one for the crowd, I shoot Sigma, so clearly....
12. Nightscapes? I don't know, haven't tried it for that yet, possibly never will, the Merrills are kings in that domain, but I'll assume they're similar.

Quattro Negatives:

1. Highlights - this is the big one for me, the achilles heel of the camera, this sensor blows highlights like interns blew Clinton, in fact it reminds me of my old Olympus E-510, capable of great results but boy do you need to pay attention to the highlights, it's definitely an expose to the left situation in really bright light. It's just as well you can pull the shadows quite a bit as under-exposing by as much as 1.7 stops is not unusual for me, that would be a disaster using the Merrills, in fact that would be a "shooting film on a range finder...with your lens cap on".....kind of disaster....if you want something that resembles colour....not cabbage in a beetroot jus.....
2. Infrared - just forget it, not worth bothering with, unless your favoured look is that of a smartphone shot at 100% magnification - Monnet would be pleased.
3. Higher ISO's - ISO 400 is tops for me in colour, I rarely ever go above 160. I reconcile that fact with the knowledge that in the film world ISO 160 is considered to be medium speed, no really, it is... that's not a joke...honestly...they still say it as well....seriously..
4. Higher ISO mono - doesn't work for me either, probably 800 would be my limit for this sensor, at a push. Some weird luminance noise going on as well, I wonder if my camera is haunted at higher ISOs
5. Cloud rendering? a bit "meh" if I'm honest, in comparison to other foveon cameras of course, so some stiff competition on that one.
6. Used for negative conversion to digital - ok but not brilliant, a bit flat for my taste.
7. Write times - Not enough time to put the kettle on, still enough time to do your shoe laces up.

A photo or two of what I mean - Good Quattro conditions:

Where it struggles, I still like the following image but I'm pretty sure I could have saved that sky with a Merrill sensor, so it doesn't look like Kim Jong-Un is visiting...or Donald Trumps hair....

So onto my triplets - the 3 DPXM's.

Merrill Positives:

1. That Merrill look, the gritty, contrasty, resolutiony signature Merrill look, gotta love that for certain subjects.
2. Compactness - what's not to like? they're pocket rockets (I have big pockets).
3. Highlights? - completely opposite of the Quattro, superb highlight recovery, shoot at ISO 200 and keep to the right whenever possible - probably it's biggest strength after the steampunk signature look.
4. Colour - yes, a strength, if you expose correctly in the right light, get it wrong and.....Cabbage in Beetroot Jus again....
5. Mono - Merrilly awesomeness, sometimes you can push it to ISO 6400 and get good results, has a natural looking grain and the highlight retention makes it the closest thing to high contrast mono film you can get IMHO. Watch out for banding on the limits but SPP can often clean that up.
6. High ISO - Mono up to 6400 as I've said, high ISO colour?..I'll get my coat....
7. Cloud rendering? your lotto numbers have just come in, the best in the business. In the beginning the Lord created light....then Merrill clouds.
8. Durability? I dragged all three across the Alps, two ended up in a stream for a few seconds, (it's surprising how fast you can move when your pride and joy, complete with once in a lifetime shots, is hitting freezing water and rocks) all still work perfectly. they're tough little hombre's, take my word for it.
9. Hidden Street cred - I love watching people work out what they are, especially other photographers, because let s face it, unless you come on DPR no-one knows what the hell they are.
10. Converting film negatives? For medium format the DP3M is perfect, I get better results than the Quattro and its macro capability will capture all of a 6x9 negative comfortably.
11. Nightscapes on a tripod?  they rock, seriously they do, pointed stars for specular highlights, colours hold up, there's some kind of Merrilly tripod magic going on.

Merrill Negatives:
1. Battery life? erm....no, but I have 14 batteries and they're small, and I have lots of pockets....you get the picture.
2. LCD in bright light? what LCD? I cant see it, only this black thing? I get around that by using a jerry rigged Loupe with elastic around the camera, it works very well actually, and gives stability, but may get you arrested...
3. Shadows? - if you have to pull the shadows at all just hope the planets are aligned and you helped an old lady across the road that day, or you love the colours purple and green.........Get out of jail card?......I'll make that a mono image then....
4. Infrared? good luck with that one (unless you own the SD Merrill in which case you've struck oil...next to a gold ingot)
5. Ergonomics? it's a box with a sensor in it ( I kind of like its minimalism but plenty don't like that soap bar thing).
6. Write times - I'll put the kettle on then (But not so bad as you can still keep shooting)

So what do Merrills do best?.........this

Whats not so good?..................................................................................................................................................................... You really didn't think I'd be posting the purple and green horror show that is Merrill shadows pulled did you? Seriously? I "mono" those shots

So there you have it, not trying to teach anyone to suck eggs, but that's how they work for me, and I love them both. Oh, and an honorary mention for the 30mm F1.4 "kit" prime, it rocks, no seriously it does, sharp wide open, scalpel sharp stopped down, about the worst I can say about it is that you can get some CA in bright highlights at wider apertures, no big deal and no need to upgrade to an Art lens from this bad boy......I'll just don my flame retardent suit....I'll be with you in a minute....

Sigma DP2x Sigma DP3 Merrill Sigma sd Quattro Sigma SD15
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