Sigma SD1 Merill 46Mp DSLR
Cut-price, hi-res hot shot
Review The Sigma SD1 might not be a household name but some of you will certainly be familiar with it. Launched at Photokina in 2010, the SD1 was the first and only DSLR to show off a sensor based on an entirely new technology. Albeit akin to an APS-C format, the SD1’s Foveon sensor was capable of capturing three times as much colour information than its rivals and consequently clocked up a 46Mp count.
Sigma's SD1 Merrill kitted out with the PG-31 power grip battery pack
Despite the ‘wow’ factor the Sigma SD1 was a commercial flop, not least due to the staggering £6000 price tag it carried at launch. Since then, Sigma has made a few firmware tweaks and relaunched a new version of the SD1 called Merrill, after one of the creators of the Foveon sensor.
So what is different about this latest release? The answer is quite straightforward: nothing, apart from the addition of the Merrill logo and a critically important reduction in price. Today, at a retail price of £1840, the Merrill is a fraction of the cost of the original SD1. However, it retains the same weather-sealed magnesium alloy body and that stonking 46Mp sensor along with all the other specs, including 11 cross-type AF points, 5fps continuous shooting, a 3in 460K-dot LCD screen and a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th second.
With a much more reasonable pricetag, it looks like the SD1 Merrill can now compete with established APS-C DSLR models such as the Nikon D300s, the Canon EOS 7D or the Sony Alpha A77. So, second time around, this innovative camera deserves a closer look too see if the Merrill merits its own place in the professional and enthusiast DSLR market.
The SD1 definitely looks the part. The alloy body gives the camera a solid, professional and expensive look while the weather-resistant seals will definitely appeal to pro users. The design is extremely ergonomic with a deeply recessed front grip cut in the middle by an unusual but very comfortable deep groove where to rest your middle finger. This adds to the already secure grip and makes the camera feel very light in your hand.
A professional approach to the top plate layout
The layout of the controls is what you would expect from a professional DSLR with most of the functions being accessed directly from a button or dial. The top plate houses on the right the mode dial, which includes the usual PASM plus three user defined modes, the classic twin dials for full manual control and a number of dedicated buttons such as Metering, Exposure compensation, ISO, AF and AEL.
Next page: Sensor sensibilities
Re: Sample shots.
Great collection of sample shots! Really great!
I've been critical of some Reg camera reviews in the past - top work on this one.
The EF mount was used on both film and digital cameras. It replaced the FD mount which was film only. EF-S is digital only - but only because they only do digital now - the EF-S is actually for APS-C sensors, it's about sensor size rather than film/digital.
"they didn't do the Canon trick of changing their mounts for digital, so old lenses still fit)"
Strange I've had two Canon digitals 300D & 550D and the lenses I have are all the usual EF lenses - they have introduced extra lenses that only fit the digital range.
IMHO the reason that the SD1 failed was that every with every month that passed, the launch date moved back about 3 months. By the time it was launched, years late, everyone else had something else Canon / Nikon / Pentax, etc. Personally I have Canon. Also the other CMOS / CCD sensors improved a lot in that time, but it seems that the spec for the Fovian sensor was set in stone and has not kept up. By now I have 3 camera bodies, but that is not where my investment is. I can change all the bodies, and all the lenses fit on the new bodies. I will generally keep a lens for (much) more than 10 years. The SD1 won't work with any of my Canon lenses, and even if I had a Sigma lens for my Canons, it still wouldn't work with the SD1. The price of the camera is almost nothing next to the cost of all the lenses.
Very, very poor low-light performance from all of the Fovian sensors doesn't help either, and even though this camera is cheaper than the first, it's still about the price of a Canon 7D or 5D MkII, but is built like the cheapest bottom end camera with controls requiring the vulcan death grip to press buttons and operate dials at the same time. I wanted so much to like the SD1 cameras when they finally came out, but they just make me think of the car of the same name; a footnote in history.