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Sigma SD1 (Merrill) Review

By on April 23, 2012

Launched in 2011, the Sigma SD1 was an oddball. It had a 46MP sensor, so the manufacturer presumed its astronomical £5000 asking price was justified. But it backfired. Having burnt its fingers, Sigma relaunched the same camera in early 2012, renaming it SD1 Merrill, and now it costs a fraction of its earlier price. But at £1850, it is the priciest APS-C DSLR available on the market as of today.

So, read on to find out if the SD1 Merrill has something special which other cameras are lacking and is it worth the money Sigma is asking for it.

Sigma SD1 (Merrill) review

Photo Credit: Efoto.lt/rekomenduojami_fotoaparatai/veidrodiniai_apzvalga

Features of Sigma SD1 (Merrill)

Color Technology

The highlight of the SD1 is the Foveon X3 sensor. The technology used is very different from the one found in conventional sensors on DSLR cameras, which means it gives the SD1 different imaging benefits.

In a standard sensor on a DSLR camera, there is just one layer of pixel sensors with a color filter array covering it. The job of this filter is to arrange the red, blue and green in an overlapping pattern to make it easy for the camera to understand. But this pattern isn’t perfect because 50 per cent of green and 25 percent of blue and red can’t put out full information regarding the different colors. To overcome this shortcoming the camera has to “guess” and insert colors to fill in the gaps which are left.

But on the X3 sensor on the Sigma, there are three separate layers for red, green and blue colors, which means there is no question of the color information being lost and therefore there is no need of a color filter array.

Sigma SD1 (Merrill) review

Photo Credit: Gigglehd.com/zbxe/dicanews/7036382

So, this translates into the SD 1 delivering excellent color rendition, especially when the subjects are red colored. It may be a great feature but the results will not be always visible because the auto white balance system on the camera isn’t perfect and this results in washed out, color-cast pictures, in many outdoor settings. To tackle this, use controlled lighting and manually set the white balance and what you will get are sumptuous results.

Though the camera has 46MP, they are spread across the three layers on the sensor. So, the output resolution delivered by the camera is 14.7MP at 4704×3136 pixels. Customers looking for higher output resolution can get hold of other competing cameras, which have greater resolutions and bigger sensors, but the though the resolution put out by the Sigma may not look huge the first time you look at it, but it compensates with exceptionally sharp results.

Lets once again compare the sensor available on a standard DSLR camera to the X3 sensor on the Sigma. The color filter array on the conventional sensors needs colors to be injected and this can give rise to different problems. To counter some of these issues, an anti-aliasing filter is used to blur the incoming light, but what is lost in this process is sharpness. But on the X3 the need of a color filter array isn’t required and therefore an anti-aliasing filter is also not needed. The immediate benefit of this is sharpness, especially for landscape or high-end studio photographers who want that extra crispness in their shots. This where the SD1 is worth every penny. While clicking pictures at ISO 100 we got results which were very sharp.


Though it may have benefits for high-end users, but for casual users who want a camera to shoot in low light or action photographers who won’t like its slow autofocus system, this isn’t an ideal snapper. Till ISO 100, the pictures are great and richly textured, just like a film and very detailed, but as you increase the ISO things start deteriorating.

Sigma SD1 (Merrill) review

Photo Credit: Frame.lt/sigma-pristate-46mpx-turinti-sd1-merrill/

You can use ISO 200, but at ISO 400 image noise can be noticed and it increases manifold from ISO 800 onwards. Results are very poor when you take it to ISO 1600 and at ISO 3200 they become unusable as there were no details in the darker parts and the gradients just wither away because of the excessive noise.

This poor performance at the mid to high level will make it unattractive to a large number of buyers. No doubt, ISO 100 works very well, provided you have a control over light or you can take long exposures but if you want to click above ISO 200, it would make sense if you select a totally different system. It is surprising that a sensor as sophisticated as the Foveon X3 has such poor results at higher ISO numbers.

The SD1′s exposure system also responds in a different way compared to competing DSLR cameras. It is quite common to get over exposed shots and it needs time to get hang of the 4-option exposure system on the camera and feel in total control. This shortcoming and the improper auto white balance system make this a camera which isn’t very friendly for the every day user.


There are other irritants which let this camera down. There is no live view system on the device and it takes ages to render a file to the CF card; while only 98 per cent field of view can be seen from the viewfinder which is a shame because anything less than 100 per cent is not expected from a camera which costs this much; and the speed of the 11-point AF system leaves much to be desired.

Sigma SD1 (Merrill) review

Photo Credit: Itmoldova.com/2012/02/11/sigma-a-lansat-aparatele-foto-dp1-si-dp2-merrill/

People who already use a Sigma camera will note that the SD1 is different from the older SD DSLR camera as the sensor on it is a bit larger. The magnification of 1.5x is akin to that found on Pentax/Nikon/Sony APS-C size sensors, while the SD15 had a magnification of 1.7x.

One cool feature on the camera, which is not present on other DSLR models, is the capability to shoot pictures in infra red. Just remove the infrared filter from the front of the sensor and you are ready to shoot IR pictures.

Sum Up & Price of Sigma SD1 (Merrill)

If you are a casual camera user, like most people are, then this camera is not for you as it lacks live view and high ISO levels produce poor quality images. But put the Sigma SD1 (Merrill) in a controlled environment, attach a quality lens, set it at ISO 100 and the results you will get are nothing short of mind blowing.

Rich rendition of colors, great sharpness which other competing cameras can’t match will certainly attract many studio photographers. It is better value than before with a cool £3200 knocked off its original price, but at £1850 it still is expensive and not for the casual photographer. The Sigma SD1 (Merrill) is strictly for professionals.

GD Star Rating