Friday, August 30, 2013

Sigma DP2 Merrill Photo Set

I keep adding photographs to my Sigma DP2M set on Flickr. Many of those photographs have not made it to this Blog, so please check it out. Also, check out my full review of the Sigma DP2 Merrill if you missed it.
American Yardscape - Bodfish, California
Griswold - Bodfish, California

Thursday, August 29, 2013

DxOMark Tested: Canon EOS 70D

DxOMark just tested the Canon EOS 70D, and it didn't score all that well. I don't really care myself. Vision is what is important in photography, and not cameras. Besides, there is only so much value in DxOMark tests, anyway. But Canon did call this camera a "game changer" with its new and improved auto-focus.

Yes, the auto-focus may indeed be better, but Canon seems to be falling behind Nikon, Sony, Fuji and others when it comes to raw image quality from the sensor. So what good is improved auto-focus on an overpriced, underwhelming camera?

Again, I don't care myself. I won't be buying the camera. But if I were in the market for a new DSLR (which I'm not) and I was considering the 70D, I would take a good long look at the competition because there is really little to attract me to this new camera. And that can't be good for Canon, who is pushing this as a game changing DSLR.

Color or Black & White? A Tale of Two Photographs

I get asked from time-to-time how to determine if a photograph should be in color or black-and-white. In the days of film it was more straight forward because you were stuck with whatever you loaded into your camera. You made the choice well before opening the shutter.

Digital is a little different, though, because unless you own the Leica M Monochrom, you are capturing every image in color. So you have the choice to keep the photographs as a color images or convert them to black-and-white. How does one determine which is best without making a color and black-and-white version of each image?

That question, however, is not the right question. I know before I capture an image if it will be color or black-and-white, and that decision is critical. It is important to know what you'll do in post-processing prior to even opening the shutter. This is because what is important to a color image is much different than what is important to a black-and-white image.

Color and black-and-white photographs have little in common, other than they are photographs. Black-and-white images are about contrast, highlights, shadows, lines, and shapes. Color images are primarily about color, and to a lessor extent lines and shapes. Because they are so different, the approach to each must be different.
Cummings Mountain In Black & White - Tehachapi, California
Yesterday I captured the above photograph, Cummings Mountain In Black & White. I knew this would be a black-and-white image prior to capturing it. First, color is not important to it, so it wouldn't look good in color. Second, in the lower part of the image, the darker bushes and rocks have good contrast with the grass, making it an ideal candidate for a monochrome conversion.

After capturing that image, I took about twenty five steps to the right and captured a similar image. This time, however, I knew that it would be a color photograph. What made the difference? Color became important. The yellow flowers in the foreground provided color contrast to the blue sky.
Cummings Mountain In Color - Tehachapi, California
Put your hand over the yellow flowers on the image above and it becomes much less interesting. While the flowers are not the main subject of the photograph, it is an important aspect of it, mostly because of its color.

If you are waiting until the files are loaded onto your computer to determine if they should be color or black-and-white, you are waiting too long. It must be decided "in the field" so you can best play to the strengths of whatever it will be. If it is color, really show the color and use it to its full advantage. If it is black-and-white, think of highlights and shadows and contrast and what those will look like in the final image.

In the end one subject can look good in a color photograph and black-and-white. There is no right or wrong answer. Which of the two photographs here is better? I say the monochrome, while my wife thinks the color is better. What I can tell you is that the black-and-white image would not have looked right as a color image and the color image would not have looked right as a black-and-white. And that is by design.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Best Photographs Are On Planned Shoots

Not that long ago I published a post called Limitations Improve Art. In that post I said, "Limitations are blessings. If you want to improve your art, limit what you can use or do to create that art. Force yourself to be creative and innovative. Don't ever let your limitations (whether natural or self-imposed) get in the way of what you want to accomplish. Instead, let limitations be what drives you forward."

Sometimes it is easy to grab a camera and just drive or walk around until something catches the eye. No plans, no preconceived ideas, just whatever one finds of interest along the way is what one photographs. There is nothing wrong with this, and, in fact, I enjoy the adventure of it.
Two Ostrich - Tehachapi, California
But I find that my best photographs are often not captured during these adventures. I have noticed that my best work is often on a planned shoot or outing.

I think there are a few reasons for this. First, one has time to pre-plan and pre-visualize. I cannot say enough how important that is. Second, because you have a plan and goal, it's easier to avoid distractions. Finally, when you say that you are going to photograph a particular subject at a certain place and time, you are giving yourself limitations, which will improve the art.

Now I'm not suggesting that one should only do planned shoots and put the camera away at other times. But if you are not from time-to-time giving yourself the limitation of planned shoots or outings, I believe you are missing out on the blessing of the limitation.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Travel Review: Silver City Ghost Town - Bodfish, California

Wagon Wheel - Bodfish, California
The Silver City Ghost Town in Bodfish, California is an unusual tourist spot that is hard to describe. There is no Silver City in the area, and it isn't really a ghost town, either. But it is an interesting place nonetheless.

What Silver City Ghost Town is first and foremost is an antique store filled with many old treasures. If you like antiques and are in the area, it is worth stopping by.
Antique Lock - Bodfish, California
Silver City Ghost Town is also an historic museum. There are 20 buildings from the "old west" that have been relocated to this site. These structures were from the nearby settlements of Keyesville, Hot Springs, Claraville, Isabella, Whiskey Flat and other now-defunct towns. They are in various states of repair (or disrepair), and access is only allowed in a few of the structures. One building is claimed to be the oldest standing structure in the area, although the date that it was built is not supplied.

There is a $5.50 fee to take a self-guided tour of the old buildings. There is a small amount of historical information provided for most buildings (although not all), but some facts seem to be missing. It would be much better if the tour was guided, and for the cost of entrance it should be guided. Or, at least, more information should be available about the different structures.
Antique Industrial Design - Bodfish, California
There are a ton of old west artifacts scattered throughout the property. It is easy to overlook these, but perhaps these old items are the most interesting part of the museum.

I said that Silver City Ghost Town is not actually a ghost town, but it is supposedly haunted. Two of the buildings are claimed to be inhabited by spirits. Some have proclaimed it to be one of the most haunted locations in America. I didn't personally experience anything paranormal on my visit.
Through The Narrow Window - Bodfish, California
If you are into antiques, the old west, or the paranormal, then Silver City Ghost Town is an interesting stop in the Kern Valley of the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Otherwise, I'd keep driving.

Please visit my set on Flickr to see more photographs from this location.


Monday, August 26, 2013

Travel Review: Indian Point Ostrich Ranch - Tehachapi, California

Two Ostrich - Tehachapi, California
I recently visited the Indian Point Ostrich Ranch in the mountain countryside outside of Tehachapi, California. This is both an active ranch and a tourist spot.

One is not likely to stumble across the Indian Point Ostrich Ranch by accident. It is tucked away in a little corner of the Tehachapi Mountains at the edge of nowhere. There are signs from the town of Tehachapi to guide the way, and it's not difficult to find if you are looking for it. The Boss Hog Ranch and the United Pegasus Foundation are nearby, both of which I recently posted about.
Looking Ostrich - Tehachapi, California
The guided tour took approximately 10 minutes. That may seem short, but one can only say so much about ostriches. I actually did an internet search of ostrich facts prior to the visit in hopes of stumping the tour guide, but our guide, Christina, had an answer to all of my tough questions.

There is an "ostrich bonding experience" that you may partake in where you can feed the large birds. The ostriches are friendly but hungry--in fact, one tried to eat my camera, but got my finger instead. It didn't hurt. This will add another five minutes to your trip.
Ostrich - Tehachapi, California
There are two stores on the property: an antique store and a gift shop. The antique store, called Wild Bird Antiques, is small, yet there are some interesting finds for you treasure hunters. The gift shop has many knickknacks and curios. Don't leave without some therapeutic ostrich oil lotion.

If you have kids, after the tour is complete, I recommend purchasing some beverages from the gift shop. Let the kids play on the playground while you relax at a bench under the shade of an umbrella sipping something cold. The playground has a couple slides, some swings and various other playground things--plenty to keep the little ones busy.
Wild Bird Antiques - Tehachapi, California
I wouldn't make a trip up the Tehachapi Mountains just to visit the Indian Point Ostrich Ranch (unless you really love large birds), but if you live in Tehachapi or are visiting Tehachapi and are looking for something to do, it is certainly worth your time and money. Speaking of money, the tour is $4 per person.

To see all of the Indian Point photographs, click here and view the set on Flickr.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Update

I haven't posted to this Blog in a week, but that's because I've been on vacation. I didn't go anywhere, but just simply took it easy. I needed a little R&R.

Last week I posted a review of the Sigma DP2 Merrill camera. I just added some more sample photographs to my DP2 Merrill set on Flickr, so be sure to check that out. Expect even more to be added in the upcoming days.

Other than that it has been pretty quiet in the photography world (at least in my little corner of it). Be sure to check out my posts on photographic vision, being an artist and the decisive moment, if you never have before. These are the most important items on this Blog, yet they are often the least viewed. People worry so much about equipment when equipment matters very little.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book: The Art of iPhone Photography

There's a new book coming out that looks interesting: The Art of iPhone Photography by Bob Weil and Nicki Fitz-Gerald. It is described as "...how 45 of today's best iPhonegraphers from around the world conceived, composed, and created some of their finest and best-known pieces-all in their own words. Through an understanding of the artists' visions, creative decisions, and techniques, beginning through advanced iPhoneographers will immediately be able to apply what they learn and take their own photographic art to the next level."

Maybe I'll put this on my Christmas wish-list....

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: Sigma DP2 Merrill (DP2M)

Introduction

The Sigma DP2 Merrill, also called the DP2M, is a fixed-lens digital camera with a unique sensor. The lens is a 30mm (45mm equivalent) f2.8 that is fantastic. The sensor is an APS-C sized 46 megapixel Foveon sensor.

In case you don't know, there are (essentially) three types of sensors found in digital cameras. It's important to take a look at these to understand the DP2M.

The most common sensor type is called Bayer, which has pixels that are sensitive to red, green or blue, with only about half providing luminance information. Because of that the true resolution from a Bayer sensor is about half of what the pixel count would indicate. Bayer sensors are also subject to moire pattern distortion and require an anti-aliasing filter (although not all cameras with a Bayer-type sensor include this filter, but most do), which blurs the image slightly and further reduces resolution.

The next sensor type is Fuji's X-Trans sensor, which is very similar to a Bayer sensor except with an innovative modification which eliminates moire pattern distortion and the need for an anti-aliasing filter.

Finally, we have the Foveon sensor found on Sigma cameras. This sensor has three layers, one sensitive to red, one to green and one to blue (this is similar to most color films, in fact). In the DP2M, each layer has about 15 megapixels. Combined together, there is a grand total of 46 megapixels, and this produces images with a great deal of sharpness, detail and depth. Now 46 megapixels on a Foveon sensor is not quite equal to 46 megapixels on a Bayer or X-Trans sensor, but is roughly a 28 megapixel equivalent. Like the X-Trans sensor, Foveon sensors are not subject to moire pattern distortion and there is no need for an anti-aliasing filter.

One can see the advantage of the Foveon sensor very quickly. Packed into a small APS-C size is a sensor that can eclipse the image quality of almost all full-frame sensors and gets pretty darn close to medium-format sensors (I will not be doing side-by-side comparisons in this review). However, what one cannot easily see right away are the disadvantages of this sensorand there are several big disadvantages—which we'll discuss a little later.

Foveon - Digital Transparency Film?
Joshua Tree Morning - Rosamond, California
I've had a distant interest in the Foveon technology for a couple of years now, but what really got my attention was a claim that the images produced by the sensor found on the Sigma DP2M resemble color transparency film.

I'm a fairly new convert to digital, and have shot film for about 15 years. Some of my favorite transparency films are (or were) Fuji Velvia 50, Fuji Reala 100, Kodachrome 25 and 64, and Kodak Ektachrome 100VS and 100SW. Each of these films have a different look, but they are (or were) great in their own way.

What I've discovered with digital capture is that, while it is much more convenient than film, and maybe even cheaper in the long term, most often it just doesn't match the quality of film. A few years ago one would have had to spend at least $10,000 on a digital camera body (not including lenses) in hopes of matching the image quality that film has been capable of for decades and decades and decades. The last couple of years has seen much progress in making quality digital capture affordable, but we're still talking about thousands of dollars for just a camera body.

So when I heard that the quality of color transparency film was available in digital form for $800 (lens included, too), I thought this would be the camera for me! Does the Sigma DP2M live up to this claim? We will get to that soon.

What Is The DP2 Merrill?
Motorcycle Engine - Tehachapi, California
The DP2M  is a rectangular digital camera that most resembles a point-and-shoot pocket camera (although this camera is neither a point-and-shoot nor a pocket camera). It has simple controls and doesn't do a whole lot of fancy stuff. There are no scene modes or mechanisms for beginners. This is a photographer's tool, not an amateur's toy.

The rear screen, which is the only "viewfinder" to compose images, is sufficient (meaning, it does what it is supposed to do but won't blow your socks off). The video capabilities are less than what your cell-phone can do.

The fixed nine-blade 30mm lens, which is equivalent to 45mm in full-frame terms, is extremely sharp. There's very little distortion or chromatic aberrations to speak of. This lens is excellent! My only complaints are the maximum aperture of f2.8 (I'm surprised it's not largerat least f2) and the minimum focus distance of eleven inches (which is good but not great). If you can overlook those two minor issues, the lens will not disappoint.

There is no image stabilization on the DP2M, which means in any condition other than normal daylight you'll want to at least consider the use of a tripod. While I've been able to get sharp images with a 1/25 shutter speed handheld, 1/40 is the limit I set for myself with this camera. In this regard the camera reminds me of using an old manual film camera.

Levels of Image Quality



The reason that I bought this camera, and the reason that you are interested in this camera, is one thing: image quality. Is it as good as others have said? What I've decided is that the DP2M has many different levels of image quality, and I'll go through those one at a time.

Farm Sprinkler - Stallion Springs, California
Level 1 - ISO 100 RAW

The DP2M performs at its peak at ISO 100 captured in RAW. The camera produces truly spectacular photographs at this level! Really, they have to be seen to be believed (either as a large print or at full size on a quality computer monitor). There is so much fine detail found in the images that it is hard to believe.

Based on my own experiences, the image quality at this level surpasses that of 35mm color transparency film but does not reach that of medium format color transparency film.

Which color transparency film, you ask? Not any one specific film. Out of the box the images from the DP2M probably resemble Kadochrome 64 the most (although not exactly), or perhaps Fuji Reala 100, but they can be made to look like anything you want in post-processing.

Level 2 - ISO 100 JPEG & ISO 200 RAW

I had heard that the DP2M made terrible looking JPEGs, and I can attest that there is some falsehood in that statement. At ISO 100 the JPEGs from this camera look great! Not quite as good as ISO 100 RAW, but pretty darn close. In fact, they look very similar to ISO 200 captured in RAW. The difference between image quality at level one and at level two is very small and won't be noticed without a close side-by-side study. I will also say that image quality level two is a close match to 35mm color transparency film.

Level 3 - ISO 200 JPEG & ISO 400 RAW

This is the first real noticeable drop-off in image quality. It is still excellent, and the photographs will still blow away a lot of cameras that cost much more, but it is certainly not at the DP2M's peak, either. This is a very usable image quality level that you'll avoid for real serious work and won't think twice about using for everything else.

Level 4 - ISO 800 RAW

This is where JPEGs start to look less-than-stellar, but images captured in RAW still look just fine. In fact, the drop-off in image quality between this level and level three isn't all that significant, especially without a close side-by-side study.

Level 5 - ISO 400 JPEG & ISO 1600 RAW

This is kind of the limit of the DP2M. You can create nice-looking color images at this image quality level, but it is definitely more suited for black-and-white photographs due to noise/color degradation. This isn't the reason that you paid $800 for the camera, but it is certainly usable in the right situations.

Level 6 - ISO 800 JPEG & ISO 3200 RAW

I wouldn't use this image quality level for anything other than gritty-looking black-and-white images, and even then it is only marginally usable. While I'll say that the quality level of ISO 800 JPEG is similar to ISO 3200 captured in RAW, the results are actually much different. The images captured in RAW has more of a film-grain-like quality to the digital noise than the JPEGs.

While the DP2M is capable of ISO 6400, it's not  a usable setting. Also, JPEGs above ISO 800 are not usable, either, and are best avoided.

To summarize, image quality is outstanding at levels one and two, very good at levels three and four, average at level five, and below average at level six. With any digital camera there is going to be a drop-off in image quality as you increase ISO. Every digital camera will perform much better at ISO 100 than ISO 3200. But the DP2M has a more dramatic drop-off than most, starting higher and falling lower.

Image Quality Compared
Three Windmills - Tehachapi, California
I'm not doing side-by-side comparisons here. Many others have done that, and there is some value in it, but mostly it is anecdotal. However, the minimum you would have to pay is $4,000 to find a camera and lens combination that beats the DP2M's image quality at ISO 100. And even then the image quality won't be significantly better, only ever-so-slightly better.

At image quality level three one would have to spend at least double the price of the DP2M to achieve similar image quality with a different camera and lens combination.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this camera is that at low ISO it is such an incredible value. If the majority of your photographs are at low ISO, you will not find better image quality for anywhere near the MSRP of the DP2M.

The 3-D Look
Abandoned Homestead - Tehachapi, California
A lot has been said about the supposed "3-D look" that Foveon sensors create. Sorry to disappoint, but there is no 3-D look. There is, however, a depth to the images that may be similar to an oil painting. Or maybe it is like color film—three layers of emulsion and a three layered sensor. I'm not really sure how to best describe it or understand it, but there is a look of depth that is different from images captured with other sensors. 

In most images the look is very subtle, while in some photographs it is more obvious. I'm not sure what causes it to be subtle or obvious and I haven't figured out how to control it. But this look of depth gives images a plausible realism that is missing from other digital cameras. The photographs look more like film than digital.

Color
Green Pond - Stallion Springs, California
In image quality levels one and two, colors from the DP2M are outstanding. Out-of-the-box colors are natural, accurate and realistic. Skin tones are especially well when set in the neutral color mode. Vivid color mode might be a little too vivid, but in the right situations it is a good option.

With most digital cameras, as color saturation is turned up fine details are lost. It is like an overexposure of color. It is very difficult to achieve Fuji Velvia colors from digital cameras. But the DP2M retains a large amount of fine details within highly saturated images. It is possible to replicate the look of saturated transparency films with images captured on this camera! This is an understated advantage of the Foveon sensor, even if you don't plan to have wild colors in your photographs.

As one increases ISO, however, the DP2M becomes less useful for color photographs. Image quality levels three and four are fine (although not nearly as good as levels one and two), but I would not recommend this camera for color photography when using the higher ISOs.

Black-And-White
1955 Chevy Pickup - Stallion Springs, California
Surprising to me, black-and-white photographs are especially nice with the DP2M. I used to use Agfa Pan 25, and still sometimes use Ilford Delta 100 for black-and-white film photography. The DP2M in image quality level one can reach the fine grain of those films, including the Ilford Delta 100 in medium format.

For grainy-looking black-and-white images, image quality levels three, four and five are great, striking a good balance of noise and sharpness/details, giving just enough texture. Image quality level six is marginally usable for gritty-looking black-and-white photographs, and only after much post-processing.

Black-and-white print film will have a larger dynamic range than the DP2M. Dynamic range on this camera is on par with most digital cameras with at least an APS-C sized sensor, but it is no match for negative film. It is about the same as color transparency film, in fact. Using RAW will help squeeze just a little more dynamic range out of each image if you should need it.

Into The Sun
Three Green Leaves - Tehachapi, California
I'm not sure if this is an issue with just the DP2M or all Foveon cameras, but this camera does not like to be pointed directly at the sun. The light meter goofs exposures and there are some strange lens flares (typically not the good kind, either). If you like to photograph directly into the sun this may not be the camera for you.

With that said, a lens hood will go a long ways toward avoiding lens flare. Also, you can creatively use the camera's weaknesses as strengths if you try hard enough. Finally, many digital cameras struggle with being pointed directly at the sun, so it is not like the DP2M is alone with this issue.

Banding, Etc.
Acme Coaster - Valencia, California
One area of concern with the DP2M, and apparently it is a problem with all 46 megapixel Foveon sensors, is banding and other weird noise issues. The problems seem to occur mostly in skies and shadows. It appears to get worse as one goes higher in ISO, but can sometimes be found even at ISO 100. What I find unusual is that it isn't in every image or even in most images.

I have several thoughts and observations with this. First, don't use a circular polarizer filter, the camera doesn't like it. I found that out the hard way. Second, someone suggested that the banding and other noise problems occur more when the sensor is hot. I went back and discovered that the problem images tend to be at the end of a series of exposures in short succession (but not always). If you can give the camera a rest here and there that certainly helps. Third, overexposing by a half-stop and then recovering that half-stop in post-processing seems to help some. Fourth, don't try to do too much post-processing. Making major adjustments to the images seems to exasperate the problems. Besides, the photographs look great without much work. Finally, the banding and noise issues get worse as you increase ISO, so keep the camera at as low of an ISO as you can.

I wouldn't let this stop you from buying the camera, but it is certainly something that you want to be aware of. Like I said above, most images don't have banding and other noise issues, and with care you'll find that very, very few photographs have problems.

Camera Performance
Red Field, Green Field - Stallion Springs, California
Auto-focus on the DP2M is fast and accurate in normal light, but slows down significantly in low-light situations. Overall the camera is fairly quick, but processing an image and writing it to the SD card is very slow. The camera has a good buffer, so as long as you don't max out the buffer (or insist on reviewing the images right away) this won't slow you down.

The DP2M can be manually focused, although I found it a bit clumsy to use at first. After a couple tries I was comfortable using it.

Auto-white-balance is very accurate most of the time, and wildly off every now-and-then. I'm not sure why. If you save in RAW this can be adjusted later, so no big deal.

The camera's built-in light meter does well, but perhaps likes to slightly underexpose. Adjusting exposure is easy so this is also not a big deal.

Battery life is a joke for the DP2M. I would say that 70 exposures are about average before the battery runs dead, although (depending on the exact circumstances) battery life can be up to 90 frames and as little as 50. Sigma included an extra battery, which still isn't enough. Three batteries should be a minimum for the DP2M. Thankfully, the batteries are small so it isn't too much trouble to carry extras.

It took a little while to get used to all of the buttons and settings, but once figured out adjustments are quick and easy. Nothing is buried deep in menus. One-handed operation is certainly possible for you street photographers.

Fixed Lens
Enchanted Forest - Stallion Springs, California
I mentioned earlier that the lens on this camera is great. Not perfect, but nearly perfect. Better than most, for sure! One thing that might turn people off to this camera is the fixed focal length lens and the inability to change lenses.

I don't think this is a disadvantage, but perhaps this is because for the first 10 years or so of my photography I owned a 50mm prime lens, and that's it. I used one lens because I owned one lens and that lens was great. Limitations can improve art. So instead of being turned off by the fixed lens, consider it a challenge.

Sigma also has wide-angle and telephoto versions of this camera, the DP1M and the DP3M, respectively. So if the 45mm equivalent focal length isn't for you, perhaps one of the other cameras would be a better fit.

Travel
Super Heroes - Valencia, California
Quite a few people have said that the DP2M is for landscape photography where one can set the camera on a tripod and take their time with each exposure. While I agree that the camera absolutely excels in that scenario, it is certainly not limited to that.

The camera has the right size and weight to be good for vacations and travel, and I believe enough versatility. I took my DP2M to a theme park and captured many successful photographs in a variety of situations. I didn't feel limited by this camera. In fact, it was much more pleasant to have the DP2M instead of a bulky DSLR.

Are there cameras that are better for travel photography? Sure there are. Many of those cameras also cost more than the DP2M. The point here is that this camera is capable of more than just landscapes on a tripod.

Photo Pro
Flower Star - Stallion Springs, California
A lot has been said about how terrible Sigma's Photo Pro post-processing software is. This software, by the way, is required to convert the DP2M's RAW files, since Adobe hasn't created a profile for Foveon cameras. But I found that the software is actually pretty good. And I have had no issues with stability.

Photo Pro is simple to use (mostly sliders: left or right, less or more) and does a good job with what it is designed to do. You cannot do everything you may want to do in post-processing using this software, so for images that require more than basic adjustments, simply save as a TIFF file and open it in your editing software of choice.

Conclusion 
Forgotten Road Markers - Rosamond, California
I've had my Sigma DP2 Merrill for three weeks now, and I cannot say enough about how impressed I am with the image quality at low ISO. It is truly great! The camera is still good at the middle ISOs, especially for black-and-white photography, but is not good for high ISO photography.


That high ISO limitation, combined with the short battery life and other quirks, means that the DP2M is not for everyone. It is not even a camera for most. However, those who can happily put up with the deficiencies will be rewarded with fantastic potential.

The camera has an MSRP of $800 (ten months ago that MSRP was $1,000), but can be found for less if you are good at shopping around and finding bargains. I paid $720 for mine.

If you want a smaller camera with a reasonable price tag that has exceptional image quality at low ISO, the Sigma DP2 Merrill may be just what you are looking for. It is fun, unique and a great tool to have.

Visit my Sigma DP2 Merrill set on Flickr to see more photographs from this camera.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's Hump Day, So Here's A Photography Video

It's hump day, so here is a photography video for your viewing pleasure:

If you are not familiar with Zack Arias, check out his tumblr blog.

This is just further proof that it is not the equipment that's most important, but vision.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Cannot Say Enough: Vision Is What Matters In Photography

I cannot tell you enough that vision is all that matters in photography. You can have the most expensive or the least expensive equipment out there, and it does not matter one bit. Photographic vision is what's necessary to create great photographs.

You need vision and you need to be an artist. You need to pursue the decisive moment. Those things are prerequisites to great photographs. Equipment is never important--it is way down at the bottom of the list.
Surfers - Avila Beach, California
People get caught up in cameras and lenses, and they always want the latest and greatest. Camera and retail companies are great at marketing, but the truth is that you don't need whatever it is they want you to buy. The things you need most to create successful photographs are in your mind.

Ansel Adams said, "The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it."

Nikon said recently, "A photographer is only as good as the equipment he uses, and a good lens is essential to taking good pictures."

Notice the difference in philosophy. I would also note that Adams created some of the greatest photographs of all time, while Nikon, Inc. has not created even one great photograph. Yes, photographers using Nikon equipment have, but the company itself has not. That's because it is never about the equipment. It is always about what is in the photographer's heart and mind.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sigma DP2 Merrill For Travel Photography (Magic Mountain)

Super Heroes - Valencia, California 
I went to Magic Mountain this last weekend. It was a great opportunity to put the Sigma DP2 Merrill to the test prior to completing an upcoming full review. Some have said that the camera is a one-trick-pony that should only be used at ISO 100 and with a tripod. Is it really?

The reason that amusement parks are great opportunities to test cameras is because of the varied subjects and lighting situations that one will encounter throughout the park, throughout the day. One also gets to see how easy the camera is to use and how much trouble it is to carry.
Acme Coaster - Valencia, California
To my surprise the Sigma DP2 Merrill was a fantastic camera to bring with me. It was small enough and lightweight enough to comfortably carry around all day. Once you know how the camera works, adjustments are quick and easy. It does go through batteries like crazy, so I had to carry a spare.

I had no problems getting quality color images when using ISO 400, and I had no problems getting quality black-and-white images using ISO 800. I found that with a steady hand I was able to get sharp photographs with the shutter speed as slow as 1/25th of a second.
Orient Express - Valencia, California
There were no limitations I found with getting "the shot" while using the Sigma DP2 Merrill. The camera worked very well as a travel camera. It was much more pleasant than carrying around a bulky DSLR, no doubt about it.

Yes, the Sigma DP2 Merrill is not a perfect camera, but it is certainly much more than a one-trick-pony. It is a serious photography tool, yet I found it to be a great option for a day at the theme park.
Contrast Girl - Valencia, California
I wish that I could include all of the images here, but I cannot. The pages would never load if I did, or I'd have to reduce the images a whole bunch. I did add a number of them to my DP2 Merrill set of Flickr, so check that out.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sigma DP2 Merrill Black & White

Abandoned Homestead - Tehachapi, California
I've been working like mad on an upcoming full review of the Sigma DP2 Merrill camera. A lot goes into a camera review. First of all, a whole lot of photographs must be captured in order to understand the camera and also to understand the image quality. The camera has to be put through the test, used in harsh or unusual situations to understand its limitations. Then all of that has to be analyzed, with strengths and weaknesses categorized as important or unimportant. Finally, the words of the review must be typed and reviewed, and it must be written in a meaningful way. It is a long process.

What I wanted to bring up today is the DP2 Merrill as a black-and-white camera. The camera is known for fantastic rich and natural colors, but what I'm really surprised and impressed with is the camera's black-and-white images.
Forgotten Utah - Tehachapi, California
Why black-and-white? Well, there is a fine-art quality to black-and-white prints. They have a different emotion than color. They tend to be more dramatic. My opinion is that if color is not important to an image, then it should be converted to black-and-white.

What makes the images from the DP2 Merrill so good for black-and-white? There are many factors, actually. One is the sharpness of the images (thanks to the fantastic lens and Foveon sensor). Another is the depth look (some call it 3-D, but I wouldn't) that Sigma cameras are known for (see the top images). Still another is the digital noise which can look more like film grain than noise. However, I believe that the number one reason this camera makes such nice black-and-white photographs is the three color layers of the Foveon sensor.
Historic Brite Ranch Cross - Tehachapi, California
A Foveon sensor works much different than other sensors. Most sensors (both Bayer and X-Trans) have pixels that are sensitive to either red, green or blue. Green is used for both color and luminance, while red and blue are used mostly just for color. When converted to black-and-white, there is little luminance data for red and blue. Foveon sensors have three layers, one sensitive to red, one to green and one to blue, providing luminance data for all three colors.

The advantage to that is in tonality. In my opinion, the DP2 Merrill does an outstanding job of not only capturing a large tonal scale, but more importantly keeping the delicate gradations intact.
1955 Chevy Pickup - Stallion Springs, California
Another advantage is that the color channels can be mixed however one sees best. One can use the red, green or blue channels individually, or in any number of combinations. It is fascinating how each color layer captures the scene different. With a typical sensor, you are (for the most part) stuck with however the green sensitive pixels captured the scene. Not so with a Foveon sensor.

With the DP2 Merrill, because of different noise issues, color photography is limited mostly to ISO 400 and lower. But convert to black-and-white and the camera is perfectly usable up to ISO 1600. The camera has been called a one-trick-pony, and while it is not nearly as versatile as some other cameras, it is certainly not a one-trick-pony.
Motorcycle Engine - Tehachapi, California
For black-and-white images, I find that ISO 200 to ISO 400 is the sweet spot. I tend to add noise in post-processing  to images captured at ISO 100.

All of the photographs in this post were captured using a Sigma DP2 Merrill over the last few days. I converted them to black-and-white using Sigma's Photo Pro software and did some minor further post-processing using Paint.NET.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Reminder Of What Is Important In Photography (Is It The Camera?)

I've been raving about the Sigma DP2 Merrill that I've had for a week now. In the right circumstances it is a great camera, and I can't say enough how impressed I am with it.

But am I losing sight of what's important? Is a great camera important? Does it even matter what camera I used to create an image?
Three Green Leaves - Tehachapi, California
Captured with a Sigma DP2M
Just as I was beginning to brag about the DP2M, I received a couple good reminders about what truly matters in photography.

First, an author friend of mine said, "I grew up being told, 'It's not the arrows, it's the indian.'" In other words, it's not the camera, it's the photographer that makes a photograph great.

Second, I saw some impressive photography by Joanna. Joanna's camera of choice? A cell phone. You'd never know looking at the images that they were not captured with a DSLR.

What is important in photography? Vision. The decisive moment. Being an artist. Cameras are way down at the bottom of the list, nowhere near the top.

So while a give many compliments to the DP2M camera, just remember that those compliments are meaningless. I must remember that, too.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sigma DP2 Merrill Sample Images

I recently purchased a Sigma DP2 Merrill camera, and it arrived in the mail last week. I spent the weekend playing with it, figuring out the settings and menus, as well as putting the camera to the test to find out its limitations. I will have a full review in the coming weeks.
Red Field, Green Field - Stallion Springs, California
I'm very impressed with what this little camera can do. Wrapped in a small body and for a reasonable price (I paid $720 for mine on sale) is image quality that rivals that of camera/lens combinations that cost $4,000 or more.

Not everything about the camera is great. It's not good at some things, most notably high ISO. The best way to think about the DP2 Merrill is it is like having a 35mm SLR with a quality 50mm prime lens and loaded with the slide film of your choice. If that setup is something you'd be happy with, you'd be happy with this camera. Otherwise, you may want to look at other cameras.

I have a set on Flickr of photographs captured with the DP2 Merrill. Check it out, see the images for yourself. I wish I could put them all here on this Blog, but either I'd have to downsize them a whole bunch or this post would load incredibly slow. So click here to see the sample images.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sigma DP2 Merrill - First Images, First Impressions

Yesterday was a good day. A Holga lens that I had ordered for my Samsung NX200 arrived in the mail. Then several hours later UPS knocked on my door with a package containing a Sigma DP2 Merrill.

I opened the box, charged the batteries, set up the camera as best as I could figure out, downloaded Sigma's RAW software, and began to test the camera.

Now I've heard that high ISO images from the DP2 Merrill are terrible. I believed that, but wanted to put it to the test to see for myself. So for the first photograph from this camera I set ISO to 3200, with images saved as RAW and JPEG.

I don't normally use ISO 3200 for any camera, no matter the situation. I know some cameras do a good job with high ISO, but even with those cameras I would never use ISO 3200 for anything remotely serious. So this test was more to understand the limitations of the DP2 Merrill than anything else.
Boy - Stallion Springs, California
This is an example of ISO 3200
What I discovered is that the ISO 3200 JPEG is trash, and the ISO 3200 RAW is nearly trash. I had to do quite a bit of fiddling with the RAW image to get something usable, and even then it is only marginally usable. I think with enough post-processing and when converted to black-and-white, ISO 3200 images captured in RAW are usable in the right situations, but just barely.

The sun had just set by the time the camera was ready to go, so I pulled out a tripod and captured an image at ISO 100, which can be seen below.
California Country - Stallion Springs, California
What I'm most impressed with, and really what blew me away, was the fine, sharp details of the image. Photographs from this camera cannot be fully appreciated without viewing them large. The DP2 Merrill is meant for large photographs. 100% crops can be made into 8"x10" prints, and no one would know. Below is about a 130% crop from the above image. Those homes are about one mile away from the camera.
California Country 130% Crop - Stallion Springs, California
The other thing I noticed is that the ISO 100 images need very little post-processing--they look good straight out of the camera. A few small tweaks here and there will got the images to look as I wanted them.

Speaking of post-processing, Sigma's Photo Pro software is just fine. You have to use this software if you use RAW format. I had heard that it was terrible, but it isn't. Yes, it is limited in what it can do, but it is capable of doing what most photographs require. For those images that need a little more work, save as TIFF and continue editing in your software of choice. In the little that I used Photo Pro I had no issues.

So far, the Sigma DP2 Merrill is living up to the hype of exceptional image quality at low ISO. You could compare it to using 35mm Kodachrome 64 with a great prime lens. Only it might actually be better than that.

Look for an upcoming review of the Sigma DP2 Merrill.