Sigma Puts DP-series on Steroids, Re-brands and Re-prices SD1

The re-branded and re-priced Sigma SD1 Merrill

Sigma Corporation today announced the re-branding and re-pricing of their flagship DSLR camera, the SD1. The camera will henceforth be known by the name SD1 Merrill, in honor of the inventor of the three-layer Foveon sensor technology (more below) used in Sigma’s cameras, Dick Merrill. The SD1 has also been re-priced, now estimated to sell for a street price as low as US-$ 2,299 — roughly one third of the camera’s original Medium Format-like price tag.

Also today, Sigma Corporation announced a complete reinvention of their famous DP series cameras, the DP1 and DP2. Being the first compact cameras to include almost DSLR-size sensors when they were first presented back in 2006, the DP1 and DP2 have now received a complete overhaul that makes them competitive again on the camera market. Read more after the jump.

Similar to the SD1, the new DP1 and DP2 models have been re-branded to feature the name of the inventor of the three-layer Foveon sensor, Dick Merrill. On the technical side, the DP1M and DP2M are two totally new cameras, bearing in common with their predecessors DP1(s/x) and DP2(s/x) only the basic concept and designation. The new DP1M and DP2M both feature Sigma’s latest 15.3 x 3 megapixel sensor as well as completely new lenses that cover the full APS-C size of the sensor. The cameras now also (finally!) feature high-resolving 3″, 920k dot screens as well as completely redesigned (and allegedly more user-friendly) bodies.

Additionally, the Sigma DP1 does away with one of its predecessors main shortcomings, the slow 28mm-equivalent f4 lens, and now features a semi-fast f2.8 lens that makes it suitable also for situations with less than ideal lighting conditions.

While the technical specifications of the SD1M remain the same as those of the SD1, the specs for the new DP1M and DP2M compacts read as follows:

  • 15.3 x 3 megapixel APS-C sized X3 Direct Image sensor from the Sigma SD1
  • DP1M: new 19mm f2.8 lens (28mm equivalent) with fluorite-like low dispersion “FLD” glass elements
  • DP2M: new 30mm f2.8 lens (45mm equivalent) with fluorite-like low disperion “FLD” glass elements
  • 3″ screen with 920k dots
  • dual TRUE II image processing engine
  • VGA video mode

The SD1M will be available in March, whereas the pricing and availability of the DP1M and DP2M are unknown as of yet.

In order not to upset current owners of the SD1 who paid the rather hefty original price of nearly $ 7k, Sigma also announced a “support program” for current SD1 users. Details are unclear thus far, but it looks like current SD1 users may get a discount of some sort on Sigma products. According to Sigma, the price cut for the SD1M was made possible by dropping costs in sensor manufacturing.

Tech-talk: Foveon sensor technology

Sigma’s figurehead technology has been the Foveon three-layer sensor for many years now. Originally an independent business, Sigma has finally bought up the Foveon company in 2008. Since then, the sensors used in Sigma’s digital cameras are known by the name “X3 Direct Image Sensor”.

Unlike conventional digital sensors that use a so-called Bayer pattern color filter array where each pixel records only a single color (red, green or blue), the X3 sensor’s pixels record all three primary colors at once. Like a color film emulsion that consists of three differently sensitive layers, the X3 sensor uses the fact that different wavelengths of light can penetrate the silicon base of the sensor up to different depths. The blue light wavelengths get absorbed first, while the green light wavelenghts penetrate a bit further into the sensor. Finally, the red light wavelengths hit the last photodiode layer. This way, for each pixel of the final image, all three colours have been recorded in full. Bayer sensors, on the other hand, need to interpolate the missing color information for each pixel, which leads to reduced resolution and color accuracy.

Due to its unique layout and the recording of full color information for each pixel, the output of the 46 megapixel (15.3 million pixels on each of the sensor’s three layers) sensor — which is technically a 15.3 megapixel image –, rivals the resolution and color accuracy of medium format cameras.

Additionally, the X3 sensor lacks a so-called anti-aliasing filter, which is used on most DSLR sensor to prevent moiré patterns. These patterns arise when the actual resolution of the image projected through the lens surpasses the physical resolution of the sensor. In such a case, fine detail that cannot be resolved by the sensor — repeating parallel lines in fabrics, for example — creates unpleasant artifacts. The AA filter, which is located in front of the sensor, slightly softens the image, which leads to a slightly reduced resolution but prevents the emergence of moiré patterns. Leaving out the AA filter will result in an image with increased sharpness and better reproduction of fine detail.

Additional Images

The Sigma DP1 Merrill (front view)

The Sigma DP2 Merrill (front view)

The Sigma DP1/2 Merrill (rear view)

The Sigma DP1 Merrill (top view)

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