Sigma SD1 Merrill Review

December 11, 2012 | Mark Goldstein | |

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#1 AKH

“It’s this poor performance in noise that recalls the Nikon D3x. That was a camera priced at a ridiculous amount of money but the ISO performance was poor”.

I don’t agree with that statement. The high ISO performance of the D3x is almost as good as the D3/D700 and they are all very good. D3/D700 were the high ISO kings until D3s appeared.

Sigma is excellent at confusing things regarding pixel count. Why not admit that the SD1 can be compared to a 15-16 MP camera in output size which is important if you want to make large prints or crop a lot.

4:30 pm - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#2 Cary

Why, after noting how poor the high ISO performance is, would you take almost all of the sample images at ISO 800?

6:38 pm - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#3 S Villavedra

Most images at iso 800, that’s foul play!  Please retake the outdoors images at iso 100 to see what’s this camera really able to produce.

6:46 pm - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#4 Alan

“Sigma is excellent at confusing things regarding pixel count. Why not admit that the SD1 can be compared to a 15-16 MP camera in output size which is important if you want to make large prints or crop a lot.”

Spreading ignorance like this doesn’t make you sound smart.

6:55 pm - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#5 Uwe

I can’t open the samples.

Preview is missing, once using a link the error “403 - Forbidden” appears.

What going on with that issue?

9:53 pm - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#6 krasitsky

As I already told, it’s pure shit. WTF?! Why only high ISO images? Where is studio, portrait images?

9:54 pm - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#7 Jimbo

Are the photos really 46Mb? That seems small for a sensor that size. Tongue and cheek aside, Mb != MB != MiB,

Mb = Megabit, or 1,000,000 bits
MB = Megabyte or 1,000,000 bytes (MacOSX uses this as of 10.5 I think)
MiB = Mebibyte or 1,048,576 bytes (used by Microsoft OSes as MB)

So at 46Mb you are saying the files are only 5.75 MB. Much smaller than my K-7!

1:46 am - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#8 Joshua

kind of disappointed of this review. Its directly similar to the review made by you guys on the Sigma Sd1. a year ago. I mean whats the point? Its exactly the same camera… why do it? :3

you can google photographyblog sd1 review and read word for word its almost the same.

5:00 am - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#9 Xpanded

Sigma did the honourable thing and awarded early adopters (buyers of the original SD1) with vouchers for lenses - you should mention this, since this is very uncommon.

Very little needs fixing on this camera. A higher res & tiltable screen with liveview - what more could you possibly want? Other than FX of course ;-)


10:08 am - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#10 Mark Goldstein

Take a look at our original SD1 review for more sample images:

As Joshua pointed out, they’re exactly the same camera apart from the name change and the massive price difference…

10:40 am - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#11 rokborn

Still want a micro four thirds sigma camera. They will never make one which is a shame. Imagine the Olympus 75 f1.8 matched with a foveron sensor! I would love a sigma but can’t justify buying all new glass.

11:51 am - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#12 dan


Is there any chance you can publish some black & white photos straight from the camera. I am desperate to know how it preforms doing HCB&W and everything i find online has been too processed. The grainy look at high ISO, must look great in B&W


11:59 am - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#13 doubleluca

Did they use the last Firmware?

2:37 pm - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#14 Future DP1m OR DP2m user

This SD1m and its compact sisters DP1m/DP2m, which share the same sensor, offer the best low ISO of all current cameras, medium format aside. This review showing ISO800 only is not doing any justice to Foveon sensor.

However, go to any other review which will have low iso samples and prepare to be shocked by the overwhelming level of detail. Not even D800e can touch the pixel-level detail.

Sure, many limitations, but what it can do it does extremely well. If low iso is your main field, this is an absolute bargain for its new price.

3:39 pm - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#15 Daemonius

Christ sake guys.

SD1M is base ISO camera (ok, somewhat usable at ISO 200). Its incredibly hard camera to use properly. Yes it has amazing output, but only at base ISO and only if you really know what you are doing.

I wouldnt give this camera recommanded. Only if you know how to shoot at base ISO and you are willing to do it all the time. You are willing to really learn that camera and learn how to post-process best with it. Which is hard, trust me. And most people wont be committed enough to do it.

I would give it recommanded for hardcore landscape and studio shooters (and maybe macro). But this camera is for real pros, not guys that buy D4 and just count on fact that camera has enough user error correction headroom. Cause Sigma SD1M really doesnt have any error correction headroom.

Its amazing camera, but very limited and very difficult.

6:46 pm - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#16 Ben

I think it would make a great second camera, for those moments when you can take your time. But bit too expensive for that!

11:08 pm - Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#17 Geoff

Dan, I use my SD10 for B&W and the grain is fantastic. I use DCRAW to extract the three greyscale layers without any processing then combine together any way you like to get great detail and grain with less noise than a single layer.

1:13 am - Thursday, December 13, 2012

#18 kristo

It would be good idea to post some samples shot on lower iso , it is really hard to expect the best from iso 800.

4:21 pm - Thursday, December 13, 2012

#19 anne

You review was very informative and i can agree that it is worth buying, however the price should be lower since Sigma’s brand is not so well known.

9:24 am - Friday, December 14, 2012

#20 Lea Tippett

As a long time user of Sigma cameras and the Foveon technology i wouldn’t use any other camera. Yes it’s not great at the higher iso work but for 100/200 iso Landscape work it is fantastic.
I feel it’s a much camera than it gets credit for when used correctly.
The X3F files hold great detail and the files can be printed very large without loss of detail.
I hope that the new range of Sigma lenses will help show off the capabilities of the sensor even more than before.
I have some examples of images mostly taken with the older SD9, SD14, and SD15 if anyone would like to take a peep.

2:09 am - Sunday, December 16, 2012

#21 ChuckL

My first Sigma was an SD9, and I’ve used all their Foveon sensored cameras, including the SD1 Merrill.  Since practically all my shots are taken in daylight, I shoot mostly at ISO 100 and 200, and very rarely at 400 and above.

Within those parameters, no other DSLR, at any price, comes close to the native sharpness and color quality of the Sigma.

Besides that, the controls on the Sigma are very basic, without all the endless menu choices found on other DSLRs. If you know how to use shutter speed, aperture and white balance, you can get great shots right out of the box, without even opening the instruction manual.  Try that with any other DSLR.

If you have any doubts about SD1 image quality, check the SD1 camera database gallery at, and compare the Sigma images to any other DSLR. The proof is in the image.

10:51 am - Friday, December 21, 2012

#22 MarkM

Main problem in Sigma Foveon reviews is the fact that they tend to use jpg-mode instead of raw-mode. Sigma cameras are raw-cameras and they really are not intended to use in jpg-mode. Jpg files of SD1 seem to be much better (compared to raw files) than in case of SD14 that I use. But still: jpgs are nothing compared to raws which are converted to jpgs by Sigma’s own PhotoPro. Raw files and PhotoPro are the keys to the brilliant picture quality of Sigma cameras and review without using them is worth nothing.

I’m still waiting for the price of SD1 going down…

9:52 am - Tuesday, January 15, 2013

#23 ikke

only iso 800, why?

2:36 am - Monday, February 4, 2013

#24 mr. x

full bullshit review powered by canon

1:45 am - Sunday, November 17, 2013

#25 ChuckL

This is my second comment on your SD1M review. After the original comment, I’ve spent more time shooting with the SD1M, and have a few new observations to add.

First of all, the review is excellent, though there are a couple of points that need clarifying. Your explanation of the Foveon sensor is the best I’ve ever read. You have taken a complex issue and put it in terms anyone can understand. But it would help if people understood that the confusion about Sigma’s pixel count claims are the result of the count system itself, and not any attempt by Sigma to fudge the numbers. In other words, when the pixel counting system was devised, the three-layer Foveon sensor did not exist, so it obviously could not be included in the parameters used for counting.

Besides that, a comment was made about the Sigma not producing good results when shooting directly towards sunlight. I’ve gotten great results doing exactly that, with every model Sigma makes.  No special tricks were involved, besides spending a few minutes testing settings.

Another point in the SD1M’s favor is the ability to pull two, three or four unique crops out of a single 46MB shots, with excellent results. Or, if you don’t want to wait for those large files to load, you can drop the resolution down a notch or two and get great, faster shots at 15MB.

And finally, one comment made in the review will make all loyal Sigma owners happy. That would be the mention of Sigma images often having a 3D quality.  This quality has been debated endlessly in camera forums, but it does exist and it’s nice to see it recognized by others.

3:22 am - Sunday, November 17, 2013

#26 shida

Thanks a lot for posting the raw images in X3F format.
Have you tried converting them to a common lossless format like tiff using dcraw? I have tried this and I get wrong colors (but correct gray level). I don’t trust any non-opensource commercial software to really give a raw conversion. I had good experience with dcraw and trust it (perhaps because it feels nerdy compared to photoshop!).
Could you please let me know if you have tried a truly raw conversion and how (which code/software). I appreciate your feedback.

7:14 am - Friday, July 24, 2015

#27 Daemonius


You can use original Sigma software for free. It doesnt get you best results, but it works.

If you want best, then its MAC only and its called Iridient Developer (one of best .. for many cameras, not just Sigma).

Currently RawTherapee team is working on implementing X3F support too.

12:24 pm - Friday, July 24, 2015

#28 shida

Thanks for your response and info. The Iridient Developer webpage says it’s possible to have “Processing Disabled” output mode in order to get a “linear” output. As I need this for scientific use, linearity of the output is crucial and much more important than cosmetic features. But the downside is that I don’t have a Mac.
Do you happen to know if Sigma Photo Pro can be trusted to deliver raw linear data with no processing of the pixel values?

11:38 am - Monday, July 27, 2015

#29 Daemonius

I dont have MAC either, but Iridient worked even under my virtual machine (also its possible to install MAC OS X onto regular PC with a.. bit of trying).

Or maybe getting older Macbook thats build on modern Intel architecture (they are reasonably cheap).

No Sigma Photo Pro doesnt have linear data, its heavily processed without option to disable it.

2:26 pm - Monday, July 27, 2015

Entry Tags

review, 3 inch LCD, DSLR, raw, sigma, 3 inch, Foveon, 46 megapixel, merrill, x3f, sd1, X3, sigma sd1 merrill, Sigma SD1 Merrill Review

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