What I want in a camera: the Sigma DP Merrill.
- Superb optical and sensor quality at base iso, for printed images at least 16” wide without fault.
Trounces this. The 15Mpx output makes enough dots, and the per-pixel and lens quality is possibly the best of any camera on the market. The leaf shutter is very friendly to light tripods, making peak quality and stitching easy. The image quality does drop off quickly as the amplification rises, and going into four digit iso levels is prohibitive, but that rarely matters to me.
- Straightforward and customizable controls, a clear design concept, and a transparent shooting experience.
Yes, Yes, and Maybe. The Merrill is incredibly minimalist and surprisingly customizable; since it can't do much there's no need for a lot of options. Shooting transparency is hurt by the constant need to be managing the cameras' power consumption and feeding it fresh batteries. This is not a camera to forget about. There’s also the per-photo burden of processing each image in Sigma’s own raw converter, so it’s hard to shoot with abandon, but slow and careful work is rewarding.
- Clear and accurate shooting information with reliable automation.
Well, not so much. The feed from the sensor produces amazing rolling shutter artifacts whenever the camera moves, and the pre-shot histogram is useless. But at least the autofocus, while slow, is never wrong: if it does miss it will miss blatantly and completely. I'd rather have a camera throw up its hands and stomp off in a huff than discover that it has been nodding and smiling while lying to me.
- Big enough to hold securely but small enough to carry constantly.
No problem here. A two-handed hold and one-handed operation is perfect, and these days the jacket-pocket size is my personal sweet spot. The DP Merrill cameras have dimpled metal instead of a hand grip on the right side, which gives a secure hold for shooting but not much to hang on to when carrying the camera. I resolved that by installing the wrist strap on the left side, and carry it left-handed by holding the lens. This works well and happily keeps my right hand free for one-handed cameras like the Ricoh GR.
- Unthreatening and very quiet, both audibly and visually.
If I'm using my LCD viewfinder I tend to get side-eye from rangefinder people, and others will give me a bit more room if they think I'm recording video. But the camera itself is a minimalist black box design with a nearly silent leaf shutter, making it about as understated as a camera can be. If only it could disable the power indicator LED the way the Ricoh GR can.
- A pleasure to use under diverse conditions.
This is difficult for any camera to meet, and Sigma certainly isn't the brand to do it. Within its happy place it's fine, but it has a narrow range of what it's comfortable doing, and trying to push it outside of that is like dealing with a temperamental five-year-old… camera. I never marvel at how great the camera is to use, like I do with some others, but I frequently lose time just gazing into its images.