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What makes Sigma Dp3 Quattro an awesome camera: the review and image samples

The return of the Foveon.

We all know that Sigma has been doing some awesome things lately with the new Art lens and such but one there is one thing that Sigma do with a lot of love that people don’t know much about and that is their cameras.

A while ago I wrote an article¬†here¬†on Photigy about¬†the Sigma Dp3 Merrill and how its sensor differs from a traditional camera and lately¬†I’ve had the pleasure to spend some time with the Sigma Dp3 Quattro with a newly¬†developed¬†Foveon sensor and I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts about the camera.

Sigma Dp3 QuattroSigma Dp3 Quattro, shot with the Sigma Dp3 Merrill.

So what’s new?

At first glance you would think pretty much everything is new and I guess it is with the newly designed body, new lcd, and brand new sensor but it still uses the same 50mm f2.8 leaf-shutter lens from the Dp3 Merrill.

In fact as much as this camera is different in use it feels a lot like the old model and the addition of the extra control dial and some slight tweak are a welcome touch.

The build quality is  also of a high standard, you can feel the love and attention that went into making this camera although if I have to be picky I do miss the metal focus ring from the Merrill generation but the new design seems to follow that of the Art lens.

dp3q closeups

Don’t let the oddly shaped body fool you, this camera is really comfortable to hold once you become accustom to it ( I do have small hands¬†which could be a factor) and the design has the added bonus of giving a more¬†stable shooting platform verses the older design and most dslrs due to the width of the camera and how offset the grip is from the lens.

The main difference though is the new sensor, up to 19.6mp in the Quattro from the older 14.7mp sensor in the Merrill but that isn’t the whole story as the Quattro uses a brand new sensor in which the lower layers has a quarter of the resolution than the top layer giving the Quattro 29.4mp in total over the 44mp true x3 design of the Merrill.


This new sensor apart from giving you a larger, more detailed file at the end also gives a different look to the images over the Merrill with better color saturation in the shadows and a smoother less micro-contrast look which some people might prefer.

The sensor also behaves much differently in that the Merrills are better at pulling details from highlights while the Quattro can push more details from the shadows which changes how I would expose the shots when trying to maximise raw data.

Here’s an image showing the difference between the Merrill/Quattro and Bayer 24mp k3) output shooting the same scene with the same settings.


The other benefit from the new design is a more responsive camera, improved battery life along with some new features such as an electronic level and better designed quick menu.

One of the features of the Foveon sensor is the ability to shoot in a low resolution mode in which it bins the top layer to create a full x3 4.9mp read out, it might sound odd but I rather enjoyed using mode when walking around town and even the out of camera JPG images are gorgeous.
There’s just something different about how the Foveon sensor captures detail and color,¬† in fact I had done a few blind tests with several different images on social media using the Sigma Dp3q at full rez and a Pentax k3 and 8/10 times people liked the Sigma files even re-sized down to 1200pix with image compression that these sites use.

Here’s one of such images in which both cameras where shot at the same settings although one camera had to be moved a little to match the frame.

What one do you like?

Or what about these?

Could you guess what images was the 24mp no AA filter Bayer sensor and what was the 19.6mp Foveon Quattro sensor?

Well the first image with the Transformer was the Dp3Q left with k3 right and the second image with the watch the k3 was left while the Dp3Q was on the right.

I would like people to make up there own mind in which they feel is better but personally ¬†I love the Images from the Sigma cameras, in fact I only use my¬†DLSR system when I’m covering an event and need better high iso/faster performance.

Here’s another image from the Pentax K3 and Dp3 Quattro.

Full Size:

testimageSSigma Dp3 Quattro

100% Crop:


One more 100% Crop:


While the Quattro isn’t always resolving as much luminance¬†¬†detail as the k3 which is to be expected since it is almost 5mp less in image size, it is capturing much more detail overall due to the extra color information and its ability to change hues/contrast much quicker thanks¬†to the lack of Bayer filter giving it a much higher per pixel detail.

I feel this gives the images more depth, even when re-sized for web the images seem to have more life to them than what I get from Bayers.

One of the other benefits this has is the ability to display more detail on screen at any one time which can be handy for example when viewing maps/plans and as such this was the my goto¬†camera when digitizing some architectural plans for a local company who commented on how sharp and detailed the images where, while I can’t share them I can share a crop from books I was also digitizing.


Sadly as much as I tried I wasn’t able to get a hold of a K3II to test the Pixel shift mode which allows the Pentax to capture full color at every pixel by using multiple frames ¬†but since this mode¬†would only work on static subjects¬†and possibly only with continuous lighting (depends if Pentax¬†implemented a delay for strobes) so the real world use¬†would be more limiting, still it would have been nice to see how it compares.

I did how ever have the pleasure of shooting a few frames with the Pentax 645z with the 90mm f2.8 macro lens which currently costs just over £10,500 for the combo at a local camera store.

I took this chance to see how the little £800 Sigma compares so I placed my Pentax k3 on the ground and took a few quick frames.

*note* laying on the floor playing around with things during a camera shop open day gets you some funny looks!


Shot with the Pentax 645z and 90mm f2.8 SR Macro


Left 645z with 90mm f2.8 Macro – Right Sigma Dp3 Quattro upscaled to 50mp.

Now I know the 645z can do many things the Sigma can’t but at low iso shooting I’m pretty impressed with this little thing especially since you could buy all four Sigma Quattro’s for the price of the Pentax lens alone!


For studio use I feel that the 50mm (75mm equiv) f2.8 macro leaf shutter lens is ideal, not only does it allow me to get close with a decent working distance when shooting items but I also get full length body shots of people by backing up and the leaf-shutter gives me more control over ambient light or can help to reduce the tail light from my studio lights as mentioned here.


Due to the Aps-c size sensor I don’t need as much light to get everything in focus verses a larger sensor and the sensor itself resolves a great deal of detail¬†which is up there with some of the best cameras around at the moment.

One of the other nice features for studio use is how manual focus works, if you want to zoom into the focus point you simply half press the shutter and twist the lens, releasing the shutter zooms out.

There are a few negative points for studio photographers though, there is no tethering support but you could use a wifi card and a remote shutter accessory called cr-31 as a work around.
Also the cameras have a slower overall operation both in shooting and raw editing verses a Bayer camera and limited support for raw files outside of Sigma Photo Pro.

While I write this article around the Dp3 Quattro Sigma also make other versions of the camera¬†with different lens so if the fixed 50mm f2.8 isn’t for you then here’s what else is available.

Dp0 14mm f4,
Dp1 19mm f2.8,
Dp2 30mm f2.8,
Dp3 50mm f2.8

Each one of these has a leaf-shutter lens and would make a great camera for shooting strobes on location such as this shot of my kids with the Dp2 Quattro in which I used f4.5 at 1/640 of a sec with the flash being fired by a dumb radio trigger, no HSS or other tricks here.



Sigma have created a great little camera that unlike most modern cameras isn’t chasing¬†after features or¬†high iso but instead going for simplicity and image quality at base Iso.

This type of camera then will not be for everyone but if your the kind of person that likes to take your time and set up shots these things will reward you no end .
I’ll leave this article with¬†some random images that I have taken with my time with¬†the camera and hope that I have drawn some¬†interest to¬†something a little different than your typical digital camera.

Examples of images made with Sigma Dp3 Quattro

13 responses on "What makes Sigma Dp3 Quattro an awesome camera: the review and image samples"

  1. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for this review. I ll try my best in English as my mother tongue is french.
    I had a dp1 merrill for 2 years now and I am looking on these new quattro(s).

    The thing that really disappointed me with my dp1m is that it made people looking horrible ! greenish and ill !!!
    And i found a test shot here that speaks for itself:


    Unfortunately, I see that the quattro doesn’t do much better. At least the man doesn’t look sick (like with the dp1m). But according to other cameras, skin color doesn’t match with the quattro either.

    I really hesitate to buy a quattro dp3 or a used nikon d800.
    I love the dp1m but now I see only its greenish appearance and banding.
    After a few months of using the dp3q, have you noticed any recurring defects?
    Because the quattro looks just as good as the dp1 at the time I bought it, but I’m afraid of falling back on new surprises. I could take the d800 without risk instead?

    I saw the annoucement of the new sd quattro / H.

    Do you still use your dp3q ?

    • Hi Arhur.

      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

      I still have the Dp3Q and am currently going to sell my pentax kit as I rarely shoot bayer these days and invest in a SDQ-H kit and lens (with a Sony body using the Mc-11 adaptor for high iso/video).

      I love the colors and details of the Foveon chip, they way it renders lots of minute color changes I feel bayers miss but they are not for everyone as the Quattro chip just like the Merrill has its limitations like dynamic range compared to the latest sony chips, high iso isn’t as good and can be pretty bad in low CRI index lighting then the over all speed of operation is slower than a bayer camera.

      Still for me there’s just something different about the rendering, it feels more life like and three dimensional, after using Foveon for over a year now I find Bayer images to be flat, plastic looking in comparison.

      With your Dp1M, I’m assume you where shooting Raw and used the latest SPP? JPG’s from the camera are pretty bad but if you slightly over expose the Merrill sensor and develop the raw in portrait mode and adjust some NR setting (which effect micro contrast) it can be wonderful for skin but don’t try to push the shadows much as you will get blothcing/banding, The Quattro on the other hand can clip much easier than the Merrill but has more detail in the shadows and the in camera JPG is wonderful.

      I hope this helps and again sorry for the delay.

  2. Hi Paul,

    “Benefits” of the Foveon are squalid colors and higher software sharping. You can sharp Bayer’s images like Foveon if you want, but you can’t have true colors from Foveon sensor like from Bayer. Isn’t it?

    • Hi Patternman, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

      While the sigma files are sharp and you can sharpen bayer files (and use +clarity or other filters) to look similar to the shots from the Sigma its still not really the same, due to the lack of Bayer and AA filter the sigma sensors are able to deliver more detail per pixel with much faster contrast and hue changes than a Bayer and also due to the lack of the Bayer filter not prone to false color patterns in Moire.

      Things do look a little more dirty/noisy especially at 100% viewing but there is also much more detail, as for true colors bayer’s don’t really excel well here either, I find the greens are normally oversaturated and in general missing lots of discrete hue changes in all colors making images seem flat and at times like a color wash has been using over an area compared to what the Foveon would see.

      • Hi Paul,

        On my opinion, you are misteken. Sharping (microcontrast) in SPP is “evergreen” and you can’t disable it even of sharp on zero. If we will use the same algoritm for Bayer’s images, we will have thr same results.

        For example, could you recognise where is Bayer (panasonic m 4/3) and where is Foveon crop?

        And crops from imaging-resource files:

        • Hi Patterman

          You will have to forgive me as my usual editing screen has just died so I am using my wifes computer atm which dosn’t have a very good screen.

          You are right in that SPP does bake in some sharpning but whos to say that its right or wrong for them to do this, also different SPP settings (ie landscape, portrait) as well as WB settings and also noise reduction settings all change how the files are rendered in a much different way that what you would get from say LR, NR settings with the Merrill in particular affect the microcontrast a lot.

          There is a program called Kalpanika 0.54 which can convert Sigma raws to DNG, being a beta its not always going to be perfect but they at times can get much more highlight detail from the Quattro sensor and could be a good way for you to explore the Sigma files outside of SPP’s “evergreen” settings.

          Going with your images of the grass/ground, I like the one on the right better as it has less artifacting and for me better exposed with more natural looking greens but really its hard to compare something with different subjects, exposures and who knows what settings.


          In this shot I used three different cameras at the same setting with similar FoV lens at the same time of day (just swapping the cameras around added a delay), you can see after lots of sharpning the k3 shot (not something I did with the others) with its 24mp no AA filter can capture more lumanence detail and deliver nice sharp images but is it better? For me no as its also missing out in lots of hue/color changes I could see in real life which the Foveon chips capture, the Merrill more so than the Quattro.

          You might find this intreting http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/56766935, even though the d810 with a sensor 2x as large with nearly 2x the amount of pixels (19mp vs 36) the little aps-c foveon chip does quite well on the detail side of things but the brush has more tones of color on the Sigma shot than the D810, I have seen very large prints with my own eyes of the same subjects and this also shows on prints too… lots of subple little color changes, hues that the bayer chips missed.

          For some reason I was having trouble viewing your other images except for http://album.foto.ru/photos/or/333272/3642660.jpg in which I found the right image to be much cleaner, have more detail and less artifacts.

          You alsmo missing out on one of the main features of the DP’s and that is the high IQ compained with a leaf shutter for much greater control over ambient light than most DSLR’s, I know strobe/radio trigger companys are working on HSS and other things to get past that but walking around with the tiny sigmas, using smaller less powerfull strobes to over power the sun if needed is quite liberating and I know anything I shoot on them can get printed 40″+ if I wanted and have a much closer viewing distance than my current Bayer cameras (I have done 40×30″ prints with both).

          • Paul, I see absolutely inverse you wrote.
            Foveon has no colors in midtones, smothed color on details and colored spots. Could you recognize color on the marked places? I think no, It must be green, but… no color, B&W on the half of the image area.
            Spots and artefacts:
            It was not good idea to use USM or something similar for Bayer image detalisation on my mind, because it creates halo around light objects (black on your example), but cant’t recover microcontrast. I moove microcontrast level for detail visualisation on the Bayer area. What crops are detailed?

            Colors of Foveon are poor, on my opinion. Nobody can find color overtones on Foveon’s images. For example, could you find cold greens and warm greens on you example?
            I think yes, but only on Bayer’s area.

  3. I use Sigma cameras for about 5 years, starting from DSLR Sigma SD15 4,7 (x3) MP Foveon sensor. I’ve test merrill sensor (DP1m) and find that old sensor is better in shadows. New, quattro, sensor some better then merril in shadows and colour resolution, but picture is not so amazing… (((

    • I haven’t has the pleasure of using the older sensors (before the Merrill), the Quattro does have better colours in the Shadows and does lose some of its unique look but at time same time after using one for a while it grow’s on you and I still like it over my Bayer cameras.

      Sorry for the delay in replying back to you.

  4. I’m just amazed how the quarto in the sample shown here just sparkle with much more detail. I know the Sigma Art series is some of the best glass for Canon – almost competing with the much more expensive Zeiss, and now i’m just impressed that they also are able to make such fine cameras as well. Thanks Paul for your review!

    • HI Steen.

      I’m glad you liked the review and its nice to draw the attention of photographers to the Sigma cameras as I feel not enough people know about them and while I understand they are not for everyone I feel for some people they could be an awesome tool to have at there disposal.

      The Foveon sensor’s really are great at capturing fine details, that combination of high detail and leaf shutter is what I love :)

  5. Hi Paul I am a self taught amateur photographer myself and I’m not half as good as you but the images I like the best are the ones from the K3. They look bright with more detail. Sorry !!! ?

    • Hi P Gomez.

      That’s the thing, everyone will like something different and thats ok!

      The Bright part with more detail confuses me though, in the 100% crops I see much more detail in the Sigma shots and while the transformer is brighter (more vivid greens and brighter shade of yellow) the watch shot the Sigma image overall (the one on the right) looks brighter to me.

      Anyway thanks for taking the time to read this and for commenting, if you have any other questions feel free to ask :)

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