Price: £3,500 plus VAT
Kodak’s most recent DCS Pro models have all been based on high-end cameras such as the Nikon F5 and Canon EOS-1. Most have been aimed at professional sports and news photographers who need speed more than resolution, though there were also 6mp models. The new DCS Pro 14n uses lower-grade camera underpinnings and seems to be aimed at the resolution-conscious studio/fashion/magazine markets. While Kodak has developed the user interface and digital electronics, the body, optics and exposure/focus controls are supplied by Nikon, so the camera accepts Nikon F-mount autofocus lenses. The CMOS sensor is bought in from Belgium. The top panel of the body and apparently most controls and optics are based on the mid-range Nikon F80 film camera, also used for Nikon’s own D100 and Fuji’s FinePix S2 Pro digital SLRs. The unique Kodak lower body is made of magnesium, with a large bulge in the base that acts as a handgrip (with a second shutter button) and holds the battery and memory cards. Without lens or battery, the camera weighs just 907g. The rear panel holds a large, two-inch colour LCD for playback and main menu displays, plus a small LCD status display. A flip-down door covers twin memory card slots, one for Compact Flash II/Microdrive and the other for SD or MultiMedia cards. Kodak recommends that you shoot Raw files and post process them after downloading, but there’s an option to save JPEG or Raw plus JPEG. Kodak’s JPEGs include an ERI (extended range imaging) option to give a range of post-processing functions, which work well. Full resolution Raw files occupy 13MB, and even JPEG files can be up to 3.5MB – so it’s just as well that there’s a FireWire/iLink cable port rather than USB 1.1. You can also set the capture resolution to 6, 3.4, or even 0.8mp to save card space. The little pop-up flash is OK for fill-in work, but there’s a hotshoe for external guns, plus a standard PC flash lead socket. Control freak
Although it was announced almost a year ago, the DCS 14n only started appearing recently in small numbers, and Kodak has issued a number of firmware upgrades since – we installed version 4.3.3 during the test. These have improved the image quality from early reports, and the start-up time has improved to less than five seconds. The camera controls are standard Nikon, with a good autofocus and a flexible exposure system. The shutter response is decent, and you can get 1.7 frames per second on continuous. Digital SLRs usually have good battery life, but this one tended to give low-power warnings after only 20 or 30 shots with playback, and would go flat within a couple of hours if left switched on. The large charger doubles as a camera mains adaptor, but can’t do both at once. The user interface is clear except for the monitor control: you have to select playback, and manually cancel afterwards – most camera displays cancel automatically. Often when you switch the camera on, the menu display lights up (and shines in your eye as you use the viewfinder). There’s a huge range of settings accessed via the menu screens. In particular, there are 12 white-balance presets plus manual, though the default of 4,400K is unusual and gives cool colours – most cameras go for a warmer 5,600K. There are enough pixels to print magazine-quality halftones at A3 size and probably A2, or to crop more tightly for smaller print sizes. But the overall image-quality is a bit mixed. Kodak maximizes detail by not fitting a conventional anti-alias filter or micro-lenses over the sensor, but this contributes to coloured artifacts on some fine detail or highlights, and a lowish chip sensitivity. The lowest sensitivity is ISO 80 but the maximum is only 400 at full resolution (800 at lower resolutions). Kodak’s computer-end software is excellent, especially if you shoot Raw files. It’s divided into two applications: DCS Camera Manager for batch downloading and renaming files (downloading is fairly slow even with FireWire); and DCS Photo Desk, for post-processing Raw files – it will work with single images or batches. Exposure mistakes can be fixed, and you can adjust white balance and noise reduction. A Photoshop plug-in opens and processes ERI JPEG images. Although the dynamic range is much better than most digital cameras, coloured noise in the shadows becomes rather noticeable at ISO settings of 200 or above. The Photo Desk software can reduce this considerably. The camera’s auto-exposure settings meant that highlights tended to burn out in bright sunlight, so given the dynamic range it’s best to expose for the highlights and sort the shadows out in software. This is a great camera if you really need all that resolution or you want to shoot wide angles, but the unusual sensor means you have to learn to work with it.