Look familiar? Sure it does. Cosmetically the new and
vastly improved Pro SLR/n looks nearly identical to the
old DCS 14n, but inside it's a whole new day for
The digital SLR world is
a jungle. Just days after Canon announced its earthshaking 11-megapixel,
full frame, EOS-1Ds SLR in September of 2002, Kodak blew them out of
the water with their 14-megapixel SLR, the DCS 14n. The Kodak digital
SLR was not only offering a bigger sensor (full frame like the Canon),
Nikon lens compatibility, and a smaller and lighter package than the
Canon competitor, it was also $3000 cheaper!
Well, the DCS 14n didn't really manage to compete with the EOS-1Ds
for the high-end commercial photographers, but it has become the main
camera for tons and tons of pros out there, mostly wedding and portrait
photographers. The big sensor, great Kodak color, and excellent included
software package made the DCS 14n a compelling camera, and a bargain
to boot. Of course, it was not all wine and roses for the new megapixel
champ from Rochester.
The grumblings began almost right away. Web forums began to buzz with
reports of uneven color shifts, incompatibility with some Nikon mount
lenses, noise at higher ISO settings, poor long exposure performance,
and a host of other problems. No one disputed that in a portrait studio
or on location with good strobe lighting the DCS 14n was second to none.
The beef was in using the DCS 14n as an all-around camera.
Then suddenly, Kodak announced that it was discontinuing its entire
line of medium format digital backs. This left the DCS 14n as the only
pro-oriented digital offering from Kodak. While the DCS 14n remained
popular, Kodak did what Kodak always does--they listened very carefully
to their customers, issued frequent firmware upgrades for existing DCS
14n owners, and then went back to the lab and came out with a totally
re-engineered camera that costs the same!
think that most users of the Pro SLR/n will be people shooters--whether
it's wedding, portrait, or commercial. Here we have
three images all shot within moments: the two on the left
are from the Pro SLR/n, the far left image processed in
Kodak's Photo Desk, the middle image processed in
Adobe Camera Raw, and the far right image from Canon's
EOS-1Ds. Color, contrast, and tonality are all a matter
of personal preference, but I would have to say that the
Pro SLR/n files processed properly in Photo Desk produced
simply the best skin tones of any digital SLR that I've
Photos © 2004, Jay Abend, All Rights Reserved
Familiar Face, New
The new camera really looks just like the old camera, but now is named
the "Pro SLR/n." According to Kodak every single piece of
the camera, aside from the Nikon mechanicals (based on an F80 prosumer
body), is brand new. The redesigned sensor, digital and analog boards,
and other Kodak specific firmware make for a very different device. The
plan, according to Kodak, was to address all of their customers'
issues, and throw in a few extra treats besides. DCS 14n owners might
be a bit upset to learn that their camera is now a doorstop, but the picture
now looks a lot brighter since Kodak has offered a complete camera update
for around $1500. This update essentially turns an old DCS 14n into a
Pro SLR/n. Sweet! It's this level of commitment that has endeared
Kodak to so many digital pros.
As soon as a working Pro SLR/n was available, Kodak shipped it to my studio.
Unboxing a brand-new Pro SLR/n is a case of déjà vu. The
camera looks and feels just like the DCS 14n, which is both a good and
bad thing. The decidedly "prosumer" Nikon mechanicals do a
decent job, but are no match for the F100-based Nikon D1X body, and forget
about comparing it to the flagship EOS-1Ds body or the older 6-megapixel
Kodak DCS 760.
Popping in a CompactFlash card and firing the camera up reveals a few
new wrinkles. First of all, the new camera has a roomy 512MB buffer and
finally a "sleep" mode. These two changes are reason enough
for many pros to go with a Pro SLR/n. Now you can bang off up to 19 shots
in a row before the camera slows down to process files, and the auto sleep
mode will reduce the number of times you pull the camera out of the bag
only to find it stone dead.
DCS cameras have always been favored by pros for their comprehensive
and powerful software, and the new version of Photo Desk
is no exception. Color, sharpening, noise reduction, and
color space are all assignable "on-the-fly.".
I shot with the Pro SLR/n for several weeks, often using it as my main
camera for client work. The most striking thing about the files produced
by the new Pro SLR/n are their incredible details. Not only do images
shot with the Pro SLR/n best the acclaimed EOS-1Ds files by a little bit,
in my tests they compared very, very favorably to my own $28,000 medium
format digital back.
Kodak has done some very clever things with the sensor design of this
camera, most notably the radical new cover glass. All digital sensors
need to filter out the heavy infrared that is present in most scenes.
Without an IR filter most images lose color saturation and reds tend to
drift toward orange. In past cameras, Kodak has used a fairly standard
IR filter that simply reflects back to unwanted IR light. This is the
standard filter found in all other cameras on the market today. The new
filter actually absorbs the IR light, not merely reflecting it back to
bounce around the mirror chamber. The result is an image that is noticeably
sharper than the previous camera, and a substantial lowering of blue channel
a shot that I couldn't take with the DCS 14n. With
strobes set up all over the room, I needed a 6-sec exposure
at f/22 to get the screen and monitors bright enough. This
file is virtually noiseless, and on the DCS 14n (and many
other digital SLRs) it would be peppered with dark frame
ISO Speed And Range
The Pro SLR/n has a default ISO of 160--largely due to the slight
light loss caused by the absorption filter, which knocks it down from
its default ISO of 200. (The older DCS 14n had a default ISO of 100.)
ISO 160 takes a little bit of an adjustment for those of us living in
the ISO 100 or 200 world. That enhanced sensitivity over the older camera
is welcome, and it is accompanied by an overall lowering of RGB color
While Kodak's literature for the camera trumpets ISO speeds of 6-1600,
I think that anything past ISO 800 is a stretch. Certainly high ISO images
processed in Kodak's Photo Desk can produce acceptable prints, but
the amount of noise still seems quite high, with diminished image sharpness
and detail. I do think that Pro SLR/n shooters who regularly need a quick
ISO 400 or 800 shot, especially wedding photographers looking for ambient
light church stuff, will be quite satisfied with the results.
Full frame means
just that--the sensor in the Pro SLR/n covers the same
24x36mm area as a standard 35mm film frame so your existing
lenses work as expected. This means that wide angles remain
Shooting continuously is a better experience as well. While the camera
is still a fairly slow shooter, the enlarged 512MB RAM buffer means that
you can bang off 19 shots in a row before the camera begs for mercy. In
my tests the camera routinely paused after 16 JPEG shots, but furiously
wrote the files to the card, and I could keep shooting at a slower rate.
It's the writing to the card that drags performance down. Using
40x CompactFlash cards it still took me nearly 11/2 minutes to flush the
buffer, compared to roughly 35 seconds for an EOS-1Ds. I think that studio
shooters, especially those who shoot fashion, need to carefully examine
their shooting style and see if this camera can keep up with them.
The overall shooting experience with the Pro SLR/n is fairly good. While
the Nikon body is based on prosumer gear, everything looks and feels like
quality. Kodak's menu system is deep and the LCD is extremely bright.
With the incredible level of control that the Kodak firmware offers, the
bright LCD is a big plus.
Coming from a higher end EOS or Nikon body, the Pro SLR/n does feel particularly
pokey. Autofocus is good, but not up to par with the higher end Nikon
or Canon bodies. In my tests the camera routinely hunted on dark subjects,
while a Nikon D1X using an identical lens had no trouble. The shutter
release also shares a more prosumer feel. There's just that slight
bit of delay between when you push the button and when the camera trips.
It's hardly enough to be noticeable, but it prevents the photographer
from having that "hard-wired" feeling.
Those operational issues aside, working with the images shot by this camera
is a tremendously liberating experience. I think Kodak's basic premise
was to cram as much technology into a reasonably priced SLR body, and
let the pros get at it. Not a bad idea, because I was able to shoot some
really tremendous work with it.
I've heard some complain about the high ISO performance
of the Pro SLR/n, whatever noise there is on a "huge"
14-megapixel file. Here's a wedding shot provided
by Kodak shot at ISO 800--not too shabby, don't
Kodak's included Photo Desk software gives the Pro SLR/n shooter
all of the great color, awesome sharpness, and leading-edge noise reduction
of Phase One's Capture One program, but without the added expense.
As with all Kodak software packages since the days of the DCS 100, Photo
Desk offers the true "digital negative" user experience. The
Pro SLR/n shoots in Kodak's familiar .DCR format. This "raw"
file contains all of the pixel data shot by the camera, and then it's
up to Photo Desk to create a usable TIFF or JPEG. With an exceptional
four-stop exposure compensation, on the fly sharpening, toning and noise
reduction, shooting raw is a luxury that you can't afford to live
without. In addition, the Pro SLR/n also shoots in Kodak's ERI JPEG
format--compressed files that still allow the photographer to perform
after-the-shoot modifications in Photo Desk.
Working with the latest version of Photo Desk is tons of fun. I particularly
like Kodak's "looks" profile, built into Photo Desk.
Rather than mess around with levels and curves on your own, Kodak has
built in a series of popular looks that give the Pro SLR/n unrivaled versatility.
It's like having a dozen or so different kinds of film loaded into
your computer--all instantly available at the click of the mouse.
You download all of the files from your photo shoot, and then have the
ability to effectively correct for fairly large amounts of over or underexposure,
gray balance, and other ambient light conditions, and then instantly click
in a totally different "look." While Photo Desk is no match
for Capture One when it comes to speed and overall workflow speed, it
has enough tricks up its sleeve to better Capture One in overall versatility.
Quick image modifications can be made, and then all files processed when
you're done, or you can process each file "on-the-fly."
Even better, Photo Desk comes free with every Pro SLR/n purchased.
Besides Photo Desk there is now another way to open and process raw DCR
files. Adobe's new Photoshop CS has finally put a patch on their
website to allow CS to open DCR files using Adobe's quick and easy
Adobe Camera Raw software (built into Photoshop CS). As powerful as Photo
Desk is, there are plenty of times when the Adobe Camera Raw software
makes sense. First of all, you're already in Photoshop, so for
one-at-a-time image editing this is clearly the way to go. Secondly, the
Adobe Camera Raw engine now includes tons of really well-designed digital
imaging tools. I especially think Adobe's sharpening and noise reduction
algorithms work very well with Pro SLR/n files.
Skin Tone Superiority
In side by side comparisons, I found the Adobe Camera Raw processed files
routinely showed incredibly smooth backgrounds with no trace of noise,
crisp and realistic detail, and the kind of eye-popping sharpness usually
reserved for expensive medium format backs. Photo Desk is certainly capable
of fairly similar results--especially when the noise reduction box
is set to "Expert" and sharpening is manually applied, but
I never could reproduce Adobe Camera Raw's unique combination of
stunning sharpness and silky smooth
Using Photoshop as your main raw conversion tool isn't a slam dunk.
The main reason why many choose Kodak digital cameras is for the color.
From the DCS 520 on I've found Kodak pro-oriented digital SLRs to
have the most natural skin tones of any cameras out there, and I think
the Pro SLR/n continues to lead the pack. I liked the skin tones on the
DCS 14n, but on the Pro SLR/n it's really gorgeous.
Caucasian skin tones are rich, creamy, and never red, pink, or yellow.
African American skin is warm and glowing, without the deep cyan shadows
that plague so many other digital devices. It's really a fantastic
camera for shooting people, but you really need the power of Photo Desk
to unlock its potential. No matter how hard I tried I could not get Photoshop
CS to reproduce the glowing, natural skin tones that I got easily with
Photo Desk. For that matter, the four other high-end digital cameras I
had available to me during my test period had a tough time recreating
the Kodak's gorgeous skin tones.
Pushing the limits of the Pro SLR/n produced some interesting results.
Since I shoot some architectural work I tried a few long exposures. Kodak
offers an amazing stretched ISO range--all the way down to ISO 6
for long exposures. To produce sharp and virtually noiseless long exposures
the Pro SLR/n actually takes a short 1/2 sec exposure to use for "dark
frame subtraction"--a method used in many cameras, but it's
particularly effective here. Twelve-sec exposures looked very clean, a
radical departure from the DCS 14n. High ISO results were also a surprise.
While I had heard lots of crabbing about the Pro SLR/n's high ISO
results from online web gurus, in my extensive testing I found the files
to be useable. ISO 400 and 800 results were quite good. Photo Desk automatically
deals with the noise created in these files, and while some details were
slightly smeared, I found the overall results to be really pleasing. The
same files processed with all noise reduction set to "off"
produced files that were pretty rough, about what you would expect from
a consumer-level digital camera. At ISO 1600 I found results that were
marginally usable, with lots of RGB color noise and a fair amount of image
After a couple of weeks of actually using the Pro SLR/n on a daily basis
I began to get a good sense of its considerable strengths. Obviously this
is not the perfect camera for all pros, but I found the incredible detail,
glorious color, uncanny skin tone rendition, and versatile Photo Desk
software to be industry-leading. Never
mind the fact that this camera has a street price that is about $3000
cheaper than the competition! Certainly this is not the camera for the
photojournalist, nor is it intended to be. For Nikon lens owners shooting
in controlled conditions and especially with studio lighting, this is
the sharpest and best file available. With Kodak's ongoing commitment
to support its users at a level not found elsewhere, I think the Pro SLR/n
is a wise investment for the seriousphotographer or working professional.
For more information on the Pro SLR/n, visit Kodak's website at:
To Canon: The Pro SLR/c Offers Big Performance For Canon Shooters
As we went to press Kodak threw its hat back into the Canon-mount SLR
world. The Kodak Pro SLR/c utilizes the same sensor and electronics as
the Pro SLR/n, but couples it to a custom-designed Canon EOS lens mount
What is particularly shocking is the news from Kodak that the camera bits--the
"Canon" stuff--are not from Canon at all, but rather
a "new, custom magnesium body." Custom? My best guess is that
there's a camera manufacturer behind this body, and with Kodak's
recent business dealings with Olympus who knows.
What is known is that the new camera is an EOS-mount digital SLR that
accepts all the EF lenses, EX flashes, and Canon accessories, with a full-frame
sensor with more resolution than Canon's flagship offering and a
street price about $3000 less. It will share the Pro SLR/n's 14-megapixel
sensor, Kodak electronics, and proprietary .DCR raw files, as well as
the ability to produce standard JPEG or ERI-JPEG files in camera.
Obviously the Pro SLR/c will be no match for the EOS-1Ds when it comes
to shooting speed, high ISO performance, or handling, but Shutterbug has
run files from the new 14-megapixel Kodak cameras up against EOS-1Ds files,
and in many instances the Kodak is a better performer. Kodak claims improved
EX-series flash performance over existing Canon digital SLRs, as well
as the frequent firmware updates that Kodak owners have become accustomed
It's about time that Kodak found a way to get back into the Canon
fold, and Rochester has promised us one of the very first cameras to run
through its paces. Stay tuned.