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Thread: Kodak DCS Pro 14n review by Larry

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    Default Kodak DCS Pro 14n review by Larry

    Kodak DCS Pro 14n: 14 Million Reasons To Go Digital



    Kodak DCS Pro 14n review by Larry

    ...... It's understandably with some excitement and eagerness that I awaited the arrival of the Kodak DCS Pro 14n (hence after known as the DCS-14n) review unit from the local office. After all, this is the first full-frame Nikon F-mount contender to Canon's EOS 1Ds, with an even bigger pixelcount at close to 14 million pixels (compared to the 1Ds' 11 million)......

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    I have indeed talked to Larry about the camera as he mentioned. Thanks to Larry for the effort to sort a review out.

    Just a few corrections/clarifications:

    The camera has 4500 x 3000 effective pixels, not 4536x3024 as suggested in some of the early literature. The interesting thing is I picked up on this as well and asked Kodak about it before they passed me my camera, but they misunderstood my question.

    Larry's mentioned the variable resolution files the camera can provide; 13.5mp, 6mp, 3.4mp, it also goes down to 0.8mp. But none of this is anything new. What Kodak have been at pains to draw attention to is the fact that these variable resolution steps are available in RAW form. Other manufacturers have offered variable resolution finished files for some time now, Kodak is the first that allows you to capture and retain RAW flexibility in four different resolutions.

    The camera has 4 stops of exposure latitude, not 2.

    Larry mentions that deep shadow holds details. I wouldn't be so quick to concur with that one unfortunately!

    As Larry points out the one big criticism many people have of the camera is the fact that noise reduction cannot be switched off, either in camera or in Photo Desk. As a result noise reduction algorithms leave their tell tale traces even in ISO 80 images, which should in theory be relatively free of noise. This means that there is unnecessary loss of quality at those ISOs. It was widely rumoured that the new firmware would solve this, however the firmware released as at 23/06/03 does not.

    But that's one plus point of the camera that Larry has failed to point out. Kodak have released probably a half a dozen firmware updates in the last two or three months; the camera is continually evolving. Critics will say that it is a half finished camera, which has some merit to it. But there is no denying the fact that Kodak are able to do significant things with their firmware upgrades. 4.2.2 allowed card write speed measurement, while I have it from Kodak that mirror lock up is a function that will be included in an upcoming update.

    Larry, found it slightly distressing that your noise comparison pictures were not all sharp!

    The battery performance issue is also something potentially worrying. Kodak were still telling me 200 to 300 pictures on a charge. But they stressed that the battery had to be properly conditioned and broken in. They even had a special information sheet about the proper way to do so. Clearly it is an issue that is causing concern. I received the camera direct from Germany without such a sheet however, so I must assume they do not ship their cameras with such a sheet just yet.

    Sad to say, I am struggling to reach 300 pictures, and even 200 seems implausible. I do get about 130 or so pictures over 2-3 hours with copious use of long lens AF and LCD monitor useage however, so I can imagine how under ideal conditions the battery could reach 200 shots. Plus I haven't fully broken in the battery yet either. Still, it is definitely not confidence inspiring, but in its defence, two 14n batteries are lighter than a single 1D or D1 battery. Although I wouldn't want to bet that they'd be cheaper!

    Kodak used a different battery from the D100 because the 14n is not based on a D100, it was based on the F80. Nikon are supplying parts to Kodak. Kodak decided to go with mating two Nokia phone batteries as a cost saving measure. They have neglected to state the capacity of the battery, but I suspect the problem Kodak are facing is not really the battery but the enormous power consumption of the processing unit. The battery seems to keep the LCD monitor going for a long time!

    Kodak's decision to include an SD/MMC slot instead of a second CF card slot is planned integration with future smaller portable devices like mobile phones and PDAs. Personally I suspect space has something to do with it as well.

    In mentioning the rear LCD usability, I personally feel that Larry neglected to mention one strong suit of the camera - the fact that the LCD menus are excellent. The actual navigation takes some getting used to, but the options are all clearly explained. Instead of a one line title leaving you to guess what the option does and what each option stands for, Kodak provides nice commentary in the LCD window (not the monitor) about not only what each option alters, but also what each sub-option is set to do. In clear and concise English. Or a multitude of other languages if you so desire.

    Larry has completely misunderstood the automatic vertical shutter release. The automatic vertical shutter release and the vertical orientation sensor are two completely separate entities.

    The vertical orientation sensor is not tied in to the shutter buttons. It operates whether you use the main shutter release or the vertical release to trip the shutter. It automatically orientates your picture the correct way if you open it in Photo Desk. It will not register if you use third party software to view the RAW or JPG files.

    The automatic vertical shutter release lock, on the other hand, was implemented through firmware. It means that in addition to the physical and software locks on the vertical shutter release button (to stop it from firing accidentally), you now have an electronic option which automatically registers the orientation of the camera, and deactivates the vertical release when the camera is horizontal, and only activates it when the camera is held vertical. It does drastically cut down the chance for accidental shutter release.

    Startup time and calibration time are one and the same at startup. Calibration is part of the start up sequence, but it doesn't display in the rear window unless you're impatient and try to press the shutter, in which case it informs you that it is calibrating.

    The camera does however does recalibrate when jumping between isos bands as the noise reduction software takes measurements. This takes about 2-3 seconds.

    The D1 series has virtually instant startup, not 2s.

    Just some other things that come to mind at present, these are not the result of a well thought out review:

    The hand strap, which came attached with my camera, is directly in the way of the vertical shutter release.

    The vertical shutter release is, alas, completely different in feel from the horizontal release. The horizontal release is the standard F80 threaded release; the vertical release is a Kodak fabrication that, sad to say, has completely different pressure sensitivities to the horizontal one. The first pressure is moderate (as opposed to light on most other cameras) but most worryingly the second pressure requires a good hard stab to overcome the biting point. Which means I have no confidence whatsoever in being able to first, time the release at the right moment (short of absolutely hammering the release) and two, release the shutter smoothly without upsetting composition and stability. It sounds like I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, and if these things don't bother you then fair enough, but if you use your camera hard, then the problem is a big one. Basically I've gone back to just using the one horizontal release, which is a pity because the automatic lock idea is a great one.

    Rather annoyingly, you cannot zoom in to check a picture on the LCD if you're shooting in JPG, only if you shoot in RAW. Kodak assumes most people will shoot in RAW to maximise the image quality. And to their credit, their RAW files are outstanding, the camera processes them as fast as it processes JPGs, and Photo Desk is a joy to use. The problem is, at 13Mb a pop, the RAW files are big. I'm hoping but not believing that this might be resolved in a future firmware update, because I suspect the reason has something to do with the way the camera zooms in.

    Again annoyingly, the rocker switch navigation is in reverse. With Nikon bodies like the D100 and D1 series, you press the up and down button to scroll through pictures on the monitor. With the DCS14n up and down do something completely different and you have to press left and right instead. For someone trying to juggle the Kodak with a Nikon body, it's a nightmare. You get used to it with time, but it still means you function a fraction of a second slower juggling back and forth.

    The LCD illumination for the top plate LCD for use in low light to see the display is really very weak. It's not the cool illuminated blue backlight of the Nikons; it's a twin green light that is really very dim. I suspect it might be the standard that comes with the F80.

    Hope some of that helps, and doesn't take the thunder away from Larry. For someone who's only had 3 days with the camera and is really more of a film person, I think he's done a good job. It's not easy writing an objective report and I think he's done well in the circumstances.

    I might potentially eventually write a review myself at some stage, but in the intervening time if you have any questions feel free to ask them on the forum.

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    Originally posted by Jed
    Larry, found it slightly distressing that your noise comparison pictures were not all sharp!

    -- snip --

    Larry has completely misunderstood the automatic vertical shutter release. The automatic vertical shutter release and the vertical orientation sensor are two completely separate entities.
    oops my bad...

    well it was really a rush job, and coupled with the fact that i didn't have the manual at hand to refer to when i was snapping away. the un-sharp pixs are my fault entirely though

    thanks for the comments Jed. actually it really helped talking to you about the 14n...

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    Originally posted by Larry
    thanks for the comments Jed. actually it really helped talking to you about the 14n...
    I hope so. Mind you I can't imagine how much help it would have been given I had only got my camera a week ago! Much more productive talking to me about it now I suspect

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    Really too bad that it's meant more for studio & set-up work rather than for photojournalism & outdoor work.

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    It's not a hard restriction. I had a nice 14n picture in the papers today. It's how you use a camera that counts.

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