Howl and Growl Review of the Kodak Professional DCS 14N

Intro Compare Images Battery A Few Days Manual and Modes Focusing Dust Problem Features Flash Final

Hope the Cat

"Hope the Cat" Kodak DCS 14n at ISO 200 1/180th F5.6 with Matrix Metering (18-70 Nikkor Zoom)

Introduction

Rating: Three Howls and One Growl

Wow. 14 megapixels with a camera that feels and looks good. This FULL FRAME CMOS based camera created some great images but alas had some shortcomings. The camera was rented for this review from Competitive Camera in Dallas, Texas (www.competitivecameras.com). On the flip side, the pop up flash constantly leaves a nasty shadow at the bottom of the frame and the lack of an ISO reading in common EXIF data drove me crazy. But the camera consistently took super shots (if you did NOT use the flash!).

Kodak Professional DCS 14N

This Kodak has a street price for the body only of approximately four thousand dollars. This compares to the Contax six megapixel Contax ND I purchased for six thousand dollars several years ago. Technology marches on, with over twice the storage at 75% of the price. The ISO range for the DCS 14n is ISO 80 to 800 depending on the file size selected. At the largest file size of 4,536 x 3,024 pixel (14 megapixels) the ISO range was limited at the top end to 500 ISO. The camera can also capture images at 6, 3 or .8 (1125 x 750) megapixels. The Kodak has a CMOS sensor and accepts Nikkor F Mount lenses. Remember, this is a full frame sensor and the actual focal length of the lens is the focal length you are shooting at ... unlike the MAJORITY of todays digital cameras! The "top half" of the camera is the Nikon F80 with the body build of a custom Kodak designed magnesium body. Very, very rugged.

During this test, I also shot some direct comparison shots which included the Kodak DCS 14n up against the Nikon D70, Contax ND, a Contax G2 and a Contax 645. The latter two systems being a top end 35 MM. rangefinder and the other a top end medium format 6x4.5cm system loaded with Astria 100F slide film!

Comparison Images

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Kodak DCS 14n

Kodak DCS 14n at ISO 80 Severe Crop versus Nikon D70 Widgeon at ISO 200 ... the lowest ISO setting on the D70 (Above)

Contax ND Shot at ISO 25 with CZ 24-85. See how smooth the beak displays! (above)

However, the Kodak is still better due to the huge 13.7 Megapixel file this crop originated from!

Kodak DCS 14n at ISO 400 (Highest setting in 14 Megapixel Mode) versus D70 Widgeon at ISO 1600 (Highest ISO Setting) (Above)

ISO 400 reveals more noise and a softness, but still a not to bad compared to the ISO 80 which is very, very nice of the Widgeon when you consider this is a severe crop!

Battery

The DCS Pro 14n has a long lithium battery that snugly fits into the bottom of the camera. My test at very high resolutions with some previewing, changing menu settings, etc. indicated approximately 100 shots to a battery.  The good news is that the battery is easy to switch out and takes only 2 hours to recharge on the AC/DC module. The battery is listed as a Kodak Professional Pro 14n battery (Lithium). A second battery which should be rarely replaced is the CR 2032 cell battery and slips easily into the side of the body.

There are different file qualities (sizes) you can specify but in my opinion, unless you have a specific reason, it is not a good idea to shoot in any mode other then the "fine" JPG mode or in the Raw Native Mode. Yes, they take more space, but you can always reduce the size of the file for e- mailing and web posting prepared at the 14 megapixel file size to run through alot of compact flash cards.

A Few Days of Shooting

The unit rented came with a AF-S Nikkor 28-70mm 1:2.8D lens which has a "silent wave motor" for focusing. For compatibility with the DCS body set the switch for autofocus on the lens to M/A not to M. (In M mode you can manually focus the lens).

From the top view of the camera you see:

This body is based on the Nikon F80 and customized with magnesium creating a camera that is very well built. If you are use to a larger camera, the camera feels good and without lens weighs approximately two pounds. The front hand grip is made of rubber and fits snugly into the hand. Hit the MENU button on the back of the camera to start you settings. Do this BEFORE taking any shots. In fact you will have to in order to format the Compact Flash card or one of the other cards the Kodak takes being Secure Digital (SD) or a Multimedia Card (MMC). The Kodak constantly "recalibrates" when different ISO settings are chosen or a new compact flash card is inserted. While this is a bit irritating, the process is very fast.

There are two Main Menu Modes: BASIC or ADVANCED.

There are only ten choices in BASIC mode including ISO, White balance, Resolution (RAW and JPG), Format, Display Contrast, Overexposure Indicator, Time/Date, Firmware and User Mode

You are going to want to shoot in ADVANCED Mode.

In advanced mode, formatting your CF card is slightly buried under the selection CF CARD .... JPG. Use the thumb dial on the back of the camera to scroll thru the menu selections. You will use the OK button to make your selection.

One thing that is not very intuitive, is that to get to one of the tabs across the top of the menu screen hold the MENU button down and hit the THUMB SCROLL. This takes you through the tabs to the different main menus.

On the flip side, a very nice feature is that on the back of the camera, below the LCD is another smaller LCD that gives a one sentence description of every function!

The firmware on the camera tested was at 4.4.3.  Be sure to check the Kodak site for the latest firmware (the manual indicated firmware was at 3.5.1).

The Main Tabs in ADVANCED Mode are:

My first day with the camera went well, but I had problems from making the classic mistake of not sitting down and reading the manual first. An example is that I would try in high res raw to set the ISO to 800. This was on the menu, but the camera would come back (recalibrating) and force it to ISO 400. The manual does say that in Extreme Hi Res (14 megapixels) the range is limited to ISO 640. Hmmm. So I understand not allowing the 800, but the highest I could set the ISO was at 400. (Another firmware revision?)

Shooting with the Kodak DCS was a very positive experience. The shots overall seemed a little bit overexposed, but were easily corrected with an imaging program. Overall, the images that came straight from the camera to the computer required the absolute least amount of Adobe Photoshop work of any cameras I have reviewed. The DCS 14n will shoot in vertical mode (menu setting to release the vertical shutter release).

The viewfinder is a nice size and is clear and bright, allowing for ease of composition and covers approximately 92% of the viewfinder. The camera includes an auto assist focus beam, which worked ok in low light situations. Of all the cameras I have recently tested (Contax ND, Nikon D70, the Kodak had the worst low light focusing. There was a very noticeable "hunt" for certain objects. Overall, I would rate the focusing as good, but not excellent.

The Kodak Raw files (DCR extension) were also handled with the Kodak Professional DCS Photo Desk. The majority of shots were taken in combination RAW Mode plus JPG which burned through compact flash cards by using 16.4 megabytes per shot. This gives you approximately 15 shots per 256 Megabyte compact flash card. However; if you shoot in this mode you have absolutely the best that the 35mm digital world has to offer at this time. Another piece of software which comes with the camera is the DCS Camera Manager. I did not evaluate or review the Camera Manager as I preferred to copy all digital files to my computer using a Compact Flash Card reader. Remember, though, that the Kodak DCS 14n has a built in Firewire port for extremely fast transfers if your computer has a matching port.


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"Janet Sitting at Como Motel" Kodak Professional DCS 14n at ISO 80 at 1/90th F3.3 at 32 MM (28-70 Nikkor Zoom)

The Kodak DCS 14n is with the Nikkor 28-70 MM. a monster of a combination. They feel great and this rig is not meant to be a point and shoot. You'll get tired by the end of the day, but you will have a "satisfied" grin on your face.

First picking up the camera and looking at the top LCD, front dial, rear dial, rear wheel you notice that the white print is easy to see and clearly marked. Some of the buttons have ICONS (symbols) but are straight forward with the hardest to "get" at first being the CLEAR button which the manual refers to several times. This is the button to the left of the OK button.  Makes sense.

The back view of the camera shows:

Manual and Modes

The over 200 page manual is almost perfect! The manual is very well layed out and BIG. The print is bold faced and very easy to read.  The only draw back is that the larger manual will inevitably get folded into your bag, but what a great reference manual.  There is also a quick start guide. And you also get the manual and quick start guide on a CD.  Yes, this is a professional camera.. The index is well done, and it's easy to find relevant topics.

When you first get the camera, be sure to tell the camera what the current date is and to auto number your images.

Use the top dial to specify your mode and type of shooting. My favorite mode is Manual or Aperture priority for general shooting. The Kodak DCS N14 has four exposure modes, including:

- Program Auto Multi. Camera optimizes exposure and exposure compensation depending on subject.

- Shutter Priority. You select the shutter speed and the camera selects the aperture.

- Aperture Priority (my favorite!) You select the aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed.

- Manual. You select the shutter and the aperture, usually matching the metering information available in the viewfinder.

There are NO select scene modes on the camera, but you can tell the camera through the menu system some types of shooting including portrait and noise reduction for night scenes

Focusing

The focusing is the same as most of the later Nikon cameras. There is a focus mode selector on the front right of the camera where you select one of three focus modes:

You also need to set the area to focus with:

Set the mode by using the main command dial in conjunction with the top Mode Selection Button set on focus type ( the little plus icon).

I thought the autofocus worked well with a few exceptions. Those exceptions primarily involved low contrast subjects in dim light.

The LCD on the back of the camera worked well, even in bright light. The LCD menu selections are all in black and white and the only time you see color is during an image review.

Dust Problem

The Kodak DCS 15N is a CMOS based sensor and most dust problems are minimized but not completely! The manual discusses what to do with a dust problem and how to clean the camera. Compared to most CCCD type sensors for SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses the problems the Kodak exhibited were minimal.

Dust Problem on CCCD!

"Shot of the Moon during the Day"

Kodak DCS 14N D70 Dust Problem on CMOS taken at 5.6, 1/180th of a second.

Note the problem on the bottom right of the image and the top left. (above)

Features

Now, with digital photography, there are two distinct personalities to a camera: the shooting process and the computer processing process. The shooting process, in its simplest form, is the combination of shutter speed, f-stop (aperture) and film sensitivity. Variables such as type of light (daylight vs. tungsten) used to be taken care of with film type or with a filter. Now this is taken care of with the white balance setting on the camera. Sensitivity to light with a film-based camera was taken care of with the type of film using a different sensitivity rating (ISO/ASA). This ISO is now set on a digital camera electronically through the menu system. Other menu settings include contrast, saturation, hue, sharpening, noise reduction and image quality.

The Kodak DCS 14N has the ability to set and fine tune a wide range of white balance settings on the capture menu. The main settings include fine tuning each white balance setting:

The setting is displayed on the back LCD and during the selection you can modify the default temperature selection that shows up as an absolute value by using the digital selection switch and the thumb button with the four way arrows.

Shutter speeds range from an automated 2 seconds to 1/4000th of a second.  The camera has a mediocre flash speed rating of 1/125th of a second.

Deleting the images is straight forward using the "Trash" icon on the back of the camera. Reviewing the images and zooming in on them depends on the access mode you have selected

Accessing and deleting and zooming in on the images depends on the review mode you have selected. Zooming in on a photo takes some practice as you tell the camera that you want to zoom, where you want to zoom, that you have selected the zoom area, and then you zoom.

A really great feature of the Kodak is the intervalomter. You can tell the camera when to start to take a photo, how often to take the photo (maximum delay is one day less a second) and how many to take. This feature is tremendous for time lapse photography !

The Kodak has a built in self timer with the delay set as a menu function.

Lens mount is a Nikon F-Mount.

Capture modes are single or continuous with a burst rate of 1.7 frames per second with a burst depth of 8 frames before the buffer is full.

Horizontal or Vertical shutter release.

Auto focus sensitivity of -1 to 19 EV at ISO 100.

Five Focus Points.

The metering modes include center weighted, spot or 3-D Matrix.

Exposure compensation with plus or minus 3 EV in 1/2 EV steps.

Flash compensation plus 1 or minus 3 in 1/2 EC steps.

Diopter Adjustment.

ISO range of 80 to 800 depending on file save type and size (up to 13.85 megapixels).

Weight of 2 pounds (907 grams).

Auto focus assist with white light.

Exposure settings lock with the dial lever on the top left of the camera.

Output to NTSC or PAL video. And no .... you can't capture video with the Kodak DCS 14n.

Ability to set Hotkeys to quickly access frequent menu areas.

IEEE 1394 (Firewire) connection for fast transfers to a computer or other capture device.

Hot shoe and a Pc Sync Terminal.

Hi and Lo indicators on the top LCD if the exposure is to high or low.

There is NO MIRROR Lockup on the Kodak DCS 14n.

The camera has other features including self-timer, diopter, long exposure noise reduction, and 13 custom reductions (Advanced Mode). Another extremely strong point of the Kodak DCS 14n is the ability to capture images simultaneously in RAW mode and JPG mode! Great feature.

Exposures overall were good, although a little bit overexposed in my test. Three types of metering are available:

The user can use the AEL button on the top of the back of the camera to lock in an exposure reading. The AEL indicator will show up in the viewfinder.

Exposure compensation is used in conjunction with EV stepping. With EV stepping you specify the size of the increment of exposure compensation up to 1/2 of a stop. With the exposure compensation you specify the number of increments. This is done using the EV button in conjunction with the main command dial. You can specify up to 3 stops of over or under compensation.

In Advanced custom function mode

Custom Functions:

Flash

The built in Speedlight has a critical flaw which may or may not shot up depending on the lens you are using. In my test, using the 28-70mm Nikkor D lens the bottom of EVERY shot had a fatal shadow. At first I thought it must be my thumb casting a shadow. Nope ... this is a fatal flaw. The built in flash covers 28mm.

Janet with Shadow

"Janet with Shadow" Kodak Professional DCS 14n at ISO 80 at 1/60th F4 at 28 MM. (28-70 Nikkor Zoom) (above)

Note the nasty shadow at the bottom of the frame!

The built in Speedlight has in D-TTL has a Guide Number (GN) at ISO 100 of 39(ft) or (12) in meters. The flash has red eye reduction, red eye reduction in slow sync, front curtain sync, slow sync, rear curtain sync. Depending on your camera mode, certain flash options are not available. The term TTL basically refers to the flash interacting with the camera to interact with the camera settings and to modify the settings to reduce or increase the flash output depending on the subject distance. This is opposed to some flashes, which use Auto mode to allow for the flash to reduce the amount of light coming back to the flash. TTL mode uses the actual light coming back through the camera lens whereas an Auto Mode on certain flash units reads the light coming back to the flash unit.

A GN of 39 gives you an effective f-stop of 3.9 at 10 feet (GN divided by feet). Don't expect to shoot large group shots with this flash! But for fill in and small groups or individuals the flash is adequate. The flash in Auto mode worked fine on my unit. The Kodak DCS 14n is fully compatible with other more powerful Speedlight flashes including the 80DX, 50DX and 28DX series.

The flash angle covers a 28mm lens and the minimum flash distance ranges from .7 mm (27 inches) at 35mm with a 20 to 35mm 35mm lens up to 2 meters (78 inches) using the 28-85 MM. ED lens). Check the manual for your lens! The highest sync speed is a dismal 1/125th of a second..

The user can modify the flash output by using the flash compensation button in conjunction with the sub-command dial from -3EV to 1 EV in 1/2rd increments. This information is displayed on the top LCD and the viewfinder.

The Kodak Raw File Developer is accessed through Kodak Professional DCS Photo Desk. On an XP workstation the program installed without a hitch. The major disappointment was that I could not easily find a way to select multiple images and do a batch conversion (i.e. convert all selected images to a tiff file) as opposed to handling them individually. The program has a full set of features.

This is typical of the type of information displayed in the information section of a JPG EXIF information:

Compared with the basic information from a RAW DCR file:

One disappointment in both the raw mode and the JPG EXIF information was that the distance the subject was photographed from is not displayed.

Final Comments

The Kodak Professional DCS 14n is a fine camera capable of great shots. The shortcomings of the severe flash problem, limited ISO range and the lack of a mirror lock up prevent me from giving the camera a four howls rating. However; if I had one camera to choose to date to replace my Contax ND this would be the camera! There is just something magical about 14 megapixels.

Any user of the Kodak should realize that as with ANY digital camera, the original file recorded to the Compact Flash media will usually need to be tweaked to make a presentable image. Most film processing services only take the image and print it as straight shot without any tweaking. In contrast, film processors and printers usually have an operator "tweaking" and adjusting the film- based shots. Hence, you need to give the printer a "print ready" image. This image can also vary from what you see on your monitor depending on the color profile embedded in the image. Just expect to spend a lot of time with a digital darkroom when using ANY digital camera.

Original out of the camera shotShot with Post processing

An Example of an image out of the 14n with no adjustments versus an "adjusted" image.

Three Howls and One Growl for the Kodak Professional DCS 14n.

This review was written by Michael Hahn of Outback Coyote, Inc.  Steps were taken for accuracy in reporting but the reader should check the manufacturer's website to verify the information provided.

The Kodak DCS 14n was leased at: www.competitivecameras.com

Call (972) 768-7469 coyote@outbackcoyote.com

Copyright 1998, 99, 00, 01,02,03,04 Outback Coyote Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Created 11/08/04.

Last Modified 12/09/04.

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