Kodak DCS 760 SLR Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Kodak DC 760 is quite simply the most impressive digital camera that I have used to date. Its 6-megapixel image quality and size is in a class of its own, at least until we get a chance to judge the upcoming Canon EOS-1D. Unfortunately, it's also the biggest and heaviest digital camera on the market, tipping the scale at more than six pounds when fitted with a zoom lens and a battery. One of my complaints about many of today's digicams is that they're too small or light to be an effective photographic tool, I won't be saying that about the DCS 760. A small and light camera often produces less than optimal images as just pressing the shutter button causes the entire camera to move in your hands. At shutter speeds of less than 1/50 of a second this means motion blurring. Small cameras are also difficult to hold as there just isn't enough finger grip area or camera body to grasp. The Kodak DCS 760 takes these ergonomics to the extreme opposite. There's plenty of finger and hand grip area, too much really. My large hand was fatigued from just keeping it wrapped around the beefy handgrip. You have to be a very strong person to keep this camera held up to eye level for any amount of time. Even hanging around your neck or off your shoulder is a constant reminder of its size and bulk.
In its defense, the weight of the DCS 760 tells you that this is a camera of substance. The all metal construction and dirt and moisture seals make this a real workhorse of a camera with dependability being right up there with its image quality. Working pros like photojournalists have to be able to depend on their cameras, they rarely get a second chance to capture the "Kodak moment." The last thing they can do is baby their cameras and this is the reason that the Nikon F5 has been one of the top film cameras for years now. I've been told that numerous photojournalists have used their cameras as weapons to fight off attackers in riot and war zones, so the bigger, the better and in that case the DCS 760 is potentially lethal. OK, enough said about that, on to camera controls and image quality.
Currently the DCS 760 is only capable of capturing images in its own proprietary format, Kodak has promising a future firmware upgrade to allow for in-camera generation of JPEG images. Images are stored as losslessly compressed raw .DCR files and depending on the scene content they will range from 4.5 to 8 MB each. Kodak used to supply a TWAIN driver to do image conversion but now they have come out with a standalone application called DCS Photo Desk. Photo Desk allows you to convert the raw files into finished JPEG or TIFFs. It allows you to post-process these images to your heart's content before saving them to disk or exporting them to PhotoShop or any editor of your choice. We have an entire page of this review dedicated to the DCS Photo Desk application, click here to view it. You no longer have to worry about ruining an entire shoot because the wrong white balance was selected on the camera, it can be corrected in software. You can also vary the exposure value and this alone can often recover shots that were terribly under- or over-exposed. Two of its "power tools" are noise reduction filtering and the sharpening. The noise reduction can make ISO 400 shots highly useable and whether you use the low-pass infrared or optional anti-aliasing filter, you will need to sharpen your images as these filters will soften them. DCS Photo Desk is not the best software for sharpening however, this is better accomplished with PhotoShop.
As for camera controls, the DCS 760 has got them all because this is really a Nikon F5 married to a Kodak digital imaging system. Any exposure mode you want, it's got it. Programmed AE with Shift, Shutter speed and Aperture priority and full Manual, it's all there at the push of a button. A camera is nothing without a good metering system and Nikon's exclusive 3D Color Matrix metering is excellent and when needed there is also center-weighted averaging and spot as well. Custom settings let you choose the coverage for the center-weighted metering at 8, 12, 15 or 20mm. White balance options include the usual Automatic, Fluorescent, Daylight, Incandescent and Flash or for the best possible match use the Preset from image. Focusing options abound with Single Area AF or Dynamic AF with five selectable focus areas. Choose Single Servo AF with focus priority or Continuous Servo AF with release-priority. And there's focus tracking that is automatically activated when the subject moves. For the purist or those shooting stationary subjects you'll probably use the manual focus mode. The supplied Nikon DP-30 prism finder offers 100% frame coverage and includes the EC-B focusing screen and is interchangeable with twelve other screens.
The DCS 760 is not designed as a sports camera but it does have the ability to capture images at 1.5 frames per second up to a depth of 24 frames thanks to a generous 256MB RAM buffer. Burst recording options are CS (Continuous Silent), CL (Continuous Low) and CH (Continuous High), all rated at 1.5fps. Shutter speeds are 30 seconds to 1/8000 in 1/3- stop increments plus a Bulb setting. ISO equivalent sensitivity is user selectable between 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320 and 400. The camera produces its best images when kept at ISO 80 to 160, the higher speeds produce varying amounts of noise as is expected. Image noise can be made manageable by using the DCS Photo Desk noise reduction options or by using a PhotoShop filter like Quantum Mechanic, my personal favorite. As mentioned, the DCS 760 comes out of the box with a removable, low-pass infrared filter mounted in front of the imager. This can be swapped out for a high quality anti-aliasing (AA) filter which virtually eliminates the occurrence of moir� patterns in textured areas. The use of the AA filter will require post-processing sharpening even when the sharpening option has been enabled in the camera. Here again, Quantum Mechanic is the best image sharpening tool as DCS Photo Desk sharpens like a sledge hammer drives a nail.
The DCS 760 processes its images incredibly fast thanks to a newly designed Digital Signal Processor (DSP). The DSP handles the image processing and frees the camera's main CPU to do other things. One of the things it can do is process JPEG images in-camera but this feature is not currently enabled in the firmware. Consider that the DCS 760 is capable of processing its raw files (4-8MB) and writing them to the storage media in about 2-3 seconds. Rob Galbraith calls it "wicked-fast" and has timed the write speed to a 1GB Microdrive at about 3MB/second! Other high-speed media like Lexar's 10X and 12X Pro Series CF cards come in at close to 2.1MB/second. Rob also stated that the DCS 760 supports the new FAT32 file structure which means it will be totally compatible with the multi-gigabyte CF and PC cards due out on the market very soon. I will admit to never having hooked up the DCS 760 to a FireWire port personally but Rob did and he stated that even on his Mac G3/400 he saw a transfer rate of just over 5MB/second. He also agrees with Kodak who indicated that the DCS 760's shutter lag is now equal to that of the Nikon D1 (or a stock F5 film camera).
The overall user (digital) interface of the DCS 760 has been greatly improved since we last reviewed the DCS 620x. The color LCD is bigger and brighter and the way you move through the menus or image previews is much easier and quicker now. Viewing a captured image on the LCD still leaves a lot to be desired, the Nikon D1 or Canon D30 gives a much truer to life color representation. I found that the DCS 760's LCD often showed an image as over-saturated to the extreme but thankfully it wasn't really captured that way. Image review can be fit to screen or magnified 1:3 or 1:1, when magnified you can scroll around inside of the enlarged image. Kodak goes beyond the normal histogram with its Luminometer feature. It displays the brightness of the area under the cross hairs (2% to 180%) and the brightness relative to middle grey in stops from -3 to +3.25. It takes a while to grasp what all of this information is telling you but once you do "get it," you can produce perfect exposures, one after another.
The bottom line. Many of us wondered if Kodak was going to slowly disappear from the professional digital camera business now that Canon and Nikon are making their own. The DCS 760 says that for the time being the answer is NO, Kodak is not going to quit. Kodak has ceased its efforts in the Canon-body market to concentrate its efforts on building the best possible camera around a Nikon chassis. The pro shooters using Canon EF lenses will have to wait on Canon to release the new EOS-1D pro digital. Nikon AF lens users now have several ways to go, with the leaner Nikon D1X, the faster Nikon D1H or with the higher resolution Kodak DCS 760. As with all major purchase decisions it is best to look at all the alternatives before making the jump. Thankfully that "jump" now costs less than $10,000 with the prices of the pro digital cameras tumbling in the last year, but it's still a lot of money when compared to their film counterparts. It's an absolute pleasure scrolling around inside of a 6-megapixel image from the DCS 760 and seeing the amount of detail that it is capable of capturing. Kodak has produced an excellent camera that will allow you to create excellent (and big) images and prints.
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