Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n Review

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Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n

Steve's Conclusion

Please read the DCS Pro 14n review conclusion first, most of it is applicable to the SLR/n in respect to the overall camera performance, ergonomics and auto focus speed. Mostly what we will talk about here is the improvements made in image quality and ISO sensitivity in the new model.

The Kodak Professional SLR/n is physically identical to the Pro 14n except for the nameplate on the front and the addition of a red LED "busy light" in the CF card door on the back. The placement of controls and buttons is identical and so are some of the problems. I stated in the Pro 14n review conclusion that the design of the back of the camera was such that your nose tended to press the OK button when you looked through the viewfinder. It's still a problem so Kodak added a menu option to disable the OK button - problem solved but only by changing and re-changing menu settings. Many users will probably also find the eye level finder to be uncomfortably recessed in relation to the color LCD that "bulges" out from the back of the camera. I had to press my face too tightly to the camera (and often press the OK button) and then somewhat strain to line my eye up properly with the finder. Kodak needs to correct this if they continue using this same basic body design.

The Pro 14n came with a 256MB buffer and offered a 512MB buffer upgrade option. The Pro SLR/n comes with the larger 512MB buffer and can hold up to 19 full resolution RAW images. Kodak has improved the SLR/n's battery life by putting the camera's DSP electronics to "sleep" when not actively capturing images. The Pro 14n could drain a fully charged battery in less than a day if the camera was turned on - and we're not talking about taking pictures - just leaving it turned on. The SLR/n can now go about two weeks with the camera turned on and should be able to capture about 400 frames per fully charged battery. Working pros should still carry at least two spare batteries in their bag, you can't power the camera from any other internal source. It can be powered by the high-capacity external Digital Camera Battery which can also be used to power your Nikon speedlite too.

Myself and other reviewers were highly critical of the Pro 14n's image quality, aggressive noise reduction and limited ISO working range. These issues were all relative to the imager that Kodak chose for the Pro 14n. According to Jay Kelbley, Professional Digital Camera Manager for Kodak, the Pro SLR/n uses a new full-frame 24x36mm, CMOS sensor manufactured by FillFactory in Belgium (the same fab that produced the Pro 14n's sensor.) The physical size and effective pixel count is the same, but the new sensor uses High- Performance Low-Noise (HPLN) technology combined with an infrared absorption filter to improve the color accuracy and deliver cleaner (less noisy) images. The IR filter helps minimize magenta flaring on brightly-lit and high contrast subjects, this is more commonly known as Chromatic Aberration. As with all low-pass or IR filters there are tradeoffs to be made, in the SLR/n it means there's about 1/2 stop less of light getting to the imager. The base ISO of the Pro 14n was 80, with the new imager minus the effect of the IR filter, the SLR/n's base ISO is 160.

The new CMOS imager employs symmetric pixels versus asymmetric pixels on the older imager. This was done to ensure that the light coming in from the lens will land more evenly on the sensor's pixels. Uneven light distribution can cause a color shift from one side of the frame to the other and the amount of shift varies depending on the lens being used. The Pro 14n had menu settings for various lenses to help deal with this problem, the new sensor no longer requires this. The calibrated ISO range of 160 to 800 (in 1/3 stop increments) is available for shutter speeds of 1/2 second or faster. To achieve "cleaner" long exposures the lower calibrated ISO range of 6 to 50 (in full stop increments) is matched to shutter speeds from 2 to 60 seconds. When you select the "Longer Exposure" option in the menu you will be presented with the following sub-menu of choices:

Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n

If you're shooting in raw mode you can extend the ISO range from 800 to 1600 (in 1/3 stop increments). This extended range is not fully calibrated, even with the Advanced and Expert noise reduction filters in DCS Photo Desk many users will find the noise levels unacceptable at these speeds. Personally, I was satisfied with images taken at ISO speeds up to 400 when shot in raw mode and processed with DCS Photo Desk and Expert Noise Reduction. The Expert NR is automatically enabled for RAW files shot at ISO 400 or above and makes Chroma noise appear more as "film grain" according to Jay Kelbley. Even though the SLR/n can produce in- camera JPEG images, I still can't recommend them. No matter how accurately the exposure and white balance was set, I was consistently able to produce more color-accurate JPEGs from processed raw files. This is not the case with other competing high-end dSLRs, they make perfectly useable in-camera JPEGs.

There's no question that the SLR/n captures an amazing amount of image detail. Viewing one of its 4500 x 3000 pixel images on my 1024x768 screen took a long while to scroll from side to side and from top to bottom. The new sensor definitely produces better looking images than what we were able to coax out of the Pro 14n last year. There's still a fair amount of noise reduction "smoothing" noticeable in the SLR/n's images but nowhere near as much as the Pro 14n. I must point out that this noise reduction "smoothing" doesn't let the SLR/n record the same level of fine "hair detail" in portraits as the Canon 1Ds. The overall color rendition is very accurate and our test shots up to ISO 400 were acceptable for most "professional" requirements. Even shooting at wide angle and moderate telephoto there wasn't any more chromatic aberration (aka "purple fringing") visible than with any of the other dSLR cameras. As with the Pro 14n, the SLR/n is -not- a sports shooter's camera, it's just not fast enough in either framerate or focusing speed. And even though the imager noise has been reduced and longer shutter speeds are possible, this isn't a low-light shooter's camera either. The current crop of Canon and Nikon dSLRs can easily capture exceptionally clean 30-second images at ISO 100 and higher. The final criticism is the need to post-process the RAW images, Kodak's software is capable but rather slow and tedious. If you have the time to manipulate all of your pictures then OK, if you need JPEGs right out of the camera -- look elsewhere. The SLR/n does offer incredible resolution and accurate color and it's about $3,000 less expensive then the only other full-frame dSLR camera currently available.

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