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Kodak unveils DCS Pro 14n digital SLR  
Tuesday, September 24, 2002 | by
It's raining pixels! Slated to ship in mid-December, the Kodak DCS Pro 14n, announced today, joins the Canon EOS-1Ds in the double-digit megapixel SLR club. The new Kodak camera features a 35mm format-size CMOS sensor with 13.5 million actual image pixels in a Nikon-mount body that is trimmer than any previous Kodak digital SLR.


DCS Pro 14n

The DCS Pro 14n is aimed at quality-minded photographers who need big files from a digital SLR, but who are prepared to sacrifice some pro-level camera functionality in exchange for a slimmer and less expensive camera. At an expected street price of US$4000-4200, the DCS Pro 14n will almost certainly be a less expensive path to big, full frame files than the EOS-1Ds, which offers Canon's top-of-the-line camera performance in addition to lots of pixels. Kodak is clearly banking on the camera's comparatively low price, and standout collection of digital features, overshadowing the 14n's Nikon N80/F80 roots.

Update, December 18, 2002: The initial selling price for the DCS Pro 14n appears to be closer to US$4800-5000 from service-oriented, pro-friendly dealers in the US. This is higher than the US$4000-4200 expected street price predicted by Kodak Professional's Jay Kelbley in an interview prior to the camera's announcement, higher than the "estimated street price (of) near USD$4,000" stated in a September 24, 2002 Kodak press release and closer to the camera's US list price of US$4995 (the list price for Kodak digital SLR cameras has, in the past, almost always been higher than the typical selling price). The apparent change in pricing may have resulted, in part, from greater-than-expected demand for the camera, even before it ships, and it may also be because the dealer net - the price the dealer pays - is more than US$4000. Even with a price tag closer to US$5000, the 14n may well be a lot of camera for the money. But at least initially, the camera will sell in the US for several hundred dollars more than Kodak had suggested it would when the camera was unveiled in September.


DCS Pro 14n - rear view

This articles describes some of the key features of the DCS Pro 14n; a separate article introduces the EOS-1Ds.

Kodak DCS Pro Major Features

Major features of the DCS Pro 14n include:

  • A custom-built, ruggedized magnesium-frame body that draws heavily from the Nikon N80/F80, with parts such as the PC terminal, 10-pin remote terminal and rear 4-position navigation switch culled from Nikon's F100, F5 and D1-series cameras

  • Core camera capabilities and components that are the same as the Nikon N80/F80, including the Multi-CAM900 autofocus module, 10-segment 3D Matrix Metering, D-TTL flash metering, viewfinder, built-in flash, shutter and many camera controls

  • Automatic detection of when the camera is being shot vertically. The DCS Pro 14n tags both RAW and JPEG files to indicate orientation (horizontal, 90 degrees left, 90 degrees right). The camera also includes a vertical release

  • A 24mm x 36mm CMOS sensor that delivers 13.5 million pixel photos. The sensor's physical dimensions are identical to the 35mm film format, which means no focal length conversion math is required. Lenses will behave as they always have on 35mm film cameras

  • No optical low-pass filter/anti-aliasing filter

  • 12 bits per colour image capture

  • Variable resolution RAW format settings: full-resolution, about 6MP and about 3MP; DCS 14n RAW DCR files may be processed into any colour space using the upcoming Photo Desk 3.0 software

  • Faster JPEG processing than the DCS 760; in-camera ERI-JPEGs are EXIF 2.2-compatible and processed into the sRGB colour space only

  • Standard ISO range of 80-640 in 1/3 stop increments at the camera's highest resolution; 80-800 at lower resolution settings

  • A top shutter speed of 1/4,000; a top flash sync speed of 1/125 (flash sync can't be cheated upwards with non-dedicated strobes)

  • Shooting speed of 1.7 fps

  • A burst depth of 8 frames at highest resolution, upgradeable to 18 frames by taking the camera to a Kodak service facility

  • Full-compatibility with the D-TTL flash exposure modes of Nikon's DX-series Speedlites

  • Accepts a single CompactFlash Type I/II card (including the IBM Microdrive), and a single MMC/SD card, simultaneously. Camera can be configured to write, for example, RAW files to one card, JPEGs to the other, in sequence

  • Speedy FireWire: 12-14 MBps throughput is expected when transferring directly from the camera's memory to the computer; transferring photos stored on a card in the camera via FireWire will be substantially slower

  • 2 inch rear LCD monitor; Kelbley calls the new screen "gorgeous"

  • Revamped menu interface that features both basic and advanced modes, support for 8 languages, as well as context-sensitive help displayed on the LCD beneath the main monitor

  • Extensive white balance options, including Daylight, Tungsten, Flash and Fluorescent, with warm and cool overrides for the first three; Fluorescent overrides are tuned to different types of fluorescent illumination. In addition, users may dial in an exact colour temperature, in 100 Kelvin increments, through an unspecified range. Other options include Auto WB and Custom WB

  • Video out; NTSC and PAL. When set to NTSC, both the camera's monitor and external display can be active simultaneously

  • Rechargeable, removeable Lithium-Ion battery (performance specs have not been released)

  • Battery charger and AC adapter are a single unit; AC adapter connects to the camera via a dummy battery

  • Can be powered by the Digital Camera Battery; cable expected to be available at the time of the 14n's release

  • Comes with a 1 year warranty; Gold and Silver extended service packages available

  • Service of the entire DCS Pro 14n, both Kodak and Nikon portions of the camera, to be handled exclusively at Kodak service centres (US region; may not be true worldwide)

Feature Highlights

The sensor. It's CMOS, it's big, but the DCS Pro 14n's sensor is by no means a carbon copy of the full frame sensor in the EOS-1Ds. For starters, the pixel pitch is different. At 8.0 microns, pixels are smaller, and there are more of them, across the 14n sensor's 24mm x 36mm surface.

Plus, unlike all of Canon's digital SLR CMOS sensors, the Kodak sensor does not use microlens technology. This, says Kelbley, limits aberrations and other optical problems that stem from this large a sensor in a 35mm style body. Microlenses usually serve as a much-needed booster of light into the pixel; it's not clear to me why Kodak's CMOS sensor doesn't require them. But if it doesn't, that's fine by me.

And finally, the 14n's sensor, which Kodak developed in partnership with Belgian sensor manufacturer FillFactory, the same company that manufactures it for them, is not riding behind an optical low-pass filter. Artifacting and moiré are virtually eliminated in the new camera, promises Kelbley, just by virtue of the sheer number of pixels spread over a large imaging surface. Again, only actual DCS Pro 14n photos, which I have not seen, will confirm the wisdom of this design decision. It almost certainly means the 14n will produce photos with excellent detail, right up to the limits of the resolving power of the attached lens.

Variable resolution RAW. What a great idea. To quote the press release:

To achieve "true" RAW status for the lower resolution image files, the entire 13.9 mp resolution is read off the sensor at 12 bits dynamic range. Then a proprietary image-processing algorithm "interpolates and resamples" the high resolution into a lower resolution while keeping the 12-bit dynamic range. The resulting image is specially color encoded and losslessly compressed to reduce the file size. This technique achieves very high quality and low artifacts, while reducing the native resolution. The powerful DSP engine in the Pro 14n performs all this processing in-camera, so users can benefit from more images per storage card for assignments that do not require the highest resolution.

CompactFlash and MMC/SD. To keep camera size down and still offer two storage card slots, Kodak opted for two different media types, CompactFlash and MMC/SD. While this may have been a spacesaver, it also brings about an unwelcome hassle for photographers, forcing the purchase of two different media types to take advantage of the second slot. The 14n will, however, make good use of both slots. In typical Kodak fashion, the card slots can be exploited several different ways, including the writing of RAW DCR files to one card and JPEGs to the other.

Auto-orientation sensor. Finally. A digital SLR that knows whether it's shooting a horizontal or vertical picture. Thanks to a small gravity switch nestled in the base of the camera, the 14n can detect whether it's oriented horizontally, 90 degrees vertically left or 90 degrees vertically right. The resulting photos are tagged with this information, both RAW and JPEG, as the EXIF specification includes an orientation tag for this purpose. When read by the upcoming DCS Photo Desk 3.0, the pictures are automatically presented with their correct orientation. All except for pictures shot with the camera upside down, that is, which the 14n can't detect.


Kodak DCS Pro 14n Specifications

The table below lists key DCS Pro 14n specifications:

Resolution and CCD
Sensor type CMOS sensor w/RGB colour filter array
Sensor size 24mm x 36mm
Actual image pixels 13.5 million
Image dimensions (highest resolution) 4500 pixels x 3000 pixels
Pixel size 8.0 microns x 8.0 microns
Finished file size (highest resolution setting) •38.6MB, 8 bits per colour (in-camera JPEG)
•77.2MB, 16 bits per colour (processed from RAW .DCR)
Focal length conversion factor (relative to 35mm format) Approx 1.0x (no conversion required)
Low-pass filter included? No; not available as an option either
ISO range •80-640 in 1/3 stop increments
•80-800 at lower resolution settings
Shooting Speed
Maximum fps 1.7 fps
Burst depth 8 frames (upgradeable to 18 frames at a Kodak service centre)
Buffer size 256MB; 512MB after upgrading
Shutter lag - camera awake unknown
Shutter lag - camera asleep unknown
Top shutter speed 1/4000
Top flash sync speed (standard flash mode, dedicated flash) 1/125
AF System Nikon Multi-CAM900
Image Storage
Storage media •CompactFlash slot; compatible with CompactFlash Type I/II, including Microdrive
•MMC/SD slot
File formats RAW, ERI-JPEG
Support for FAT32 file system? Yes
Interface
Computer 400mbps FireWire
Voice annotation? Yes
Video out? Yes; NTSC and PAL
Exposure and Image Processing
Matrix metering? Yes; 10-segment 3D Matrix Metering
Flash metering D-TTL
WB settings •Daylight (+ warm/cool override)
•Flash (+ warm/cool override)
•Fluorescent (calibrated for three different types)
•Tungsten (+ warm/cool override)
•Custom WB
•Auto WB
•Set colour temperature in 100K increments
Colour space •JPEG; sRGB only
•RAW; user-selectable output colour space
Camera Body and Power Source
Dimensions (W x H x D) 131 x 158 x 89 mm / 5.2 x 6.2 x 3.5 inches
Weight 907 g / 32 oz., with battery
Battery Removable, rechargeable Lithium-Ion
Number of shots unknown

Conclusion

The DCS Pro 14n looks like an impressive new camera. While Canon might have expected to steal the show with the EOS-1Ds, it looks like it will have to share the limelight with this full-frame, high-resolution SLR from Kodak. The company is clearly targeting a larger professional and even advanced amateur audience with the 14n; I can't wait to see how the camera stacks up, in both image quality and usability, against the EOS-1Ds, when both cameras hit the market later this year.

The DCS Pro 14n is on display in the Kodak Professional booth at Photokina 2002.


The DCS Pro 14n at Photokina 2002 in Cologne, Germany (Photo: Stefan Sobotta)

Thanks to Jay Kelbley of Kodak Professional for his assistance in the preparation of this report.

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