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The DCS Pro 14n: worth the wait?
Monday, April 14, 2003 | by Rob Galbraith

It has been a rocky road for the DCS Pro 14n. Since the camera's announcement at Photokina in September 2002, Kodak has taken it on the chin for everything from shipping delays to image quality to the camera's warranty.

Kodak DCS Pro 14n

They've also had to cope with overheated expectations: 13.5 million pixel photos from a US$5000 digital SLR creates a lot of interest among professional photographers, especially the wedding/portrait/commercial crowd, and with such intense interest comes the hope that this will be THE digital camera for shooters married to a Nikon lens mount. Kodak themselves have fanned the flames on this one, describing the 14n in sales literature as "Quite likely the only camera you'll ever need" and "The new DCS Pro 14n digital camera. Negatives? There are none."

It was inevitable, however, that the camera itself couldn't live up to either photographers' supercharged expectations or Kodak hype. After all, the 14n is possibly the most ambitious undertaking for Kodak Professional's digital division since the original Kodak DCS 100 camera in the early 90's. A new body, a new price point, an extensive list of new digital features and, most significantly, a new sensor technology add up to a monumental engineering effort. Case in point: prior to the 14n, Kodak had a staff of two engineers developing the firmware for Kodak's entire line of DCS cameras. For the 14n, Kodak devoted three firmware engineers to the new camera exclusively. That's but one illustration of the size of the task the 14n represented to Kodak.

And the job is not yet over. Even with the camera shipping, Kodak continues to put the finishing touches on promised features, including the enabling of the MMC/SD slot, while also stomping out bugs, sprucing up the performance of FireWire transfer and more. I suspect that Kodak's trio of firmware coders will remained chained to their cubicles for awhile yet.

This report on the DCS Pro 14n, then, is a snapshot of the camera as it exists in its initial shipping form. The four bodies we've shot with over the past several weeks have been driven by different versions of firmware, including v4.1.2, the version you're most likely to see installed if you purchase this camera in the next short while. But, look for firmware updates for this camera to begin appearing on the Kodak web site before the ink on your sales receipt has dried. Kodak has long shipped cameras with stable but not-yet-complete firmware. The 14n is no exception.

It's important to look at the camera as a photographic tool to make pictures with, and we've done that in the preparation of this report. The bulk of these pages, however, hone in on 14n image quality, both on its own and in comparison to the Canon EOS-1Ds.

DCS Pro 14n, ISO 80, Custom WB

As you'll see, the 1Ds produces a better file in almost all respects. If you're considering a 14n, you'll have to decide whether the photos it captures are of sufficient quality for your use, if the type of conditions you shoot in are within the 14n's capabilities, and whether you're prepared to commit to this camera now in the hopes that Kodak will shore up the 14n in the areas in which it's lacking.

In its current incarnation, the 14n is by no means a slam-dunk, but nor is it without promise. Included are a selection of photographs taken with the 14n that are representative of what the camera can do today, so that you can be the ultimate judge of what's acceptable to you. We also offer up some predictions about what Kodak will and won't be able to improve through camera firmware and Photo Desk software updates in the months ahead.

But first, the camera.

Thanks to Steve Noble, Jay Kelbley, Rana Jaber-Ammouri, Darion Strong, Megan Somerville, Gerry Thomas, Mark Rutherford and Peter Jeune for their assistance in the preparation of this report.

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