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Kodak DCS Pro 14n

Review Date: Feb 22, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,500.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: There is no substitute for displacement, and the full-frame sensor makes existing wide-angles wide-angles. Good performance at 14MP, especially with the Adobe RAW converter; great performance at 6MP.
A little bit of noise in dark areas (firmware 4.4.3) and a small amount of moire in ultrafine detail, but nothing that you wouldn't be getting in film or with a film scan.

As a preliminary, I'd like to thank the people whose incessant internet complaints (even up to the latest firmware) made the demo so cheap at a local store that it ended up costing less than a used S2 or a new D100, neither of which are in the same class. So I don't have to write to justify a $3-5K purchase, but I do think that people have developed some unrealistic expectations.

I come from a film background, so you can take this review for what it's worth. The last time I checked, slapping the word "digital" on something does not change the laws of optics or the basic principles of photography.

First, it is hard as hell to make a 24x36mm sensor, so comparisons to teeny little APS sensors are completely inapposite. The manufacturing cost and difficulty is part of why this and the $8K Canon are not maintstream products. That said, the Kodak sensor (1st generation CMOS of this size) performs pretty well. I don't exactly see a flooded market with sensors this big - in fact, the only other product with a FF sensor costs $5,100 more than the Kodak costs today (Kodak costing $2,900 normally). The Canon, from what I understand, is not even a single chip - it's two stitched together.

Second, everything has noise. Film gets grainy in the shadow areas, and you usually correct this by knocking the shadows out of the finished print. This goes for film scanning -- and it may surprise some people to learn that every CCD or CMOS has noise too. It just seems that where Nikon, Fuji and Canon cut out the shadow detail before the RAW stage (leading to "black blacks"), where Kodak leaves it in. I think that if given a choice, I would rather keep the shadow detail and make any decision to axe it myself. The Adoba RAW importer and Photodesk can take care of this for you if you want the automation. If you shoot and process images the way you *see* them, rather than in some ideal world where all detail is visible all the time, the noise will seem like a lot smaller issue.

Third, people complain about the somewhat "washed out" look - this is because there is a bigger range compressed into the file - like printing on a very soft b/w paper. You can of course jack up the contrast later.

Fourth, the "magenta flare" is nothing new if you are used to film - you see edge flare in varying degrees anytime you have a bright area adjoining a dark one - any time you shoot into a light source. Digital doesn't really change the rules of optics, but Adobe Raw can help you compensate for some of them.

Finally, the chromatic aberration is incredibly well controlled, especially with the new software. Not using microlenses (as Canon does) cuts CA down in the Kodak; when you use Adobe Raw, you can get better chromatic aberration correction than the lenses were originally designed for (if you shoot wide open with wide angles on film, you will know exactly what I mean - by the time you hit the edges, you get color fringing).

In terms of overall positives, I think it's great that there's a machine that I can bolt my existing Nikon lenses onto, not have the lenses dumbed down by an antialiasing filter (only to artificially rehab them with unsharp masking) and that can capture a huge range and a 3" detail at half a mile away.

In terms of areas of improvement, (1) I would have gladly paid a lot more for an F5 or even F4 chassis; (2) it should come with 2 batteries; and (3) Kodak could have a bigger lens optimization database - or at least allow you to add your own lenses and have the camera retain the settings. Sure, and the sensor can have less noise.

Overall, I think that if you can get this camera for around $2-2.5K, and you stop worrying about everything you read on the Internet, you will have a good time and make great pictures.