When Kodak announced the DCS Pro 14n digital SLR (dSLR), we had trouble deciding what was most exciting about it: the 13.7-megapixel effective resolution, the 36mm-by-24mm sensor (the area is essentially the same as a 35mm-film frame's), or the sub-$5,000 street price. Offering those specs at such a low price did require some compromises, however. Many of the 14n's components are from an amateur Nikon body, and the CMOS sensor suffers from poor high-ISO performance and a tendency to produce artifacts, though those are usually correctable. The end result is a pro camera that can--under the right circumstances--deliver superbly detailed images to portrait, school, commercial, and architectural photographers who own Nikon F-mount lenses.
In an unusual cooperative effort, Nikon Japan builds many of the 14n's subassemblies and delivers them to Rochester, New York, where Kodak adds the sensor, the other digital components, and a black outer shell of magnesium alloy. The result weighs a relatively modest two pounds without a battery or media, but it looks and handles a bit like Frankenstein's camera: it's both bottom-heavy and left-weighted, making for a slightly insecure grip if you don't use the included hand strap, which we dislike. The broad base is, however, a wonderfully stable platform for tripod mounting--the best we've seen on a 35mm-style model. Unfortunately, that doesn't compensate for the irritating main LCD on the back, which protrudes so far that getting either eye snug against the viewfinder eyepiece is nearly impossible.
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The dial on the left side is for changing exposure, autofocus, and white-balance modes.
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The main status LCD shows current settings, and buttons conveniently placed near the shutter release let you quickly apply exposure and flash compensation.
The 14n's overall construction feels solid but is not quite equal to that of top-tier pro dSLRs such as Canon's EOS 1D and 1Ds or Nikon's D1 series. Control placement is similar to that of Nikon's N80 and . The layout is generally sensible though cramped in places, especially the viewfinder diopter adjustment. And we don't like having exposure modes, ISO settings, and autofocus-area options on the same dial.
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With these controls on the back, you can select a metering mode, lock exposure and focus, and navigate the LCD menus.
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Autobracketing, flash, menu, and playback controls fall on the left side of the camera back.
You access the functions mainly by operating command dials with your right thumb and forefinger, and you navigate the well-labeled and responsive LCD menus using a four-way controller on the back. A second shutter release on the lower-right corner is for vertically oriented shooting.
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Dual media slots offer CompactFlash, Microdrive, and SD/MMC compatibility. You can even save JPEG images to one card and RAW files to the other in RAW+JPEG mode.
The 14n's slightly odd feature set mixes midlevel specifications with innovative, flexible digital capabilities. Exposure controls include all four main modes, compensation to plus or minus 3EV in 1/2-step increments, and three light-metering systems: 3D Matrix, center-weighted, and 1 percent spot. As with most professional digital cameras, you can check exposures with the review mode's histogram.
Almost any Nikon F-mount lens made in the past 25 years will work on the 14n. All the functions are available when you use autofocus lenses, but some limitations apply with manual-focus optics. Because the CMOS sensor measures 24mm by 36mm, the lenses produce the same angle of view as they do on 35mm-film cameras, a big benefit for wide-angle shooters.
For white balance, there are 5 presets, as well as Kelvin temperature selections. You can also save up to 10 custom settings, which you create by measuring a neutral patch in a captured image with a movable eyedropper on the LCD.
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The secondary status LCD on the lower rear provides explanations of many features and quick access to selected settings.
The 14n can save images as RAW or JPEG files, or in both formats simultaneously. In an unusual twist, the camera lets you shoot RAW files at three different resolutions: 13.5, 6, or 3.4 megapixels. At the highest resolution, your light-sensitivity options range from ISO 80 to ISO 400, and you can go as high as ISO 800 at the two lower resolutions.
When you're in RAW+JPEG mode, you can set the resolutions of the two formats independently, so you can capture high-resolution RAW images along with low-resolution JPEG copies for quick browsing, sorting, or e-mailing. You can also record JPEG shots in Kodak's innovative and useful ERI-JPEG format; ERI stands for extended-range imaging. With the aid of a free Adobe Photoshop plug-in, ERI-JPEG offers some of the exposure and white-balance flexibility of RAW while retaining the smaller file sizes and nearly universal compatibility of JPEG. Kodak's free, downloadable Photo Desk is a fairly powerful RAW-processing program with good batch features for efficient handling of multiple photos. And Kodak appears committed to constantly upgrading Photo Desk and the 14n's firmware.
The 14n's feature set contains a few other miscellaneous bonuses, including an intervalometer shooting mode, a PC terminal for external flash units, and myriad custom settings for tailoring the camera's behavior to your style. You can also record sound annotations for captured photos. Finally, the 14n can run on AC power with the included adapter.
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Shooting mostly in RAW+JPEG mode, we got more than 180 shots per charge from the proprietary rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.
The 14n's performance reflects its midlevel heritage and Kodak's evident intention to target commercial photographers rather than action shooters. For instance, start-up takes about 5 seconds. And if the sensor's temperature changes radically, or if you cross certain thresholds (namely, ISO 160 and ISO 400) when changing sensitivity, the 14n will pause to recalibrate itself for 7 to 9 seconds--just enough time for the Loch Ness monster to slip beneath the waves.