Somewhat awkward handling; protruding LCD interferes with viewfinder use; start-up and calibration delays impede action shooting; color-aliasing artifacts require postprocessing.
The Bottom Line
Despite some ergonomic and performance drawbacks, this dSLR offers outstanding resolution to portrait, school, commercial, and architectural photographers who own Nikon F-mount lenses.
Review summary The Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n is an improved version of the earlier DCS Pro 14n, the company's Nikon F-mount digital SLR with a 13.5-megapixel CMOS sensor that's the size of the 35mm film format (24x36mm). The SLR/n uses a redesigned version of that sensor, which achieves higher ISO sensitivities and produces less image noise than its predecessor. But the SLR/n, like the 14n before it, is a sluggish performer that's best suited to relatively static applications such as commercial, portrait, or architectural photography.
For the DCS Pro SLR/n, Kodak made essentially no changes to the DCS Pro 14n's design, and that's not great news. The camera comprises subassemblies made in Japan by Nikon and electronics (including the sensor), power circuitry, and a black magnesium outer shell installed by Kodak in Rochester, New York. The result feels fairly sturdy and weighs a relatively modest two pounds with battery and media installed, but it handles somewhat awkwardly. Most irritating is the protruding LCD, which makes it nearly impossible to get either eye snug against the viewfinder.
The top-mounted mode dial gives you access to exposure modes, ISO settings, and autofocus-point selection.
Control placement, which is similar to that of Nikon's N80 and D100, is generally sensible, if a bit cramped. But we don't like having exposure modes, ISO settings, and autofocus-area options on the same dial.
The top status LCD keeps you apprised of current camera settings.
A second status LCD on the back of the camera shows digital parameters.
You access the camera's functions mainly by operating command dials with your right thumb and forefinger, and you navigate the well-labeled and responsive LCD menus with a four-way controller on the back. There's also a second shutter release for vertical position shooting, as well as an orientation sensor that tags vertical images so that Kodak's Photo Desk software can automatically rotate them.
The control to the right of the viewfinder lets you select a metering mode and lock exposure and focus. The four-way controller below is for navigating menus and cycling through images in Review mode.
Dedicated controls to the left of the viewfinder provide access to autobracketing and flash settings, while buttons near the main LCD let you choose image-review and menu options.
The most important new feature on the Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n is the reduction in image noise of its improved sensor and the expanded light sensitivity range that's correlated with it. In its normal operating modes, you can set the camera for sensitivities from ISO 160 to ISO 1,600, though you can shoot in only raw format above ISO 800. There's also a special long-exposure mode that functions at sensitivities as low as ISO 6. (The 14n's sensitivity range at full resolution is ISO 6 to ISO 400.) In a program unique to the industry, Kodak is offering a $1,495 upgrade for the 14n that installs the new sensor, giving owners of the earlier model the same image quality and sensitivity range as the SLR/n. See the Kodak Web site for details.
You can save photos on CompactFlash, SD/MMC, or Microdrive media with the SLR/n.
In other ways, the SLR/n retains the 14n's mix of midlevel camera specifications and innovative digital features. Almost any Nikon F-mount lens made in the past 25 years will work on the SLR/n. All functions are available when you use autofocus lenses, but some limitations apply with manual-focus optics. Because the CMOS sensor measures 24mm by 36mm, lenses produce the same angle of view as they do on 35mm-film cameras, a big benefit for wide-angle shooters.
Exposure controls include all four main modes, compensation to plus or minus 3EV in half-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. White-balance options include auto, four presets, and as many as 10 saved custom settings, which you create by measuring a neutral patch in a captured image using a moveable eyedropper on the LCD.
The SLR/n retains all of the innovative digital features that we liked in the 14n. You can save images in raw or JPEG format, or both simultaneously, and in the latter mode you can set the resolutions of the two formats independently. You can also vary the raw resolution (13.5, 6, or 3.4 megapixels) or use Kodak's excellent ERI-JPEG format. ERI stands for extended range imaging, and this format offers some of the exposure and white-balance flexibility of raw while retaining the smaller file sizes and nearly universal compatibility of JPEG. For converting raw files, Kodak provides a free, downloadable application called Photo Desk, a fairly powerful processing program with good batch features for efficient handling of multiple photos. Kodak has a well-established history of continually upgrading Photo Desk, as well as the firmware of the company's pro cameras.
The SLR/n'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 or run the camera on AC power with the included adapter. And finally, you can upgrade the SLR/n to incorporate a PocketWizard digital radio transceiver for wireless control of strobes and other compatible equipment, and you can control the camera itself from a computer with Kodak's DCS Camera Manager software. With the exception of battery life, the Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n's midlevel performance is changed little from the 14n's, meaning that it's adequate for typical studio and commercial photography jobs but not for action shooting. Start-up takes slightly more than 5 seconds, and the camera pauses for 7 to 8 seconds to recalibrate itself when you cross certain thresholds (namely, ISO 400 and ISO 800) while changing sensitivity.
A 512MB buffer is standard on the SLR/n, and it allows you to take 18 or 19 JPEG or raw files at 1.8fps before the camera pauses. In single-shot mode, there is no shot-to-shot delay. The camera's midlevel AF system is reasonably fast and decisive in good light or bad but no match for the best pro sports cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D Mark II or the Nikon D2H. With autofocus, using a high-contrast target and a standard AF-Nikkor lens, we recorded a shutter delay of about 0.3 second, and it's about 0.1 second using manual focus.
The viewfinder shows roughly 92 percent of the actual scene, but its large image (35mm-film format size) makes for easier composing and manual focusing than you'll find on smaller-sensor digital SLRs. The 2-inch LCD is sharp and clear even in daylight. In playback, there is a slight delay while the camera renders raw images before you can zoom and scroll for close inspection.
The flash-synchronization speed of 1/125 second is fine for the studio. However, it may force you to use narrow apertures in many outdoor fill-flash situations, a problem exacerbated by the camera's minimum ISO setting of 160 in standard shooting modes. Only Nikon's DX-series shoe-mount flashes enable the SLR/n's through-the-lens (TTL) flash exposure system; all other external flashes function in regular auto mode. The small built-in flash, which has a guide number of 56 feet at ISO 200, is handy for short distances and fill flash.
We got 445 shots from a single charge of the lithium-ion battery, more than twice the life we recorded for the 14n.
When we tested the Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n, we found its pictures to be superbly detailed and relatively noise-free at ISO 80 but quite noisy at higher ISO settings. The SLR/n uses a tweaked version of the 14n's 13.5-megapixel CMOS sensor, and its chief virtue is lower noise at all ISO values with no sacrifice in sharpness or detail. Our test shots at ISO 160 are at least as smooth and clean as ISO 80 shots from the 14n, and we found noise to be tolerable (read: curable) in properly exposed shots at settings as high as ISO 400. Mainly, this makes the SLR/n better suited to wedding and candid event shooting than its predecessor was.
For studio, commercial, landscape, and architectural photographers, that is, those for whom using ISO 80 is not a problem, there isn't as big a practical improvement. The new sensor, like the old version, lacks an antialiasing filter, so it's still prone to moiré and color aliasing. These artifacts can largely be eliminated with a moderate amount of postprocessing, which we find mostly tolerable but that others might not. Artifacts aside, few other current dSLRs can match the SLR/n's ability to resolve fine detail.
In the unique long-exposure mode that we mentioned earlier, the camera can use shutter speeds as slow as 30 seconds at sensitivities as low as ISO 6. This mode works by aggregating a series of half-second exposures, and it produced remarkably clean images.