Kodak DCS 760 - A Digital Nikon F5


My interest in retro digital cameras was sparked by a Nikon D1 I found last year. I have been looking for more ever since. This slightly newer Kodak (2001) appeared on the same auction site a few weeks ago so I snapped it up. The competition between Nikon and Kodak around these two models is very interesting, so this is nice part of the early-ish DSLR story.

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D lens

Plus vintage 35mm film canister for scale

(Taken with the Sony A9 + Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro)

With Kodak's digital camera systems (DCS) ending in 2005 there is an air of collectability to these old machines. Thus they are often not exactly "cheap" to buy these days, certainly not in this condition and with all the original working accessories. If you're looking for an old DSLR that just works, there are many cheaper, smaller & better models to choose from. The interest here is part nostalgia/historical, partly the pro film camera it uses and partly the thrill of getting it to work again. Going back this far with digital starts to get exponentially more problematic (which I will discuss in this review). Below I will discuss what it's like to use this thing in 2021, as well as try to imagine what it was like to use twenty years ago...

Kodak's Digital History

Steve Sasson invented the first digital camera in 1975, working for Kodak. While Kodak staff could see the future, management's vision was firmly locked into film. Kodak were happy to dip their toes into diversification with digital photography, but never fully committed to it. Their early digital sensor R&D jump started the industry, making them one of the bigger players in digital during the 90's.Kodak created technology patents, various compacts and even cameras for other companies (like Apple). For a decade Kodak's DCS range pretty much dominated the DSLR market by bolting on their cutting edge sensors to Nikon & Canon film SLR's.

 

In 1991 (after a few prototypes) Kodak entered the consumer market with the DCS 100; A Nikon F3 with a 1.3 megapixel sensor, priced at $30,000. They had little competition early on, but after a decade or so their R&D budget was dwarfed by Nikon, Canon, Fuji and Sony. Nothing exemplifies Kodak's dwindling dominance more than the DCS 760's competition in 2001, namely the Nikon D1X. Having superior sensors wasn't enough to win the race any more, they simply couldn't compete with purpose built DSLRs. Being overtaken by manufacturers who also made exceptional cameras was a deathblow to Kodak.

Initial Impressions

There's no escaping the heft of this machine. The DCS 760 was a big camera in 2001 and twenty years on it feels even bigger against mirrorless cameras. I was concerned about the weight and ergonomics, but they were not as bad as I had expected. The additions to the F5 design hamper its wonderful grip & feel. Perhaps surprisingly it's the thicker back was a bigger issue than the height. Several buttons are less comfortable than they used to be due to this. The thicker grip and higher weight make it feel easier to slip out of the hand, so there's a good reason why it has a hand grip. From a modern perspective; it's wonderful to have the Nikon F5 (with it's titanic shutter noise and removable prism) as a digital camera, even if it is the size of the moon!

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D lens

Specifcations

Below are the specifications that are written on the front of the DCS 760's box:

Features

  • Provides 6 million-pixel CCD - 3040 x 2008

  • 18 megabyte image file

  • 1.5 frames per second

  • Removable battery system

  • Larger and brighter color liquid crystal display with histogram

  • Supports almost all functions including all metering modes

Specifications

  • Image storage on removable storage card or RAM card (ATA-PC Card, up to Type III)

  • 36 Bit RGB (12 Bit/color)

  • 1.3x focal length magnification

  • IEEE 1394 interface

  • ISO equivalent 80-400

  • Burst depth up to 24 images

  • AC adapter/charger power requirement: 50-60 Hz 100-240V AC

Contents

  • KODAK PROFESSIONAL DCS 760 Digital Camera

  • KODAK DCS Photo Desk and DCS Camera Manager Software on CD

  • AC adapter for camera

  • AC adapter for battery charger

  • External battery charger, 12V DC adapter Cable

  • One set of  universal plugs for external battery Charger and AC adapter

  • DCS 760 Series User's Guide on CD

  • IEEE 1394 Cable

  • Neck strap

  • One Ni-MH battery included

System Requirements (Windows)

  • Windows 98 SE, WIndows 2000, Windows ME or Windows NT 4.0 system software with Pentium II Processor minimum

  • 128MB RAM

  • 100MB minimum (200MB recommended) free hard disk space

System Requirements (Mac)

  • Macintosh OS 8.6 or later system software with Power PC Processor minimum

  • 128MB RAM

  • 100MB minimum (200MB recommended) free hard disk space

Some fun things to note:

  • The 18MB files are for TIFF

  • Uncompressed 12bit RAWs are around 7MB

  • Converting RAWs to lossless DNG - around 2.5MB

  • The burst speed of 1.5fps was unimpressive even in 2001

  • Your phone is probably several hundred times faster, bigger & more efficient than the PC system requirements

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D lens

Body Design

The Nikon D1 was a sleek digital design that was mostly inspired by the F100, but this Kodak DCS is built around an actual Nikon F5 (with the markings to prove it. At the time this made the camera huge and it struggled against the dedicated digital bodies. Two decades on it's a bit of a different story. The F5 is much nicer, prettier & cooler camera (subjective I know) so to be able to use that in digital form now is pretty spectacular! The massive additional bottom to the camera houses the battery and dual memory cards, while moving some of the buttons and dials from the F5 further down to help ergonomics (somewhat). Pretty much any lens will send it over the 2KG mark, so it's a heavy beast and being quite a lot thicker than the F5 (to house the sensor electronics behind the film plane) the grip is not as sure. It is helped by the rubber mouldings and hand strap that Kodak have added, but it suffers understandably here.

The thicker grip also pushes some of the buttons away from where they used to sit comfortably to your thumb, like the AF and rear dial, so I tend to favour not using these by leaving focus on the shutter and having the camera in aperture priority. As a primary camera of the time this would be more annoying, but while I play with the camera it's less bothersome.

Most of the other buttons that Kodak added to the back of the camera I don't care too much about. They look rather lost and somewhat randomly placed on that huge slab, but they work pretty well and don't require a manual to understand. I don't use most of these functions often. This is also true for the main screen but it's nice to know that it's there. After using the Minolta RD 175 I realize that there are some times where you just need a rear screen on a DSLR. This screen is decent. The viewing angles are a little difficult to see from above, but it's fairly responsive. I liked that if you have it on when shooting it just shows the next shot when it can. The secondary LCD is much more useful, it displays:

  • ISO

  • Battery life

  • Remaining images

  • Bracketing info

  • Flash info

Note the "In Cooperation With Nikon" logo at the bottom. The first commercial Kodak DCS camera used the Nikon F3 were purchased through a dealer and without Nikon's knowledge. 

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D lens

Competition

The following Digital SLRs in green were available to buy when the Kodak launched in July. The models in red came out before the end of the year (2001):

Camera         |     Res     |   Crop     Burst      Price

  • Fuji S1 Pro 

  • Canon D30 

  • Nikon D1H 

  • Canon 1D 

  • Nikon D1X 

  • Kodak 760 

3mp

3.1mp

2.4mp

4.5mp

5.4mp

6mp

1.5x

1.6x

1.5x

1.3x

1.5x

1.3x

1.5fps

3fps

5fps

8fps

3fps

1.5fps

$3000

$3000

$4500

$6500

$6000

$8000

Let's ignore the first two for now. These were smaller, cheaper, less professional models with lower resolution. I wanted to include them here just illustrate the state of the market. These were still perfectly capable cameras that I will try to get hold of and review at some point.

 

This leaves pretty much only the Nikon D1X as a competitor (for a few months). Although the Kodak had slightly more pixels than the D1X the Nikon could interpolate its resolution up to 10mp quite successfully, due to it's odd, rectangular-shaped photosites. Plus, according to DPReview, the Nikon also had the edge with noise, dynamic range and colour accuracy. Combine this with its lower price, significantly smaller and more ergonomic body and it's easy to see why the Nikon was a more compelling package for many professional photographers of the time.

 

Moving forward a few months; The Kodak DCS 760 and the Canon 1D both used a slightly bigger APS-H sensor. Being somewhere in between APS-C and full frame. This gave a 24mm lens the field of view of a 31mm (instead of the 36-38mm of APS-C). The size, weight, grip and cost of the Kodak made it difficult to justify against the dedicated DSLRs of the period. Although the Kodak's combination of high resolution and a larger sensor helped to justify its price tag for a while longer. The wider angle lenses and shallower depth of field was probably its main selling point. This sways me more in 2021 than it would have done 20 years ago, however. As mirrorless shows now, smaller purpose build DSLRs were showing Kodak back in 2001 than smaller cameras are simply more desirable.

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D lens

Image Quality

The resolution of this camera seems surprisingly usable today (in my opinion). In a time when 24 megapixels is considered to be average, 6mp can sound pretty low, but unless you crop considerably the overall image viewed on a monitor or printed can be very decent indeed. The lens you use is still the most important factor. When shooting shallow depth of field lenses and comparing to a similar lens on a 24mp full frame sensor the results were surprisingly similar unless really zooming in. That was pretty shocking, even to me, but of course this will be somewhat subjective.

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D lens

 

The blue channel noise is notoriously bad on these Kodak sensors, but having read that in reviews before looking at the images I had honestly expected worse. The dynamic range was pretty much what I expected. I had to go back to old methods of under-exposing by 2/3 of a stop since the shadow retrieval still offers you a better chance of recovering an image than the highlights do. Again for a 20 year old digital camera I was expecting this to be more problematic, but it was usable.

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 pre-AF Micro

Colours

Although I could open the Kodak files in Adobe Camera RAW, the default camera profile for the Kodak there was very inaccurate. I am thankful that it works here at all, but I had to try and fix it. Reds and greens seem poisoned by radioactive yellows (see below). No matter what I did with the white balance, the images managed to look both too warm and cold at the same time. Checking the samples on DPReview showed that this didn't used to be the case, so in theory this was fixable?

 

I tried shooting my cheap colour chart and auto calibrating it through the "Adobe DNG Profile Editor" but unfortunately it did not work. I tried manually calibrating it there, but the results were not great. I wasn't sure whether this was due to the camera being so old or the chart being cheap and faded. I decided to bite the bullet and buy a proper "X-Rite Color Checker Passport" and thankfully it worked perfectly on the profile editor's auto settings...

Colour Calibration.jpg

 

If you're looking for a free solution to opening these raw files I highly recommend RawTherapee. The colours there were a little muted, but still pretty good straight out of the box. I'm just so used to Photoshop and ACR that I am happy to have found a solution to the camera profiles over there. If you're in the same boat drop me a message and I will send you the profile.

 

Software

My image viewer (FastStone), which usually opens every image format under the sun does not recognize the Kodak's raw files. They do open in Adobe Photoshop (and Lightroom, since they're the same), but as mentioned above the default camera profile is pretty bad, so if you don't want to fiddle with making your own profile I recommend using the free RawTherapee (for Windows, Mac and Linux). I did manage to track down Kodak's original software ("Photo Desk" and "Camera Manager"), but no matter what I did with Windows compatibility options they simply crashed running them on Windows 10. You could try tracking down an equally vintage computer for the true retro digital experience, but this is beyond my level of geekery. 

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 AF-D lens

Focusing

The focusing system of the DCS 760 uses the existing internals of the F5, which makes sense. The F5's (Multi-CAM 1300) focusing system was extremely well regarded at the time. These days it's just ok. Nothing fancy, but it's fast enough with screw driven AF lenses and it works in pretty dark conditions. Nikon didn't update this AF system until the D2H in 2004, so it's nice to know that it was still cutting edge for a few more years, even if the F5 itself was 6 years old at the time. You get 5 focus points, with only the center one being a cross type sensor. Personally, I like to frame my subject using the middle point and re-frame, but the only odd thing compared to modern cameras there is that the focus points are very large and difficult to know quite what you're focusing on.

Bokeh Panoramas

This technique involves shooting multiple images on a fast portrait lens and stitching them together to emulate the extreme subject isolation of some large format photography. I started shooting this technique on a DSLR (Nikon D3), in 2009, so I thought why not try it on an even older and larger camera. I remembered this being harder to shoot on a DSLR (compared to mirrorless) and I was not wrong. Getting the rotation axis and frame overlap correct is tricky when you can's see what you're shooting, but luckily I can do most of this from muscle memory, so it wasn't as bad as it will be for someone new to the technique.

This is extra nice to do on a crop camera because you can emulate photography on a much larger sensor, and/or an impossibly fast wide angle lens. In modern cameras this works well to give extra value to cheaper cameras, but here it works just as well now.

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Stitched from 36 images, using the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D AF lens

Full Frame Equivalent = 27mm f/0.44

Even now I downscale my resolution to 6mp files for this technique anyway, so this is a capable camera for the technique in that regard, but what about the other aspects you need to shoot?... The buffer size is not bad for a 2001 DSLR and just about enough to get by here. I tend to shoot between 20-40 images for these on full frame, so ideally 50-60 would be nice here and I do run into buffer issues when I try this, but it's not too bad. 

The continuous shooting speed (or burst speed) of 1.5fps is roughly how fast I shoot when using this technique, so it's fine. For the time I can imagine this being a little disappointing for sports or wildlife given its price. The Nikon D1x being twice as fast for less money and only a few months later the Nikon D100 matching the D1X's speed with an actual 6mp sensor for only 1/4 of the cost shows the Kodak to be significantly behind the curve. Interestingly the DCS 760's main dial has the same options as the Nikon F5:

  • CH - Continuous High

  • CL - Continuous Low

  • CS - Continuous Silent

Where these would options provide 8fps, 3fps & 1fps respectively on the F5, they unfortunately and rather oddly all work at 1.5fps on the DCS 760. I can imagine this leading questions like: "why wouldn't I always shoot in silent mode?", to which I'm not sure what the answer would be. I can tell you that silent mode isn't really that quiet, it just sounds different, but perhaps I am spoiled by being used to the Sony A9.

Going back to cameras of the time; The bigger and faster buffer of the Canon 1D, which also had an APS-H sensor, (at the end of 2001) would have been a much nicer experience for this technique, albeit at a slightly lower resolution. If I can get my hands on that camera I will enjoy trying this, as I still have a couple of fast Canon EF mount lenses.

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Stitched from 27 images, using the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D AF lens

Full Frame Equivalent = 34mm f/0.57

 

Lenses

The DCS 760 behaves pretty much like a Nikon F5 does in this regard, but there are a few things to note here. The 1.3x crop being the main difference. This is not as intrusive as the 1.5x crop that Nikon settled with. Having no crop would be nicer, but I understand it was hard to do at the time, so I appreciate this being slightly less handicapped. A common argument at the time was that the crop would remove the usually poor performing parts of the lens. This kind of made sense on paper, but from a modern perspective, where we deal with much higher resolutions and people still love old lenses on full frame, I'm not convinced that it makes sense in practice. Fast lenses are good because they're fast, so losing a stop of depth of field destroyed a lot of the effect. Even at six megapixels I can see some nasty issues with "good" lenses of the time.

Although the "G-type" AF-S lenses do work here I much prefer using the screw driven AF-D lenses on this camera. The focus points are large and clumsy compared t modern cameras, so I felt the noisy feedback you get from the older lenses helped to confirm the lens was acting correctly. Too many times the AF-S lens would shift out of focus without me noticing.

As nice as it is to see an optical view of the world it's not as easy to use as modern electronic viewfinders. Not only to i miss not being able to see the world exposed correctly and with a set white balance, but there are no levels, histogram or focus aids here. You expect all this going back to a DSLR of course, but perhaps the biggest issue I found was that you can't see the true depth of field below f/2.5. Most of the samples you see in this review are shot at f/1.4 (I like shallow depth of field), but you have to hope and pray that the depth of field looks correct, because you can't see it through the optical viewfinder.

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-S lens

 

Electronics

The correct date/time settings can no longer be set in the camera due to the range being between 1990-2020. If they only had a span of 30 years I wish it could have at least started in 2000, but Kodak never intended their cameras to be used 20 years later... damn! Oddly if you don't set the date it will be displayed as 18th of May, 2101 (100 years after launch?). Most likely the date/time will be lost if you just bought a DCS 760 (due to the internal battery being depleted). It usually demands to be set before you start shooting, but this can be skipped by pressing the "OK" button. Note: plugging in the camera to the wall (AC) can recharge the internal battery, although there's no guarantee how long this will last when unplugged.

The DCS 760 has a setting in the menu for shutter actuations, which is a feature sadly lacking from cameras today. This camera's shutter had been fired 11,500 times, which is pretty low for a twenty year old professional digital camera and illustrates one of the reasons that this one is in such good condition.

Going through the camera menus will be a weird experience from the perspective of current camera technology. There's not a lot in there. Many things are pretty basic, but some options will seem a little strange. Click here to look through the 270 page user guide

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 AF-D lens

Memory

The DCS 760 has dual memory card slots. It's not the first Kodak to offer this feature, but for proper DSLRs of the time it was an advanced feature, although as far as I can tell from the user guide this was not for simultaneous writing (backup), but overspill. Nikon didn't feature dual memory cards in their cameras for another 6 years.

 

From my limited experience the DCS 760 can be a little finicky with memory cards, but nothing like as bad as some earlier DSLRs, I'm looking at you Minolta RD 175. I tried two CF cards, one older (slow) Sandisk 512MB & a newer 2GB Sandisk Exreme III. Initially inserting them into the camera brought up a "no supported memory card found" message. I tried connecting them to my Windows laptop and formatting them in various ways, but initially had no luck. After I formatted them in the Nikon D1 (and they worked fine there) they could then be recognised in the Kodak. I could then format them and found that a full format (rather than quick) seemed to make them more reliable (no read errors). I also found a 16GB card somewhere, so will do more testing and report back soon...

One interesting thing that it says in the user guide regarding memory cards is that you don't need to turn the camera off to take the memory cards in or out. That's a rather shocking statement considering that today you not only should turn your camera off, but also make sure that the light has gone off. I don't know if this means they were any more reliable, because they certainly don't seem to be.

 

Battery

The original batteries for these Kodak's will most likely no longer hold a charge or more commonly won't charge at all. There are some people who've managed to resurrect them by using a 9v battery to jump start the voltage enough for the charger to at least try to charge them, but even if that works it likely won't hold a charge well.

 

Luckily there are new 3rd party options easily found on Ebay (for about $20-30). The battery indicator for the camera unfortunately only has two bars. By the time mine went down to a single bar I had messed around with the camera settings for about 5 minutes, formatted three CF cards and taken 200 photos. With battery life seemingly somewhere in between a low to mid performing modern mirrorless cameras it is at least reasonable. Compared to the Nikon D1's 40-100 shots I'm going to call that a win.

 

Speaking of the Nikon D1 and batteries, that camera suffers from an annoying problem where if you switch off the camera quickly after taking a shot (while it's writing the buffer to the CF card) it just deletes the image/s. I'm happy to report that it does not happen on the Kodak DCS 760 however, big yay!

Charger

There were originally two chargers in the box. One to power the camera directly from a wall outlet and the other to charge the batteries. Original or 3rd party battery chargers rarely come up for sale on their own, so try to make sure you get a working one with your camera if you want to use it. Both battery charges I have seen have two slots and can charge both batteries simultaneously, which is pretty useful given how long the batteries last.

Buying

It seems to be quite easy to find a Kodak DCS 760 second hand, Ebay has a few. Prices ranged from $400-800, although there was one that had allegedly been up on a NASA shutter that was a few thousand dollars. Some were in good physical condition, some advertised a few technical issues, but some were missing critical components, like the battery charger. These cameras are generally valued as collectibles as they're an interesting piece of digital camera history. It's nice to have these in working condition, but the chances of getting them working diminishes all the time.

 

If you want to buy a camera to use there are much better options out there. Purely as a collectible this still seems a bit expensive considering the older Nikon D1 (first true DSLR) can be found for much less. What seems to add value to this is that it's a real Nikon F5 underneath (which I totally understand) and the Kodak name, since their camera division was closed soon after this (2004).

Condition

These expensive pro camera bodies were often bought by companies and used by press, so it's common for them to well used. Fortunately they were built like tanks, so a bit of surface wear is not going to affect their operation. That's not to say that they won't have issues however. Several listings on Ebay mention a laundry list of quirks, seemingly due to degraded electronics (see below).

After seeing a few of these cameras available for sale on Ebay, it seems that I was very lucky with the condition and included accessories of this one. It's not perfect, there are some scratches on the rear LCD and paint wear on the base and memory/battery door, but much of the rest is near mint condition, even the box. The fact that it came with both chargers was very much appreciated since they're not easy to find individually and of course nobody makes them any more. I did have 3 original Kodak batteries in the box too, but none of those were in a state to charge. Luckily 3rd party ones are still easy to find on Ebay. 

Final Thoughts

I have absolutely loved playing with this old beast of a camera. Unlike the Nikon D1 I could 99% live with the results from this camera, although if you're comparing it to the D1X (of the same period) I understand that the choice gets much tougher. For me, having a digital camera, bolted on to an actual Nikon F5 in 2001 has been glorious! Some collectors will enjoy the challenge of getting these old cameras working, but if you just want yours to work then try to make sure there is a charger included when you buy.

 

I doubt that I will use the Kodak DCS 760 too often, since it will turn heads as much as carrying it around will hurt my wrist, but I will definitely take it out of the display cabinet from time to time. Picking it up always puts a smile on my face!. This experience has given me a new perspective on the history of digital cameras. I have been adding to this review for a few weeks now and that will continue for a while as I get more time outside with this awesome camera. Like the Nikon D1, it has inspired me to keep looking for more early DSLRs so that I can keep writing these reviews.

 

UPDATE: I have already found my next subject for this project - The Minolta RD 175, from 1995, so watch this space...

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Kodak DCS 760 & Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AF-D lens

(Taken with the Sony A9 + Sigma DG DN 85/1.4 ART)

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