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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)

Key Specifiations

Sensor:

Resolution:

Burst:

DR Stops:

Sync:

SS:

AF points:

Video:

Live-View:

ISO:

OVF:

LCD:

Memory:

Weight:

Battery:

APS-H CCD

6mp

1.6ps / 24 RAW

7.94 (12bit)

1/250th

30s - 1/8,000th

5 (5%)

No

No

80 - 400

0.8x / 100%

2.0" / 921k / Fixed

PCMCIA (x2)

1860g

400 (CIPA)

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!

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.

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 also have this camera you can download the profiles that I made here.

 

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.

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