Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


 

Kodak DCS 760 Experience Report

A review by Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo

Also photos by Bettina Steinmueller

 

Last Updated (07/20/2001)

 
Review methodology (or lack of :-)) here.
 
Here you find the popular digital SLRs compared
 
Sample Portfolio : these are large files (JPG 10 in Photoshop) and use sRGB profiles. If you want to judge color you need a calibrated monitor.
 
Introduction
 

When we last year reviewed the DCS 660 there were the following issues which made this camera not really a fit for most nature photographers:

  • Price (about $15,000)
  • maximum of ISO 200
 

Now the improved version the DCS 760 is a more serious competitor:

  • Price about $7,000 street price (SW included, AA filter about $800 extra)
  • maximum of ISO 400
 
What stayed the same is the weight and the size. But as it fits into my Lowepro Naturetrecker and we also use a harness construction to hold the camera weight and size is not a major issue for us.
 

Harness for the D1/DCS 760

 
Getting Started
 
The DCS 760 we got came installed with the AA (Anti Alias) filter which prevents moires and aliasing but also cost some sharpness. Our first test phase included about 300 photos of our most important subjects: flowers, birds and travel photos. Unfortunately we won't have the camera anymore for our trip next month to the Eastern Sierra (Yosemite, Bodie, Mammoth. Mono Lake)
 

Ristorante in Los Gatos (ISO 160)

 
We got very sharp photos if we used the "medium" sharp setting in Photo Desk. Also the noise was quite reasonable up to about ISO 200 and also ISO 320 can be used if you except some more noise in the dark areas of the photo. We did not use the noise removal from Photo Desk but experimented with Quantum Mechanic Pro (the de facto standard for noise removal and Kodak DCS cameras).
 
We plan to do some prints to see how much the noise is visible in larger sizes. Very often noise visible on the screen does not show up that much in prints especially if you have such large files as the 760 delivers.
 
Size Matters
 
The 6 MP resolution of the 760 really matters. You get the feeling of much more "substantial" files.
 

Canada Goose Chick (ISO 250)

 
For example if you view this little chick you have more the impression of the real bird than with photos of lower resolution (surfaces are so much smoother). You get the best impression looking at the larger sample photos.
 
Smoothness/Sharpness
 
For many only sharpness of images count. I think higher resolution delivers a smoothness which is more important than pure sharpness for nature photos. Here an example: I took a digital video of a Koala in SF zoo. Then I converted it to VHS and all the soft beauty of the Koala was gone. The pictures did not recreate the emotions we had at the zoo. Later on a digital VCR the same film showed more of the soft fur and the emotions came back.
 

Windows in Los Gatos (ISO 160)

 
The 760 only provides one "daylight" WB (white balance) setting. The method for the D1 is much more helpful as it supports: sun, overcast, shadow and each with 7 subsettings. It would not be necessary to have these options in the camera as long as the software would better assist setting the right WB. Yes, custom WB and photographing a gray card is the right way to go but not very practicable outdoors (600mm lens, Blue Heron in sun light and the photographer in the shadow). Also there is often no neutral gray (or white) in nature photos. About the software "Photo Desk" later.
 
Pure pleasure is the write speed to the Microdrive (we used the 1 GB version). It takes about 4-5 seconds per file (5-6MB compressed RAW with a DCR suffix). With the D1 we often have to wait up to a minute flushing the buffer.
 
Color
 
The color is actually good but getting the right WB is not trivial at all
 

At Villa Filoli (DCS 760, ISO 200, AF 105 f/2.8 Micro)

 

Same flower with the D1 and converted with Bibble (ISO 200, AF 105 f/2.8 Micro)

 
Here we show the same flower photographed with the D1 and the 760 (both equipped with an AF 105 f/2.8 Micro). We think that D1/Bibble colors are closer to reality. Changing WB with Bibble is excellent and exactly as it should be. I also included the D1 photo with the sample portfolio that you can compare D1 and 760 files. We used only the "Product" look in Photo Desk (some extra saturation) but experimenting with the "Portrait" look might be worth while.
 
High ISO
 
For wildlife (e.g.. birds) we often need ISO 400 and even ISO 800 would be even better. The D1 delivers ok ISO 400 photos while the ISO 800 setting produces quite some noise. The 760 already shows severe noise at ISO 400 so that we did not try to push it further.
 

Black Necked Stilt at Baylands (ISO 250)

 
Kodak Photo Desk
 

I know many photographers praise the Kodak digital camera software. For the Windows version of Photo Desk I cannot see why. This is not the software which is par to the DCS 760 camera. Again: I only know and use the Windows version, the Mac version might be perfect.

Here is why:

  • No support for monitor profiles (today Nikon Capture, Bibble and Qimage support monitor profiles). This means that you cannot see the correct (profiled) color of the photos in the preview window.
  • The files are saved in DCSRGB which has about the same gamut as sRGB but uses the standard Mac gamma of 1.8. The Windows helpfile does not document this fact and does neither mention "DCSRGB" not the word "profile". Thanks to Rob Galbraith for telling us that the used profile is not sRGB.
  • The output TIF and JPG files are not tagged with a proper profile (in this case sRGB). I believe that the color of the camera might be better if Kodak would provide support for better profiles (like Adobe RGB)
  • There should be support for different flavors of daylight WB as the function "click white" often does not work with nature photos (missing neutral gray).
  • Photo Desk does not show some histogram which would be helpful to adjust the exposure compensation (which is a very good feature by itself).

On the positive side the software allows a pretty fast and easy conversion of many selected files in batch mode. I use it to produce smaller JPGs for preview.

 
In short this software is not of the same class as the camera it supports. We believe that Kodak will work on these issues.
 

Art Garden in Villa Filoli (ISO 200 + added saturation)

 
Dust
 

As with the D1 also the DCS 760 has it's dust issues. But the main difference is that Kodak supports a cleaning method by the user: using Sensor Swabs. Although removing the small screws of the AA/IR filter made me a bit nervous. From the manual: "Be careful that the screws do not fall into the camera as they can cause damage."

Cleaning the CCD by the user is an important advantage of the 760 over the Nikon D1 where cleaning often requires sending the camera in for service.

 
06/06/2001 Using the IR filter
 

Grebes with Chicks (ISO 320)

 
Using the IR filter instead of the AA filter gets you much sharper images. As expected there is some aliasing visible. The Photo Desk setting "Noise Reduction" takes care of it. From our first impressions we get the feeling that the IR filter is a better choice for nature photographs than the AA filter. The above photo (Grebes with their 1-2 day old chicks) is a crop (1532x1128). This photo is also available in full size as part of the sample portfolio.
 
For the rest of our review sessions we will only use the IR filter installed.
 
06/09/2001 DCS 760 Flower Portfolio
 
We had a new session at Villa Filoli and this time the IR filter was installed. Have a look at our results.
 
06/15/2001 A note on 760 vs. D1 Resolution
 
Here you can find a review note about the 760/D1 resolution,
 
06/16/2001 Final Review Portfolio
 
This portfolio shows a collection of photos we like. We did not have so many good results with a review camera in such a short time frame before.
 
Conclusion
 

The DCS 760 delivers high resolution files with really good color. We prefer to use the 760 with the IR filter installed, as the 760 delivers very sharp images this way (only your lens is the limit).

Working with the the IR filter installed introduces aliasing noise which can be reduced using Photo Desk or Quantum Mechanic Pro. In some cases color moires are also visible (some cure is discussed here). After using the 760 for about two week we are not anymore afraid of these noise artifacts as this noise can be reduced by using Photo Desk or other tools down to a level that it is no problem for high quality prints in the area of artistic outdoor photography.

If an image has deep shadows some noise is clearly visible even at the ISO 160 level. Noise level gets stronger above ISO 200.

The software needs some improvements (Windows).

 
For us the 760 is clearly a serious candidate to be our next generation camera.
 
Here is our final DCS 760 portfolio.
 
Notes
 
  1. Kodak did not update the manual that it reflects the latest Nikkor lenses. I think it does not show one of my AF-S lenses and not the 80-400 VR. All these lenses work to our knowledge.
  2. The crop tool in the Photo Desk SW (on Windows) is very difficult to handle as sometimes the selection hangs.
  3. TIF files seem to be saved in Mac byte order on Windows machines (don't know whether this matters, but have never seen this before). But it illustrates that Kodak is more oriented to the Mac.
 
You can order the DCS 760 here
 
 
Other reviews: Rob Galbraith's DCS 760 review
 
 
 
 

 

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