Another interesting Sunday that makes me think we haven't come as far as we think...

 Drying dishes in the kitchen the night after the party.

I've owned a Kodak DCS 760 since they were introduced back in 2001.  Or was it 2002?  No matter, it's a camera I've always enjoyed using if for no other reason that it was built on the chasis of the Nikon F5 and had, at the time, the best viewfinder, shutter and overall mechanical operation of any camera in the early part of the century.  I also shot a bunch of memorable ad campaigns with it.  It got a lot of use because one of the things Kodak did very well was the implementation of tethered shooting with Photo Desk software.

The camera is quite beefy at almost five pounds with a 50mm lens on the front.  Over time the inconveniences of using the camera became apparent in light of new competition.  The Nikon D100 was smaller and lighter.  The D1x shot faster.  The screens on the backs of newer cameras got bigger and better.  But I think the thing that finally got my pair of DCS 760's consigned to the "C" drawer of the equipment toolkit was the batteries.  The camera originally launched with NiCad batteries that had all the usual NiCad bugaboos.  The batteries, when new, were good for about 125 actuations.  Additionally, as long as the battery was inserted into the slot on the camera body the camera suck down power.  Even with the power switch firmly set to "off".   As the batteries aged they were good for fewer and fewer shots per charge.  Finally, when we got down to 20 or so shots per charge the camera was relegated to shooting only in the studio and only when cabled to the AC adapter.  Why bother to keep them for so long?  Well, there were sharper and the color bit depth was nicer than any of the six megapixel cameras Nikon had on the market over the years.  Finally Nikon introduced the D2x and I put the Kodak's away.

Every once in a while, in a fit of nostalgia, I'd do a big internet search for new batteries.  But the few times I found suppliers the batteries were in the $149 price range and when I inquired they were invariably out of stock.  Eventually I dumped most of my Nikon stuff and started up an "on again/off again" relationship with Olympus.  Then, realizing that I could be married to more than one camera system I also added the Canon stuff.  Now were shooting with 21 megapixels or shooting with cameras that fit in my palm and take older Pen lenses.  But I never got over my infatuation with the Kodaks.  And every once in a while I'd come across a photo from those cameras that was......perfect.  Technically as good as the stuff I produce today (within the resolution limits) and with a color palette that's enchanting.

I guess I'll open myself up to a little ridicule and say that they were the first digital cameras I used that really had "soul".  A feeling of ergonomic complicity.  Files that went beyond my one dimensional intentionality and worked on many levels.

So a week ago I came across another one of those (wow) photos and I did another web search.  But it started and ended at Amazon, my online vendor of choice.  A vendor offered brand new metal nickel hydride batteries for $49 each.  I ordered two.  They came quickly and I charged them up.  Today was my first opportunity to put them to the test.

Flowers from Leslie.

So I clicked the 50mm Nikkor 1.1.2 AIS lens on the front and, after a few shots around the house I headed downtown to get in a nice walk and a wine tasting at Whole Foods.  I brought both batteries, fully charged, anticipating the same kind of performance I'd gotten from 760 type batteries in the past.  I shot over 225 images with the first battery and it's still reading a full charge!!!  I feel liberated.

In case you're thinking about running out and buying a DCS 760 for yourself let me arm you with a few caveats.  Mind you, these are things I'm willing to work around because I've worked with much tougher cameras and I don't presume they'll make French toast for you and also clean up the kitchen for you......

The screen on the back is as close to non-functional as you can imagine.  I use it only to set menu items and make sure that the whole system is still working.  There's no way you could use that screen to judge exposure.  And you'd be foolish to even think about judging color on it.  It's dark, it's horribly contrasty and three or four colors have over the top saturation problems.

I do what photographers have done for over a century.  I look at the light and guesstimate and exposure. I'm usually pretty close but even if I'm up to one full stop over this camera's raw files make short work of it.  They have latitude that makes some current cameras seem like three stop toys.  I drag the slider back in Lightroom (which does a superb job on conversions from the DCR files) and I'm right back into the sweet spot.  Just don't under expose!!!!  That's a problem.  The blue channel gets very noisy if you have to push the pixels......

My biggest caveat for you is this:  Be careful shooting this camera.  When you see the "Kodak" color and the sharpness of a camera with NO anti-aliasing filter you'll never want to go back.  Seriously.  The color is just so good.  It was the first series of cameras to supply color into 16 bit channels.  Not the 14 or 12 bit color of today's cameras.  We're talking "Holy Grail" color.  And, within the six megapixel resolution, the sharpest camera ever created.  It spanks the Nikons and the Fujis and especially any of the six megapixel Canons out there.  If you use one you'll start trying to convince clients to work with smaller files and smaller final image sizes just because it's so nice.

But not everyone is into just sharp if they can have sharp and resolution.  And I see the point every time I go big.  But if you go by the older standards of viewing distance the DCS 760 acquits itself well at enormous sizes.  There's something about sharp edges that transcends a lot of foibles in the quest for big prints.

Most clients are looking for web stuff.  If we only shot brightly lit scenes and in the studio we'd be able to please all but the most pretentious clients with this technology from nearly a decade ago.  But here's where my argument all falls apart:  Imagine a camera with only two ISO settings.  Imagine you have ISO 80 and, in a pinch, you can also use ISO 100.  There are ISO's all the way up to 400 but for the most part, unless you are going for a paean to Pointillists you'll want to stick to the bottom of the scale.  And that won't be fun for everyone who's been spoiled by the high ISO performance of Canon and Nikon's better cameras.  I'll face it, this camera makes my Olympus EPL-1 (at less than $500) look like a low light champ.

I also wanted to talk for a second about the reason I still have a few Nikon lenses even though I'm mostly shooting with a Canon 5D Mk2.  For some reason Canon is really good at everything but fast normal focal length lenses.  I'm sure they'll fix this deficiency at some point but I've shot with their 50mm 1.4 and their 1.8 (the "Nifty Fifty")  and, to be frank, I'm wholly underwhelmed.  So much so that I even went out and got my own Carl Zeiss ZE 50mm 1.4.  But after looking at results from the Nikon AIS 50mm 1.1.2 lens I think I've wasted some more money.  The Nikon is better wide open, better stopped down and better built than any of the Canon offerings.  (Yes.  That includes the 50mm 1.2 L which is overbuilt mechanically and under executed optically. If you gave me one I'd get my money back and buy the Nikon or the Zeiss 50mm macro.......)

All of the images I'm showing here were done with the Nikon lens.  And the results please me as much as when I use the Nikon lens on my Canon 5D.  What I like most about the Nikon 1.1.2 is the way it goes from wide open to 5.6 and the only thing that really changes is the depth of field.  The Canons are almost unusable wide open.  And really, that's a shame.  There are reasons, sometimes, to cherry pick the best from multiple vendors.....

I'm not writing this to push you to buy an old, rugged Kodak camera.  I guess my real intention is to make you think about the treasures you may have relegated to the equipment cabinet that may just need a new set of batteries.  If you've got an old Canon 1DS or a Nikon D1x or a Fuji Sx you might want to pull it out and re-evaluate it.  If you kept it around you probably know that there are some special attributes that attracted you to the camera in the first place.  Now that raw converters have become much better you might want to re-audition the older cameras just to see if they have some attribute that really makes them stand out.  In a good way.  Example:  I love the way the old Kodaks do sky.  Lovely blue and the contrast comes from being able to hold vast amounts of detail in the shadows.

There's a touch of magenta in these late afternoon clouds.  Do you know why?  Because it's late afternoon and there's a touch of magenta in these clouds.  I'm shooting a job later in the week with a famous computer CEO.  For that one I'll use the Canon 5D2 and the latest flash equipment.  For my own art?  Right now it's a toss up between the two Kodaks (DCS 760 and SLR/n) and the Sony R1.  Let me know which cameras from days gone by you think have a bit of magic in them.  There's bound to be dozens I haven't played with yet and I'd hate to miss something good.

Site Note:  I'd like to get to 500 followers.  It's an ego thing.  It looks good on the sidebar.  If you subscribe and you like what I write would you consider becoming a follower.  It's more fun for me if I can look you up and see what you're all about, too.  End of message.  I hope you're having a hell of a good holiday and not going anywhere without some kind of cool camera.

Best, Kirk


Robert said...

Done, I'm no longer stalking you I'm following you from out in the open.

Mel said...

I check your site everyday but hadn't set up to follow until now - my bad, not as socially media savvy as I probably need to be.

Fun post about the Kodak. One of the first digital prints I saw was from that camera and I was astounded at the color and look of the image. Pity the company didn't push harder to hold market share.

Kurt Shoens said...

I still have my original digital camera. It was surprisingly sophisticated (and surprisingly expensive) for its day. If one's willing to squeeze the pixels until they scream in Photoshop, you can actually get a good picture from it. Otherwise, the colors are a thin gruel from the midtones to the highlights.

My reclaimed photo tool from ten years ago is color slide film. I figured slides would have the same sensitivity to overexposure as digital without the ability to check the blinkies. I recently took a portrait of a friend's father on slides (I figured they'd like an old school version) and was stuck with the rest of the roll. While it took time to overcome my reluctance, I was pleased with the results. That's my photographic thrill rescued from the past.

I know you're no fan of Photoshop sorcery, but if you have underexposed Kodak pictures with noisy skies, there are some easily executed remedies.

I can become a follower, but you're not going to make us shave our heads and call us space monkeys like in Fight Club, right?

obakesan said...


I'm glad to see that others are also seeing that the current set of "advances" is often not any real advance. I find that using RAW files from my ancient 10D that while they do not contain the sheer detail that the Panasonic G1 does that the noise levels are actually significantly better. I used some tools to dissect the data in a RAW file and found some interesting things:


The data points for R G and B started to record shadow details in quite different areas on my G1 sensor but all started together on the 10D (more or less) and bunched up differently at the "clipping" end of hilight.

this makes me think (with my signal processing hat on) that the cleaner the data you start with the cleaner the image you make.

The fact that the Kodak you have produces full 16 bit files (and not munged down to 12 or 14 bit ones) will be a significant step in the direction of better "Expose to the Right" ... then the lack of AA filter will give you better signal to noise ratio as the AA filter also blocks some light to the sensor. Put a clear bit of glass on your desktop scanner and see the difference either side of the sheet.

So I agree; they're making them smaller, lighter and cheaper but perhaps not better in the ways it counts.

did you ever catch this article:

Greg said...

Kirk, I've had similar experience with Leica R9 with DMR digital back and 50mm Summicron. I was totally blown out by its colours, sharpness and overall natural feel of the image that in my view is in the same league with your Kodak DCS 760. Coincidentally, the Leica DMR back also features a Kodak CCD sensor albeit a 10MP one. Same story. No AA filter, great dynamic range, sharpness and colours.

I've also had in my possession a Nikkor 50/1.2 and like you I feel it's one of the very best SLR lenses out there. I sold it with my D700 but the only reason was that I don't shoot with a (D)SLR system anymore. I switched to Leica M9 which gives me the same kind of experience image-wise that is discussed in this topic. So, I had no body to attach my favourite 50mm to, otherwise I would've certainly kept it. Great lens, one of the best I've ever come across.

I don't know how to become your 'follower' since I don't use the Facebook. I guess, I'm already your follower, as I read very attentively what you publish here and try to implement some of your ideas about life and photography in my own life and photography. So, count me in, anyway!


Sloan said...

Followed, your part of my morning reading every day. I started watching your blag when you were the only real user with a solid impression of the 35-100f2 when i was drooling over that lens. I've stuck since your content makes me smile and you keep convincing me to go out and shoot. I almost bought an old 14n in china but it had dead lines. I'll have to go back and look for one soon. I really loved my sd14 for low ISO work (when it didn't crash) but the high ISO of my A900 has spoiled me. I was using 3 brands when i bought the camera but the flexibility of the new sensor and SSS makes it hard to play with anything else. However there is a used g1 in a window I pass by every few days that might just follow me home soon. Keep up the good work!

jaime fanlo said...

One more follower as requested. I live in the philippines, and we dont have much here in the way of usable old cameras. It could be the extreme humidity, coupled with various social factors which make such items rather inaccessible.

But I will definitely keep an eye out just to experience first hand what you are talking about.

all the best!

Dave Elfering Photography said...

Kirk after 5 years of being a pilgrim in the digital (marketing) wars, I find so much common sense in your articles and books. There is a disregard for the previous camera technology, which to some degree I understand. But as the sensors reach the 16 to 20 megapixel range I think it exposes the industry as pushing progress purely for the sake of progress (and marketing of course). I keep reading snippits about "clipped highlights" in some of the new products and I think it shows that marketing has pushes the available tech beyond its comfort zone.

And there are a preponderance of online digital apologists who have a vested interest in technological cavitation.

Columns like this are refreshing. I won't go out to search for one of these Kodaks, though if I found one languishing somewhere I'd be awfully tempted. The point is finding tools that mesh with both the tactile senses, in being fun to use, and allow inner creativity to bubble to the surface.

Having said all that I think I'll go mount a 300mm, f/2.8 image stabilized lens on a 20 megapixel camera and take pictures of ducks in my local park. Followed by hours of brickwall photography, a few charts and an cavalcade of Internet forum postings :)

organicdev said...

Those colors _are_ ridiculously good, especially the skies.

Re: colors and Obakesan's comment, I'd like to second that. There is a lot of discussion of specs say in forums at DPreview but a lot is just concentrating on the easily measured parameters. I was following discussions on the new Olympus E-5 and while it doesn't "win" on data for most specs against comparable offerings - DxO numbers mediocre - I did notice that Olympus improved the consistency between color channels by a large margin compared to their previous DSLRs. And anecdotal color reproduction reputation of Olympus was already good.

But judging color is hard and subjective and color is hard to brag with in the same way as noise figures, DR or or lines of resolution. So besides Olympus' subjective reputation in the color area, the issue of good balance and good color generally goes completely unnoticed as a serious issue. When I see your skies here I weep - I am totally envious. I own a G1 now, after a D70, and both have nothing much to write home about in terms of skies. Before those of course I used slide film on Contax/Zeiss, but ah well. Times gone.

Frank said...

Is it really 16 bit? Dpreview says 12 bit A/D conversion .. Hey, I don't know .. :)

Hugh said...

I've recently put a 50mm Leica Summicron on my 5Dii.

A real pleasure using a manual focus lens again; I'm shooting it wide open all the time, and the (Black and White) shots come straight out of DPP looking as good as Canon 50mm shots I've spent a long time working on.

Some major compromises have been made with lens design to allow autofocus operation.

kirk tuck said...

Hugh, It's interesting that you make that point. Many people think it's the fact that older primes are primes that makes them so much better than all the recent lenses but I think the reality is that designing a lens with lightweight groups for fast focus is most probably a big compromise of quality. I find some of the ancient Nikon zooms like the e series 75-150 and the oldest 80-200 f4.5 are remarkably good. Sharp is one thing. Good is another. That may be the subject of a whole new post.

Frank, I'm going by what one of the Kodak engineers who worked on the DCS product line told me directly. I"m not sure DPreview is always 100% accurate........

Thanks to all for "following".

Broch said...

I'm still loving my Nikon D70s after all of these years. Even though I now have a D7000 in the fold, I still grab my D70s all of the time. There is just something about it that I can't let go of.

Tyson Habein said...

Hey Kirk, I've been reading for many a day at this point but always via Google reader. I clicked the follow button just to please.

I find that while I love the newer digital cameras, the lenses that I'm using are getting older and older. I've ended up getting a few cameras from far before I was born out of the deal and love shooting with them for a different viewpoint.

My current fixations are old Pentax lenses (50 1.4, 135 2.5 etc.) and some old oddball Russian items, i.e. the Industar 50-2 pancake lens. I love the feel of that mounted on a dslr.

Dave Elfering Photography said...

Have you tried the 75-150 on your E-P2? I love that lens and though focus is tricky, it even works great on my E-P1 (the EVF on the E-P2 would help). Lovely color/contrast and it is optically very very close to my esteemed 80-200mm af-s.

The sharpest lens I've ever used is the Nikon 55mm f/3.5 that I bought for $50. That also works quite well on my Oly.

Sorry for multiple posts, you hit a sweet spot of mine by mentioning the 75-150. That was the zoom I took to China when the bag got too heavy.

kirk tuck said...

Dave, Ditto on the old Micro Nikkor. I have one sitting in the studio with a Canon adapter ring on it. I also shoot it on the Pen.

You are also right about weight. Too many people ignore handling and fatigue issues when buying lenses. I had a Canon 70-200 2.8 but traded it in for the f4 just because of the weight. I never miss the extra stop.

I also think it's easier for lens designers to get slower lenses to be sharper. With fewer product to product variations. Just my prejudice.

Greg said...

I loved my Micro Nikkor 55/3.5 back in my Nikon days. Incredibly sharp lens. The same goes for Voigtlander APO Lanthar 90/3.5.

kirk tuck said...

Thanks to everyone for clicking on the follow button (wherever it is....) we've now crested the 500 person mark. I appreciate knowing you are there.

Alex Solla said...

Sure, now you're going for the 1000 followers mark. Pretty soon this will be an offical endeavour and then what??


Back to the topic at hand...

I love seeing the images that you are able to pull off your old Kodak. I have an Olympus 5050Z that I loved and abused for years. I thought I died and went to heaven when I bought my D80,... then I compared the images. The Oly was kinder to the color. More range in the flesh tones, shadows didnt clip as fast. On the other hand, skies just went pale and flashed out of existance. Real pity. Now my daughter shoots with it, (when she cant get her hands on the d80!).

Matt Ballard said...

Great article Kirk! I still have a soft spot for my Nikon D70 bodies although I sold them years ago.

theduckwasblind said...

Just as I realized what magical light I could capture with my forgotten 50mm f1.8 on my nikon D2H, it (camera and lens) got stolen. As I look for a new digital camera I wonder why all the camera makers just add on more and more features instead of simply doing some of the things capable of delivering outstanding image quality such as mentioned here like removing the AA filter and increasing bit depth for better color. I imagine there are other things that could be done to improve image quality instead of adding things like video. In the mean time as I look (and save) I'm getting to know my old mamiya m645 better and have been having fun doing so. The 80mm f2.8 is amazingly sharp beautiful wide open.

Jessica said...

Guess I'll follow too. I'd like to have 500 followers, but I don't think just asking nicely in one blog post would do it for me.

Hope your ego is enjoying it. :-)

kirk tuck said...

Hi Jessica, It's tough being a crusty, old photographer. All the ego boosting is medicinal. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Regularly read your blog, but I'm too old (literally or metaphorically) to list myself as a follower. I'm no luddite, but all this social network/24-seven-365 connection makes me think of Orwell's 1984 (which I always thought was about the corporation as much as the government) ... Not to at all in any suggest that you are part of some mind control effort! ... But, really, you've got an excellent blog and I'll keep reading anonymously (unless you're tracking my IP address :-))!!

J. R. said...

Kirk, remember that the earliest Olympus DLSR's used Kodak sensors. I have two E-1's and an Evolt 300 and their colors are fantastic! (the sky colors too) I'm investing in some higher end Olympus glass soon and can't wait to see the results. You might want to try an E-1 sometime. Built like a tank. They can be had now for around $200!

Cat said...

You did it!--519 followers as of this morning.

The early Olympus DSLRs (2000-2006) used Kodak sensors, too, and were known for their great color. I have a couple of them that I still bring out on occasion. Fortunately they used batteries that are still made which is more than I can say for my old OM cameras.

kirk tuck said...

J.R. Thanks for writing. You might not know this but I have a number of Oly cameras including a brace of e-1's and e300's. As you say, the colors are incredible. The Kodak sensors were vastly under appreciated....

J. R. said...

Kirk, Any opinion on the old Kodak DSLR's with a Canon EF mount? Do they have the same picture and color quality? I would probably buy one IF i could find one, as I also have have several Canon EF lenses.

cidereye said...

Nice article, thanks Kirk! Far too many out there that buy into the "newer must be better" hype so it's refreshing to talk against the grain and argue against such talk.

I've made a backwards step myself and gone back to a D2X, just love the jpeg files it produces and strong contrast/colour and all for a peanuts price too. After trading in a pile of all but useless junk the camera was almost free and I'm loving every minute of it. No video, no geo tagging, no "creative" filters, just good old plain photographs!

Alex said...

Already following and thoroughly enjoying your blog, Kirk.

Wonderful colours on these photos! It's a shame Kodad doesn't make DSLRs anymore, just ordinary point & shoots. A few years ago, they had a remarkable P&S Kodak P880 with an excellent 24-140 Schneider lens, but discontinued it and never used that lens again.

Speaking of old tech magic, I recently bought a 7 or 8 year old Sigma SD9. It is by far the worst camera I ever used, but its early Foveon sensor is a gem!

Some full size examples here:

The only thing I don't like about SD9 images is a yellowish tint on skin tones, which makes it not good for portraits... I mean for Caucasians :)


And of course, it's only 3.5 megapixels.