Kodak's Canon Takes Aim...But does it hit the Mark II?
For the last 15 years Kodak has been a leader in the digital SLR race, with most of its top models produced in partnership with Nikon. But what if you're a Canon shooter with an arsenal of EF lenses who wants the outstanding image quality of the 13.5MP Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n (reviewed April 2004) but doesn't want to spend eight grand for the 11MP Canon EOS-1Ds? Now there's an alternative-Kodak's new 13.5MP DCS Pro SLR/c ($4,500 street).
This camera accepts nearly all Canon EF lenses, E-TTL Speedlite flash units, and various Canon accessories. And it has a flash sync that extends from 1/180 sec to 1/6000 sec when used in FP (Focal Plane) flash mode with compatible flash units. But there's no pop-up flash built into the SLR/c, a feature that's on the Pro SLR/n but few pro-level SLRs.
Canon also had nothing to do with this SLR's core design and construction (including the AF system, metering, and camera exposure controls). These were built by another manufacturer, and while Kodak remains silent on the identity of its partner, there are enough hints in the operation of the Pro SLR/c for us to confidently point toward Sigma. As for building an SLR that uses a Canon EF mount and Speedlite technology without tipping Canon off to its plans, Kodak has long-standing licenses with Canon for use of its technology.
So the Pro SLR/c is a megapixel medley, using Kodak imaging, storage, and power technology, Canon lens and flash technology, and Sigma AF, metering, and exposure technology.
A unique scenario that raises big questions: If you're a Canon pro shooter with a ton of EF lenses and flash units, and a budget below five grand, is the Kodak Pro SLR/cigma a better value than Canon's similarly priced 8.2MP EOS-1D Mark II (see Pop Photo May 2004)? Or if you're not locked into a legacy lens system and demand the image quality of a 13.5MP SLR, should you choose the Nikon-based Kodak Pro SLR/n? Let's take a closer look at the Pro SLR/c's features and handling.
For starters, the imaging heart of the Pro SLR/c is the same full-frame CMOS imaging sensor found in the Pro SLR/n. It captures a 13.5MP (4500x3000-pixel) image with 12 bits per color (RAW file), and has a base ISO of 160. In our image-quality tests, the Pro SLR/c performed almost identically to the Pro SLR/n: It captured images with excellent color accuracy and excellent resolution, as well as extremely low noise levels at ISO 160 to ISO 320. These results earn the Pro SLR/c an excellent image quality rating all the way up to ISO 320, where increased noise levels drop the rating to extremely high. Compared with the Canon EOS Mark II, which uses an 8.2MP sensor with a 1.3X 35mm lens factor, the Pro SLR/c captures noticeably sharper images with similarly excellent color accuracy. The Kodak boasts slightly lower noise levels at ISO 160-400, about the same as the Mark II at ISO 800, and worse at ISO 1250-1600.
How rugged is this camera and how does it handle? The SLR/c features a durable magnesium-alloy chassis that is similar to the original one designed by Kodak to protect the bottom and sides of the DCS Pro 14n SLR (see Pop Photo May 2003) and subsequent Pro SLR/n. But this one is taller and slightly fatter, making it less ergonomic and harder to hold than the Pro SLR/n.
The camera top is also rugged magnesium-alloy, but the controls located there have little in common with any Canon SLR, which may frustrate photographers used to the typical Canon setup. Most buttons are easy to find, however, with the majority placed on the top left side of the camera. On the top right side, you'll find an Exposure Mode Selector lever that rotates between manual, shutter- and aperture-priority, and programmed exposure modes.