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Professional Digital Cameras

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In the past, professional digital cameras have worn price tags comparable to those of a BMW or Mercedes Benz. They were targeted at users who require high image quality, such as pre-press, advertising, graphic arts, and commercial photographers.

With the introduction of the Nikon D1X and the Kodak Professional DCS 760, priced at $5,500 and $7,000, respectively, professional-level digital photography is now accessible to a wider audience, and improved features on these cameras gives them added appeal.

Built on Success

The Kodak DCS 760, built on a Nikon F5 body, uses Kodak's six-megapixel CCD, previously used in the deservedly popular DCS 560 and DCS 660 digital cameras. The extra bulk of the Kodak's body -- the result of incorporating the battery and storage card compartments -- makes it taller and thicker than the more compact D1X. The Nikon D1X, the successor to the 2.74-megapixel Nikon D1, features a 5.47-megapixel CCD. Its size definitely gives it an edge over the DCS 760 in comfort.

A Sharper Image

With such high megapixel counts, printouts of images taken with the D1X and DCS 760 are impressive, even at sizes as large as 24 by 36 inches. To take full advantage of Nikon's proprietary NEF file format, Nikon Capture software must be used. Using a plug-in, you can open this file format in Photoshop, but our previous experience shows that Capture will do a better job. Capture performs similar tasks as Kodak's Photo Desk, but includes a more extensive tool set. The software costs an additional $99, and version 2.0 is expected soon. Until Capture 2.0 is released, the Photoshop plug-in that opens image files is included with the D1X but performs none of Capture's functions.

The new included application, DCS Camera Manager, packaged with the camera controls the Kodak DCS 760. Because the DCS 760 makes use of a proprietary Kodak file format, Kodak's acquisition software, DCS Photo Desk, processes all images. This application delivers features such as exposure compensation (up to +/- two f/stops), an unsharp mask filter, and light source adjustment. Plus, the DCS 760 has an internal microphone that can record voice data and link it to an image file, so the user can record notes or other information during a shoot.

Room to Grow

Cameras that capture so much detail have serious storage needs. The Kodak DCS 760 has one Type III and two Type II PC card slots. This setup permits the use of two 1GB IBM Microdrives concurrently: when one drive fills up, with about 117 images, the system cascades to the second card. The DCS 760's PC card slots also permit the use of GPS cards and wireless modem cards.

The Nikon D1X has a CompactFlash, Type II compartment that supports Type I and Type II CompactFlash cards, as well as a single 1GB IBM Microdrive. The Kodak DCS 760 includes a cable to connect to the Mac via FireWire. The D1X also connects to the Mac via FireWire, but the cable's not included.

More Than Just an Increase in Megapixels

Both cameras generate exceptional images and have improved significantly over previous versions, especially in regards to image quality and color fidelity. Beyond megapixel count, the Nikon D1X offers improvements over the D1 in image quality, image color fidelity, and signal-to-noise levels. With the D1X, Nikon has taken the same sized piece of silicon that resides behind the shutter screen in the D1 and split the 11.8 micron pixels vertically. Where smaller pixels would normally be expected to create noisier images, Nikon has completely reworked the chip set of this camera to produce surprisingly clean images. The D1X is also improved remarkably over the D1 in regards to magenta cast: some images captured with the D1X under studio lighting showed some cast, but this seldom occurred and the images were easily cleaned up. The Kodak DCS 760 has an improved capture rate per second. Plus, the buffer is well over twice the buffer of the Nikon, over three times if you are saving images in NEF mode on the Nikon.

The menus and interfaces on the cameras are similar to other Nikon and Kodak digital cameras but are refined, and both feature a simplified menu structure that is significantly more intuitive. Because both cameras show improved sharpening over previous versions, it's too close to call as to which camera excels in this area. Using Adobe Photoshop 6.0 for about three to five minutes per image cleaned up what little signal-to-noise problems we saw, and sharpening them further was also easy.

File Formats

The D1X saves images in several file formats, including two TIFF formats, several JPEG formats, and the Nikon NEF format. Depending on file format, the D1X can capture three frames per second up to a maximum of nine frames. The Kodak DCS 750 saves images in Kodak's proprietary DCR format and JPEG. The Kodak DCS 760 averaged one frame per second, storing up to 22 frames before the buffer filled up on the Low speed continuous setting, and two frames per second on the high speed setting. Although improved over previous cameras, the Kodak DCS's frame capture rate is slower than that of the Nikon D1X.

Both cameras use proprietary batteries and ship with a battery and charger. The Nikon would benefit from longer battery life: during testing, a full charge only captured a couple hundred shots. The Kodak captured around 225 to 250 shots on its battery.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Professional photographers and advanced amateurs will find either camera capable of fulfilling their digital-imaging needs including image resolution, image quality, and color fidelity. The D1X has a slight edge over the Kodak with its smaller size and price, but the DCS 760 has two Type II and one Type III PC card slots to hold up to two 1GB Microdrives simultaneously, over Nikon's single Type II PC card slot.

Kodak Professional DCS 760Nikon D1X
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