DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Discuss older Nikon-based Kodak digital SLRs, including DCS 100, DCS 200, NC2000, DCS 400/600/700-series, etc. Ask questions, post general comments, anecdotes, reviews and user tips.
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Ashley_Pomeroy
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DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Post by Ashley_Pomeroy » Thu Oct 01, 2009 8:40 pm

I recently bought a DCS 420 - for £25, which is fair enough - and it's a formidable thing. The top professional digital SLRs of today boast 100% viewfinder coverage but the DCS 420 trumps them utterly, because it has 260% viewfinder coverage. Nothing from Canon can match that. Also, the sensor has over one million pixels! Mine is based on an original Nikon N90 rather than the N90s on my DCS 460. Perhaps the later ones were better.

It doesn't have the DCS 460's shot-to-shot delay but in most respects it's much less practical. Without an infrared filter, the DCS 460's images are very occasionally normal-looking whereas the DCS 420 suffers badly from what appear to be internal reflections in the mirror box area, which tints the top and bottom of the image purple.

This internal reflection problem was discussed elsewhere on this site with some suggestions that the photographer paint or mask off the edges of the sensor mount. This sounds reasonable although I suspect the process would be futile unless there was a way of masking everything with infrared-absorbing paint. My personal theory is that the problem might be the sensor cover glass rather than the surrounding mount, or the tint is not because of directional reflections but a property of the way that light enters the sensor. My second theory is that it's actually amplifier noise rather than internal reflections (but having said that, a five-second exposure indoors doesn't have the same problem, whereas a 1/60th shot outdoors in the sun does). I have a hot mirror filter, and the problem seems to be restricted to infrared rather than visible light. If I mount the hot mirror filter, the internal reflections are greatly reduced. BUT it could also be that a slight loss in contrast from internal reflections is much less noticeable than a slight purple tint from the infrared. That article about the NC2000 mentions this problem, and the use of gradients in Photoshop to combat it, so perhaps the NC2000 had the same issue.

I'm digressing anyway, the point of this post was to present an unscientific comparison between the output of Kodak's DCS Acquire module running with Photoshop 5.0 LE on a Mac Powerbook 3400 and a more modern version of Photoshop using Adobe Camera Raw on a PC. They were shot with a DCS 420 and a Sigma 28mm Mini-Wide with a Tiffen hot mirror filter and a polarising filter mounted underneath the hot mirror filter.

Kodak on the left or top, Photoshop on the right or bottom. I used "daylight" colour balance with DCS Acquire (which produced purple, dark, low-contrast images) and then used "auto colour" and "auto contrast" in Photoshop on the PC. For the ACR versions - which were naturally very green, probably because of the IR filter, I used "auto" colour balance and then "auto colour" and "auto contrast". It's not very scientific - I should post a series of images showing the various manipulations I undertook - but my goal was to try and produce something that looks at least a bit normal, and I judged that the effort involved in a scientific study would be misplaced when there is much in the world I have not yet done:
Image
Image
Image

My overall impression is that Photoshop makes things green, and that when corrected the images retain greenness; DCS Acquire makes things purple. Oddly, the same purple look seems to have been carried forwards to as far as the Kodak DCS 14n, perhaps later. When shot indoors, away from the sun, the images can be made more normal.

The DCS Acquire module cuts off the top two and bottom two rows of pixels. Photoshop retains these, but the top two rows are a bit yellow because there is noticeably less signal in the blue channel. The DCS 460 has the same feature. As with the DCS 460, the different ISO values are software hacks, in the sense that e.g. ISO 400 on the DCS 420 produces a very dark image with Adobe Camera Raw, presumably because ISO 400 underexposes the image and instructs DCS Acquire to boost the image during raw development rather than boosting the camera's amplifier at image capture. As with the DCS 460 there is nothing to stop the camera from shooting at ISO 1600, although the results are poor (I wonder if the DCS 410, which was supposedly ISO 100 only, was the same?).

Apart from the colour, and without wishing to duplicate the webmaster's very own Kodak DCS 420 page, it has much more of a problem with moire than my D2000, and appears to be one of a handful of cameras that actually produce more usable images when the lens is not stopped down.

I surmise that the DCS 200 was shockingly bad. It would appear that the only people who ever used DCS 420s (rather than NC2000s) were scientists who did so under controlled conditions. There are a couple of shots taken by the US Geological Survey here which suggest that no-one was capable of getting a normal-looking image out of a DCS 420 except under the most controlled of controlled conditions. The thought of a portrait photographer circa 1996 forking out £8,000 for one of the cameras in the hope that he would churn out lovely-looking portraits of kids sitting on Santa's laps makes me feel awkward.

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Re: DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Post by Webmaster » Mon Oct 05, 2009 12:35 pm

Hi Ashley,

Just a quick reply to let you know that someone is actually reading your posts :-) £25 is a great price for any working camera, IMO! Have fun!

For future reference: Kodak Photo Desk and/or ACR doesn't work with all Kodak files (depending on camera model, program version, etc) - so here's a free Windows alternative that *does* work: http://www.nikonweb.com/DCS_convert/

Jarle

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Re: DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Post by 30Cal » Mon Oct 05, 2009 5:23 pm

I've been using my 420c a bunch this past week (got a new battery and now it's gone from being laborious to simple). Are you pulling them from a card reader or via SCSI cable off the camera? I'd love to synch the clock in the camera. All my photos have a 1990 time/date stamp and you need the SCSI cable and TWAIN to synch it up.

I had a flatbed scanner on a Win95 system back in the day and remember dealing with TWAIN back then. I know a lot more now about post processing, but they certainly didn't make it easy.

I don't have any issues with internal reflections, but I've got one or two thoughts, albeit long shots. Could it be lens related? I'll ask around here at work about masking edges. We do displays here and I know that we do some painting (black paint) and tape applications to prevent light leaks at the edges.

I haven't noticed any issues at the edges of the images. I'm using Adobe Camera Raw and PSE5 with Kodak's DCS File Format Module--it would have never occured to me that pixels might get shaved off somewhere in there. I'm getting 1524 x 1016 according to flickr. Haven't seen odd pixels at the edges, but I haven't really looked for any.

I haven't really tried too hard with post processing to get "normal looking" pictures. I like the surprise aspect of this camera. But I have found that I can get some pretty nice skin tones if I keep in mind the camera's limitations with the hot mirror on. Life would certainly be much easier if I could get a hood on that dented hot mirror filter ring. A little work on the white balance, then adjusting the noise sliders on ACR to fix the tiny highlights is about all I've had to do.
Image

I've got an SB28, but haven't used it much here. Most of my lenses are manual, and I don't recall having a lot of luck getting TTL to work out.

Very eager for my 720/850/950nm IR filter set to arrive.

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Re: DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Post by Ashley_Pomeroy » Tue Oct 06, 2009 1:03 pm

I generally download the images via an old Windows '98 laptop, but I also have an old Macintosh Powerbook that use SCSI, and I have connected the camera that way. I've updated the clock as well, and also the firmware. I thought that this might let me use Compact Flash cards with the DCS 420 when running from batteries, but no joy. It felt strange, updating the clock of the DCS 420 to a date in 2009. I felt a strange shiver as I did so.

Actually I was thinking of the old sci-fi film "Dark Star". It's set on a spaceship in the future. The captain is dead, but his body and mind are preserved on ice, and the crew occasionally wake him up to ask him questions. If the DCS 420 was a living thing, it must have been filled with a profound melancholy as I updated its date clock. It has been brought back to life, but both it and I know that it's not going to last. It will go back on ice at some point, where it will remain in darkness forever. It has been revived long after it should have died, into a world that it cannot recognise or comprehend. Like in "Goodbye Lenin", or those films where Nazi zombies rise from the grave to kill again.

It sits on the same shelf as my 5D. I imagine that if cameras had feelings, the 5D would be disgusted by the DCS 420. Not just because it is a Nikon and thus worse than the Decepticons, but also because it is a constant reminder that all glory is fleeting, and that the 5D will one day sit on a shelf next to the new boss. Although, having said that, the 5D will probably age more gracefully than the 420. The 5D's resolution will seem tiny in the future, but the picture quality is objectively definitive, whereas the 420 is quirky by any objective measure.

Still, I've even taken a few shots with the DCS 420 while the camera was tethered. I note that the "capture image" button in my version of DCS Acquire is in the shape of a DCS 520. It felt totally 100% hardcore professional to shoot tethered but was very silly. I surmise that if you were a set dresser for a film, and you wanted to kit out a scene where a scientist uses a digital camera to take a photograph of e.g. an alien rock, or the skull of a transdimensional beast, then a DCS 420 mounted on a tripod and hooked up to an old Macintosh in a darkened room would look superb on the screen. It's so huge! The shutter noise is astoundingly loud compared to my 5D.

In general it is much quicker to transfer the images via my Windows '98 laptop than it is to acquire and save them via SCSI.

As far as I can tell the camera holds the date and time but not when the battery is removed - presumably it doesn't have a separate button cell to power the clock, or perhaps if it did have such a thing, it has long since gone flat. I can't see one inside the camera to replace. I wonder if the NC2000 had a battery-backed clock? It's the kind of thing a photojournalist might find handy.

"Could it be lens related?"

That is a possibility. I know that some lenses are unsuitable for IR photography because of their make-up (they tend to project a "hot spot" in the middle of the image). Perhaps the lenses I have used so far - a Sigma 28mm Mini-Wide and a Sigma 15-30 - lack internal infrared coatings, or something.

That pictures makes me thing of "2001", with the star child at the end.

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Re: DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Post by 30Cal » Wed Oct 07, 2009 4:44 pm

While messing around with IR lens filters yesterday I noticed that the viewfinder curtain thingy leaks badly as does the mirror when it's up. This is with 1-2" exposures and it's adding a full stop worth of light into the mix--mostly at the top and bottom of the frame.

So far, the IR results have been BAD for the 420c (28mm f/2.8AIS), but the Nikon D1x with an 18-55mm kit lens is really really good.

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Re: DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Post by Stan Disbrow » Sat Oct 17, 2009 6:33 pm

Hi,

Try moving the dial on the time machine forward a bit, to the DCS 5xx or 6xx series and you may well find that they get *more* useage than the newer cameras.

When I had an 11 MP FF Canon 1Ds-I, I found that I much preferred the images from the 6 MP, APS-H Kodak 560 - especially when printed larger than 8x10. Yep. Odd, isn't it?

For the lower-light work, I replaced both a Canon 1D-II and a Nikon D2H for the 720x. Another odd move, but the big, old Kodak just works better when you need ISO 1600 or more.....

I had a 420 and a 460 back when I also had a Nikon D1h and D1x pair, and neither of the Kodaks were used much. You already know why. Once I added a 660 and a 620x to the D1h and D1x, the Nikons wound up shelved - and eventually sold off, of course.

I will say that after the D2H and 1Ds-I units were sold, I just gave up on anything newer from either Canon or Nikon and just settled on using the Kodak 560, 760 and 720x. It just got to be too costly to constantly buy and sell newer DSLRs. Oh, one day I'm sure I'll replace these older Kodaks, but it'll be with used newer Nikon and Canon models. I'm off of the 'buy the latest' bandwagon.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, try moving up one generation to the Nikon F5 and Canon EOS-1 based 6xx and 6xx models and you'll find that the Kodaks suddenly become a *lot* more useful! :)

Later!

Stan
Amateur Photographer
Professional Electronics Development Engineer

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Re: DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Post by Ashley_Pomeroy » Sat Oct 17, 2009 8:00 pm

Stan Disbrow wrote:Hi,
When I had an 11 MP FF Canon 1Ds-I, I found that I much preferred the images from the 6 MP, APS-H Kodak 560 - especially when printed larger than 8x10. Yep. Odd, isn't it?
This is an interesting coincidence - there's a DCS 560 on eBay at the moment, and after doing a bit of Googling about it I came across this handy set of tips about beating noise in the DCS 560 from YOU YOURSELF circa 2004:
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read. ... ge=7198141

I also found a photo of a happy-looking couple in silk pyjamas, or "pajamas" as the photographer puts it:
https://www.usefilm.com/image/11879.html

eBay also has a DCS 660, which I assume is functionally identical. The DCS 760 seems to come up fairly regularly. I was curious as to the improvements Kodak made between the DCS 560 and the 760, which had a slightly higher ISO setting and a faster processor. The impression I get is that, in an ideal world, Kodak should have released a new Canon-bodied digital SLR in parallel with the DCS 760, using the DCS 760's internal improvements, but presumably for contractual reasons they were unable to do so.

The DCS 560 appears to have left very little trace on the internet, presumably because it was very expensive when it was new, which was at a time when the world wide web was in its infancy Although it appears to have been sold right up until the price crash / final days of Kodak's pro SLR involvement circa 2001 it must have seemed very long in the tooth by then. I assume there's one in the background of this PMA report from 2001:
http://www.dpreview.com/news/0102/01021 ... p#kodakpro

One half of my mind tells me that, as a second-hand hobby camera for those occasions when I can't be bothered to dig out my 5D, a DCS 560 has a very poor practicality-to-price ratio today. If I was photographing a person I would need a couple of its batteries, which are bulky and expensive, and it's still only one frame per second for a short while after which it grinds to a halt. And I'm still not sure whether it's ETTL or TTL and how well this works. But it looks marvellous and would be a great conversation piece.

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Re: DCS Acquire vs ACR vs DCS 420

Post by Stan Disbrow » Sat Oct 31, 2009 5:59 pm

Hi,

I think that for most uses, any of the newer Canon DSLRs would be better to carry around that one of these old 560's. I've relegated my 560 to studio use for product photography. It's really useful there as I have this collection of older Nikon, Leica and Zeiss manual focus lenses with Canon adapters. ;)

Out and about, I use the newer Nikon-based 760 paired with a 720x. Those are still large bricks, of course, but I'm used to them so that part doesn't matter to me. :)

As I sit here thinking about it all, I think I might keep my eye open for a Nikon D1H (all my AF lenses are Nikon). I had one back a few years ago, and it was a very nice general purpose DSLR as long as you weren't interested in printing larger than an 8x10....

Later!

Stan
Amateur Photographer
Professional Electronics Development Engineer

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