Kodak DCS 720x

Text and photos by Jarle Aasland

Kodak DCS 720x was Kodak's last Nikon F5-based DSLR camera, announced in June 2001. Originally sold for $6,995, the price was soon reduced to $4,995 (June 2002). In April 2009, I paid $305 for mine. The usual place. The camera was sold "as-is, not tested", which I'm sure affected the price.

Luckily, the camera works flawlessly and is in pristine condition. The shutter has been fired no more than 6300 times, which is practically nothing for a professional DCS body. Needless to say, I think I did good!

It's not known how many DCS 720x cameras were made, but according to a NikonWeb forum member, the 720x is the rarest of the later, "regular" Kodak DSLR models. «Only the special models like the monochrome versions 660M and 760M and the prototype (?) SCS 2000 are rarer. The total number of about 1600 is derived from serial numbers.»

My particular unit came with a dead battery and without a charger. Luckily, Stan Disbrow came to the rescue, and helped me write the ultimate DCS battery article. A must-read, if you ever plan to use one of these things. He also set me up with an original Kodak charger, which can be surprisingly difficult to find (at least for a reasonable price). Thanks again Stan!

Featuring a 1152x1728 pixel, 12 bit Kodak M23 sensor, the 720x was built for low light and high speed. With an ISO range from 400 to 6400, the camera can capture 4.3 frames per second, with a burst depth of up to 25 or more photos. At the time it was introduced, the 720x was considered the best and most desirable high ISO sports camera available (perhaps sharing the top spot with the Nikon D1H, announced in February 2001).

Kodak DCS 720x, 1600 ISO, 1/80 sec at f/2.8, Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8. © 2009 Jarle Aasland/NikonWeb.com

ISO 1600 and beyond

In September 2001, acclaimed photographer Rob Galbraith compared the 720x with the Nikon D1H, shooting at ISO 1600 and beyond. His conclusion:

«When the DCS 620x was introduced, it was THE Nikon-bodied camera to get for shooting at ISO 1600 and up. Nikon has closed the gap with the D1X and D1H, both of which produce good quality files at ISO 1600, files that are cleaner at this ISO than those from the D1. If your sports photography rarely takes you beyond ISO 1600, which camera you choose can be made based on other factors - overall colour and image quality, service and support, available and included software and so on - since the D1H, DCS 720X and even the D1X produce good ISO 1600 photos.

At ISO 3200, the equation changes. If I had to shoot at ISO 3200 on a routine basis, under the less-than-ideal lighting that usually dictates ISO 3200, the DCS 720x would be my camera of choice, despite a street price expected to be about US$2000 more than the D1H, at about US$6000 or less. This camera, like the 620x before it, simply can't be beat when working the upper limits of the ISO range.» (Click on link below to read the entire test and see more high ISO photos on robgalbraith.com).

Professional tool

The 720x is a great camera to shoot with. It's responsive and behaves like a professional tool (as it should). It feels more robust than the older 400-series cameras, and includes a LCD monitor (the early digital cameras didn't).

The monitor is less than perfect (too say the least) but at least it allows you to review your shots in the field. Shooting with a DCS 420, for example, you'll need to bring a laptop or go back to the office before you can check your photos.

The DCS 720x captures 1720x1160 pixel DCR files (typically around 2 MB in size), which can be viewed and processed using Kodak Professional DCS Photo Desk software. According to long time 720x shooter Stan Disbrow, Photo Desk is an important part of the 720x workflow:

«The hi-ISO series use a different color filter array and so have a tendency towards producing images tinted toward the yellow side. Kodak's own post-processing software deals with this the best of anything else - as one might reasonably expect.

My 'X' shot workflow is to perform the raw conversion in PhotoDesk, then save the result as a 16-bit TIFF. Then, I can do the rest of the processing with my usual Photoshop workflow.»

For more info on the 720x's CMY sensor, take a look at the DCS 620x reviews on lonestardigital.com and dpreview.com (links below).

Kodak DCS 720x, 1600 ISO, 1/125 sec at f/5, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. Applied curves (for contrast) in Adobe Photoshop. © 2009 Jarle Aasland/NikonWeb.com

Here's a 100% crop of the above photo. Converted to TIFF using Kodak DCS Photo Desk (default settings), saved as JPEG in Adobe Photoshop. No sharpening or other processing.

Even today (Sept 2009), the DCS 720x is still a pretty impressive camera. Still, for obvious reasons, it can't compete with the current crop of professional DSLR models.

Comparing the 720x with the contemporary (2001) Nikon D1-series bodies, I'd say image quality is about the same. Different, maybe, but just as good (or bad) - except for one thing: the 720x will typically produce colors that are too warm/yellow. As far as I can tell, the auto white balance on the D1-series cameras are better.

Just for fun I did a quick and less than scientific 1600 ISO comparison with a Nikon D2H (2003). It seems like the photos from the 720x are considerably better! (The D2H isn't exactly known for its superb high ISO performance, but still.)

The first thing people will notice when they see the 720x (and similar DCS cameras) is its massive physical appearance. Even the relatively beefy D1 body is dwarfed by the mighty DCS 720x (see photo). Still, the D1 is built as a digital camera from the ground up (more or less), while the 720x feels like a F5 body with a digital back strapped on. And that's exactly what it is.

Some parts of the digital back is made of (what feels like) relatively flimsy plastic, which makes the DCS feel a little less robust than a Nikon D1. Just an observation - no big deal. It's still a very solid camera!

Unlike some of the earlier DCS models, you can easily find a great deal of DCS 720x info online. I've included a few interesting links below, after some more sample photos and the original press relase.

Kodak DCS 720x, 640 ISO, 1/20 sec at f/4.5, Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8. © 2009 Jarle Aasland/NikonWeb.com

Here's a 100% crop of the above photo. Converted to TIFF using Kodak DCS Photo Desk (default settings), saved as JPEG in Adobe Photoshop. No sharpening or other processing.

Kodak's 2001 DCS 720x press release
  • Feature-Laden Kodak Professional DCS 720x Digital Camera Delivers Superior Performance for Action, Low-Light Photography
  • DCS 620x Successor Blends Highest ISO With Improved In-the-Field Functionality

ROCHESTER, N.Y., June 4 - Professional photographers can tackle the most challenging action, variable-condition, and low-light photography situations with confidence using the new Kodak Professional DCS 720x digital camera. The DCS 720x combines the highest ISO settings available - 400 to 6400 (calibrated to 4000), with two-stop push for exposures at up to 25600 - with a variety of functional improvements to enhance and simplify even the most critical, high-pressure forms of in-the-field photography.

The 2-megapixel DCS 720x offers significant technological advantages over its predecessor, the versatile DCS 620x. These advantages owe primarily to Kodak's fifth-generation professional digital camera architecture, improved bright LCD display with histogram, and other imaging capabilities first introduced in the new DCS Pro Back and DCS 760 cameras.

Based upon the rugged Nikon F5 camera body, the DCS 720x features a faster burst rate - 4.3 fps - and a greater burst depth - 25 images. Shutter response speed has been improved so it now rivals that of conventional film cameras. Kodak Professional's newest camera comes with numerous other enhancements that make it easier to use in the field.

"The DCS 720x gives the professional photographer a clear advantage when the conditions are challenging and the windows of opportunity to get the shot are small," said Madhav Mehra, Worldwide Director, Digital Capture Product Development, Kodak Professional. "If you're shooting fast-action or low-light situations - such as military and law enforcement applications, sports and action, and spot news events - this is the ideal camera to get the scoop, and not to be scooped by others. Serious photographers can rely on the DCS 720x for excellent image quality, fast response and expandability. And we think they'll find the price very appealing."

Key to the DCS 720x are Kodak's improved, proprietary indium tin oxide (ITO) full-frame CCD, color filter array (CFA) pattern, and low-noise electronics including a new software noise-reduction filter. The CFA delivers unsurpassed spectral response to produce exceptional picture quality at extremely high ISO ranges.

The DCS 720x, built on the Nikon F5 platform, retains all the durability, functionality and lens compatibility of that acclaimed single-lens-reflex camera. Photographers will especially appreciate Kodak's "Picture Protection" - a unique package of complementary features including post-shot exposure compensation, white balance corrections and file recovery to ensure the viability of the image file.

Plus, photographers can customize the DCS 720x with an IR blocking filter, removable anti-aliasing filter, IPTC captioning, white balance uploading, and a wide choice of storage options. Direct e-mail image transmission over web-enabled cellular phones will become available as an upgrade later this year

Other Innovative Features

  • Rapid auto-save-to-laptop feature enables wireless Ethernet connection
  • On-the-spot exposure accuracy verification via patented on-board histogram
  • Full lightweight cast magnesium alloy body ensures high durability for field use
  • Calibrated color response and TTL auto color balance adjust image color to match light source
  • 36-bit color (12 bits per channel) for capturing color and detail in shadows and highlights
  • Intervalometer enables automated capture over timed intervals for remote applications
  • Kodak Professional DCS Camera Manager, a new software application for controlling the DCS 720x (and Kodak's other IEEE 1394-equipped cameras) from a computer
  • An enhanced version of Kodak Professional DCS Photo Desk, a powerful yet easy-to-use software application for image browsing, management and enhancement
  • Open Application Programmer Interface (API) lets third-party developers write their own custom software applications
  • Color liquid crystal display (LCD) provides improved contrast, increased viewing angle
  • IEEE 1394 interface provides "wicked fast" and reliable transfer of images (three images per second across FireWire)
  • Voice annotation to document specific shots with "audio notebook"
  • Dual PC card storage interface offers storage flexibility
  • Internal file storage of up to 10GB
  • Onboard JPEG compression with multiple levels of resolution and compression
  • Universal AC cable kit with five international power cords and auto-adapter
  • New NiMH batteries for extended battery life (removable for easy transport / recharge)

Inside, the new camera builds on the latest DCS series firmware and software upgrades that enable dual memory card slots, GPS data recording and laptop-free image transmission via cellular phones.

The Kodak Professional DCS 720x digital camera will be available in late July from authorized dealers of Kodak Professional DCS digital cameras. Pricing will be available in late June.

(Kodak photo)

Further reading
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