Kodak Pro DCS 520 Review
I could talk about the photography features of this camera for pages and pages, but you'd soon get bored. Suffice to say it has all the features of a Canon EOS-1 from a photography point of view, I'll highlight some of the "neater" features below, but here I'll try to describe what using this camera is like and how it responds.
Set the camera up and yes, this camera can be used in a point-and-shoot manner, just pop it into Program mode and put your eye to the eyepiece. In there you'll see exactly what the CCD is going to see (less 1%-2%) including the focus and focus points, as shown by five red squares, you can select which of these "focus points" is used for focusing (or all of them)
Apologies for the quality of the image above, but I was amazed it came out at all, taken with the lens of the Pro70 (in macro mode) jammed up against the eyepiece of the DCS520 with the focal points highlighted (by selecting the focus point mode).
As you can see you can be quite selective about which point is used for focusing which is unbelievably useful and the positioning of the focus point button and top thumbwheel becomes a natural motion for setting the focus point.
If you want to lock the exposure (AE Lock) just tap the * button and as long as the camera doesn't time out the shutter speed and aperture are locked (great for panoramas / portraits / studio / multiple product shooting).
Also through the viewfinder you can see most of the information displayed on the top LCD including shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, shooting mode and focus lock (steady or flashing green light).
Taking and timing
Taking photographs is just like any other SLR, half pressing the shutter release sets the aperture and auto-focuses (assuming you're not in manual focus mode), fully pressing the shutter release takes a photograph. With the 520 you've got a huge internal RAM buffer (about 24MB) which means in all reality you can take and take without ever having to wait for the camera. In servo mode you can take photographs up to 3fps for around 12 frames, keeping your finger down the camera will take subsequent frames 2 seconds apart (defining that it only takes 2 seconds for this camera to write its 2MB TIFF file out to the PCMCIA card - 1MB/s).
The 520 only takes images in Kodak's own hybrid TIFF format which creates image files of 1.9MB each - similar to Canon's CCD RAW format. These images can only be opened using Kodak's supplied (excellent) TWAIN driver.
Pre-focus and lag times are hardly worth measuring, using Digital Eyes Camera Timer I could easily take a photograph before ".01s" was displayed, without pre-focusing the camera averaged between 0.2s and 0.4s (depending on how out-of-focus the camera was before I started the test). Obviously these times would be affected by the use of other lenses.
Depth-of-Field AE (DEP mode)
One more fantastic feature on the photography side is depth of view mode "DEP", putting the camera in this mode you select TWO focus / exposure points one after another (by half pressing the shutter release) then fully press the shutter release one more time to take an image which (quoting the manual) "Places everything between two points, one in the foreground and one in the background within the zone of focus, effective for making sure everyone in a large group picture or everything in a landscape photo is rendered sharply". The camera calculates the optimum focus position and aperture necessary to keep BOTH points in focus.
Rather than just describe this "very neat" feature I'll give you an example (not ideal conditions, poorly lit room so the last is a very long exposure):
Focused on the bottle and as you would expect the background is blurred.
Focused on the background and now the bottle is blurred.
Depth-of-Field AE (DEP) mode
First focus point was the bottle, second was the background, then I took the photograph.
Not an ideal example because of the long exposure, in better light; daylight (with more aperture flexibility) the shutter speed would be more manageable.
Aperture Priority (Av mode)
Aperture priority mode allows you to set the aperture and the camera will attempt to match the best shutter speed to that aperture. If you've picked an aperture which causes the shutter to be out of it's operational range the shutter speed will blink in the viewfinder and on the top LCD display.
Aperture priority gives the photographer greater control over depth of field.
Apertures can be set in 1/3-stop increments at: (maximum range showed, true range will depend on lens used)
1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.5, 2.8, 3.2, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.6, 6.3, 7.1, 8.0, 9.0, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 25, 29, 32, 36, 40, 45, 51, 57, 64, 72,81, 91
Shutter Priority (Tv mode)
Shutter priority mode allows you to set the shutter speed and the camera will attempt to match the best aperture to ensure proper exposure. If you've picked an shutter speed which would require an aperture outside operational range of the lens or camera the aperture will blink in the viewfinder and on the top LCD display.
Shutter priority is useful for a situation where you may require a long exposure (to create a blurred effect - waterfall) or a very fast exposure (sports environment).
Apertures can be set in 1/3-stop increments from 1/8000 second to 30 seconds at:
1/8000, 1/6400, 1/5000, 1/4000, 1/3200, 1/2500, 1/2000, 1/1600, 1/1250, 1/1000, 1/800, 1/640, 1/500, 1/400, 1/320, 1/250, 1/200, 1/160, 1/125, 1/100, 1/80, 1/60, 1/50, 1/40, 1/30, 1/25, 1/20, 1/15, 1/13, 1/10, 1/8, 1/6, 1/5, 1/4, 0.3s, 0.4s, 0.5s, 0.6s, 0.8s, 1s, 1.3s, 1.6s, 2s, 2.5s, 3.2s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 8s, 10s, 13s, 15s, 20s, 25s, 30s
Full manual exposure mode (M mode)
In full manual mode you can set both the shutter speed and aperture which can be useful if you are an expert photographer for creative effects or when using a hand-held exposure meter.
Bulb Exposure (buLb mode)
The shutter stays open as long as you press the Shutter release button, using a remote shutter release this feature is very useful for capturing night shots or fireworks displays.
The 2 or 10 second self timer can also be useful for capturing night shots.
ISO (CCD sensitivity)
The camera can electronically alter the sensitivty of the CCD to reflect various ISO levels from 200 - 1600 (by amplifiying the signal from the CCD). At the higher levels however there can be noticeable noise.
White Balance and Custom White Balance mode
There are four preset white balance modes: Daylight, Tungsten, Flourescent and Flash. Placing the camera in AUTO mode leaves the decision for which white balance mode to use to the system software (not always accurate). Each white balance mode can only go some of the way to getting a perfect white balance and that's where Custom White Balance mode comes in.
Using this feature you simply take a photograph of a gray card or white wall (anything that fills the frame with whiteness - but NOT overexposed) then go into the main menu and select White Balance / Custom and the camera will confirm that you want to use the current image for white balance, subsequent images will use the "best white balance" of that image, rather than just talk about it, here's an example:
Unfortunately because of the type of bulb used in this tungsten lamp there is a fairly noticeable red / yellow cast, the wall and rabbit's head which should be perfectly white are cast with this light.
After taking a shot of the white wall, setting the camera to custom white balance based on that image and taking the scene again the white balance is perfect.
Colour rendition here is spot on, white is white and the colour levels of the red bow, yellow tie and the metal base of the lamp are exactly right.