Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

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RJDG14 Regular Member • Posts: 142
Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?
1

I found a site offering free RAW and lossless camera samples. One of them was a TIFF file of a photo taken on the Canon/Kodak DCS 1, which was released in 1995, and upon viewing it I was gobsmacked at how high quality the photo was for a digital camera of this era (I checked the metadata which confirmed that it was this camera). It literally looks about as good as a photo taken by a camera such as Canon's EOS 300D which was released 8 years later, albeit at a much lower price tag. The 1990s were a decade where technology evolved very rapidly, and most digital cameras from then (certainly in 1995) gave very grainy, low resolution images that are pretty unviewable today. This particular model on the other hand shot photos at just over 6MP and the photos were high quality, even when zoomed in, with pretty accurate colour - the only thing that's dated somewhat when viewed at a normal resolution would be the slightly low contrast, and perhaps some very minor colour banding with certain textures. This makes me ask why some of the better Kodak DCS models from the mid 1990s like this one were so far ahead (5-10 years roughly) of other digital cameras? I'd imagine it was because of their steep 5 figure price tag. This particular model still gave superior quality to Canon's own 1D Mark 1 which took photos at 4MP and was released 6 years later in 2001.

Here's the sample lossless file from it that I found:

http://www.rawsamples.ch/raws/canon/dcs1/RAW_CANON_DCS1.ZIP

(I've found that links from the above site don't download in my browser if you click on them, but copying the link into your URL bar should work)

Canon EOS 300D (EOS Digital Rebel / EOS Kiss Digital)
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SQLGuy
SQLGuy Forum Pro • Posts: 11,288
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

Kodak was on the leading edge of digital cameras at that time. They had invented most of the underlying technology, and they were in the market to make digital cameras that could take the place of film cameras.

Yes, the price tag had plenty to do with it. The EOS 1D came out in 2001. Its sensor,even though it's only 4MP, is still pretty good, and, like the Kodaks, it is an APS-H sensor. So, 6 years later, lower resolution, but $6500 instead of the $30000 that the Kodaks were going for in 1995. The 1D was also designed from the start as a digital camera. The DCS460c (also 6MP from 1995) didn't even have an LCD to review images. It had a fixed battery pack, was very picky about storage media, and was mainly meant to be used with Type III PCMCIA hard drives. The 460c also didn't have a hot mirror over the sensor, so, for good color quality you needed to add an IR blocking filter on the lens. A lot of photojournalists apparently didn't know this, and instead complained of the bad color they got from the digital cameras they were "forced" to use instead of their beloved film cameras.

So, part of this was that Kodak was at the forefront to deliver the technology to people who needed it right then - basically photojournalists and NASA, plus a few other niche applications. While Canon and Nikon waited for their own cameras to be able to deliver something that their film shooters would find a natural transition (and a natural price). A 1D is actually a really nice camera to shoot with, while the 460C is rather more of a chore. Write times, battery life, and just general ergonomics of the 460C (and even of the later DCSs) clearly show their custom, low production, bleeding edge efforts to deliver the newest sensor technology, at the expense of many other refinements.

Overall, that 1995 6MP sensor that Kodak had was pretty amazing, and Kodak did have good success with it over about six years. What you're seeing there is kind of the DCS sweet spot, when they had no competition. Note also that less than a year after the release of that original EOS 1D, Canon released the 1Ds - full frame, and 11MP. Really, once the big camera companies launched their own pro digital cameras, Kodak could no-longer compete as a camera "maker", and didn't seem to have invested enough in sensor design and manufacturing to dominate that segment either (the last DCS models actually used a non-Kodak sensor from FillFactory). On the other hand, ironically, Kodak did end up developing the full frame CCD sensor for the Leica M9.

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OP RJDG14 Regular Member • Posts: 142
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

Were the lack of built in filters the reason why some of the modern day photos taken with these DCS cameras look pretty good colour-wise but a lot of the sample photos I've seen that were taken by journalists in the mid 1990s looked a bit off (for instance, certain browns and reds would come out orange, or maybe it was vice versa).

Stan Disbrow Veteran Member • Posts: 5,719
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

Hi,

In the early 1980s, Kodak was making imaging sensors for industrial use. I bought six 1 MP CCDs for use as board imagers on a production line at IBM. $30k per sensor. No cameras per se. I had to make my own.

Kodak used the same parts with purchased cameras for the US military. some Nikon, some Canon. They did assist me when it came to making my cameras.

Later, 1988, they decided to make a commercial product, the DCS based on a purchased Nikon F3. And IBM assisted them when it came to the storage unit.

In the early 90s, they made the storage unit smaller so now it was a digital back. And they moved to the Nikon 8008 body and then to the N90. And they added the Canon body to the mix.

By then, they sensors were becoming larger. And they made a 6 MP APS-H one which was pretty amazing to me. Eventually I picked up a used 460 once the price tag dropped on the used market in the face of the Nikon D1.

I still use a 2 MP 520c and a 6 MP 760c. I had several others over the years. And I also have the last of the Kodak CCDs in my Pentax 645D.

Kodak faced the issue of being a low volume manufacturer where the costs are always higher. Once Canon and Nikon decided to go their own way and no longer resell the Kodak products as a sideline to their film products, it became difficult for Kodak.

They attempted to lower costs with different bodies and also a 3rd party sensor. It had a major flaw and resulted in a massively costly recall. That didn't help them any.

About that same time, Kodak executives looked at the shrinking film market and decided that much of that was a result of the DCS group's efforts. So, No More DCS.

The sensors continued on used by other makers. Medium Format backs and Leica with their DMR and Pentax and such. But, eventually that came to an end as well.

Stan

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SQLGuy
SQLGuy Forum Pro • Posts: 11,288
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

RJDG14 wrote:

Were the lack of built in filters the reason why some of the modern day photos taken with these DCS cameras look pretty good colour-wise but a lot of the sample photos I've seen that were taken by journalists in the mid 1990s looked a bit off (for instance, certain browns and reds would come out orange, or maybe it was vice versa).

IIRC, the main complaint was purple-ish skin tones when used without an IR blocking filter.

I'll try over the next couple of days to take some test shots with my 460c with and without IR blocking filters to show the effects.

The 760c, which did have an IR blocking filter in the lens mount, certainly showed a shift of reds toward orange. I plan to investigate that a bit more, too.

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SQLGuy
SQLGuy Forum Pro • Posts: 11,288
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?
1

If I were running Kodak in 2004, I would probably have shut down DCS, too. Nothing to do with blaming them about the digital paradigm shift, but just the fact that Kodak had not, by that point, taken the steps they would have had to to remain competitive in the digital camera market.

If they had bought an established camera company (probably either Minolta or Pentax) in the late 1990s, they could have competed with Canon and Nikon as a camera manufacturer. They chose instead to partner, which was mostly a conflict of interest and left them non-competitive. Fuji did a bit better, at least with the D200/S5Pro, but such partnership was unsustainable for them, too.

The other choice was for them to go all in on sensor design and fabrication. They certainly had a lot of investment here, but not the dominating development and acquisition of IP and manufacturing that they would have needed to become the major sensor supplier. Instead, Sony stepped into that role - and also bought Konica/Minolta so they could become a competitive camera company as well.

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OP RJDG14 Regular Member • Posts: 142
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

The lossless sample photo I found from Kodak's DCS 560C was pretty accurate colour wise. The only issue I could see with it was the relatively low contrast/dynamic range compared with modern cameras, but this can be improved using an image editor like Photoshop.

I'd have still said that the colour on their 90s DCS cameras, maybe with the exception of the first couple of models, was more accurate than the majority of photos I've seen taken on 35mm film at the time. The DCS 1 and DCS 460D both give a slightly reddish cast in the sample images I've found but it's only slight (not like a faded low quality print from the 1970s) and can be easily corrected.

OP RJDG14 Regular Member • Posts: 142
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

I have a feeling that Sony provide some of Nikon's sensors as well. I think most of Canon's were developed in-house, though I have a feeling I recall reading that certain Canon models may contain Panasonic components.

SQLGuy
SQLGuy Forum Pro • Posts: 11,288
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

RJDG14 wrote:

I have a feeling that Sony provide some of Nikon's sensors as well. I think most of Canon's were developed in-house, though I have a feeling I recall reading that certain Canon models may contain Panasonic components.

Sony provided and provides a lot of Nikon's sensors (from the D100 up through the D850 and the latest Z cameras). Sony also did base fabrication for a lot of the Fuji sensors. And some of the Olympus and Pentax sensors, as well. And probably the Ricoh GR sensors. And the Minolta 5D/7D sensor. By the early 2000s, Sony was the largest manufacturer of CCDs. Then they switched to CMOS over the next few years.

It's theorized that the EOS 1D CCD is from Panasonic. It's the only Canon DSLR with a CCD.

Here's a pretty good list of who makes the Nikon sensors (mostly it's Sony): https://nikonrumors.com/2015/12/16/list-of-all-nikon-dslr-cameras-and-their-sensor-manufacturerdesigner.aspx/

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OP RJDG14 Regular Member • Posts: 142
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

Do Nikon and Sony DSLRs give pretty much identical colour reproduction, then, since Sony make the sensors for most models from both brands?

Something I have noticed with earlier DSLR models from the 1990s and early 2000s would be that you can sometimes see, on certain colours and textures, a small amount of horizontally patterned grain at lower ISO settings which you tend not to see on modern DSLRs. I'd assume the technology has improved.

Stan Disbrow Veteran Member • Posts: 5,719
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?
1

Hi,

Sony made the D1, D1H, D1X, D200 and D80 sensors. And...get this...they were the same basic device. The D1 and H had this 10 MP CCD with the photosites quaded up under each CFA color. The D1X had them paired up to form a rectangular pixel. The D200 and D80 had them singled up. Finally. All part of an evolution in noise reduction.

I worked for Sony at this period of time and so was privy to what they were doing with the sensors. Pretty cool. That got me to buy each Nikon unit which used those devices as they came out.

Stan

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Stan Disbrow Veteran Member • Posts: 5,719
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?
1

Hi,

Yeah, Kodak dropped the ball big-time there.

Stan

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OP RJDG14 Regular Member • Posts: 142
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

As you worked in an industry that developed sensors, do you know what the theoretical maximum resolution would be approximately for APS-C and full frame sensors in MP? I suspect it would be smaller than the number of atoms (in millions) across the surface of a sensor.

SQLGuy
SQLGuy Forum Pro • Posts: 11,288
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

SQLGuy wrote:

RJDG14 wrote:

Were the lack of built in filters the reason why some of the modern day photos taken with these DCS cameras look pretty good colour-wise but a lot of the sample photos I've seen that were taken by journalists in the mid 1990s looked a bit off (for instance, certain browns and reds would come out orange, or maybe it was vice versa).

IIRC, the main complaint was purple-ish skin tones when used without an IR blocking filter.

I'll try over the next couple of days to take some test shots with my 460c with and without IR blocking filters to show the effects.

The 760c, which did have an IR blocking filter in the lens mount, certainly showed a shift of reds toward orange. I plan to investigate that a bit more, too.

Here's a DPReviewTV segment on the NC2000, along with a photojournalist who shot with one back in the day.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BwQ9jS1xKc

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SQLGuy
SQLGuy Forum Pro • Posts: 11,288
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

RJDG14 wrote:

As you worked in an industry that developed sensors, do you know what the theoretical maximum resolution would be approximately for APS-C and full frame sensors in MP? I suspect it would be smaller than the number of atoms (in millions) across the surface of a sensor.

I didn't work in the industry, and I don't know what the theoretical maximum would be, but, I can tell you that Samsung currently has sensors with .7um pitch. So, if my math is correct, and barring all the other issues that would have to be overcome, this would allow for 1.7GP full frame sensors.

But, what do you mean anyway by theoretical limit? There are limits related to the wavelengths of light to be detected, and by crosstalk/isolation requirements...

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n3eg
n3eg Veteran Member • Posts: 3,281
Re: Why were some of Kodak's DCS models so far ahead of other digital cameras at the time?

The SLR/14nx has the best RAW files I've ever worked with.  Why?   Because Kodak, that's why.

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