Classic Camera Review: The Kodak DCS 760M

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Digital cameras dedicated specifically to capturing black-and-white photographs are rare birds. With the exception of the recently released Leica M10 Monochrom, its predecessors—the Leica Monochrom M (2012) and Leica Monochrom M Typ 246 (2015)—and a small handful of other niche cameras, one other digital camera stands out in the black-and-white market: the Kodak DCS 760M, which made its debut in 2001.

It’s important to keep in mind that 2001 was still part of the early days of digital imaging, and many photographers still considered digital as being inferior to film, which for the most part was true. Kodak’s DCS 760M was Kodak’s top-of-the-line DSLR at the time. It was based on the Kodak DCS 760, which was a Nikon F5 film camera modified with a 6.3MP (2008 x 3032) Kodak APS-H CCD imaging sensor, which was one of the largest imaging sensors available at the time. The sensitivity range for the DCS 760 was ISO 80 to 400, but the image quality was notably better at the lowest ISO values. Kodak’s DCS 760 was able to capture what, at the time, were considered the highest-quality digital color files at up to 1.5 frames per second.

Though a bit larger and certainly bulkier than modern DSLRs, Kodak’s DCS 760 and 760M closely resemble the professional DSLRs we use today.

The DCS 760M differed from the DCS 760 in that instead of capturing color files (with a GRBG color filter array), it only captured luminance values, which translates to a monochrome image. The advantages of this arrangement, as with Leica’s current 40MP M10 Monochrom, is that unlike sensors with a color filter array, each and every pixel in the DCS 760M records luminance, and the resulting black-and-white images are noticeably sharper and contain none of the chromatic aberrations that are part and parcel of RGB imaging.

The sensitivity range of the 760M was also higher than the ISO 80 to 400 range of the 760M’s color counterpart, the 760, which added to the exposure flexibility, compared to the color camera and ability to work in lower light. Like many of the professional mirrorless and DSLR cameras available today, the 760M featured dual card slots, which could handle two Type I/II PC cards at a time, or one Type III PC card, or CompactFlash Type I/II cards if you used a PCMCIA adapter.

In addition to not having to divvy up the pixels to capture full-color photographs, another reason for the lush tonality of photographs captured with the 760 and 760M had to do with the relatively large pixel size (9 x 9 µm) of the camera sensor. In addition to being physically large, the pixels were also square, which enabled Kodak’s engineers to minimize the gaps between the rows and columns of pixels, which increased the sensor’s level of resolving power.

An original product sheet for the Kodak DCS 760

I was fortunate enough to attend a factory training with the camera when it was introduced, in early 2001, and was able to borrow a camera for a week afterward. Being a Nikon shooter at the time, I had lenses ranging from 15 to 500mm, and I put most of them to good use that week.

Considering the camera was “only” 6.3MP, the image quality was astounding. I was able to effortlessly produce 13 x 19" prints from the camera’s 18MB TIFF files, and several were printed at 16 x 20" with little, if any, loss of image quality or visible graininess. If I had a larger printer, I’m sure I could have scaled the files up further. The pictures had a glow about them that I hadn’t seen before in a black-and-white digital print.

These images were scanned from original 13 x 19" prints I produced almost 20 years ago from files taken with a Kodak DCS 760M. Even several generations removed from the original 18MB TIFF files, the detail remains incredibly impressive considering the source is a 6.3MP APS-H CCD imaging sensor. The top image is full-frame, the bottom image is a closer detail.

At the turn of the millennium, Kodak was at the top of its game. The film market was still vibrantly strong, and Kodak’s Digital Camera Science (DCS) division was making huge advances in imaging technologies on a regular basis. In addition to its unbeatable line of DCS-series DSLRs, Kodak was also instrumental in advancing medium-format digital back technologies. While other manufacturers were streamlining the battery packs and storage devices for their medium-format backs, Kodak introduced the DCS Pro Back, which used camcorder batteries, had a built-in LCD for instant playback, and like the DCS 760 and 760M, it accepted IBM Microdrives, which are the ancestors of the very same CF-format memory cards we use today.

Kodak’s DCS 760-series cameras and medium-format Pro Backs were unfortunately the end of the line for the company’s leadership in the industry. In a bid to maximize the financial gains of their technological efforts, the company began to license their state-of-the-art hardware and digital imaging technologies aggressively to their competitors, which while profitable in the short term, ultimately led to Kodak’s demise because its competitors tweaked and improved Kodak’s hardware and software, and all but ate Kodak’s lunch.

Another image scanned from an original 13x19" print of a gargoyle detail taken with a Kodak DCS 760M.
Another image scanned from an original 13 x 19" print of a gargoyle detail taken with a Kodak DCS 760M.

Kodak’s follow-up camera, the DCS 14n, was Kodak’s first full-frame DSLR, as well as its last. Though full-frame, because of supply shortages from camera manufacturers who were also busy trying to gain a foothold in the digital camera market, Kodak was forced to use a Nikon N60 consumer-level film camera as a camera body, which was woefully not up to the task in terms of durability or functionality. Around the same time, Canon, Nikon, and other manufacturers began entering the DSLR market, and Kodak’s fate was all but sealed.

Do you own a classic camera—digital or film—that you’re still fond of? Tell us about it in the Comments field below—we’d love to hear about it.

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Hello, do you have DCS7XX. BIN 3.1.9 firmware? I need to upgrade my DCS760, hope to get your help. 

Unfortunately, the Kodak DCS 760M 6 Megapixel DSLR Camera has been discontinued for multiple years and is no longer supported.  Also, as this line of camera was discontinued before Kodak went into bankruptcy in 2012, Kodak no longer offers support for their older professional cameras.  

http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/support/cameras/dcs760/760SupportIndex.jhtml was the link for the camera's firmware download, but as indicated when clicking the above link, the website is no longer supported by Kodak.  If you are having issues with your camera, it may be time to update your camera.

I have several vintage DSLRs, including two DCS cameras: a 460 and an SLR/n. The SLR/n is actually based on an N80/F80, not an N60. While not a pro-level base body, the N80 was still a good enthusiast camera and the Kodak additions to it appear to be magnesium. Although the SLR/n may not be as high end a body, the digital portion and the overall capabilities of the camera are quite impressive for 2004, and, other than slow startup time, and lousy battery life, it's still quite a useful camera even in 2021.

The 460, on the other hand, is much more bleeding edge digital of 1995: APS-H, no hot mirror, no LCD at all, very slow write times, huge digital back/bottom add-on, ISO 80 only, and, again, based on an enthusiast level film body (the N90s). It's a lot like shooting film. It can produce some pretty good shots, but its sweet spot is pretty limited. 

I think Kodak's main reason for failure was that they were no-longer an interchangeable lens camera company when they started the DCS business. Having to rely on partnerships with Nikon, Canon, and Sigma made it difficult to impossible for them to be on the leading edge of the core camera features, and also required all their cameras to be obvious graft-ons to base film models. This is where Sony was successful in buying Konica/Minolta so they could jump in the DSLR game with an existing ecosystem and customer base, and reliance of external partners with conflicting agendas.

Meant to type "... no reliance on external partners..."

They would have done well to deepen their partnership with Sigma instead of promoting the con of four thirds with Olympus and Panasonic. 

Allen,

I acquired a 760m about 2 yeara ago in pristine condition with its original box and accessories.  I now want to start using it and would like your suggestions as to what very simple image editor would be appropriate.  I will use the 760m in Turkey to document images of old ruins of past civilizations for my personal use.   

How much did you get your 760m for?

I enjoy reading these reviews of classic cameras. I bought my first SLR camera in 1980, a Canon A-1 and a lot of film went through that camera. I added the motor drive for the A-1 and a Sunpak 522 flash. July 2013, I made a sales pitch to my wife about a used Canon New F-1. She asked "Is that their flagship camera?" I answered "Yes, for the 80's." She said "Buy it." I bought it with the AE Finder FN and AE Motor Drive FN and a few metering prisms. Although the A-1 has been a faithful companion for 40 years, for classic looks and beauty, the F-1N rules.

Hey Ralph - always nice to hear from you. Did you ever use the prism Canon made ro the F-1 that swiveled from eye-level to 90-degrees for heads-down waist-level viewing?Nobody else ever made anything like that  - it was so much handier than a slip-on right-angle finder.

-AW