Kodak DCS-520/Firmware Version 3.0.8 Review
By: Tom DeRousie - Modern Imaging

December 11, 1999
Updated December 18, 1999

Digital photography has changed the way that we use our cameras from day to day.   One of the interesting twists to digital photography is that the camera manufacturer can redesign the user interface and features of the camera after your purchase, literally right in your hands.  In the case of Kodak, these camera feature updates are provided free of charge.

Last week, Kodak introduced the long awaited version 3 firmware for the DCS-520/DCS-560.  Many new features that enhance the operation of the camera have been introduced.  They are:

A Redesigned User Interface
The pre-version 3 firmware featured six always-present icons at the top of the preview screen.  Those icons previously represented (from left to right):

Single Image View
Four Image View
Nine Image View
Folder Selection (storage card)
User Settings/Camera Functions
Screen Brightness Adjustment

Pre-Version 3 Screen
The pre-version 3 firmware preview screen

The revised user interface cleans-up the display and introduces drop-down menus.   The six icons are replaced with always present card/folder information just above the preview image. 

Version 3 Screen
The new version 3 preview screen

Pressing the DISP/MENU button dims the preview image and shows four icons at the top of the screen.  They are:

Card/Folder Selection
User Settings/Camera Functions
Preview Display
Screen Brightness Adjustment

Drop-down Menu - Card/Folder Selection
Card/Folder Selection Drop-down Menu

Drop-down Menu - User Settings/Camera Functions
User Settings/Camera Functions Menu

By pressing and holding the DISP/MENU button, additional drop-down menus appear for each of the selection icons (with the exception of the Screen Brightness Adjustment).   Once these additional choices appear, they can be selected by using the large quick select dial just to the right of the display.  One of the User Settings that can be customized is the length of time before the drop-down menus appear after the DISP/MENU button is pressed.  This "Dropdown Menu Lag" setting is selectable from 1 (slow) to 5 (fast). 

I have found that if a drop-down menu appears before going to the desired icon, it can be confusing to get out of that selection area and into the desired one.  For instance, if you want to change the screen brightness, you press the DISP/MENU button, then roll the quick select dial until the Screen Brightness Adjustment icon is highlighted.  However, if you do not roll the quick select dial soon enough, the drop-down menu for the currently highlighted icon will pop-up.  This is quickly remedied by rolling the quick select dial counter-clockwise to close the drop-down menu.   At this point, the quick select dial will select the icons across the top of the screen, as originally desired.  This is a new practice that will become second nature in time. 

I really do not see any clear advantage to this new menu interface at this time.   Having all icons on the top level was more efficient (no waiting for drop-down menus to appear or going through extra steps to get out of them when they appear undesirably). 

Based on keeping the new interface, I have already suggested to Kodak that they incorporate the set ISO speed in this cleaned-up area at the top of the display.  The Canon portion of the body requires pressing two buttons simultaneously in order to set/view the ISO setting.  When reviewing images in the histogram mode, the ISO setting is displayed along with other camera settings.  Again, displaying the ISO setting in the regular preview display would put this "cleaned-up" interface to good use.

Wanted - ISO Information in Main Screen
My suggestion - ISO info in the main screen

Dual Card Support
This is a most welcomed enhancement to the DCS-520.  Since solid state cards are more durable than PCMCIA hard drive type storage media, they are becoming more and more popular.  The drawback is that their storage capacity is somewhat limited when compared to the latter.  Kodak has helped solve this problem by having the foresight to design the camera with two Type I/Type II card slots (which also allows the usage of Type III media).  With version 3 firmware installed, the top slot is now active.   When a second card is placed in the camera, the folder selection information at the top of the screen changes to indicate the currently selected card and the currently selected folder of that card. 

Multiple Card Indication
Card info when second card is inserted into camera
Display indicates "CARD0" OR "CARD1"

Top card in use

Bottom card in use

Also, a small square appears in the lower display giving a quick visual indication of which card is currently selected (top or bottom).  Switching between cards is automatic once the first card is filled.  The display alerts the user that this has happened.  The user can switch cards/folders manually by pressing the DISP/MENU button, selecting the Card/Folder selection icon with the quick select dial, waiting for the drop-down menu to appear, then selecting the desired card/folder with the quick select dial.  I have found that the camera will not accept different storage media where mixed voltage are involved (i.e., 3.3V SmartMedia in one slot with CompactFlash Media in the other slot).  Otherwise, mixing different media has not been an issue.

Auto White Balancing using Image Data
This is a radical change to the camera design.  Originally, the camera was designed to use a small white balance sensor located in the lower left corner of the camera (front view).  This design worked well in most situations, but was fooled in others.  For instance, if the subject was in daylight and the camera was in incandescent light, the camera would incorrectly assume that the correct white balance was incandescent lighting.  This was easily correctable in the acquire module without any degradation to the image.

Kodak has redesigned the camera to use the actual image data for selecting the appropriate white balance when the camera is set to "Auto" white balance.   So far, my testing has proven this to be more accurate than the previous design.   The white balance sensor is no longer utilized due to this change.

Image Processing Options
This is a most welcomed change as well.  A while back, I tested a DCS-315 which allowed in-camera JPG processing.  I did not like the feature at the time since the original raw TIF file was discarded.  Kodak has now introduced in-camera JPG (and/or standard RGB TIF) processing for the DCS-520.  They have addressed/corrected my previous concern by giving the user the option of keeping the raw TIF file or discarding it.  There are several options for in-camera processing.  They are:

File Type:
This allows the user to select the amount of image compression desired.  The choices are:
  JPG Best
  JPG Better
  JPG Good

This allows the user to reduce the spatial resolution of the processed image, if desired. The choices are:
  100% (1152 x 1728)
    67% (768 x 1152)
    50% (576 x 864)

Noise Reduction:
This filter compensates for the inherent blue channel noise.  This noise becomes more visible when shooting at high-iso shots (> ISO 400).  While I do not recommend using this feature in the Kodak Acquire Software for your "quality" processed images (Photoshop or Quantum Mechanic processing yields far better quality), the use of this filter does offer some improvement for quick in-camera processed images.  For low ISO shots, this is not necessary since it has little effect.

This allows the user to specify how much sharpening, if any, is desired to compensate for the softening effect of the low-pass anti-aliasing filter.  I do not recommend using anything beyond "Low" since the radius of the sharpening halo is a bit excessive and excessive image degradation results.  If you are not using the anti-aliasing filter, by all means, turn this feature off.

The "Product" setting yields a higher contrast image than the "Portrait" setting.

When processing images, the user can specify whether or not they prefer the auto exposure adjustment to be performed.  This algorithm's objective is to center the pixel spread of the histogram.  It also compensates for low contrast images.  So far, I have been impressed with the results.

Processing Settings
The Processing Setting Screen
The user must scroll down to select the exposure setting

The images to be processed can be selected with the following choices:

OFF - No images processed, settings retained
Tagged Images - Only processes tagged images
All In FOLDER01 (or 02, 03, etc. - based on currently selected folder before selecting processing settings)
All on card - Processes all images on the currently selected card

Processing Options
Processing Options

I processed a 1,977KB Raw TIF with each of the processing options.  The following file sizes resulted:

1,977KB Raw Processed TIF JPG Best JPG Better JPG Good
100% 5,893KB 870KB 660KB 522KB
67% 2,653KB 355KB 279KB 234KB
50% 1,519KB 235KB 191KB 165KB

I would still like to see some further improvements incorporated into this feature.   First, since the spatial resolution of this camera is 1728 x 1152, even at the 50% setting, the images are too large for screen viewing and/or e-mail purposes.  An additional setting of 35% would bring the images to just over 600 x 400 which would be more appropriate for the above mentioned purposes.

Another feature improvement would be to enable the camera to write the processed .JPG images to one card while retaining the raw .TIF files on the other card.  This would allow for removing one card with processed images while keeping the raw file in the camera.  Then, a new card could be placed into the second slot and the images could be reprocessed onto additional cards as needed.

Recover Card
This feature allows lost/deleted images to be recovered if the card that they were stored on was first formatted in the camera using the quick or full format feature.   Once the card has been recovered, it should be immediately reformatted in the camera after the recovered images have been transferred to another storage device.

IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) Data Support
Additional data (Image/Photographer) can now be preloaded into the camera and referenced later.

This enhancement of the self timer now allows the camera to be set up to automatically fire for X amount of frames, at X interval, with X start delay.   Therefore, the camera can be set to take ten exposures, one every two minutes, starting in three hours, for instance.  The time format is HH:MM:SS.  The maximum frame count is 9,999.

The New Intervalometer Feature

Before changing over to version 3 of the camera firmware, be sure to download and install version 5.8 of the host software.  Previous versions of the host software will not be able to open version 3 images.  Also, if you are using Adobe Photoshop version 3.0.5 or older, do not perform this upgrade since the older versions of Photoshop are not compatible with this new software/firmware.

Also, if you are using third party developed software for handling your DCS images, you will want to hold off on this upgrade until the new version of the DCS SDK is released.   This will enable developers to support the latest firmware/software within their applications.

The version 3 firmware has not yet been certified for use with the Canon D2000 (sister camera to the DCS-520).  Until then, it is recommended to continue using version 2.

Version 3.0.8 firmware is not compatible with older Lexar Media storage cards.  If you find that your Lexar Media card does not allow full storage capacity, reload the version 2 firmware and reformat the card.  Kodak has now released version 3.0.9 firmware which corrected this bug.

The version 3 firmware is not compatible with PC Event (or PC Pro) at this time.   If you have upgraded to version 3 firmware, you will need to reload version 2 firmware in the camera to enable usage with the Kodak Event software.  Also, if the camera still does not send valid images to the software after downgrading to version 2 firmware, check the white balance.  I found that I had to take it off the "custom" setting (which it defaulted to after downgrading to version 2 firmware).  Placing the white balance on "auto" allowed me to once again use PC Event (v3.28).

All and all, Kodak has done a fine job of enhancing the firmware of the DCS-520.   I do feel that the older user interface was easier to navigate, especially in speed shooting situations.  There are new opportunities for improvement based on the latest features enabled.  But none the less, it is exciting getting a new camera in a familiar shell!

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