Adventure: Powering a Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n (and 14n)
Let me begin this story with a warning:
I do not recommend you buy this camera! Not unless you're technical, dogged, with money to burn, and at least a little bit perverse… In which case, welcome to the club, it hurts so good here!
Warning over, let the saga begin!
You can jump to the end if you just want to list of stuff to buy (if you can find it).
For my birthday this year, I decided to buy something just absolutely ridiculous: an 18-year-old full frame contraption that's more computer than camera.
Seriously, this thing has three screens and it crashes. Regularly.
The Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n is 13.5 megapixel, full-frame digital from 2004 for Nikon lenses. Not quite the first ever, but the third — depending on how you count — and certainly the one with the most megapixels.
Surprisingly for the time, it has an in-body focus motor so it can even drive newer Nikon AF lenses. It works beautifully with my husband's brand new Tamron 45mm.
Also surprisingly for the time, it has a CMOS sensor, but it doesn't look or feel like one; it lacks an AA filter, and I suspect the color filter array is unique to Kodak's design. There's probably a story there.
The output is beautiful.
I have a lot more to say about this camera, but first, I had to get it powered on.
You see… there's a reason this ancient, quirky, 13.5-megapixel FF digital camera is not the darling of retro-camera nerds everywhere.
Of course, it's rare, but that doesn't stop folks, now does it?
The issue is more primal: it's nigh impossible to power.
The first unit I bought — power-less— came from a very kind gentleman who had another one already, with a battery, and was thus able to prove that it did indeed work.
So when it arrived like an expensive, heavy brick, I did not despair.
I had not yet realized just quite how hard it would be to power before I bought it.
The battery situation
If you're lucky enough to get an SLR/n or 14n with an original battery or two, chances are you'll be able to get 5-10 shots off at most before they crap out. And that's if you also get a charger.
Most come with nothing, like mine.
I found a couple of OEM kodak batteries for $30-50 — already almost 20 years old, and probably dead. That might have been moot, anyway, as at least one of the companies I contacted said that the product listing was a mistake and they no longer sold them.
Here's the kicker: There are no Kastar batteries, folks.
There are only those moldering original Kodak batteries, old enough to vote — if you can find one.
But let's say you can get your paws on some batteries that are still definitely good. That brings you to the next problem…
The charger situation
There are no sure bet third party chargers.
I found one kinda sus web site selling an offbrand charger. Suspicious not in the sense of a deliberate scam, but it kinda looks like maybe they maybe haven't updated their inventory in the last decade.
What about wall power, you may be thinking? Well, that requires the original Kodak brand charger. Of course.
This is where I started to worry.
Luckily for me, when I worry, my coping mechanism is to obsessively research.
An alternate power source!
My furious eBay digging led me to an odd listing for a curly Quantum-brand power CABLE for the SLR/n and 14n.
Turns out the cable was for connecting a device called the Quantum 2x2 Turbo battery: An external power unit that could power both flashes and cameras. It "only" weighs 2lbs.
Alas it, too, was old and discontinued. And yet somehow still costing hundreds of dollars. Like… c'mon.
But, nevertheless! I was getting somewhere. Somewhere both annoying and expensive. Cue rage-googling, teeth-grinding, and praying to the obsolete tech gods.
Finally all this sturm und drang led me to a solution:
- a used, reconditioned Quantum Turbo Compact battery for which I paid $125 (only one pound and it screws onto the tripod mount!)
- a (new!) YDC8 cable to connect the QTC to the DCS Pro SLR/n, from Quantum, direct, $44
Now… how to get the power into the Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n?
The actually-getting-the-power-into-the-camera situation
You'd think there'd just be a port on the body to power it.
And lo, there is a port on the front that looks perfect for power!
But, as I learned the hard way… it is not.
You need a special, rare module to charge it from external power.
It looks like a battery, it talks like a battery, but it isn't a battery… it's a dummy module with a pin connector in it.
This Power Module is the crucial third leg of the three-legged power stool, without which I had bought myself a rather expensive paperweight.
And… it was only through many days of deep, deep forum dives that I came across a whisper of a dealer who was still selling old parts as of, like, five years ago: Midwest Camera Repair. (Whose web site also looked like it hadn't been updated since 2004…)
The Power Module wasn't on their list of supplies.
But I emailed them, just in case, heart in my throat — and they had one!
All I could do was wait
It felt like at any moment victory could be snatched from my grip.
Maybe the cable would be out of stock.
Maybe Midwest was wrong, and they had only an empty box. Getting the price out of them was like pulling teeth; they didn't seem to want to sell it to me (maybe they didn't believe I knew what I was buying). After I paid, they took a week to send me anything about shipping or tracking.
The Turbo Compact was refurbished by the guy who sold it; he seemed knowledgeable but maybe he didn't know what the hell he was doing. You never know!!
Anything could happen.
Finally — this took weeks! — all three parts were in my hot little hands.
I charged up the Turbo Compact.
I slid the Power Module home.
I plugged in the cable.
Nervously, I flipped the switch.
The Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n turned on.
The little LED screen said, Calibrating.
And then it crashed.
It's all worked out in the end but that's a story for another day!
TL;DR: You want to power a Kodak DCS Pro 14n or SLR/n?
You will need…
- a reconditioned Quantum Turbo Compact battery (find used on photo forums, eBay, Amazon marketplace, etc)
- a Quantum YDC8 cable
- a Kodak Power Module (dummy battery) from Midwest Camera Repair, if they still have it in stock