Kodak DCS Pro Back (Plus)- A Cautionary Tale

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by ggriswold, Aug 20, 2008.

  1. Dear Forum Readers,

    I know that lots of us have seen used Kodak Pro Back Plus backs on Ebay and elsewhere. With new backs being so
    expensive they are very tempting. When they stop working the real trouble can begin. I always held off the
    temptation of buying one of these because the repairs can easily top $4,000. Add the purchase price of $3K-$4K
    to a repair and you are very close to a new CFV Hasselblad and certainly a refurbished Phase One P20.

    Two weeks ago I went ahead and bought a Pro Back Plus because it came from an individual (not a Power Seller
    giant) and received a working back a few days later. The back was making really really good images... very exciting.

    I shot with it for two days and noticed dust under the IR filter. I removed the filter carefully and got the
    dust out and replaced the IR filter. I took two test shots and the back was now only making all white frames. I
    re-flashed the firmware, powered down, tried a new CF card --- none worked to fix the back.

    The ONLY place servicing these backs is Midwest Camera in Michigan.... so I sent it off there for a service
    estimate at a cost of $149. Midwest was prompt and courteous and came back with a repair estimate of $3850 which
    included the replacement of the imager assembly. When they went to order the imager from some division of Kodak
    the price had jumped over $900 making the total repair $4750. End of the line for my Pro Back Plus.

    Turns out there is a known issue with the IR filter latch spring.... it can break sending a piece to float around
    inside the back... in my case it shorted out the imager assembly trashing the back essentially. I have used
    camera and video gear professionally since 1979 and have never experienced such a catastrophic failure because of
    a internal part coming loose. I removed the filter very carefully, but the part let go and cost me a bundle. As
    these back get older they are failing more often and in unexpected ways with astronomical repair costs as result.

    I would send gear to Midwest again and they are not to blame for the high repair cost-- The Kodak image
    assemblies can not be repaired on the component level because of several internal calibrations that have to be
    set to each specific unit. Kodak has responsibility for abandoning a product line and then punish remaining
    customers with predatory repair parts pricing. I took a gamble on a discontinued product and I lost.

    I share this story to help others avoid the same fate.... save for a newer product that won't leave you high and
    dry. If you can find one for less it may be worth it. Another 20-20 hindsight: I would have shipped the back to
    Midwest to inspect it and replace the spring, ribbon connector and check it out. They can put a piece of tape
    under the spring to hold most of it if it does break or come loose.

    Respectfully Submitted,
  2. That digital back was a new product at one time too. That was the "safe" purchase instead of risky used gear at the time. (Not that there was any in the digital back world, perhaps.)

    I think any new product is going to suffer the same abandonment/pillage fate eventually. If you're in the pro camp using systems over $8k in value, you might as well plan on being ready to buy replacements whenever one of your pieces gets discontinued, if large repair bills bother you. If they make the new system backward-compatible enough to use some of the accessories, great, but consider them disposable if they are discontinued too.

    These companies seem to operate on the theory that pros can afford whatever they charge, and they'll pay it because it's cheaper than buying a new model. Exorbitant purchase prices coming in initially for pro gear gives the manufacturers much more freedom to ream for repair costs. Do you think they could charge $4000+ for a repair when the entire new camera was only worth $2000? No, only pros using $8,000+ cameras could possibly consider such a cost worthwhile.

    Just thinking out loud... makes me glad I don't play in the pro camp. It seems that as DSLRs become better and better, you might consider getting a top-of-the-line DSLR next time around. If it can cut the mustard in image quality for you, that lowers your max repair cost to the very cheap cost of a new body.

  3. You must be very disappointed. That's very unfortunate but your story might help save someone else from the same fate.
  4. George, I can't imagine the frustration over such a loss in such a short time. I too have been tempted by these backs but have refrained because Kodak no longer supports them. However as the prices keep dropping, I keep thinking about them. After your post I will NEVER consider them again. Thanks for your post, "I owe you one".
  5. One word.....Insurance
    Something like this had happened to a friend of mine. He insures everything he buys before he does and maintenance. He also insures it before he
    send things off for a repair. Just in case. The clause said something like if it is lost, stolen and/or damaged, it will be replaced minus the deductible.
    Within reason, everything worked out.

    Its expensive and as long as you dont make to many claims, most professional camera insurances seem ok.
    Im not advocating buying then breaking because they do investigate large claims.
  6. Werner,
    That was the sole purpose of my post... to save others the same fate. Maybe I should accept PayPal donations from
    everyone who almost bought one of these backs ;).
    After doing some legwork and investigating I have purchased a Phase One P21 back refurbished at the factory.
    Comes with all new charger, batteries, etc. I have shot and printed square format for a long time, but the P21 is
    a newer generation imager that has some benefits. The P20 is square and has the same CCD as the Pro Back Plus--
    a great imager but getting a bit long in the tooth. I decided on the P21 because it will have a better support
    future and is more commercially viable.

    I can recommend Capture Integration if you are looking for a medium format back. They are Phase One dealers and
    have refurbished and used backs. Best of all you can talk with an experienced sales person who can find a good
    fit for you. Everyone at Capture Integration has a deep background in digital technology and can be trusted to
    guide your purchasing decisions. I called other firms and did not get anywhere near this level of service and
    expertise. Currently (August 2008) Phase One is running some promotions on factory refurbished backs ( one year
    warranty). Other promotions may be available depending on when you decide to buy. If you can scrape together
    about $6000 you may want to give them a call. They did have some H series backs which have to be tethered for
    even less money (no LCD, etc.) If you are ready to buy give them a call or email.

    www.captureintegration.com Main office in Atlanta is 404-522-7662.

  7. Hi George,

    I am another on your owe you one list. Much appreciated, your time and effort to write.

    Kelly, Corporate pillage humm, having traded with and supported complex products from American companies and watched those companies grow from small to mid sized to major players over a 25 year time frame I can say that pillage goes up as client/customer appreciation/support goes down and that this appears to have rationale linked to shares on the stock market. Sadly this makes client/customer support very, very difficult. I have also noticed that those customer’s staff seem to dumb down and get less and less value from the products they are using. There is an least one modest sized book that could be written on this subject.

    Best Regards Rob
  8. UPDATE: I ended up buying a P21+ and it is a real gem. I used to soup black and white film after every shoot and this has changed the way I work. As dedicated as a shooter who used to hit the darkroom after every outing this digital back has gotten me out there more than ever. With 12 stops of dynamic range I am not sacrificing quality and have become more productive. The way I figure it between the savings in film, chemicals and the water bill I will break even sometime around 2012.... nobody ever said this was a rational undertaking!

    Happy shooting,
  9. I appreciate George's tail however I have had a completely different outcome. I purchased on ebay a Kodak DCS Pro Back Plus with 4k actuations in January 2014 it had been owned by the sellers company and used very little. I paid $2000.00 for it. It has worked flawlessly ( I think it still has less than 10k clicks) since and is still used on occasion but has been replaced by a H3D-39 I purchased used ($3700.00), yep on ebay, with 6k actuations. On the other hand I bought a new Nikon D750 with 24-120 lens and the lens will take fits of vibration on occasion usually when there is a great shot!
  10. Is this the Lazarus Effect, resurrecting a thread nine years old?
  11. A 16 megapixel 12 bit 36mm square sensor chip with firewire connection and rather poor colour discrimination.

    Why does this even warrant any kind of discussion or attention 14 years after its introduction?
  12. We still speak lovingly about the Leica M3, sixty years after its introduction, using media which doesn't approach the resolution or color discrimination of a 16 MP MF digital camera.
    Jochen likes this.
  13. Does anyone speak lovingly of VHS VCRs, Video disks, Sony Mavicas or 14" CRT monitors? Because that's a much more similar comparison to this ugly outdated moulded plastic piece of technology.
  14. I think we're talking about Hasselblad, not Mavica, the photographic equivalent of an apex predator.
  15. I think we should stop adding to a 9 year old thread and let it, and the DCS-pro back rest in peace!
  16. The thread is old, and the 2017 OP should probably have started a new one. Regardless, the OP followed the "rules" and started his quest with a search.

    The DCS back is just one example of Kodak's mistreatment of their customers. When Kodak decides a product is obsolete, they drop all support. They also dropped out of the consumer printer market, and laid off their entire staff supporting those products. I have a Kodak dye-sub printer taking space in my work area. It still works but I am on my last box of paper - no longer available. It only runs on Windows XP because there are no updated drivers. I bought the printer in 2007, so ten years life is not bad by some measures. However I bought an Epson Expression 1600 scanner in 2001 which is still supported by Epson.

    Kodak is still running with the needle on Empty, surviving by selling pieces of their huge inventory of patents. They grossly misjudged the significance of the digital revolution, even though they were leaders in the field. In fact, they are disdainful of anything not Kodak. I suspect they saw digital imaging as impinging on their film business (it was/is), but rather than adapt they chose to hold a losing hand.

    We see a parallel in the business model of Nikon and Canon with regard to mirrorless cameras, or General Motors which dismisses reliability and long life in favor of electronic gadgets and creative cup holders, and turnover enforced by rust and decay.
    htimsmk likes this.
  17. Howdy, Rodeo Joe!

    Because people are still using them. I for one am still shooting with my Kodak DCS645M.
    And a big part of why is that, like all the Kodak 9 micron CCDs, its colour performance is absolutely beautiful, while 16 MP of "fat pixels" without an AA filter gives super sharpness, even with older glass. (Filters were click-on, click-off so if you absolutely needed an AA filter, you had that option too).

    Nope. The Kodak Proback series are all metal.

    I suspect you never handled, let alone used, one?
    htimsmk and nathan_wong|2 like this.
  18. That's not really a true statement. They have provided me product support on items that were at least that old if not older, in the past. They are very good about notifying the public about the discontinuance of items via their website and/or press releases. Why should they be obligated to provide support after they discontinue a product? When my Kodak camera malfunctioned (about 40 years later), I didn't try to get support from them..I had to seek alternate resources for the repairs. Granted that was a film camera. Digital cameras are entirely different as they are so outdated/irrelevant within a few years. I love anything Kodak and we are all fortunate they are still around producing film in this day and age.
  19. I owned a Pro Back Plus for a limited amount of time about a 9 or 10 years ago. It was actually quite nice. Heavy, but nice. Kodak had discontinued the model long before I purchased it used, but I was still able to get the latest updates and manuals (I still have them on my hard drive). I agree that picture quality is really good. The only thing I didn't like was the fact was I had to use an external battery that I slung over my shoulder or clipped to my belt.

    I purchased a Phase One P25 back (circa 2007) just a few months ago knowing that a new Nikon DSLR was right around the corner (D850). I wanted the larger format, bigger pixels, and the color rendition for my Hasselblad. I realized that the Phase One would be an equivalent to a 12MP FF DSLR camera. Since I don't shoot professionally that's quite fine. I just wanted something for medium format.
    htimsmk likes this.
  20. Some great news for ProBack owners. Despite Midwest ceased servicing Kodak products, you can still have your back refubrished. There are some people who love these digital masterpieces and posess a large stock of spate parts. I've just had my DCS ProBack Plus fully refubrished by these incredible guys. If someone interested, contact me. They're located in Russia.
    Its not an ad since it is seemingly the last place on the planet where such a job can be done.
    htimsmk likes this.

Share This Page