It’s often said that when you pick your first SLR camera, you’re making a brand choice that will last the rest of your life. Those who are serious about photography quickly start acquiring lenses, accessories and additional camera bodies to the point where switching brands is no longer feasible, at least not without taking a major financial hit.
When I bought my first camera, I chose to go with Canon. Over 16 years—and numerous film and digital SLR bodies—later, I’m still a Canon user. So it’s been some time since I got my hands on another serious camera made by another manufacturer. That changed when I had to test a product that’s only recently entered public awareness, the Dr. Chef KAC-45 M.O. Camera.
The KAC-45 was first developed by Dr. Chef as a secret government project (reportedly in cooperation with the digital photo gurus at Polaroid), which is partially why it’s received so little publicity to date. But word has leaked about its potential for documenting subjects quietly and unobtrusively, so I was intrigued. As a wildlife photographer, the idea of photographing wild animals without disturbing them is appealing, and presents some new potential opportunities to get up close and personal with my subjects like never before. So I contacted Dr. Chef requesting a body for testing. They wrote back and told me that it would be quicker for me to run over to Sears and pick one up (which is harder than it used to be, as it turns out).
Dr. Chef KAC-45 Review
This was my first time laying hands on an M.O. camera. The first thing you notice when you get the KAC-45 out of the box—after you wipe off the last, clingy bits of styrofoam, of course—is how sleek it looks. The simple, boxy shape suggests a classically-styled piece of equipment, but the reflective surface cements its place among the coolest, most modern camera gear. It may in fact be the first commercially viable camera that comes in a stainless steel finish. To those who wonder whether a stainless steel piece of rugged outdoor equipment is really viable with the potential for fingerprints and water stains, Dr. Chef is way ahead of you. They were thoughtful enough to include a two pack of Barkeepers Friend in the box. Normally I don’t recommend camera kits, but I’d highly recommend this one, which also comes with the JetzScrubz scrubber sponge.
After I got over admiring my reflection in the steel finish, I took time to explore the other features. The KAC-45 sports a bright, easy-to-read display. This comes in handy when you’re using the self-timer, since the digital clock will show you how many minutes or seconds are left before it takes a picture. The self-timer is great for setting long exposures, which you can program in for as long as 99 minutes, 99 seconds. No more worries about leaving the sensor exposed for only a few minutes without overcooking it! As a bonus, this model will beep at you afterward three times to let you know a picture has been taken, with a single reminder beep every thirty seconds or so afterward if you haven’t touched the camera again.
The KAC-45 doesn’t bother with clumsy dials or protruding, lumpy buttons. Its keypad is completely flat, utilizing touchscreen tech that’s similar to what one might find on a Canon 80D and the other latest digital SLRs.
In the Field
Aesthetics are one thing. Many consumers are sold on how modern and slick a camera looks in a display case or in the studio-lit pictures displayed in their favorite online store, but what’s important is how it performs in the field. And this, unfortunately, is where I began to notice some issues with the KAC-45.
First, it’s heavy. This camera outweighs my entire Canon 600 + 1DX + Induro tripod setup. If you’re working in a home or studio, it would be fine (I imagine it’s perfect for food photographers). But hauling it out into the wild is a different matter altogether.
There’s only so long one wants to carry such a load over a shoulder, so a camera bag is essential. Unfortunately, Dr. Chef hasn’t released a suitable pack yet, so I was forced to see which of my camera bags might work. I had to turn to my biggest bag, the Think Tank Airport Security roller, but as you can see, even that wasn’t big enough.
On the plus side, my Think Tank Red Whips were perfect to keeping the KAC’s power cord wound compactly so it wouldn’t get tangled in my feet.
The power cord is an issue. You’d think any new digital camera today would be battery-powered, but Dr. Chef obviously decided to sacrifice portability in this case. When I took the KAC to a local park to do some test shoots, I couldn’t leave the parking lot, having to use an AC adapter running from my car. I had better luck in my back yard. Two extension cords (not included in the kit) allowed an extra 50 feet of roaming freedom. It was great to really get out into nature with this contraption!
Though heavy, the camera’s boxy design presents one advantage in that the weight is distributed pretty evenly, and is spread across four legs rather than three. This innovative design choice eliminates any concerns one might have about camera shake. As long as you put in on a relatively flat surface, there’s no need for a tripod! Of course, that also means you’ll mostly be shooting from low angles… but those low, wide angle shots are all the rage in wildlife photography these days anyway.
Dr. Chef really pumps the KAC-45’s ability to work as a “hidden” camera. As mentioned, documenting nature subjects without disturbing them is a fairly important aspect of the craft, not just ethically, but sometimes it’s the only way we can get a close-up view of shy or more elusive subjects. Rather than have you rely on a hide or sit in a blind for hours on end, Dr. Chef insists that disguising the camera in what looks like a regular metal box is the best way to get those close-ups.
During my testing I was able to discover some unexpected advantages (and disadvantages) of this device. It turns out that the KAC’s loud humming noise during operation didn’t scare animals off as I feared. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the device seemed to attract more wildlife than a normal camera setup would. A couple hours after I cooked up some delicious peppered bacon for breakfast, a bear walked down the block from the nearest junior high school to investigate the camera and pose for a photo op.
In terms of picture quality, the results were not what I had hoped for. Apparently the manufacturer was inspired by the “original” big boxy camera: the pinhole camera. And it shows in the resulting images.
Unfortunately, the KAC-45 also attracted unintended subjects. That same morning an unattended child zapped their cherry Pop Tarts inside (oddly, the bear returned within 15 minutes after this encounter). On another day, a woman walking her dogs stopped to warm her coffee and proceeded to spill it everywhere. Thank goodness for the Barkeepers Friend!
Many digital cameras these days have pre-sets that take a lot of the guesswork out of shooting, such as “Portrait” or “Landscape” mode. I normally shun these, preferring more control. However, not being familiar with an M.O. camera design, I found myself relying on the KAC’s presets. They’re not what you’d expect. This is the first digital camera with modes catered to specific wildlife subjects! For example, hitting the “Poultry” button allowed me to capture this photo of a wild chicken.
I’ve also found the poultry setting to work on anything from grouse to francolins to curassows.
A note of caution about the KAC’s shooting modes: I’d avoid trying the “fish” setting. This camera is not ideal for underwater photography while plugged in.
Dr. Chef may be onto something with the KAC-45. And experts seem to agree. One was quoted as saying, “there are many ways to [photograph someone]… through… phones, certainly through television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras.” The manufacturer has obviously found a recipe for future success.
Even if this camera is a little bulky and not entirely suited for outdoor photographers just yet, it does offer advantages. I’ve never used a camera that attracts so much interest from wildlife, especially bears, raccoons and rats. And I appreciated having the ability to enjoy a warm cup of apple cider on those cold mornings while I waited for something to show up. If Dr. Chef can lessen the weight by about twenty pounds, and maybe include three or four extra extension cords in the camera kit, this could be the most popular camera model to hit stores in 2017.
Full disclosure: The manufacturer is trying to appeal to videographers as well as still photographers, but due to time constraints, I didn’t have the endless hours in the field required to test the camera’s full video surveillance capabilities.