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Scanner Article Update (edited 3/12/02)

The Nikon 8000 and 4000
The most interesting new scanners I looked at since submitting my scanner article for the August Photo Annual of Communication Arts are the Nikon 8000 and 4000. The Nikon 8000 scans both 35mm and 120 film formats at up to 4000 dpi optical resolution. With a scanning density range of 4.2, the 8000 may be considered a more economical Imacon. The 35mm scans are very sharp, similar to the Imacon’s but maybe just a tad less sharp. They are certainly so close to the Imacon and Photo CD Pro scans that just a small sharpen on the Nikon 8000 35mm scan will make it equal in sharpness to the Imacon or Photo CD Pro. The Imacon Precision II actually scans at 5760 dpi, a little bigger, and the Photo CD Pro scans are at 4000 dpi, like the Nikon 8000 or 4000. The 120 scans from the 8000 are also very sharp although I didn't have a direct comparison with the Imacon at that size. The 120 holder on the 8000 has the wonderful feature of clamping the film along both long edges so it can be stretched tight! This is a great film holder and should help solve the problem of 120 film buckling or sagging in the center. The software for 120 size supports 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8 and 6x9 but since it is a long undivided holder, one can actually scan 6x17s by doing two scans and piecing them together later in Photoshop. I tried this and it works but you have to slide the film down the holder a bit between the two scans. You also need to be careful that both scans are aligned horizontally or you will have to rotate one when you piece them together.

The NikonScan 3.1 software that comes with the 8000 and 4000 is certainly the most versatile that I have tested and appears to be on par with the Imacon’s. Both these scanners actually allow the intensity of the lamps to be increased in the hope of getting more detail out of very dense film. This software shows updated histograms after all adjustments, has similar adjustments to the other better packages I tested and also has an additional LCH curve adjustment for doing Luminance, Chroma, Hue adjustments. Very Cool! NikonScan 3.1 allows scanning in either 8 bit or 14 bit on either scanner and one can also make more than one scan pass and average the results together for a more accurate scan. I used the 4 pass setting for my scans. Doing a 4000 dpi 14 bit scan of 35mm on both these Nikon scanners took about 4 minutes when hooked up to my duel processor 450 mhz Mac G4. Doing a 4000 dpi 14 bit scan of a 6x7 120 image took between 23 and 30 minutes when hooked to the same computer. These times were when running the scanner using the Photoshop 6 plug-in versions of the Nikon software and making 4 samples per pixel. The 8000 comes with a 35mm slide holder, that holds up to 5 mounted slides at a time, a 35mm strip film holder that can hold two 6 frame strips side by side for a total of 12 frames and a 120 holder that holds all the 120 formats I mentioned. On first appearance, the 35mm scans on the 4000 seemed a bit sharper than those from the 8000. After trying two separate Nikon 4000 units, however, I thought maybe these scans were a bit too sharp and I actually liked the ones from the 8000 best between the two. My scanner search may be over, the quality is there, the price is right, I think I may be buying a Nikon 8000!

There is one potential problem I found with my Nikon 8000. When scanning images that had very dark shadows, I discovered that if I did raw 16 bit scans then later opened up the shadows on the 16 bit file using Photoshop 6 Levels that there were streaks in the dark shadow area within pixels in the range of 0 to 30 or so. My initial impression was that this scanner, with its large dynamic range, was just picking up shadow detail that other shadows didn't get and therefore I could just turn this to black and that would fix it. I played with this idea some but found that when comparing this Nikon 8000 scan to a Photo CD Pro scan of the same image, the Nikon 8000 scan didn't handle these dark shadows as well and did leave streaks in the shadow area where I actually got useful very dark detail from the Photo CD Pro scan. The scans from the Polaroid Sprintscan 120 also looked better in these very dark shadow areas. You probably wouldn't notice this unless you scanned an image with large areas that were black or very near black. In that case, the performance of the Nikon 8000, with the shadow streaks, concerned me. Maybe this problem was just a defect in the beta unit I was testing. Unfortunately, Nikon only left the unit with me for a limited time so I was not able to do further tests with mine. I discussed this problem with Nikon and they mentioned that if this problem occurs it can be solved by setting the scanner to scan with just one of the three sensors normally used when scanning. Look in the Nikon manual for a description of how do this to cure the problem of streaks in your shadows. Nikon has claimed they will be sending me another scanner and I will be testing this for myself. So far they have not sent me another test unit. I have had e-mails from several sources that I trust and they confirm that using just one sensor does solve this problem. Since this problem does seem to be solvable, the Nikon 8000 is the scanner I've been dreaming about and I'd recommend it!

Using Monaco EZ color 2.1, or another profiling package, to make a custom profile for the scanner will help you to get scans that initially match your original slide. I've tested this with Monaco EZ Color 2.0 and a Nikon 4000 using the optional 35mm IT8 film target and it works quite well. Once you make a profile for your film scanner you want to assign this profile to your scans. If the Nikon scanner won't allow you to attach the profile directly, save the file without a profile. When you open the file into Photoshop 6 or 7, use Image/Mode/Assign Profile to assign the profile you made to the files you scan. If you then want to work in a specific color space, like Adobe RGB, choose Image/Mode/Convert to Profile and convert from the scanner profile you just assigned to Adobe RGB or whatever RGB workspace you normally use. The image on your screen should now look very similar to your original scan when that is viewed using a 5000 kelvin viewing box.

The Polaroid Sprintscan 4000 and 120
The Polaroid Sprintscan 120 is a great new scanner with similar functionality to the Nikon 8000. The Sprintscan 120 will scan 35mm and 120 film at up to 4000 with either 8 bit or 14 bit per channel scans. The Sprintscan 120 comes with a 35mm mounted slide holder that holds up to 4 slides. It also has a 35mm strip film holder that holds up to a 6 frame strip. The 120 holder and software supports 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, and 6x9 formats but doesn't have the mechanism to stretch the film tight across the width as the Nikon 8000 holder has. The scans I have made with the Sprintscan 120 are very similar in sharpness to those of the Nikon 8000 with the Nikon being just a tad sharper. The difference between the two is minimal and could probably be made up with a small Unsharp Mask factor. I did recently scan my Santa Cruz Boardwalk 35mm and a 6x7 test image on the Sprintscan 120 at Pro-Photo store in Portland, Oregon. I was actually more impressed with the scans than I thought I would be. Scanning with the Silverfast software, that ships with the 120 along with Polaroid's Polacolor software, I was able to do 16 bit raw scans of the 35mm in about 2 minutes and of the 6x7 in about 18 minutes. The machine at Pro-Photo was a 400 Mhz G3 with 340 megs assigned to Photoshop. The Silverfast software is a fully featured package offering similar features to the Nikon 8000 and Imacon software. I have been testing the Sprintscan 120, it is a very good scanner and compares better to the Nikon scanner in sharpness than the previous Polaroids have compared to their Nikon counterparts. If you get the Sprintscan 120 and want scanning software with a lot of features, make sure you get it with the Silverfast software. The version I have been testing actually came with only the Polacolor software and I have learned how to get very good scans using that package also.

When scanning slides with Polacolor, I've found that using their Color Slide Input Profile works better than the Raw Color Positive profile. I believe there may also be some newer profiles that you can download from Polaroid's web site. I usually do a Preview scan then use the Auto Exposure button in the Tone area. After doing this, I check the Histograms window (Edit/Show Histograms) to be sure I haven't thrown out any highlight or shadow detail that I care about. You can view each of the Red, Green and Blue Histograms separately which is helpful when you are working with contrasty originals. While viewing the Histograms, I'll make changes in my Lightness and occasionally Contrast settings in the Tone area to make sure I'm gettting all the information out of the film. When I'm happy with the histograms, I switch to the Scan area and usually do a 16 bit scan at 4000 dpi which I save as a TIFF file. I do most of my serious color correction in Photoshop where I have the fine control available with all of Photoshops tools. Making a Monaco EZ color 2.0 scanner profile for this scanner can also help you to get a scan that starts out closer in color to your original slide.

The details of getting the best possible scans with each of these scanners will be covered in depth within my future book "Making the Digital Print" and may also be posted on this web site even before this book comes out later this year.

I have not done an extensive test on the Polaroid Sprintscan 4000, which scans 35mm at up to 4000 dpi. While recently teaching a workshop at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, I did compare a 35mm negative, which I scanned at 4000 dpi on a Sprintscan 4000 and also at 4000 dpi on a Nikon 4000. Both of these were 14 bit per channel scans. I made sure that both scans did a focus on the film before the scan and the Nikon 4000 scan was sharper. Both these scanners are capable devices but if sharpness is most important to you, as it is to me, the Nikon won that prize on the units I tested.

Between the Polaroid Sprintscan 120 and the Nikon 8000, I believe I like the software that comes on the Nikon a bit better and I also like the Nikon's film holders, especially the 120 one. Both these scanners are a great improvement over what was available at this price in the past. I will hopefully be doing more tests on the Nikon 8000 and will also try to test the Sprintscan with Silverfast. In the meantime, if you need to get a scanner, I'd recommend either one with a slight bias towards the Nikon 8000. If you are just doing 35mm scans then I'd get the Nikon 4000 and if you have to scan a lot of 35mm images, their batch scanning attachment allows you to scan up to 50 slides automatically. A friend of mine who shoots stock and has to do a lot of scans is very happy with his Nikon 4000.



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