Polaroid 4000 Scanner
As part of the upgrade of my entire image processing system in 1999 I planned to replace the Nikon CoolScan LS1000, which has been the mainstay of my scanning arsenal for the past 3 years. During that time I have probably done more than 750 to 1000 scans with it. All of the 35mm scans on this web site (until June 1999) were done with it. (For medium format work I now use the Imacon FlexTight Photo, and for 4X5" and flat art-work the Agfa Duoscan.)
The scanner question was resolved in July '99 when visited
my dealer for a comparison between the Nikon LS2000 and the
SprintScan 4000, the two contestants. I ended up going home with the the Polaroid.
Here's why. ( An unfavorable review of the Nikon LS2000 by MacWEEK
Magazine was online for a while, but has since been removed (July '99).
It appeared after I made my buying decision.)
Frankly, I was predisposed to the SprintScan 4000 because I wanted the extra resolution, but I was more than willing to give the CoolScan 2000 a fair shot because of my past positive experience with the Nikon 1000.
Firstly, my shopping impressions: For the in-store test (Vistek in Toronto) we used a slide that had moderate contrast and showed a man and woman standing in front of a red sports car. The woman had on a white dress.
Here's what I found. The Polaroid's resolution, as expected, was a significant bonus. Finally there is an affordable 35mm scanner that can produce scans that approach the resolution of current film and lenses. (For a discussion that delves into the numbers on this have a look at Brad Templeton's Article.)
Though the Nikon sports a better DMax number (3.6) to the Polaroid's (3.4), on the scans we did there was clearly better shadow and highlight detail from the Polaroid! The Nikon produced more pleasing skin tones, but, the white dress had a definite cyan cast, while the Polaroid produced a much cleaner scan with the white dress showing as a very pure white. (Both machines were adjusted to their "automatic" settings and no corrections were done before importing into PhotoShop.)
The histogram on the Polaroid scanned slide was very smooth while the one from the
Nikon had some gaps.
The Nikon's ICE clean-up capability is nice, but not very important to me since my slides and negs are kept immaculately. I can see it appealing to a commercial lab though.
So, the Polaroid came home with me. Now for my initial impressions on actually using it after several days.
|The increase in resolution over the Nikon LS2000/ 1000 (and in fact all other 35mm
desktop scanners) is remarkable. 4000 DPI produces a scan that is more than twice as
large as one done at 2,700 DPI. Looking at the scan in PhotoShop with
magnification set to "Actual Pixels" one can for the first time
actually see the film grain! This is more accurately, with colour transparency film,
the dye clouds. But, it's essentially the same thing.|
|This higher resolution means that an 11X17" print can be output at 300dpi,
something previously possible only with expensive output from a drum-scanner.|
|As noted in my in-store evaluation, the histogram is very smooth. Smoother than I
ever recall seeing with my Nikon 1000.|
|It's interesting to note that the scans that I've done need much less sharpening
(Unsharp Mask) than was needed with my previous Nikon.|
|The Polaroid software is straightforward and simple to use. Some of the automatic
image correction features can ruin a scan as well as enhance it, so care is needed in
their use. There is a full range of manual controls, so if you know what you're
doing very high quality scans can be produced. While third-party Silverfast software
for Nikon scanners is highly reputed, Nikon's regular software is not
significantly different or superior to Polaroid's.|
|The scanning speed is relatively fast, especially considering the resolution and amount
of data that must be scanned and transferred.|
|The scanner is no louder in operation than my old Nikon 1000.|
Click here for a description of how this image was shot and scanned. Press your browsers BACK button to return here afterward.
Now for the bad news.........
|It is not possible to load a single slide by itself. There is a 4 slide carrier and a 6 frame film-strip carrier. These stick out of the front of the scanner and, frankly, I'm sure that one of these days I'm going to bump into the protruding end breaking it off or worse. The Nikon, on the other hand, nicely takes a single slide at a time.|
|The slide carrier loading is finicky. Sometimes the scanner grabs it, and sometimes it doesn't. It's simply a poor mechanical design.|
|Though not a fault, potential users should be aware that a 4000 DPI scan produces about a 54 Megabyte file! This is twice as large as a 2700 DPI scan from most other scanners. Unless you have at least 200 MB of RAM available on your computer don't even think about buying the Polaroid 4000. Remember that PhotoShop prefers to have 4-5 times the RAM as the size of the image.|
|The scanner works with both PCs and Macs, and comes with software for both. PC owners are short-changed in several ways though. The Mac software allows batch scanning, which the PC doesn't, and a Mac can save files in PhotoShop's PSD format, which the PC version can only save as TIFFs. Additionally, there is no TWAIN driver for the PC, though the software can be set to automatically load another program (PhotoShop) as soon as an image has been saved.|
|The scanner has profiles for several specific brands of film, but unfortunately none by Fuji, and none of the current transparency emulsions from Kodak. The generic "Slide Film" setting works fine, but there isn't a download area directly available on the Polaroid web site. Polaroid does have an FTP site.... ftp://ftp.polaroid.com but it isn't clear what's available. All-in-all not very slick web based support of the kind that one could expect from a major company.|
Incidentally, There is a new version, (3.5) of the Polaroid InSight software available though which permits 36 bit unprocessed scans to be imported into PhotoShop. It can be downloaded at........ ftp://ftp.polaroid.com/pub/imaging/input/PolaColorInsight/Insight3.5/ but be aware if you have a slow net connection that it is about 9MB in size. Note that the size of the scan doubles when done in 36 bit mode rather than 24 bit. This means that a full 35mm frame becomes a 110MB raw file!
My preliminary evaluation then is that the Polaroid SprintScan 4000 is a superior device for scanning 35mm slides. In balance, I don't think that there is a scanner currently available that can touch it, though the Nikon CoolScan 2000 is probably its equal or superior in every aspect except resolution. If you have a large format colour printer like the Epson EX or 1200 you owe it to yourself to evaluate and consider this new scanner. The output results on large prints are remarkable.
This is an almost full-frame scan, equal to about a 50MB file. Note the small section outlined at the center-left. This is enlarged in the frame below.
This frame is a blow-up done at PhotoShop's Actual Pixels resolution and then down-sampled to a 96ppi JPG for display here. This means that what you're seeing is essentially the same as what I see on my monitor when in Photoshop, at a size equivalent to the scanner's full (4000ppi) resolution.
Since the shot has taken hand-held, wide-open, at 1/125sec with a Canon 400mm IS lens it may not be as critically crisp as one could wish for this test. But, it allows you to see the actual grain of the film and the resolution that this scanner is actually capable of.
NB: I am away from my regular digital darkroom for the summer, working from my country house. Therefore, I am currently unable to do an in-depth side-by-side evaluation with my old Nikon 1000, or do scans from my library of slides, but I will do so later in the summer. Stay tuned, and check What's New on a regular basis. Also, visit the Luminous-Landscape's Discussion Forum for more thoughts on this and other digital products, and to contribute your opinion.
8 July, 1999
In the few weeks since I first obtained my Polaroid 4000 scanner and wrote the above review I have received a number of e-mails asking how it handles colour negative film. Since I almost always shoot with transparency film I have been unable to provide a response.
In an effort to provide some examples done with negative film, here are the first results of a small test.
Note the small frame on the upper left. This is enlarged below.
Shot on Kodak Royal Gold 100, this photograph of Ruby, my 9 year-old Golden Retriever, was taken with the Canon 28~70mm f/2.8L zoom. The exposure was hand-held at about 1/60sec at f/2.8 in mixed room and daylight. The original scan was subsequently cropped down to about 45MB from it's full-frame 54MB.
Ruby - Cropped, 1999
Like the example of the birds above, this frame is a blow-up done at PhotoShop's Actual Pixels resolution and then down-sampled to a 96ppi JPG for display here. This means that what you're seeing is essentially the same as what I see on my monitor when in Photoshop, at a size equivalent to the scanner's full (4000ppi) resolution.
Firstly, I can report that using the Polaroid's generic Color Negative scan setting I got a scan that was almost identical in contrast and colour balance to the 4X6 print made by the pro lab where the film was processed; BGM in Toronto.
What I can deduce from this is that the scanner will do quite a good job with colour negative film without too much tweaking. The enlargement, like the one of the birds above, shows excellent detail - particularly in the blue collar. There is good colour depth and shadow detail in the dark patterned rug. It does seem to me though that there is more grain on Gold 100 than in Provia 100. Also, as I have experienced in the past with the Nikon LS1000, scans of colour negatives show more flaws, (spots, micro-scratches and other minor defects) than do transparency films. This means quite a bit more work doing digital "spotting". Photographers working with colour negative film should find the Polaroid 4000 more than satisfactory.
Update, Oct 1 '99: A much more comprehensive review than the one above is now available at photographer Tony Sleep's web site. It reinforces the positive review that I have given the Polaroid 4000 earlier in the year.
Update, Oct 18, '99: A new elaboration of Tony's review and some surrounding material can be found here.
Update, Oct 29, '99: A new and very favourable review of the 4000 has just appeared in the magazine Design Graphics, Issue #50.
Update, December 7, 1999: Here is an announcement by Polaroid about the release of an update to their scanning software for the Polaroid 4000 scanner.
Polacolor Insight 4.0 Release Candidate 2 for the PC and Release Candidate 1 for the Mac are ready for testing. PolaColor Insight v4.0 is a significant upgrade from the 3.x series.
New features and improvements are:
1. Histograms with a twist. When the histogram option is dynamic in as it shows any change made in any other of the color correction options. Additionally the "histogram" function is linked to the curves function . For example when "curves" is selected you can set the white and black points directly from the histogram using eyedroppers. That change is immediately
transferred to the "curves" display.
2. You can select any peak point on the "histogram" and a point will appear on the curve in the "curves" dialog.
3. You can select a gray area with the bounding box and balance that gray with the color wheel by watching the changes in the "histogram" until they overlap.
4. Batching with thump nails has been added. You can now batch 40 images with the APS adapter or batch a film or slide strip. You can even assign different parameters to each slide.
5. You can now attach a profile to a raw scan. This save a ton of hand work in Photoshop.
6. The handling of profiles in general has been improved particularly on the Mac.
A word about twain. I have been referring to this version of Insight as Insight 4.0 "better than Twain" for the following reasons.
1. Although a standalone application, Insight preserves the "scan into the application " functionality of Twain. In the "scan" dialog just select the application into which you want the scanned image placed. If the application is running the scanned image will be placed into a window of that application. If the application is not running Insight will start the application.
2. You can have Twain functionality in applications that are not twain compliant. Scan into Word if you like.
3. Twain is not effective in supporting batching.
4. With Insight you be working the initial images of a batch while the batch continues to scan.
5. You can scan with having to load any other application.
6. With Insight you can have Insight and the application such as Photoshop running simultaneously. No so with Twain. Insight "better than Twain" 4.0 can be found in the following location ftp://ftp.polaroid.com/pub/imaging/input/PolaColorInsight/Insight_40_RC1/
For the PC Release Candidate 1 is being replaced with Release Candidate 2 to address problems discovered in Release Candidate 1. Hopefully this will on Monday December 12
Any comments, questions, or reports
Polaroid 4000 purchasers should be aware that in North America and Canada the scanner is now bundled with LaserSoft's SilverFast AI5 scanning software. This is a superior product and much preferable to the software that originally shipped with the 4000 last year.
That said, while comprehensive the instructions are not as clear as they could be. Ian Lyons of Computer Darkroom has now written a comprehensive 4 part tutorial which should go a long way to assisting new users in getting the most from this excellent scanner and software combination.
In the fall of '99 I had been testing medium format scanners with the intention of updating my 3 year-old Agfa Duoscan. The Imacon Precision II, a 5,760dpi scanner, had long tempted me even though it's extremely expensive. While testing it with medium format transparencies I also did some tests with 35mm. In the end I bought the somewhat less expensive though equally high-quality Imacon FlexTight Photo scanner.
The Imacon is now my primary film scanner and is used for all my 35mm and medium format scanning.
The Polaroid 4000 has a very handy APS film adapter available. This page contains a brief review and image samples.
In late June '99 information on a new 4000 DPI scanner from Microtek became available. The market for high-resolution 35mm scanners has consequently became a lot more interesting now that there's competition for Polaroid. Read more about it here.
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