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filmscanners: Low-end Scanner Roundup

In response to a question posted on another forum from somebody wanting to
scan a lot of old slides, I wrote the following advice and roundup of
low-cost scanners.  I thought there are probably lurkers on this list that
are looking for the same type of information, so I'm reposting it here, at
the risk of being mauled and nit-picked.  I'm open to corrections and
feedback, but keep in mind the target audience.

Perhaps this could be the beginning of a low-end scanner FAQ answer.

Scanning 500-1000 negatives or slides will turn into a very time consuming
project. However, the time you spend doing this with a cheap 1800 dpi
scanner will be about the same you spend doing this with a quality 2700+
dpi scanner. 

The things that eat up the most time when batch scanning slides/negs: 

1) physically finding, sorting, selecting, cleaning, and loading all the
film. You'll have to do this whether you get a crappy scan or great scan
out of it. Makes sense to get a great scan, right? 

2) Cleaning dust spots and scratches off the scanned image. This will take
you about 5-15 minutes per image depending on how careful you are and the
nature of the defects. For example, dust is fairly easy to spot out using
the clone tool. A long scratch that goes through an important area will
take much more manual effort and in some cases cannot be fixed at all
manually if it goes through a detail area. A scanner with infra-red defect
removal will do this automatically, saving you tons of time. 

3) Color-correcting the scanned images. A scanner (and associated
software) that can get the color as close to target as possible
automatically will save you tons of time screwing with levels and curves
in photoshop. For old slides, scanners with Applied Science Fiction's
ICE3's Restoration of Color (ROC) will help get the color back to normal.
Or, use VueScan's restore color option. Even with brand new negatives, its
hard to consistently get the exact color balance you want because the
orange mask on the negatives must be removed.  Scanning new slides tends
to be easier in terms of color balance.

4) Changing film. If the scanner does not do batch scanning, you'll have
to baby sit it every minute to change film. Even without the batch slide
loader for the Nikon LS2000/LS4000 that others have mentioned, many
scanners can load up a strip of 6 negatives or 4 slides, then you can go
watch TV or do something else which it scans away for 15 minutes. Get an
extra film/slide carrier so you can load it up which the other one is

But film scanner quality is not measured by DPI alone...there are many
issues like noise, grain aliasing, dust-scratch elimination which are
harder to quantify, but really affect the end result. You can make up for
some of these with effort in PhotoShop, but it'll take time, and with alot
of frames, you'll get sick of it soon. 

So, what should you consider? 

Under $500: 

Acer ScanWit 2740S: SCSI, 2700 dpi, ICE3, batch scanning. Good scans but
not the best for shadow detail and has grain-aliasing problems typical of
scanners of this resolution. Mac driver support is new for them, but
VueScan works well with this unit. Scanning is slow when using IR defect

Minolta Scan Dual II: ~$450, USB, 2820 dpi, batch scanning. Good scans,
color tends to need some tweaking in saturation. Mac and PC driver support
and works with VueScan. No IR dust removal and horizontal orientation of
film tends to pick up falling dust while scanning. Batch scanning is slow,
noisy, and very annoying in the inefficiency of its transport motion going
back and forth for no reason. (its transport direction and scanning
direction are inexplicably opposite). Meanwhile, you can observe dust
falling onto the film. It's annoying enough that I want to smash this
scanner whenever I use it with its included software.  Apparently VueScan
can help this scanner by reversing the order that frames are scanned in,
but I haven't tried it yet. 

Canon 2710S: ~$400, SCSI, 2720 dpi, no batch scanning or IR defect
removal. Good color with default values. Works with VueScan. Film must be
manually advanced but is fairly quick and gives you the opportunity to
blow off dust while you are advancing the film. Vertical orientation
minimizes dust pickup during scanning though some is inevitable. Bonus:
includes APS scanning adapter (manual advance)

Under $1000: 

Nikon CoolScan IV: ~$900, USB, 2900 dpi, batch scanning, ICE3 IR defect
removal. Have not used this personally but examples on web look good.
Works with VueScan. 

Alternatives: Used/refurb Nikon Coolscan III or LS-2000. 

Minolta Dimage Scan Elite: ~$700, SCSI, 2820 dpi, batch scanning, IR
defect removal (no color restoration. but VueScan can provide). Have not
used. Older design than the CoolScan IV. 

Canon FS4000: ~$1000, USB+SCSI, 4000 dpi, batch scanning, IR defect
removal (no color restoration. but VueScan can provide). Very new on
market so I have not used and no reports on the net about this yet.
Vertical orientation avoids dust. Includes automated APS film adapter. 

Polaroid SprintScan 4000: ~$900, SCSI, 4000 dpi, batch scanning, no defect
removal. Works with VueScan. For the past year, has been the premier film
scanner under $1500 for professionals, price is now lower due to
competition at 4000 dpi from Canon FS4000 and Nikon LS4000. 

Kodak RFS3600: ~$1000, USB+SCSI, 3600 dpi, batch scanning of film strips
of 3-36 frames (but not mounted slides), no defect removal. 

The Canon FS4000 looks like a killer feature set for the price since it
looks comparable to the $1700 Nikon LS4000, but for only $1000.
However, nobody seems to have used one yet. 

Caution about 4000 dpi scanning though: the files generated are HUGE and
you'll probably need to upgrade your Mac's memory and/or processor to work
on them efficiently. It also reduces the number you can get onto a CD-R.
You can always scan at lower res if you have a 4000 dpi scanner though.

It's not an easy choice. Good luck. 


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