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[filmscanners] Finally, I can talk about the SS4000+ (LONG)


  • To: lexa@www.lexa.ru
  • Subject: [filmscanners] Finally, I can talk about the SS4000+ (LONG)
  • From: "Arthur Entlich" <artistic-1@shaw.ca>
  • Date: Wed, 06 Feb 2002 01:42:31 -0800
  • Unsubscribe: mailto:listserver@halftone.co.uk

Some of you might have noticed that I haven't been complaining much
about my film scanner lately.  Those same people probably know I'm not
easy to please...

So, did my Minolta Dual II suddenly get fixed, or was it replaced with a
new one that worked "like butter"?

No such luck.

What did happen is that over the last few months I have had what I can
honestly call "the pleasure" of testing the new Polaroid SS4000+
scanner. In spite of the "storm", Polaroid has been pretty busy
working on new projects like the SS4000+. new versions of Insight, and
other goodies, ignoring any "doom and gloom" being reported about their
future.

I was under non-disclosure until now to discuss the unit while
Polaroid was busy working out a few minor bugs in the software and
firmware, which, as far as I can determine, are now eradicated.

Since I have never had a SS4000 I cannot directly compare it.  But I can
compare it to the other film scanner I have owned, so here's the rundown.

The SS4000+ I had, came in what appears to be the same shell as the
SS4000. I don't know yet if the production units will look like that or
not, since I've yet to see them on "the street".

As anyone who has been reading this forum knows, the SCSI interfacing is
gone from the SS4000+.  This unit has both USB and firewire.  My
pre-production unit came with a firewire card included, but I don't know
if that is standard packaging. Unfortunately, since my computer is
running WIN 98SE, I was told I should use USB v1.1, which is slower than
the firewire.

The first thing I noticed, is the unit is pretty large and substantial.
I guess I'd call it "solid".  After seeing and feeling the heft of the
SS4000+, the HP S-10, S-20 and Minolta Dual II I've used previously seem
somewhat like toys.

Installation:

My computer system subscribes to the concept of the "if anything can
possibly go wrong during installation, it will" theory, so I was
expecting problems on installation of the unit and the software
(Insight).  I have very rarely installed new software, let alone a
hardware peripheral without some disaster, be it a lock-up and partial
install leading up to 3 days of hair pulling while my computer lay in
pieces on the floor while I'm on the phone with tech support.  So, I was
nervous about this, especially since I already had another film scanner
on the other USB port and this was a "beta" unit.

Well, I was in for a pleasant surprise.  The SS4000+ installed without
any glitches at all.  It just installed the software, and became one of
the TWAIN devices available to me in Photoshop, Insight worked as stand
alone software as well, and the scanner hardware was recognized by the
computer OS.

Time to scan...  Insight came with sketchy help files, being in beta at
the time, and I have to admit I was scratching my head a couple of
times, but that's been improved upon in newer versions.  My policy with
film scanner drivers has always been to only use them to capture the
image and then send it on to Photoshop for the real work.  And indeed,
that's how I started my workflow with the SS4000+.  But, as I let my
hair down, I began to appreciate the easy layout of Insight, and let the
natural flow take over, and I found myself using more of the features in
it before sending the file over to Photoshop.

Now, Insight is "no Photoshop" but it is actually amazing how many
features it does have built in.  In fact, if you only need to get a good
scan off the film, and don't need to do cut and paste, or compositing or
design, you can get a perfectly good result with just Insight.  It has
many of the same image adjusting options that are in Photoshop, like
brightness, contrast, color balance, curves (with a histogram),
sharpening, and even resampling options for the output file.

The trickiest part of using Insight is its reliance on film profiles.
You could avoid this by sending a "raw" scan to something like Photoshop
and playing with color balance and curves, but I found it easier to use
the profiles within Insight, which provide a starting point to adjust
from. Transparencies were relatively simple because you aren't dealing
with dye coupler masks that make negative color film orange, so you have
a few basic profiles for transparencies; Slide, Kodachrome, and
underexposed slide.  With negatives its a bit more tricky because you
have to select a profile, and Polaroid doesn't have one for every film
made.  Sometimes you have to guess at what film profile will work best
for your film type.  The good thing is that this function is a software
matter done after the pre-scan, so you can quickly see what affect the
profile has on the image, and you can run through them until you find
the best one for the film you are working with.

The hardware is basically a large shoebox shaped case.  It has only one
button, a big orange one that turns the scanner on, and two LEDS that
tell you its status.  There is a good sized panel in the front that has
a slot to allow the carriers in, and which "floats" independently from
the rest of the front, so that the carrier position can be raised or
lowered for focusing.  There is also a slot in the back of the unit to
allow the carrier to pass through partially during scans.  The unit
makes a series of different sounds depending upon the function
activated.  Overall, it is both quieter and faster than the other
scanners I have owned.

The slide carrier takes 4 mounted 35mm slides, the film carrier takes up
to six frames of unmounted 35mm film.  The slide carrier is very easy to
work with, the film carrier was, at least for me, awkward.  It
could be made quicker to use, in my opinion.  If you are doing
"production scans" best to have at least two carriers at hand so you can
load one while scanning the other.

Prescans are very quick, and are large so you can really see what
you are looking at.  Some prescans on other film scanners I've had are
very small or such low resolution that they are difficult to determine
what one is looking at.

Scan Quality: Well, this is what its really all about, I suppose.  No
matter how nice the software is, or how pretty the box the scanner
comes in, if the scans are no good, what's the point?

The scan quality from the SS4000+ was amazing.  Since the SS4000+ seems
to recalibrate before each scan, I didn't see any streaking, or "lazy
sensors", and believe me, after the problems I had with other
scanners, I was looking for problems.  I looked for color fringing, or
images out of registration, but there was none.  Then I looked for the
usual party of "noisemakers" in the shadows of slides.  Nope.  I tried
playing with levels in Photoshop to force some stuff hidden in the
shadows to show itself.  It wasn't until I ended up with an image that
was beyond recognition that I was able to make anything approaching
"noise" show up.

Basically, this scanner does not create noise in shadows, under any
normal scanning conditions.  The next thing I looked at was the
gradients and grain.  Now, I know that many claim that scanners in the
2400 to 2700 dpi range amplify grain, and that may explain what I'm
about to write.  I think the thing that most amazed me was how grainless
most scans from the SS4000+ of my slides were, compared to the other
scanners I have used.  As a result of the exaggerated grain my others
scanners have exhibited, I got into the habit of being very judicious
with using unsharp masking, because it usually made the grain that much
more apparent.

Well, with the SS4000+ at 4000 dpi, my scans could handle pretty much
any level of unsharp masking I threw at them without showing grain.  At
first, I suspected Polaroid had defocused the unit to reduce grain, but
this isn't the case.  The sharpness of the image was certainly there.  I
think it has something to do with the lighting design.  Both
dust/dirt/defects and grain get suppressed without sacrificing sharpness
(the unit has auto focus, by the way, and it seems to do a good job of it).

My Minolta Dual II is sharper than my previous HP S-10 and S-20, BUT,
I've had to put up with pretty serious increases in the amount of grain,
dust and dirt that shows up on the scans. Again, I suspect it is the
lighting used.  The SS4000+ seems to take advantage of the lighting
design to maintain the image sharpness while leaving behind the parts
that don't really add to the image.  And while the scans do require some
unsharp masking, as do all scans, getting them up to the original
definition, adds no noise or defects.  In fact, I was able to
push the USM (unsharp masking) to the point where the image was looking
sharper than the original and still didn't exhibit noise or distracting
artifacts.

Since depth of field issues often come up in regard to film scanners, I
can tell you I saw no softness on the edges of any slides I scanned
unless it was there on the source slide to begin with.

You need to have a goodly amount of hard drive or other storage space
available because the scans are about 56 megs (in 8 bit color) or 112
megs (in 16 bit color), depending on how you wish to capture them.

Although I did not get a chance to use Silverfast with the SS4000+ (I
had a beta version available, but didn't have the time) it should be
available for the SS4000+ now or in the near future.  I believe it
allows for multipass scanning, although I don't know if you'd see much
advantage since the scanner is already so noiseless.

Since the SS4000+ has a higher bit depth than the SS4000, it should, in
theory, have a better dynamic range than the later.  Others have
mentioned that the SS4000 is pretty much noiseless in shadows, so I
guess the SS4000+ is just quieter still.  Lastly, the one sent to me
didn't come with a cleaning brush, so I assume the problem with dust
getting in the carrier positioning sensor has been resolved, as well.

Is the SS4000+ "magic"?  No.  I still struggled somewhat to get decent
scans from my older negatives which are grainy or fading, and although
it is considerably faster than the other scanners I've worked
with, for production use, it would be nice to have an automated slide
feeder.  But, it is the best film scanner I have used, by quite a
distance. If it is in your price range, it will certainly save you some
headaches that other scanners serve up.

Art




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