Dimâge Scan Multi comes with three film holders. One
for medium format film up to 6x9, one for mounted transparencies,
and one for unmounted film like negative strips.
Still motivated to bring a
high-end film scanning solution into my studio, I looked into desktop
film scanners like the Nikon LS-4500AF, the Polaroid Sprintscan 45, or
even the venerable Leafscan 45. Each of these scanners offers a multi-lens
system, reasonably high-resolution, and a reasonable price. Now reasonable
still means around $8000, so these aren't casual purchases. The
more I looked into each of these devices the more interested I became.
While the quality still wasn't really in the league of even the
most modest drum scanner, it was tremendously better than my flat-bed
scanner. To check out the quality, a local pro camera shop let me scan
an image on the Nikon scanner, a clean used Leaf scanner, and on a new
desktop film scanner, the Imacon Flextight. Once I opened the files on
my studio Macintosh it became clear that the Imacon scanner produced a
really excellent scan. While it still wasn't quite as smooth and
crisp as a drum scan, it was absolutely professional quality. The Nikon
and Leaf scans were also pretty good, but no match for the Imacon. With
the Flextight running around $17,000, it was out of the question--for
For the acid test, I actually provided a client with a catalog photo scanned
on the Nikon LS-4500AF. It ran as a 4x6" image, printed at 133 lines
per inch. The other images in the catalog were scanned on a $300,000 Crosfeld
drum scanner. Looking at the catalog right now, I can't even remember
which is the Nikon scanned image. Had the images reproduced larger, I
certainly would have known. Since I couldn't find the bargain scan,
for little work the desktop unit seemed good enough.
Encouraged that I could use a desktop film scanner for some of my work,
I began saving my pennies and doing some more research. In the middle
of my research I saw a mention in Shutterbug of a new scanner from Minolta.
Called the Dimâge Multi, it was essentially a larger version of
their 35mm film scanner, but with interchangeable film holders and the
ability to scan film up to 2x3". With list prices well under $2500,
I could actually swing one of these right now--even though it didn't
scan 4x5" film. I shoot almost exclusively medium format, since
I now use a scanning digital back in place of 4x5" film in the studio.
Sight unseen I went out and bought one, working out a partial trade on
some old equipment with my ever understanding pals at Ken Mar Camera in
Great Neck, New York.
Once I received the unit I had to decide whether to install it on a PC
or Mac. While I finalize all my work on a Mac, I do a lot of my Photo-shop
work on my speedy NT Workstation. Once I decided on the Mac, it was time
to hook up the SCSI cables and give it a whirl. After 10 or 15 minutes
of messing with SCSI ID numbers, termination settings, and Mac extensions,
I had the unit working. The Minolta software has a great feature--you
can use the scanner interface as either a stand-alone scanning utility
or as a Photoshop plug-in. The utility only feature is nice when batch
scanning a group of images, but I like to massage every image in Photoshop
immediately, so I chose to use the plug-in first.
I loaded up a 6x7 Fuji Velvia image in the medium format holder and pushed
it gently into the mouth of the unit. It quickly grabbed the holder and
sucked it in some more. Once I opened Photoshop and chose the Dimâge
Multi plug-in, it was simple to choose 6x7, Slide Film, and 1128dpi from
the menu. The scanner offers a maximum resolution of 1128 for medium format
film, 2820 with 35mm film. Why can't you use 2820 with medium format
film? Well, the scanner element is probably only 2900 or so pixels wide,
so higher resolution would result in severe cropping of the image.
Once I pulled a quick pre-scan and chose an autofocus point, it was time
for a final scan. Once the final scan was produced, I exited out of the
plug-in and looked at the image in Photoshop. I have to admit that I was
pleasantly surprised. Even though this machine was about a thousand dollars
less than my flat-bed scanner, the image quality, especially sharpness,
was infinitely better. Color balance with no adjustments was very good,
and overall saturation was acceptable right out of the unit.
Loading a 6x6 transparency shot with a Hasselblad, I delved into the plug-in's
touted JOB feature. Minolta claims that the JOB feature allows the user
to set up a preliminary scan as the JOB, and then all subsequent scans
using this JOB will have the same parameters. I played along, setting
up my resolution, crop area, and image modifications. I made my final
scan, reloaded the film holder, and went to my next chrome. I loaded the
JOB I had setup, hit final scan, and waited. When the scan was complete,
it looked nothing like the first scan. I was surprised and tried to repeat
it over and over again. I soon learned that the JOB setting only dialed
in dpi and crop area--nothing else. Big deal. There are, however, a decent
array of image modification windows, allowing you to adjust levels via
a histogram, contrast and brightness via a Photoshop like variations window,
and curves. All of these settings are savable and may be reloaded later,
giving you excellent repeatability for batch scanning. The only problem
is you must load three different settings independently, which takes too
much time. Minolta, hopefully, will incorporate these savable settings
into the JOB feature in upcoming software releases.
Once I learned my way around the software window, I became quite adept
at dialing in brilliant scans quickly. While there is no provision for
manually setting exposure, the autoexposure works fairly well, though
transparencies that are dark do contain a bit of dark noise, and manually
adjusting exposure would cure this. Autofocus is available, but I preferred
to manually determine the exact autofocus point. Doing this adds one extra
step but results in consistently sharp scans. While I wish the unit offered
a pro-level plug-in like my flat-bed scanner, it's just enough to
get by, and there is no arguing with the sharpness of the scans. In fact,
even 35mm scans are reasonably sharp, a pleasant surprise.
A close comparison of the output of the Dimâge Multi when compared
to other medium format film scanners really shows what a bargain this
unit is. While dark noise and overall color depth is quite a bit better
on more expensive units, the Minolta is actually a bit sharper than others
I have tested. When compared to any flat-bed, even expensive pro units,
the Minolta compares quite favorably. A skilled user with some decent
Photoshop knowledge can produce very clean scans that are suitable for
moderate reproduction sizes.
For the home user, this thing is a blast. I dug out dozens of 35mm transparencies
and medium format negatives of my family, scanned them up, and made 8x10
prints on the Epson Photo Stylus 700 printer on glossy film paper. The
results were breathtaking--sharp, smooth, colorful, and vibrant; the prints
looked almost as good as expensive Ilfo-chrome. Negative scanning was
especially surprising, producing decent looking positive images that printed
great. In fact, I scanned some VPS negatives shot on a Hasselblad at the
highest resolution, interpolated up in Photoshop using Bicubic interpolation,
and made 13x19" prints on Mitsubishi Artist paper on my Epson 3000
printer. The final print now hangs, framed, on my wall. It looks every
bit as good as a handmade "C" print (as long as you don't
get really, really close), and cost about $2 to make on my desktop.
The bottom line--the Minolta Dimâge Scan Multi, like all digital
devices, isn't perfect. It is however, a groundbreaking product,
bringing near pro-level medium format scanning to the masses for about
the price of a decent flat-bed scanner. In an age of $79 scanners at every
electronics store, $2300 for a scanner may seem like a lot, but when you
compare the output quality of this unit with expensive professional devices,
it becomes very clear what a deal the Dimâge Scan Multi really is.
If you like film but also live in the digital world, this is a must-have
For more information, contact Minolta Corporation, 101 Williams Dr., Ramsey,
NJ 07446; (201) 825-4000, fax: (201) 327-1475, Photofax: (800) 528-4767;
web site at: www.minoltausa.com.