Minolta DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO
A New Multi Format Film Scanner That Raises The Bar

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The software for the DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO is powerful and comprehensive, closely paralleling the color correction tools in Photoshop. Although some image adjustment automation is available, images that vary from typical, like high and low key lighting, portraits with colored backgrounds, and unusually colored subjects usually require manual adjustment to obtain ideal scans.

Most photographers want to use the best tools available and hope they can afford the best. When it comes to film scanners, Minolta's latest DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO sets the standard for a reasonably affordable scanner. This new Minolta scanner offers trend-setting specifications as well as the ability to scan both 35mm and 120 film formats up to 6x9cm (21/4x31/4"). Of course, numbers alone tell only a small part of the story. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. The rest of this report is an account of my experience with this scanner and why that experience and the resulting images produced convinced me this new Minolta DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO sets the bar for serious film scanning.

The physical attributes of the DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO are a bit deceiving as it is no larger, if not somewhat smaller, than some 35mm-only film scanners. But as soon as you pick the scanner up its weight lets you know there is some considerable substance in its all-metal construction. This is carried through to the film holders, which are large relative to the scanner's compactness, and quite rigid with very well-designed easy access and secure film support, including an ingenious adjustable 120 glassless holder. Once the scanner is turned on and you begin using it the substance of the scanner is confirmed by its smooth, Swiss watch-like precision operation--it makes all of the right sounds, both reassuring and subdued. The software is obviously intended to complement a scanner intended for professional and serious use. The controls are straightforward and logical, supporting quite complete control over every aspect of the scanner's operation. This includes precise framing and full continuous output specification, as well as providing adjustment to all attributes of image quality necessary to optimize output. Although automated scan image color correction is available (and Minolta has made every effort to provide easy scanning solutions), the Minolta software demands precise inputs, which come only with knowledge and practice like that acquired by an experienced and skilled user of Photoshop.

Although Applied Science Fiction's Digital ICE does not function with black and white silver-based film, the Minolta Multi PRO's high resolution and color depth offer great advantages, particularly scanning 35mm black and white film. I was able to obtain scans producing files which would print a 15x22" image with unusual sharpness and tonal brilliance I would find difficult or impossible to match in a wet darkroom print made with the best enlarger.
Photos © 2001, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

In addition to precedent-setting performance specifications, powerful software, and substantial physical quality, Minolta includes the full suite of the latest versions of Applied Science Fiction's Digital ICE3 automatic image dirt and scratch cleaning, Digital ROC (Reconstruction Of Color), and Digital GEM (Grain Equalization and Management). These utilities both enhance the potential quality of scanned image output and reduce the amount of manual, post-scan effort required to produce clean images with optimum color attributes.

The DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO At Work
Upon receiving the Minolta DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO I must admit that I felt a bit like a monkey let loose in a fruit market. But years of testing, evaluating, and reporting got the better of me and I applied some discipline to my selection of images. These included some images recently scanned for comparison sake, as well as some particular film images that had previously proven difficult. And, to test the Minolta's range of capabilities, I also selected all categories and sizes, as well as different film brands to scan. In addition I dug deep in my files, close to the "bottom" for a few very old, faded images that would test Digital ROC.

Almost 30 years ago I traveled all around the country making landscape photographs for a book. At that time for medium format color I preferred Agfachrome CT-18 film. Scanning those images today with the Minolta reproduced them with even more brilliance of color and scenic detail than I saw in the film results at the time the images were made.

The Multi PRO is a very efficient scanner. It allowed me to scan images for their test value as well as play like the aforementioned monkey at a fruit stand. This became particularly evident when about halfway through my work I connected the DiMAGE to a new Apple Mac G4 Quicksilver I was also testing for a report. Minolta clearly suggests that ideal Multi PRO performance demands the support of a powerful computer. And although my previous model G4 is no slouch, the Quicksilver with 768MB of RAM gave my work a noticeable boost in scan speed. It taught me to appreciate how well the newest "cubed" iteration of Digital ICE works. It produced almost perfectly clean images with even the grain sharpness intact. It also showed me how frustrating it is to scan and then manually clean Kodachrome and silver-based black and white film image scans, which Digital ICE does not clean. On the other hand, I found little personal satisfaction in how Digital GEM functions to reduce graininess. I did not like the results when GEM is applied to very grainy 35mm film images, which, to me, lost some of their "character." Its main value, I would think, is when it's applied to relatively fine-grained images, particularly product illustrations that are enhanced by a super-slick appearance of no grain texture.

Applied Science Fiction's Digital ROC utility included through the Minolta scanning software interface supports restoring the color in images faded by age. An almost 50-year-old AnscoChrome slide close to color oblivion was revived quite realistically.

Evaluation And Recommendation
My month-long use of the Minolta DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO produced a copious body of evidence as to what it can do. In fact, the amount of scans I was able to do is a significant merit in the scanner's favor. It is not just the scanner's speed, but the efficiency of the entire process, including loading film images, obtaining a thumbnail, a pre-scan, making the color correction adjustments, and then clicking on the final scan button. The Multi PRO supports efficiency throughout the entire process. Someone less experienced with scanning may find that the less than intuitive software control interface may slow things down initially. The one thing I can possibly fault Minolta for is some weakness in the interface design of the software--the tools needed are all there but the access to them could be more graphic and logically intuitive from a photographer's perspective.

The combination of bold subject colors and Vericolor HC commercial color negative film is a challenge for scanning software to interpret. The Minolta software for the Multi PRO provides the tools to adjust the image values resulting in a brilliant, accurate reproduction of the subject.

A high quantity of work produced is a plus for any tool, but the value is in the quality of the scans made. In this regard I am glad I chose to re-scan many film images of various kinds, as without exception I achieved a better final result in the image file than previously produced. With some I was even surprised to see subtleties of color previous scans had missed entirely. And, with film images which had previously yielded less than satisfying results I was able to achieve much greater satisfaction. When scanning black and white silver-based film, however, I found I obtained the best results by outputting a raw, uninverted positive 16-bit gray scale image without any adjustment made with the Minolta software, and then optimizing and inverting it in Photoshop in several stages. The reason for this is that a scanner with a dynamic range of 4.8 only fills about a 1/3 of that gamut when it scans a typical black and white negative, and expanding that short range of data up to fill the space of the output gamut in a single step frequently results in less than smooth tone gradations in highlights and shadows. Doing the same thing in progressive, discrete stages in Photoshop helps keep those gradations smooth and provides more control over the characteristic curve of the image.

My conclusion, based on over a month's daily experience with the scanner, is it is great. It is quite efficient, even though it demands a powerful computer, and outputs excellent image quality scans. I recommend it to any experienced digital darkroom photographer who wants as much refined quality from film images as possible whether they be slides, transparencies, color negatives, or black and white. And, the price is about what you'd pay for a top dedicated 35mm scanner and a very good flat-bed with superior film scanning capabilities. For more information call Minolta's PHOTOFAX at (800) 528-4767, or visit www.minoltausa.com.

One of the many "difficult" film images I scanned to test the DiMAGE Scan Multi PRO is this subtle twilight scene captured on Agfa ISO 1000 color negative film. Besides reproducing the image with a high level of image qualities accurately rendering the range of tonalities, the scanner and software brought out hints of color in the scene I was never before able to reproduce.

Optical Resolution: 35mm film: 4800x4800dpi; 120/220 film: 3200x4800dpi
Maximum Input Resolution: 35mm film: 4800x4800dpi; 120/220 film: (by interpolation) 4800x4800dpi
Sensor: Three-line color CCD
Number Of Pixels: 7260 pixels per line
Scan Sizes: 35mm film: 25.02x37.08mm
Medium format 120/220 film:
6x4.5: 56.58x42.67mm
6x6: 56.58x56.58mm
6x7: 56.58x70.10mm
6x8: 56.58x77.15mm
6x9: 56.58x83.82mm
Multi formats*: 35mm film (24x65mm panorama format), 16mm film, Minox film, TEM film, and microfilm in aperture cards, can be scanned within the following sizes: Multi-format 35mm: 25.02x83.82mm, Multi-format 6x9: 56.58x83.82mm, *with the optional Multi-format Set
A/D Conversion: 16 bit
Output Data: 8 bit, 16 bit (per color channel)
Multi-Sample Scanning: 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, off
Continuous Scan: 35mm Film Holder: six frames (maximum); Slide Mount Holder: four frames (maximum)

Dynamic Range: 4.8
Focus: Autofocus (Point AF available) and manual focus
Interface: Ultra SCSI (D-sub half-pitch 50p x2) and IEEE1394 (6p x2)
Dimensions: 6.6x5x14.8" (168x128x377mm)
Weight: 8.82 lbs
List Price: $2995

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