Plustek’s OpticFilm 7600i 35mm Scanner; A Scanner/Software Workflow

I’ve been testing and reporting on film scanners for almost 20 years, and names like Imacon, Kodak, Nikon, Microtek, and UMAX all come to mind. A more recent entrant is Plustek; their 7600i is the only new, modern dedicated 35mm film scanner to come out recently, so it demanded attention.

Simple and straightforward, the compact Plustek OpticFilm 7600i scanner offers the best consumer 35mm dedicated scanning at the smallest cost for photographers today.

True, Epson, Canon, and HP flat-bed scanners come with film scanning capability. And their recent models do extremely well scanning 120 medium format and larger film, providing really fine image files. But when squeezed down to scan a 1x1.5” 35mm film frame it is pushing the envelope too far, thus a dedicated film scanner has obvious advantages. The Plustek OpticFilm 7600i fills that void quite nicely and affordably, at a little over $500 (street) for the Ai model. The 7600i has close to twice the optical resolution (7200dpi) of the venerable Nikon 35mm scanners, once considered the best, with their max optical resolution of 4000dpi.

One feature that the Nikon scanners introduced early in the game was the use of LED lamps, something taken up by Plustek here. The advantage is that LEDs are brighter, yet produce less heat, allowing increased scan speeds while contributing less to temperatures that might cause a film image to pop and change focus position.

LaserSoft’s SilverFast SE or Ai 6 is the supplied driver software for the Plustek 7600i scanner and offers a new Archival scanning option that makes a fast series of Raw scan files with a built-in infrared channel for dust and scratch removal.
All Photos © 2010, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

In many ways the Plustek is a simpler device than most of the 35mm film scanners of recent years. The support and movement of the film being scanned is entirely manual; there are no internal motors and mechanisms to transport the film carrier into and past the scanning window, so it is all done by the user’s hand. This is a small inconvenience, but it also does not complicate the scanner with complex features, so this simplicity avoids wear and problems. The only work the scanner does internally is to move the light source and linear array CCD from one side of the film image across it to the other to make each scan.

That might seem simple enough, but there is a second scanning system at about 45? from the LED light scan that uses infrared illumination to record an image of the film’s surface to document any irregularities. This “iSRD image sensing” detects any dust, dirt, or scratches on the surface of the film and creates another image layer related to the image file. That scanned data is then related in processing to the visual image data and the dust, dirt, and scratches are replaced with interpolated data from image information adjacent to the flaw. The software then replaces the image of the dust, dirt, and scratches with picture information, which is incorporated in the final output image so the flaws are not reproduced in the final scan.

The other half of the 64-bit color Archival process is LaserSoft’s SilverFast HDR, which is a high-bit Raw image photo file processing application providing all of the adjustment and correction tools of the best image-editing applications and more. It functions on a virtual preview interactive window and supports making all of the corrections and adjustments virtually, which are then saved to a finished file behind the scenes in any format desired.

The primary function of a scanner is to direct illumination through the film so a linear array CCD sensor bar of three lines of cells—one for red, green, and blue light measurement—records the color values of each small section of the film image being scanned. The one important specification about the CCD other than its count of sensors is the dynamic range of its sensitivity. The Plustek OpticFilm 7600i has a dynamic range of 3.5. This is a greater range than the density range of any slide film that is, at maximum, not more than 3.2 or 3.3.

The Plustek 7600i SilverFast driver application can also support all of the different standard methods of scanning. This is from a color negative stock supported by NegaFix, which yields automatic adjustments based on film characteristics. The Preview, or pre-scan virtual image, can then be further adjusted perceptually.

The dynamic range of the CCD also sets the size of the color space in which the data from a scan is stored and, if it is much larger as has been desired in the past, then the downside is that films with low density ranges like black-and-white and color negatives reproduce a low range of readings that fill just part of the color space. The larger the color space, the more the scan data from negative films must be expanded by software to fill the receiving space in an image file. This can be a problem with scanners with high dynamic range CCD sensors. Fortunately, CCD technology has advanced, thanks to all the development digital cameras have financed, so current CCD sensors are more light sensitive even in small site sizes, allowing for very accurate, high-resolution results like those from the 7200 ppi of the Plustek’s sensor. The result of all this is that resultant scans are sufficient to make finely detailed 16x24” prints of a quality that was seldom seen from 35mm cameras in the past.

Some years ago Kodak sent me a sample of a new professional very high-speed Ektachrome film. So I grabbed my gear and headed to the upriver of the Columbia between Washington and Oregon in the Dalles/Hood River neighborhood where the windsurfers sail. The film was pretty sharp and not too grainy for its speed, but this sample version produced slides with some pretty skewed color. However, scanned with the Plustek 7600i and SilverFast, both the bright color of the windsurfers and the background were brought under control.

What a scanner does is physically illuminate and read the color and density values in a film image and produce Raw RGB data from that reading at a great depth of 16 bits per RGB channel. The film image that is measured can include an infinite number of different kinds of subjects with a wide range of characteristics in density, contrast, saturation as well as all the more complex attributes of all the different brands and kinds of film that have been used or are in use with 35mm cameras.

In the past, some photographers using a scanner would just output the Raw scanner data files and open these files in Photoshop or some other image-editing application to color correct and adjust the image values. That was justified because early scanner driver software often had weak editing capabilities or was not very user-friendly, or both. But now, considering the very large Raw files the Plustek 7600i can output, using an image-editing application to process each file is grossly inefficient. The entire large file has to be opened and each correction or adjustment has to be applied. If you make an adjustment mistake very often, then the only correction is going back to the original Raw file and starting over again.

In the recent past, scanners and scanning software did not effectively support the best reproduction of image files from black-and-white film. With SilverFast’s latest NegaFix there are black-and-white film manufacturer and brand selections that are quite effective.
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goksen's picture

In case anyone is considering to buy this film scanner as I once did, please read my comment to see what kind of response you can expect from Plustek if you ever need to contact their customer service.

I've been wanting to buy a film scanner recently and considering my options among used Konica Minolta and Nikons and Plustek 7600i. Among the limited options that I have, I was hesitant to invest lots of money on a used 10 year old scanner such as legendary Nikon Coolscan 5000 and I thought I could wait a little more and see if Plustek comes out with a new product that has better specifications. Because this model, Plustek 7600i, has some features that don't meet my expectations and as far as I have seen on several tests, it is still behind Nikon 5000 and 9000. I wanted to try my chance and emailed Plustek asking if they are planning to bring out a new scanner soon. However, I was completely shocked with the response that I was getting from Plustek. Below, I am copying and pasting their responses to me and my responses to them. The following communication has been between me and a guy named Edward Dailey from Plustek.

Here is the first original email that I sent;

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to ask you if Plustek is considering to bring out a new and
improved 35mm film scanner anytime soon? The current model 7600i seems like a good product but two things that make me not want to buy it is first of all its low D.Max value compared to the dynamic range of negative films and D.Max of other film scanners priced around the same(Konica Minolta 5400 II), and secondly the lack of focus control. The fixed focus of the scanner really decreases its professional value.

----------------

And here is the response I got from Edward Dailey;

I do not think so, because really you are the only person I have herd say that they would rather own a different brand. Read shutterbug magazine article on our product and see if you still have the opinion you have. We already have the best.

----------------

Next, I responded with the following email;

Dear Sir,

I am sorry but reading your arrogant comment about your product is another reason not to buy it. I would suggest you read reviews on Konica Minolta 5400 II and Nikon Coolscan 5000 and see if you still have the opinion you have. They already produced the best 10 years ago and they are still the best.

----------------

And this is the final ignorant comment that I got from Edward Dailey;

GREAT

----------------

Apart from the fact that I wasn't sure about the durability of this product, the crappiest customer service I have ever dealt with made a very good reason not to spend even $1 for Plustek. If you buy it and have a problem with the scanner in the future, it's quite possible that Plustek will blame you for it and claim that they are the best and their products never make a problem.

I hope my experience helps...

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The primary function of a scanner is to direct illumination through the film so a linear array CCD sensor bar of three lines of cells—one for red, green, and blue light measurement—records the color values of each small section of the film image being scanned. The one important specification about the CCD other than its count of sensors is the dynamic range of its sensitivity. The Plustek OpticFilm 7600i has a dynamic range of 3.5. This is a greater range than the density range of any slide film that is, at maximum, not more than 3.2 or 3.3.
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