The Polaroid SprintScan 4000

Polaroid Insight 3.0 is an automated color correction software module providing optional manual control of image appearance in an easy to use interface (Windows).
Photos © 1999, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

This new Polaroid Sprint-Scan 4000 is the first 35mm consumer model offered to the individual user that goes beyond 2700-2800dpi resolution. It is an all new model, not just a resolution upgrade to previous SprintScan models, and it also offers a very effective new film and slide transport system, batch scanning, as well as very fast physical performance. Although the overall shape of this new 4000 is similar to earlier SprintScans, it is a shade larger and somewhat heavier. The density range of 3.4 remains the same as SprintScan 35 Plus, and the 4000 also scans at 36-bit color depth. The strip film holder now handles six film frames, and the slide holder has spaces for four mounted slides.

The SprintScan 4000 also comes with entirely new Polaroid Insight 3.0 software. It is a stand-alone application on the Windows platform, and works through the Adobe Photoshop plug-in architecture on a Mac. Insight 3.0 is a highly automated approach to adjusting scans which also provides a series of screen window views supporting user adjustment choice of brightness/contrast, color balance, curve characteristics, and sharpening. In addition, Polaroid Insight 3.0 includes a very effective dirt and scratch removal function. The entire package, SprintScan 4000 and Insight 3.0 software, has a list price of $2495, less than $300 over the price of their previous top of the line 35 Plus scanner.

Using The Polaroid SprintScan 4000. The installation and set up of the Polaroid SprintScan 4000 was simple, straightforward, and I was ready to make my first scan in just minutes. This use and testing of the SprintScan 4000 coincided with also using the new Epson Stylus Photo 1200, so I set the Insight 3.0 software to output high-resolution scans resulting in 12x18" print files at 300dpi from the outset. I scanned slide and color as well as black and white negatives with the 4000, the latter using the gray scale setting as well as scanning as a color negative. Using the new four slide holder in particular is easy and secure, a distinct improvement in handling over any scanner I've used before.

Although Insight 3.0 is a unique approach to achieving fully adjusted scan output, the interface is straightforward and logical presenting the control of each dimension of image quality under separate tabs. On Windows the workspace is close to full screen providing a generous easy to see preview. This is aided by an adjustable "bar" separating the image into before and after sections for easier perceptual evaluation in making adjustments. Using the controls was easy as they are largely conventional and logical. However, I soon found the automated adjustment made by the Insight 3.0 processing rarely resulted in desirable image qualities, so working with the software amounts mostly to correcting the automatic correction to a more desirable image appearance. With some experience doing this I soon had a personal system to work around the Polaroid concept of what an image should look like and got the software to produce scans the way I wanted them to look. This largely involved zeroing any brightness/contrast adjustment the software made, then I went to the curve tool if the image had areas that were too light or dark, and adjusted them by shaping the curve appropriately. I would then back up and make any adjustment necessary to the color balance, and if there was a neutral in the image which looked off-color I used the eyedropper to remove the color caste. Setting the sharpness in the next to last "tab" in the Insight interface was not helped a lot by the preview screen appearance, but after making a few scans I soon learned from viewing the result in Photoshop how to set the percent slider control for sharpening to get a good result.

Evaluation And Recommendation. The Polaroid SprintScan 4000 hardware functioned flawlessly, and every aspect of image quality affected by its physical performance resulted in superb image values. Apparently the 2700-2800dpi maximum of slide scanners in the past has been somewhat unfortunate. I found as soon as I moved the resolution just a little over 3000dpi with the 4000 the noisy appearance of "grain" in some scans I've made in the past disappears, and the recording of the film grain appearance in the digital output coincides with its appearance magnified in the original film. However, with all but very slow, fine-grained films, scans made at resolutions over 3200-3300dpi seem to gain little in added image information. So the main advantage of the 4000dpi maximum is to output a file size sufficient for making large prints at specific sizes. Using that approach I experienced getting 12x18 images at 300dpi from slide and negative film images which resulted in some of the best prints from 35mm I've been able to produce.

Unfortunately there are some flaws in the Polaroid approach as it is manifested in the Insight 3.0 software. The most significant shortcoming, besides the fact the software processing is extremely time consuming sabotaging the scanner's fast physical performance, is that there is no way to control and assure the output utilizes the full gamut. In other words, the Insight software does not provide a histogram or any way to control gamut optimization like you can with Photoshop's levels tool. Second, Polaroid has chosen not to support ICC/ICM color management. So, for a user of Photoshop 5.0.2, the files have to be converted to Photoshop's colorspace when opened, adding more time to processing. Third, the Polaroid Insight 3.0 software does not support saving a raw scan so the scanner cannot be custom profiled so it can be integrated into a color managed system. Nor does Insight 3.0 support saving a raw scan in the full 36-bit color depth captured by the CCD so it can be opened in Photoshop's 48-bit mode for manual color correction. These shortcomings would not be all that significant if Insight 3.0's auto-processing output accurately color corrected image files. Unfortunately I found nearly every scan file I opened in Photoshop required major additional color correction, including a levels adjustment of up to 30-35 percent to optimize gamut utilization.

On the positive side of this incongruity between the hardware's superb capabilities and the software's faults, is the fact Polaroid is open and apparently committed to making the 4000 work for all of us. Version 3.5 of the Insight software should be available by the time this report is in print, which fixes some of the problems including faster auto-processing, and the ability to output raw data, also in 36-bit format. Hopefully all of the potential of the 4000 will be accessible, and experienced Photoshop users will be supported and able to access all of the potential of this powerful, high-performance scanner before long. For the many others who want easy to use automated scanning, the 4000 produces very good image quality with careful use of the Insight software that will please a lot of users I'm sure. For more information, call (800) 816-2611, extension D001, or visit the web site at: www.polaroid.com.

Technical Specifications

Scan Media: 35mm and APS film, positive and negative
Optical Resolution: 4000dpi
Color Depth: 12 bits per RGB channel (36 bit)
Density Range: 0-3.4
Scan Time: Under one minute
Scan Method: Single pass
Interface: SCSI 2
Compatibility: Windows and Macintosh
Dimensions: 5.5x7x12.5"
Weight: 8 lbs
List Price: $2495

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