Polaroid SprintScan 4000 Plus
A Capable Film Scanner
While digital cameras have progressed tremendously over the past few years and represent a rapidly growing market, I still find myself shooting film for many projects. After a typical shoot I simply have the film processed, examine the film on a light table, and begin digitizing the frames I want to work with. A dedicated film scanner helps bridge the gap between shooting with the flexibility of film and obtaining the ultimate control that the digital darkroom provides. As witnessed by the strong sales of both 35mm and 120 film scanners, there is still a large demand for quality film scanners at a reasonable price point.
Film scanners have also progressed over the past few years, offering higher resolutions and improved internal electronics while simultaneously dropping in price. The integrity of the initial scan can have a tremendous impact on the final print quality, so it makes sense to start with a scanner that can provide us large and "clean" scans.
The Polaroid SprintScan 4000 Plus 35mm film scanner was announced at the PMA Show in February 2002, and builds upon the features of the popular original SprintScan 4000 model that has been in production since early 1999. Polaroid has upped the hardware specifications for this new model, and provides some of the best scanning software available with the SprintScan 4000 Plus. The MSRP for the new unit is $1295, putting the price point squarely in the middle of the current competition of the 4000dpi scanner market.
I was pleased to see that the scanner ships in a rather large and well-padded box to prevent shipping damage. Once unpacked, I began the software installation of Polacolor Insight 5.5, which is the standard Polaroid driver and scanning software. The installation was performed trouble free on both the Windows and Macintosh platforms. After I installed Insight 5.5 and made a quick test scan to validate that the scanner was operating properly, I installed the bundled LaserSoft SilverFast 5.5 and SilverFast HDR as Photoshop plug-ins. The testing and evaluation of the scanner was performed on a Windows 2000 PC with an AMD Athlon 900MHz processor and 512MB RAM, and an Apple Macintosh G4 350MHz OS 9.1 computer with 1.25GB RAM.
The Scanner Hardware
The film carriers allow the user to scan filmstrips of up to six frames, or four mounted slides. There is an optional APS film adapter for users who are interested, however I did not have the opportunity to test this option. Scanning film is a simple task, as the scanner will automatically detect whichever holder the user has inserted. I found that the filmstrip holder can be a bit cumbersome, but the mounted slide holder works well. When used with SilverFast the user can batch scan the images once the appropriate crops and settings are made.
Speed And Quality
When scanning via the USB interface you can hear the scanner pause as it becomes obvious that the scanner is outputting more data than the USB bandwidth can handle. The image quality does not suffer in any way by this, it is just important to realize that when attached via USB connection the scanner cannot transfer data at the full speed. Interestingly enough, the SCSI interface of the original SprintScan 4000 is no slower than the FireWire interface, as both allow the scanner to operate at full speed. There are some very significant operating advantages to the FireWire interface though, the setup is much easier and the cable distance is not as critical as in a SCSI installation.
It is preferable to work with the 16-bit scans if possible, as generally the high-bit scans maintain their integrity better when editing in applications like Photoshop or Picture Window Pro. SilverFast can output data in their unique HDR format, and SilverFast 5.5.2 can also output a 16-bit file directly to the host application.
Comparing The Plus
The SprintScan 4000 Plus also handles negative films extremely well, thanks to the powerful NegaFix controls in SilverFast. This easy to use technology allows the user to extract the best possible image quality out of negative films, something that isn't always easy to do. Polaroid also has a separate program (currently for Windows users only) called Polaroid Dust and Scratch Removal, available for free download on the Polaroid web site. This program operates as a stand-alone or as a Photoshop plug-in and it helps the user alleviate dust and scratches from any scanned image.
There are few areas that could possibly be improved. I would have liked to see a little more substantial documentation in the form of a more comprehensive manual that helps less experienced users understand the process of scanning in greater detail. The film holders for stripfilm are a bit of a burden if you've ever worked with the Nikon scanners where you can simply feed the film without any carrier. Lastly, the lack of any hardware-based dust and scratch removal system (such as Digital ICE used by Nikon and Minolta) can leave the user with more spotting work in an image editor, and would certainly be a helpful feature in a production environment.
If you are looking for a very capable scanner at a very good price (taking into account the inclusion of SilverFast 5.5.2), the Polaroid SprintScan 4000 Plus is pretty hard to beat. I would certainly recommend it to any user.
For more information, visit Polaroid's web site, www.polaroid.com.