Scanning For A Gallery Exhibition
The fast, streamlined Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 scans 35mm film at a whopping 5400dpi with a 4.8 dynamic range, allowing you to make rich, finely detailed prints as large as 24x36" at 200dpi. Holders accommodate four mounted slides or film in strips of up to 6 frames.
Scanning For A Gallery Exhibition
We Test The Minolta
DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400
by Howard Millard
Getting quality scans to make big enlargements from 35mm slides or negatives has always been a challenge. After trying a number of scanners currently on the market, I've found one that offers an exceptional array of features at a competitive price. The fact is, the Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400--which started shipping last fall--has set a new standard for 35mm desktop film scanners. First of all is its extreme optical resolution, 5400dpi. At the time of this writing, no other scanner in this class has surpassed 4300dpi, therefore it is clearly the best choice for high quality large prints. Next come the important considerations of scan speed, color reproduction, bit depth, shadow and highlight detail, and sharpness. The DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 takes top marks in all of these areas. I'll show you how I've used it to make archival ink jet prints up to 24x36" for gallery exhibition and sale. Finally, not only does it deliver scans with full professional controls, it also includes software that makes it easy for beginners to achieve great scans.
Features And Functions
In its sleek, streamlined case, the 5400 takes up minimal space--2.6" wide, 6.5" high, and 14.2" long--and weighs 5.5 lbs. A textured silver front panel presents four control knobs and a self-closing compartment for film holders, a great feature to keep dust and contaminants out of the scanner's interior.
Furnished with the scanner are two film holders with hinged covers: one handles film strips of up to six frames, while the second accommodates up to four mounted slides, with the option of removing and inserting single mounted slides when the holder is fully inserted, without having to eject the holder from the scanner. The holders are designed so that 100 percent of the film frame can be captured. For maximum throughput and connectivity for both Windows and Mac platforms, the 5400 comes with both FireWire (IEEE1394) and USB 2.0 interfaces and cables. It is also USB 1.1 compatible.
Furthermore, the 5400 ships with comprehensive software and excellent printed manuals. If you are already knowledgeable about scanning, you can use the option to scan from within Adobe Photoshop, Elements, or other compatible programs. If you're new to scanning, Minolta's "Easy Scan Utility" stand-alone software really simplifies things. Launch the utility, and the Easy Scan Wizard guides you through all the steps of scanning with diagrams showing how to load the film holders, select film type from four buttons: color negative, black and white negative, color positive (slide), black and white positive (such as Agfa Scala); make an index scan of thumbnails to choose from, select the frame(s) to scan, adjust and enhance the image(s), and finally select the type of use--such as to print at various sizes, attach to an e-mail, display on a large or small monitor, paste on a web page, and more. Once you've saved the scan to your hard drive, you can then open it with any image-editing program.
Quick Cleanup And Setup
To help get the best quality, even from damaged or poorly exposed film, bundled software includes Digital ICE for the removal of dust, scratches, fingerprints, and other imperfections. Pixel Polish works to restore rich color to faded images, enhance low contrast pictures and improve other problem photos. To control and minimize grain, Grain Dissolver is included.
The Quick Scan function initializes the scanner and software at the press of a button. You can select from the standard DiMAGE Scan Utility, the Easy Scan Utility, or the Batch Scan Utility as well as set up a shortcut to a specific application. Batch scanning allows you to scan two or more frames when you are not changing the individual settings for each image. (For example, for a group of pictures all taken in the same lighting). By simply pressing the Scan button on the 5400's front panel, you can activate the utility for each batch of film, to scan up to six frames of a strip of film or four mounted slides.
If you are scanning at high resolution, though, be sure that you have enough RAM and/or hard drive space to accommodate the large file sizes. For my largest gallery prints, I scan at the maximum 5400dpi with a resulting file size of about 100MB per image. (If you are an advanced scanner and work in the 16-bit mode, this size is doubled.) From the 100MB 8-bit files, I can make a 16x24" print at 300dpi, or a dramatic 24x36" print at 200dpi. Remember, as the print size gets larger, the normal viewing distance is larger, too. Most people would be hard pressed to see much difference between a 300dpi and a 200dpi print from a quality ink jet printer. I print with archival inks on Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art Paper on the Epson 2200 and 7600 ink jet printers.
Lots Of Depth
Minolta states that the dynamic range of the 5400--the scale of light to dark tones which it can capture--is a dramatic 4.8. To best reproduce the rich variations in tone and color of a film original, the 5400 utilizes 16-bit A/D (Analog to Digital) conversion. With this high bit depth, the scanner is able to distinguish 65,536 tonal gradations for each red, green, and blue color channel--capturing subtle highlight and shadow detail as recorded on the film. Additionally, to retrieve the maximum detail, even from dark and underexposed slides, the 5400 offers multi-sample scanning options. With this feature, you can select to sample your film 2, 4, 8, or 16 times to bring out information and minimize noise in dark areas. Multi-sampling, though, does increase total scan time significantly. For normal, well-exposed photos, the default single sample works extremely well.
On the subject of speed, this is definitely the fastest scanner in its class that I have tested, especially considering that the 5400 is delivering larger files than the competition. In tests conducted by Minolta on both platforms, the index (thumbnail) scans take 16 seconds or less, a pre-scan takes 10 to 12 seconds, and a full 117MB final scan takes 69 seconds or less. These times are similar to those I get on my Mac G4 dual processor 450. Test times are for full frame slides (negatives take a bit longer), scanned at 5400dpi, 8-bit, with image compensation functions turned off--in other words, for a normal, well-exposed slide. Other scanners I've tested took four to even seven minutes to perform similar functions at 4000-4300dpi. The 5400 is a great time saver and productivity booster for me and anyone who does a lot of scanning, or who just doesn't want to wait five minutes for each scan.
For critical control over image sharpness, the 5400 can be manually focused. A large manual focus dial on the front panel allows fine adjustments to be made. In scanning scores of slides, though, I found that the automated software focus worked perfectly. However, if you are scanning slides in unusual mounts or with curved film, it's good to know that you have this option. Furthermore, by selecting Point AF, you can use your mouse to choose the location point in your image where the software autofocuses. While the autofocus default is at the center of the image, for some subjects another area of the film may have better contrast.
Scanning For BIG Prints
Here's a quick overview of how I scan color slides to make large format ink jet prints. First, be sure your film is clean--use compressed air and/or film cleaner. This can save lots of time and trouble later. Next, load the slides (or filmstrip) into the spring-tensioned holder. I then open Adobe Photoshop 7 (you can also work with Elements 2) and choose File>Import>DiMAGE Scan Plug-in. This initializes the scanner (with a soft whirring noise) and opens the scanning software. Once the green lamp on the scanner stops blinking, all is ready and you can insert the film holder.
Onscreen, you see the DiMAGE Scan Utility. At the top right of the screen, you select the film type, in this case "color positive." Now look at the second row in this dialog box. From the left, click the arrow in front of a grid to do an index scan of all the frames in the holder--here you see four lotus flower photos. From these, you then choose which to work with by clicking on its thumbnail, which highlights it in black, (see thumbnail 3).
Next, click on the striped arrow to do a pre-scan, which opens in the large window where the thumbnails were. Use this preview to crop and decide if other adjustments are necessary. Once you've cropped the pre-scan, set the input resolution on the left. I set it to the max, 5400dpi, in order to make the largest possible print. If you know you'll only be printing a snapshot for example, or an 8x10, it's a good idea to set a lower resolution to save time and hard disk space. In the dialog box, note that on the bottom left, you'll see the final scan file size for the resolution you've selected, "Image size 116.8MB."
For advanced users, the tabs in the Scan Utility software offer "Exposure control" histograms with sliders for each of the RGB channels, and under Image correction a multitude of controls including curves and histograms for each of the RGB channels, Hue, Saturation, and Lightness sliders, a color Variations option, Brightness, contrast, and color balance sliders and more. For normal, well-exposed film, you'll rarely need any of these, but it's good to have them when you need them.
After making any adjustments, click on the third and last solid arrow to make the final scan. This takes about a minute or so, then the scanned photo opens in Photoshop, 16x24" at an impressive 300dpi. If you have a scratched or other problem original, the buttons on the right half of the second row of the dialog box offer Digital ICE, Grain Dissolver, and Pixel Polish.
Archive Those Images
Because of the large file sizes, I archive the final corrected scans on CD or DVD to keep plenty of space free on my hard drives. For archiving, I use Roxio Toast 5 and 6 software, burning onto Verbatim Data Life Plus media with a La Cie d2 4x DVD/CD writer.
The scans I got using the default settings were outstanding. In scanning over 20 images at 5400dpi, I rarely had to make even minor level adjustments. The only frame I had to sharpen was one that had been shot in low light and had motion blur on the film. For this, I use Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp mask. In general, I prefer to adjust only exposure and contrast (via curves) in the scanning software. Any further correction or manipulation is done in Photoshop.
The DiMAGE 5400 is a professional quality scanner that can save you lots of time yet is easy to use for photographers new to scanning, while offering sophisticated controls for experienced users. At press time, the street price was under $900.
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