Kodak Professional RFS 3600 Film Scanner

The new Kodak Professional RFS 3600 film scanner.

Early last fall those of us who attended the Seybold Conference in San Francisco were surprised by Kodak's new futuristic looking 35mm film scanner for the consumer market. Kodak has been making scanners for photo labs and service bureaus for many years, so a consumer 35mm scanner is a logical move, of course. The RFS 3600 offers 3600dpi resolution, 12-bit scanning depth, and a 3.6 dynamic range. Priced at $1299 it makes for a very attractive package.

In addition to its swoopy shape, Kodak applied some original and independent thinking to the RFS 3600 design. The power supply was not put inside the scanner--it's an external solid state device that effectively removes a source of heat and vibration from the scanner. The film carriers are stationary, with a slide holder in the front and a motorized film strip holder accessible from the side.

The Kodak RFS 3600 software driver interface window is not scalable and fits in a space between 1/4 and 1/3 the area of a 1024x768 resolution monitor screen. The pre-scan preview window is also small, only about 2x3" on a 19" monitor screen. The controls for adjusting image output are in three sub-window tabs, and the adjustment tools like the curves dialog and histogram are also very tiny. Even the pop-up preview enlargement is relatively small, and if drawn larger in size causes extreme pixelation of the low-resolution preview scan.
Photos © 2000, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

Unlike other 35mm scanners, the film is scanned by the movement of the CCD sensor and light source. Even the feet of the scanner are made of non-slip, vibration-dampening material. The slide scanning function also includes an autofocus adjustment to compensate for differences in slide mount thickness. The interface with a computer, including support for the PC Windows and Macintosh platforms, is a choice between SCSI 2 and USB.

Kodak has included their own advanced technology to provide internal image processing in the RFS 3600 scanner. This includes an automated image adjustment capability as well as the use of their proprietary Film Terms to interpret the characteristics of different kinds of film images.

Testing The Kodak RFS 3600
After I received the Kodak RFS 3600, I installed the software on my Mac G4. I connected the scanner to the G4 using the USB option and started up the RFS 3600 plug-in in Photoshop. I then inserted a slide to make a first scan. After framing the preview image, I chose automatic correction to produce the first scan. After clicking the scan button, the scanner went through its self-calibration and sampled the information from the slide. When it was transferring the data to Photoshop's workspace it crashed Photoshop.

A Kodak RFS 3600 scan transferred directly to Photoshop checked by opening the Image/Adjust/Levels dialog revealed the scan data only used a part of the potential gamut space, required moving the black and white points in a combined 20-30 percent to optimize the image. This result occurred with all of my scans regardless of whether just automatic adjustment was selected or the image was adjusted using the histogram in the RFS 3600 software Levels and Curves dialog.

I tried again, and again, and had to come to the conclusion there was a bug in the RFS 3600 plug-in for the Mac. So I then installed the software on my PC Windows 2000 workstation, this time using the SCSI interface selection. Wouldn't you know, the same thing happened using the TWAIN driver from within Photoshop. It crashed the application during data transfer to the Photoshop workspace. Just to be sure it was not Photoshop, I also opened the RFS 3600 TWAIN driver in Corel PHOTO-PAINT 9 and went through the process of making a scan. Again, the same result. The scanner software crashed the host application. Of course I was immediately on the phone to Kodak.

Just a few days later I received a new upgraded version of the software and firmware for the scanner.

In the meantime I laid out a diverse selection of slide, color negative and black and white films, particularly including Kodak's latest Supra and Portra films to scan. When the new software arrived I installed it and the problem that caused the crashes was resolved. I scanned the films using only the automatic internal adjustment as well as the tools for adjustment provided in the software to output a sizable number of full-frame 3600dpi scans.

Among the selection of film images scanned were a number of slides, including Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Agfa, and Fujichrome, all exposed outdoors in full sunlight. In every scan of these images the RFS 3600 reproduced a full range of tones with no noise at all in the deepest shadows.

My experience with these scans was quite mixed. The internal Kodak processing that's a part of the RFS 3600 made scans from the Supra film incredibly effective. The scans were also very good with other Kodak films and even Agfa and Fuji color negative films. These interpreted as well if not better than what I have experienced with just about every other scanner driver software for the consumer realm. I also worked with slide and black and white films but support for these films is lacking. Black and white negative films scanned with the RFS 3600 are output as three channel RGB color files with slight to distinct coloration, particularly in dark tones.

The RFS 3600 software drivers, either the Photoshop plug-in for the Macintosh or the TWAIN driver for Windows, does not produce a scalable window interface. On a typical graphics workstation with larger monitors set at 1024x768 or 1182x870 pixels resolution, the RFS 3600 driver window is barely more than a fourth of the screen. As a result the pre-scan preview image window is no more than a large thumbnail, and even the zoomed preview window accessible from the adjustment tab interfaces is so low in resolution that the eyedroppers provided to select black, white, and mid-tone points are all but useless.

This detail captured of a hot-rod show car on Kodak Supra 100 film reproduced an incredible level of accurately intense color saturation thanks to the very effective Film Terms available to the user of the RFS 3600 scanner.

The RFS 3600 can scan strips of 35mm film and supports batch scanning. The pre-scan previews of a six frame strip can be accomplished in one action by clicking the appropriate icon control button. However, with every strip I previewed this way (even though the first frame was accurately placed), the successive frames were inaccurately placed on the basis of the automatic pre-scan processing. This meant each frame in a strip had to be individually adjusted for placement right to left, and then individually pre-scanned, which precluded the possibility of doing a batch scan of a strip of film.

Conclusions And Recommendations
The Kodak Professional RFS 3600 35mm film scanner is well designed and functions consistently with what should be expected on the basis of its specifications. Physically, it is an effective scanner, particularly for scanning color negative films. The Kodak Film Terms provided to make the negative/positive conversion function exceptionally well. However, the scanner driver software user interface is anything but Professional, at least in comparison to other products. Among the problems I faced were the fact that the scanner driver interface is not scalable in size and resolution to the monitor setup of the host computer and that the size and resolution of the pre-scan preview window is seriously inadequate. In addition, the size and coarseness of the curve and histogram adjustments makes them ineffective, and the color adjustments using only RGB/CMY sliders are coarse and counter-intuitive. The scanner also lacks the ability to output full 36-bit data for archiving and color correction in Photoshop or another facility, or as a means to custom profile the scanner.

This soft-focus shot on Kodak Supra 100 color negative film scanned with very exact color fidelity to the subject. But because the density range of the negative was relatively low, and the RFS 3600 did not provide a means to optimize the gamut precisely, a considerable Levels adjustment was required in Photoshop post-scan.

Personally I'd buy this new Kodak RFS 3600 in a minute, even though I have a perfectly satisfactory 4000dpi scanner. Why? Just for the access to the excellent Kodak color negative interpretation capabilities. But the software precludes that possibility. This Kodak scanner has great promise, but its Achilles' heel is software that's not ready for prime time.

For more information on the Kodak Professional RFS 3600 scanner call Kodak at (800) 235-6325 or visit their web site at: www.kodak.com/go/professional.