Konica Minolta’s DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II; The Best 35mm Scanner Gets Better And More Affordable Page 2

So, I quickly moved on to a different workflow using the DiMAGE Scan Utility to make a 48-bit raw scan file output for adjustment, correction, and editing in another application. Fortunately, the DiMAGE Scan Utility is easy and effective to set up and use to output raw high-bit scan files, including batch processing. And, you can use Digital ICE to produce a 48-bit raw file that is free of dirt and scratch defects. I found this is a quite efficient way to work, even scanning at the 5400 II's maximum optical resolution of 5400dpi, which produces a 220MB raw 48-bit file, and got 15-20 files done per hour.

Initially I chose to adjust, color correct, and edit these raw files using Adobe's Photoshop Elements 3.0. And, I found by beginning by using Levels to optimize the gamut, and then going to Elements' Quick Fix using the manual sliders to adjust contrast and color, I could achieve a quite refined, finished image rather easily, and even more efficiently than using the full CS version of Photoshop. However, if you are working with a really big file, even with a fast computer, the processing of each adjustment takes time. And correcting each dimension of image quality separately, reprocessing the entire file each time, is not an ideal way to finish scans if you have more than just a few images to adjust and edit.

Fortunately, I had recently acquired the latest version of LaserSoft's SilverFast HDR Studio. This HDR version of SilverFast is just like their scanner drivers, but it is designed to open and process high-bit raw images using the same tools and processes as are available in their scanner driver Ai 6 versions of SilverFast. There are two main advantages HDR offers over using Photoshop to adjust and color correct raw image files. One is that SilverFast only opens a relatively small proxy preview image from the whole 220MB file, so as you work with it the system is not taxed by processing all of the data in that big 220MB file. And two, you can apply all of the adjustments using the SilverFast tools consecutively, and cumulatively. This allows you to adjust each dimension of image quality to get to a finished image result in a continuous flow, including sharpening and if necessary using SilverFast's own GANE grain and noise reduction and ACR color restoration facilities. Once done you then click on the Process button and all of these accumulated color corrections and editing adjustments are applied simultaneously and quite quickly, outputting a fully finished 24-bit file.

In addition, I should add that when scanning Kodachrome or silver-based black and white film to a high-bit raw file you must turn Digital ICE off in the Konica Minolta Utility. Then, if you are using LaserSoft's SilverFast--either the scanner driver Ai 6 or the HDR version I used--it has a quite effective SilverFast SRD dust and scratch removal utility built-in, which is very effective at cleaning most of the defects in Kodachrome and black and white images. However, with very grainy black and white or the high-speed, grainy Kodachrome 200, it is less effective.

On a shooting trip through British Columbia I was shooting mostly 4x5, but had some black and white film in a 35 and made some exposures of the same scenes also done on 4x5. I used an experimental black and white reversal formula to process the film to black and white positive slides. Scanning one of these slides with the new Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II, the final image file I obtained with SilverFast HDR was quite amazing, reproducing detail and tonalities that rival a scan from the 4x5 negative of the same scene.

Observations From The Processing And Final Image Results
Because of its speed and efficiency, I was able to get a quantity of high-resolution scans done in a short time. This allowed me to experiment with various types of images. As I mentioned at the outset, I began with a selection of film images which were really culls, images I had never used in the past because they were overexposed or underexposed, contained unacceptable color casts due to processing and other errors, or were made in lighting conditions that produced undesirable image color and contrast. What was most evident working with these less-than-optimum images was that the greater specification depth and new light source and optics of the scanner produced raw scan image data with much more latitude for correction and adjustment.

A couple of examples may better support this observation. On one of my visits to the ghost town of Bodie, California, which is at a very high altitude, I brought along some Technical Ektachrome, originally intended for microscope slides, thus configured with very high contrast and saturation. I exposed a couple of rolls of this film midday in Bodie in the summer, and the resulting slide film had a huge blue shift that I assumed was the result of mixing high saturation and contrast and the excessively cold color temperature light at such high altitudes.

Anyway, after making a raw scan and opening the file in SilverFast HDR I was able to correct for the excessive blue and restore a balance of color to render the natural colors of the scene to near normal. Attempts with these images on Technical Ektachrome in the past had always failed. In another image, again shot at high altitude on an overcast day, although the slide was not as grossly blue, just removing the color cast resulted in a very dull image. However, by then overcompensating, making the color balance much warmer and pushing the saturation almost to the limit, I was able to reproduce an image file that looked plausible, and could have been a natural result if the light had been warmer. Stretching color correction that far, well beyond neutral to the opposite tack, is something I have not found to be as effective in the past.

Most of the cull images I began my testing with did not require such large color corrections; for the most part the issues with them had to do with overexposure and underexposure and "unfortunate" lighting. This was easier, even more so than I have been used to in the past. The 5400 II gets more and better image information out of both highlights and shadows, providing much more effective adjustment of local contrast. The result is that you can reproduce detail and tonal separation smoothly all across the density spectrum in the finished image. In other words, the raw scan just gets more and better image information equally across the entire density range of the film original. If the original film is a bit overexposed, whatever highlight information is in the film will be recorded more completely than was possible with the previous model 5400. And, with an underexposed film image, the same is true of the shadows. This may make for some grain noise, however, particularly with older Ektachrome-type films, as I've noticed that dye deterioration from age seems to affect shadow densities most of all. Although the 5400 II supports multi-pass scanning it did not reduce the grain noise in shadows. However, the Kodak/ASF Digital GEM utility can be quite effective in eliminating or reducing this shadow grain noise.

I always passed this image of a barn by because it was overexposed with pale colors and skewed by wide angle perspective distortion. Scanning the Ektachrome to a 48-bit raw file and color correcting in SilverFast HDR allowed restoring the contrast and full range of densities after removing a blue cast. Then using SilverFast's ACR the intensity of color was restored. The final fix was in Photoshop to correct the perspective distortion so the barn did not look like it was falling over backward.

When I got to scanning black and white and Kodachrome with Digital ICE turned off to output high-bit files, each scan was done very quickly. In the past, getting good shadow detail from Kodachrome has been a challenge, due to the film's high D-max. This was less of a problem with the new 5400 II. On the other hand, although the new model scans black and white effectively, the film's lower density range compared to slide film requires spreading the image values out further to fill the gamut, and then using adjustments to local contrast very carefully to obtain both good tonal separation and smooth gradations in the final image file.

My final selection of film images for this test were made up of good quality photos that had been scanned before; here I did not really expect dramatic differences in results. Although the differences in my final scans of these select images were subtle, they were significant nonetheless. The most important improvement was in better shadow and highlight values, with more detail and a smoother gradation of tones. I also noticed in the mid values tonal gradation was smoother with shapes more clearly distinguished and variations in subject color more faithfully and richly reproduced. As important as better results are, I found it even as valuable that getting from a raw image to a corrected and ideally adjusted final image file was more direct and efficient. So, when you add up all of the functional advantages, including scan speed and more streamlined functioning, as well as getting to a finished ideal image more directly and with less effort, the new 5400 II could be seen as an efficiency and production value advantage. The improved scanned image quality is just cream on the top.

Conclusion And Recommendation
It is really no surprise that the next generation of a digital imaging product is both better performing and less costly--that seems to be the nature of technological progress. What was surprising to me is that Konica Minolta made a major investment in an upgraded product, even though they were already offering the best product for the price with the original 5400. They could have sat on their laurels for at least another year, I'm sure. Digital darkroom enthusiasts should be grateful to Konica Minolta and enthusiastic about the new DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II. So my advice would be if you need the best in a dedicated 35mm film scanner, this new Konica Minolta offering is as good as it gets, at least for a while.

For those like me who purchased the first 5400 scanner, it might be a harder decision whether or not to upgrade. However, I didn't think twice about it being a good move and sent Konica Minolta a check rather than return the scanner. A deserving friend will inherit my used 5400.

For more information and a full list of specifications, visit Konica Minolta's website at: http://konicaminolta.us. You can also contact the company at 725 Darlington Ave., Mahwah, NJ 07430; (800) 285-6422, (201) 574-4000.