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

I must admit I was surprised that just two years after I reviewed the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 the company would come out with an improved and substantially modified new model. As I noted in my report then, the 5400 was well ahead of the game in performance and value. So, what motivated Konica Minolta to make such a major change so soon? It is probably due to a number of factors, some of which I cannot even guess. But the fact remains, the company has in the 5400 II provided a substantially better scanner at an even more affordable price. So, who is foolish enough to look a gift horse in the mouth? Not me, you can be sure.

Konica Minolta's new DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II sports a slick facelift and a lot more power under the hood to make exceptional quality scans.

Although the new 5400 II looks like and is in many ways closely related to its predecessor, there are significant differences. The shape is quite similar and the film holders are almost identical, so we must assume the internal mechanics are closely related. But, the chassis is just a few millimeters wider, so it does not require the strange "foot" of the original to sit on a desk upright, at least without falling over sideways too easily. The outer case of the 5400 II is not as "pretty" to my eye nor as substantial looking as the original, and the new model is also considerably lighter in weight.

The new 5400 II has just one kind of interface connection, USB 2.0 (1.1 compatible), eliminating the FireWire connection available with the original model. Besides being simpler, and in a way more convenient, many of these changes probably contributed to a lower manufacturing cost. However, to obtain the full speed efficiency of the new 5400 II you should have a relatively new, fast computer, including a USB 2.0 connector or card, because using the scanner connected to an older USB 1.1 connection slows it down to a crawl.

I soon found the most efficient and effective scanning workflow with the 5400 II was to use the Konica Minolta Utility to output 16/48-bit raw scan files in TIFF format and then use LaserSoft's SilverFast HDR to color correct and adjust the image.
All Photos © 2005, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

Part of the new 5400 II's much faster speed, I am sure, is partly due to the change in the scanning light source from a cold cathode tube to a White LED. In other words, to make a scanner run faster requires a higher level of exposure, thus light through the film medium. This naturally provides a shorter exposure time for the CCD sensor to read and record the values. In the past, Digital ICE worked more effectively with a cold cathode light source, so the latest version, Digital ICE4, is probably improved to be more effective with an LED light source. Quite possibly the new White LED technology also provides the better infrared radiation that's required by the Digital ICE4 dirt and dust sensor. Other technical performance changes include a 16-bit A/D converter and increased CCD sensor dynamic range, now 4.8 in the new 5400 II.

Unless you worked with the original 5400 you may not notice there are very beneficial improvements in the drive mechanism, internal processing, and setup process. The new 5400 II is much more streamlined in operation, providing a noticeable reduction in time getting scans done one after another.

Once scanned with the new Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II, and color corrected with LaserSoft's SilverFast HDR, it is hard to imagine the film original was really a quite dull and boring picture of the scene.

Before I get into the full test I would like to mention some plug-in and Utility caveats. While the new Easy Scan Utility mode may be attractive to the lazy and indifferent, before even getting into my test work I received an e-mail from a user complaining about it. The e-mail said that the automated Easy Scan mode arbitrarily crops into a 35mm image, eliminating often crucial portions of the picture.

Along with Digital ICE4, the 5400 II adds three other Kodak/ASF processing features modules, including Digital ROC, Digital SHO, and Digital GEM. Digital ICE4 is a distinct refinement, even more thorough than past versions, providing an exceptionally smooth result that also better preserves and protects image detail and sharpness. Although I have found great value in Kodak/ASF plug-ins, particularly Digital GEM Pro 2.0 which is invaluable with scans of older, grainy film that contains lots of emulsion flaws, I did not find they work well incorporated into the scanning process. Overall, users of Adobe's Photoshop Elements 3.0 or LaserSoft's SilverFast will find a more convenient and easy time with the Digital ROC and Digital SHO adjustments.

On the basis of overall features shared with the original 5400, plus all of the improvements and upgrades I've cited, even though some may not be useful to all users, the sum total of the new Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II is that it provides an incredibly capable advantage to a digital darkroom. It is a better value than the original with a much lower MSRP of $799.

Driving in the mountains of central Oregon this composition dominated by four pine trees demanded I stop the car and take a shot. The camera was loaded, as it often was, with Kodachrome. Usually I can expect a pretty good slide of a scene exposed on Kodachrome, but this time the summer haze caused the image to be flat and dull. After scanning with the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II I was able to punch up the color and contrast to get an image worthy of stopping the car.

How Well Does It Work?
This new 5400 II presented some quite different challenges to my usual scanner testing because of two factors. One is that the improvements are on top of the best quality I have experienced scanning 35mm film with the original 5400, which by the way I purchased shortly after reporting on the scanner a couple of years ago. That experience has included making scans of 35mm film images that have resulted in 15x20" images printed with surprising success. And two, my original report of the 5400 also included using the scanner with LaserSoft's SilverFast Ai 6 software, which I have also used religiously with the 5400. With this new 5400 II LaserSoft did not have a SilverFast Ai 6 ready in time to use as part of my testing, so I took an alternate route, as I will explain shortly.

Considering the new 5400 II specs that affect performance will be most readily apparent when scanning slides, I concentrated my test work on slide images that would be more challenging, second- or third-quality cull images stored deep in my collection. Of course I also re-scanned some images that I had previously scanned to see if this new 5400 II could improve on those. I also scanned a few black and white and color negative film images.

One of the culls I scanned with the new Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 II and SilverFast HDR was a late afternoon shot illuminated by a very blue sky. After correcting to neutral for the excessive cool blue the film captured I pushed the Color Temperature slider further to the warm side. I was surprised the scene kept the green grass a natural color but the light from the sky took on a glow. Another cull slide I am now glad I kept.

I began by using the native Konica Minolta DiMAGE Scan Utility to be able to manually adjust and correct a preview before making a final scan. Other than some changes that reflect the new physical feature improvements and additions, this DiMAGE Scan Utility software is little changed. To be candid, all hardware manufacturers do not complement their products fully with very modern and effective software. I am not singling Konica Minolta out because all scanner makers, and for that matter many digital camera makers, apparently do not see user software as requiring the same effort and development as hardware. The resulting manual tools provided to adjust and correct an image are reminiscent of what we worked with in Version 4.0 of Photoshop a decade ago.