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.

The Polacolor Insight 5.5 Scanning Interface.

Contents, Compatibility, And Setup
The SprintScan 4000 Plus ships with both 35mm filmstrip and mounted slide holders, a PCI IEEE-1394 FireWire card, both USB and FireWire cables, and LaserSoft SilverFast 5.5 plus SilverFast HDR 5.5. Because many computers now are shipping with FireWire as a standard interface, the included card may not be needed in certain installations. On the Microsoft Windows platform, currently the SprintScan 4000 Plus supports the USB interface on Windows 98, Me, 2000, or XP systems. Windows Me, 2000, or XP supports the FireWire interface. On Macintosh systems the scanner can connect via USB or FireWire to any Mac OS from system 8.6 to 9.2. For iMac users that do not have built-in FireWire, the ability to utilize the USB interface means that there are no third-party port converters needed. There is currently no OS X support, however Polaroid tech support mentioned that by summer's end there should be an OS X solution. Polaroid recommends at least a Pentium II 300MHz machine and 128MB RAM, or a Macintosh with a G3 processor with 64MB RAM for trouble-free operation.

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 Polaroid SprintScan 4000 Plus has some pretty impressive hardware specifications. While it offers the same optical resolution of the original SprintScan 4000 at 4000dpi, Polaroid has made some changes to the electronics to allow the scanner to provide 14-bit A/D conversion (up from 12-bit A/D converters on the original SprintScan 4000), and an increase in dynamic range to 4.2 D-max (up from 3.4 D-max). From my extensive experience with the original SprintScan 4000, I can say that the new model sounds like it uses slightly different motors to advance the film carriers. LaserSoft agreed that the new scanner had improved accuracy handling the carriers, and the multi-sampling option that SilverFast offers to reduce shadow noise is only operational in the SprintScan 4000 Plus. The original SprintScan could not make multiple scans of the same file and maintain the accuracy needed for adequate registration of the scans (the multi-pass option was removed from the newest SilverFast for the original SprintScan 4000).

The Polacolor Insight 5.5.2 Scanning Interface.

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
The SprintScan 4000 Plus was very reliable in my testing, neither SilverFast nor Polacolor Insight crashed on either platform. Because SilverFast 5.5 is widely regarded as a more powerful scanning interface, I performed my scanning operations and time tests in this software.
I tested a variety of frames and pre-scanning each frame generally required around 35 seconds before the operation was complete. In SilverFast you can scan files at an 8 or 16-bit color depth, the 16-bit files were exactly twice as large (in file size), generally around 110MB for the whole 35mm frame. Using the FireWire interface, all 4000dpi scans took an average of just a tick over 2 minutes after clicking the scan button. Eight-bit scans were no faster to scan, but the smaller file size is easier to process and certainly consumes less hard drive space. Utilizing the USB interface, the scans were quite a bit slower at 3 minutes and 48 seconds, virtually twice as long.

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.

Polaroid Dust and Scratch Removal Photoshop plug-in.

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
When comparing the new SprintScan 4000 Plus to the original SprintScan 4000, the image improvements were not as significant as the numbers would suggest. As I had mentioned earlier in this review, the improved film handling of the newer scanner adds the ability to multisample, and this is a key feature. Essentially, the scanner re-samples the same scan line multiple times and averages out anything that it determines is CCD noise. The ability to multisample the film results in a substantially better image, much cleaner shadow detail being the most obvious benefit. With the multisampling engaged and the new 14-bit A/D converters, the SprintScan 4000 Plus can easily provide high quality scans that are noticeably better than the original SprintScan 4000. The multisampling does add time to the scan, a 4x multisample at 4000dpi resulted in a scan time of around 3 minutes and 20 seconds. This is a small price to pay for the increase in quality that cannot be achieved by any degree of editing after the scan.

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.

The Polaroid SprintScan 4000 Plus is certainly a very good value. The scanner performs well from a hardware standpoint, and the included software is extremely capable. SilverFast with NegaFix handles negative scanning very well, something that can be a bit of a challenge for most scanning software. Certainly the image quality of the resulting files is very good for a product in this price range, and should allow most users to enlarge 35mm film with relative ease due to the amount of clean data it can extract from the film. For 5x7 or 8x10 prints, the 4000dpi is a bit overkill and users may opt to scan at a lower resolution if they know the output size will be smaller. However, with the proliferation of desktop printers capable of printing 13x19" output, 4000ppi scans give you 280-300ppi files without any interpolation. I do like the FireWire and USB connectivity and many users will find that the installation is more trouble free than the previous model's SCSI interface. It should also be noted that the technical support I received from Polaroid and LaserSoft was excellent, and any questions were answered quickly and professionally.

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.