Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Film Scanner
User Review by Michael Carter
(User Review first posted 1 March, 2000)
(Editors Note: This article was written and prepared entirely by Imaging Resource reader Michael Carter. The opinions and conclusions are his, and the article is exactly as he submitted it to us with modifications only to the referenced Imaging Resource links. Michael's article gives a great perspective from someone who actually owns and uses the scanner. Thanks again, Michael - What a great contribution!)
Mid-level scanners are one of those pricey items that make failure to commit to a romantic relationship seem mundane by comparison. Like digital cameras, it's an area where a high-dollar purchase can be made obsolete overnight. So perhaps my hesitation to drop two grand on a film scanner is understandable.
Before I get rolling with my review, some background: I'm a Dallas, Texas based photographer and illustrator, with a strong art direction and graphic services background. I'm known in my market for those hyper-real Photoshop illustrations, and lately for complex product shots that have a computer "look" but are actually produced in-camera (see my portfolio at www.mcarterphoto.com). Also, in the four years I've been self-employed, I've seen my business evolve to where about 60% of my billing comes from working as a turnkey designer; concept, copy, photography, page layout, prepress and print buying. Having a kick-butt film scanner has long been a dream of mine, and thus I came to the big question: is there an affordable model out there that can scan multiple formats and replace drum scans for enough projects to justify its cost?
Well, several factors combined to push me into purchasing the Minolta Scan Multi (see full specs and a review at: Dimage Scan Multi )
For starters, the priced dropped from the list of about $2400 to a street price of about $1800. Also, the new-year's rush of projects for trade shows, spring catalogs, etc. presented me with a pile of projects of varying size and output to warrant some "real-world" testing. I looked at the Nikon 4x5 scanner, but there is just no review info out there for it, and the price was well above my budget of about $2000. Doing a search of web pricing found a Minolta at $1699, so I whipped out the Amex and waited for the UPS man.
And here's a condensed look at my experience with the Minolta, which has taken permanent root in my studio. For starters, the unit is well-packed for shipping, with very good documentation. I was plugged in and scanning in a matter of minutes. If you, like I was, are new to film scanners, here's some first impressions:
With the Minolta, there are several film holders for varying film types: a strip-film holder for 35mm negs or un-mounted slide film; a medium format holder, with an anti-newton glass "clamshell" and several format masks (and a groovy "rotate-able" scan area); and a holder for four mounted slides. First thing to do: find a sturdy box or case to keep all this stuff in. Without the holders, this scanner is totally useless, so keep 'em clean and undamaged with proper storage. Also, the glass areas of the MF holder are real dust magnets; store this piece in a big ziplock bag. And a 4x5 plastic film pouch is a good place for the format masks, which are very delicate.
More things for the first-time film scanner owner to consider: at the resolutions possible with this machine, dust specks should be thought of as boulders. You'll need a compressed air source (skip the dust gun at computer stores and get a Beseler valve assembly and air cans at a "pro" photo store... way more horsepower). Also, while you're there, get a few pairs of cotton gloves worn by darkroom workers, and an antistatic dust brush (called a "StaticMaster", sounds like a techno DJ, doesn't it?). Also grab some lens cleaning fluid and tissues; more on this to come. Store all of this stuff in the box with your film holders. Total cost for the works: well under $50.
Use the static master to keep the MF holder clean (and if you don't shoot medium format, skip this review and get a Nikon slide scanner!). As for the lens cleaner: my first tests with the Minolta left some finger prints on the glass of the MF holder; use lens cleaner here. (Actually, just avoid getting fingerprints on it at all with the cotton gloves. I still see a smudge from the cleaner on the inner glass area; doesn't seem to affect scans though).
So: is it a replacement for all those drum scans you've been buying? In a word, no. (and, by the way, I use "drum" generically: most of my high-end prepress suppliers have switched to Scitex flatbeds, at about $40,000 a pop. And the sharpest, most detailed scans I have EVER purchased came from a supplier using the new-ish Fuji flatbed... incredible detail!) But it is a very good quality scanner, which you will find many uses for. In a busy shop, with some thought to final output, it could pay for itself in a week. Actually, in one regard, it's superior to a drum. I shoot a lot of Polagraph film (Polaroid's instant 35mm B&W slide film), and its delicate emulsion and semi-metallic substrate are drum-scan hell. The Minolta, with its fluorescent light source, gave me gorgeous scans with Polagraph, Polapan, and even Polablue.
Polagraph on the Minolta Scan Multi: great whites, all the
grain you could desire.
Model: Kristen Childs. Click on the image for a higher-res version.
I also had a big trade-show job coming up, which the Minolta worked well on. Final output were Lambda prints and some very big fabric prints. I knew both of these output choices have a somewhat grainy look, so I felt the Minolta was worth a try. And when final film was chosen, we were already a week behind schedule; there was just no time to lose, another vote for in-house scanning. In this case, the Minolta's max resolution was about 60% of where I needed to be. I scanned at max size, and then scaled up in Photoshop (hey, we were out of time!) The final product had exceptional sharpness and detail. How'd I get there?
First, always use the "manual" focus feature for your final scans (Again, see the full review at Dimage Scan Multi for details. In my tests with the default setting, AF setting, and Manual focus (setting the cursor where I wanted max detail) the MF setting was noticeably sharper, even in the preview scan. I also used Photoshop's unsharp mask filter to jack up the detail even more.... don't save a file without it!
(About that Manual Focus control: when you click the cursor on the area you wish to focus on, you are presented with a dialog box, containing a slider and a bar display. The manual doesn't go into much detail on this, but you want to make the black bar display as long as possible. As you manipulate the focus, the bar moves in and out; a second, gray bar also appears. The gray bar represents the best focus you've obtained so far; this functions as a visible "reminder" of how close you've come to best focus. As you experiment with moving the black bar, you'll always have some visual feedback as to what the best focus you've found is. Sounds confusing, but you should get the point right away.)
Another area where this scanner shines is for digital press output. My clients love the Indigo and Heidelberg Quickmaster DI presses. These are low quantity presses that are a good marketing person's secret weapon, but their dot structure and highlight detail are not the best quality (though your average "layman" won't notice it). If you do a lot of Indigo, get this scanner now.
The real test for the Minolta came with a fashion catalog job. Shot on 6x7 film, it was about 15 images of delicate-hued pastel knits with varying weaves and textures. Since this was a turnkey job from me, from photography to design to color correction to press check, it looked like a critical test for color matching and detail, with final printing supplied by a high-quality sheetfed shop proofing with DuPont Waterproof. The page size was small enough for the Minolta to easily give me 300DPI at full page sizes. So I waded right in.
First, let's discuss color accuracy. I've never been a ColorSync user, and I rely on Adobe's ancient (by today's standards; heck, the copyright date is 1990!) Gamma utility. I have monitor profiles stored for all of my suppliers, and I update them with every job. I selected a few key shots and sent them off to the printer for scans. I then did my usual cleanup and color tweaks and test scanned the same test images on the Minolta. I then had a waterproof pulled of all the test images.
About the Minolta test images: since this scanner works at 8 bit or 16 bit (sometimes called "high-color"), I did all my scans at 16 bit, with manual focus centered on the model's eyes. I did global color tweaks, converted to CMYK, and then to 8 bit. I then sharpened the Minolta scans and used product swatches to get the Minolta test scans and the printer's drum scans as close as possible to the apparel colors. (A note on lighting for color correction: I have a dual-24" fluorescent fixture with two 5500k "daylight" tubes; this rig is mounted to my ceiling with a pulley system that lets me lower it to desk level. I have a box made from white crescent paste-up board that makes a white backing for proofs and samples. Works great, costs about $20).
With my monitor set for offset press, the default prescans were, as expected, very dense. I used the curves and levels controls to get the previews close to the photos, and adjusted focus (again, see the Imaging Resources review for screen shots, etc., of these controls). I compared various color densities on the Minolta scans against the drum scans and made minor global adjustments. After sharpening, I zoomed in to check things out. Some of the unsharp mask artifacts were fairly severe, with 2 or 3 pixel wide bands of intense color; some of these I removed with the desaturation brush. More worrisome were occasional horizontal lines, which appeared to be areas where scan-line alignment were slightly off... areas that were amplified in sharpening. My guess was that artifacts such as these would be negated on the proof, when all those pixels are squashed into offset dots. Happily, when viewing the side-by-side proofs, this was generally the case. The Minolta looked good here, and several Minolta scans ended up in the final job; some of them were even from 35mm slides.
Would I use the Minolta exclusively for such a high-end job? Probably not. The Minolta scans were good, with nice detail, but to get them as sharp as the drums left unwanted artifacts. You can get very, very close to a high-end scanner here, but you'll spend a fair amount of time doing it.
The bottom line for me: a good value, and it paid for itself in a few weeks, albeit a few weeks with some extra hours of tweaking. I shoot a lot of 6x7 and 35mm film, and combined with the Dimage, one can obtain some very nice scans in a hurry. And having a scanner this capable in-house will allow the creative side of my work to improve; Instead of agonizing over which scans to send out (especially for Photoshop creations), I can scan several versions of things and play until I'm satisfied. And I've just taken another bite from my self-promotion budget as well, and will look forward to a few less invoices in the mail pile.