Digital Camera Home > Nikon CoolScan III (LS-30)

Nikon Coolscan III (LS-30) Film Scanner Test Images

As we note in our review of the Coolscan III, it is in many respects an exact duplicate of the higher-priced Super Coolscan 2000. About the only difference you're likely to see in the images from it vs those from the Super CoolScan will be in the "Train" image, where the Super Coolscan does a better job of extracting shadow detail. More subtly, we did notice slightly greater color saturation in some strong primaries with the Super Coolscan, most noticeable in the red flowers in the model's hair in the "Musicians II" test image. Overall though, the performance is remarkably good, at a more affordable price than that of the Super Coolscan.
A word about our scanner testing philosophy: Some publications have taken the position of scanning everything using the scanner's default settings, believing this to be most fair, neutral methodology. The problem with this approach is it may show unacceptable results for an otherwise perfectly usable scanner. (Most users are willing to engage in some tweaking of the scanning parameters to get the best result.) For our part, we believe the most accurate representation of real-world performance is to allow for a reasonable level of twiddling of the scan parameters. In the interest of objectivity though, we also show scans performed with default settings, to provide a completely neutral reference point.
Also note that all images here have been JPEG compressed for compatibility with 'web browsers. This will degrade image quality somewhat, but we used a very conservative compression setting ("9" in Photoshop) to minimize this. (In earlier tests, we used a setting of "8", but have gone to the higher setting (and larger file sizes) to provide a better rendition of shadow detail at the cost of longer download times.)

 

"Musicians II" image: (530k) The main image here was scanned at 1200 x 788 pixels, and (very) minor tonal adjustments were made, using the "curves-levels" controls to increase the gamma setting (very) slightly, lightening the midtones. What was particularly surprising about this shot with the CoolScan III was how well the scanner did with its default settings - even noticeably better than its big brother the LS-2000. Here is a version scanned with the LS-30's default settings (525k), almost identical to our adjusted version.

(NOTE that this is NOT the identical "Musicians" image as used in our digital cameras test! It's very similar, but the models are different, and the digital-camera version is a couple of reproduction generations removed from this particular version.)

 
"Musicians II" detail clip: (767k) The LS-30's 2700 dpi maximum resolution is at the upper end of available desktop film scanners, and much more than this would have little purpose on most 35mm film. This maximum-resolution clip of the Musicians II image shows the exceptional detail and near-total lack of artifacts the LS-30 produces. Note how easily you can see individual strands of hair, and the complete lack of pixelation. This description will be familiar to those of you also looking at the LS-2000: It's the same! The two scanners turned in an almost identical performance on this image. The only differences we could see were a slightly greater level of color saturation, and slightly better handling of shadows in the hair by the LS-2000. This shows that, for well-exposed slides and negatives, the LS-30 will perform almost exactly as well as the LS-2000.  
Kodak Royal Gold 25 "House" detail clip: @!#$!! To our chagrin, we discovered that a hard drive crash wiped out our only copy of this scan, AFTER we'd returned the test unit to Nikon! (I know: back it up, back it up, back it up!) Accordingly, we have no sample to show you from the LS-30 for this picture. We do recall its performance as being very similar to that of the LS-2000 though (including the excellent job the Digital ICE technology did of cleaning-up the tiny white specks evident in this image with most scanners). We provide here a copy of the LS-2000's sample of this image, and refer you to the LS-2000's Pictures Page for a detailed discussion and samples of how well Digital ICE coped with the film defects.  
"Train" Shot (Extreme shadow detail): (373k) This slide is an extraordinarily tough test of scanner dynamic range: The slide contains areas of moderately bright highlight, but the shadows are exceptionally dense. The LS-30 did surprisingly well on this image for a 10-bit scanner, but achieving this result required judicious use of the "Analog Gain" function that boosts the LED illumination level. Even with that, it didn't do as well as the 12-bit LS-2000, which also has a multi-sample scanning option to further reduce shadow noise. As you'd expect, the default scan settings produced a rather dark image (315k). After a fair bit of tweaking, we obtained the main image here (373k), which shows pretty good detail, albeit with moderate noise in the very darkest areas. For comparison, here's the same image from the LS-2000 (173k - compressed more than LS30 sample), which did the best job on this image of any scanner we've tested to date.  
Q60 Color Target: (110k) Kodak's "Q60" color target (formally adopted by the ISO as part of the IT8 color standard) is a good test of color accuracy and tonal rendition. the main image here (110k) was scanned with the scanner's "gamma" control set to 1.2, and the white-point slider brought in by about 18 units. (The same settings as we used with the LS-2000.) This brightened the midtones a bit, and gave a better rendition of the slide overall, at least to our eyes. While the default scan (96k) did an excellent job of capturing the full tonal range of the subject, with superior color saturation to boot, it is a little dark overall. The pure white swatch on the grayscale at the bottom of the target is very light relative to the rest of the image. This tends to "fool" scanners' autoexposure settings, producing artificially dark scans, as did the LS-30. Interestingly, the LS-30 again performed slightly different than it's big brother the LS-2000 on this scan. Both the default and adjusted scans were a bit darker overall, although the difference was slight. (Other than the issue of shadow detail, the two units do indeed appear to behave much the same.)  
"Davebox" test target: (335k) This is our official "weirdness of color negative film" test target. The default scan (266k) by the CoolScan III shows excellent tonal range, and good color, although it has a rather warm cast overall. We actually "tweaked" with this one a fair bit, to properly balance the color, and eliminate the color cast from the shadows as well as the highlights. (The color shift varied across the tonal range.) The final result (335k) has excellent color purity and saturation, and a good tonal range, although we lost some of the deepest shadows in the course of our playing around. (The default scan actually had excellent detail in both the shadows and highlights.)  
WG-18 Resolution Target Horizontal Clip: (50k) The full WG-18 resolution target is very large (see below), so we cropped-out these clips to show the scanner resolution on this familiar target. These scans were made from a target shot on Kodak Technical Pan black & white negative film. This film is extremely fine-grained, with perhaps the highest resolution of any commercially-available 35mm emulsion. The target was shot with a Nikon 50mm, f1.4 lens (a notably sharp lens), at an aperture of f8. Thus, while not a "laboratory" grade target, this represents about as much detail as you'll ever see in a conventional film image. The downside of this target is that the Tech Pan emulsion is a little "thin," lacking density. It is thus difficult to set scanners properly to produce adequate contrast to separate the finest details without losing critical information. As a result, the scans shown here were captured with significant adjustments to the tone controls. These scans were also done in black & white mode, to reveal the maximum detail This clip (50k) of the horizontally-oriented test pattern (measuring vertical resolution) shows detail visible out to 1600 line pairs/picture height, although there's some aliasing evident back as far as 1200 lp/ph. (As you'd expect, given that there's about 2500 pixels in the image vertically, and sampling theory would predict aliasing at around 1250 lp/ph.)  
WG-18 Resolution Target Vertical Clip: (47k) Here's the corresponding vertically-oriented clip (47k) of the WG-18/Kodak Tech Pan target. Visual resolution is almost identical to the horizontal clip, with detail visible to 1600 lp/ph or beyond, although the aliasing here doesn't seem to start in earnest until about 1300 lp/ph.  

NOTE! ->

Full-Size WG-18 Resolution Target: (1,367k!) For the real masochists, here's the full-size WG-18 target, scanned at the maximum resolution of 2700 dpi. A side note: We didn't explicitly set up a test for frame coverage by scanners, but our WG-18 shot goes right to the edges of the 35mm frame, and we found that the LS-30 covers all that and then some. For this particular scan, we were using the separate strip-film holder in the slide scanning head, which crops about 2-3% of the available 35mm frame area.
WARNING: This JPEG expands into a 9.1 megabyte file, which may crash your brower if viewed directly! To view it, you must first download it directly to your hard drive (right-click in Windows, click & hold in Mac Netscape), then open it in an image-editing application. Here is a link to the RAW JPEG IMAGE. (No surrounding HTML file.
 
USAF 1951 Resolution Target: (333k) (Elderly technoids only ;-) Old-line lens and film testers will be well-familiar with the "USAF 1951" resolution test target. (1951 is the year it was created, giving you an idea of what we mean when we say "old-line".) This was scanned at the maximum 2700 dpi from a laboratory-grade target (chrome on glass slide) before being cropped down, and would normally give an excellent view of the scanner's ultimate capabilities. The last distinguishable feature being group 5, element 3 vertically, at 40.3 line cycles/mm (1024 line pairs/inch); and group 5, element 5 horizontally, at 50.8 line cycles/mm (1290 line pairs/inch). The short extent of the USAF pattern targets doesn't permit the sort of visual interpolation our eyes do naturally on the more extended WG-18 pattern. As a result, the USAF target should yield much more conservative resolution numbers. As was also the case on the LS-2000, this target again produced a minor misalignment between the red and blue/green channels, resulting in the slight cyan tint to the upper edges of the finest elements, and the slight red tint to the lower edges. Because we didn't see any such effect on any other targets we scanned, we believe it was caused on this target by the thick glass the pattern is printed on. (Our thinking is that the additional diffraction introduced by the glass in the optical path, slightly separated the red, green, and blue light paths.)  

Back to LS-30 Scanner Review

Or, Return to the Imaging Resource Scanners page.

Or, Return to the Imaging Resource home page.

 

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Nikon CoolScan III (LS-30), or add comments of your own!