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Nikon Super CoolScan LS-4000 Film Scanner Test Images

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 ("8" or better in Photoshop) to minimize this.

 

"Musicians II" image: (277k) The main image here was scanned at 1280 x 854 pixels, and minor tonal adjustments were made, using the "curves-levels" controls to increase the gamma setting to 1.35, lightening the midtones. Here (269k) is a version scanned with the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's default settings, which shows somewhat heavy midtones and flatter colors. Even the unaltered image shows excellent color accuracy, tonal range, and saturation though.

(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: (714k) The Super Coolscan 4000 ED's 4000 dpi maximum resolution is at the upper end of available desktop film scanners: When we reviewed the LS-2000, we'd said that more than it's 2700 dpi would be wasted on 35mm film, since we felt more resolution would just increase image noise. We confess that we've changed our minds on that score, after working with the Super Coolscan 4000 ED: There's clearly detail available in most 35mm film that's revealed by a 4000 dpi scanner, but not seen by a 2700 dpi one. Our musicians slide is getting a little grundgy from several years use now, so you can see some very fine-grained dirt on the image here. Compare this image, scanned with the Digital ICE defect-removal feature engaged. The dirt and a few minor scratches completely disappear, at only a small cost in sharpness. (And the built-in unsharp masking, or unsharp masking in Photoshop can largely make up the difference.)  
Kodak Royal Gold 25 "House" detail clip: (588k) This is a detail clip from the same negative used to produce the original "house" poster for our digital camera tests. (Now superceded by one shot on 4x5 transparency film.) It was shot on Kodak Royal Gold 25 film (sadly, no longer manufactured), which is extremely fine-grained, but which has very different color characteristics from most normal color negative films. Most scanners we've worked with have difficulty with RG 25's color balance, so we were very suprised by how easily the Super Coolscan 4000 ED handled this image. The default scan (492K) produced color as good as we've obtained from some scanners with extensive tweaking. The one-click adjustment button in the Curves window produced the exceptionally good tonal balance and color saturation in the main image. That scan (588k) strongly displayed the emulsion/chemical/dirt flecks that seem to plague this image, however. When we engaged the "Digital ICE" defect-removal software though, they completely disappeared, as shown in this image (472k), with very little disturbance to the underlying image. (We can see a slight softening, as reported by other users, but it's quite minor.) Applying moderate unsharp masking in Photoshop (100%, 0.8 pixel radius) brought out extraordinary detail, as shown here (656k).  
"Train" Shot (Extreme shadow detail): (1,478k) (These images saved at very low JPEG compression, to preserve shadow detail as much as possible.) 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 Super Coolscan 4000 ED did by far the best of any scanner we've yet tested on this image (at least, as of April, 2001), but achieving this result required using all of the scanner's arsenal of tricks for dealing with dense slides. Our first attempt, using only the auto-exposure button on the Curves window (albeit with 14-bit processing enabled) wasn't too impressive, produceing this image (276K). The trick (as described in the main review) was to boost the analog gain control about 1 unit on the main slider, and 0.28 and 0.22 on the red and green sliders respectively. This put a lot more detail in the shadows. Fairly radical adjustments in the Curves controls (Gamma pushed all the way to its maximum, at 3) gave us this shot (1,502K) (14 bit capture, 1x sampling, analog gain boosted). A great scan, very clean. For the final touches, we scanned the slide with 16x multi-sampling enabled, producing our main shot (1,478K) for this test. We were surprised to not see more difference between the 1x and 16x-sampled images: The Super Coolscan 4000 ED appears to be very, very "clean" in its signal handling. We were also surprised by how well the scanner did even in 8-bit mode, single-sampled, but with the analog gain boosted, as seen here (1,583K). Overall a very impressive performance - Knowing what we do now, in the future, we probably wouldn't even bother with the time required for multi-sample scanning, given how clean the basic scans are.  
Q60 Color Target: (52k) 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 (70k) here was scanned with the scanner's "curves" controls adjusted to produce a neutral to slightly warm grey in the slide's background, more or less matching the monitor to what we saw in the slide, although going a bit more toward neutral "by the numbers". The default scan, shown here (121k), while it does an excellent job of capturing the full tonal range of the subject, with superior color saturation to boot, is a little dark and warm. The pure white swach 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 Super Coolscan 4000 ED.  
"Davebox" test target: (147k) This is our official "weirdness of color negative film" test target. As noted above in the discussion of the Royal Gold "House" shot though, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED does an exceptional job of handling oddly color-balanced negative film. Even a scan with the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's default settings did a pretty decent job of it, as seen here (147K). The color was a bit washed out and a bit yellow, but a few simple tweaks on the "curves" controls gave us the very bright, saturated scan we used for our main shot (144K).  
WG-18 Resolution Target Horizontal Clip: (271k) 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. The Super Coolscan 4000 ED had surprisingly little trouble in this respect though, producing a very crisp, contrasty, sharply-focused scan. MAN, that's a lot of resolution! The LS-2000 resolved to about 1600 lines per picture height before getting lost in aliasing and moires. The Super Coolscan 4000 ED though, easily continues on to 1800 and perhaps even a bit beyond. Conclusion? - You'll need a razor-sharp lens and fine-grained emulsion to really see it, but the 4000 dpi really does make a difference!  
WG-18 Resolution Target Vertical Clip: (168k) Here's the corresponding vertically-oriented clip of the WG-18/Kodak Tech Pan target. If anything, the results here are even more impressive, with detail clearly distinguishable all the way to 2000 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction. Wow!  

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Full-Size ISO-12233 ("WG-18") Resolution Target: (3,324k!) For the real masochists, here's the full-size ISO-12233 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 ISO-12233 shot goes right to the edges of the 35mm frame, and we found that the Super Coolscan 4000 ED covers all that and then some. For this particular scan, we were using the separate strip-film holder in the slide scanning head, so there's some slight cropping evident along the lower edge.

WARNING: This JPEG expands into a 67 megabyte file, which will almost certainly crash your broswer 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 (3 megabyte JPEG download) is the link to the RAW JPEG IMAGE. (No surrounding HTML file.)

 
USAF 1951 Resolution Target: (252k) (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 4000 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 6, both horizontally and vertically, at 57 line cycles/mm (1448 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 ISO-12233 pattern. As a result, the USAF target should yield much more conservative resolution numbers. The earlier LS-2000 went down almost as far, but didn't resolve the detail as clearly, and did better in the horizontal direction than the vertical. The LS-2000 also showed some color-channel misalignment, while the Super Coolscan 4000 ED shows none. We do see some blurring along vertical edges here though, which may be a consequence of the thick glass of the target slide, refracting the light between the LEDs and the CCD scan head.

This target did give us fits trying to get it properly focused. Since the pattern is on one side of a fairly thick glass slide, it's likely outside the normal focusing range of the scanner. Add to that the refractive tendencies of the glass itself, and you can end up with serious focusing hassles. We ended up using the manual focus adjustment of the Super Coolscan 4000 ED heavily here, running multiple scans and making 2-unit focus adjustments between each, finally picking the sharpest looking from among the 10 or so candidates. Yikes, what a pain. No problems like this on conventional film, thankfully!

 

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