M1 -- Final Scans
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: December 2008
Before we had a chance to conclude our M1 diary, we installed v6.6.0r1 of SilverFast. Which did not go well, unfortunately, clobbering our Dock. The current version is 6.6.0r4, but beware.
Microtek ArtixScan M1
While we prefer to work in SilverFast, we remain disappointed in its interface, particularly the user interaction. The company seems to have concocted its own tools for drawing selections and they just aren't as precise as the system tools you may be familiar with.
Instead of a thick red line outlining a selection, for example, it would be far better to use the dimming crop iPhoto users are familiar with.
Even worse, we accidentally discovered we were scanning in CMYK mode after one update, instead of RGB. That's hidden away, not at all obvious, so it represented a significant delay in continuing the diary.
And talk about delays. We managed to delay long enough that Microtek announced it is withdrawing from the North American market before year end. Based in Taiwan, the company will "continue to provide support to customers in North America by telephone, e-mail, and over the Internet from the http://support.microtek.com site. Customers who need a replacement Microtek scanner or television under the terms of Microtek's product warranty will be able to contact Microtek and get a replacement," according to a company spokesperson.
The real issue here is software support as your operating system evolves. Will, for example, Lasersoft update SilverFast for Apple's Leopard Snow? Lasersoft has been your only option, although VueScan recently added support for the M1 in version 8.5.07. But Microtek's own software won't be updated, apparently. A sobering argument against the only glass-free, autofocus scanner on the market.
We resumed our tests by scanning some color negatives. We found a couple we liked and slipped them easily into the strip holder using the icon on the side to orient the strip with emulsion side up.
Our scan settings for the first image were optimized for a 5x7 print. Q-Factor was 1.5 and resolution 1,600 dpi. That yields a 2239x1461 image.
The dinosaur we ran across some years ago was photographed on Kodak 200-3 color negative film. There was a NegaFix setting for 200-6, so we used that. And the color was slightly off. The corrected version of the image looks a good bit better. It's also sharpened and some dust was removed, but despite all the work, it's representative of what the scanner can deliver.
The second image is the Rumbolino. We did this at a higher resolution: 4,800 dpi. That's the maximum optical resolution. And our 35mm frame ballooned to a 325-MB file with 13,253 x 8,640 pixels.
That's really too large to work with on our spry system, so we took it down to 3900x2543 pixels, more like what your dSLR would do, and sharpened it.
Taking the film out of the holder, we had a small problem. One strip stuck. The plastic tray for each strip has two thin guides attached by adhesive to the tray. Our strip snuck into the adhesive. But we were able to lift the strip and free it. You might want to run a blank strip through each slot in the holder before committing your negatives to them.
For those of you confused about an earlier comment on defect removal, we thought we'd better toss in a black and white negative scan, too. Just to prove the M1 can do it.
What it can't do is defect removal using infrared. There's no infrared on the M1. But -- and here's what confused some folks -- it doesn't matter. You can't use an infrared scan on black and white film to do defect removal anyway. That's because black and white film looks like nothing but defects to an infrared scan. The silver is a different layer than the emulsion. Every edge is an issue. So if you're scanning black and white film, don't try to do defect removal with an infrared scan.
Our black and white negative was a still life of pottery which we scanned at 3193x2099 pixels, neutralized and sharpened. The tonal capture is really quite pleasing, using the 16->8 bit capture in SilverFast.
Unfortunately SilverFast's auto frame recognition missed the mark a bit and its neutralization wasn't very good either. But that's not the scanner's fault.
We've had a number of occasions to scan reflective copy on the M1. It's a much less demanding task than film scanning, so we almost neglected to comment on it. But the M1 did an admirable job.
One question we get repeatedly goes like this. "I've just retired and I've got a lot of old slides and negatives I want to digitize. What scanner do you recommend?"
And, of course, we don't recommend a scanner at all. Figure an hour for every roll of film and, well, you retired too late. If the tedium doesn't kill you, something else will.
Some enterprising readers have written to describe their inventions for shooting slides with a dSLR. We envy a few of them (and have asked for the rig since they obviously have no further use for it). This approach has the advantage of being quick with excellent quality, even if the color is interpolated (which it is not with a scanner).
But building that kind of rig is beyond most of us. So we recommend having a professional lab like ScanMyPhotos (http://www.scanmyphotos.com) scan your film to DVD. They have the gear to do it quickly and well (and cheaply, too). Then, if you want to enjoy your retirement, you can but an M1 (to pick a film scanner at random) and work on a handful or so of your favorite images.
Another question we get quite a bit is whether we prefer the Epson V700/V750 or Microtek M1.
We can only point out that while the results are indistinguishable from each other, the scanners are not equivalent. The Epson has much higher resolution and Digital ICE. The M1 has autofocus and glass-free film scanning.
Only you can decide which of those criteria matter.
In preparation for wrapping up this diary, we did read through the dozens of comments and have addressed the ones we felt brought up legitimate issues -- you know, the issues we could confirm with our experience. But, as always, we're happy to answer your questions.
One question that lingered in our mind regarded the scan of the Maserati. This is one of the images that was scanned in CMYK, converted to RGB and color corrected.
We rescanned the slide in RGB for this part of the diary using the latest SilverFast (6.6.0r4) with default sharpening. We set the focus point to the placard in front of the car, set multiexposure on and adjusted the color in SilverFast. But we made no adjustments whatsoever in Photoshop CS4.
Click on the thumbnail for the unretouched scan. We see no evidence of any scan lines.
Microtek's withdrawal from the North American market may mean the end of the M1 but the F1 (an M1 with Digital ICE) isn't going anywhere and good deals can still be had on the M1. It remains the only autofocus flatbed scanner with glass-free film scanning.
Scanner development has certainly slowed in the last two years with nothing introduced after the Epson V700/V750 and the Microtek M1. But operating system development hasn't. Mac users look forward to OS X Leopard Snow while Windows users consider Windows 7. With Microtek no longer developing software for the M1, will Lasersoft continue to keep the M1 compatible?
That's really the only question we can't answer about this rather remarkable hardware.
(Microtek has since returned to the North American market with an online store. -- Editor)
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