DEFECT REMOVAL TOO
Plustek OpticFilm 7600i
-- Scanning 35mm Film
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: February 2010
The scanner species devoted to 35mm film is nearly extinct. The Minolta 5400 died off long ago and Nikon's Coolscans can only be seen in captivity (although the company does still offer the Coolscan 9000).
In part this is because flatbeds like the Epson V700/V750 and Microtek F1/M1 have risen to the occasion, producing film scans of excellent quality. And high-end all-in-one devices like the Canon MP980 can handle the odd color negative and 35mm slide scan, too.
So what was Plustek thinking when they developed their OpticFilm 7000 series of film scanners?
Probably that they could do it better.
And to do it better, they partnered with LaserSoft to bundle a version of its SilverFast scanning software that does just what film scanning needs to do. In particular, that means defect removal of dust and scratches.
LaserSoft also offers an Archive Suite for more advanced options, which we cover in a companion piece to this article. And VueScan does recognize the 7600i, providing archival scans and defect removal, too.
We used the various combinations over a period of several weeks to scan not only our best Kodachrome and Ektachrome slides but also some color negatives from the 1970s that had been damaged in a flood. That runs the gamut of quality and provided a robust real-life test for the OpticFilm and SilverFast scanning combination.
The hardware ships in two software configurations:
- The SE configuration includes SilverFast 6.6 SE Plus Multi-Exposure
- The Ai configuration includes Silverfast 6.6 Ai Studio IT8 Multi-Exposure with IT8 Kodachrome and Ektachrome targets
As we tested the unit, it wasn't in stock anywhere but the previous generation 7500i sold for $412 in the SE configuration and $529 in the Ai configuration.
In either configuration, the highlights of the Plustek scanner and LaserSoft software combination include:
- Scans 35mm slides and 35mm six-frame filmstrips with included film holders
- The SilverFast multiple sampling function reads the same spot up to four times, averaging the values to minimize image noise
- The SilverFast multi-exposure option for positive film improves shadow and highlight detail by exposing one pass for the shadow detail and a second pass for the highlight detail, effectively enhancing the density range of the hardware while minimizing noise
- The scanner's infrared scanning coupled with SilverFast's iSRD or VueScan's defect removal feature can identify and eliminate dust and scratches from color film automatically or manually
- SilverFast's automatic IT8 bar-coded calibration feature with the targets included in the Ai version make calibration a very quick, one button operation
- USB 2.0 Hi-Speed delivers the scanned data quickly to your computer
The film holders are fed manually into the scanner with detents to indicate the frame alignment.
Hardware specifications for the OpticFilm 7600i follow.
- Optical resolution: 7200x7200 dpi
- Bit Depth: 48-bit color (16-bit channels) and 16-bit grayscale
- Sampling: Multi-sampling capable
- Infrared Scanning: Yes (for dust and scratch removal)
- Buttons: Power, Intelliscan (launches SilverFast), QuickScan (launches PageManager)
- Maximum Scan Area: 25.4x36.8mm
- Light Source: white LED
- Sensor: Color CCD image sensor
- Interface: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
- Dimensions: 4.73 x 10.7 x 4.7 inches WxDxH
- Weight: 3.5 lbs.
- Power Requirements: 15 volts, 1.0 amps via included power adapter
- Dynamic Range: 3.5
- Scanning Speed: Previews in 7.57 seconds (slides), 8.01 seconds (negatives); 3600-dpi multi-sampled scans in 32.14 seconds, 7200-dpi multi-sampled scans in 56.82 seconds
- Software: SilverFast SE or Ai Studio; Windows: Plustek Quickscan, NewSoft PageManager and Presto! ImageFolio
- Warranty: one year limited warranty
Windows requirements include a Pentium III CPU or higher and Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7.
Macintosh requirements include a PowerPC G4 or G5 chip or Intel Mac, OS X 10.3.9 or above. This is, apparently, the first version of the OpticFilm line that runs on a Mac.
Both systems require a CD-ROM drive for software installation, one available USB port (even a free port on a hub is fine), 512-MB RAM, 500-MB free hard disk space, 24-bit color video
The retail box includes:
- the OpticFilm 7600i SE scanner
- USB cable
- Two film holders: mounted slide holder (four slides), filmstrip holder (six negatives per strip)
- Power adapter
- Quick Guide
- SilverFast SE CD
- Bundled Windows application software (Newsoft's Presto! ImageFolio image editing software and PageManager document management software)
- Padded carrying bag for the scanner, adapter, film holders and cables
Additional film holders are available and not a bad idea if you are scanning a lot of film.
The box itself is fairly compact and can easily be stored in its padded case when not in use. A film scanner isn't an everyday peripheral so the inclusion of the case turns out to be quite handy.
The plastic case is attached to a metal bottom for a very sturdy build. On the front panel, the Power button sits below two special-purpose shortcut buttons. The top button launches SilverFast and the bottom button launches Page Manager. A small green LED above the buttons indicates when the unit is on.
On the sides of the scanner, there are two long rubber bumpers near the bottom that protect the case from bumps. Near the front on the sides are the two slots for the film holder to enter and exit the scanner. No motor drives the holders through, but detents in the holders help you feel position to align each frame in the scanner.
The top panel has an Energy Star Saver badge and an iSRD badge boasting LaserSoft's infrared Smart Removal of Defects technology.
The back panel has a power connection for the small AC adapter and a USB data connection.
The two film holders are black plastic. We found them well designed and easy to use. The slide holder takes mounted slides that are pushed into one side and then seated with a slight resistant pushing them back against the opposite side to lock them in. The negative holder, which takes strips up to six frames long, has guides to align the filmstrip and snaps closed.
There's no effort made to flatten the film with tension but at 35mm it isn't an issue.
It takes only a few minutes to set the scanner up near a computer and plug in the AC adapter and the USB cable.
The software installation is also quick. Unlike many scanners, there was no need to install the hardware before the software. The installs were independent of each other.
We installed the SE configuration and the Ai configuration on separate systems. We didn't bother with the Newsoft applications.
The primary difference between the two installation is that the SE configuration installs and relies on generic ICC profiles for the OpticFilm scanners, including a generic 7600i ICC profile.
While the Ai configuration also installs those profiles, it includes barcoded 35mm IT8 targets for Ektachrome and Kodachrome. With these targets, you can use SilverFast's built-in, one-button calibration technology to create custom ICC profiles for the scanner.
SilverFast also sent us its Archive Suite which, in addition to SilverFast Ai IT8 Studio, includes HDR Studio. Together these two applications provide a way to scan images for 16-bit channels and a defect channel in a TIFF format that can be converted later by the HDR software.
We cover SilverFast's archiving solution separately from the scanner itself, comparing it to VueScan, which uses a similar scheme. In this review, we'll focus on the scanner.
As noted, VueScan also recognizes and can calibrate the 7600i. It can also handle defect removal by scanning an infrared channel.
Installation of the SilverFast applications requires entering a serial number. You'll find the number on a sticker fixed to the CD case itself.
We did have a problem installing HDR Studio when our serial number wasn't recognized. There's little to do about that but email support, which requires stepping through a number of irrelevant pages on the LaserSoft site. We never did resolve the issue with support, however, relying on Demo mode for the review.
For a new scanner, it was both a surprise and a pleasure to see both SilverFast and VueSan support. But with three packages to choose from, it may not be immediately obvious which way to go.
The bundled version of SilverFast actually does quite well with the generic ICC profile, no doubt because the LED light source doesn't vary as much as older light sources did. By itself, it might be enough for the casual user who can live with color capture that's credible.
Both VueScan and SilverFast Ai IT8 can scan an IT8 target and create an ICC profile for more accurate color.
The SilverFast option includes the IT8 targets (one for Ektachrome and one for Kodachrome). The included targets are, unlike other IT8 targets, barcoded so the software can look up the target data all by itself. If the data file isn't present on your hard disk, it goes to the Web to see what the scanned values really are before building the ICC profile. This all happens in the blink of an eye. Just load the target, click the IT8 calibration icon and after the scan, watch the software find the patches and create the profile.
The VueScan option requires you to provide a 35mm film IT8 target but you then scan the target, align the grid to the patches, tell the software where the data file is and let VueScan build the ICC profile. It's not much more work, really, although finding things like the data file can be a nuisance.
A final consideration is the difference between LaserSoft's and Hamrick's archival scan strategies. They both can scan 16-bit channels in color or grayscale and also store a 16-bit channel infrared scan as a TIFF file format. This 64-bit file is called HDRi by LaserSoft and RGBI by Hamrick but it's essentially the same concept.
Where the strategy differs is in how you handle that file format, should you choose to use it. LaserSoft sells HDR Studio to open, manipulate and export HDRi files saved by SilverFast Ai IT8 Studio. Hamrick's VueScan itself can read in the files it has saved as RGBI to export them in another format.
The advantage of postponing the defect removal processing is only that you won't have to rescan one day if the defect removal algorithms improve. You can just run the HDRi or RGBI files through the new software to get improved images.
Not all images can be scanned for defects using infrared, however. Black and white film and Kodachrome slides have layered emulsions that look like defects to an infrared scan.
As we discuss in the companion piece to this review, LaserSoft calls HDRi a Raw format for scans, but it isn't quite as capable as a Raw camera file. No image editing software knows what to do with the infrared channel and none of them write editing metadata to the TIFF header. The only editing you are postponing, then, is defect removal.
With VueScan you can save the RGB data as a DNG file to gain those advantages, but you do lose the infrared data. This approach, then, requires you to do defect removal before saving as a DNG. But if you have pristine originals, that isn't a concern.
Those, essentially, are the tradeoffs of using one strategy or the other.
We found using the scanner itself very easy to use. Scanning isn't something that can be done quickly and scanning lots of slides can tax your patience. But the actual process of scanning a slide isn't complicated.
Loading the holder. When loading either holder, there's no need to worry about orienting the image's top or bottom, but you do have to pay attention to orient the left and right sides so the image isn't reversed. Emulsion down is the rule to observe.
Alignment. After loading the film holder with your originals, you slide it into either slot on the side of the scanner. Continue pushing it through until you feel it bump over the detent that tells you the first frame is aligned. There are notches in the film holders to feel for the alignment bumps in the scanner.
To advance to the next image, you simply push the film holder further through the scanner until you feel the bump of the next detent.
Because the 7600i does not grab the holder and automatically feed it through, there is no need for an eject button to release the holder. You simply slide the holder in, push it along as you scan each frame, relying on the detents to align the frame in the scanner, and then pull it out when you've finished the strip.
There is no motor in the 7600i to drive an automatic feeder as there is in the Minolta 5400. So each scan must be manually fed into the scanner. If you have a large number of slides, consider a scanner like the Nikon Coolscan that has an optional motorized bulk slide feeder.
Warm-up. You don't have to worry about warming up the scanner's light source. The LEDs run cool anyway, so the unit is immediately ready for action.
Speed. We did notice a significant difference is running the scanner on a USB 1.0 port rather than a USB 2.0 Hi-Speed port. USB 2.0 can run at several speeds, Hi-Speed being the fastest. But to achieve the fastest speed, everything in the chain from the scanner to the computer has to be Hi-Speed, including any hub.
With a Hi-Speed setup, we didn't miss FireWire. Scanning was fairly quick. The slower 1.0 setup worked, but we had to busy ourselves with another task on another computer during the slow scans.
Resolution. Plustek specs the 7600's optical resolution at 7200 dpi. That means the CCD can move across the image at 7200 lines an inch. That would deliver a 10,800 x 7,200 pixel image or a 233,280,000 pixel RGB image.
If you're used to scanning prints at 300 dpi, you may wonder why you would ever need 7200 dpi. For a clue, look at the size of your 35mm original. You may scan a 4x6 print at 300 dpi to make a 4x6 print but you have to enlarge a 35mm frame 400 percent to make that same 4x6 print. If your printer really does require 300 dpi resolution of data, that's 1,200 x 1,800 pixels or 1200 dpi optical. Larger sizes require even more scanner resolution.
Our initial scans were a modest 2,400. A 150-dpi printer can make a 16x24-inch print from that data. A 300-dpi printer would, consequently manage an 8x12-inch print.
The advantage of higher resolution scanning is 1) the ability to print a much larger image and 2) the ability to crop a part of the 35mm frame as the whole image. And primarily the later.
Since we were able to scan enough data to make a nice 13x19 print (as big as we print here), we tested resolution by scanning a crop at 7200 dpi, 5400 dpi and 4000 dpi.
While the difference in file size is obvious, we couldn't detect a difference in image information. In fact, one site that tested the 7600i with a USAF-1951 resolution target found that the 7600i has an effective resolution of only 3250 dpi.
But that delivers a 14-Mp image file, enough for 13x19-inch prints.
Sharpness. As Taz Tally explains in his excellent SilverFast: the Official Guide, "Because a scanner does not capture all of the available image data but rather samples an image and averages the values, it tends to slightly lower contrast along high-contrast edges and smooth out the image."
The solution to this has always been to apply some sharpening to the scan. You can specify the amount of brightness to add to the edge pixels, the brightness difference to define an edge and how wide a border to be affected. In most Unsharp Masking dialogs those are Amount/Intensity, Threshold and Radius settings.
But in sharpening a scan (rather than a digital photograph), you'll want to affect higher contrast edges more than lower contrast edges. To avoid adding grain or noise to the low contrast areas of your scan, you'll want to increase the Threshold dramatically.
The 7600i does not focus automatically, but the film holders do position the originals in fixed locations, so fixed focus should be fine. We really didn't have any complaints about focus. Our scans were sufficiently sharp if not cut diamonds with the built-in sharpening options of the scanner software applications we used.
Density Range. If there was one specification that worried us about the 7600i it was the 3.5 density range. Film runs 4.0. That's what worried us.
But with multiexposure (available in both SilverFast and VueScan), the scanner can spread that 3.5 a little wider. You just have to remember to enable it. There's no reason (other than speed) to disable it.
Operating Temperature. Even without a fan, the unit never got hot. In fact, thanks to the cool LEDs, it never really got warm.
We scanned a variety of 35mm film on both systems. The Hi-Speed setup ran the SilverFast Archive Suite and VueScan while the USB 1.0 setup ran the bundled version of SilverFast.
With the bundled software, we scanned vintage 1980s Kodak color negatives and Ektachrome slides.
Negative scanning relies on the built-in NegaFix module to convert the scan to a positive. And we had no complaints. The images of Lake Tahoe were crystal clear with vibrant water and skies.
Our slides of garden flowers were nicely captured using the generic ICC profile to deliver good color and sharpness after unsharp masking. We did fiddle with the color a bit, but not much. The multisampling minimized any noise from the scans and we found the density range acceptable for our set of images.
With the Archive Suite, our first task was to calibrate the scanner, of course. Then we tried to see how much information the 7600i could recover from our flood-damaged slides. So we scanned as 48-to-24-bit JPEGs and let the infrared channel mark up the defects.
That approach scans 16-bit channels which are then evaluated and delivered as 8-bit channels (48-bit files to 24-bit files). With iSRD enabled, they were also cleaned of any dust or scratches.
Defects were severe. They included not just dust and scratches but mold and residue. We weren't trying to recover the best image we could. We wanted, instead, to establish a reference image. If one or another cleaning of the film later made things worse, we'd at least have the reference image.
But the 7600i and the iSRD module did an excellent job of cleaning up the image without losing detail. The color negatives from the 1970s were not themselves very sharp, but we didn't see the softening automatic defect removal often introduces.
VueScan likewise did a good job scanning both negatives and slides. We primarily tested VueScan's RGBI and DNG formats with negatives and slides, as our companion piece points out.
In general, we were happy with the scans of both negatives and slides using either SilverFast or VueScan. We found it pretty simple to get good results, even from damaged slides.
The Plustek 7600i is a well-built, capable machine that made it simple to scan 35mm negatives and slides with helpful automatic defect removal using either the bundles SilverFast software, SilverFast Archive Suite or VueScan.
We were concerned the 7600i's strictly manual feed isn't up to heavy bouts of batch scanning. But that certainly keeps the price down.
But our main reservations have little to do with the product itself. We have a lot of film from the 1970s that is 35mm in size but not format and the 7600i couldn't capture the full frame. Being strictly limited to 35mm film reduces the utility of the unit such that a film-capable flatbed like the Epson V700/V750 makes a lot more sense.
Within its limits, though, the Plustek 7600i delivered the goods from a wide range of difficult originals. And that's saying something.