Original Review Date: April 18, 2001
|* True professional-quality scans|
|* 4000 dpi resolution (67MB file from 35mm neg!)|
|* 42-bit color depth (!), plus 16x for 48-bit equivalent|
|* High-speed FireWire (IEEE 1394) interface
(card included for both Mac and PC)
|* Amazing "Digital ICE" dust & scratch removal|
* New Digital "ROC" and "GEM" automatically
correct for faded negatives and film grain.
Nikon Inc. was arguably the first company to really figure out the bizarre color qualities of color negative film, as seen in its first film scanner, released about a decade ago. (This point might be subject to some argument, but the original Nikon film scanner was the first that we saw that could consistently create good-looking scans from a variety of color negative film emulsions.) From that early position, they continued to innovate, and have consistently maintained a commanding position in the high-end pro/prosumer scanning market. Back in mid-1999, Nikon's Super Coolscan 2000 was one of the first slide/film scanners that we reviewed at the Imaging Resource. At the time, the LS-2000 (the unit's model number) represented the state-of-the-art in desktop film scanning, and large numbers were sold to photo enthusiasts and pro photographers alike. Now, Nikon has raised the bar again, with a complete series of new scanners -- ranging from the purely consumer model Super Coolscan IV, through the new Super Coolscan 4000 ED, to the high-end, medium-format Super Coolscan 8000. We'll eventually cover all three products, but elected to start out with the Super Coolscan 4000 ED in this review.
The new Super Coolscan 4000 ED incorporates a number of enhancements over the previous generation, and further blurs the line between what's attainable with affordable desktop scanners versus the $100,000+ "drum" scanners used by professional graphics houses. Here's a list of some of the key features of the Super Coolscan 4000 ED:
- True uninterpolated 4000 dpi scanning resolution
- IEEE 1394 ("FireWire") interface, with card included for Mac or Windows
- New Scanner Nikkor ED high-resolution lens, using extra-low dispersion glass
- 14-bit digitization for dynamic range of 4.2(!), one of the widest tonal ranges available
- Optional full 48-bit (16 bits/channel) TIFF file output preserves maximum image data
- Multi-sample scanning for even lower noise on critical (dense) images
- Digital ICE scratch/dust removal technology (you have to see this to believe it!)
- Digital ROC for color restoration of old, faded negatives
- Digital GEM for grain reduction without loss of image detail
- Sophisticated color management system supports ICC profiling
The Super Coolscan 4000 ED is a compact desktop package that can operate in either of two orientations. Most users who don't advantage of the (optional) automatic slide feeder attachment will likely operate the unit standing upright, in which case it takes up about as much desktop real estate as a thick book. At 3.7 x 6.6 x 12.4 inches (93 x 169 x 315 mm), and approximately 6.6 pounds (3 kg), it should fit easily on even a crowded desktop.
The Super Coolscan 4000 ED is a "FireWire" (IEEE 1394) connected device, a virtual necessity due to the enormous amounts of data it's capable of generating. A single version is sold for both Mac and PC platforms, including an IEEE 1394 interface card, with both Mac and PC driver software supplied with the unit. The Super Coolscan 4000 ED's maximum resolution is 4000 dpi, resulting in a maximum image size of 3,654 x 5,646 pixels when scanning 35mm film. (That's a *lot* of pixels, about 67MB in 8-bit mode, 130+ MB when saved as a 48-bit file!)
Out of the box, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED comes equipped for scanning both 35mm slides and film strips. An APS adapter and automatic 35mm slide feeder are available as accessories, as is a new 35mm roll-film adapter. All adapters can be "hot swapped," in that they can be changed without powering-down the scanner or requiring any special operations in software. In practice, we found this a very useful feature, as we could switch between slides and negatives very rapidly, without interrupting our workflow. We did not have the opportunity to try either the APS adapter, the automatic slide feeder, or the roll-film feeder, but the "batch" capabilities of the 35mm strip-film adapter were both powerful and convenient.
"Bit depth" is an important characteristic of digital scanners, affecting both color accuracy and tonal density range. At 14 bits per channel, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED is at the top of the field, but stretches even this specification by providing an option to average multiple measurements of each pixel, up to 16x. We'll discuss this capability in greater detail later, but suffice to say that it provides a "noise level" in images of dense slides or negatives equivalent to a 16-bit per channel device! Nikon rates the maximum optical density capability of the Super Coolscan 4000 ED as 4.2, and we have no reason to quibble with this figure. In part because we have no adequate way to measure this parameter! However, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's performance does appear to easily exceed that of scanners we've used in the past that were rated at a D-max of 3.6.
The scanner uses three color LEDs to illuminate the film, a design unique to Nikon, as far as we know. The LEDs have very well-controlled light characteristics, and aren't subject to the fading of conventional color filter materials. The LED light source is also somewhat collimated (the light waves travel in relatively straight lines), which produces very sharp scans, but also has a tendency to emphasize scratches, dust, and film defects. Though the unique "Digital ICE" technology (see below) gives the Super Coolscan 4000 some unusual technology for dealing with dust and scratches.
Documentation for the Super Coolscan 4000 ED is quite extensive and, to the best of our recollection, a good bit more convenient than that of the LS-2000. Both scanners include a very complete manual on the CD, in Adobe Acrobat(tm) format, but the Super Coolscan 4000 ED also includes a roughly 100-page printed version as well. The printed manual is complete enough and well enough written that we really found no need to venture into the electronic version. (Kudos to Nikon, we really appreciate not having to spend time printing out an electronic manual!)
The new Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 ED scanner is by any measure one of the most sophisticated products we've reviewed to date. We'll cover these in more detail below, but thought it worth calling attention to a few of the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's key features at the top of the review. Overall, there's no question that the Super Coolscan 4000 ED sets a new standard for desktop scanners in the sub-$2,000 category: By just about every measure (resolution, image sharpness, dynamic range, features, or accessories), the Super Coolscan 4000 raises the bar for desktop scanners. Here are a few of the key points:
4000 dpi Resolution
In all our prior scanner reviews, the highest resolution we'd encountered in a film scanner was on the order of 2800 dpi. Since the film grain was fairly evident at that resolution, our feeling was that there was little purpose in going to even higher resolutions, since it seemed all this would do is further emphasize the film grain. We have to say though, that the Super Coolscan 4000 ED disabused us of that notion. To be sure, film grain is more evident at a full 4000 dpi, but in examining the resulting image files, it's clear that there's also noticeably more image detail present as well. Combine this with the "Digital GEM" grain-management technology embodied in the Super Coolscan 4000 ED, and its 4000 dpi rating constitutes a genuine increase in usable resolution. The high resolution is further enhanced by the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's new optics, using Nikon's special extra-low dispersion (ED) optical glass, which reduces chromatic aberration and improves image sharpness. We don't have a good objective test that would highlight the performance of scanner optics per se, but it was our impression that the scans produced by the Super Coolscan 4000 ED were distinctly sharper and crisper than those of the already-excellent LS-2000 that preceded it.
|The five images above are 100-pixel crops taken from the four corners and center of a maximum-resolution scan of a Kodak Gold 200 color negative. In these shots, it does appear that the grain pattern is a little less sharply-focused in the lower left and lower right corners of the negative. On the other hand, this is far from a scientific test, since those portions of the negative corresponded to brighter portions of the original subject, and would therefore be denser, producing a smaller grain pattern anyway.|
Some comment has been made on the internet about corner to corner sharpness with the Super Coolscan 4000 ED. We observed a slight softness in the corners, but didn't feel it was extreme, or to the point that it posed a problem. On our resolution target, the edge definition of elements in the corners of the frame was really about as good as those in the center. We felt that the corner softness was most noticeable in the less-defined grain pattern from the film in the corners. The images above were cropped from a 4000 dpi scan of Kodak ISO 200 color negative film. The grain pattern from the center of the frame was clearly sharper, but the softness in the corners didn't seem to translate into noticeably reduced detail in our scans. It's possible that the problem could be more acute with badly curved film, since there's no glass in the negative carrier to hold the film flat. We're not sure how big a problem this may or may not be: If you had a badly curved piece of film, it seems you could always cut the individual frame and mount it in a glass-fronted slide mount to hold it flat if that proved necessary...
Nikon's "Digital ICE" defect-removal solution is truly one of the most amazing innovations in scanner technology we've ever seen. ("ICE" stands for "Image Correction Enhancement," licensed from the aptly-named corporation, Applied Science Fiction.) Under optimal circumstances, it can completely remove scratches, dust, and fingerprints from a slide or negative, while leaving the underlying image untouched! This was so amazing, we had to try it ourselves, so we deliberately damaged a negative and smudged it with fingerprints and dirt. (We literally dropped it on a linoleum floor and walked on it!) Even with this extreme level of damage though, the results were pretty astonishing.
Initially, Nikon and Applied Science Fiction were deliberately a little vague about how ICE works, but the technology is now well-known. It works by shining an infrared light through the film's emulsion, using the resulting scan information to create a "defect channel" showing where the dust and scratches are located. The infrared light passes right through the layers of most color print or slide film, but is blocked by dust or scratches. (Note that this technique doesn't work with Kodachrome or black-and-white film, as those emulsions are either entirely or largely opaque to infrared light.) The scanner and it's associated firmware/software then interpolates the surrounding image information to "fill in the gaps" shown by the defect channel.
The result is just short of amazing. At any given resolution level, it produces a slight softness in the image relative to an unadjusted scan, but the overall result is incredible. On a negative as deeply scratched as our test sample, the process can't completely eliminate all evidence of damage, particularly at higher resolutions. The photos below are from our earlier review of the LS-2000, which also uses the Digital ICE technology, to very similar results.
In practice, we found the ICE technology very effective, at least on the film emulsions we tested. (Again, note that it doesn't work with Kodachrome or black-and-white film.) At any given resolution, it produces a slight softness in the image relative to an unadjusted scan, but the overall result is incredible! (There is an automatic sharpening function included in the "Clean Image" options in Nikon Scan, but you'll want to experiment with it a bit. We found the built-in sharpening to be fairly effective for lower-resolution scans, but still preferred using the Unsharp Masking in Photoshop, as it gave us much more control over how the sharpening was applied.) On a negative as deeply scratched as this one, the process can't completely eliminate all evidence of damage, particularly at higher resolutions.
The images below of the eye and cheek show the effect of Digital ICE technology at maximum scanner resolution. You'll note that there are still minor blemishes left in the image, but their nature is such that they'd be quite easy to remove either by cloning or with a "smudge" tool in a paint program.
Overall, it would be hard to overemphasize the impact the Digital ICE technology could have in a production scanning environment. The tendency is to focus on severe damage of the sort we've shown here, but in practice, you're much more likely to encounter random dust specks that require tedious "spotting" to clean up. After working with it, we're convinced that Digital ICE can completely eliminate the need for this operation, at the savings of countless hours in production shops. We have to say that this is truly one of the most useful innovations we've seen to date in scanner technology, capable of saving literally hours of retouching for each damaged image it recovers!
Digital ROC & GEM
In addition to the "Digital ICE" feature (which was present in the LS-2000 as well), the Super Coolscan 4000 ED adds two other technologies, "Digital ROC" and "Digital GEM." ROC stands for "Recovery of Color," and it does an incredible job of extracting the original color information from badly faded color negative film. We didn't have suitable film to test this with ourselves, but we've seen any number of samples from both Nikon and other reviewers that demonstrate its capabilities.
GEM stands for "Grain Equalization and Management," a technology designed to remove the effects of film grain, without affecting image sharpness. We were a little suspicious of the claim that image detail wasn't affected, as it sounded a little too much like magic. As you can see from the samples above, though (click on the image for a full-sized view), it appears to do a pretty good job. The test image here is the familiar "Q60" test slide from Kodak, which is imaged on Ektachrome slide film. This is a fairly fine-grained emulsion, and the image itself has to be at least one generation down from whatever the original image was. Thus, the sharpness of the subject could be questioned, relative to the size of the grain artifacts. (It would be interesting to test GEM on some higher-speed film, where the grain structures would be larger relative to the detail in the image.) Still, even allowing for the limitations of the test, the results are quite impressive.
Analog Gain Control
Underexposed slides or dense negatives are a challenge for any film scanner. With so little light coming through the film, the electronics have a hard time measuring it, and "noise" from the sensor often swamps the signal coming from the image. Approaches for dealing with this problem range from using analog-to-digital converters (the "measuring" component) with greater bit depth, to designing lower-noise electronics. Both of these approaches add substantial cost though, and the Super Coolscan 4000 ED is already an excellent performer in these areas. (See our notes below about the 14-bit A/D converter.)
Instead, Nikon took several different approaches to improving performance for high-density subjects. One of the most basic enhancements was to recognize that simply increasing the brightness of the light source would increase the amount of light making it through to the sensor. This is accomplished via the somewhat mislabeled "analog gain control" function, which increases or decreases the brightness of the LEDs providing the illumination. (This is another welcome carryover from the earlier LS-2000 design.) While this increases overall brightness and depth in the shadows on slides (conversely, in the highlights on negatives), the less-dense areas of the film can suffer from a light overload. Thus, the usefulness of analog gain control will depend somewhat on the image being scanned. It will be most useful on film or slides that are dark overall.
We found the analog gain control to be of great practical benefit for darker images, particularly when working with our very challenging "train" test slide. For this image, we found that we could run all of the gain-control sliders almost all the way up to their limits, improving shadow detail without losing detail in the highlights. (We found that the individual red, green, and blue sliders added to the effect of the main, or overall, gain slider. By running the sliders for the individual channels up, in addition to the main slider, we achieved much more shadow detail than we could by using only the overall control.) We were surprised by how far we could push the analog gain without losing detail in the highlights, where the clouds and sunbaked sand are nearly transparent on the original. (Although we couldn't push the gain quite as far as we did on the LS-2000, it's possible that the gain control on the Super Coolscan 4000 ED simply has a greater range, or that the 4000's electronics are more sensitive.)
Another approach to reducing noise in dark areas of the scan is to take multiple readings for each pixel, and average the results. Because the noise is random from one measurement to another, its effect tends to average out over large numbers of measurements. In yet another holdover feature from the LS-2000, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED takes advantage of this by providing the option to average multiple measurements, taking either 1, 2 4, 8 or 16 samples per pixel.
In practice, we felt there was little difference between the 1x and 4x averages, but the 16x seemed to noticeably improve noise in the shadows. (It didn't seem to make as big a difference as the multi-sample scanning did on the LS-2000. The Super Coolscan 4000 ED is by far the "cleanest" scanner we've tested to date, producing surprisingly low noise levels, even in its basic 8-bit mode, with no multi-sampling or analog gain tricks at all.) Of course, there's a price to pay, in that the scans take much longer, since the Super Coolscan 4000 ED is essentially scanning the entire image 16 times. Also, it appears that this function applies to the preview mode as well, drastically slowing preview scans. Thus, we recommend turning it off during previews and back on again for the main scan. Despite the inconvenience this introduces to the workflow, and the longer time it takes to perform a scan with the function enabled, the results are well worth it for very dark slides: We venture to say that the Super Coolscan 4000 ED is capable of extracting useful scans from slides that other scanners would be completely incapable of handling.
Full 14-bits per channel output
Adobe Photoshop(tm) Versions 4.0 and higher and Corel PhotoPaint(tm) Versions 8 and higher can both handle images with up to 16 bits of data in the red, green, and blue color channels. While some scanners feature 12-bit A/D conversion, they usually import only the best 8 bits of data when translating the file for use in an image editing program. In contrast, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED transfers TIFF files that contain all 14 bits of data per channel. (Note though, that this doubles your file size, as the TIFF standard only supports either 8 or 16 bits/channel.) This option is particularly valuable if you need to make substantial adjustments to tone or color after the scan is captured. By giving the application more data to work with, fairly radical tonal shifts can be made, without the severe "posterizing" of the image that can occur with 8-bit data. (This is yet another carryover from the LS-2000, the only difference being that the Super Coolscan 4000 ED now has a 14-bit A/D converter.)
"Bit Depth" is often the subject of specmanship amongst scanner makers. With high-bit A/D converters getting cheaper and cheaper, it's no longer prohibitive to put a 12-, 14-, or even 16-bit A/D in a higher-end scanner. Beyond the scanner's bit depth though, is the issue of system noise. Having more bits does you no good, if you're just digitizing noise from the sensor and electronics. Multi-sampling can help somewhat, but it'll only take you so far. This is why we feel that the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's apparent low noise is so significant: The LS-2000 before it was at the top of the then-current desktop scanner field, but the Super Coolscan 4000 ED clearly goes it one better in the noise department. Some of this is due to the 14-bit A/D, but in our estimation, more of the impact is from a system design that results in lower noise overall.
Optional APS Film and 35mm Batch Scanning
The Super Coolscan 4000 ED supports flexible batch-scanning of APS and 35mm film strips, a real benefit if you're using some of the more time-consuming options such as Digital ICE and/or multi-sample scanning! The process is quite straightforward, but not terribly well-documented: After scanning the thumbnail previews, select those needing adjustment, and set the scanning parameters as you normally would. Once you've made all your adjustments, select the images you want to scan by doing a control left-click in Windows, or a command-click with the Mac on the corresponding thumbnails. This will select multiple thumbnails without deselecting those you've already chosen. When all have been selected, click scan to proceed. Nikon Scan will ask you where to store the images and what to call them. It will take the file name you give it, and name successive scans "name1," "name2," etc.
The LS-2000 had both APS and bulk slide scanning attachments, which the Super Coolscan 4000 ED also supports. The Super Coolscan 4000 ED again goes one step better though, by providing for an (optional) full-roll strip feeder for 35mm film, accepting up to 36 exposure rolls (including the usual couple of frames worth of lead-in and lead-out). We didn't have a chance to play with the bulk roll adapter, but it looks like it could be a very interesting gadget for pros and small labs.
Most low-end scanners give you no choice about the "color space" the scan is performed in, simply making some broad assumption about the sort of monitor you're using, and how it is set up. By contrast, Nikon Scan and the Super Coolscan 4000 ED provide a wide range of color space choices, and screen gamma settings of 1.8 and 2.2 (the default gammas for Windows and Macintosh monitors, respectively). With the color management option enabled, Nikon Scan also supports the full ICC-standard workflow. The software chooses an input profile based on the scanner model it detects, uses the one of the offered color spaces as the "edit" profile, and allows you to specify a monitor profile for accurate screen display. (You develop your own monitor profile using any of a number of available profiling applications.) The chart below (courtesy of Nikon USA Inc) shows the colorimetric parameters for the standard edit color spaces offered.
For professional applications, ICC profiles and a robust color-management system are essential for repeatable color and an efficient workflow. Since we don't have any methodology for evaluating color management systems, we didn't experiment with Nikon Scan's color management options. (Nikon also points out in its manual that the color management system both slows the scanning process and dramatically increases memory requirements.) When we tested the original LS-2000, we simply left the Nikon CMS turned off. With the Super Coolscan 4000 ED, we left it on, and used the Apple RGB color space setting, with our (uncalibrated) monitor set to a gamma of 1.8 and white point at 6500 K. While we didn't delve deeply into CMS systems here, we did note that the scans we obtained with the Apple RGB setting were much more color accurate and didn't lose as much detail in highly-saturated colors as the scans in the sRGB system did. For critical professional work, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's full support of the ICC workflow is an important feature.
The Super Coolscan 4000 ED comes with three film holders, one for mounted 35mm slides, one for loose 35mm film strips, and a third "clamshell"-style holder for handling badly-curved strips of film via the slide adapter.
The various film adapters plug into a long cavity in the front of the unit. Some adapters (such as the filmstrip feeder) have an electrical plug on their back that carries power and signals between the film transport and the scanner itself. The various media adapters can be plugged and unplugged with impunity at any time the Super Coolscan 4000 ED isn't actually scanning, and the scanner and driver software automatically recognize which adapter is currently in use.
The SA-21 film strip feeder can handle strips of film from 2 to 6 frames long. The Nikon manual cautions against attempting to feed film strips that are excessively curved, although the SA-21 appears to be much more forgiving in this respect than the earlier SA-20, which shipped with the LS-2000. The SA-21 can handle film that is curved side-to-side by as much as 6mm, while the SA-20 was limited to film curled 2mm or less. Lengthwise, the SA-21 can handle film curled into rolls larger in diameter than 30mm. For film that's curved more in either direction, use the FH-3 clamshell adapter. Ragged edges or torn film perforations will also cause problems. In our own use, we had no film feeding problems whatsoever, but then we didn't have any with the earlier SA-20 either. The SA-21 film holder is much easier to open than the SA-20, and doing so reveals a much more robust-looking transport mechanism. Overall, one of the heartier film transports we've seen on a desktop scanner.
Nikon's FH-3 clamshell film holder deserves special mention, thanks to its construction and ease of use. It did an excellent job handling badly-curled negatives, and was a noticeable improvement over the already-excellent design of the FH-2. In our experience, clamshell holders of this sort are often awkward to use with curled negatives, but we had no problem with the Nikon version. The Nikon device is a composite of metal and plastic, with the structural support and latching mechanism made of metal parts, and the actual film registration made of plastic pieces. Where the Nikon holder differs significantly from others we've used, is in the film guides, which take the form of two continuous ridges in the plastic, and run the entire length of one half of the clamshell assembly. Thus, you simply lay the film between the guides, and you're assured that it will properly align as you close the holder, even if the piece of film consists of only a single frame. Other holders we've used employ alternating ridges and recesses on both sides of the clamshell. This can make it difficult to keep the film aligned as the clamshell closes, particularly if the piece of film is short. The FH-3's design uses heavier plastic in the film guides, making them more rigid, and also provides a more pronounced recess for the film to lay in, further simplifying the mounting of badly curved film strips.
The MA-20 35mm mounted-slide feeder couldn't be much simpler. It's basically a passive chunk of plastic that plugs into the scanning aperture, with a slot to manually push the slide into, and a button that manually ejects the slide when you're done. Not much to go wrong there!
(Disclaimer: The next two paragraphs are based solely on information collected from Nikon's published materials, since we didn't have access to the devices in question for this review.)
The IA-20 APS film adapter plugs into the scanner in much the same way as the 35mm film strip adapter, projecting from the front by the same couple of inches. APS cartridges are simply dropped into the front of the unit, and the software will scan "thumbnail" representations of the entire roll of film in about 80 seconds (for 25 frames -- longer and shorter rolls will vary proportionately in their pre-scan times).
The SF-200 auto slide feeder plugs into the Super Coolscan 4000 ED in the same fashion as other adapters, but its construction requires both devices to rest on their sides. (The Super Coolscan 4000 ED has rubber feed on both its bottom and its side, to support operation in either orientation.) The auto slide feeder can hold and process up to 50 slides, and can unload one slide and load the next in about 12 seconds. A warning about the SF-200 adapter from the (former) Nikon tech forum though: While it appears to work fine with modern (plastic) slide mounts, there are apparently significant problems with older cardboard mounts. These seem to arise as a result of the higher frictional coefficient of the cardboard mounts, often causing two slides to feed at once. (Some old mounts are particularly rough, and more likely to cause problems.) The problems with the older mounts appear to be very solvable though, as several users posted notes and photos of "slide gate" devices they've attached to their LS-2000's. Regrettably, the Nikon Tech forum appears to be no more, so these comments are lost to us now, but the gist of them was that you need to shim the surface the stack of slides with a thin piece of slippery plastic (one or more thicknesses of photographic gel material might work). This raises the position of the bottom slide in the stack high enough so that two slides can't inadvertently fit into the throat of the feeder, thus avoiding the jams.
The SA-30 roll film adapter is new with the Super Coolscan 4000 ED. It allows you to scan 35mm film in uncut rolls up to 40 frames long. The adapter consists of two parts, the feeder mechanism (which looks a lot like the SA-21 strip film adapter) and a large circular magazine that attaches to the back of the scanner, allowing the roll of film to curl around its inside. As mentioned earlier, the SA-30 adapter could prove a boon to small labs looking for a high-resolution scanning solution for uncut film.
System Interface and Included Software
As we mentioned earlier, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED is an IEEE-1394 ("FireWire") based scanner. For those unfamiliar with the interface, it's a very high-speed serial connection originally developed by Apple Computer a number of years back. It's becoming increasingly popular now as a way of connecting high-speed peripherals to computers. (Digital camcorders and digital video editing seem to be driving much of the popularity of the interface.) The FireWire interface is very fast, although we never clocked the Super Coolscan 4000 ED at as high a scan speed as Nikon claimed in its literature. (It's possible that the numbers were determined for operation with the color management system turned off. All our scanning was done with the CMS enabled.) It's important to note too though, that the various advanced features, such as Digital ICE and (especially) multi-sample scanning, greatly increase scan times.
On Mac systems with built-in FireWire connectors (in the current Mac lineup, all but the lowest-end iMacs have FireWire), connecting the scanner is as simple as plugging the FireWire cable into the computer's port. Windows users and owners of older Macs face the more daunting challenge of adding an IEEE-1394 adapter board to their systems. Speaking from prior experience, if your system is relatively "clean" (not very many added pieces of hardware), and you only have a single hard drive interface device or card in your system, the 1394 card addition can be trivial. On the other hand, if your PC is stuffed to the seams with extra cards and interfaces, you may have problems getting a 1394 card to work at all! If you're not comfortable messing about with the innards of your computer, we recommend finding a knowledgeable service organization to do the installation for you. Another important note: The Super Coolscan 4000 ED uses a 6-pin 1394 cable, while some computers (Sony VAIO laptops are mentioned in the manual) have a 4-pin connection. If your computer is one of those, you'll need a 6-pin/4-pin adapter.
Included software consists of the Nikon Scan software drivers (along with Photoshop and TWAIN drivers). No photo-editing application is included, since most purchasers of an Super Coolscan 4000 ED are likely to already own one (or two). We'll talk more about the Nikon Scan software below, but two facts deserve mention at the outset: First, the software is very memory intensive. Thankfully, memory has gotten dirt cheap lately, so you can afford to buy plenty. When we last checked, 256MB DIMMs could be purchased for less than $100. Buy one. We also had severe trouble with the Photoshop plug-in on our G4 Mac. It simply would not run, regardless of how we pared down the system folder, or how much memory we allocated to Photoshop. We had no trouble with the Nikon Scan 3 application, but it would have been more convenient to be able to scan directly into Photoshop. Hopefully this will be fixed with a software patch in the near future. (It's possible that it could have been our system software, too. We were running Mac OS 9.0.4, which has known issues with its FireWire support. OS 9.1 would doubtless have been a better choice.)
Finally, our overall observation about Nikon Scan 3 is that it's exceptionally powerful, but can also require a fair bit of patience to use to its fullest. If you can get by with the (surprisingly accurate) one-click automatic adjustments it provides in several areas, you'll be able to scan pretty quickly. Once we got into the deeper parts of the software though, our throughput dropped markedly. In fairness, we were really pushing the scanner to its limits, in some instances, and the results were worth a fair bit of pain. At other times, however, we were just manipulating the curves and controls to achieve a particular color balance, and the process seemed to take quite a bit longer than should have been necessary. Overall, a bit of a mixed blessing: Incredible power, but a fair bit of effort required to make use of it.
Operation and User Interface
Like the LS-2000 before it, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED has one of the richest user interfaces we've ever seen in a desktop scanner. The extent of control it provides over the scanning process is unmatched. This flexibility comes at some cost, however, in terms of the learning curve (and the number of words and pictures we'll need here to describe it all to you). Stay with us, we'll try to fit it all in! (We'll resort to a more terse presentation of some of the features, based on heavy use of screen shots. Hopefully, this will make the information easier to scan through, while keeping the word-count to a reasonable level!)
All scanner operations are controlled from the main window of the Nikon Scan application. The system of "drawers" used to organize scanning controls in Nikon Scan 2 has been replaced with the much more convenient and intuitive tool palette shown below. We'll step through the various operations in roughly the order one would encounter them during normal scanning.
Normal Operating Sequence
As we go through the myriad functions of the various control panels and interface screens, it would be easy to get lost in the maze of features, and end up with little idea of how the scanner and software actually work. To counter this, we are providing a very basic outline of the sequence of operations, with links to the appropriate parts of the more detailed operating description. Our hope is that this will concisely convey a sense of how the scanner works, while still offering the excruciating detail for which we're known.
Here are the basic steps:
- Launch application or acquire module
- Insert film strip
- Pop open thumbnail drawer, if using a film strip or APS feeder (Main control panel)
- Select thumbnail (Main control panel)
- Preview scan (Main control panel)
- Set cropping and resolution (Scan size palette)
- Tonal adjustment (Curves and levels palette)
- Color correction (Color balance palette)
- Scan it! (Main control panel)
Main Control Panel Overview
Given the unusual number of parameters and controls that Nikon Scan incorporates, the user interface was a significant challenge for the program's designers: How to effectively display the huge number of controls without using-up all of the available "real estate" on the computer screen? In the prior version of Nikon Scan, Nikon used "drawers" that slid out to reveal groups of controls. We weren't keen on this interface initially, but warmed up to it eventually. In Nikon Scan 3, Nikon's gone to a separate tool palette window, that displays a list of available control groupings, each of which expands into an inline window when you click on its heading.
Other than the missing "drawers" interface, the new main control panel looks much like the old one. It isn't the primary information display you'll use during scanning, but it does display some status information, such as scan type (negative/positive) and color space (Grayscale, Calibrated RGB, CMYK). Basic information on scanner settings are provided, including the current crop size in pixels, final file size, and settings for certain key features. A color readout appears in the panel under the settings information when your cursor is over the image. The detailed crop size and color information readouts that appeared here in Nikon Scan 2 have now been moved to a tool palette window.
When you're scanning from a film strip, roll film, or APS adapter, a pop-out "drawer" appears just off the upper righthand corner of the tool display in this view, which shows thumbnails of all the frames in the strip you've preview-scanned and lets you select the frame of interest.
Across the top of the panel, a double row of buttons provides the following functions: Eject media, autofocus (two options), zoom out, zoom in, and auto-contrast adjust. The autofocus process may be conducted at a user-selected point in the image by holding down the option key on the keyboard (the ALT key on PCs?) while clicking on the button, and then clicking on the desired point within the preview window.
We encountered one rather annoying bug with these settings: The film type setting insisted on setting itself back to "Positive" whenever we inserted a new piece of film into the scanner. It took a fair bit of back-and-forth wrestling with the software and user interface before we finally managed to do a batch scan of a strip of negatives.
The main control panel contains six named buttons. Here are their functions:
- Prefs - brings up the preferences window (more on this later).
- Help - calls up the help system.
- Tools - displays the Tool Palette window.
- Preview - normally prescans image(if option is set in preferences), auto-adjusts exposure, and displays the image in a preview window for cropping or manual tonal/color adjustment.
- Scan - performs a full-resolution scan, incorporating any manual exposure, color, or tonal adjustments.
Accessed via the "pref" button on the main control panel, the preferences window (shown below) allows you to control many of the most basic scanning characteristics. Most of the settings here fall into the "set it and forget it" category, as you won't need to change them frequently. It is accessed via the "pref" button on the main control panel, mentioned earlier. When this button is clicked, the window at right appears. Five different tabs select different scan parameters to adjust. The five tabs and their associated controls are described below. This window defaults to the "gamma" adjustment screen when opened.
Gamma - This function is for adjusting the output "gamma" values used in displaying preview images and making the final scan. (To drastically oversimplify, gamma is a measure of how "light" or "dark" midtone brightness is relative to the ends of the tonal scale. This is a fairly important adjustment, particularly for a device that may be used on either Macintosh or Windows platforms, which have significantly different default gamma settings.)
Color Management - The Super Coolscan 4000 ED supports a very sophisticated "color management" system, allowing it to be calibrated to different display or output devices. The Color Management preferences allow you to choose ICC-standard color profiles for the preview, main scan, and CMYK output respectively. NOTE that messing around with the color management settings can significantly alter your images! Unless you know what you're doing, leave these settings at the factory defaults. (On the other hand, if you *do* know what you're doing, the provided CMS seems to be very capable.) ANOTHER NOTE: The color management system is very powerful, but it is also a huge consumer of system resources. If you find scans running excessively slow, or the scanning software requiring massive amounts of memory, try turning the color management system off.
Scratch Disks (Mac)/File Locations (Windows) - Due to its high resolution and great bit depth, scans made with the Super Coolscan 4000 ED can be huge, often larger than your system memory would support directly. (A maximum-resolution file scanned at 14 bits takes up 135MB of memory.) To accommodate such large amounts of data, Nikon Scan uses hard drive space for "scratch memory," to hold pieces of the image data on a temporary basis. This panel lets you specify which of your hard drives you want the application to use for this purpose. (Note that while Nikon Scan uses virtual memory to swap data out to a scratch disk, you'll see significantly higher performance if you can just give it all the RAM it needs. We strongly recommend giving Nikon Scan a couple of hundred megabytes of its own.)
Single Scan - You can set Nikon Scan to automatically perform certain tasks such as autofocus and autoexposure before making a preview, or automatically preview images whenever film is inserted into the scanner. In standalone mode (e.g., not the Photoshop plug-in), you can also have it perform a variety of options after the scan, such as saving the scanned images directly to disk. The Single Scan window governs these settings when you scan images one at a time. Pre-scan options include autofocus, autoexposure for positive film, and autoexposure for negative film. Post-scan options include automatic file saving, or ejection of the film.
Batch Scan - Sets the same pre- and post-scanning options as the Single Scan window, but for those times when you're scanning multiple images on a film strip. Additional batch-only options cover logging of the scanning progress to a file, error handling, and how to handle file saving between separate scans.
File Saving - The file saving setup window lets you select the default file format and compression setting (if applicable), and the creator code (on Macs) for the saved files. In operation, a file naming settings window appears when you initiate a batch scan, letting you set file name prefixes, suffixes, the number of digits used to distinguish between the files, and the starting number to use in the file naming.
Automatic Actions - This window controls whether or not the scanner will automatically do a preview scan whenever film is inserted into either a single- or multiple-image adapter, and how many thumbnails to create on multi-image strips of film. It also determines whether an autofocus operation should be performed whenever the focus point is changed.
Advanced Color - Useful for prepress scanning (where color balance may shift as a function of output density), this window lets you set custom white, gray, and black points in RGB, CMYK, or grayscale color spaces.
Preview Settings - This is where you can either gain or lose large amounts of time in your use of the Super Coolscan 4000 ED! Nikon Scan 3 lets you decide whether you want various operations to be performed on the preview scans as well as on the final ones. Options here include autoexposure, autofocus, multi-sample scanning, Digital ICE, and whether or not to cache the preview image when used with the MA-20 slide mount adapter. The manual says that autoexposure and autofocus are only performed on one preview per frame, but our evaluation unit insisted on doing it *every time* we did a fresh preview scan on a piece of film. Turning off the autoexposure/autofocus options shortened our preview scan times from nearly a minute to only 20 seconds. (!)
Grid Settings - You can optionally display an alignment/cropping grid over the preview image to assist in setting cropping boundaries. This window lets you control the dimensions, spacing, and marking of that grid.
popout "Tool Palette" menus
Finally, we get back to the actual scanning controls! - As mentioned earlier, there are no fewer than 10 sub-windows on the "Tool Palette" window, each offering a range of controls. They're generally arranged in the order in which you would encounter them during the normal scanning process. Here's what they all are:
The first Tools palette controls the general scan setup. Buttons here let you change the image's orientation, move the preview window around (if it's too big to fit into the available screen area, select a cropping tool, zoom in on an already-scanned image (standalone mode only), set the focus point for autofocus operations, rotate the image in 90-degree increments, either right or left, and flip the image, either horizontally or vertically. (In Nikon Scan 2, many of these functions appeared in the main scan window.)
This is more info that used to appear in the main scanning window. The X and Y coordinates are the current cursor location in pixels, The two sets of red, green, and blue (RGB) values are the raw scan data, and the values after any curves, color, or other adjustments are applied. The four numbers on the right are the coordinates of the left top corner of the current cropping window, and its width and height, both in pixels.
This menu controls the scan size and resolution. At first contact, this window was a little confusing, but we pretty quickly got the hang of it. With the "Keep this Crop" button checked, the W/H readout will be in pixels, at maximum scanner resolution. Once you've selected the area you want, you can set its size by simply typing in the desired final width or height into the appropriate box under "Keep this Output Size," and the Scale slider will respond as needed. If you're scanning to a fixed output size in pixels, you can check the "Keep this Output Size" box, and the final dimensions of the file will remain fixed, with the crop area in the main scan window sizing up or down proportionately as you drag its borders. What we found very confusing was the "Pixels per Inch" indicator in the bottom of the window. It only applies to the resolution that's recorded in the *output* file, not in the actual scan resolution. The output resolution becomes significant when the image is pasted into a document that associates an output resolution with it, but for most purely photographic purposes, you'll be able to ignore it.
This window is the one we found ourselves using most often for adjusting the tonal balance of our scans. It displays the tonal content of the image in a histogram window, with the graph indicating how many pixels in the image have each brightness value. This is an interface familiar to Photoshop users, and is our preferred method of making tonal adjustments in images. (The one feature we found lacking is one available only in the Macintosh versions of Photoshop -- the ability to see what parts of the image are "blowing out" to pure white or "plugging up" to solid black in response to the settings of the white/black point sliders.) This control in Nikon Scan is interesting though, in that it combines histogram controls with a tone curve, either of which may be manipulated from the same control panel.
You can choose to adjust the tonal balance in the image either automatically or manually. The "auto" button seems to do a pretty fair job of setting highlight, shadow, and gamma values, but we usually found ourselves manipulating the controls manually, to achieve best results. As in Photoshop, the black point slider sets a minimum brightness value for the image (any pixel values below this level will be set to zero). Likewise, the white point slider sets the maximum brightness value (any pixel values above this level will be set to 255). Values in between the extremes are stretched to cover the specified range. The gamma slider in the middle controls how the midtone values are mapped from input to output, by setting the brightness value the program will map to a 50% gray. Thus, sliding the gamma control to the right will darken the image, while sliding it to the left will brighten it.
For tricky images, you can add control points to the gamma curve simply by clicking anywhere in the histogram/gamma grid. A point will be added wherever you click, and the curve adjusted to pass through the new point. This provides very fine control over input/output tonal mapping, which experienced users can take advantage of to make optimal use of the available tonal range.
You can also operate on each of the color channels separately with the curves-levels controls, simply by clicking on the channel menu button (the one that says "RGB," at the top of the window), and pulling down to select the specific color channel you're interested in. This feature can be very useful for working with images that have color casts or unusual lighting.
Finally, Nikon Scan provides eyedropper controls for setting white, gray, and black points directly from the preview image. This is probably the fastest method, and simultaneously removes most color casts from your images. All in all, a very handy interface!
As a simpler alternative to the curves-levels window, the "Color Balance" option provides fairly rudimentary controls to adjust the brightness, contrast, and color balance of the image as a whole. (In grayscale scanning mode, only the brightness and contrast sliders will appear.) These controls work exactly as you would expect, but in our experience are of limited value for obtaining professional results. Nonetheless, they can be a quick way to make overall image adjustments, and may be the fastest way to process large numbers of noncritical scans.
This is a new addition to Nikon Scan, and more or less duplicates the operation of the unsharp masking control in Photoshop. We've seldom (never?) seen this capability in scanner software, and it's a welcome addition. It makes it feasible to scan for publication (printed output) as a one-step process, without having to pass through Photoshop or another applications as part of your workflow. Not shown here is the pulldown menu on the right (it pops up out of the second button down from the top right corner), which allows you to choose what color channels you want to apply the unsharp masking to. The one limitation is that it only supports the primary colors in its channel selections (red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow), not the derived luminance channel that can be so handy in critical sharpening operations. (Don't throw away your copy of Photoshop just yet!)
All of the preceding discussion is based on the RGB or CMYK color space options. In Hue/Saturation/Level (or Lightness/Color/Hue, as Nikon prefers) color space, the curves-levels controls work quite differently.
Quite frankly, we didn't experiment much with the LCH controls in Nikon Scan, but they appear to offer very powerful tools for selectively correcting colors in an image. In particular, the Hue channel control lets you shift a specific color to a different one, without affecting other colors in the image. For instance, you could change a red flower to a yellow one, without affecting the blue or purple flowers. However, any other red objects in the input image would also be shifted to yellow as well.
This LCH control is unique among the scanners we have tested to date (April, 2001), apart from the prior generation of Nikon scanners, and appears to be an exceptionally powerful tool, albeit one that could require a bit of learning to use to its full effectiveness. We regret not being able to cover it in greater detail here, but frankly it's beyond the scope of even one of our reviews! (If a reader wanted to write a detailed explanation of how he/she uses this function though, we'd be happy to post it separately, on a linked page.)
Digital ICE Cubed
This is control central for Digital ICE, ROC, and GEM, described earlier. Digital ICE (the dust/scratch remover) has two settings, normal and fine. Fine is for use with very small defects, but affects image sharpness more. ROC (Recovery of Color) and GEM (Grain Equalization and Management) each have a range of settings, from 0 to 10 for ROC, 0 to 4 for GEM, both in arbitrary units. We found little need to mess with the ICE setting, but did observe that the range of adjustment in GEM was useful. (We didn't have any suitably faded negatives to experiment with ROC on.)
As described earlier, the analog gain settings actually control the brightness of the LEDs that illuminate the film. This is a pretty powerful control for pulling detail out of extreme shadows, and appears to offer a much greater range than the same control on the LS2000.
This is the menu that controls scanning depth, multi-sample scanning, and manual focus adjustments. Here's what the different controls do:
Pixel data size - Choices are 8- or 14-bit, referring to the bit depth of the R, G, and B color channels. The 14-bit images are converted to 16-bit depth when opened by compatible applications, or to 8 bits if the CMYK color space is being used. Images in LCH color space are always processed at a bit depth of 16 bits per pixel, but converted to 8 bits when passed to the host application, if the 8-bit option is selected.
Manual focus adjustment - We found the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's automatic focus to be pretty effective, especially when using the option that allows you to select a specific (preferably high-detail) portion of the image to focus on. To focus manually, you adjust the slider on this menu, then observe the results in the preview window. One of the things we complained about on the LS-2000 is now fixed: Numeric feedback on the control. Often, for really critical focusing, you need to take multiple scans and then look back to see which was the sharpest. The numeric indication of focus position helps make small adjustments more accurately. We normally find little reason to adjust manual focus, but as it happened, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED's optics had a really difficult time with the thick glass of our USAF resolution target. The glass apparently refracted the light oddly and prevented the autofocus system from getting a good "lock" on it. Manual focus got the job done, but we thought our hair would go gray while we were making the dozen or so scans it took us to finally home in on the best result. (But then too, we're particularly finicky about that slide, since it's an awfully important measurement of a scanner's ultimate resolving power.)
Multi-sample scanning - Also described earlier, this option allows you to select 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16 samples per pixel. Greatly lengthens scan time at the higher settings, but noticeably reduces noise in deep shadows.
Strip-film offset adjustment (SA-30 module only) - This option only appears when the SA-30 strip-film adapter is inserted. It allows you to adjust where the scanning process begins relative to the film frames. Fortunately, we seldom needed this, but found it a bit frustrating when we did. In order to see the results of your adjustment, you need to click the Reload button to do another preview scan, a time-consuming process. (You'd think it would have been fairly easy to provide some visual feedback while making the adjustment itself.)
IX-240 Crop Choices (IA-20 module only) - This option only appears when the IA-20 APS film adapter is present. It allows you to set the initial cropping in the preview/crop area to suit photos made at the three APS aperture settings of "classic," "wide," and "panorama."
Slide Feeder Scans (SF-200 module only) - This option only appears when the SF-200 bulk slide-feeder module is attached. To support batch scanning, you can enter a number in the "Feed Images" text box, representing the number of slides to be scanned with the current scan settings when the scan button is pressed. Set to "999" to scan all slides in the feeder.
All the special capabilities of the Super Coolscan 4000 ED don't come without some price. It's FireWire (IEEE 1394) interface makes it pretty fast in doing routine scans, but the special capabilities can result in rather long scan times on difficult pieces of film. Overall, our performance timings fell a fair bit short of Nikon's own numbers when we tested it on our Macintosh G4, but it's possible that some of the slowness was due to poor FireWire support in Mac OS 9.0.4 (9.1 is supposedly much better). Even with some glitches in our G4's FireWire connection, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED was reasonably fast in generating high-resolution scans. Preview scans took 20-40 seconds, full-resolution scans required about 100 seconds to create a 67MB (!) file. We found that optimal efficiency required judicious use of the scan-preview feature, only redrawing the preview when it was absolutely needed.
The extraordinary power of the Super Coolscan 4000 ED leads to a fairly complicated set of controls (as seen above), but Nikon's new scanning software does a good job of segregating functions into logical groups, making it easy to keep track of where you are and what you're adjusting. Tweaking the scanning controls manually to get the "perfect" scan proved pretty time-consuming (depending on how fanatical we got about getting things exactly right, it could be very time-consuming!), but the results were well worth it, especially on "problem" slides. For more ordinary tasks, the automatic adjustment button on the "curves" control panel made one-click adjustments that were surprisingly accurate. In many cases, many minutes of fine-tuning and manual tweaking produced results only marginally better than the one-click curves adjustment. If you can stay within the range of control afforded by the automated options in Nikon Scan 3, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED is a very efficient scanner to work with. If you find that you need to delve into the "deeper" parts of the software's capabilities though, things can slow considerably.
We found that it was essential to turn off many of the preview options in the scanning software, in order to get good throughput. You can set the scanner to autofocus, perform autoexposure, and apply Digital ICE and multi-sample scanning to the preview images, prior to the main scans themselves. These options will give you a much more accurate preview, and can be essential when working with difficult pieces of film. They come at a very high cost though, stretching preview scan times to more than a minute in many case (and much more than a minute if you enable the multi-sample option).
As tedious as we found some of the scanner's more esoteric options, however, it's hard to overstate the value of the Digital ICE defect-removal feature in a production environment. It'll literally save you hours of retouching time that would otherwise be spent removing dust specs and minor scratches from your scans. Depending on the labor rate you choose to value such time, Digital ICE could literally pay for the entire scanner investment in one large job.
In general, the scan times we measured were quite a bit longer than Nikon's stated specs for the unit. This may have been due to a difference in computer platform. We used the scanner connected to a PowerMac G4/500MHz, using the internal FireWire ports under Mac OS 9.0.4, while Nikon's numbers were derived from a 850 MHz Pentium III machine using the provided FireWire card. Since Mac OS 9.0.4 is known to be slightly buggy with FireWire, it's possible that some of the performance difference was due to this. Here's a chart, showing both Nikon's timings and ours, for a variety of scan conditions:
|Preview (no AF/AE, no clr mgmt)||
|Preview (AF/AE, Nikon clr mgmt)||
|Preview w/Digital ICE (no AF/AE)||
|Preview, w/Digital ICE, ROC, GEM||
|Full-Res scan, no ICE, ROC, GEM||
|Full-Res scan, no ICE, ROC, GEM,
but with AF/AE
|Full-Res scan, w/Digital ICE||
|Full-Res scan, w/ICE, ROC, GEM||
|Full-Res scan, w/Digital ICE, AF/AE||
|1536x1048 "Train" scan, 8-bit,
w/AE, no AF
|1536x1048 "Train" scan, 14-bit,
w/AE, no AF
|1536x1048 "Train" scan, 8-bit,
w/AE, no AF, 4x multi-sampling
|1536x1048 "Train" scan, 8-bit,
w/AE, no AF, 16x multi-sampling
Routine scans happen fairly quickly, tweaking takes a good bit of time. The automatic functions (auto exposure, one-click curves adjustment, and most notably Digital ICE) save huge amounts of time. Previews take a while regardless, especially if you choose to apply autofocus and autoexposure to the preview scans.
After fuming a bit at how long previews, etc. took, we finally learned to multi-task scanning with other things (writing this review, answering emails). Both scanning and previewing worked quite well in the background on our G4 Mac, meaning that we could insert a strip of 35mm film, queue up the preview scans, and go back to our other work. A few minutes later, when the previews were done, we'd go back to Nikon Scan, set the cropping, curves, and scan resolutions and send it off to do a (Digital ICE-enabled) high-res scan. A few minutes later, the scanner would be ready for the next strip of film. Once we got into this work pattern, the scanning became pretty painless, and actually fun. Digital ICE truly saved enormous amounts of time here as well, since we could largely ignore dust and scratches. Very slick!
For a full analysis of the results we obtained with the Super Coolscan 4000 ED, check our sample pictures page for it. - You'll find a full analysis of each of our standard test scans there, as well as the sample images themselves. For now, a brief summary of what we found:
Overall, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED is clearly the most capable scanner we've tested to date. (April 2001 - We'll be testing other high-spec 4000 dpi units in the coming months though, so stay tuned.) We found it to be a very capable performer, although taking full advantage of its most advanced options sometimes proved to be an exercise in patience. On the other hand, the scanner ran quite well in the background on our G4 PowerMac: With a minor adaptation to our work habits, we happily scanned dozens of old family negatives while we worked on other things. Likewise, while the advanced controls could be very tedious to tweak and tweak again, for most normal scans, we found we could very quickly get the results we wanted in just a few seconds with the Curves controls.- Once we got used to the scanner, we found we could be very productive with it, and the Digital ICE was literally a godsend on our old, dusty negs. The ability to get good results quickly is key for production scanning, and (after quite a learning curve) the Super Coolscan 4000 ED does very well in this respect.
For those really tough negatives and slides, where you really do need to extract every last bit of information from the film, the advanced controls of the Super Coolscan 4000 ED are unparalleled. On our by-now-notorious "Train" slide, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED came through with flying colors. With most scanners, we have to resort to all manner of post-scan tweaking in Photoshop to get something even remotely usable. With the LS-2000 though, a combination of analog gain control, 14-bit A/D conversion, and multi-sample scanning produced by far the cleanest scan we've yet seen for that target. Even more surprising though, was how well the Super Coolscan 4000 ED did on the Train slide in normal single-scan 8-bit color mode: This is clearly one of the lowest-noise desktop scanners out there.
After hearing some comments on the 'net about corner sharpness (or the lack thereof) in Super Coolscan 4000 ED scans, we carefully examined a maximum-resolution scan of a Kodak Gold 200 negative. We did see slightly less definition in the grain pattern of the film in the lower left and lower right corners, but these areas were also more highly exposed on the negative and so had greater emulsion density and a naturally tighter grain pattern to begin with. Our (personal) conclusion was that corner sharpness wasn't a major problem, and any difficulties with badly curled film could doubtless be surmounted by putting the film in a glass-faced slide mount.
One thing we're particularly sensitive to in testing high-end desktop scanners is overall throughput. We've mentioned the tedium we felt was sometimes involved in stretching the Super Coolscan 4000 ED to its limits, as well as how well it did on more or less normal film with very little adjustment. The question ultimately comes down to how long it's going to take you to crank out a "typical" scan. As noted earlier, Nikon claims a scan time of as little as 38 seconds for a full-resolution (67 megabyte file) scan. In testing a wide range of scanners, we've found that our own scan times are usually significantly longer than those claimed by the manufacturer. Some of this may be system configuration, and some may simply be that the manufacturer is choosing the optimum settings that result in the shortest scan times. To Nikon's credit, they provide a pretty extensive table of preview and scan times under a wide range of option settings. In our own testing though, we didn't come close to any of these claimed times. With Nikon's (excellent) color management enabled, as well as autofocus/autoexposure (both of which add appreciably to the scanning time), we routinely clocked preview scan times of 58 seconds, and captured full-resolution scan in just under two minutes. Bottom line? We'd put it at somewhere between 3 and 5 minutes per scan for fairly normal film. As noted though, the ability to do other things while the scanner works in the background can ease the pain of waiting quite a bit.
There's a lot more to say about the details of the test scans we captured, and we say it all on the sample pictures page. Check it out!
The Bottom Line
As a tool for extracting the maximum amount of information from a piece of film, the Super Coolscan 4000 ED literally has no equal in the desktop scanner world. (At least, among the scanners we've tested to date.) Applying its full power involves a learning curve, and can require some patience, but the results easily exceed anything we've yet seen from a sub-$2,000 desktop scanner. Highly recommended.
For More Info
View the Test Images from the Super Coolscan 4000 ED