Technology

Nikon's Photo Repair Station


Digital cameras are great, but what do you do with the boxes of 35mm negatives and slides stacked in your cabinets? They

contain lots of great material for cropping, printing, and e-mailing. But first you need to get them into your PC. The best tool

for the job in any well-equipped digital darkroom is a film scanner, one that makes high-resolution scans of both negative and

positive (slide) film.

Nikon's $895 Coolscan IV ED combines high-resolution imaging with a basic selection of film holders; it also includes Applied

Science Fiction's Digital ICE3 image-correction technology. Digital ICE3 is a set of three technologies that can improve scanned

images from old, damaged negatives or slides. ICE (Image Correction and Enhancement) looks for dust and scratches on the

film and attempts to remove them from the scanned image; ROC (Reconstruction of Color) corrects color shifts that you

typically find in old slides; and GEM (Grain Equalization Management) sharpens images from fast, grainy films.

DON'T SPARE THE CROP. Though the Coolscan IV ED is at the bottom end of Nikon's new ED scanner line (ED stands for extra-low dispersion and

describes a type of glass used to increase lens clarity), it's far from low-end. It scans at a maximum resolution of 2900 dots

per inch, or 2657 by 4104 pixels. (By comparison, a 4-megapixel digital camera has a maximum resolution of 2240 by 1680

pixels.) Our typical scans of a 35mm slide ranged from 1 to 20 megabytes, depending on the settings used. That's large

enough to allow you to make some fairly tight croppings and still print sharp 8-by-10 enlargements. However, at the top end

of the scanner's resolution, the quality of the image is more often limited by the size of grain in the film. Taken together,

Nikon's optics and Applied Science Fiction's technology make an impressive package that can create sharp, accurate scans.

Nikon bundles two filmstrip holders and a simple slide holder that lets you insert one slide at a time. An optional adapter lets

you use Advanced Photo System (APS) film; it costs $199.

Getting our test Coolscan unit up and running took only a few minutes; a USB cable connects it to your PC, and a single CD

has the drivers and Nikon's Scan 3.0 scanning utility. Other applications on the disc include Altamira's Genuine Fractals 2.0,

Adobe's Photoshop 5.0 LE image editor, and a demo version of Canto's Cumulus 5.0. Genuine Fractals is a handy program for

increasing the resolution of digital images (for making bigger prints) and Cumulus is a platform for managing and archiving

images and other digital media.

It's after you get the Coolscan working that you start a fairly daunting learning phase, especially if you're new to scanners.

And Nikon's documentation doesn't help. The model we received had a thin, paper installation guide; beyond that, all the

instructions for scanning images were contained in Acrobat files on a separate CD. The documentation does a good job of

describing the basics of how to use the scanner's film holders and the Scan 3.0 tools, but, because it's targeted at the

non-professional, it could really use a thorough tutorial on the techniques, terms, and tips of scanning images.

Once you've got a solid understanding of Scan 3.0's many settings, it's relatively easy to use. A drop-down, on-screen tool

palette lets you change cropping, orientation, bit depth, color balance, contrast, and many other setting by either clicking on

simple sliders or by entering numeric values. In many cases, your changes happen almost immediately in the image preview

window. Two tabs let you compare the raw scan to the tweaked version.

MAKING REPAIRS. ICE3's ability to correct aging slides is surprisingly good. We took an old, dust-covered Kodachrome slide that had obviously

deteriorated, leaving it with washed out colors. With ICE3 off, the scanned image was worthless--black spots from dust were

plainly visible, and the colors had a distinct purplish cast, as if the yellow dye had faded over time. Turning on the ICE and

ROC controls and re-scanning restored the slide to an acceptable image. (Given the slide's age, it's impossible to know how

close to the original our scan came.) All of the dust marks appeared to be gone, and colors looked much closer to real life. We

also noticed, however, that images run through the ICE and ROC processing were slightly less sharp than raw scans.

ICE does not seem to be capable of fixing everything, unfortunately. One of our Agfa slides, which has a blue line through it

thanks to a scratch in the emulsion, was completely unaffected when using ICE. This type of Agfa slide film is noticeably

grainier than Kodachrome, but even when we ran it through the grain-controlling GEM, we did not see any difference in the

scanned images.

Using ICE3 can also add significantly to your scanning times, especially if you have an older PC. On a Pentium II-333 with

64MB of RAM, basic scans generally took under a minute; but turning on ICE3 stretched the process into a moderate coffee

break. If you plan to do extensive film scanning, a more powerful PC, with 128MBs of memory or more, would probably

improve performance.

Upshot: Nikon targets the Coolscan IV ED at the high-end consumer market, and for that, it's a good find. It nicely combines

the two features that type of buyer needs: sharp optics and enough flexibility and control to get the most out of your film.

BUYING INFORMATION

Nikon Coolscan IV ED

Street price: $895

800/645-6689

www.nikonusa.com

BUYING INFORMATION

Nikon Coolscan IV ED

Street price: $895

800/645-6689

www.nikonusa.com

By Tracey Capen, PC World.com


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