|Polaroid SprintScan 4000 Review|
By: Ted Felix
After hearing folks say that I would be much happier with my own film scanner, instead of struggling with Kodak Photo CD, I decided it was time take the plunge.
You'll need a bit of background to understand what I expect of a film scanner. My two main requirements were as follows:
Basically, I was really hoping to find a way to dump PhotoCD, and do my own scanning. Unlike most people, I shoot color negative film, and as I found, this turns out to be a very interesting problem for film scanners.
I ordered the scanner from buy.com for $1400 on monday (3/27/00), and it arrived on tuesday from a nearby warehouse. After opening the box, I realized getting the included SCSI card (AdvanSys PCI Fast SCSI) to install under Win98 might be tricky since I already had a SCSI card in the machine. Fortunately it wasn't too bad, you just have to install the new SCSI adapter's driver CD before swapping in the new SCSI card. The included SCSI card does have an internal connector for any internal SCSI device you may have (I have a Tape Drive and CD-RW). This particular SCSI card also has a BIOS in case you have an older hard drive you want to use with it (it's a "fast SCSI" card).
Once the SCSI issues were out of the way, I had some trouble getting the scanner to actually do anything. You insert the finnicky film strip holder and push it in until the yellow light goes out. Then after it jiggles it a bit, the yellow light comes back on. At that point the PolaColor Insight software kept complaining there was no media in the scanner. I'm not sure what I did, but after calling Polaroid (1-800-432-5355) it started working on its own. I had other problems loading film into the scanner, but once you get the hang of it, it is pretty reliable.
I had a set of scans from an independent Photo CD lab waiting for retouching, but I wasn't too happy with them. The white point was set too aggressively, so the highlights were washed out. So, I figured I'd see if I could do better than the Lab. I selected a black & white negative (Kodak TMY) since I didn't want to mess with color negatives yet. The scan I got was substantially better than the one done for me by the Lab. I was very much impressed.
|Kodak TMY (TMAX 400 B/W)|
CS1200 TIFF from Lab
For some odd reason, Kodak's Scene Balancing Algorithm falls flat on its face when scanning black and white negatives. I have entire Photo CDs full of bad scans to prove it. There was also quite a bit of flare in the Photo CD scan that wasn't in the SprintScan scan. The SprintScan definitely beats Photo CD with black and white negatives.
Since I primarily shoot negative film, the few transparencies I have are pretty poor. Because of this, I was unable to do any sort of fair comparison with transparency film. Color correction with transparency film should be significantly easier than with Color Negative film. However, the Dynamic Range of the scanner might cause problems with shadow detail. After I returned the scanner, I started working more extensively with transparency film, so perhaps next time I'll be better prepared to test these theories.
In my brief time playing with the few transparencies I have, the SprintScan 4000's performance was comparable to Photo CD.
Primarily, I shoot color negative film, and lately Kodak Ektapress PJ100. Scans of this film were acceptable with the SprintScan 4000, but not as good as the Kodak Photo CD scans I've had done. The highlights are quite compressed in the red channel with VueScan's PJ100 profile. I tried a major gamma tweak, and a slight warming in the blue channel to try and get closer to the Photo CD version, but the level of detail is still not very good in the cheek area (see below). Playing with curves will get you a bit more detail. I suspect that this negative is a bit overexposed and is perhaps slightly beyond the capabilities of the SprintScan 4000, but well within the abilities of the Kodak Photo CD scanners.
|Kodak EktaPress PJ100 Negative|
SS4000 (Insight Color Negative)
Gamma .55, Blue Gamma .9
(Kodak Photo CD scan)
In the above examples, you get a good feeling for how close each approach gets you to something that might be considered a useable image. Vuescan certainly outperforms Insight at color while Kodak Photo CD wins at color, and dynamic range with this particular negative.
I did scan some Kodak Royal Gold 200 (RB) and some Kodak Pro 100 (PRN), and the results were much better than this example image. That furthers my suspicion that this PJ100 neg is overexposed and too dark for the SS4000 to handle.
So, who wins? It's really hard to say. Photo CD appears more forgiving of overexposed negatives. As for color, they both perform well. For more info on dealing with color negative scans, check out my Color Negative Page.
Update: On July 6, 2000, Ed Hamrick announced Vuescan 6.0, beta 20 featuring "Significantly improved image quality in scans of negative films". My bet is that this won't help much with overexposed negatives like mine.
Update: In early 2002 I received email from someone who went through the trouble of figuring out curves that would make the Vuescan color negative scan look almost exactly like the Photo CD scan. It can be done, but messing with curves for every image isn't something I would want to do all day.
The biggest pain with scanning your own negatives is dealing with dust. I recommend you find some lint-free gloves (nylon is good) and an anti-static brush. Canned "air" helps a lot too. The dust removal feature in PolaColor Insight causes a slight blurring of the entire image, so it is best to avoid using it. I found that even with freshly developed film, and careful handling, dust was unavoidable. Of course, my house is pretty dry, and dusty. Static electricity is also pretty abundant and attracts dust to film like mad. A humidifier would help that problem.
From Ashley Gilbert:
"Have you tried installing an air purifier? I have one in my darkroom next to the scanner and it does a great job. It is a 'Bionaire' model with massive, replaceable filters. The filters cost a fortune but I think it is worth the money. The cost is insignificant compared with the cost of computer hardware and consumables."
Isolating the scanner in a small room with the purifier would probably help a lot too. Others have warned that anything that "ionizes" the air might cause dust to settle on film and make the problem worse. A few people have recommended PEC-12 and PEC LintFree pads which also help control static. Though some have mentioned it only works on oil-based scum and leaves a residue.
PolaColor Insight's (v4.5) batch scanning support is quite difficult and buggy. The most serious problem is the inability to use auto exposure in batch mode. Hamrick's VueScan is much better. But I estimated that it would take around 1 hour and 15 minutes to scan a roll of 36 exposures at 2000dpi. So you would have to work for a very long time to break even on the cost of the scanner when compared to sending your film out for scanning.
With Kodak Photo CD, of course, someone else does all the work for you. It's really hard to beat that unless the costs really start adding up. I guess you have to consider how much your time is worth. I have a limit to the amount of time I'm willing to obsess over this hobby. So, PhotoCD is the best for me.
I thought I would have some fun by pulling out an old 126 negative to see if it would fit in the film strip carrier. It did. The top portion of the image is lost, but it isn't much. The scan was OK, and with a little color tweaking in Insight, it was acceptable. VueScan and Photoshop could probably do an even better job. I'm sure you could get 110 negatives in there (carefully) and even disc film if you mount it on a paper mount of some sort. Not surprisingly, the 126 scan was pretty grainy. That is probably due to the film speed and the older emulsion (c. 1978).
Me on my new bike, 1978.
As many have pointed out, the included software (PolaColor Insight) doesn't do justice to the scanner. I tried Ed Hamrick's VueScan and was able to achieve much better results than with Insight. VueScan does batch scanning and color negative scanning better than Insight v4.5.
The new version 4.5 of Insight isn't much different from 4.0. Exporting and importing settings seems to work better than 4.0. This is important for batch scanning. Auto exposure still doesn't appear to be an option in a settings file, so auto exposure in batch mode continues to be impossible. My scan of the PJ100 negative looks the same as with 4.0. This is definitely not a major update to Insight.
It turns out this whole review was done with outdated firmware. The scanner shipped with 1.29, while the latest that comes with Insight 4.5 is 1.3. So, I upgraded the firmware and retested a few things. First, the wavy diagonal problem (see the next section) was lessened, but didn't go away completely. Which makes me wonder how many people might have the wavy diagonal problem without knowing it. The motor speed went from being an up and down sound to being steady with 1.3. Not sure if that had any effect on wavy diagonals.
Next I tried rescanning the PJ100 neg to see if things were better in the red channel. They weren't. In fact, the green channel appeared somewhat different, knocking the whole thing out of balance and making it look much worse than with the 1.29 firmware.
So much for new firmware....
I found what appears to either be a defect, or a design flaw in the scanner I had to play with. Try scanning with VueScan at 2000dpi. Set the x/y offsets to 0. Scan an image that has strong diagonal lines (house with slant roof, cat's whiskers). With my SS4000 I got wavy lines instead of straight lines. If anyone else has seen this, please let me know (so far no one has, so I assume it's an isolated defect). Polaroid never did follow up on my incident report with whether or not they were able to duplicate it. It also happens with PolaColor Insight under specific conditions. I was able to come up with a workaround by playing with the y offset in VueScan.
I'll have to remember to compliment my
friend Darrin on his new scalloped roof.
"If I am to understand correctly you have tried this same scan with a different scanner? If so, then this issue or display or wavy lines would have to do with noise in the lines or interferance from the lights or power lines or from the cable itself. I would try the unit on another computer, in a different room and with a different cable."
Jumping to conclusions, I'd say. Simply changing the y offset makes the problem go away. It's not likely that a SCSI cable or the computer could be so smart as to notice a change in y offset, and cause bizarre problems. I think Polaroid's phone support is better than their online support, but I basically wasn't impressed with either.
Speaking of dust, I've heard reports that the film holder sensor fills up with dust causing the film eject motor to run without stopping. Polaroid makes a cleaning kit to solve the problem. Call 800-432-5355 and ask for the "Sprintscan 4000 Cleaning Brush Accessory Kit" part number CPS546. The brush and shipping are free. If you own a SS4000, you might want to just do this at some point since eventually you will need it, and Polaroid's turnaround is somewhat slow.
Lousy drivers appear to be the norm for the scanner industry. Being a software developer myself, I suspect it's due to the fact that the drivers are an after-thought to the hardware manufacturer. Polaroid is a textbook case. PolaColor Insight has the potential to be quite good, but falls short of expectations in the areas of batch scanning and color negative scanning. Ed Hamrick's VueScan is a must if you own or intend to buy this scanner.
For me, the SprintScan 4000 just didn't live up to expectations. I've been using Kodak Photo CD for the past 2 years, and my expectations of this scanner were based on my experiences with PhotoCD. I was hoping that being able to control the scanner would give me a significant advantage over the automatic scans I get from a PhotoCD service. While I was indeed able to do better at scanning Black and White than a Photo CD scanning system, I was unable to do better with Color Negative film. Bear in mind that Vuescan has been upgraded since I wrote this, and reportedly provides better results with Color Negative films.
For me, Kodak Photo CD has three distinct advantages over the SprintScan 4000 (and perhaps all film scanners at or under this price point):
There are still disadvantages to PhotoCD:
I decided in the end to return the SprintScan (4/18/00) as the $1400 investment just wasn't justifiable for my needs. I might put the money into a Minolta Dimage Scan Dual (or a more modern/costly alternative: the Nikon Coolscan IV ED). It should be able to handle black and white negatives as well as the SprintScan, and it costs a whole lot less. Also, I'll be able to keep scanning those old 126 negs too.
SS4000 vs. Nikon 4000 ED - User comparison with sample images.
Polaroid's Site - Their phone support was very friendly, though misleading. Their online support seemed clueless. They never responded to my open incident and closed the incident without ever contacting me after the initial contact. If I was into conspiracy theories, I'd say they know a whole lot about this "wavy diagonal" problem....
MicroTek sells the ArtixScan 4000t which I understand is either the same as, or very similar to the SS4000.
Light Impressions - Gloves, brushes, PEC-12, and PEC wipes are here. Lots of other interesting stuff for storing and organizing film.
Most reviewers like the SprintScan 4000 (I wouldn't have given it a chance if that weren't the case). I suspect the majority of them use it primarily for transparency film, and rarely for high-quantity batch scanning. So it is indeed an excellent scanner for what they do.
Roger N. Clark's Resolution Tests. He reports no dust in Denver with canned "air". I found it interesting that his resolution tests seem to indicate that scanning 35mm at 4000dpi is overkill. Of course, it probably depends on the film.
Roger also did some time estimates. Note that his estimates include manual procesing time, while mine do not. So you can't compare my time of 75 minutes with his time of 115 minutes. Here are his estimates:
"Here are some time estimates. The sequence I do is:
"Time to process 36 slides:
HP S20 film scanner, USB on 366 MHz pentium II laptop: 1800 dpi, scanner in "fast" mode: 225 minutes !! (it would take 2.5+ minutes per slide for each final scan alone). Polaroid sprintscan 4000, 450 MHz pentium II, adaptec SCSI, 384 MBytes RAM: 4000 dpi: 115 minutes. (final scan ~ 64 seconds, prescan up to 24 sec) much time spent loading holder (If I had 2 holders, I could load one while other was in the machine--I'm going to see if I can get a second one) HP S10 film scanner, 450 MHz pentium II, adaptec SCSI, 384 MBytes RAM: 2400 dpi: 69.8 minutes (preview scan ~ 7 seconds final scan ~65 seconds/slide)
"Preview scan times are time from pushing the preview button to when it is on screen, complete. Final scan times are time from when button is pressed to when files save is complete and you can start the next scan.
"These times are not rushing, but doing a quality job like I would normally do. But the same job with each scanner."
- Roger N. Clark, 4/9/2000
David K. Watson, with his much higher performance PC, got an estimate of 50 minutes to scan a roll of 36 using PolaColor Insight. Dust is not a problem for him, apparently due to an ionizer he uses to clean the air. Check out his SS4000 Review.
Review by Michael H. Reichmann.
SS4000 Review by Tony Sleep. Tony has a lot of great info at his site including a whole mess of filmscanner reviews. He, however, calls his own reviews into question due to the fact that he wasn't in control of the testing for all of them. The reviews also are a bit outdated and don't include scans of a standard color negative, only the Q60 transparency. Tony runs the filmscanners mailing list which is quite active.
On March 31, 2001 I updated this review to reflect my realization that the color negative test image was probably overexposed (at least for the SS4000) and that explains the poor results when compared to Photo CD. My bet is that the Photo CD scanner is much better at getting detail out of overexposed negs than the SS4000. If I ever get another filmscanner to scan that neg on, I'll be sure to update this review with the results.
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Disclaimers: These are simply random observations I've made while using Polaroid's SprintScan 4000 product. I am not affiliated with Polaroid in any way other than as a customer. All trademarks are owned by their respective owners. There are no ads on this page, and there never will be. Use this information at your own risk. I won't be held responsible for anything that happens to you as a result of reading this. Shake well before serving. The contents of this page are Copyright ©2001, with all rights reserved by me, Ted Felix.Copyright ©2001, Ted Felix