Mon, 20 Sep 1999 SprintScan 45
New scanner bundle sprints ahead
Polaroid's £4,950 new SprintScan 45 may closely resemble its predecessor, but under the hood it has received some significant firmware upgrades that seem to do a better job of mapping the scanner's internal 12-bit-per-channel data to the 8-bit-per-channel output.
It also features a new Adobe Photoshop plug-in and a custom version of Binuscan's PhotoPerfect Master, a post-processing application that performs image optimization, sharpening and colour-space conversions.
Like the original SprintScan 45, the new version scans up to 4-by-5-inch film at resolutions of up to 2,000 by 4,000dpi, capturing 12 bits per channel internally. The dynamic range is 0.0 OD (optical density) to 3.4 OD. In practice, the hardware seems to live up to its specs.
Scanning at 4,000dpi is worthwhile with this unit, even though the result is interpolated in one dimension. The dynamic range is sufficient for all but the most contrasty transparencies. It's also fast - a 2,000dpi, 4-by-5 scan takes around two minutes.However, some of the limitations of the first-generation product still apply.
The SprintScan 45 Pro has no facility for handling strip film, not even in 35mm format. While 4-by-5 film is always in cut sheets, it's quite inconvenient to cut 120-roll film into individual frames, and it's a real hassle with 35mm negatives. The 4-by-5 film holder is easy to use, but medium-format film is handled with inserts for 6-by-6 cm and 6-by-9 cm film that use strip magnets to hold the film in place. The film holder is a little clunky, and it subjects the film to more handling than we consider ideal.
The scanner's new Photoshop plug-in will look familiar to anyone who has used a Microtek scanner in the past year or two. (Microtek Lab also makes the hardware that Polaroid uses for its products.) The plug-in fixes many of the shortcomings of the previous version, but there are a few rough edges.
The software offers a fairly complete set of tools, including a very capable curves control that lets you zoom into the curve to make small adjustments on the 12-bit data, and a histogram control that offers functions similar to Photoshop's Levels commands.
Our main complaint is that you can see the changes only on a tiny thumbnail until you click the Apply button, which, unfortunately, dismisses the controls you were using.
This makes the process less interactive than we'd like. You can, however, make a genuinely zoomed preview; the plug-in simply drives the scanner to rescan the area you want to preview at the higher resolution.
Unlike other Polaroid plug-ins, this one does not use film tables for transparency scanning. Given the complexity introduced by the film tables and the uncertain results they often produced, we consider this an improvement. For negative scanning, though, the plug-in does offer several film tables, accessed, bewilderingly enough, through the Hue controls. When used with the Exposure Correction slider in the same control panel, these produce good results.
The plug-in offers a helpful and flexible batch-scanning feature that you can use in several ways. For example, you can make a high-resolution scan and a low-resolution FPO (for position only) scan in the same job; produce colour and grey-scale versions of the same image; use the four-up 35mm holder to batch-scan up to four different originals, each with their own settings; or combine any of the above.
There are some quirks, however. A Colour Correction button, which produces rather lurid results, is supposed to default to Off when the scanner being used as something other than a Polaroid SprintScan 35 LE. But the first time we fired up the SprintScan 45, the Colour Correction button defaulted to On, with a fairly unsatisfactory outcome.
We were also puzzled by the results we got from scanning with the Type button set to Billions of Colours. This setting transfers the raw high-bit data into Photoshop for further editing; according to the manual, using Billions of Colours turns off all the scanning controls. We found, however, that we had to reset the Shadow and Highlight points manually to get good 12-bit scans. For the most part, once you've mastered its various idiosyncrasies, the plug-in works well.
We're less enamoured of Binuscan's PhotoPerfect Master, a stand-alone automatic image-optimization and colour separation application. PhotoPerfect Master takes a hands-off approach. You set the desired size and output type, and the application handles everything else.
It offers a variety of GCR (grey replacement) and UCR (undercolour removal) separations (which you can customize if you're both knowledgeable and adventurous), and provides reasonably good results for an automatic system. We found, however, that we could invariably produce superior results driving the scanner manually. PhotoPerfect Master also forces you to sacrifice the batch-processing options - not a worthwhile trade for us, though it may make sense in some situations.