Digital camera resolutions are rising at an incredible rate – to the extent that units are starting to bite at the heels of standard 35mm cameras. This begs a question: who needs a 35mm film-scanner if everything is going digital?
The answer, of course, is anyone who wants to use their collection of slides or negatives collecting dust in the attic.
To that end, Microtek has come up with a reasonably priced and fully featured slide-scanner that does a decent-enough job of getting those old slides and negatives into a digital format. 1,800-x-1,800dpi isn’t a particularly fine resolution. In fact, it produces a scan that’s lower in resolution than a 4-megapixel digital camera – but it’s sufficient for most tasks.
Beyond the long arguments about film-versus-digital’s capabilities, when you actually start scanning, you realise that film-grain on 35mm is pretty large – and that 1,800dpi scan, or even 1,350dpi, is easily enough to preserve all the image-data. Push the scan to 2,700dpi and beyond, and all you get is interesting forms of colour mush. The older the film, the larger the grain – so really old negatives may have no more information than a 4-x-6-inch print at 100dpi.
The scanner itself is a generic dark-grey box with a film-panel on the front, and film-strip slot on the side. Wiring up the FilmScan 1800 took mere seconds with the included USB cable. The older brother – the FilmScan 3600 – has double the resolution, and a much faster FireWire port. The Twain Acquire plug-in installs automatically in either an existing program, or the included Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Getting the scanner through its boot-up sequence and ready to scan took a fair chunk of time, as did the scans themselves. Tested on a much more highly specced Windows machine for comparison, the scanner proved to be faster – but not nearly as fast as a SCSI-based scanner such as the Polaroid Spintscan 35. This could be due to the inherent speed limitations of the USB port, badly translated software from Windows to Mac, or a combination of the two.
The CyberView 35 scanning software had all the controls you’d expect – but they could have been simplified and let the weight of clever image-processing be handled by Photoshop. CyberView 35 came with a wide range of film-profiles, but it wasn’t as comprehensive as we’d hoped for. The printed manual covered only the basics and the PDF version only marginally more.
A cool feature and a major selling point is the FilmScan’s ability to accept 35mm filmstrips or complete rolls of up to 40 exposures, and batch-scan them in one go. Tragically, I was unable to get effective results from it, and the manual was no help.
The aggressive pricing of the FilmScan 1800 will make it a serious first-choice for people with occasional scanning to do – but it requires a fast Macintosh with loads of RAM to work adequately, and the manual could be more extensive.