Film scanner comparison

Recently I have been lucky to find myself in possession of two film scanners. Going from “no film scanner” to “two” is a bit of a leap, but that’s what happens when you see two bargains on eBay and decide that driving to Milton Keynes is a good idea.

So I now have a Nikon Coolscan IV and a Canoscan 9000F in my possession. Both scan 35mm transparencies and slides, but the Canoscan also scans 120 transparencies. The Nikon is the mouch older of the two, it’s about 10 years old, but sold for much more than the Canon when it was new. As it’s got the ability to be fed film in strips of four, it was often used as a mini lab, scanning in batches. Flatbed scanners are more common nowadays, being as they are, multipurpose – you can also scan documents, photos, pictures etc with it.

Usability-wise, I actually prefer the Nikon. You can just feed little strips of film into it, set it to “batch” in Vuescan and it’ll do its thing. The Canon uses film holders, which are fiddly and flimsy.

Now for the important bit: the actual results – and this might actually surprise you. The Nikon has the ability to focus on the negative you feed it, using a Y-axis movement, whereas the Canon, being a flatbed, does not. This means that the Nikon actually produces sharper, in-focus images of your transparency. Both scanners have Digital ICE (for removing dust and scratches on colour transparencies). You can see the results of a scan on both machines, using the same (dusty, scratched) negative:

The left image is from the Canon. It looks blurry and out of focus, even though the dust on the negative doesn’t show up as much. The image on the right is from the Nikon – as it is able to focus on the surface of the negative (and hold it flat), it picks up much more dust. BUT, it also picks up details properly – look at the tangle of wires on the floor for an example.

The Canon, being the newer machine, does scan at a much higher resolution (9600 dpi compared to the Nikon’s 2400dpi). However, a larger resolution of a blurry photo is not much good.

I’ll be using both side-by-side for a while to work out which I prefer, but on first testing, the Nikon is coming out as the favourite.

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