For over a decade, while I went to university, and for a few years after, I owned and operated a photography business. At that time, cameras were film cameras, not digital. After a few years, I had a big collection of negatives.
In 2007, I bought a film scanner to scan some family pictures, the Nikon CoolScan 5000. It’s been fabulous to use.
Recently, I’ve been using it again to scan some more 35mm negatives and transparencies. The software is so intuitive, the results so good, and it’s such a pleasure to use, that I’m inspired to write about it.
Traditional Darkroom Techniques:
For those of you who have never worked in the darkroom, it’s a very laborious process. After a shoot, I could go into the darkroom around 5 pm. Set up and develop the black and white negatives. Let them dry. Then set up for paper printing. Cut and sleeve the negatives. Then make contact sheets. Clean up after both processes. It was not unusual to leave after 10 pm. And I still hadn’t made any prints.
Black and white prints had a lot of variables that affect how look. The film used. How the film was exposed. The film developer used. How the film was developed. The photographic paper used. The contrast selected. The exposure of the photographic paper (it’s another picture). How the paper was developed.
There were lots of variables to know about and consider. There was no computer software to figure it out for you. On top of all this, dust would sometimes get onto the film, and show up on the print. You would then have to bring out your brushes and manually retouch the print.
It was a lot of very time consuming work.
Digital Darkroom, using the Nikon CoolScan 5000 ED:
Without going into all of the scanner’s functionality, details on how to use it, or comparing it to other scanners, I’ll mention its engineering, intuitive software design, and how its features have really added value to me.
What I noticed as I was scanning some black and white negatives, was how easy it is to adjust the contrast of the result. You just slide the bottom slider sideways, and you instantly see the results. In real time.
Using traditional darkroom techniques, to adjust the contrast like that, would take usually at least 10 to 20 minutes of time. Decide which contrast filter. Expose another test print. Develop and wash it. Take it into the light to judge the result. Rinse and repeat. Then make the full size print. In addition to the time spent, every piece of photographic paper you used, would cost you something. If you were on a lean budget, you wanted the right results, the first time.
By contrast, it’s amazing how fast it is to adjust the picture’s look in digital.
Digital ICE and Other Really Useful Features:
Another very useful feature of the Coolscan is Digital ICE. This software will search out imperfections and dust on the negative, and automatically retouch the image. I’ve had transparencies with a lot of visible scratches on the surface, that showed up in a regular scan. But using Digital ICE, none were found on the enhanced image.
Unfortunately, Digital ICE only works on color negatives or transparencies. It doesn’t work on black and white negatives. With black and white, you have to digitally retouch them manually.
Digital DEE – Dynamic Exposure Extender is useful if you have negatives or transparencies that are over or underexposed. It helps reveal details lost in shadows and highlights. It’s analogous to changing the exposure of the print in the darkroom.
The Coolscan also has an analog gain adjustment for the entire exposure. But DEE gives much more control and functionality. DEE allows you to adjust for both the highlights, and the shadows, at the same time. In my experience, it replaces most of the burning and dodging that I did in the traditional darkroom.
Digital ROC – Reconstruction Of Color: recreates and restores faded color values for vivid, faithfully rendered images. ROC I’ve only used on some really old transparencies and negatives that my dad shot. Great results.
Digital GEM – Grain Equalization & Management: equalizes image grain for sharp, clear images with no clumping or graininess. This feature I also haven’t used a lot.
Engineering and Software That Really Adds Value:
If you follow my blog, you’ll know that a lot of software often causes more struggles than it relieves.
Software is supposed to make quick work of repetitive, grunt tasks. That’s exactly what the Coolscan does. Adjusting the exposure, the contrast, retouching the image of imperfections. It does these tasks really quickly.
The software is intuitive. For the most part, I’ve just experimented with the scanner and software, and been able to figure it out. Even from some really bad negatives and transparencies (not shot by me), I’ve been able to get a good image. In the traditional darkroom, I doubt that a decent image could ever have been made from some of them.
My conclusion is that the Nikon CoolScan 5000 ED is a great product that really adds value. The features and functionality are designed and engineered for very specific tasks, which do their job really well. It saves me a lot of time, and has been a pleasure to use. It’s a product that was well worth it’s purchase price. Unfortunately, the Coolscan 5000 ED has since been discontinued. Now, used units actually sell on Ebay for more than twice their original purchase price.
So, fellow techs, when is the last time a software product added so much value to your work, or your life? Please leave a comment.
Here’s an update with some relevant links:
Specs for the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED
Scans “up to 4,000 pixels per inch”
Nikon’s Compatibility list of scanner adapters, such as film holders, etc.
“Nikon maintains his role as leader in the field of 35mm film scanners with the new Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED”
And a synopsis from their associated store:
“Top model among all 35mm film scanners”