Magazine Article


Adding a Film Scanner to Your Workflow?
How to Decide How Much Scanner to Buy

Leaves Photo
Test for detail in the leaves and see if thereís any loss of detail in the dark pavement.
Jeff Dorgay

Dolphin Photo
I tested this image on a scanner because blue always seems to be one of the hardest colors to accurately reproduce in the digital domain. Alternately, I use blue sky.
Jeff Dorgay

Car Photo
Red is hard to capture, and this is a fairly high-contrast image, which also tests the scanner at the extremes of its dynamic range.
Jeff Dorgay

Sepia Image
I like to scan a mildly tinted sepia image to see how well a scanner does with subtle midtone detail.
Jeff Dorgay

Much excitement surrounds the latest, greatest digital camera with the most megapixels. What if youíre shooting film, but would like to create a digital workflow for all your post-capture work?

The good news is a number of good film scanners are available at a wide range of prices. This is a good time to invest in a scanner if you are still shooting a fair amount of film, or have a large archive you need to digitize.

How much should you spend? How much scanner do you need? The answers depend on how many scans youíll need to produce, how fast you need them, and how critical your final image requirements are. Letís look at your optionsÖ.

Determine Your Scanning Needs

1. If you are currently purchasing scans, you probably have a good handle on what these services cost you, so it should be very easy to calculate ROI (return on investment). My rule of thumb: Any piece of gear that canít pay for itself in six months or less isnít worth buying. A scanner purchase isnít just about saving money; itís about saving time. Be sure to include the amount of time youíre spending to get back and forth from your service provider and the aggravation of needing things done over now and then.

2. Next, decide what kind of film you need to scan. If you only need to scan 35mm film, an entry-level scanner can be had for about $400, while a very good scanner (my favorite being the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED) will cost about $1,200, giving you near-drum-scan results, albeit at a slower pace. If you need to scan 4x5 film, a scanner will put you in the big-bucks category, with even an entry-level Imacon scanner running upwards of $5,000.

Digital ICE and Other Plug-ins

3. The most critical feature in a film scanner is Digital Ice. If youíre unfamiliar with this feature, Digital Ice is an integrated hardware and software solution from Kodakís Austin Development Center ( In a nutshell, Digital Ice removes scratches, dust, and damage from your film without degrading the quality of the digital image. They are on the fourth generation of this now, and itís very good. If the scanner you are considering purchasing does not feature Digital Ice, forget about it. You will waste so much time cleaning up your scans, removing dust and dirt spots from even freshly processed film, youíll curse the day you ever decided to produce your own scans.

Most scanners come with a number of other plug-ins from ASF (Digital Roc, Digital Gem, Digital Sho, and a few others) that you can purchase separately if they are not bundled with your particular scanner, but Digital Ice is integrated with the scanning hardware, so you canít add this to a scanner that doesnít include it. The other Digital IceĖlike products do not work anywhere near as well, so I canít stress the importance of this enough. Ignore this advice at your own peril.

One small caveat about Digital Ice: It doesnít work on silver-based black-and-white films. Chromogenic black-and-white films are no problem, but if you shoot traditional black-and-white, cleanliness is a MUST, as you will be back to spotting. At least once you take all the artifacts out of your black-and-white images, you will never have to spot a print again!

Take a Test Drive

4. If you can get a demonstration at your local dealer, all the better. Unless you are purchasing one of the Imacon scanners, everything else will involve a certain amount of compromise. Only you will be able to decide what youíre willing to live with for the price. Even among scanners that are somewhat similarly priced, one will make a slightly better scan, another will make a slightly bigger scan (in megabytes), while still another will have a better interface. Make sure to check your dealerís return policy in case you get buyerís remorse.

5. While it might seem obvious, make sure the scanner you are interested in has the proper connection for your computer (FireWire, USB, or SCSI) and that the software is compatible with your machine as well. If youíre working in earlier versions of Mac OS or Windows software, you may not be able to use certain scanners. As Photoshop CS2 is not yet running native on the new Intel-based Macs, make sure this will work with your machine before handing over the credit card.


Once you decide on a model that you feel will fit your needs, you are ready to start scanning. After a little seat time with your scanner, you should be able to achieve fantastic scans. Your level of color skills and fussiness will determine how fast you ramp up.