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Scanner: Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II

I finally wanted to do my own slide scans, mainly for two reasons: First, I was never 100% satisfied with the scan quality of Kodak PhotoCD, at least not at the current price for each scan. The service bureau charges for the scans approx. 70 Euros for 100 scans. Second, the turnaround-time for scans is very long (10 to 14 days), and you have to hand out the scans. After the adventure with the HP Scanjet 5470c I knew that I needed a dedicated slide scanner.

I compared a few of these scanners. At the end I decided for the Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II, because it received excellent reviews and was on offer at a local retail chain (729 Euros). I considered the Nikon Coolscan 4000 ED as well, but at roughly 1700 Euros I thought it was too expensive for me.

Installation was easy and was done in a few minutes, but I had severe difficulties getting the first scan done. The printed manual that came with the scanner did NOT explain how to insert the slide tray correctly. The front door has TWO settings to insert a tray - "35 mm" and "APS". The default trays will ONLY be accepted when the front door is in the "35 mm" position. Not a single word about this in the printed manual. There are PDF manuals on the CD-ROM, but I thought that the insertion of the tray is such an important task that it should have been mentioned somewhere more prominently.

Software Problems

After I solved the problem with the scanning tray, scanning went fairly easy. However, I think the software has still room for improvement:

  1. Starting the software: takes ages. Why? Why? WHY?
  2. Scanning multiple images: the software pops into foreground once for each image. You can't simply put the software into background and do something else while the scanner happily works for you. The Minolta software will at sometime interrupt your workflow. Guaranteed.
  3. File Names I: When starting a batch job of four images, the software asks for a filename (default is "Image"), and the four files are named Image01.TIF through Image04.TIF. But the software does not recognize when images are already present in the directory. Wouldn't it be nice, when the next batch of four would be named Image05.TIF through Image08.TIF? Sure, but the Minolta developers did not want this. Instead, they ask you whether the files shall be overridden...!
  4. File Names II: And WHY do they mix upper/lowercase for the file names? I would like to see all lowercase file names, i.e. image01.tif instead of Image01.TIF. Even the Adobe people implemented this feature with version 6.0 of Photoshop... :-)
But these are rather annoyances instead of real bugs. The software has worked without any fatal error so far, and it is easy to understand, even without a good printed manual.

UPDATE The file name problems mentioned above have been fixed in the 1.1.5 version of the scan software (but now the software pops into the foreground twice for each scan). Please go here for a free download.

Scan Quality

Now, what about the scan quality? As quick answer I would say that the quality is not as good as Kodak PhotoCD. The difference, however, is not really big. That makes the detailed answer more complex:

  1. Sharpness of the pictures is okay, at least for Web use. Using the autofocus seems to improve the scans, but increases scanning times significantly.
  2. Colours are generally okay, especially when using the "auto brightness" setting, but the scans still need to be improved using Photoshop. Also, the automatic requires extra time. I wish I could simply insert a slide, and the scan comes out like, well, the slide. Ho-hum. For some strange reason, this is not the case.
  3. Dust is my biggest problem. Many of my scans seem to be covered by dust, and this means extra work. I know that this is not Minoltas fault, but still this is a serious problem.

Scan Comparison


Left Slide from Kodak PhotoCD.
Right The same slide from Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II

Well, at this size the scans seem to be almost identical. The Kodak PhotoCD seems to offer a little bit more detail in the dark areas (look at the roofs in the middle section, or at the "DANCING" sign), but that's it.

Summary

I feel that the Minolta Scan Elite II is suitable for semi-professional work. It is way better than the HP Scanjet 5470c, and just slightly worse than Kodak PhotoCD. The cost will amortize after roughly 1,000 scans, so that will take a while. But now I can start publishing my photos immediately once the film is back from development. This is a plus.

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