Nikon Coolscan V
Since their introduction eight years ago, Nikon Coolscan film scanners have been popular among digital media enthusiasts. The Coolscan V's outstanding 4,000dpi scans keep that tradition intact. You'll find cheaper film scanners, but for a model of its quality, the Coolscan V is a pretty good deal for amateur photographers and creative pros on a budget.
The Coolscan V sits upright, and at 6.8 by 3.8 by 12.4 inches, it's about the size of a typical box of software. Setup is straightforward: Just install the drivers on the included Nikon Scan 4.0 software disc, and tell the Setup Wizard which of the 12 supplied color spaces you prefer to work with (Adobe RGB is a popular pro choice). Then connect the scanner to your machine via USB and start scanning. The Nikon Scan software is very easy to use, with all of the major adjustment controls in plain sight. As with all of the other film scanners we've tested, you can use the bundled software by itself or work from within your image-editing program of choice.
Dealing with a lot of old photos? The Coolscan V integrates Digital ICE4 technology from Kodak's Austin Development Center. It consists of Digital ROC, which enhances the color in faded photos; Digital GEM, which minimizes grain; Digital DEE, for optimizing contrast and exposure; and the veteran Digital ICE to remove both dust and scratches without degrading image sharpness. Test scans of faded photos came back to life with ROC, but use GEM with care or image sharpness will suffer.
Coolscan scanners have always used Nikkor ED (extralow dispersion) glass, and the V is no exception. The glass, combined with an optical density that Nikon rates at 4.2D gives the CoolScan V the power to handle extreme contrast in both slides and negatives. In our test scans, Digital DEE worked miracles with images that were grossly underexposed, punching up details in shadows that would have normally just gone to black. Noise was limited. The average 10MB-to-20MB scan comes in at just less than a minute, with Digital ICE adding about 10 seconds to the total process. For the ultimate in quality, try the Multi-sample Scan option, which rescans your image from 2 up to 16 times, and then averages out noise and other artifacts. In our test scans, we got the best compromise between time and quality at a 4X sampling rate.
It's very difficult to adjust the Coolscan V's manual focus, and in our test scans, we didn't see much improvement when we fiddled with it. Fortunately, the autofocus made up for these problems, providing scans that were very sharp the first time around, unlike the, which often required additional tweaking and rescanning.