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Konica Minolta's Dimage Scan Elite 5400 II film scanner offers performance and specs that at one time were available only with considerably higher-priced professional film scanners, including a maximum optical resolution of 5,400dpi and a rated optical density of 4.8D. Its ease of use makes it a good choice for consumers or photographers with libraries of old slides and negatives, as well as for pros who still shoot film but at times need to go digital. Unfortunately, the lack of a high-capacity slide-feeder option limits its usefulness for higher-volume work.
The off-white scanner is housed in a sleek, durable plastic case measuring 2.8 by 6.6 by 13.6 inches and weighing 3.3 pounds. It accepts carriers for 35mm film and slides through its highly polished black front panel, which is also made of durable plastic. You can connect to either a Mac or a PC via an included USB 2.0 cable.
Two carriers are available; one accepts four slides, and the other accepts six-frame filmstrips. Loading originals into the carriers is easy; they fit snugly and snap shut to prevent any movement during scanning. Though most film scanners accept film facing either direction, the 5400 II requires that the film face emulsion-side down. You push the carrier in just far enough for the scanner to recognize it's there; the scanner then pulls it in. The spring-loaded dust door keeps dust and grime from settling on the scanner's mirrors and lenses when the scanner is idle. Accumulated dust may never become a problem with the Scan Elite 5400 II, but from our experience, it's helpful to be able to periodically clean a scanner's mirrors and lenses, especially in dusty, smoggy environments. The Scan Elite's inner workings aren't accessible to users.
For the simplest operation, you can either press the Scan button on the front panel (which starts the Scan Elite's Launcher application) or run the Launcher from the computer. The company overhauled the bundled software, which we complained about in our review of the 5400 II's predecessor, the Dimage Scan Elite 5400, and added Kodak's Digital ICE4 technology. The software will fit the needs of most photographers, whether beginners or experienced pros. The Easy option, meant for first-time users, is a remarkably good choice for all but the most difficult slides and negatives. It doesn't require users to tweak any of the optimization settings, but it does let them select the kinds of optimization they want. That includes the Pixel Polish option, which automates the basic brightness, contrast, and saturation settings, and Kodak's Digital ICE4, a quartet of technologies that remove dust and scratches, restore faded colors, adjust highlights and shadows, and reduce grain. All four Kodak applications work very well, especially the dust-and-scratch removal. Though the manual says it won't work with Kodachrome, we turned the feature on, ran some Kodachrome slides through the unit, and came up with good results. Despite the warning, we turned the feature on, ran some Kodachrome slides through the unit, and came up with good results.
For serious users, the Utility scanning mode offers the same capabilities as the Easy option but with nothing automated--you have to do all the tweaking. While not overwhelming, the comprehensive list of options meets or beats what we've seen elsewhere with similarly priced models. Its Jobs and Batch scanning utilities, for example, automate the scanning of multiple similar originals, while several interactive histograms make very precise color or brightness/contrast adjustments a snap. Each setting worked as expected. In addition to scanning options, Utility also offers some of the tools of an image-editing application. These take time to master, even for photographers who have experience with scanners; however, the manual does a good job explaining all the scanner's software options, which makes the process a little easier.
We did, however, find that some tools automatically updated the proxy window (a screen-resolution preview of image adjustments), while others required users to press a button. That's not a big deal, but it lengthened the scanning process for some of the more complex effects.
As with most scanners, the 5400 II's speed decreases as the scan resolution and the number of optimization tweaks increases. The 5400 II makes three kinds of scans: index, prescan, and final scan. Index scans took around seven or eight seconds, no matter how many images were in the film/slide carriers. Prescans apply specific adjustments to approximate the effects on the final scan; times vary depending on the scan resolution and the adjustment type and intensity.
For this review, we scanned images at 1,350dpi, 1,800dpi, 2,700dpi, and 5,400dpi but didn't apply the tweaks until the final scan. That increased scanning time a bit but only by the amount of time the prescans would have taken. With minimal adjustments, times ranged from 17 seconds at 1,350dpi to about a minute for 5,400dpi. That's what you can expect for the majority of jobs that don't require a lot of enhancement. Scanning times lengthen with additional optimization, especially at 5,400dpi. When we added Digital ROC (restoration of color), an unsharp filter, and Pixel Polish to the mix, the scanning time jumped to 4 minutes, 50 seconds; it climbed to more than 10 minutes with grain enhancement and scratch removal included. Fortunately, most slides or negatives won't need all the options turned on, so scanning usually won't take that long. On a fairly low-power system, the scanner worked flawlessly, without hiccups or pauses, even when burdened with multiple tweaks at the maximum resolution.
As you would imagine, final scan quality depended upon the quality of the original slide or negative. If correctly exposed with accurate colors (no distracting tints), the scans ranged from very good to excellent. Flesh tones, greenery, and the sky all matched the originals. Poorly exposed originals with noticeable color casts or obvious fading needed a lot of tweaking, but the final results usually matched. We had a bit of trouble getting the maximum densities from underexposed black-and-white negatives; admittedly, these are the hardest originals for any scanner to handle, but we were still disappointed, given the scanner's relatively high optical-density rating.
If you have tons of slides to scan, you're probably better off with a comparable model that supports a batch feeder, such as the Nikon Coolscan V; otherwise, the Konica Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400 II is a fine choice.