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Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED Film Scanner Review

Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED Film Scanner Review - In April 2004 I took delivery of the newest scanner in the Nikon stable, and itís a pearl!

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Category : Film Scanners
Product : Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED
Price : £2,600
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Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDThe first point I have to make is that it enjoys the same tough build quality that all Nikon gear has. Having bought the scanner in London, and needing to take it to Brazil, I removed it from its protective packing and stuffed it in a suitcase with no more that a layer of bubble wrap on either side. Such practice is NOT recommended, and not for the faint hearted. It arrived unscathed, and I had it operating within a few minutes of unpacking.

The scanner (which sits at approximately 20 inches deep, 10 inches wide and 8 inches high, weighting 9 kgs) is big in size, big in performance, and big in price.

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Principal features

  • Nikkor ED high-resolution lens – excellent quality
  • Choice of auto and manual focus
  • Analog/Digital Conversion: 16-bits per colour
  • Optical Resolution: Up to 4000 ppi
    Max scan size 4000 x 5904 for 35mm negs
    5905 x 4032 for 35mm slides
    8964 x 13176 for 6 x 9 120 film
  • File size: A 35mm colour slide scan produces a 136MB file
  • Colour separation via RGB LEDs
  • IEEE 1394 Firewire interface
  • Scan Image Enhancer
  • Digital ICE4
  • Digital ROC
  • Digital GEM
  • Digital DEE

Its UK price tag is about £2400. This is not a cheap toy by any means, and clearly aimed at imaging professionals.

The LS9000 has the latest Digital ICE4 and comes packed with Digital ROC, Digital GEM and Digital DEE and Scan Image Enhancer (these features are summarized below). More to the point, the LS 9000 will handle a broad range of film formats, thus appealing directly to the multi-format pro photographer whereas, for example, the Coolscan V ED is APS/35mm only.

Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDNikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Film Formats
Carriers provided:

  • FH-835M 35mm slides 1 to 5 slides with plastic mounts*
  • FH-835S 35mm film 1 or 2 strips of 1-6 frames
  • FH-869S 120 film** 1 to 4 frames 6x4.5**(also used for Electron microscope film) 1 to 3 frames 6x6
    1 to 2 frames 6x7/8/9

Optional carriers:

  • FH-869M 120 slides 1/ 2 frames 6x4 – 6x9*
  • FH-816 16mm film 1 to 3 strips of 1 to 20 frames
  • FH-8G1 Medical slides 1 to 3 slides 26x76mm; 00.8-1.5mm thick
    * Mounts from 1.0 to 3.2mm thick
    There is also an optional 120 film carrier with glass (FH-869G) and one that permits limited rotation of 120 format film to eliminate tilted horizons etc (FH-869GR).

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Speed
Bear in mind that apart from initial boot-up, the LS9000 has zero warm-up time. I tested scan times against times indicated in the Manual. Clearly processing will be impacted on the specs of the PC/Mac in use:

preview scan (single): 13 to 40sec depending on features engaged
preview scan (batch of 5 slides): 1min 30sec
basic scan: 35sec(manual states 40sec)
with ICE: 50sec (manual states 57sec)
with ICE and DEE: 1min’ 30sec
with ICE, DEE, ROC, GEM and SIE: Manual states 3min 5sec

The 9000 ED has a large-diameter Scanner Nikkor ED lens, a 3-line CCD image sensor, and LED light source with rod dispersion. All of these have, according to Nikon, been improved for enhanced image quality with faster scanning speeds. Compared to ordinary glass, Nikon´s ED (Extra-low Dispersion) lens elements are claimed to be superior in edge-to-edge sharpness, definition and contrast, as well as colour registration, saturation and accuracy.

The LED light source is a key feature as it eliminates the warm-up time associated with many scanners that use halogen or fluorescent lamps. Nikon’s COOLSCAN series are the only scanners to employ LEDs as their source of light. LEDs are a stable, precise maintenance-free* light source. Consequently there’s no risk of film suffering heat-related damage. LED illumination also assures stability in colour characteristics, which contributes to faithful reproduction. The LS 9000 ED requires about a minute and a quarter to boot up (the manual states 2 minutes), but after that it’s ready to scan as often as you need. This too is a major positive feature of the Super Coolscan.

* Although maintenance free, if (or when) dust gets into the scanner and on to the lens then the whole box needs to take a visit to Nikon for cleaning. User maintenance is not a feature.

Now a quick run through the use of the machine:

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Set-up
The LS 9000 comes with power cable(s), fire-wire cable, and a fire-wire card in case your PC doesn’t have one. (Super-cool thinking by Nikon!) It also comes with Nikon Scan 4 and Nikon View software. There are two buttons at the front and two sockets at the rear. Simple. One of the buttons is the power on/off, and the other is the carrier eject (though it can also be ejected using a button in the scan software control panel). One of the sockets is for power and the other is the firewire connection.

Load the software CDs, plug in the power, link the fire-wire and turn on the scanner! That’s all it takes. It took me a few minutes only to unpack the kit and complete my first scan.

There is a manual, and a quick set up guide … all logically laid out … and in various languages.

Scanning

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Loading the film
I found that the film holders took getting used to in two respects: (1) the fasteners used to secure 35mm film in its carrier (FH-835S) I found - and still find - are fiddly to release and feel fragile. This apparent fragility applies equally to the clips on the 35mm slide carrier (FH-835M). However the carriers do hold the film accurately; (2) all film carriers have to be pushed into place “just right” – not far enough and it doesn’t engage – too much and you can cause damage to the carriage mechanism. These are minor issues but ones that, as invariably I have to re-load the carrier when it hasn’t engaged, I find waste time. To be fair, with more use I will become more adept.

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Open up Nikon Scan.
Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDNikon Scan has a control area, a preview area, an information area, two buttons (preview and scan) and a thumbnail drawer tab that permits you to select which of the images you wish to work on. Scans can be made individually or as a batch.
To preview a batch you need to hold the Ctrl tab and select each frame in turn.
The drawer stays open when you are previewing a batch, but can be closed. The screen view above shows the Scan controls and Tool Chest.

One annoying issue arises if you have less than six frames in a strip of 35mm negative film as you have to remember what is the next frame number when selecting an image to scan. Otherwise the scanner tries unsuccessfully to focus before putting up an error message.

The control area allows you to eject the carrier, to focus the scanner, to adjust exposure, to zoom in and out of the image on display, to save, load or reset scan settings, to select the film type (Positive, Neg Colour, Neg Mono, or Kodachrome), set frame size, select colour or monochrome, open the preferences dialog, and to open the Tool Chest. There is also a Help button.

If you have the scan window fully open then the Tool Chest disappears from view whenever you do anything in the scan window – so its best to resize the scan window before you start work to allow the Tool Chest window to appear alongside.
Scanned images will come up in a separate Scan 4.0 window in the background, so in total there are three principal windows to work with: Control, Tools, and Image.

If you have fresh, clean film that has been well-exposed then you won’t always need to engage the ICE/ROC/GEM/DEE extras that REALLY add time to the scan process. Older, or poorly exposed, images will need to use these features, and the experienced eye will gauge how long a particular scanning project is expected to take. Points to note:

  1. Digital ICE does not work with monochrome unless it has been C41 processed.
  2. Digital ROC, GEM and DEE do not work with 16mm film
  3. Using Digital ICE, ROC, and DEE with medical slides may result in noise, so Nikon recommends that these features are not used with medical slides.

The information panel shows the setting selected for the scan, plus the orientation of the image. Orientation can be changed at which point the “R” rotates in the control panel as a reminder.
You need to check the set-up prior to each scan: Slide, Negative or Kodachrome and RGB or Mono, and then run the preview process. I occasionally forgot to switch from mono to colour!

To start, click the Preview button. The scanner then drones while it captures the image(s). You can run a batch pre-view, and can then scan each image individually, or also as a batch. In either case you have control over the settings for each image individually.

Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED
Image of Control area of Scan window with "natural" scanned image with dust and scratches.

Once you have the preview you can decide what changes to make (and can view the “before” and “after” images in the “Processed” / “Natural” viewers. Call up the Tool Chest and there you have detailed control over various aspects:

Layout Select area to be scanned, focus point, rotate and flip
Information Width, height, coordinates, colour values pre/post scan
Crop Various crop options based on crop / output / file size
Curves Brightness, contrast and colour control in specific areas
Colour Balance Overall brightness, contrast and colour control of image
Unsharp Mask Optional feature to provide control over image sharpness
LCH Editor Control brightness and contrast in areas, or hue and chroma
Digital ICE4 Advanced: Includes Digital ROC, Digital GEM, and Digital DEE (see below)
Analog Gain Provides control over the EVs in each scanner light source element
Scan Image Enhancer Offers automated brightness, colour and contrast adjustment
Extras Multi sample scanning (to reduce noise), Super fine scan, bit depth

Cropping is particularly useful when scanning slides to remove the mount that surrounds the image.

So you have control!!!

My initial inclination was to switch off the Unsharp Mask, as I am used to controlling levels, colour and cropping in Photoshop, but without doubt all of these features are useful in most circumstances in addition to PS, and the degree of control is excellent – a real time saver. I am now convinced that its best to get the scan right and then use PS (or equivalent) for the image finishing process.

Nikon's digital technology explained
Digital ICE4 - reduces the effects of dust and scratches on the film being scanned. Let’s face it, you can clean the film as much as you want but there is always going to be something landing on the film while you are scanning!
Digital ROC – restores faded colours. It looks at the record in the three dye layers of film and boosts the colours back to their appropriate levels. Great when you have a lot of aging film to scan, as I have.
Digital GEM – reduces the effects of film grain by analyzing the film's grain pattern, pixel by pixel, and removes the grain from the scanned image*.
Digital DEE – increases detail in under- and over- exposed areas of the film. Good when you have images that were shot in high contrast situations.
Scan Image Enhancer automatically adjusts hue to produce images with clear contast.

*One of the negative sides of the LED approach is that grain tends to be highlighted in scans. Diffused light from fluorescent or halogen lamps tends to smooth out the grain. So Digital GEM is pretty much a necessity.

Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED

 

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Verdict

Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED
Scanned image showing effects of Digital Ice4 and some colour / contrast adjustments.

The Nikon Super Coolscan LS9000 is a superb machine, though pricey. In commercial terms its cost can be justified in time savings and its multi-format capability.
I ran tests on old and new 35mm slides, old monochrome negatives, and 120 Velvia.
Problems were encountered with old slides that had curled slightly in their mounts resulting in some vignetting and consequent lack of focus in the corners of the scan. The only remedy is to ensure slides are well mounted and perfectly flat in their mounts.
I also had problems with 120 film that has a tendency to curl. Nikon´s solution to avoiding the consequent appearance of Newton’s Rings in the scan is to spend in the order of $300 on an optional glass plate carrier. While this is effective in practical terms, it’s not an ideal remedy for small businesses, and adds another item to keep clean and dust free for anyone that does feel it’s cost is worthwhile. I follow a user-recommended approach of preparing 120 film in advance: place on light box (switched on) with some books on top and after about an hour under this gentle heat the film will be perfectly flat.

The quality of images scanned proves to me that all the features packed into this simple looking box, - and not forgetting the sturdy Nikon build quality - were for me worth the capital outlay.


In summary the main positive points of the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED are:

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Plus points

Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDMulti-format capability
Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDCool running
Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDPlenty of control features
Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDRelatively fast scanning process

Negative points are:

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED: Minus points
Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDPricey
Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDExpensive optional extras
Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDFlimsy clips on the film carriers

The Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED costs around £2599 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Nikon Coolscan 9000 ED


Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 EDAbout the author
Alan Skyrme is a professional nature, travel and stock photographer based in the south of Brazil.

www.alanskyrme.com, www.shootcandids.com and www.shootstock.com.

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Comments


19 Aug 2007 4:11PM
This is an excellent review.
Like Alan's, my Coolscan 9000 did travel well quite a long distance (USA - Africa - Europe) without its original protective cartons. Mine was wrapped up in layers of clothing and newspaper, but this is strongly advised against, unless you really have to.
A question I have seen in other fora is whether a Coolscan 9000 purchased in the States (110 v AC) will work in Europe (typically 240 v AC). It will. It has a modern, built-in multi-voltage transformer that will allow it to work on any voltage between 110 and 240, 50 or 60Hz.
As I planned to scan plenty of large format negatives ("brownies") and some of them are curly, I purchased an additional holder offered by Nikon, meant for large format and equipped with two glass surfaces that will perfectly flatten the negative placed between them. This is meant at supressing the Newton rings that may appear when scanning curly film. However, it is worth noting that the film can be "straightened" if not too curly in the stock Nikon large format holder, and there is a mention in the instruction manual to the tolerance in mm to do that.
This scanner is a star. A very expensive and wonderful one. Looking at the results I have (nearly) forgotten already what I had to pay for it Smile

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21 Jul 2008 11:11AM
Basically I agree with the review, the LS-9000 ED produces excellent results. The Nikon software may be a little clumsy, especially for high serial work loads, I prefer vuescan.

However, the film holders, specifically the 2x6 35mm, are way too flimsy, I would even call them cheap - certainly not what you'd expect from such an expensive equipment! After 'only' 380 films a tiny piece of plastic broke off from exhaustion, now the top part doesn't stay closed.

Fortunately there is enough room to apply band aid over the two closing noses so it won't accidentally pop open while in the scanner, which would probably cause major damage.
Disappointing is also the warranty policy, it is limited to the country where you bought it (I live in China and Germany - I could have written Night_Owl's comment word for word Smile).
8 Sep 2008 8:06AM
Hello

i have two questions i need to sort out before i purchase one :

1. Does it make a full frame scan (both for 35mm and 120 films) or does it crop a few mm from the edges of the frame?

2. Does it make images enough sharp to go on and print the image or you need to give it another treatment in photoshop in order to correct the image.

I would be very glad if someone could answer these questions.

Thank you,
aner.

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