35mm film scanners for 35mm slides and film strips.
We review Polaroid, Nikon, Kodak, Microtek, Leaf, Konica-Minolta, Olympus, Creo and other.
We also discuss scanners for 4x5 film.
35mm slide scanners (35mm film scanners), product reviews and comparisons of Polaroid, Nikon, Kodak, Microtek, Leaf, Minolta, and Olympus 35mm slide and film scanners for desktop publishing, in-house publishing, and pre-press for brochures, reports, and short-run printing.
We found few sites on the Internet dedicated to mid-range and high-end scanners (most of what is on the web is for entry level consumer scanners). Since you can easily make the mistake of selecting a scanner based on what costs the least, the goal of these pages is to provide information so that an intelligent decision can be made from the features and capabilities of better 35mm slide scanners, flatbed scanners, drum and film scanners. The special features and the unique software of some models are the foundations for a decision on what scanner to buy. Good scanner software is essential, the two best being LinoColor Elite and Silver Fast. LinoColor, and all Heidelberg products, are no longer made. So this leaves SilverFast as among the best available.
Avoid Kodak Photo CD system and Kodak Photo CD scans by any Kodak system such as Kodak Professional PCD film scanner 4050. If you knew the history of the overall Kodak Photo CD system you might not want your slides to suffer this mode. If you are a normal weekend photographer with snapshots of your family, then Kodak Photo CD is okay. But if you are in desktop publishing, in-house publishing, or pre-press, avoid the Kodak Photo CD system. Get the original book on the history of the Kodak Photo CD system from Peachpit Press and it will scare you with how it removes digital information in order to compress your files. But since all of us already have lots of slides done in the Kodak PhotoCD system before we realized we could do a better job ourselves with our own in-house scanners, you at least need to be sure to learn how to handle the Kodak CD scans. Kodak PhotoCD scans are completely different than any other scan, or any other CD. You need special software to open them properly. If you don't realize this and open them in a "normal" manner, you may get results even worse. Thus you might try out the special software to rescue scans from the grips of Kodak's scary system. This is Silver Fast software from LaserSoft Imaging, world leader in scanner software, SilverFast.com.
Be careful about the Leaf 35mm and Leaf 4x5 slide scanners. No, we have not tried them out in person, but we had such bad luck with the Leaf Lumina that we are suggesting caution with other early Leaf products. The technology used in those scanners was before its time. Leaf makes great products and is the major player for medium format cameras. But these are modern products with acceptable technology. Fortunately the Leaf Lumina is (we hope) no longer manufactured, but used and reconditioned models still lurk on dealer's shelves. The Leaf 4x5 film scanner is (was) exceptionally well made and its software was far advanced for its era (mid- 1990's). It is thus a shame they were not updated and brought into the new millennium. The Leaf Lumina, however, is best kept buried, a Neanderthal of its time.
The only Microtek 35mm scanner we know croaked and could not be brought back to life. I must admit it was aged and had been used by countless students, who may have sent it to its premature end. We do not have experience with newer Microtek products. Microtek makes perfectly acceptable consumer products and their new ones may be okay for home use. This class of scanner, however, is not seriously considered for desktop publishing.
Polaroid 35mm scanners: I liked the first 35mm Polaroid scanner I used but a friend got one and was dissatisfied. Avoid any slide scanner that is less than 2700 dpi; this avoid all the "lite" film scanners of any brand. The Polaroid 4000 looked quite promising but we returned an early version of the Polaroid 4x5 scanner because of difficulty of holding the film in place. Polaroid has since then come out with a revised model which we have not yet tested. In the meantime Polaroid went bankrupt.
Nikon CoolScan has worked out the well for us. We have had two different models and found both satisfactory. I would recommend the Silver Fast scanner software, which may be more useful than the Nikon software delivered with the system. Do not, however, opt for the cheaper Nikon CoolScan III with optical density of a low 3.0. Instead, select the Nikon LS-2000 or its reincarnation, the SuperCoolScan 2000, with an optical density of 3.6. Beware of misleading advertising. Nikon's advertising agency is issuing ads that verge on false advertising (it is certainly exaggerated). For example, the Nikon CoolScan III is not a professional device, and it would be hard to imagine a knowledgeable professional photographer who would even consider using such a low end product. This unit is great for your children, for grandmother to scan slides to send images over the Internet, but it is absolutely not what a pro would use to scan slides for a photo exhibit. The Nikon 2000 (various model names) is the one we use and like, yet beware of the misleading advertising. This scanner is nice, but it is hardly a substitute for a drum scanner. Reviewers should deduct points for misleading and potentially false claims. The Nikon 4000 evidently had a few glitches and was replaced with the Nikon 5000. The 5000 would be an acceptable model.
What about using a flatbed scanner for 35mm slides or negatives? If you need to scan slides for using on the web, then you can use a flatbed, but most flatbed scanners do not have a user-controlled focusing system. The scanner most see through the glass (there is no glass in front of your slide on a dedicated 35mm slide scanner). The actual slide is a few mm higher than the glass plate due to the cardboard or plastic mount. So your slide may not be as crisply in focus as a slide in a slide scanner (where you can focus). The professional way to scan a 35mm slide is on a drum scanner, but for those who do not wish to spend $38,000 to $80,000 or more for a drum scanner, we recommend a high-end flatbed scanner that allows you to focus. The Fuji FineScan, or any scanner from Creo , or high end models from Heidelberg (LinoColor or Linoscan in the USA) all provide the option of focusing. A more economical alternative is a dedicated toaster-sized 35 slide scanner, but that works only for small quantities. If you have lots and lots of slides, you cannot afford the time of sticking them in a toaster-shaped scanner one by one.
What about scanning masses of slides? Most photographers, art professors, architects, researchers, medical doctors, and all kinds of professionals have amassed thousands of their own slides. It is not practical to scan them one-by-one on a slide scanner. It is less practical to let them float on top of a normal flatbed (slides slide on the slippery glass plate and get our of line). FLAAR itself has 40,000 slides, all of which have to be scanned, so we are in a typical situation faced by many other people. We are now in the process of selecting, testing, reviewing, and recommending which system(s) are best and which other systems of cost-effective for mass-scanning of entire 35mm archives. The first result we have already reported earlier on this page, namely to suggest not using Kodak's Photo CD system. We tried about 2000 slides and are unimpressed and disappointed (it was cheap, however, 50 cents per slide). Results of tests with better equipment will begin to be posted this autumn or winter. We have preliminary hints elsewhere on this site and in cameras-scanners-flaar.org. It is much easier to burn your own CDs with a CD-R burner.
Several years ago we tested a Fuji C-550 Lanovia flatbed scanner. Its oversize surface accepts 40 slides in a special slide-holder. Or you can place the slides directly on the glass surface and fit maybe 48 slides. The scanner software allows you to handle each slide individually or treat all 40 as one batch. The results from this high-end Fuji scanner were far superior to results from any dedicated slide scanner. We then tested a Creo EverSmart and liked this even better than the Fuji (the Creo scanning software is great).
What about color negatives? Yes you can scan color negatives, but it is easier to do color correction of color positives (namely transparencies which are normal 35mm color slides). SilverFast provides instructions in its manual for how to handle color negatives with SilverFast scanner software.
Final considerations: For archiving valuable slides that cannot be replaced, or for printing at large format (enlargements) then the difference in being scanned with a Nikon and scanned with a high-end scanner such as a Fuji, Creo or Heidelberg Nexscan is considerable.
Last updated May 26, 2004.