Nikon film scanner Super CoolScan 9000 ED
In autumn 2003 Nikon announced a new medium format scanner called Super Coolscan 9000 ED. In April 2004 it finally came on the european market with a little delay. In the first instance it was not clear to me at all why Nikon launched a successor to the LS-8000 ED. After all the Super Coolscan 8000 ED was virtually unrivalled in its class and convincing in all issues.
Like the 35mm film scanners of the 5th generation Coolscan V and Super Coolscan 5000 the new Super Coolscan 9000 has been considerably lower priced. This lower price basically came off because the scan software Silverfast isn't supplied anymore. The spec sheet of the predecessor LS-8000 ED was top-class already, the spec sheet of the LS-9000 ED barely differs from its predecessor's.
I can already say that the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED doesn't differ from its predecessor all-too much. Hence my review won't turn out to be much different compared to the predecessor. I will refer to essential differences at several passages though.
Equipment and accessories
Who orders a Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED will receive a packet which blasts all known dimensions. The size of the packaging rather indicates a TV than a computer accessory - initially I was shocked as I saw the giant box in front of me. The LS-9000 is well protected against crushes inside its big box. Compared to the mammoth box the scanner almost appears small with its dimensions of 249 x 202 x 499 mm, although it's much bigger than a typical 35mm film scanner. The device weighs 9kg - that's the weight category of old CRT screens.
As I unpacked my Super Coolscan 9000 I immediately realised that it's just a refurbished LS-8000. The casing is virtually identical to the predecessor, only the front side has been furbished with a slightly different design - just like the LS-5000. The rubber edges on the front and backside are also similar to those of the smaller Nikons of the fifth generation, but they don't play a role because the LS-9000 stands on 4 rubber knobs.
While Nikon retooled the Coolscan V and the Super Coolscan 5000 from Firewire to USB, the ports of the Super Coolscan 9000 remain unaffected, i.e. it's connected to the PC/Mac via Firewire IEEE 1394. An according connection cable as well as a Firewire plug-in card is supplied. Of course this is particularly pleasing a Firewire fan like me.
Three film holders are included in delivery: you can place two film strips with lenghts up to 6 frames in the strip film holder FH-835S. In the mounted film holder FH-835M up to five mounted 35mm slides can be placed. And finally you can place medium format film with lenghts of up to 20 cm in the 120/220 strip film holder FH-869S, for example 4 frames in the size 4.5x6 or 2 frames in the size 6x9. I think it's a pitty indeed that there is no film holder for mounted medium format slides supplied, but it can be ordered separately though.
You'll get Version 4 of the scan software NikonScan. Furthermore there is NikonView for editing raw files (the same program that you know >from Nikon's digital cameras). Silverfast, which was still supplied with the predecessor LS-8000, is not supplied anymore with the new LS-9000. Hence it's clear how the price reduction compared to the predecessor mainly comes about. It's a pitty that Nikon removed the professional software Silverfast because of rationalisation. Nikonscan indeed is a very good scan software, but Silverfast has got the advantage that it's embedded in a professional colour management workflow with its possibility of IT-8 calibration. Since this scanner is definitely not for beginners colour management simply is part of working with it. So you have to purchase Silverfast separately.
While you'll get virtually a complete set for digitising you images when buying a 35mm film scanner, you'll only get kind of a basic configuration with the medium format scanner Super Coolscan 9000. Thus for example an image editing software is not supplied. Furthermore you'll surely need one or another optional film holder, for example one with glass for scanning 35mm panorama images. It may sound a bit negative, but actually it's a big advantage for the Nikon 9000 ED that there is an accordant film holder for virtually every kind of film, so that you can digitise exotic film material, too like 16mm films or fractions of film with this scanner.
I'd like to mention the very helpful 80 pages user guide which does not only explain how to install the scanner but also how to use the software in a very comprehensible way.
Specifications of the film scanner Nikon LS-9000 ED
The Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED is a multi format film scanner which is able to scan virtually everything concerning foto, film or other originals. Every filmscanner can scan 35mm film strips or mounted 35mm slides. But the Coolscan 9000 can also scan medium format films (120/220) from 4,5x6 cm up to 6x9 cm gradually. If you purchase the according optional film holder it can handle very special originals, too, like 16mm films, 35mm panorama images (for example 24x65 mm), electron microscope films or medical preparates. The LS9000ED is really a omnivorous film scanner. But I think you can expect that when spending a 4 digit amount, can't you?
The LS-9000 scans the originals with a resolution up to 4000dpi and 16Bit colour depth (explanation see our page colour depth) per channel. The predecessor was restricted to 14Bit colour depth per cannel - in this respect the 9000 made a step forward just like the small 5000. These numerical values promise detailed images of very good quality. 16Bit per colour channel means that the scanner can differentiate 65.536 hues of each of the three primary colours red, green and blue. Nikon specifies a density range of 4,8. This of course is a theoretic value which results from translating the colour depth.
While the image correction tool Digital-ICE³ was integrated into the predecessor LS-8000 the new LS-9000 comes with Digital-ICE 4 Advanced just like the LS-5000. I already knew the automatic dust and scratches removal ICE, the grain equalization GEM and the colour restauration ROC from the predecessor. Newly added is DDE and a Scan Image Enhancer. DDE is part of the new Advanced ICE4 and performs exposure compensation. The Scan Image Enhancer optimizes colours and contrast of an image. With all those catchwords for image correction you can easily forget the often most important process: you can perform multiple scans (2-, 4-, 8-, 16-fold) with the Super Coolsscan 9000 ED, i.e. the image is getting scanned repeatedly and the individual results get automatically interpolated. With multiple scans you can decrease noise and glitches in the scan.
Nikon improved the Super Coolscan 9000 ED's dust and scratches correction ICE. It's the first scanner on the market featuring ICE Professional. The ICE Professional system is an improved ICE system regarding that it works well with Kodachrome films, too, see my page about Scanning Kodachrome films. Thus when launching the Nikon 9000 it is the only filmscanner on the market which can digitise Kodachrome slides in outstanding quality with ICE dust and scratches removal.
With a maximum original size of 6x9 cm and its highest resolution (4000dpi) the Super Coolscan 9000 ED provides an image with unimaginable 130 megapixel. If you save such an image in the TIF format you'll get a file sized over 350 MByte. This number even doubles if you save it with 16Bit inistead of 8Bit per colour channel. This means that exactly one such file fits on a standard CD-ROM! It's clear that you'll need a fast computer with a lot of RAM for these data volumes.
Installation and startup
As I've unpacked my Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED first of all I was surprised at the amount of manuals accompanying the scanner. But quickly most of it turned out to be good for learning foreign languages only. The whole user guide is available in six languages. You get a manual with 80 pages per language which explain installation and operation of the scanner and the software detailed and understandable.
With the aid of the user guide the installation is no problem even for beginners. Install the software and plug in the scanner - that's all. This is done in 5 minutes. I found it very pleasant that the software installed the drivers for all current Nikon scanners at once. The normal user actually has got exactly one film scanner on his desktop, but there is people like me too, who got five different Nikon film scanners standing side by side.
Who already installed NikonScan 4 on his computer, e.g. because he is a proud owner of a Nikon 35mm film scanner V or 5000, can immediately connect the Super Coolscan 9000 ED to the computer without installing any software at all.
Of course the interesting thing about that is that Nikonscan can operate two scanners at the same time. Thus who connects a LS-9000 via the Firewire port and a LS-5000 via the USB port to the computer can control both scanners with one entity of Nikonscan simultanously. Then there is an individual preview window for each device. This does not mean that both scanners can scan and transfer data to the computer at the same time, though. There is always only one device scanning at a time - when you initiate a scan with the second scanner it waits until the first one has finished. So it doesn't make much sense to operate two scanners with one computer simultanously, at least when considering speed and parallel processing.
Scanning medium format films with the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000
Those who buy a Super Coolscan 9000 ED will be pleased indeed that the scanner can process 35mm film strips and slides but the essential reason for a LS-9000 is the possibility to scan medium format films in various sizes though. With the supplied MF strip film holder FH-869S you can digitise the medium formats (120/220) 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8 and 6x9 cm. These may be trimmed single frames as well as film strips with a length up to 18cm (~7in.).
You'll find neither bridges nor markings for the single frames on the MF strip film holder. You simply insert the film material left-aligned in turn. The ammount of possible scans results from the width of the material. Thus you can insert maximum 4 frames at 6x4.5, 3 frames at 6x6 or 2 frames at 6x7 up to 6x9 into the holder. Naturally you have to advise the scan software of which format has been inserted into the holder by means of a select list. Then accordingly sized index images are displayed if desired.
When inserting the film material it's very important to leave no gap between the single images, because otherwise the software based division of the frames doesn't work correctly. Inserting trimmed single frames without gap requires some laborious use of tweezers. While the first slide bears on three sides in the holder the following images only bear on a slim rail at the top and at the bottom of the holder. Hence curled large negative or postive transparencies a harder to insert.
The Nikon LS-9000 plays to its strength when scanning whole medium format film strips, because these can be inserted into the holder in one piece (up to the maximum length, of course) and batch scanned. The film strip has to be correctly trimmed just like single frames, though. If there is e.g. too much unexposed film on the margin the automatic frame detection fails.
The automatic frame detection also fails if you insert very bright slides with very bright shots or very dark negatives with night shots into the strip film holder. This is evident when you look at a negative with a night shot. The eye as well is not able to differentiate between the image border and the gap between the frames. But with normal images the automatic frame detection works perfectly when performing an index scan, so that you can already see the correctly trimmed images in the thumbnails.
If the automatic frame detection fails there is the very useful image positioning tool of the Nikon scan software. With this tool you can position the actual image area in tiny steps to the left or to the right by means of the index image, until the desired image area is displayed and thus will finally be pre scanned and fine scanned.
The film strips or the single frames respectively are fixed in the holder by shutting two metal bars and normally the holder then can be inserted into the scanner. Curled slides sagging in the holder can be re-tensioned. For doing so you have to loosen a lock at the lower metal bar and pull the tension device outwards until the film is tense. Afterwards you can fix the setting by fastening the lock. Curled slides can be easily processed by means of this very good design. Of course this construction reaches its limits when scanning a curled and a normal image at the same time: while one image is plane already the other still has to be retightened - this virtually doesn't work. In this case only scanning these images separately helps.
After inserting the strip film holder you normally perform an index scan. While one would willingly do without this index scan with 35mm films in order to save time the index scan is indispensable with medium format films in order to make sure that the film is correctly placed in the holder and the software correctly detects the single frames. As aforementioned a little gap between two frames can cause wrong partitioning of the images and you'd have to adjust the thumbnails by means of the image positioning feature.
A preview can be done of both a single frame and all frames at once. After the preview you can define the exact scan area as well as the resolution and you can adjust colour settings. When scanning medium formats you could actually do without the prescan because you'd normally select the biggest possible scan area: the actual image with a small black border around it.
When performing the fine scan you should thoroughly consider if you really need the highest resolution of 4000dpi, because a scan with the highest resolution taxes the user's patience. Most image editing software fails editinig such huge files if the computer does not have an according ammount of memory available.
|Index scan 2 slides 6x7
|Preview 1 slide 6x7 with auto focus
|Scan 1 slide 6x7 with auto focus and auto exposure
|Scan 1 slide 6x7 with ICE, auto focus and auto exposure
|Scan 1 negative 6x7 with auto focus and auto exposure
|Scan 1 negative 6x7 with ICE, auto focus and auto exposure
In the field of medium formats you can clearly see that the LS-9000 considerably gained speed compared to the LS-8000. While you could relaxedly go for lunch when batch scanning medium format images in the highest resolution with the LS-8000, there is only enough time yet for a short coffee break when scanning with the LS-9000.
Placing medium format positives or negatives in the FH-869S is not easy especially for unpractised hands. I recommend wearing cotton gloves and using tweezers in order to avoid touching the film material. Especially in the field of medium formats it's almost undispensable to use two strip film holders FH-869S because placing and tensioning images in the holder takes a lot of time. It is advantageous if you can load the second holder while the first one is being scanned.
Scanning mounted medium format slides with the FH-869M
You can scan mounted medium format slides, too with the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED. For that purpose you need the mounted film holder FH-869M which is not included in delivery. An extra charge of 100Euro is bearable though. Most owners of mounted MF slides normally will be happy that there is a film scanner accepting mounted MF slides at all.
The FH-869M possesses two slots so that two mounted MF slides can be scanned at once. However these two slots are different: the first one takes 6x4.5 and 6x6 slides. The bearings of the second slot are wider, so that slides from 6x7 to 6x9 can be inserted.
The slide mounts are comfortably placed in the designated holders between the bearings. Two clamps at the slide holder tightly fix the slide, so that it can't shift. The mounted MF slides can be removed accordingly easy, too. It is as well possible to place smaller slide mounts in the right large slot, but then the slides are only fixed by the clamps yet, not by the bearings. Inserting the slide is more difficult then, but scanning works very well if the whole slide holder is gently inserted into the scanner in order to prevent movement of the second slide. By this means two mounted slides up to 6x6 can be batch scanned. This trick does not work for two larger slide mounts though because the left slot of the holder is too small. Thus mounted slides >from 6x7 upwards have to inserted and scanned separately.
Just like with the 35mm slide mount adaptor Nikon specifies the thickness of the mounts between 1,0 and 3,2mm with the medium format holder, too. Inserting thinner mounts doesn't cause any problems, and one or another thicker mount can be inserted as well - but in this case the clamping force is overstrained. Scanning mounted medium format slides works the same way as scanning not mounted medium format material. However detecting the image size then works automatically, so that you can directly perform a fine scan without index- and pre scan.
Overall digitising mounted medium format slides with the mounted film holder FH-869M is easy going. But because a single scan with the highest resolution takes a lot of time scanning a great many medium format slides is very time-consuming, especially if you insert and scan every slide individually. In this case it would be advantageous to purchase two FH-869M, so that you can prepare one while the other is in the scanner.
Scanning mounted 35mm slides with the Nikon LS-9000 ED
The Nikon LS-9000 can scan up to 5 mounted 35mm slides at once. For this purpose you need the supplied mounted film holder FH-835M. You can place up to five 35mm slides in this holder. The slides may be between 1,0 and 3,2mm thick - hence you can scan virutally any slides, no matter if they are in paper board mounts, plastic mounts or even in double glass mounts.
The slide mounts are placed in the 5 slots of the slide holder. Two clamps press the slide down against the holder, and two bearings fix the slide on the left and on the right hand side. Thus every slide,
no matter how thick the mounts are, is securely fixed in the slide holder. Placing the slides in the holder happens quickly and comfortable, without taking a risk of touching the surface of the film. Same applies for taking the slides out: five recesses on the other side provide easy removal of the slides. It couldn't be better nor more comfortable. No 35mm film scanner possesses such a good film holder for mounted 35mm slides - but this is not surprising, because the FH-835M is bigger than many 35mm film scanners.
Scanning the slides works as known: perform an index scan, select the images to be scanned, make a preview, adjust settings and finally perform the fine scan. The Super Coolscan 9000 ED generates the index scan very quickly. One reason for that is that the slide holder is scanned at once from start to finish and no unnecessary back and forth movement is done. Auto focus as well as auto exposure have to be performed only once. If you execute these two steps with the pre scan already, they don't apply with the fine scan.
The scan area as well as settings in terms of colour and image size don't have to be done for every slide individually. All settings can be saved and applied to all 5 slides. In this manner you can batch scan 5 slides at once very quickly. The serial numbering happens Nikon style at the user's option, i.e. prefix, suffix and number.
|Index scan 5 35mm slides
|Auto focus 1 slide
|Auto exposure 1 slide
|Preview 1 slide with auto focus
|Preview 5 slides with auto focus
|Scan 1 slide 4000 dpi with auto focus and auto exposure
|Scan 5 slides 4000 dpi with auto focus and auto exposure
|Scan 1 slide with 4000 dpi with ICE, auto focus and auto exposure
|Scan 5 slides with 4000 dpi with ICE, auto focus and auto exposure
It's interesting to compare the scanning times with those of the smaller Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED, which proved to be a real sprinter in my review: even the big brother can't keep that up. It needs at least 20% more time than the LS-5000.
Huge amounts of 35mm slides always have to be devided into portions of 5. A slide feeder wich could be used to scan 50 slides at once (SF-210), as it is available for the LS-5000 ED, is not available for the big Nikon scanner. But if you purchase a second mounted film holder FH-835M you can prepare one while the other is in the scanner. In this manner you can process huge amounts of mounted 35mm slides in a very comfortable way with the Super Coolscan LS-9000 ED, too.
Scanning 35mm film strips with the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED
Negative or positive film strips with up to 6 frames can be scanned with the serial 35mm strip film holder FH-835S. This strip film holder accomodates up to 12 35mm negatives/positives. These can be whole film strips as well as single frames. Thus the Super Coolscan 9000 ED can digitise up to twelve 35mm images at once.
To place film strips in the holder you have to open the masking frame and insert the film strip left-aligned into both bearings. There is neither a left nor a right bedstop, i.e. surplus film material can protrude the actual masking window. Properly trimmed film strips have to be manually adjusted. A film strip is
properly fixed by a bearing at the top and at the bottom. There are small bridges located between the frames for holding the film strip.
In normal case inserting a film strip happens in a comfortable and quick way. This matter gets extremely difficult if the film strip is strongly curled or curved. This happens for example if images from this strip were reprinted and the lab has attached a paper strip at the bottom end of the film. Other scanner manufacturers provide better solutions for this problem, namely film holders with notches under which you can slide the film strip and therefore fix it.
The only way to place curled film strips in the holder is to roughly put in the masking window and close the masking frame slowly while correcting the position of the film strip continuously. As long as the hinged masking frame isn't tightly closed the inserted film strips can be slightly moved and thus correctly aligned with the bridges. Nice plane film strips can be placed in the strip film holder very easily. For scanning slightly curled film strips though an automatic strip film adaptor as it is included in delivery of the smaller Nikon film scanners would be better.
Of course nothing argues against placing not only two but e.g. four strips with 3 images each into the holder. Positioning would be a bit more difficult then, but you can perform up to 12 batch scans at once. You can also place several single frames next to each other in the film holder.
Scanning film strips is very laborious if you follow the instructions of the user guide. Hence unused areas are due to be covered with special cover strips because otherwise the colour detection of the scanner could fail. It never happened to me both with and without cover, so I dare to say that you normally dont't have to bother with that.
|Index scan 12 negatives
|Auto focus 1 negative
|Auto exposure 1 negative
|Preview 12 negatives with auto focus and auto exposure
|Scan 1 negative 4000 dpi with auto focus, auto exposure
|Scan 12 negatives 4000 dpi with auto focus, auto exposure
|Scan 1 negative 4000 dpi with ICE, auto focus, auto exposure
|Scan 12 negatives 4000 dpi with ICE, auto focus, auto exposure
I was somewhat shocked by the scanning time for 35mm negatives. It was already very long with the predecessor LS-8000, but I was expecting an increase of speed similar to the LS-5000 compared to the LS-4000. No such thing - the scanning time for 35mm negatives with the big Nikon 9000 is 2-3 times longer than with the little Nikon 5000.
Because of the possibility to scan up to 12 35mm images in film strips or as single frames at once the LS-9000 by Nikon is in the vanguard of the 35mm film scanners in this regard. Scanning times for 12 frames are indeed considerable, but as is generally known a film scanner and a computer can work by theirselves.
When scanning negatives the scan software's possibility of saving the user settings is very practical. Because in doing so you can adjust all settings for one single negative and apply them to all inserted images or to all 12 images of the second round respectively at once.
So if you always charge the strip film holder with 12 frames you are digitising film strips and single frames with the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 in an effective way. It's getting even more effective and comfortable if you purchase a second strip film holder FH-835S. Then you could charge the second one while the first one is in the scanner. This saves time and it's easier to keep an overview.
There is one big drawback I have to mention yet: The strip film holder has to be replaced after opening and closing it for about 500 times because the locking cap wears out to such an extent that it could open during scan operation if the film material is pressing against it. This for example applies to strongly curled film strips which the holder actually is due to flatten. In this case the strip film holder gets stuck in the scanner and the scanner gives up operation with a persevering rattling noise. Only opening the film scanner and cautiously removing the holder helps. Nikon recommends to send in the scanner in this case. Since a new strip film holder costs about 70Euro scanning film strips with the LS-9000 is quite expensive.
Scanning IX240 (APS) films
I've already called the Super Coolscan 9000 ED an all-rounder and omnivore respectively. Maybe wrongly: there is one standart film type that can not be scanned with the LS-9000: current APS films which still are in their cartridges.
There are special APS adaptors available for cheaper film scanners like the Coolscan 5000 for scanning IX240 films straight out of the cartridge . Only uniform film holders can be inserted into the LS-9000 and there is nothing for APS cartridges in this format.
For scanning APS films with the Super Coolscan 9000 ED anyway the film has to be removed out of its cartridge, cut up and placed in a special strip film holder with glass. This is indeed feasible but naturally very complicated and not in the inventor's sense.
Scanning 16mm films with the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000
The FH-816 is available as optional accessory for scanning 16mm films. You can place up to three 16mm film strips with 20 frames each in this holder. Thus it's possible to scan up to 60 of those small images (negative or positive) at once.
Scanning 16mm films and handling the according film holder happens exactly the same way as with 35mm film strips. You insert the film strips left-aligned into the holder. Small bearings at the top and at the bottom hold the film strips tight. Unfortunatlely there are neither markings nor bridges indicating where the frames and gaps should exactly be located, so that you have to spend quite a lot of time to get a feeling for exactly postioning the film strips. Just like with 35mm films you should cover unused areas of the film holder when scanning 16mm films according to the user guide.
Since there is no marking indicating where the images and the gaps should be it is not easy to quickly scan 16mm by means of the software as well: already after the index scan you can see that the images are not consistently aligned. So there's nothing else for it but to exactly adjust the scan area for every single image. This is laborious and very time consuming. It's best to apply a broadly dimensioned scan area for every image and do the final cropping afterwards with the image editing software.
The FH-816 strip film holder for 16mm films costs several hundreds of Euros extra, that's as much as a complete cheap slide scanner with accessories. Regarding the price you can see how fancy the application of scanning 16mm films is. Such a strip film holder is "only" a piece of plastic which gets very expensive though when produced in very small batches only.
Scanning with the 120/220 film rotated holder with glass FH-869GR
Beside the standard film holders there are yet some holders for very special applications. You can digitise virtually any film material with sizes up to 6x9cm with the strip film holder FH-869GR. This rotating holder combines two special features: the film is not inserted directly but between two glass plates. Furthermore the holder is rotatable so that angle failures can be corrected.
Included in delivery of the FH-869GR are several maskers which isolate special areas of the large glass plate (medium formats 4.5x6, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8, 6x9, electron microscope film 59x82mm, 35mm panorama up to 24x65mm). These maskers are placed on two special guiding pins so that they can not move. The according film material is then placed
on the masker. There's no problem if a MF film strip is longer - there is remaining space on the left and on the right hand side of the masker. The maskers have the advantage that they isolate the exact area for the desired film material, everything else stays dark. Thereby exposure can be measured exactly and proper scanning is possible.
After closing the masker frame the film is fixed between the two glass plates. Afterwards the entire glass holder can be rotated for fine adjustment 5° in both directions and locked. The LS-9000 ED automatically detects the inserted film format, so that you don't have to make any further settings within the scan software. How does this automatic detection of the maskers work? Several holes are punched out of each masker's bottom, by means of which the film scanner detects which masker is inserted into the holder. The scanner even refuses to draw the film holder in if no masker is inserted at all.
You can virually scan everything up to a size of 6x9 cm with this special film holder. Strongly curled medium format or 35mm images can be flattened by the glass plates, pieces of films (cut or torn) can be inserted and even small formats like 16mm films or APS images can be scanned with this holder. Hence the holder with glass FH-869GR is suited for scanning film material which doesn't fit into conventional film holders.
It' perspicuous that a special rotating film holder with glass has its special price, too. You could buy an average 35mm film scanner yet for that price. Actually that's a pitty, because in my opinion a holder with glass is almost standard equipment of a medium format film scanner. After all it's only possible to process 35mm panorama images with this film holder. And the existence of strongly curled medium format images in a large photo archive is almost normal. That's one occasion when you need a film holder with glass.
The rotatable film holder with glass FH-869GR actually is kind of an all purpose tool which turns the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED into an all-rounder, because you can place virutally everything transparent on the 6x9 cm sized glass plate - it needn't be the standardised 35mm or medium formats. Every fragment of a film, every cropping of a larger film, every exotic format up to 6x9 cm can be processed with this rotatable film holder.
Scanning with the strip film holder with glass FH-869G
If medium format films curl or curve themselves it can be very difficult or even impossible to insert them into the standard strip film holder FH-869S. Inserting images which are not totally plane and still arch theirselves despite of the restraint results in unsharp areas because the auto focus and the manual focus respectively can only focus one level. In this case only the use of a holder with glass helps where two glass plates flatten the inserted film.
The strip film holder FH-869G possesses a scan area of 6cm width and 20cm height and can be easily opened and closed by means of a spring lock. Actually as a matter of course you get a high-quality anti newton glass with this holder. The 20cm long glass plate can be used in virtually any order. Included in delivery are film maskers for the medium formats 4.5x6, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8, 6x9. These can be placed on the glass plates and coupled so that you have an exact masker for the desired image format. Futhermore removeable adhesive strips which can be used to fix an image on the glass are included in delivery.
The holder with glass FH-869G plays up to its strength with the possibility to place several images at once on the glass plate. Thus there is nothing to be said against placing a medium format film strip with 4 frames sized 4.5x6 in one piece on the glass plate. Naturally this works with several single frames, too but only if they are the same size. Otherwise displaying the images with the scan software doesn't work correctly, for here you have to select the format of the inserted images in order to the automatic frame border detection working correctly and displaying the according thumbnails after the index scan.
You'd think that with a glass plate sized 6x20 cm you could scan 6x12 cm large format transparencies, too. But you definitely can't. You can indeed scan two 6x9 images in batch mode but unfortunately larger formats are not possible.
While the rotatable holder FH-869GR comes with two additional maskers for 35mm panorama frames beside the medium format maskers, these additional maskers are unfortunately missing with the FH-869G. Thus the glass holder is suitable for scanning Xpan formats to only a limited extent. Horizontally aligning single panorama images is difficult because they can easily shift when closing the upper glass plate. Furthermore if you don't cover the remaining empty space of the glass plate with cover strips defects in colour may sometimes occur.
Conclusion: the strip film holder with glass FH-869G is ideal for scanning several curved medium format images in the form of film strips or single frames at once. The rotatable holder with glass FH-869GR is better for scanning single medium format and 35mm panorama images though.
The supplied software of the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000
I've already mentioned above that Nikon does not ship its new film scanners 5, 5000 and 9000 with Silverfast anymore. Thereby the price reduction compared to the predecessors LS-40, LS-4000 and LS-8000 levels out - thus the scanners didn't really get cheaper, they were only reduced in the scope of delivery. Nikon supplies a twopart software bundle with the filmscanners:
- Nikon Scan 4.0
- Nikon View 6.0
Unlike the 35mm film scanners Coolscan V and Super Coolscan 5000 the medium format scanner Super Coolscan 9000 doesn't come with Photoshop® Elements. Nikon apparently assumes that buyers of such an expensive film scanner have their own image editing software.
Some owners of a Nikon digital camera will ask themselves "What's Nikon View doing with a Nikon filmscanner?" We already know this programm for transferring our images from the camera to the computer, for viewing the images, sorting them, creating slide shows and so on. But what is this programm used for with a film scanner? Of course you can always create a slide show and so on with existing images, no matter if they accrue from a digital camera or from a scanner. But the actual application for owners of a Nikon film scanner should be the possibility to process NEF images. NEF is Nikon's own raw format which can be selected as output file format when scanning with NikonScan. This raw format contains (almost) all original information from the scan process, so that you have numerous possibilities of image enhancement and changing scan settings after the scan with the help of Nikon View. Supplying Nikon View makes sense by all means, although 99% of all users won't ever use this programm, because not everybody wants to spend 15-30 minutes for image processing, settings, enhancement and so on after scanning an image.
Let's deal with the scan software Nikon Scan. At first glance the new Version 4 doesn't seem to have changed a lot compared to the old version. The user interface looks virtually identical, the settings work as known. A few drawbacks have been improved, new features have been added. And I'd like to mention a very pleasant one right at the beginning: you can choose for which scanners you want to use the program for already at the installation. Those who have five different Nikon scanners of different generations on their desktop (like me) will be very happy about not having to install every single driver separately. That's great! Of course John Doe purchases exactly one scanner and hence only benefits indirectly from this feature, for example when downloading a new version of the software. But it's not implausible that a buyer of a Nikon 9000 already has a smaller Nikon scanner on his desktop.
So how good is NikonScan really? Can the software be recommended? There are people who are so sworn in the leading scansoftware Silverfast, that they depreciate any other program as crab without looking at it any closer. I've always had Silverfast and NikonScan for my Nikon scanners, and I've always preferred NikonScan, because it's a good, clearly arranged software. However NikonScan has got a BIG drawback: you can not generate and embed colour profiles. What does this mean?
Silverfast Ai serially comes with an IT-8 calibration slide, which can be used to individually calibrate the scanner so that you get real colours and can work in a professional colour management workflow. With the IT-8 calibration you generate an ICC profile for you scanner which the software uses for every scan. Such profiles can neither be generated nor embeded with NikonScan. Due to this fact you can actually describe NikonScan only as semi professional scan software.
So what are those special features of NikonScan that make scanning so easy? The user interface is very clear and easy to use: there is a preview window, a little window showing the scan progress and a palette window containing all settings. The special setting for Kodachrome slides proved to be very advantageous and virtually unique: with this special setting (in the line of positive, negative, b/w, Kodachrome) it's possible to scan Kodachromes with very high quality. Most other film scanners fail with this special task.
You can adjust all scan settings in a palette window: image format (portrait or landscape) and image size can be set in different ways and units. For setting the colour there is gradation curves, colour balance sliders, a LCH editor and an analog-amplifying slider. To achieve a higher sharpness you can use the function "unsharp mask" with a live preview in the preview window. Finally there are individual sliders for the scanner's special features ICE4, which is the dust and scratches correction, the grain equalization GEM, the colour restoration ROC and the exposure extender DDE. Furthermore you can switch the Scan Image Enhancer (automatic setting of brightness and contrast) on and off.
But what would all those settings which can be comfortably adjusted one after another be, if they could not be saved? NikonScan provides the opportunity to save and load complete sets of settings. So you can save for example all settings for mounted colour slides as "Slide4000jpgICE.set" and easily load these settings when scanning such film material. Once you have made and saved your different settings you can quickly perform a scan or a series of same scans virtually at the push of a button. That's really comfortable and in my opinion no other software handles this task better than NikonScan.
Of course NikonScan has got some shortcomings too which I don't want to keep secret. While scanning it happens every now and then that the software totally crashes. But it doesn't crash with an error message or demands restarting the computer - no, it simply quits itself with the motto "I don't feel like scanning today. Let's try again tomorrow...". Another shortcoming is that sometimes the communication with the scanner doesn't work anymore - the software then messages that no scanner is connected. It's annoying when suddenly the progress bar stands still in the middle of the scan process and nothing happens for a couple of minutes.
Conclusion for the NikonScan software: I am very pleased with NikonScan. The scan software is very clearly arranged and easy to learn. The settings for a good scan can be adjusted easily and intuitively. And last but not least the scan software delivers very good images and really makes the best out of the connected scanner. For me NikonScan still is the best film scanner manufacturer own scan software. Unfortunately there is no possibility of embedding colour management, so that you still won't get around Silverfast.
Appendix 2016: The scan software NikonScan from Nikon does not run on actual operating systems any more. With the scan software SilverFast Ai Studio the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED can be used with actual operating systems, too.
Image quality of the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000
When talking about the image quality of Nikon's flagship scanner there actually should be not a single negative word to be said. After all the name Nikon, the price and the gorgeous specifications on the data sheet of the film scanner oblige. But first things first.
How can the image quality of a Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 be actually judged? Should we scan maybe 10 standardized test slides with resolution bar, colour patterns and gray scales to check to what extent the scans match the original? With such experiments you can indeed determine certain numerical values, but you often can't use them to find out what an image will look like. Maybe it's better to simply scan 1000 different images to make a conclusion by rule of thumb. Or should we just assume the Nikon 9000 scans normal snap shots perfectly and fade to discerning originals like night shots or back light shots?
A good image is first of all made by a good film scanner, second by the scan software and third by the following image editing. It's clear that you can't fix too much with the image editing software if already the first link of this chain is weak. The second link of the chain is also very important - and often overlooked: the scan software.
If you perform a normal standard scan with the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 you'll get brilliant scans of 90% of all images using the standard settings. A scan of an underexposed image though will be too dark as well if scanned with the standard settings. Does this mean poor image quality? An image like this can be slightly lightended either directly with the scan software or afterwards with an image editing software. You can make all settings adjusted with the scan software with the image editing software, too, except for one: the dust and scratches correction ICE.
From this it follows that it's not that important what the scanned image effectively looks like, but rather which information it contains. Example: a black and white astronomy shot looks worthless with standard scan settings. A lot of stars, dust (in space, not on the image) and clouds disappear. But if the corresponding area can be neatly displayed by adjusting the levels with Photoshop®, I speak about a good scan. And in exactly this respect I can only praise the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED. If you scan an image with 48 Bit colour depth and save the outcome in the TIF format, you'll have all image information in a large file, so that you can make a virtually perfect digital image by editing it afterwards. You can particularly see it with discerning twilight or night shots.
The following example is to show the meaning of finest colour shades. The left picture shows a failed shot, which irritated the camera's automatic exposure because of the bright sky. The original scan suggests a mountain range without any particularities. In the foreground there's a large black area - there seems to be no more information to bring out of the image.
But it's surprising when you analyse the colour levels. Everything that seems to be black in the left image in effect is numerous dark colours which the scanner has indeed detected but which are not visible on the screen. But adjusting the neutrals and blacks make things appear that make you wonder: suddenly a green meadow appears out of the darkness and a mixed forrest shows itself in front of a range of mountains.
I'd not say that the corrected image resembles a perfect shot now - the image is brightened exaggeratedly just to show which information dark shadows contain. It was important to me to point out the meaning of a very good scanner differentiating the colours of a seemingly black area in finest details. This also confirms my statement that it doesn't depend on what the image looks like after scanning but on which information the file contains, i.e. what can be made of it by means of an image editing software after the scan.
Because the 35mm film scanners Nikon Coolscan V and Super Coolscan 5000 came up with an excellent resolution of 3900dpi the Super Coolscan 9000 raised expectations. The question is if the 9000 can make real 4000dpi or if it's a few percent less just like with its smaller brothers.
If you analyse the scan of an USAF1951 target you'll quickly realize the Super Coolscan 9000's horizontal resoloution differs from its vertical resolution just like with its smaller brothers. With large magnification you can differentiate the horizontal lines up to element 6.3 from the background - this matches 4000dpi resolution! The vertical lines can barely be differentiated with element 6.2, which matches a resolution of 3650dpi. The average of these two resolutions is 3900dpi. This effective resolution is just 2,5% below the specified resolution of 4000dpi. This is very creditable and remarkable - it simply distinguishes a Nikon scanner from its competitors.
It's particularly remarkable that all three Nikon scanners, the Coolscan V ED, the Super Coolscan 5000 Ed and the Super Coolscan 9000 ED, come of very well with the scame resolution. Here quality does not decrease according to the price!
The scan software NikonScan offers to the user a multitude of settings to immediately perform a good looking fine scan after the prescan. Just like with an image editing software you can achieve the same effects on the individual gradation curves by using different controls. I myself prefer working directly with the gradation curves, although setting brightness and contrast could be done more comfortable as well.
So what is this ICE4, DDE, Scan Image Enhancer - catchwords Nikon is advertising with, which are rushing through the scanner community like magic words? I already mentioned that the ICE dust and scratches correction works flawlessly. I can only confirm rumors which accuse a certain blur to the ICE process insofar that in areas where big dust particles have to be corrected away with the surrounding pixels a certain impression of blur inevitably occurs. But this does by no means apply for the whole image.
We already know the grain equalization GEM and the colour enhancement ROC from the predecessor. GEM works very well with very coarse grained film material. Analyzing the image for repeating patterns which can be assigned to the grain works very well, but inevitably causes a slight blur, too. Thus GEM is not a function that you can always keep turned on without hesitation, but you should perform tests with every single film to find out if there is any annyoing grain effect or not.
The automatic colour enhancement ROC somtimes works wonders. Ancient, faded images suddenly appear like newly shot, just like restored. See my page about image correction. Corrections as they are done by the ROC technique can be done manually, too, but you'll need a lot of time to adjust the individual colour channels in a way that the restoration effect is visible. You should in no case turn ROC on permanently though. With a night shot or an image of the sea or of a ski trail you will get such disguised images, that it's rather manipulation than restoration we're talking about.
Besides the three already known ICE3 techniques a fourth one now came along with the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED: when scanning underexposed images or back light shots the digital DDE technique reportedly performs automatic corrections which enhances the details in very dark and very bright areas and achieves natural colours and brightness. This sounds very promising, but after careful consideration and a little testing you will quickly find out that you can achieve this kind of effects by changing the gradation curves, too. By the way you can not only automatically adjust the shadows with DDE but the highlights as well. In my opinion the DDE function is needless, because it's not generally useable, i.e. it must be adjusted individually for every image, and it can be displaced by changing the gradaton curves. But I don't want to ignore those users who are not familiar with using gradation curves: for them the DDE slider is a comfortable way to get more details into very dark image areas.
So we still have to talk about the Scan Image Enhancer as a new feature: this technique performs an automatic adjustment of brightness and contrast, so it complies with Photoshop®'s "auto levels". This function is a very recommendable feature of the NikonScan software, because it can notably improve a bigger part of the images. But as aforementioned this kind of function does not enhance image quality but only allows comfortable adjustment of image editing tools directly within the scan software. An image scanned with the Scan Image Enhancer in fact appears better than a standard scan, but this advantage is leveled out by the following image editing though. The Scan Image Enhancer is also a very useful feature that must not be turned on permanently. Everybody knows what auto level does with an image of a ski trail: the few people shilhoutted against the consistent white become extremely coloured and glaring.
Conclusion of the last 5 paragraphs: The scan software of the Nikon 9000 contains a great many algorithms for automatic image enhancement which positively affect the image qualitiy in a comfortable way. But the actually good image quality is not due to these comfort features, but it's due to the fact, that the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED is capable of distinguishing finest shades of colours. In a scan with a colour depth of 16 Bit there can easily be 2000 shades of grey between black and dark grey - and that makes up the image quality.
But let's deal with an essential issue that distinguishes the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 from all its competitors at its market launch: it's the first film scanner with integrated ICE professional system. This is an advancement of the ICE system to the effect that it works well with Kodachrome slides, too. When comparing a Kodachrome scan with activated ICE the differences between the LS-9000 and the LS-5000 are striking - please see my article about scanning Kodachrome films. Hence there finally is a film scanner which is able to scan Kodachrome slides with activated dust and scratches removal in outstanding quality due to a special Kodachrome setting.
There still is a drawback concerning image quality of the Super Coolscan 9000 just like with its predecessor: when scanning 35mm panorama images or medium formats it sometimes happens that lines appear on the image. It's a mystery to me where these lines come from, the more so as I can't figure out a system of when they appear. You don't see these stripes at first glance, they only appear if you magnify the scan a lot. As workaround you can only perform an extra fine scan (best 4 times) with only one row of CCDs activated. Such a scan naturally takes a lot of time but prevents appearence of the lines.
Speaking of banding: the predecessor Nikon Super Coolscan 8000 ED had banding problems mainly with medium formats, i.e. there were thin lines in the picture which could only be eliminated by laborious image editing. Correctively you could activate an extra fine scan, so that only one of the three CCD rows was used for scanning. This naturally increased scanning times by the factor of 3. I couldn't discover any annoying banding effects with the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED yet. This is substantial progress compared to its predecessor.
Scanning with SilverFast Ai
The scan software Silverfast was yet included in delivery of the predecessor Nikon 8000, thus virtually every owner of this scanner was using the professional Silverfast software. Of course Silverfast offers a good deal more settings than Nikonscan but image quality does not extensively increase when using Silverfast instead of Nikonscan normally. Not until you perform an IT-8 colour calibration.
When performing an IT-8 colour calibration the scanner is individually calibrated by means of the IT-8 target and an ICC profile is generated. This colour profile gets embeded into Silverfast and is applied to every scan. What's the consequence? You'll get real colours which virtually don't need to be corrected anymore. Thus little faults of the individual scanner are ironed out by means of this calibration. You'll notice the effect best by comparing scans of the same slide both with and without IT-8 profile and afterwards editing them with Photoshop®: auto levels slightly improves the scan without IT-8 while the scan with IT-8 does virtually not change anymore.
Thus Silverfast alone doesn't increase image quality of the Nikon 9000, only using the IT-8 colour calibration, which belongs to Silverfast can remarkably increase quality. You can get more information on Silverfast from our FAQ page about SilverFast.
Scanning times of the Nikon Super Coolscan 9000
Just like the little Nikons LS-50 and LS-5000 considerably increased speed compared to their predecessors, the new LS-9000 clearly outguns its predecessor LS-8000 concerning scanning times. While the differences in the field of 35mm are small you get an increase of speed almost by the factor 2 when scanning medium formats. This is very noticable because digitising medium format frames can be very time consuming.
It's a bit disappointing that a 35mm scan passes off much slower than with the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED. I think it's surprising that scanning a 6x7 negative is only 2,5 times slower than scanning a 35mm negative although the image area is bigger by the factor of 5.
While you can insert 35mm film material very quickly it takes a lot of time to place and tension not mounted medium format negatives or positives in the film holder. This time needs to be added to the scanning times. You can save a lot of time by purchasing an extra strip film holder, so that you can load it while the other is being scanned.
Scanning time considerably decreases when not scanning with the highest resolution 4000dpi but with 2000dpi or less. A resolution between those two does not increase speed. Scanning times notably increase if you activate additional features like ROC or GEM. And of course scanning times boundlessly increase when performing multiple scans.
The stated scanning times were performed with a computer with 3 Gigahertz CPU, 800 MHz front side bus, 2 Gigabyte RAM and a 200 Gigabyte hard disk. When using a weaker computer scanning times slightly increase.
The Nikon Super Coolscan 9000 ED displaces the Super Coolscan 8000 ED at the top of the 35mm and medium format film scanners. The LS-9000 impresses with its excellent image quality, its effective resolution of 3900dpi and with its wide effective density range. The Digital ICE professional process is especially worth mentioning because it makes the LS-9000 the currently only film scanner that can digitise Kodachromes almost perfectly with ICE. Scanning times decreased compared to its predecessor, so that the LS-9000 is a real sprinter with medium formats.
When buying a Super Coolscan 9000 ED you'll get a basic package composed of film scanner, scan software, 35mm slide mount holder FH-835M, 35mm strip film holder FH-835S and 120/220 strip film holder FH-869S. In order to effectively work with the LS-9000 you need a second one of each of those film holders, so that you can load one while the other is in the scanner. Unfortunately the 120/220 film rotated holder with glass FH-869GR is optional accessory. But only with this holder the scanner becomes a real all-rounder which can handle any film material up to a size of 6x9 cm.
It's a pitty that Silverfast is not included in delivery anymore, as it was with its predecessor. Because the standard software can not perform IT-8 calibration you're virtually obliged to spend several hundret Euros extra for Silverfast Ai. Those who buy a professional scanner like the Nikon 9000 ED want to operate in a professional colour management workflow and don't want to leave anything to chance.
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