The Minolta DiMAGE Scan
Elite 5400 film scanner

A readers review by Mike Nunan

Page 1.

pages 1 2 3 4 press release

This morning I installed the software and did just one scan to check everything was working ok. Here are my initial observations:

Physically the unit is extremely well made, easily the match of the Nikon LS-30 I intend to replace. The controls have a solid feel and while the whole unit is compact and not unduly heavy, it has a heft to it that inspires confidence. There are neat squidgy rubber protector covers for both the Firewire and USB2 ports. There is no transport lock to worry about.

The film strip holder is the best I have encountered. It is robust and very rigid with a well-engineered opening latch. It is easy to load and unload while wearing cotton handling gloves. The holder itself is quite thick, with the film surface being well recessed in the middle after it is closed, which makes it very safe to handle and probably cuts down the chances of airborne dust settling. The vertical format of the scanner itself helps in this regard too (unlike the Nikon units, this scanner only has feet for vertical orientation). Compared to the Nikon, which takes a bare film strip directly into a slot in the front of the 35mm adapter unit, it is much easier to clean the film using canned air. Conversely it's not as easy to use a cleaning brush on the film once it is mounted, due to the holder's frame dividers. On balance I think I prefer it to the Nikon direct-loading method, but we'll see if that assessment changes once I've used it for a while.
There were a few shenanigans involved in getting the scanner to initialise properly to begin with (this is under Windows XP Pro). As with the other Firewire/USB2 scanners I've tried, you have to install the software first, then connect the scanner and power it on. The first power-up calls up the New Hardware Wizard and you just proceed with default options. However, the power light kept flashing constantly, meaning that the scanner is still trying to initialise. It tried cycling the scanner power and switching interfaces to USB2 (both USB and 6-way Firewire cables are provided - thank you Minolta) but still it just kept flashing away. In the end I just powered down the PC and scanner, restarted the PC and logged back in, then turned on the scanner. That seemed to do the trick.

At first glance the Minolta Scan v1.1.0 software looks pretty good. The UI makes better use of screen real-estate than does Nikon Scan, and is less cluttered to look at. All important functions are available, including the ability to save linear 16-bit TIFF files if you want to. Monitor profiles are supported for the preview.

For a first scan I picked a B&W neg (I'm almost taking it for granted that this scanner will make a good job of well-exposed E6 film) on Ilford Delta 100. The frame I chose is a view from the roof of my client's 20-storey office building, looking across from East London towards Westminster. It was a hazy day towards sunset, and the contrast of this frame is pretty low with intermediate density across most of the frame (no really dense patches, so this isn't pushing the boundaries of the claimed DMax for this scanner). Well, the scan sure looks sharp as heck. Grain structure is clear but not exaggerated, even though I didn't select the diffuser option. I would say that the optics appear to do justice to the 5400ppi resolution of the sensor, which is the main thing I was looking for. Tonality appears to be decent, although I didn't spend any time torturing the image with curves, just a bit of levels tweaking. However, given the nature of the test frame, I wouldn't expect any real problems in this area. I have some "frames from hell" to throw at the unit later, to see what it's really capable of in this regard.

In summary, I'm cautiously optimistic that this unit will live up to my high expectations.

© Mike Nunan 2003
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