Over the past decade, Kodak’s various RFS desktop scanners have been popular with deadline-conscious newspapers because they’re the fastest on the market – RFS means Rapid Film Scanner. The speed comes from a big monoblock CCD and flash illumination instead of the usual linear CCD and cold cathode lamps. The current RFS 3570 has a maximum resolution of 2,400dpi, grabs an 18MB scan in an impressive 18 seconds and accepts film from 35mm to 120 sizes. However, it costs a huge £5,500 and its footprint is about the same as a desktop PC.
The new RFS 3600 scanner for 35mm slides and filmstrips has little in common with the 3570. It’s a lot cheaper, but much slower because it uses conventional linear CCD and lamp technology. It has much better maximum resolution of 3,600dpi, a respectable dynamic range of 3.6, and 12-bit imaging. Its footprint is about the size of one of Digit’s A4 pages, and the blue-&-silver case is attractively styled. Unusually, the price includes ten Kodak Supra 400 negative films.
No fiddly film holders
The RFS 3600 can take either single-mounted 35mm slides, or film strips of any length that, unlike most scanners, are fed in directly with no need to fiddle with a film holder. The motorized film advance lets you preview a whole strip at once, set up the frames you want, and leave the scanner to read them in high-resolution batch mode. There’s no provision for APS film cartridges, though.
The scanner has a USB and two SCSI-2 ports on the back, with cables for both, but unlike many rivals, there’s no SCSI PCI card provided.
A 3,600dpi scan gives a 50MB scan from a full 35mm frame, and took 3 mins 20 secs on a Mac G4/400, and 2 mins 50 secs on a Pentium III/933 with SCSI-2. Scanning software is provided for Mac OS and Windows with identical user interfaces, running as a Photoshop import plug-in. The colour management menu includes easy options for choosing monitor and printer ColorSync ICC/ICM profiles, plus pull-down lists of common film types. You can save a whole group of settings and apply to other images.
An adequate set of scanning controls is provided, but using them is difficult because of the tiny preview window. It’s hard to judge the correct position for the eyedropper tools, or the fine control of the density curve and slider controls. The preview window can be launched into a separate, scaleable window, but you can’t increase the preview resolution, so zooming-in merely reveals the low-res pixels.
When you pre-scan a whole filmstrip, the thumbnails appear in a row at the top of the menu, which you click on to bring into the main window. Misaligned frames can be nudged left or right using a pair of buttons on the scanner case – you can see the film through the top window in the scanner.
Image quality is mixed. Automatic exposure, corrections and colour work well, and the resolution goes as high as most people will ever want. Given the tiny previews, it’s probably best to use the auto settings and then fine-tune using Photoshop. There’s no dust removal filter, which is a pity. My test scans had more pronounced on-screen noise than rival models.
Kodak announced this scanner last September, but software problems delayed it until June. My feeling is that the software is still inadequate due to the tiny windows. The price is about £170 cheaper than the Polaroid SprintScan 4000, and £80 dearer than the Nikon CoolScan IV. The £899 Polaroid gives broadly similar quality to the Kodak but is much faster, with a higher max res of 4,000dpi and a slightly lower 3.4D dynamic range. The £650 CoolScan IV has USB (only), a lower maximum res of 2,900dpi and a 3.6D dynamic range and comes with Digital ICE3 technology.