Scanning directly from the original negative (or maybe a positive transparency) until relatively recently has been a pretty expensive business - the much higher resolution required of film scanners necessarily makes them a good deal more costly to construct. Moreover, many people don't wish to go through the more exacting processes required to scan negatives - with a satisfactory colour print for instance, somebody else has already taken the trouble to get the colour balance, brightness and contrast ready for you. Starting from the negative, this isn't always quite so straightforward.
On the other hand, if you aren't able to set up suitable darkroom facilities with access to an enlarger and its accompanying paraphernalia, then scanning directly from the negative is a very satisfactory alternative, and with the right equipment can give equally good or better results. There are very many flatbed scanners around - nearly every manufacturer of note offers one or more. The choice of film scanners is much more restricted though there are more about than a year or two ago - models are currently available from Canon, Nikon, Minolta & Acer for example, to name but four. When I started looking into this a few years ago, I wasn't at all sure whether this was the way to go, and didn't want to make too large an investment in case it all turned out to be a blind alley; no doubt others have felt similarly, and likewise have been put of by the initial cost.
When I first saw the Jenoptik JS21 advertised, it immediately attracted my interest as it was significantly less expensive than others I'd considered whilst on paper offering a specification high enough for my needs, particularly optical resolution with Minox negatives in mind. After reading a few complimentary reviews, I took the plunge ! The price at that time was around £ 250 but since then unsurprisingly has dropped significantly and can now be found for under £ 200.This compares favourably with quite a few of the early flatbed scanners. The JS21 is in fact not manufactured by Jenoptik (formerly Carl Zeiss of Jena, GDR) but is made by Tamarack Technologies Inc. in Taiwan but appears in other guises - in the US it sells as the Artiscan2400 and there may be others I don't know about. I've been using it for a year or two now, and as most of the pictures on my web pages were obtained using it, it seemed that it might help others coming this way to share my experiences and impressions.
You can get some idea of the specification from the Jenoptik web site. Out of the box, you get the basic scanner & compact switched mode power supply, film and transparency holders (6 and 4 frames respectively) together with software on CD - the essential TWAIN driver, Documan imaging software, Adobe Photodeluxe and some other useful support software. Mine also came with a USB adapter (of which more below) though I'm not sure this is provided with all packages.
The scanner is quite compact as can be seen.
On the right with the negative scanner inserted (the 8x11mm mask has been fitted into the carrier - see below.)
The film/transparency holders are quite sturdy and adequate for the job. Setting up is straightforward - simply follow the instructions ! Initially I tried using it with the USB interface under Windows 95 but found that this simply could not be made to function, however I tried. USB is rather an afterthought in Win95 and it wasn't till later after I migrated to Win98 that I was able to make this work satisfactorily. Unfortunately, through no fault whatsoever of the JS21, I had to revert to the parallel configuration because of Win98/BIOS compatibility problems in my particular PC - other users should have no qualms about using USB. Scanning using the parallel interface is significantly slower than USB, probably by a factor of around three, though this may be a little subjective. I should stress though that the parallel configuration is perfectly satisfactory and Win95 users would have no problem with it. It doesn't work with earlier versions of Windows, unfortunately.
Once installed correctly, one is ready to scan ! I found the supplied Documan program rather unhelpful for my needs - it's a bit cumbersome to use and has no useful image editing or manipulating facilities of its own; moreover it insists rather unhelpfully in storing images in Windows bitmap format by default - most users will almost certainly prefer JPEG or possibly GIF on occasion. In fact the TWAIN driver works perfectly well with many programs offering scanner support such as Adobe Photoshop; my own preference is for Paintshop Pro which has many of the essential features of Photoshop but is a good deal easier to use (it's also much cheaper !).
Starting a scan function invokes the TWAIN driver which initially produces a new window looking something like this:
Going to 'Settings' window produces a different left hand panel:
Most of the settings here are self-explanatory. 'Advanced' provides some additional options for Half-tone. Resolution can be adjusted in 600 dpi steps starting at 600 and going up to 9600. I have rarely found any advantage in interpolating above the nominal optical resolution of 2400 dpi as no new information is added; the image merely appears 'smoothed' - an effect which can be obtained more easily and economically in one's host application.
The third panel - Filters - is probably the most important one in many ways as this is where the TWAIN driver settings can be adjusted to suit the film or transparency of interest. Taken together, they provide a lot of flexibility though there is undoubtedly room for improvement.
The fourth window simply displays some details of the current hardware and software for user information.
How well does it work in practice ? Given an 'normal' negative or transparency with a good tonal range, not excessively weak or dense, nor with an unusual contrast range, then excellent scans will be obtained. Difficulties will arise when a negative (for which also read transparency) which is not average. The chief limitations I have encountered occur when the negative is excessively thin or dense. In the former case, the JS21 may fail to record shadow detail, whatever the setting, and in some such instances, I have had to resort on occasion to a conventional silver print which was then scanned on a flatbed device in order to record the shadow details present. With dense negatives, the JS21 may be working too near the CCD sensitivity limits and the S/N of the resulting scan can be poor. This will be seen as apparent excessive grain or noise, and/or stripes (usually yellow with colour images) along the scan direction, perhaps indicating unevenness in sensitivity in the CCD array. The effect is of course a lot more noticeable with subminiature negatives and may be sufficient to ruin an otherwise satisfactory picture. With 35mm negatives, I have also noticed some unevenness of illumination as darkening toward the long edges of the negative when the latter is a little overly dense, though as a rule this isn't a serious problem and tends to be noticeable mainly in flat areas such as featureless sky.
The TWAIN driver settings facilities without doubt are rather limited compared with what is available for other, more expensive scanners. However they are adequate for the majority of negatives. I would have liked to have seen some kind of histogram intensity display on which the settings could be more easily viewed and adjusted - the highlight & shadow settings could be more accurately related to the actual densitiy range in the negative, and a more flexible gamma adjustment so that better control of brightness distribution could be obtained. The downside of more adjustment is complexity and difficulty in finding the 'right' settings of course, and it must be said that those provided are sufficient to give a satisfactory result with the majority of negatives. Whether the results are satisfactory as pictures, I will leave others to judge from what they can see in the Galleries on other pages.
One further specific point concerns subminiature negatives in particular. The JS21 is a 'focus free' scanner so it essential that the negatives are held secure and flat in the proper image plane. The negative carrier provided is intended for 35mm and as such is not directly suitable for 8x11 negatives. To accomodate this, I found it necessary to construct an insert to hold the negatives and to provide a mask for them. Moreover, the large amount of direct light would lead to incorrect scan settings if the subminiature negative were to be simply suspended in the 35mm area, irrespective of focussing issues.
This insert consists of a pair of brass sheets, 35 x 230mm of 0.2mm thickness (made from brass shim) - see illustrations below. These fit together into the space occupied by six 35mm frames in the holder. 8x11 holes were made through both in exact registration to coincide with the middle of frames 2, 4 and 6. The 8x11mm film is placed between these sheets and then placed into the negative carrier. To ensure the film is kept in alignment with the masking holes, eight pairs of 0.5mm holes were drilled at intervals through both sheets at 9.3mm clearance apart. Pins were passed through both plates whilst these were bound together and soldered to one outer face. The ends of the pins were then trimmed away, filed and polished. These act both as film guides and to ensure the two plates remain in registration. The outer faces were spray painted matt black to minimise reflections, and the inner faces were given a high polish. Using three apertures allows the film to stay within the mask, the nearest one to the desired frame being selected as required. Whilst this assembly is specific for the JS21, something similar could be made for any other similar scanner. In practice, it works very well, though a small light box is useful for positioning frames accurately.
On the left, the 35mm negative carrier which unfolds about a hinge on the left side; the 8x11 mask fits into the space occupied by the 35mm negatives.
On the right the 8x11 mask which is in two parts, the outer matt black, the inner polished to minimise scratches. They are held in registration by locating pins which also act as film guides, though these are too small to show up easily in this picture.
To summarise my impression of the JS21. It's very good value for money, even better now than when I acquired mine. It's optical performance at 2400 dpi is sufficient for Minox images provided big enlargements are not intended and generally sufficient for 35mm. It's very easy to set up and to use, and whilst the driver software does leave quite a bit to be desired, it is more than adequate for most reasonable quality negatives and transparencies. My impression is that its dynamic range is not all that the manufacturers specification might have one believe, but nevertheless it's rather better than entry level and should satisfy most other than rather demanding or critical users. If your budget doesn't run to the offerings from some other companies, this is very well worth considering.
An afterthought. The comments above applied to systems using Windows9x & Me for which the supplied drivers are applicable. I was under the impression that the scanner is now unsupported, with no drivers having been released enabling it to work with Windows XP, for which the earlier drivers are unsuitable. This point should be borne in mind by anyone thinking of acquiring one of these scanners which may offered secondhand. However I have recently learned that Windows XP drivers are indeed available for the JS21. Please read this comment about updates first though.
DISCLAIMER. The opinions in the foregoing are entirely my own and are offered in good faith; as such they are subjective and personal. I have no connection of any kind whatsoever with Jenoptik in the UK or elsewhere, and offer my views entirely unsolicited for the information of any third parties who have an interest in film scanners and their use with subminiature cameras. These views are derived from one sample only and others may have different experiences.
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