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Photo CD vs Desktop Scanner

Joe Cartwright , Jan 29, 2001; 01:08 p.m.

For printing up to 11x17 photos on an Epson 1270 printer, is kodak photo cd resolution adequate, or would it be significantly better to purchase a Nikon Coolscan 2000? The originals are chrome slides.


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Thomas Jensen , Jan 29, 2001; 02:40 p.m.

I have a Nikon Coolscan III (LS-30), which is roughly comparable to an LS-2000. My observation is that PhotoCD has greater dynamic range, which is sometimes useful for images with high contrast. The Coolscan produces less noise, because you may scan an image repeatedly, averaging the results.

So, it seems that the best solution is to have the same image scanned repeatedly by a PhotoCD scanner. :-) In truth, it does not matter much. Using the right software and a bit of knowledge about digital image processing, both alternatives give you excellent results. Without the right software tools, neither alternative will produce good results.

Scott Eaton , Jan 29, 2001; 02:45 p.m.

Resolution is hardly a problem with PhotoCD, but handling slides {compared to negs} is a problem. Virtually any consumer desktop scanner is a better bet to scan slides than PhotoCD because of the Kodak unit's problem with dynamic range.

Jim Lee , Jan 29, 2001; 05:41 p.m.

Joe - Not to confuse things, but I'm also trying to make a decision regarding Pro Photo CD vs Scanner. It appears the two responses you received are conflicting - one says CD has better dynamic range, the other says Photo CD scans of "slides" is not ideal because of a problem with dynamic ranger?

To tag on another related question, what about the increased resolution available with Pro Photo CD's versus the particular scanner mentioned? Wouldn't that allow for a much better print, especially in the size range that Joe indicates? I had some slides scanned to base 16 (2048x3072) that I printed at 11x16". Now that gets my dpi down to about 185 at that image size and everything I've read says you should try to stay at about 300dpi to get a first rate print. I've been thinking about trying some base 64 scans (4096x6144)and print at the same size. Would you expect to see noticable a difference in the prints between base 16 and base 64? There's a noticable difference in scan price:>) It would appear that one might need to go to a 4000 dpi scanner to equal Pro Photo CD for prints in the 11x16 size range??


Greg Poulsen , Jan 29, 2001; 06:28 p.m.

I have had some none-to-satisfactory experiences with pro-photo CD. While the DPI is theoretically 4000, I have found that in practice, the optics do not keep up with the pixels, and the image is soft. For 35mm, I find that I get just as much real detail from a regular Photo CD, and then doing a bi-cubic resizing to a larger size BEFORE doing any unsharp masking. I have had this experience with two different labs, so I don't think it was operator failure for the Pro-CD.

I have found the better scanners (Nikon, Minolta, Poloroid) to offer better sharpness than either PhotoCD solution. The bit-depth is largely a factor of operator settings, but I can always do better on the Nikon 2000 than what I have gotten on either Pro or regular CD.

Finally, I am not down on the Pro-Photo CDs all the way. Although I am not at all impressed with the results for 35mm, they work well for medium format. Again, my impression is that the optics limit their ability to deal with 35mm, but they work well in larger formats.

Of course, none of the alternatives currently available have the bit depth that I get with drum scans (when made by competent operators). But a bunch of drum scans run into real money, and have the downside of putting the original film through some abuse.


- Photo CD - very respectable scans - Good Desktop - somewhat better scans - both sharpness and bit depth - Pro-Photo CD - Little better than Photo CD for 35mm (often worse in my experience) - Drum Scan - Very nice, but pricey

By the way, Nikon has announced a next-generation scanner that claims to have stats close to current drum scanners. I believe that it will be out in April, so it will be interesting to look at.

Best, GP

Alan Schietzsch , Jan 29, 2001; 06:46 p.m.

For 11x17 use, Kodak Pro Photo CD (72 MB) scans are more than adequate, while the regular 18 MB (non-"Pro") are not quite up to the task.

PhotoCD scans are softer than drum scans (I run a DaiNippon SCREEN drum scanner, it does optical unsharp masking on- the-fly as part of the scanning process.) Despite owning a drum, I prefer to use Pro Photo CD scans when scanning from negatives, or if an original chrome is grainy.

PhtoCD scans are not sharpened, they are raw scans - they are not meant to be used for pre-press or inkjet prints "as is." The amount of USM should be controlled by the end-user in Photoshop, either after the import, or during import via the Kodak Acquire module, downloadable from Kodak's website.

For example, using a ProPhotoCD scan we recently produced an 18 x 24 inch poster of a sprint car, there would have been no advantage to using our drum scanner since the only fine detail not picked up was grain. This is to a 175 line screen, using a 300 ppi file.

Any significant detail was easily extracted with USM on the luminance channel, then converted back to CMYK for printing. For your Epson, back to RGB would work as well, and be easier to handle in terms of file size and printer RIPping. So go for it, and if they don't believe you, show them your prints. Or ask to see theirs.

Samuel Dilworth , Jan 29, 2001; 07:16 p.m.

"Although I am not at all impressed with the results for 35mm, they work well for medium format. Again, my impression is that the optics limit their ability to deal with 35mm, but they work well in larger formats."

This sort of logic is becoming pretty prevalent on Photonet, although I am somewhat confused as to why. Why would anyone use a larger format and then compromise on the scan? If you are going to get benefits from using a larger format, you are going to have to input, process, and output the image at the same absolute resolution as the 35mm format. Otherwise just use 35mm and reap all the benefits of cost, ease-of-use, etc. that that format offers.

For the record, although 300 dpi is commonly accepted nowadays, in truth it becomes woefully inadequate when compared to reasonable optically/chemically produced prints. At any print size.

Kevin Borden , Jan 29, 2001; 08:50 p.m.

This is slightly off topic, but before you run out and buy a Coolscan 2000, you should know that Nikon just annouced the Coolscan 4000 (see their web-site for details). This means that the 2000 will probably drop to around $1000 once the new scanner hits the market.

Gary Wilson , Jan 29, 2001; 09:47 p.m.

hi joe.

just a consideration... while the coolscan is no cheap toy, you will quickly recoup your initial cost versus paying over and over again and through the nose for something that costs kodak pennies. not to mention the versatility you get with the scanner.

myself i haven't been too impressed with the dynamic range of the 2 photo CDs i've had made. but then again, kodak seems to be tripping over its own toes lately with most of their services.

go with the scanner. you'll be glad you did.

Scott Eaton , Jan 29, 2001; 10:07 p.m.

I'll post some examples to make my point on this debate. (see attached image).

The top image is a 1:1 crop (with no post scan processing or USM) from a 35 Superia-Reala neg ProPhotoCD scanned at 6144x4096, which is well and beyond the capability of most of the scanners mentioned here (and my optics). Superia-Reala is one of the finest grained films currently on the market, and as you can tell from the scan, the grain is extremely sharp, if not in excess of the film's actual resolution. If anybody in this thread has a home film scanner that can equal this resolution, I'd like to see it posted. This is typical of my results with ProPhotoCD from various labs, although every once in awhile I get a 35mm scan slightly out of focus.

The middle image was from 35mm RG 100, and pulled straight from a PhotoCD with no adjustments to contrast or density. Again, this is typical of my ProPhotoCD results from negatives. Contrast and density are about as perfect as I could expect from a commercial film scan.

The bottom image is from a ProPhotoCD scan from a perfectly exposed, 35mm, Fuji Astia chrome. The image is dark, murky, and the histogram shows poor dynamic range and lack of density information. Again, this is typical of my results from various labs from ProPhotoCD. While some phto.netters have claimed better results from ProPhotoCD from slides, nobody disputes that the Kodak device has poor dynamic range, which is critical for slide scanning and not so critical for neg work. In short, if you want to scan 35mm slides, you should look other than PhotoCD.

Attachment: sampl4.jpg

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