The Kodak Professional RFS 3600 Film Scanner
Worth A Second Look

Well over a year ago I sat down to write about the Kodak Professional RFS 3600 slide and 35mm film scanner. Physically, in what I then called a swoopy design, was a mechanical package offering good specifications of 3600dpi resolution, 36-bit color depth scanning at a dynamic range of 3.6. Besides the contemporary design, this Kodak product offered a very different approach to scanning with a stationary film stage and moving sensor and illumination array. This allows for a motor driven strip feed that automatically advances the film from frame to frame. In addition, the Kodak engineers included Film Terms, profile-like files describing the characteristics of all of the Kodak films and some of their popular competitors, so an ideal interpretation could be made of each image.

Although a number of changes have been made to the Kodak software driver for the RFS 3600, most of the original shortcomings remain.

Unfortunately, in their zeal to make a product that would be easy for consumers, the Kodak software engineers were blinded to the fact that automation cannot be successfully applied to the processing of a photographic image, due to the fact each photograph is made unique by its subject and the perception of the individual photographer. There is no way software can recognize and distinguish one unique photographic subject from another, much less be aware of the unique character of perception of each user. So, by ignoring that uniqueness, the automation assumes all photographs should have the same measurable content of color and density attributes. This reduces every image processed to a common, low level of mediocrity. In addition, the design interface of the Kodak software driver assumed that because the adjustment of the image was automatic there was little need for the user to clearly see the preview, and the post-auto adjustment tools were considered too inconsequential in importance to make them intuitive and user friendly.

When I received the news release announcing new Kodak software and the addition of LaserSoft SilverFast to the software bundle, I immediately responded because the RFS 3600 hardware is well designed and offers some worthwhile advantages. So, now I have re-tested the Kodak RFS 3600, using it to scan a diverse selection of film images on all kinds of media, with both the new Kodak driver as well as driving the scanner from within Photoshop with the LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 5.5 plug-in.

Scanning strips of film, negatives or positives, a set of thumbnails are rapidly generated automatically and displayed so each frame for pre-scan can be easily selected. The LaserSoft NegaFix utility provides a good translation for different brands of film and an easy slider exposure adjustment. Scanning negatives is now no more difficult than slides.

Working With The New Version 2.10 Software Driver
Kodak has announced nine new major improvements in Version 2.10 in their software driver for the RFS 3600. The most noticeable one is that the driv-er window now automatically sizes to the resolution of the user's computer monitor, and can be user adjusted in size to fit individual preferences. However, the overall interface design is little changed and the preview window remains small relative to the overall window size. In addition, the three tab accessed views for the image controls remain an awkward impediment to efficient work. Although the pre-scan window resolution can now be set at one of three higher resolutions, the video engine even within Photoshop displays a preview that is of poor quality and not an accurate match to the final scan as it is displayed in Photoshop's workspace. One very positive refinement applies to scanning film in strips. Now the scanner very accurately senses the image frame and automatically centers it in the scan window, frame after frame.

The Kodak software, whether scanning slides or color negatives, subjects each image to be scanned to automatic adjustment processing which cannot be turned off. If the auto-processing misinterprets the subject, it cannot be voided, and there is no way to then obtain an ideally adjusted scan, as manual controls only add to the auto-adjustment. It took only a few scans before I was finding images that the software was incapable of providing an acceptable scan. In other words, unless your images fall within a rather close approximation of a typical average subject or style of photography, you cannot expect to obtain satisfactory scan results with the Kodak Version 2.10 software.

This initial discouragement turned me to using the LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 5.5 software and the bulk of my test scanning was done without using the Kodak driver.

With LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 5.5, the RFS 3600 yields a generous, high quality preview pre-scan image that fills most of a monitor's screen space. This provides an easy to see, perceptual reference.

Using The RFS 3600 With LaserSoft SilverFast
Although the Kodak RFS 3600 has some distinct differences from other 35mm film scanners, the SilverFast interface is almost entirely the same as it is for other brands and models of scanners, so any previous user of SilverFast will be right at home. As soon as I opened SilverFast I went to Options to set it up the way I like to work and to configure the Color Management selection of profiles to work with the scanner. Even after taking a thorough look at my System Profile folder I could not find a profile for the scanner. Fortunately I had an IT-8 35mm slide reference, so I used the calibration utility in SilverFast to calibrate the scanner and create a CMS profile. This took just a few minutes and all the profiles were then correctly selected and I was able to make my first pre-scan.

As soon as I got the first preview image on screen using SilverFast I had a hunch everything was right with the world and I'd be on my way making all kinds of good scans with the RFS 3600. After numerous pages of slides scanned with the RFS 3600 and SilverFast there was no doubt about my original feelings that Kodak had designed a good piece of hardware. It ran smoothly, reliably, and efficiently, producing one scan after another of slides on all kinds of film including Kodachrome, Ektachrome, Agfa, Fuji, and a few most of you have probably never tried. In half a dozen pages of slides there was not one image that I was not able to obtain a very satisfactory, and usually better, scan. I was able to pull good detail from both highlights and shadows and fine color fidelity from the palest tints to the deepest saturated colors. Image detail and sharpness was consistently sharp (at least of the grain, even if my subject was not all that sharp).

Ever since Kodak began selling Supra professional color negative film I have appreciated its fine qualities and superb color capabilities. Obtaining the greatest potential yet from this film in scans resulted using the Kodak RFS 3600 and SilverFast.
Photos © 2002, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

The Nikon D100 comes with Nikon View 5, a nice image browser capable of opening all of the file formats the D100 can record. I use Mac computers, however, and found a glitch in Nikon View 5 which I found very annoying. During temporary storage and while working on image files I put them into folders on my desktop. The Nikon browser is unable to see the desktop, so before I could view the contents of a folder I had to move it to one of my hard drives. I hope this is fixed in future releases of Nikon View as it would prevent me from using it in my day to day image workflow. I'd use Photoshop 7's browser or ACDSee instead.

When you install Nikon View 5 it searches your system for compatible software applications and will install a plug-in in Photo-shop for you. I found no way to install the plug-in without installing Nikon View 5. Once installed, you can open NEF files in Photoshop, but the plug-in does not work with Photoshop 7's browser to view NEF files, so you must go back to Nikon View 5 to browse. Back in Photoshop when you click on Open in the File drop-down menu, a new dialog box opens and allows you to select color balance, add exposure compensation, view a magnified section, and rotate the image. Once you have made your selections and click Open in this dialog box the file opens and can be manipulated like any other file in Photoshop and saved in any file format desired.

The camera also offers three color modes, basically choices of color saturation. While I found they did change the look of the images some, I preferred to do my testing in the less saturated Adobe sRGB mode (Mode II) and adjust color saturation, if needed, in Photoshop after the fact. Other photographers may find they prefer one of the two RGB modes. The only way to be sure which meets your needs best is to make test shots with them all and compare the subtle differences. For my own studio comparisons I decided to make some portrait images of two models, Aubrey who has very fair skin, freckles, and red hair, and Marion who has very dark hair and olive skin tones. For both sets of images I mounted the SB50DX flash on the camera and set it for -12/3 compensation so it would add just a little frontal light from camera position. Because the Nikon digital SLRs use a pre-flash to measure flash exposure you cannot use them to fire studio flash with their built-in slaves or standard slaves, so I used a Wein Digital Slave to fire my Paul C. Buff UltraZAP studio system for the tests. I was exceptionally impressed with the D100's handling of skin tones in these tests, and some later tests with two African-American models.

One of my favorite Kodachrome images and a challenging one to scan in the past was reproduced the best yet with the RFS 3600 and SilverFast.

It was time then to switch to negatives in strips of film (it is usual for mine to be in lengths of six frames stored in plastic pages). I began with sets from recent shoots done on Kodak Supra film, primarily 100 speed. I quickly found the NegaFix function, whose window comes up automatically in SilverFast when you select to scan negatives, and brought the image in pretty close as soon as the manufacturer, brand, and film speed was selected. Then, I adjusted the slider for "exposure" and thereafter the procedure was just like adjusting an image of a slide pre-scan preview. After success with three different recent sets on Kodak Supra I tried scanning some older images on Agfa XRS and Fuji Reala, and obtained comparable satisfaction in the final scan results.

A New Evaluation And Recommendation
From the experience I had scanning with the Kodak Professional RFS 3600 using SilverFast, all of the promise it originally had can be realized. At a new price of $799, which includes SilverFast as well as Adobe Photoshop Elements, and at its level of performance specs, the RFS 3600 is a very competitive value. For anyone in the market for a scanner in this price/performance range it should be given serious consideration. Also, from my experience using the SCSI 2 interface, it is one of the faster and most efficient high-resolution dedicated 35mm scanners. (Both USB and SCSI 2 interfaces are provided. I'd recommend using the SCSI even though less convenient.)

I am pleased to be able to report that my original disappointment with the RFS 3600 is no longer valid, and it is a product I can recommend. For more information call Kodak at (800) 235-6325 or visit their web site at