Microtek Artixscan 2500

Portraiture is one of the largest segments of photography that uses medium format 120 film. Almost exclusively color negative, the challenge is to color correct to achieve high fidelity in complexion tones with portrait film images. This high key portrait, which I've scanned before, was reproduced by far the best using the ArtixScan 2500 in the sharpness and smoothness of the image tones as well as the clean whites of the subject's gown against the subtle tints of the background.
Photos © 2000, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

In the last year I've had more e-mail inquiries about what scanner to buy if a photographer has medium and large format film to scan than any other single topic. Until now I've not had a good answer for anyone requiring professional quality at a price most individuals can afford. Microtek with their new ArtixScan 2500 has changed that situation very dramatically. This new scanner does it all, letter/legal-sized print scanning and film scanning from 35mm through 8x10. On top it is a rather standard flat-bed scanner. But, toward the bottom of this unusually bulky scanner there is an almost hidden drawer that slides out and accepts a variety of holders for all sizes of film. Inside is a dual lens multiple resolution scanning mechanism that supports 1250dpi scanning of the entire scan area, 8x14" reflected on top, and 8x10" for transparent material in the drawer, as well as 2500dpi for a 4" strip on the left side the entire length of the scan area. This is sufficient to support scanning a 35mm slide or negative to make 11x14 prints with good reproduction quality or wall-sized images from 4x5 or 8x10 film.

The resolution is backed up by 36-bit (12 bit per RGB channel) color depth for scanning and support for standard 8 bit as well as 12 bit per channel output. Combined with Microtek's patented two-level design that supports standard reflective scanning and glassless scanning directly from the emulsion facing the sensor, the best quality is assured for both types of scans. (For film larger than 4x5" a glass support drawer insert is used which still maintains the direct from the emulsion scanning of the film.) In addition, the 8x10 glass support drawer insert can be used to provide direct from the emulsion entire roll proof sheet scanning of 120 film and 35mm film cut in five frame lengths.

This full daylight study of an abandoned cantina in an old Mexican border town was made on Kodak Vericolor HC film. The negative density range was far too great to print normally by traditional means in a wet darkroom. However, the full range of tones in the negative were easily scanned with the ArtixScan 2500, providing rich detail from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights, reproducing a rich range of bold to the most subtle colorations in the scene with great accuracy.

Color management control for the scanner for both reflective and transparency scanning is included. The host computer interface built into the ArtixScan 2500 is SCSI 2. The software supplied with the ArtixScan 2500 is Microtek Scan Wizard Pro for the Apple Macintosh and all PC Windows operating systems. This is a quite comprehensive manual scan control utility that may be used as a stand-alone or as a Photoshop plug-in on a Mac, or a TWAIN driver from within applications on Windows.

It has full support for batch scanning for up to 16 color slides or 24 35mm color negatives as well as combinations of 120 film frames. Several optional automated functions, including setting the dynamic range and the black and white points with adjustable gamut clipping, are supported. Options also include a selection to color correct in RGB or LCH colorspace, and a broad selection of various sharpening and descreening filters.

Working With The ArtixScan 2500
To get a feel for this new scanner I chose to scan as many different formats and kinds of materials as possible. Besides calibrating the scanner for reflective scanning, I also used it to read an ICC test print target for the creation of a custom printing profile. After calibrating the film scanning side, I began my test scans by proofing a recent shoot using Kodak's new 35mm Supra color negative films. No film term was supplied for Supra so a little tweaking was necessary, this went very well, as did a couple of final scans of single frames at 2500dpi from the set. (Although there are film terms supplied for four different brands, there were no film terms supplied for any 120 or 4x5 professional color negative films.)

All rollfilm sizes and 4x5 can be readily set up so the color correction for the scanning of several images can all be done individually and then the actual scanning of the selected frames is accomplished as a batch saving each file to your hard drive automatically. This screen shows the tools available when the LCH colorspace is selected.

Once assured the Artix-Scan 2500 would do a good job with 35mm scanning, I went on to scan a variety of film sizes including color negatives, transparencies, and silver-based black and white film negatives. The drawer and the film holder made to fit the drawer are all extremely well made, robust, and quite efficient to use. Currently the 120 size is a 6x9 film frame so it does not support smaller 6x4.5, 6x6, and 6x7cm frames readily. I understand a new adjustable 120 holder will be available later. This was no great inconvenience. I just took care that the smaller film frames were held flat, which was little additional bother.

Doing an overview of the entire scan area and then pre-scanning is quite rapid and works very well, providing a fine resolution adjustable window for viewing the preview image. (This took a bit to discover because there is a preference selection to keep the pre-scan preview in the background, which was checked, and I had to call tech support to find a solution. This preference needs to be turned off.)

Once your image is framed, the color correction tools are straightforward and effective, offering either a direct update in the preview image or the selection of side-by-side thumbnail comparisons to make perceptually based adjustments. Unfor-tunately you have to choose between making adjustments using the RGB colorspace and its tool set or the LCH and its different tools, which includes selective color adjustment. This to me was pure frustration because you cannot use some tools if you use others. Most scanner software, as well as Photoshop and other image editors, offer RGB and LCH color correction tools which can all be applied to adjusting an image in just one colorspace.

Black and white silver-based negatives can be a problem scanning with some scanners because the opaque grains of silver in highlights can cause insufficient light to pass through to record detail. The diffuse cold cathode fluorescent light source of the ArtixScan 2500 avoids this and its high resolution supports capturing a full range of fine detail across the entire range of tones in this landscape made with a 4x5 field camera.

Despite this small frustration, I had great success tackling a bunch of challenging images. I was able to get images demanding very extensive color correction scanned so that the resulting file utilized the gamut fully, and only required minor tweaking in Photoshop to be quite ideal. In fact I was very positively impressed scanning transparencies and negatives in 6x4.5 and 6x6cm sizes and obtaining very sharp and finely detailed image files ideal for printing at 13x19" at minimum and easily larger (if I had a larger format printer).

I was also pleased to find the proofing of entire rolls of negative film can be done very efficiently and easily. If you do this proof scanning from within Photoshop you have the choice of enlarging frames on screen to make an immediate, direct choice, or you can just print a color proof sheet directly, and then discard the image file and go about making another proof of a roll. At the other end I also took advantage of the support to scan larger film and obtained the best and most easily achieved high-resolution 8x10 film scans.

Evaluation And Recommendation
After most of a month working with the ArtixScan 2500, I was well assured of its consistent ability to output sharp, accurately optimized quality scans from every kind of image media a photographer is likely to use. Physically the handling of the materials to scan is quite efficient, particularly considering the wide range of media sizes it accommodates. And although I found some of the software function frustrating and not fully supportive of producing a finished scan that required no post-scan tweaking, it is just about the best of the utilities provided by any scanner manufacturer in ease of use and functionality. Having the ArtixScan 4000t 35mm scanner among my personal equipment inventory, I prefer its slightly different ScanWizard Pro TX setup for overall efficiency of use compared to the ScanWizard on the 2500, although it does lack a Hue, Saturation, Lightness selective color adjustment capability.

Considering the entire range of specifications and the fact no format is compromised in quality, the retail price of $4495 is very reasonable. Competitively, a number of other dedicated multi-format film scanners with a lesser range of capabilities are even pricier. From my experience with the ArtixScan 2500 I believe any photographer who does a substantial part of their work with medium and large format cameras would be very well served by the scanner. I'm sure I'd be quite satisfied to have an ArtixScan 2500 as the core input facility in my digital darkroom, whether I was using an Apple Macintosh or Windows PC computer.

This entire package of all-in-one scanning and software has a suggested retail price of $4495. For more information, contact Microtek Lab, Inc., 3715 Doolittle Dr., Redondo Beach, CA 90278; (800) 641-4160; www.microtekusa.com or www.microtek.com.

Technical Specifications
Single-pass, dual platen color flat-bed
Originals Supported: 8x14" reflective, 8x10" transparent (film)
Sensor: Trilinear RGB CCD, 10,000 elements/array
Illumination: Cold cathode fluorescent
Interface: SCSI 2
Bit Depth Output: 36 or 24-bit color, 12 or 8-bit gray scale
Sample Bit Depth: 36-bit RGB
Dynamic Range: 3.0 reflective, 3.4 transparent
Maximum Interpolated Resolution: 5000dpi
Maximum Optical Resolution: 2500dpi
Dimensions: 17.2x25.8x9.1"
Weight: 46.3 lbs
MSRP: $4495