|Notes on the Nikon LS-2000 for the Personal Scanner
(updated 2 Oct 2002)
I bought aNikon LS-2000 in June 1998, immediately after its introduction. Right from the very first scan, it was obvious that it was a huge improvement over my previous scanner, an LS-10. The improvements in noise reduction, density range, and focusing were obvious even in the preview window. This scanner has a lot of features and to extract every last bit of performance (why else would anyone buy an LS-2000 for personal use?) requires an investment in time to study every feature, something not every novice may be prepared or inclined to do. Also, because I use the scanner so infrequently, I've had to keep notes so that I don't forget how to use the LS-2000; Nikon's documentation is either uninformative or cursory. Typically, the documentation may explain a feature but doesn't say how to use it. So I've organized my notes by subject and added them to this Website as an aid to potential and new LS-2000 owners to save them some grief and effort. I've edited-out the obvious stuff.
When one appraises the LS-2000 as a scanning system, it's remarkable on how well matched its features and specifications are to the needs of businesses that perform volume scanning--SOHOs and small scanning shops. The LS-2000's performance seems to have been optimized for the commonest films, C-41 and E-6, encountered in these environments. The film handling attachments also seem to have similarly well coordinated. I have few Ektachrome slides, but I can say that the LS-2000 handles Kodacolor superbly, often with no adjustment at all to the color or tone controls. I've yet to encounter a Kodacolor image that tests the density range of the LS-2000, so the resultant scans are about as good as one could expect from negative film. Another boon to commercial users is the inclusion of Digital ICEÔ, which enables them to scan batches of images nearly free of dust and scratches. Those who buy the LS-2000 for batch scanning are also unlikely to require a resolution greater than 2700 dpi.
I saw a preview of the LS-2000 at the 1998 Spring COMDEX, approximately three weeks prior to its release. Even at that late date, it was obvious to me that NikonScan--notwithstanding the Nikon rep's reluctance to demo it--was not fit for release. The early releases of NikonScan, the LS-2000's controlling software, reflect its rush to market. Key features were missing, crashes were frequent, and the color system was useless to me. It took 16 months, but many of these problems have been addressed by version 2.5. In addition, most of my images are onKodachrome, a film capable of a D-Max exceeding the LS-2000's maximum and possessing a unique dye layer structure. Scanning Kodachrome on the LS-2000 almost always requires curves adjustments.
Digital ICEÔ At a small cost in sharpness, Digital ICE works amazingly well on C-41 and E-6 films; it doesn't work at all with black and white film, resulting in an obviously unusable image; and seems to work fine with the Kodachromes, despite Nikon's caveats to the contrary. It may be that Digital ICE may be unable to detect certain types of rarer flaws, such as those between dye layers. Since I think I store and handle my pictures carefully I tend not to use this feature. If the sharpen feature is used with ICE it is difficult to notice any loss of sharpness. See link below illustrating this feature.
Link toApplied Science Fiction describing Digital ICE
Multi-SamplingThe LS-2000 implements 4x and 16x multi-sampling, a technique whereby the scanner repetitively scans each line, noting any variations in pixel value with each scan. An algorithm then calculates an "average" (in quote marks because this algorithm has not been publicized) value for each pixel. Heretofore advanced scanner users practiced such a technique by making multiple scans of the same image and processing them by a freestanding or third-party program. Nikon's approach is inherently more precise in that the multiple passes are made with each line scan, eliminating variations in the scanner's stepper movement as a source of error. The stepper still makes a single pass whether the user specifies no multi-sampling, 4x, or 16x multi-sampling. Not only is this much faster, but also the user avoids a possible operational nightmare of saving huge files and processing them. My tests show that 4x scanning requires 176% of the time that a 1x scan requires; 16x, 440%.
Analog Gain ControlAnalog gain controls the luminance of the LS scanner's LEDs. Little noticed and commented upon, this feature, if judiciously used, enhances the LS-2000s ability to image shadow detail in dense slides (see below). If you have darkroom experience, think of its function as the primary means to control image exposure. A scanner without analog gain is like an enlarger limited to a lens with fixed aperture and fixed exposure time setting. It's that important. AGC did not work with negative film until NS 2.5.
Sliding DoorThis seems minor, but I'm glad Nikon finally saw fit to include a sliding door to prevent dust from entering the unit. When I opened my LS-10 after 2 years, the greasy dust that had accumulated inside it was disgusting. I spent about 30 minutes carefully removing greasy crud with a Q-tips soaked in cleaning fluid.
What to Learn for Scanning on the Nikon LS-2000
In my estimation, other lower-priced film scanners, such as the HP-20 and Nikon LS-30, yield scans that are 90-95% as good as the LS-2000. If you're scanning for the Web or family pictures, these scanners are more than adequate. To squeeze that last 5-10% performance difference which the LS-2000 provides requires a thorough understanding of histograms, curve adjustment, multi-scanning, and analog gain. Otherwise you're forgoing the LS-2000's added performance and wasting your money.
I've yet to see a systematic treatment of this critical aspect of scanner operation so I wrote a small tutorial (see link below) to help those unfamiliar to this subject.
Scanning at 12 Bits/Color
One of the new options offered with the LS-2000 is 12 bits/color scan files. If you have visions of life-like 36 bit images leaping out at you from the monitor, you're in for a disappointment: your video card/monitor cannot display the added bits. That 32 bit Windows display mode actually specifies a different data organization, not numbers of bits to be displayed. The extra bits over 24 bits are used either for control or ignored. Moreover, consumer grade monitors don't even come close displaying all the colors possible with 24 bits. The reason for scanning at 12 bits is more prosaic. A 12 bits/color image has more legroom and headroom for curves adjustment than an 8 bit image. In Photoshop, for example, once these corrections are made, the image must be converted to 8 bits to perform other manipulations.
Having said this, I can say that most large magazine publishing companies in New York scan at 8 bits. The fortunes of these magazines ride on accurate color in every issue. Yet, one manager told me that in their experience scanning beyond 8 bits was a waste of time and disk space because the larger files neither resulted in visibly better output nor in more consistent results.
Stepper Motor Failures
Within the first 6 months of purchase I had to return the scanner twice to replace the stepper motor. The symptoms of stepper motor failure are a loud grinding noise during scanning followed by the enlightening message:
"The scanner has reported a hardware error. The present function cannot be continued. Sense: 0x04620000"
Apparently Nikon eventually got their act together. I've noticed a drop-off of this mentioned in the forums.
Resetting All of the Gamma Curves
Hold the Ctrl key while pressing the Reset key.
LS-2000 processing schematic The processing and information flow of the LS-2000
Three gray scales Color analyzer measurements of gray scales on 3 films
--Taking Voodoo and Black Magic out of Making Quality Scans
Case I Scanning a Kodachrome image.
Case II Employing local histograms in allocating tonal range (updated 13 Sep 2000)
Case III Creating photo masks to control flare
ICE Some remarks on Nikon ICE.
Kodachrome initial settings file This settings file made be used as a starting point for scanning Kodachrome (for NikonScan 2.5 under Win 98).