The World of Slide Scanners
Now, it is true that Kodachrome slides have a pretty good estimated lifespan (we have some Ektachrome as well that are horribly faded), but only one person can inherit the things, and I daresay that at least some of them will be of interest to the extended family, although I don't suppose our cousins will want to see every Gasthaus we lodged in back in 1961 or something.
My parents do not have any special need for other types of scanning, as I usually bring my portable flatbed when I visit and we have gotten a great many old family photos digitized with that. Relatives can even get copies of photos of Grandpa in his casket, should they so desire (somewhat unlikely, I think).
The question, then, was which of the small selection of dedicated consumer-end film-and-slide scanners ought to get our frugal dollar. The things are not all that cheap, and generally a person doesn't want to go to the lowest end of the line on photographic-type equipment. To some extent you do get what you pay for, although in digital photography the item you pay for today tends to be superseded tomorrow. (BUT I have read that my digital camera, which I bought about six years ago, still has a better lens than most of its successors. I paid a lot and I got something I've been pretty happy with.)
The slide scanner in my department is a Nikon Coolscan of some sort. I haven't used it all that much and my impression was that it is hard to judge any piece of such equipment used by twenty or so people because you can't upgrade its software (I am not a network administrator, so my attempts to do so were doomed from the start) and you don't really dare fiddle with the settings for fear of messing up what everyone else is used to. We also didn't have a manual lying around the lab.
I found, however, that the Nikon Coolscan is still a major contender in the under-$1000 range. You can get one for about $550, and while that was more than anyone wanted to spend, I thought we might want to go ahead and then sell the thing when it had served its purpose.
My Sibling was, as usual, very skeptical about spending that much, and suggested that although we are particular about visual quality, it might be a higher-end product than we really needed or would benefit from. We are picky about quality, but we are not professional photographers, after all. He was also concerned that the software might be troublesome for us to get set up for my mother to use. She is a person who is very finicky about how something is hung on the wall, and about paint color and so forth, and she is very detail-oriented, but she is not a person who likes fiddling with equipment or software settings. We wanted something we could set up for her that would work with most slides, show her how to use it, and not have to think much more about it.
We then turned our attention to Plustek's OpticFilm line. I had seen a few mostly positive user comments, but these are hard to evaluate because users have generally only had experience with one model.
We were able to find some very detailed and intelligent reviews of the 7200i line that shortly convinced us that this was the direction for us. The 7200i is generally celebrated as a great item that provides the kind of quality you would expect in a machine costing twice as much. It is also, apparently, the highest-res film scanner on the market, or at least under some ungodly sum of money... it can scan at 7200 dpi (2400 dpi is the minimum for scanning slides). At 7200 dpi you can turn your scanned slide into a poster! We didn't think we were likely to want to do that, but it sounded as though there are still benefits to having such a high potential resolution.
About the only major complaint the reviewers had about the 7200i was that the dynamic range is not all that great. This means that in a photo with extremes of dark and light, some of the detail will be lost in the extremes. We didn't like that, but the reviewers confessed that this is unlikely to be a big issue on most slides. One person said he ran into it on about one in a hundred, and another on about one in twenty. We probably don't have many slides with such extremes, as the slides were generally shot in daylight without flash.
We were a bit baffled by the variants of the 7200 line and why some cost a lot more than others. After an hour or two of research, we got clear on the matter.
First, the 7200i, in contrast with the cheaper 7200, has infrared correction for scratches and such. This is supposed to be an excellent thing. We hope that our slides don't really have much dirt or many scratches, as they have had pretty good care and live in boxes when not being shown in our antique projector, but you never know. I found that photos in our albums looked all right in the album but when scanned proved to have all kinds of ugly dust particles.
The difference between the 7200i and the 7200iSE is not in the scanner itself, but in the Silverfast software that comes with it. The 7200i comes with Silverfast AI and the 7200iSE comes with Silverfast SE. We had to go to the Silverfast website to get a sense of what the difference between these was (AI has many more features than SE). We still, even after scrutinizing a comparison chart, weren't sure whether the AI had anything we were likely to use or need. When we saw that AI would output CYMK and RGB while SE only outputs RBG, we thought perhaps we wanted AI, but after reading up on CYMK and RGB, we learned that CYMK is only needed for four-color printing, while photo printing (inkjets and so on) use RGB. This was a surprise, but it caused us to decide that the cheaper SE would be just fine.
We were annoyed to find that the 7200iSE was out of stock nearly everywhere, but after sufficient searching we found a vendor and ordered one.
With luck the slide scanner will arrive before the new computer and we'll be able to try it out using my laptop before we get embroiled in setting up the new computer.
Reviews we read:
Michael Carr at About.com
Gary Wolstenholme at Ephotozine
David B. Brooks at Shutterbug