Saturday, October 27, 2012

Welcome to the machine

 

First impression of the machine

It was Friday evening 2 weeks after DHL delivery drama. The Reflecta DigitDia 5000 scanner was delivered to Ljubljana without further surprises and it was standing on the table besides my Mac in all the beauty; therefore Welcome to the machine from legendary Pink Floyd seems a proper greeting.

I installed the CyberView software, connected USB and power cables and powered it on. When switched on, the tray moves forward and backward and the changing arm moves in and out several times, obviously testing and calibrating the mechanics. But beware, this device is loud. Our Labrador dog, who does not especially like loud home appliances (besides cats and a small white neighbor’s dog, his biggest enemy is the vacuum cleaner) approached carefully, barked several times, decided it is safer to leave the beast alone and went away to the most distant corner of our apartment. Seconds later my wife and my daughter together declared: you are not going to use this thing here while I am at home! After some negotiation I was allowed to use it until Sunday evening, when the first consortium member (my name starts with M, which assigned me 5th position in the member’s queue) will start using it.


For first test I did not much bother with different CyberView settings, I only configured output folder, inserted one of my trays, let it run and every several minutes another JPG appeared in my computer. I must say, that I am perfectly satisfied with the quality of the scans, but if you want a detailed description of what this scanner is capable of, I suggest you read this. In my opinion the quality of the scans depends on the quality of the source significantly more, then on the scanner itself. If the slide is sharp with good colors, so is the scanned JPG; but if the slide is
totally faded or scratched, you can’t expect miracles (not on this scanner and probably not on any other), although with any good image editing program, you can usually correct it enough to make it viewable.

Connecting it to the computer

You can use any computer you want, I really mean this. OK, the computer needs a USB port, but these days it is impossible to find one without it. So it is only the question of operating system and scanning software. The included CyberView is officially supported on Mac OS X 10.5 or higher and on Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or higher, so that covers majority of systems. But the scanner can also be used on Linux host, if installed inside Windows virtual machine with redirected USB port, it is confirmed to work by one consortium member ( he is using Ubuntu 10.04 host and Windows XP in VirtualBox ).

As mentioned before, I was forbidden to use the scanner in the living room. I use a home server (running VMware ESX 4.1i), which is located outside of living and sleeping parts of our apartment. I connected the scanner to USB port on the server and I installed CyberView on virtual machine (VM) running Windows 7. I configured a redirected USB port and the scanner was recognized. It might be a unique configuration in the world, but it works flawlessly and my family members do not complain, because they (almost) can’t hear the scanner. This means, that I have to walk to another room to change trays, but it is only 4 or 5 times a day (if scanning runs without jams). For any work on the Windows 7 VM I just connect to it remotely from the Mac in the living room.


I have not mentioned it yet, but on my Mac I have installed Windows 7 (Mac believers, please excuse me and do not stop reading!). I did it after months of fighting with Apple’s OS X which I just could not grok, which prevented me from using the system the way I wanted. I consider myself an IT pro, but after I had to search the net to find out how to burn ISO image to CD on the Mac (of course the natural right click on the file does not work), I had enough. I installed Windows 7 (I had to fiddle around a little with audio drivers to have the sound) and now I have a perfect machine: it is fast, beautiful and usable :)


The speed

Reflecta web site claims “The Reflecta DigitDia 5000 has a scanning speed of only 90 seconds by full resolution of 3600 dpi”. I have no idea, how they managed to get this result, but do not believe it! At 3600 dpi and ICE enabled (and you want ICE, don’t you, otherwise you do not buy a scanner with this option) you can expect an average scanning time between 3 and 4 minutes per slide. Fastest times I have observed were under 3 minutes per side; slowest were over 7 minutes per slide. It seems to depend on the quality; good quality slides are scanned faster, bad quality take more time. I have no idea why, but that is a fact. When scanning my LKM 80 trays, I have usually set the alarm clock to 4 and half hours after start of scanning to remind me to change trays.

The mechanics

From my point of view, the most important ability of this scanner is that you can put in a tray and leave it to work for several hours without requiring any interventions. I have seen some highly critical comments on amazon.de, that “it cannot scan 3 slides without jamming”, which is simply not true. With good quality trays and decent slide frames it scans hundreds of slides without a single jam, at least it did so with LKM trays and Hama DSR frames I have luckily decided to use, when I started to take pictures and using diafilm.

My own experience was, after successfully scanning maybe 20 trays without jamming, the next tray started to jam at every 5 or 10 slides. I could not understand it until I noticed two details. The jamming tray was LKM standard, but it looked a little different (there was no Leica Kindermann Magazin mark at the side and the numbers were not white on black, but almost invisible) and I had to use significantly more force to move the tray forward and backward in the scanner. The rule, which was later confirmed with other tray models, seemed to be: if the tray moves smoothly, you have a very good chance that it will not jam. I had only two boxes of such fake trays, so after this discovery, I emptied some good trays, moved in the slides from fake trays and scanned them without jamming. My suggestion is: several minutes used moving slides to a good tray are a good investment in time resulting in hours of scanning without jams.


Next possible cause for jams is forgetting to position the orange slider on the changing arm correctly. It is mentioned somewhere in the manual, but it is easy to overlook. In my opinion this should have been written in big red bold letters, which is not. When using Universal trays the orange slider must be at the end of the arm (see left picture above), regardless of the type or thickness of slides in the tray. When using any other type (LKM, CS or Paximat) of tray for thin slides, it should be in the “pushed out” position (right picture). I bet a six pack of beer (I prefer La┼íko), that the comment claiming “it cannot scan 3 slides without jamming” was the result of using Universal tray with thin slides and orange slider in the outside position.

It is not the best idea to use Universal trays with thin slides anyway, because it means losing time. But if you decide against moving thin slides from several Universal 50 tray to fewer more compact trays, here is the hint (discovered by one of consortium members, you know who you are) how to decrease the probability of jamming. Position the scanner slightly leaned forward (in the direction of the tray movement) the back should be approximately one and a half centimeter higher (in my case two rectangular marker pens worked perfectly). This causes all slides to lean forward too, aligns them perfectly and decreases the chance of jamming.



As more experienced (read: old enough) readers probably remember, there were three possibilities to choose from when buying a Kodak of Fuji diafilms: without processing, with processing included in the price or with processing and framing included in the price. The last one was quite popular, after sending recorded film to one of available addresses and nervously waiting about two weeks the reply came in the form of a small box containing 36 (maybe even 37) pictures in paper frames. I collected several hundred of pictures framed in paper before deciding, that it does not take so much time (and it is cheaper) to frame them myself using Hama DSR frames with appropriate film cutter.


Back to present time. Contrary to plastic frames, the paper frames are less rigid and their corners are very sharp. Both properties make them more probable to jam. But here is another hint (discovered by the same member as above): use scissors and cut approximately 5 millimeters of the top inside corner of each paper frame. If you are not convinced please reread the sentence about investing in time; maybe several times. 

The software

The basic Reflecta DigitDia package includes CyberView scanning software (SilverFast software is available for additional several 100 EUR). I have read some very negative CyberView criticism, which I (as expected) completely disagree with. From my point of view CyberView fulfills all the basic requirements, it has all the options I need and I do not want another hundred options which I never use. Well, it also has two strange quirks I must comment.

The first one is, it requires a system with at least 24 bit color depth display or it refuses to start; the point is, it only refuses to START, but if already started, it runs on any display. For most users this is probably a no issue, but it really bothered me, because when connecting to the virtual machine with RDP for whatever reason the color depth is not recognized correctly so I had to use VMware’s vClient (to start it). But why the hell is it important how many display colors are available on display? I am completely certain, that display colors are not relevant to read pixels from the scanner and save them to the jpg file! The scanning program (or any other program for that matter) should just use the display colors available, it does not matter if that is black & white or 16 colors or billions of colors; if the user is not satisfied with the picture and he can afford it, he can decide to buy a better monitor and video card.


The second one (also mentioned in several reviews) is that if left running for a long time it hangs. There is no error, just the scanning stops at random picture. After CyberView is closed and started again scanning continues for next several hundred pictures. Hanging is as annoying as when the scanner jams, but the solution is simple: after a tray is completed just close and start the program before starting next tray. It never hanged again, after I started to strictly use this procedure.
 

The sad fact is, that Instruction Manual, that comes with the scanner has much space for improvement. Maybe this is also the reason why CyberView received many (IMHO undeserved) bad reviews. Unofficial manuals (a lot better than the booklet that comes with the scanner) can be found on the net. In the next post, I will explain how I have configured CyberView settings and why I have chosen them.

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