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VuPoint FS-C1-VP 35mm Slide and Negative Scanner...

(This review was originally posted May 22, 2008)

Overview:

This 35mm slide and negative digitizer (it's not really a scanner, though I'll refer to it as one) back illuminates the slide or negative with 3 white LED's, then captures the image on a 1/1.8" 5MP CMOS sensor. It has a real time previewer, which allows you to see the image on your monitor before capturing the image into memory. You then have the option of saving that image to disk, in either JPEG or TIFF format. (Note that negatives will still look like negatives until you capture the image to disk, at which point it will reverse and remove the color mask.)

It comes with two holders, one that holds 3 slides, and one that will hold a strip of 6-35mm negatives. There are index pins to hold the negative in place, and bars between the frames to hold the negative flat.

It has a color depth of either 24 or 48 bits, and can capture in either 1800 dpi or 3600 dpi (interpolated). It will supposedly capture 2592x1680, 2048x1536, 1600x1200, 1280x1024, 640x480 or 320x240, but the only choice I've ever seen offered was 2592x1680. At 3600dpi, the actual captured images is 5184x3360, in tiff/8 or tiff/16. Note that 5MP in 3:2 (35mm) format is about 2738x1825...

The only interface is USB2, and the USB port also powers the scanner. It comes with ArcSoft PhotoImpression 6 as the capture and editing software. The scanner is only supported under Windows XP.

The digitizer is relatively quick, once the negative or slide is inserted, it takes the software some 10 seconds to auto balance the scan, and less than a second to capture the scan, and another couple of seconds to actually save it to disk.

Testing the unit:

The VuPoint was tested against the results I got back in 1999 from a HP Photosmart S20. The S20 was a true 2400ppi negative/slide scanner, which is about an 8.5MP image in today's terms. While it may seem a bit unfair to compare the two, there are several flat-bed scanners available today that will do close to an honest 2400ppi, priced similarly to the VuPoint unit. And while resolution may be argued, the density range [note 1] of both scanners cannot.
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Slides:

The good news, I suppose, is if you have a reasonably exposed 35mm slide, the VuPoint seems to do a fair job. The comparison below shows that to be the case, but you can already see the lack of detail in the shadow of the bowl the groundhog is sitting in.

Normal Slide

The same is true with the chapel in the next set, but you can already see where there's color dropout in the blue sky, and the lack of detail on the doors.

Normal Slide2

The real problems arise when you have a image that may be exposed (almost) correctly, but isn't your typical image.

The problem starts with software that isn't manually controllable. It's all automatic, and like anything automatic, it assumes every image is the same. It makes the scanner easy to use, but it also results in making less-than-desirable scans. Here is a primarily dark image, and the software overcompensates and over-exposes the scan.

Dark Slide 1a Dark Slide 1b

The end result, is it ends up blowing out all the details since it overexposes the scan. Also note the amount of noise it introduces in the spotlight.

Dark Slide 1 details

Since you have a real-time previewer, you can try to fool the software by capturing the image before the software has fully "adjusted" (i.e. overexposed) the image. You retain some details, but you lose any subtle colors in the image. You can try to make the argument that it attempted to white balanced the image, shifting the magenta to white, but that doesn't explain the loss of yellow on Jon Anderson.

Dark Slide 2 details
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Negatives:

More disappointing than the slide capabilities, is the VuPoint's negative scanning capabilities. I was never able to get anything close to a good scan. I first thought that it didn't calibrate correctly, and would re-calibrate the scanner, but it never got any better.

The density of a color negative is small, probably half of what it is for a slide. The negative scans should have been superior to the slide scans.

Not a chance.

It *always* over-exposed, and worse, often color shifted the captured image. If you know how to use your photo editor, by adjusting the levels and contrast, you can get a pretty good looking scan.

Golden Spike NHS 1 Golden Spike NHS 2

But once again, the devil is in the details. Not only is the scan not as detailed as the 2400ppi scan, but there was nothing I could do to get the subtle colors to match, such as the brass or the vibrant reds on the wheels, without making the rest of the scan look unnatural.

(Ignore the lint in front of the locomotive. I didn't even attempt to clean the scans. :-))

Golden Spike Details Golden Spike Details

The next set was worse. It's a well exposed negative. Not only did the VuPoint over expose it, but it did this weird cyan color shift. Again, it can be tweaked to look almost normal, and if I had spent more time on it, might have gotten the image close to the original.

If you notice the oddness in the skies in all three images, that's due to JPEG artifacts. Don't get me started on that. :-) (Save the image to disk and blow it up to 500% with a viewer or editor. This is the fault of image compression, and is apparent in any low quality jpeg image with very subtle color variations.)

Mammoth Hot Springs

The above wasn't atypical. It happened with 90% of the negative scans. Note I was able to get the final image below quite close, but it still lacks details in the trees.

Bear Tooth Highway
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My conclusions:

I really wanted to like this scanner. It's cheap, easy and convenient to use, but in the end, cheap, easy and convenient has its consequences. It captures quickly, but it doesn't save me any time if I have to spend 15 minutes on every scan to make it look as good as it should, and even then, it doesn't look as good as it should.

If all you have are well exposed slides, and are only scanning images for the web, this scanner might be for you. But don't think this is a serious scanner. The density range is POOR. The capture software is abysmal. It can't correctly adjust white balance, nor does it expose correctly, nor does it capture detail, and there isn't a darn thing you can do about it. I'm almost willing to bet that a slide put on a lightbox, and captured with a 5MP digital camera in macro will do a better job. (I should try that some day. :-))

I've also thought that maybe I have a defective unit, but searching the web for other's comments have stated the same thing. (Note, there are many who think the VuPoint does a good enough job. I should also note that there are many who think that pictures taken on a cell phone are 'good enough', and video taken on a digicam are 'good enough', but I digress.)

In the end, I'm returning this unit, and can't recommend it to anyone who thinks this unit will preserve those precious family memories, or just wants a decent scan from their 35mm days...
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Note 1: An over-simplistic definition of Density Range is how much detail the scanner can detect from the lightest area of the frame to the darkest area of the frame. In other words, how much detail can be seen in the brightest sunlight and in the shadows. The Density Range is the range from Dmin to Dmax. Dmin (the lightest area the scanner is able to capture detail in,) is (well, should be) always close to zero, and the higher the Dmax (or the darkest the scanner is able to capture detail in) the better. Be wary though, Dmax as well as dpi or ppi, is sometimes...fudged by the manufacturer.

Note 2: The first two 'Reference Scans' are production scans from this website. The rest are raw scans from the S20, but were slightly adjusted via the drivers and software pre-scan. No sharpening was applied to any of the scans.
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Update: If you want to see the scanner I finally bought, you can go here.

Revisions:
  • 12/31/2012 - Update to v3.1
  • 08/29/2014 - Update to v3.2