The Reflecta MF5000 promises fast image processing.
The Reflecta MF5000 handles film sizes from 35mm up to 6×12cm and, if you can get past the shortcomings of the bundled software, finds Jonathan Eastland, it delivers decent scans at an affordable price.
Author: Jonathan Eastland
08 Feb 2012 Tags: Film
If a week is a long time in politics, an hour can feel like an eternity in the lonely world of analogue-to-digital image conversion. So I was first in line when a new machine, claimed by its maker to be a “state-of-the-art CCD scanner with fast image processing” for medium format film was launched. I was disappointed that I couldn’t run the Reflecta MF5000 for several days with the bundled software or drivers, a scenario that reminded me of the digital problems of old. More than a decade on, when the basic stuff such as how to write a multi-platform plug-and-play script has long been in the bag, handshake issues such as this one should be a thing of the past.
The handbook instructions were clear – load the software onto a Mac, OS 10.5.8 or later, or a PC with Intel Core processors and attempt to fire up the scanner. A paper note added to the instruction manual recommended downloading a firmware update but this zipped package simply replicated its folder at each attempt to open it.
Several by-the-book install procedures or subsequent variations would not get it going on a Mac; each time the scanner was fired, initialising stuck halfway through. The frustration caused prompted some serious thought about what other uses my logging axe might have. Kenro, the UK distributor, couldn’t solve the problem but sent down a newer version of Cyberview X scanning software. This was quite a few steps ahead of the bundled CD version and it indicated, at least in the context of the problem, Reflecta may have experienced earlier firmware bugs, manifest at one point in this review by Cyberview X launching its own debug version.
Moving the hardware platform to a five-year-old Sony laptop running at 1.6GHz temporarily solved the problem after holding down the power and scan buttons for 60 seconds knee-jerked the machine into completing its initialising sequences. Cyberview X 5.03 then launched without a hitch and production got into full swing. In the following days, with Cyberview X 5.08 finally loaded on to an iMac Intel 2 Core Duo, other problems were also resolved.
Reflecta was established more than 40 years ago in 1967, and is probably best known for its magazine slide projectors and Perimutt mother-of-pearl viewing screens. In 2003 the company launched its first slide magazine-based 35mm film scanner. While aimed at the enthusiast market, the top end Digitdia 4000 is a capable machine and will grind through 50 slides in an hour or so, providing the transparencies are perfectly and cleanly mounted.
This new medium format scanner – which because it can also scan 35mm film strips and mounted transparencies should perhaps be more precisely called a dual-format scanner – is a large device needing plenty of footprint. It weighs around 5.6kg, measures 320×165×160mm and will scan negative and positive 120 and 220 film with formats from 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×8, 6×9 to a maximum 6×12cm. This is a substantial and well-made scanner, built on a metal chassis and housed in a tough metallic silver finish plastic cover with front and side ports for film strip holders. It costs approximately £2250 +VAT – comparable in both price and size with the now discontinued Nikon Coolscan 9000 (BJP #7729). The technical specs are as shown in the box at the end of the next page.
Film holders often seem to be a problem for scanner designers of this type. Reflecta supplies a substantial and precisely formed hard black plastic hinged holder for six frame 35mm filmstrips. Guide rails and spacers are finely machined, leaving a bare minimum of unexposed film around the frame for those who loathe to crop. It’s locked by a simple push clip.
The MF5000's bundled scanning software is Cyberview X, a simple and easy-to-use graphical user interface that allows the novice to get started at launch without reference to the manual.
In Cyberview X, there's no facility to select film types; users get a basic negative, positive or black-and-white option for each format with final scan colour renditions mimicking original film palettes.
The mounted 35mm transparency holder is a single piece unit accepting four frames. It presented no problems with clean Kodachrome mounted slides, but E6 reversal materials in a variety of branded card mounts proved more tricky; a sharp bladed modeling knife is an essential extra tool required for cutting 0.5-1mm off renegade mounts to make them fit.
For larger formats, the supplied film holder is less than perfect. It works on a similar principle to the one used for the Nikon Coolscan 9000, where lower and upper edges of the film rebate are gripped by plastic clip strips or latches, and which in this case are a fiddle to properly secure while keeping the film as flat as possible. The holder takes a strip of three frames of the smallest format, but processed film needs to be cut down in size progressively as format increases; thus users can fit two 6×6cm negatives or unmounted slides, but only one each of larger sizes.
Once the bottom edge of the film is locked in place, the upper clip is then positioned on the top edge of the film frame rebate. Thereafter, by pushing the clip towards the outer edge of the holder, the film is stretched flat and the clip locked in place by a finger slider. This procedure works fine when the whole of the gate is filled with film from end to end. When only one frame of smaller 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×8 or 6×9cm formats is inserted, one end of a frame is unsecured. Making sure it lies flat and isn’t bowed is essential.
Another problem with the medium format film holder was encountered early on. The clip strip latches have thin and flimsy plastic tabs at each end for opening and closing. Once locked in place, a reasonable degree of finger pressure is required to open them and the tabs are not man enough for this purpose. I broke both on the lower latch after approximately 40 open/close sequences.
Where the MF5000 and the Nikon Coolscan 9000 also differ substantially is in their electro-mechanical operation. The Nikon grabs each holder once inserted and from there on the scanning software is used to progress the workflow. With the Reflecta, holders need to be manually repositioned for each new scan.
Cyberview X offers dropdown dialogue boxes enabling comprehensive user control over the default settings for exposure, curves and levels adjustment, colour balance and variations. Default preferences are easily reset in the scan settings dialogue box, the software prompting an end-of-session question to save or discard the newest settings. Similar control is available for Advanced settings. For those new to the minefield of film-scanning options, the GUI simplicity of Cyberview X is probably one of the quickest and easiest applications to get your head around. It takes the user from the first logical film type and format selection through preview to final scan in three easy stages.
This image has been used as a benchmark tester for other medium format scanners reviewed in BJP. The original was shot on 120 format Kodachrome 64.
100% crop sections from originals scanned at 3200ppi at default settings on the Reflecta MF5000 [left], Epson 3200 [middle], and Nikon Coolscan 9000 [right]. At first glance, there is little difference between the MF5000 and the Nikon except colour rendition; closer examination reveals a higher level of fine detail sharpness for the MF5000. Images © Jonathan Eastland.
Using default settings with ICE and other digital enhancements turned off on Reflecta’s smaller magazine scanners, I have found earlier versions of Cyberview do a good job of rendering what’s on the original film with some accuracy for the variations in brand and emulsion type colour palette. So it is with the newer X version software, which in place of Digital ICE, GEM and DEE – enabling automated reductions of dust and dirt, original colour and detail recovery – has the first two of these combined into a single Magic Touch option. Using this feature adds considerably to the time taken to produce a final scan and in my opinion, loses much of what was in the original.
My usual work method is to aim for as near a perfect raw scan (unadjusted) as the machines will permit using default settings, and then clean, crop and correct as required in post-processing. Others may say it’s quicker to do a lot of the basic work while scanning but I find I have more control for finer adjustments using Photoshop or other comprehensive applications.
In any event, you will need to allow plenty of time because the Reflecta MF5000 is not the fastest of scanners: 12 minutes and 47 seconds to do a single high-resolution (2400ppi) scan was the time taken on a stopwatch from loading a 6×6cm frame into the holder, adjusting the preview and waiting for the file to store on the Sony PC hard drive. On the iMac, the time was considerably reduced to just over five minutes for a maximum 3200ppi scan. Reflecta’s suggested 200 seconds (3.33 minutes) for a maximum high-resolution scan doesn’t account for the preliminary work or for the download to storage time, but in any event, the latest Intel equipped PC or Mac CPUs are essential partners for this scanner.
BJP has looked at a number of professional film scanners over the years and, excluding laser drum models, the Hasselblad X5 Flextight was a clear leader in the field of hybrid desktop machines covering all formats up to 5×4in. The Nikon 8000 and later 9000 run a close second but are limited to 120 formats; the difference in final scan quality from all these machines is hardly distinguishable but there is, of course, a substantial difference in price.
The Reflecta MF5000 sits in the Nikon Coolscan 9000 price bracket, although it’s less expensive to buy directly in Germany (€1600 +shipping). Maximum dynamic ranges run at DMax3.6 and DMax4.8 respectively, a considerable difference when what the user might want is better-than-average tonal and detail shadow extraction. As readers may see from the accompanying benchmark detail crops, while loss of imagery content in darker, poorly exposed portions of images is evident, there is more than enough meat on the bone to work with.
Overall, the Reflecta obtains good-quality files from perfectly exposed film, with a wide subject tonal range exposed under normal daylight from its three-line CCD sensor. In the absence of other currently manufactured branded models it’s a good buy, but watch out for the medium format film holder clip tabs and the start-up.
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