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NAB 2014: 4K ushers in a renewed interest in film scanning

NAB 2014: 4K ushers in a renewed interest in film scanning
Jake Bickerton
10 April 2014

NAB 2014: There’s been something of a renewed interest in film scanners of late, with the expected widespread adoption of 4K potentially offering content owners the possibility to generate new revenue streams from material currently sitting on the shelves. It’s fairly straightforward to derive Ultra HD from scanning 35mm film, giving a new 4K lease of life and new opportunities to monetise content currently gathering dust.

One of the companies looking to benefit from this is Blackmagic, which bought scanning company Cintel a year or so ago and has now announced its first Blackmagic-developed Cintel scanner. The Cintel Film Scanner (pictured) has been primarily designed to enable 35mm-to-Ultra HD/4K scans and has been made to look appealing and even be wall mounted if so desired.

“The new scanner has been completely redesigned, with a very flexible, beautiful super thin design,” said Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design, at the product’s launch at NAB 2014.
The scanner is very competitively priced at US$29,995. Petty claims it scans at up to 30fps in Ultra HD and has built-in stabilisation and grain reduction. It has a Thunderbolt 2 port to enable transfer of 4K video from the scanner to a Mac in real-time. The Cintel Film Scanner is due later this year.

At the other end of the price-performance spectrum is DFT’s Scanity HDR scanner (pictured below), which was also launched at the show and is squarely aimed at the scanning and restoration of fragile archive film. “The Scanity HDR is incredibly high quality German engineering, and is used throughout the world to scan Government archives,” says Sales Director Simon Carter.

“One of the important scanner functions for archive scanning is related to film shrinkage,” continues Carter. “As film ages, it shrinks a little, and most scanners have a 1% shrinkage tolerance, to cope with film shrinkage. However, a 1% total shrinkage limit isn’t well suited to archive scanning where film could have shrunk more dramatically, so the Scanity HDR operates at up to 4% shrinkage, ensuring 100 year old nitrate film stock can still be scanned ok.”

As well as this, the Scanity HDR also uses a very cool light source to ensure nitrate film can be scanned without bursting into flames as it’s highly flammable.

“The dust and scratch management of the Scanity is also very good,” adds Carter. “It uses an infra-red pass to create an 8-bit depth image, so captures a huge amount of information. You can then auto clean the dust and scratches or use the matte it creates to make manual adjustments.”

The Scanity HDR has some key new functions designed to improve its capabilities at coping with all different types of film archive. Carter explains that infra-red scans don’t work very well with black and white stock, as the dust and scratch management isn’t able to work effectively.

“To get it right requires wet-gate technology, but much more sophisticated wet-gate technology than was used in the past,” he says. “So we’ve created a bath in which the film collects three different types of liquid, which fill in the scratches without causing air bubbles.” The unit also includes a dryer to dry the film post-scan.

“We’ve also added a new high dynamic range capability to the Scanity HDR to handle dark black and white material without introducing noise in the scan. To get information out of the film without also getting loads more noise in dark images is challenging,” says Carter. “We do a high, medium and low pass and combine this info to get a high dynamic range scan without picking up loads of noise in the scan.”

Furthermore, the Scanity HDR is “incredible stable, with a unique stabiliser that provides +/- half a pixel accuracy in 4K,” he adds.

Finally, Carter says: “Scanners operate on a price-performance spectrum, a little like cars. Our scanner is $300k, which rises to around half a million dollars once it’s loaded up with everything. But it’s a very niche top-performing scanner for archive scans and restoration of national heritage films where it’s essential to be able to work with extremely delicate film without further damaging it and still produce the very best results imaginable.”

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Ted Langdell
Ted Langdell  | May 18, 2014
While Blackmagic may have been getting a lot of attention at the front of Lower South Hall, but down the stairs and further back there was serious interest in the MWA Nova Choice 4K Plus™ scanner in the Nova booth SL13610.

This scanner for 8, Super8, 9.5 and 16mm was demonstrating live, realtime scans from all these formats using a fully 4K sensor (4096 x 3072) that preserves the 4:3 aspect ratio and the detail contained therein.

No cropping or pillarboxing. No sprockets as used in the BMD Cintel, which limits is usefulness for archives that have vinegar syndrome, shrinkage and perf damage to contend with.

MWA's patented laser-based perf detection technology enables film with those conditions to be successfully scanned as stable images.

MWA's line of HD and higher scanners all use this technology, released in 2009 and improved since then.

The 16/35 Vario 4K Plus™ uses the same fully 4K sensor (4096 x 3072), and is available with a new wet gate option that uses a liquid that doesn't require permitting. The same gate can be used on the Vario 2K Plus™ (2336 x 1752) and Vario 2.5K Plus™ HDR High Dynamic Range (2560 x 2160) scanners.

Sound pickup for 16mm optical and magnetic stripe sound and 35mm optical sound are standard features on the Vario family.

The Choice family (2K Plus™ and 4K Plus™ includes 8mm/Super8 magnetic sound from main and balance stripes and 16mm magnetic strip and optical sound pickups.

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