The VuPoint FS-C1-VP Slide And Negative To Digital Picture Converter Review
The VuPoint is a digital camera with a 5MP sensor mounted in a case with a backlght and a track for a film holder. In the description below, we may call the unit a "scanner" and the resulting images "scans", but only very loosely. This contraption is not truly a scanner.
In Europe (at least in the UK), a very similar unit is being sold by Veho. They call the unit the "Veho VFS-001 Neg Film & Slide Scanner" and list a "new" model, the "Veho VFS-004" as "coming soon". We suggest caution with these models, too, until there are decent independent review of them available. This unit is also being sold in the US by Brookstone under the name "iConvert Slide and Negative Scanner". Beware!
The unit costs less than $100 retail. As it turns out, the low cost is it's only redeeming quality.
The Bottom Line
Advertising for this device claims that it is well suited to convert old 35mm slides and film negatives into digital images allowing the user to easily preserve their memories without having to rely on a conversion service or a more expensive scanner. Nothing could be further from the truth. We tested this device on a variety of slides and negatives (new and old) and in all instances the results were very, very poor. In summary, this device isn't worth the cost to package and ship it. Don't buy it.
Most people can stop reading here. If you really want the gory details of our tests, please read on. We'll try to be fair, but the results aren't pretty.
A few notes on our testing methodology. We have scanned slides and negatives in both the VuPoint scanner and the Nikon 5000 ED. In the case of the VuPoint, we are using the included software; for the Nikon scanner, we are using VueScan software. The raw scanned images from each scanner are then post-processed using Photoshop to produce the best possible image. It is a fact of life that almost every scan from almost every scanner requires some post processing work to make it look good. Because of this, we don't simply compare the digital images that come directly from the scanner. Rather, we show the raw scan image, the processed images, and 100% crops from each to show the differences. We do our best to make the scans from both scanners look good using tools including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and the digital ROC plugin from Kodak.
The unit is powered off the USB bus and includes scanning and photo management software. While the hardware and software installation went smoothly for us, others have reported difficulty with installation, use of the included drivers, and compatibility with Vista. This software has very few options with the intention of making it easy (foolproof) to use. It includes no color management features. Files that it produces are totally untagged for color space; we assume that they are sRGB profile.
The software forces you to manually align the film, take a "snapshot" of the frame (which puts a little thumbnail image onto a film line on the display) and then "transfer" the scan. It is not clear why the two-step processis required. It just makes the process slower and far less intuitive.
We were disappointed to find that standard scanning software such as VueScan will not recognize the scanner. This means that we are limited to the poor software included in the box.
Loading Film Into The Converter
The scanner comes equipped with two holders: one for 35mm slides and one for 35mm negatives. The slide holder has slots for only 3 slides; the negative holder can handle a strip with 6 frames. Why only 3 slides? The holder is physically wide enough to hold more (4 at least), but for some reason, the 3 slides are spaced like three non-adjacent frames on a five frame 35mm negative strip (i.e., the first, third and fifth frames). Why make this restriction? We can't figure it out. Instead of doing the right thing for their customers, the manufacturer offers to sell additional holders to help speed digitizing larger collections.
We ran into problems when working with the slide and negative holders. The holders will only move in one direction in the scanner (right to left). The user is required to manually line up each frame by physically moving the slide and or negative carrier. If you move it too far to the left, then you are required to move it all the way through the device and start over. It seems to happen every time and is a big time sink when using this product. The scanning software gives a "real time" view of the film as it is manually moved through the scanner. The capture rate on this "view", however is very low; it is difficult to align the film with both speed and accuracy. Additionally, the film holder has places as you slide it into the scanner where it "clicks" into place. Often this happens at just the wrong moment, drawing the holder a bit too far into the scanner. Tolerances on this mechanism just aren't good enough to make it useful - and it in fact makes the whole thing harder to use.
This film holder and alignment mechanism is simply a poor design. We suspect that this "feature" was driven by one overwelming goal: to reduce costs at any expense. Apparently, usability of the device wasn't as important as a low price point.
So how are the results? In a word, "poor". Let's start by looking at a Kodachrome slide. This is not special in any way; we see slides just like this every day as part of our 35mm slide scanning service. The result from the VuPoint scanner is poor, as is obvious even from a casual glance at the resulting image (even displayed very small on this web page). The images are very high in contrast, with large areas of black or white in the raw scan images. Compared to the scan from a film scanner, the results look worse still.
The VuPoint scanner is not able to capture details in either highlights or shadows. Note that the antennas framed against the sky are not visible at all in the VuPoint scan. Shadow detail, for example the brick/stone work around the restaurant or the detail in the windows, is simply not visible. The dynamic range of the VuPoint scanner is not up to the task of converting slides to digital.
Clearly, the Nikon scanner does a much better job than the VuPoint unit. This isn't a great surprise given the cost differences. What is surprising is just how poor the results are from the VuPoint scanner, contrary to the advertising being used to sell this unit.
Next, we looked at a faded Ektachrome slide.
Recovering detail from the faded slide is very limited in the VuPoint scan. The image sensor in this unit is simply not capable of extracting detail from highlights and shadows, which is required for restoring faded images like this.
Next, we looked at a variety of negative film, including standard, consumer Kodak film. Again, this film is not special in any way; we see film like this every day as part of our 35mm negative scanning service.
The results here are better than those from slide conversions, but they are still not stellar.
The more limited dynamic range of negative film is adventageous to the VuPoint scanner, with a limited dynamic range sensor. Hence there is little blocking in shadows and highlights on this scan. We suspect that some negatives will still show blocking in both shadows and highlights, particularly if we choose a high contrast image.
The color fidelity of the scanner and software, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The colors are very washed out and density is very low.
We could go on and on with examples, but they all give the same conclusion: the VuPoint scanner is not up to the task of scanning film with reasonable quality.
Dust and Scratches
It is obvious from any of the sample images shown above that the VuPoint unit does not include any dust and scratch removal technologies (either hardware or software). As a result, the "scans" are littered with dust and scratches that standard film scanners using ICE reduce or eliminate. For most slide and negative collections, this is a major issue as the images from the VuPoint will require considerable time and energy to clean up (in Photoshop or another image editor) after converting to digital.
The example below illustrates this difference dramatically. This is a scan of a Kodachrome slide. This slide is not unusually dirty - just dusty from years in storage. compressed air was not completely effective in removing the grit from the film.
The lack of dust and scratch removal is a major shortcoming of this scanner.
It is not necessary to analyze the histograms of scans from this product compared to scans from "real" scanners to see the difference in the images we scanned during our comparative study; the differences are obvious from the example images above. We see massive differences in color rendering, tonalities, density, and over-all color casts, especially in the highlights, which the VuPoint handles horribly. When we look more closely at the results of the scans, we noticed a very discernible difference in the histograms of scanned images which explain this poor performace.
The comb pattern in the histograms from the VuPoint scanner indicate that the scanner has neither the necessary dynamic range nor good auto exposure mechanisms to capture good detail from scanned film.
These problems are somewhat improved when using the VuPoint unit in high bit mode (i.e., 48 bit color pixels). Not all software understands these high bit depth images, however, so their use is limited. More importantly, the fundamental problem remains: the dynamic range of the image sensor is poor, and is not suitable for film capture as advertised. (The Nikon scans are all done as 8-bit per color channel scans, i.e., 24-bit color pixels.)
Note that in every example scan, the VuPoint scanner has cropped the 35mm frame much more significantly than the Nikon scanners, even when using the automatic slide feeders and automatic cropping in software. The VuPoint is losing a couple of mm around every frame. In some cases, this is acceptable. It should be a choice that the user of the scanner can make at the time of the scan, not forced by a poor product. There is no good reason to do this cropping given the way that the VuPoint is capturing images. This is simply more evidence of a poorly designed unit that should not be on the market.
The Bottom Line, Again