Do you remember when pocket calculators were a novel toy for the rich, costing hundreds of dollars. You do? Man you're getting old. I heard that story from my Dad! But do you also remember how everything changed when the Japanese got a hold of the technology? Calculators, along with tape recorders, TVs, VCRs and everything else got cheaper and cheaper and smaller and smaller. Nowadays, the main problem is the danger of losing your postage stamp size TV. It was only a matter of time before the Japanese began miniaturising scanners. Just a few years ago, the phrase 'compact scanner' conjured up something about the size of a filing cabinet. Then along came Nikon with its CoolScan and suddenly, reproduction quality scans could be made from something the size of a CD-Rom player. The problem? Images were not great and scan times were positively glacial. Then the Americans got into the act with the Polaroid SprintScan. It was about twice the size of the CoolScan, but the image quality was noticeably higher and you could produce a 27 megabyte RGB file from a slide or negative in under a minute. Both companies recently introduced two new flagship scanners. Though the speed and cost of the two are about equal, the Nikon LS-1000, or the Super CoolScan, is only half the size of the Polaroid SprintScan Plus. The Nikon also feels solid, durable and generally well made; the SprintScan felt like it was made of plastic. However, the Polaroid boasts a somewhat larger dynamic range which should allow it to capture a greater range of colours. Installation was a bit of a trial with both machines. Although the Nikon itself caused no problems, the Scsi terminator that came with the unit was dead. I know several PowerBook users who have found that their scanners worked only intermittently until the cables were replaced. The Polaroid was even less co-operative. I had to remove everything else from the Scsi chain in order to get the scanner to work. Part of the Polaroid's Macintosh software package is an extension which caused my computer to crash every time with every flick of the 'on' switch. I was only able to boot my machine after paring things down to a bare half dozen extensions. Both units are accessed through standard PhotoShop plug-ins. The Nikon's scanner interface is very clean. All of the controls are in a single window, with gamma curves being the main method of correcting colour and lightness. The software can even calculate scanning resolutions to give you a corrected output resolution based on the size at which an image will be printed on a published page. The Polaroid interface is not nearly so neat. Each function such as colour balance, or sharpening, can be accessed only by opening a separate window. By the time you have opened all of the windows you need to scan a photo, your screen is a cluttered mess. Still, the SprintScan driver is about average for 35mm film scanners while the Nikon's interface is the most efficient I have seen for a scanner. The controls for the Polaroid are far more extensive than those offered on the Nikon. Most of these controls seemed to be aimed at low end users who are not using Photoshop. With the exception of brightness and colour balance, I found that I could get better results by making these adjustments after scanning the image. The Nikon scanner offers auto focus, whereas the Polaroid's focus is fixed. But I found absolutely no difference in the sharpness of the scans between the two machines. I would feel a bit more secure about the sharpness of the Nikon's optics over time and hard use, but some soft, low-contrast images can be difficult for auto-focus systems to capture. The Polaroid's software also automatically detects colour casts, particularly those that come from poor processing or strange emulsion bases, and then offers several automatic methods to remove the cast. I fell in love with this feature. It always recognised a colour cast and was effective at removing them. With the Nikon, I had to spend a great deal of time fiddling and tweaking photos to get results that took just seconds with the Polaroid. Once the images landed in Photoshop, the difference between the two machines was immediately obvious. The Nikon's images were quite accurate compared with the original, albeit after a fair amount of fiddling. But the Polaroid's images were extremely over-saturated, with ridiculously vibrant colours. Even with the saturation turned all the way down, I still found the colours to be unrealistically intense. For any type of serious publishing, the Nikon is the only real choice. The scans are fast, sharp and more accurate in colour than those from the Polaroid. With a $15,000 price tag, the Nikon is not cheap, but it is no less than most photographers would expect to pay for a good camera. Still, Nikon could stand to learn a thing or two from Polaroid's automatic colour cast removal. If you want good quality, no-fuss scans, and you don't mind the overly vibrant colours, the Polaroid would not be a bad choice. The hardware is quite good, but the software points this product firmly in the direction of the less than knowledgeable amateur or small business user, rather than towards those who want top-quality images. But when you consider that at $22,000, the Plus is the most expensive film scanner in its class, the software needs a little philosophical redirection in order to make the Plus as serious a scanner as its price tag implies.