An oft heard remark about digicams is they give us a "digital darkroom," freeing us from the "wet" darkroom and magnifying our editing capabilities manyfold. Wait - there's another option:film scanners offer the benefits of the digital darkroom, plus the virtues of film! Scanners and scanning software have recently evolved to the point where top quality images from film can be produced easily and economically. In his article, Best film scanner in its class: the Nikon Coolscan V ED, Epinions "Top Reviewer in Electronics" jvandegr writes,
I teach digital photography and I own a compact digital camera. I enjoy both of them thoroughly. The convenience of digital photography is unquestionable, but the image quality has been more than questionable for many years. As with most new technologies (and new media), it is constantly adjusting and updating, and recent years have seen significant improvements in digital image quality. Still, when it came time to invest in either a $3000 - $5000 digital SLR or an $800 film SLR, there was no contest, especially considering the focal length conversion problem of the majority of digital SLRs.
Additionally, film still has better color rendition and greater archival qualities (that’s right, much longer than CDs or magnetic drives), and professional film SLR cameras are more reliable and refined than digital SLR cameras, based on my experience. That’s all great, but you’ll need a film scanner to get your photographs online or for digital presentation (of course, you can always chemically enlarge slides or negatives for presentation). In my experience, most film scanners, which are really just digital cameras themselves, are insulting to my slides; they render average representations at best. The Nikon Super Coolscan IV was an exception. It produced amazing scans of even my most difficult slides. And it cost well over $1000, which made it inaccessible to a lot of photographers who were investing their money in lenses and bodies and developing. The Nikon Coolscan V ED changes all of that. Optically, it outperforms the Super Coolscan IV, but costs about half as much. It has significantly delayed my need to purchase a digital SLR and has reaffirmed my commitment to film.
Nikon's Coolscan V ED (aka LS50) currently about $550, offers 4000 dpi optical resolution, 14 bit per color conversion and 38 second scan time (even faster at lower resolutions). For all but silver-based black and white and Kodachrome films, dust specks and light scratches are removed automatically via infrared light (there is one report that IR dust removal works with Kodachrome). And only a film scanner lets you bring existing slides and negatives into the digital darkroom, for prints and screen images far beyond what you get from automated processing (e.g., Walgreens or CVS).
Nikon's Coolscan V ED is currently available from Adorama and TriState, and software to control film scanners just keeps getting better: VueScan, by Ed Hamrick, is constantly revised, and can drive almost any film scanner. For $80 you get the full professional version with unlimited updates.