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Advice on scanners - what do I need?

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  • Advice on scanners - what do I need?

    I have been doing digital photography for about 2 years, and Photoshop for a little less time.

    However, I have thousands of decent photographs on standard 35mm that I would like to be able to work with in Photoshop.

    I am guessing that scanning prints of the photos is the best way to get the into Photoshop...or is there a better way?

    Also, if I am going to invest in a scanner, what should I be looking for for features and specifications? I know nothing about scanners, so all advice is appreciated.


  • #2
    I'm in a similar boat as you, less the digital camera experience.

    Here's .02 as food for thought based on my limited knowledge in this area.

    With scanners, there's optical resolution and 'software' (or firmware) enhanced resolution. Focus on the optical (real).

    If you've got a fuzzy print to begin with, you may (or may not) be able to make substantial improvements in PS. Color correction, bringing out shadows, etc. goes pretty well.

    Lots of 35mm prints? Scanning negatives might be an option (a) if you can find them and (b) if they're not in worse shape than the prints. I fail miserably on both qualifications.

    Among the features of the scanner software that enables the scanning/transfer of pixels to, say, Photoshop, are a collection of imaging-software-like functions than enable to do things like color correction, sharpening, convert to grayscale, cropping, dust/scratch repair [i]as part of the scan process.[i] With the exception of cropping, I do all of that in Photoshop.

    I've read that Digital ICE is (or at least was) considered top-of-the-line when it comes to this. It's claim to fame is the fabulous job it does on auto dust/scratch repair w/o blurring the rest of the image (like some PS techniques). Don't recall if ICE works on negs only or prints, too. I believe the newer Nikon scanners come with ICE.

    Beware of some of the older scanners in the Nikon line. User reviews on reliablity and Nikon support were surprisingly (and overwhelmingly) negative; don't know about the newer models.

    Take into consideration print sizes you envision scanning. Any 11"x14"s (or larger)?

    I believe HP published a book few years back which was the content equivalent of "Everything you ever wanted/needed to know about scanners." Might be worth a look at to see if you can pick one up cheap. If I run across the ISBN or real title, I'll post it.

    Okay... this ought to generate a few more responses now that the Digital ICE has been broken.




    • #3
      Thanks Danny. I have posted this question in four forums, and this is the most useful advice I have gotten yet.

      I have heard about scanners that scan negatives directly that are combined in the same unit as a tradiitonal flatbed scanner - this seems like a practical way for me to go.

      I have also been told about this anti-scratch s/w and that also seems imprtant. Interpolation also seems less desirable than actual optical resolution.

      This info should give me detail enough to start looking at makes and models. Anybody know of any good ones in a reasonable price range?



      • #4

        It would really help to know what you plan to do with your scanned images before giving you advice on the best scanner. Do you hope to print them? If so, what's the largest size you'd like to print?

        I have an Epson 2450 flatbed scanner with transparency adapter and a Minolta Dimage Scan Elite film scanner with Digital ICE. I absolutely LOVE the ICE technology and highly recommend it, esp. if you're going to be scanning negatives or slides.

        Typically, you will want to scan your negatives or slides rather than prints because they are "first generation" and thus have more detail than a print will. But, if all you have are prints, then you don't have much choice. (And if all you have are prints, then you won't need a film scanner.)

        The Microtek 6800 is a flatbed with (up to) 4x5 transparency adapter and digital ICE for PRINTS. It also has 4800 dpi optical resolution (at least that's what their specs say) which is pretty amazing for a flatbed. I think I remember someone here who has one, but I can't find the post. I can't personally give you a recommendation on this, but I suggest you at least take a look at it. (MSRP US$400.)

        Also, you might want to take a look at the new Epson 3200 with 3200 optical resolution and transparency adapter. It's supposed to be much faster than it's predecessor the 2450. No ICE though. (Also $400 - not sure if it's available in the US yet or not?)

        If you're hoping to make large prints (larger than 8x10"), then you will probably want to look at a dedicated film scanner (assuming you've got the negatives to your prints.) Minolta has just come out with a 5400 dpi film scanner. I haven't seen any user reviews yet though and I don't know if it's available in the US yet or not. (Expected price around US$1000.)

        Also, I don't know if you've found the Scan Tips website yet or not, but it's very helpful to learn the tricks of good scanning technique. (The site does not recommend scanners - just how to use a scanner once you've got it.)



        • #5
          Hi Toad, scanning is a fave topic of mine - and a very deep and complex one too. I agree with the general thoughts offered by Jeanie.

          Life is full of trade offs, choosing a scanner type and scanner make/model is all about trade offs too (what you are willing to spend vs. your originals/output/expectations etc).

          If pulling the most info from the film is the requirement (even to including film grain <g>) - then a drum scanner using a PMT might be one high end choice, for some high volume users who do big enlargements and need a productive workflow.

          Some may opt for a dedicated 35mm or larger format slide/film scanner, such as a 4000 or 8000 pixel capture width CCD. This should provide superior scans to a flatbed using a tranny option.

          Some need flexibility and a flatbed with a transparency adapter option may be the best bet for them, as they need one scanner for all tasks and cant justify a separate film scanner.

          Then there is the software that comes with the scanner or third party software which can drive the scanner - this often makes a critical difference, just as well as the person driving the scanner makes a huge difference.

          Some links to more on scanning can be found here, they should arm you with more knowledge to help your search:

          (make a point of checking the scantips website before you decide on a type of scanner and way before you put down any money).

          P.S. All things being equal, a transmissive scan should give better results than a reflective scan (in amount of useful data and overall dynamic range). A wet scan (special optical mounting gel/oil) of film gives much better results than a regular scan (drum scanners, some flatbeds or if you are game rig things up yourself if you know what to do (hacks) and try not to void your warranty when the guts of the scanner gets messy <g>).


          Stephen Marsh.


          • #6
            Thanks again for this wonderful advice - this is exactly what you cannot get from manufacturer's websites.

            I realize that I was remiss in not saying what I plan to do with the scanner.

            First and foremost, I want to get my 35mm photos into Photoshop. This is Task #1. I have a LOT of pictures taken over the years that I could improve dramatically with this functionality, judging by what I have been able to do with my digital photos. I only need it to handle 35 mm negatives - color and bw of course. From what I read and have been advised - scratch and dust cleanup software such as ICE is an extremely desirable feature. I don't see any mention of this type of s/w with Epson. Comments?

            I never print photos - I have a lab do that (when I do it at all). But I would not want to rule it out. Because I am only 4 MegaPixel digital and 35mm, let's assume my largest print would be 11x17. How does printing affect my choice of scanner?

            Secondary: Seems like having a flatbed scanner (if it is reasonable to do this in the same device without significant quality loss) would be practical and useful. On the other hand, I have a digital camera - so maybe copying things that way makes more sense - meanwhile focusing on a better film scanner for comparable money. Thoughts?

            Another "dumb" question: if you scan a negative the color would be reversed. How is this normalized?

            Once again - thanks for the valuable advice.


            • #7
              ... ICE is an extremely desirable feature. I don't see any mention of this type of s/w with Epson. Comments?

              That's true, I don't know of any Epson products with this feature. Usually the ICE feature is found on film scanners and as far as I know, Epson hasn't made any film scanners. Microtek is the only one that I know of with ICE for a flatbed scanner. I've got the Epson 2450 and have been very happy with it - but I'm fanatical about keeping the glass clean and the prints and transparencies as clean as possible. Of course, having newer transparencies makes that a little easier b/c there hasn't been as much time for dust to settle into the film. Prints are always challenging regardless... Basically it comes down to how much dust-spotting and clean-up you want to do in PS vs. the slight softening that can occur when ICE is applied during the scan. If you can find "independent" reviews of the scanners you're considering with example scans, I recommend it. I know that there's at least a couple good ones for the Epson 2450 and I think they're being updated for the 3200. (Norman Koren's site comes to mind.) I don't know of any for the Microtek 6800, but then I haven't looked for any either.

              How does printing affect my choice of scanner?

              Typically you want about 300dpi at the size you want to print. I know that some people are happy with less resolution than that, but I never have been. So, if you want to print an image at 11x17", at 300dpi that would be 3300x5100 pixels. Given the short side of a 35mm transparency is about 1", that would mean you want at least a 3300 dpi optical resolution scanner. (The 3200 dpi of the new Epson would most likely be OK.) A 2400dpi scanner would give you just over 200dpi output for a 11x17" print. You'll need to decide if that's acceptable for you or not.

              When printing at larger sizes, the sharpness of an image also comes into play. A dedicated film scanner typically produces sharper scans than a flatbed with transparency adapter. Yes, you can make up for some of this by sharpening in PS, but any "flaws" show up more in larger images. Again, if you can see some example scans of the scanners you're considering, that would help. (If you can find a copy of Design Graphics magazine issue #87, they did a comparison of 35mm scanners (some flatbeds) that showed just how different the results of various scanners can be! Unfortunately, it didn't cover the Epson 2450 or the Microtek 6800.)

              I don't have any experience with digital cameras, but it seems as though you can get away with lower resolution printing than with scans. Or is that just marketing hype of the camera manufacturers? (The 4MP cameras I just looked at claimed print sizes of up to 11x17", but their maximum pixel size for images is around 2300x1700 - which equates to about 150dpi when printed at 11x17". What am I missing?)

              Thoughts on flatbed with transparency adapter vs. dedicated film scanner and digital camera?

              Hmmm - I'm not sure I have any great thoughts on this. Except that most people here that have both a flatbed scanner and digital camera choose the scanner for scanning prints unless the photo is textured, then the digital camera is the tool of choice. I think this is because the scanner will give you more detail.

              Another "dumb" question: if you scan a negative the color would be reversed. How is this normalized?

              The scanner software will take care of this for you. You tell it that you're scanning a negative and it does the conversion. The better software will also let you specify what type of film you're scanning so that it can make a more precise conversion. (BTW, there are no dumb questions here!)

              HTH - and hopefully someone will set me straight on the "optimal" printing dpi for scans vs. digital camera images.



              • #8
                Thanks everybody for all your advice. It was extremely helpful. I believe that I will be buying an Epson 3200 - the most recent upgrade to the Epson 2450 that Jeanie recommends.

                It is a combination flatbed and film scanner that is recieving excellent reviews. I believe that it offers the combination of features, quality, and price point that I am looking for. In one particularly thorough review, it was said to be comparable to many dedicated film scanners priced significantly higher.

                This is the review:

                The only feature that it is missing that I would have like to have is Digital ICE - but no scanner in the price range that I am considering has this feature except the Microtek 6800 - which did not score nearly as well in the reviews. The 3200 does have the new Silverfast v6.0 s/w bundeled with it - which is not Digitial Ice, but has many of the same image flaw correction features, and is said to be very good s/w.

                Once again - thank you for all your help and advice.

                Last edited by Toad; 05-01-2003, 10:21 PM.


                • #9
                  Wow Toad you got a wealth of information! I can't add anything new to what has already been said except that I also have an Epson 2450 like Jeanie. I am very pleased with the results I get from the scanner.

                  I also have bought the Silverfast AI software upgrade and it is great. I wonder how it compares with Digital Ice? It has a very good "dust&scratches" preprocess filter and does a great job at color balance and sharpening.

                  Anyway I do mostly picture scanning with a little negative and slide work. If I were buying a scanner today and was told I could only have one scanner, it would be the Epson 3200.


                  • #10
                    Well - having worked with it for a week and change now, I am really happy with the Epson 3200. It does great scans of slides, negatives and photos.

                    I am sure not used to the file sizes of scanned images compared to digital ones - but at least hard drive space is cheap.

                    Silverfast dust removal is sadly far inferior to Digital ICE. Except in the worst cases of really battered negatives, I find myself doing it by hand. It takes a long time, and isn't terribly good at identifying what dust is. Digital ICE uses an infared sensor (I believe) to positively identify dust, and so can do a more accurate job. Silverfast is all software.

                    This is a minor quiblle in many ways - I knew up front that Digital ICE would be a lot better, but didn't want to spend all of the extra cash.

                    This is a great scanner. Anybody considering such a purchase who wants more info - feel free to contact me.


                    • #11
                      as far as I know, Epson hasn't made any film scanners
                      Epson had a film scanner, the FilmScan 200, which is a 1200dpi 35mm film scanner (I know, I have one ). I'm not sure whether they made it, because Konica sold the same machine with their badge on it.

                      Personally, I think the 35mm transparency scans from the FilmScan 200 are better than those from the Epson 2400 flatbed. However, you have far more control over the scan from the 2400's Twain driver.


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