Page 1 of 4 123 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 36

Thread: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Los Angeles, CA
    Posts
    27

    Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    To be honest, I don't really understand drum scanning. But I'm curious as to why the technology hasn't come down in price or become the a consumer technology the way flatbeds have. Are the machines that make drum scanning possible so complicated that only professional labs are able to afford/use them? Seems like everything in photography has come down in price, except perhaps MF digital backs, but drum scanning technology feels like it's stuck in time with nothing new over the horizon. From the few used drum scanners I see pop up every now and then, it requires the use of a Mac G4 with SCSI, and the scanner is still quite expensive. Perhaps it's my ignorance on the subject, but it is rather difficult to find new information (from my searches).

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    950

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    they are not designed for consumer use. That means they are low volume sales which means the cost per unit is high. Simple economics. If they were like hard drives which work to equally fine tolerances but are sold in hundreds of millions then they would be cheap. The technology is nothing special by todays standards. Why aren't they consumer level products? Because they require too much user input and are slow by comparison with flatbed doing a quick copy of a sheet of A4.

    Are they expensive? Not for a lab doing many scans a day. They will pay for themselves quickly if you are doing scans commercially. At least they did before the advent of "Good enough" scans from flatbeds. And lastly, all the cheapskate fine art photographers who are not worried about ultimate quality just won't spend the money on one. I blame the open source software community which has created the belief that everything should be free.
    Last edited by robc; 8-Nov-2006 at 04:46.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Baton Rouge, LA
    Posts
    2,395

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    > And lastly, all the cheapskate fine art photographers who are not worried about ultimate quality just won't spend the money on one.

    I hope this is tongue in cheek - even just scanning 200 sheets of 4x5 a year on a drum scanner, at $100 a sheet, which is low end for good services, is $20,000.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    950

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    exactly! if scanning 200 sheets brings in $20,000 dollars of revenue then that makes a drum scanner look pretty cheap to someone doing scans commercially. And if $100 is cheap for scanning services then some people think its value for money or they wouldn't pay it. Its only those who won't pay it that think its expensive. I wonder who they are?

  5. #5
    Resident Heretic
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Location
    USA, North Carolina
    Posts
    2,956

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Terence Patrick View Post
    To be honest, I don't really understand drum scanning. But I'm curious as to why the technology hasn't come down in price or become the a consumer technology the way flatbeds have. Are the machines that make drum scanning possible so complicated that only professional labs are able to afford/use them? Seems like everything in photography has come down in price, except perhaps MF digital backs, but drum scanning technology feels like it's stuck in time with nothing new over the horizon. From the few used drum scanners I see pop up every now and then, it requires the use of a Mac G4 with SCSI, and the scanner is still quite expensive. Perhaps it's my ignorance on the subject, but it is rather difficult to find new information (from my searches).
    The technology did come down in price. And rather remarkably at that. Around 1990 a drum scanner was the size of a large office desk and weighed as much as 5000 kg. You had to reinforce the floor and place it with a crane. Literally. They could cost up to $250K.

    By the mid 1990s there were a number of "desk top" and "desk side" scanners available. They often weighed less than 100kg and cost less than $80K. Some as low as $40K IIRC. You can thank the semiconductor industry for much of this gain.

    In the middle 1990s however, digital capture finally got "good enough." Commercial photographers working for magazines and advertising dropped film and went digital practically overnight. The reason wasn't quality, it was time. They eliminated the entire process-and-scan cycle. They could see at the photoshoot what they had, get client approval, and move on. And time is money in these industries.

    This of course devastated the pre-press market. They lost 90% of their business overnight. None of the makers of drum scanners could give the things away. There was massive over supply in the market -- why would anyone buy a new drum scanner? When the market collapses, where's your incentive for R&D and manufacturing new products?

    The drum scanner basically ended around 1996. Everyone who was in the market at that time is gone with the notable exception of Screen. For the picky among you, Howtek isn't in the drum scanner business anymore - they sold the scanner biz to Aztek who keeps the name going. ICG in England went under, but managed to resurrect themselves a couple of years ago after being out of business for an appreciable chunk of a decade.

    There are right now three drum scanner makers on the planet that I know of. Aztek in USA, ICG in England, and Screen in Japan. The vast majority of what they do is refurb. and service of existing scanners. The number of new drum scanners sold world wide could be less than 100 a year.

    Those companies that wanted to stay in the scanner business dropped drum scanning and concentrated on flatbeds. And no wonder. Flatbeds are much cheaper technologies.

    Bruce Watson

  6. #6

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    Ten years ago nearly every photo printed in ink was scanned from film. Now nearly all are the product of direct digital capture. The pre-press industry barely needs drum scanners - certainly not in the numbers they did just a short while ago. As old machines die, they likely will not be replaced. There won't be any cheap drum scanners other than old ones that no one else wants. There may not be any new ones designed and made at any price for that matter.

    Go to a bankruptcy sale of a pre-press house or engraver - you'll see older drum scanners that have to be hauled off for scrap becasue they are essentially unusable and not repairable. But there's no work for them anyway. Which is why you can buy a used but still serviceable drum scanner for a tiny fraction of its original cost.

    What is a big fat 4x5 drum scan worth? Thats hard to say but as the installed base of drum scanners shrink I don't think you'll see big drops in scan prices. If anything, prices will go up. But does that really matter when the truth is that very very few people really need the highest quality scan?

    Whoever started the idea that you must scan and archive a huge drum scan file of all the "good" pictures you make is nuts. Does the world need a 1 GB scan of your old falling down barn? I doubt that 10% of the "masterpieces" that grace a drum are worth the operator's time much less the cost of owning and operating a $200,000 machine. A realtively cheap flatbed scanner, well run, will accomplish most of what needs to happen for about 99% of the photos made. For your really good ones just buck up and pay what it costs. Two or three a year at $100 each won't kill you.

    Edit:
    You tell 'em Bruce!
    (we must have been writing at the same time)
    Last edited by Henry Ambrose; 8-Nov-2006 at 06:51.

  7. #7
    Ted Harris's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    Location
    New Hampshire
    Posts
    3,481

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    Terrance, one more point. None of the high end scanners have come down appreciably in price ... at least not so you would notice although mos tare no longer over 100K these days. You are confusing consumer or prosumer flatbeds with their professional relatives. Professional flatbed scanners from Screen, Aztek, Kodak/Creo, etc. all start at over 10K and go up to over 40K. The guts of these scanners is as different fromt the guts of a prosumer scanner as are the guts of an 18 wheeler Mack truck from those of a Buick ... as are the prices and the software that drives them and the complexity of the software, etc. Finally with the high end scanners we are talking about machines that are virtually hand built to extremely tight standards and in very small quantities. The total worldwide output of these scanners in a year is less than the number of prosumer scanners manufactured in a week, maybe a day.

    With the right operator the results are that much different as well. Yesterday I was working with a client and we did some comparison scans with a really tough full plate glass plate. The amount of detail that the Screen pulled out of the image matched or surpassed what he had been able to acheive with an enlarger (top line Durst 10x12 enlarger) and the results from the Microtek 1800f, while ok, weren't even in the same league.

    BTW, I'm also not sure sure that much has come down in price in LF equipment. I don't see any significant downward trends in either cameras or lenses from the major American, European and Japanese manufacturers. Sure, there are new Chinese entries that are less expensive in some instances but that is another story.

    Looks like we were all writing at the same time! I might quibble a bit with the point that the high end drum scanners are a less expensive technology than their drum breatheren. The CCD array's are somewhat less expensive than the PMT's used in the drums but the stepping technology used to drive the moving beds and arrays is very expensive at the level of accuracy at which they operate.

    FWIW I think there is also one more company(maybe two) still making drum scanners. Worldwide, Kodak, Screen, Aztek, Fuji and Microtek all market flatbeds that compete with the drums at the high end. It is hard to say of Aztek actually manufacture their own though and Microtek doesn't sell theirs in the North American market because of prior licensing and marketing agreements with Creo.

    BTW the under 100 made a year mentioned above is probably very close to the mark .... including the high end flatbeds.
    Last edited by Ted Harris; 8-Nov-2006 at 07:13.

  8. #8
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    brooklyn, nyc
    Posts
    5,513

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry Ambrose View Post
    I doubt that 10% of the "masterpieces" that grace a drum are worth the operator's time much less the cost of owning and operating a $200,000 machine.
    My dayjob is in publishing/advertising ...the industry that keeps the prepress shops alive. We order drum scans for ANYTHING that gets printed on a press. Habit, probably. At any rate, your 10% estimate strikes me as wildly optimistic. Virtually everything we have scanned is crap. So are most of the pubs that print the scans.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Baton Rouge, LA
    Posts
    2,395

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    > exactly! if scanning 200 sheets brings in $20,000 dollars of revenue then that makes a drum scanner look pretty cheap to someone doing scans commercially. And if $100 is cheap for scanning services then some people think its value for money or they wouldn't pay it. Its only those who won't pay it that think its expensive. I wonder who they are?

    I think you misread my post - I meant that very few fine art photographers can afford to have 200 sheets scanned in a year, which I assume is a pretty typical workflow, at least for 4x5, when you are not doing it full time. For example, I shot about 1,000 sheets last year, scanned about 900 on my flatbed, and had about 200 that would be candidates for drum scanning if I won the lottery.

    As for Ted's comments - it is clear that drum scans do a much better job on tough negatives. Their advantage is less with negatives that are properly exposed and processed for scanning. Most of us can only afford to try to make negatives that get the most out of a flatbed scan.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Posts
    781

    Re: Drum scanning technology: Why so expensive?

    Some very good responses.

    I support Bruces assertions.... In the late 90's, you could buy a howtek 4500 for $6k.... a bargain indeed. In the early 90's, you couldn't touch these for under $100k, so prices have fallen. Now that Aztek has taken over the Howtek line and have pushed QC up a bit, prices are much higher....and the fact volume has dropped, well, it all equates to higher prices.

    Screen sold 300 scanners a year in USA in 98, (all high end) now they sell maybe 3 a year max. This explains the "state of affairs" for the makers. The Screen Cezzanne flatbed sold for $45k in 98, today, its predessor, the Elite sells for less than half this. So prices have fallen dramatically...albeit, still not in everyones price range.

    Also, the low end scanners have improved dramaticaly, and have narrowed the gap between the two, and you know the prices at the lower end. Today, used drum scanners can be purchased dirt cheap.... i see them in the $2 - 3k price range. However, due to lack of service or parts, they often must be scraped if they break down. A drum scanner is an amazing mix of mechanical, optical and electronics that is quite an impressive piece of machinery.... had the market afforded it a longer life span, which was reduced to maybe 10 years due to the advent of digital capture, then i am sure we would see more competitive priced units by more makers today.

    I find it ironic, the advent of the PC's and graphics software created the need and purpose for drum scanners.... and then, only 10 - 12 years later, computer driven technology in digital capture ended the products life... pretty short lived product considering how sophisticated they are. I am willing to bet, had scanner makers anticipated the future of digital capture in the early 90's, many would have never ventured into the R&D phase to produce scanners!

    Also, Screens high end drum scanners are still over $100k.... ICG is a bargain at $60k, as they have really advanced that scanner through the years. Its nice to see these options remain available on the market. But IMO, the good flat beds by CREO and Screen, and the committment to servicing these units, and their lower cost and excellent scanning ability is slowly killing the need for the remaining new drum scanners.....specially considering how many used drum scanners are floating around the market.

    I recently saw a Screen Drum Scanner on ebay, sold for $250k in the mid 90's, could not fetch $6k today...truly amazing...

Similar Threads

  1. X-Rite Pulse and Drum Scanning vs. Flatbed
    By bmarcin in forum Digital Hardware
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: 25-Jun-2006, 21:09
  2. Drum Scanning recommendation
    By Erik Gould in forum Digital Processing
    Replies: 14
    Last Post: 24-Jan-2006, 21:00
  3. Drum scanning in India
    By QT Luong in forum Resources
    Replies: 30
    Last Post: 24-Jan-2005, 07:44
  4. Drum scanning equipment recommendation for novice?
    By Michael Mutmansky in forum Digital Hardware
    Replies: 13
    Last Post: 20-May-2004, 11:14
  5. Drum Scanning in Orlando
    By Nic Benton in forum Resources
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 28-Jan-2001, 00:41

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •