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Thread: High-end scanners

  1. #1
    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
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    High-end scanners

    I am investigating the possibility to buy a high-end scanner suitable for
    5x7 and 35mm in the $5000-$7000
    range. So far, I've seen three categories of scanners:
    <ol>
    <li> Used drum scanner (ex: ICG 355i, various Howteks)
    <li> Used high end flatbed (ex: Fuji Lanovia, Scitex Eversmart Pro, Screen Cezanne)
    <li> Used Imacon flextight scanners
    </ol>
    Beside the flaar sites, I have seen very little information on the web about
    the respective merits of those options (http://www.flexoexchange.com/gorilla/cndnprntrarticle.html).
    Apparently the common wisdom is that
    the high-end drums will yield better scans than the CCD scanners, but their operation is considerably more cumbersome. How do the high end flatbeds compare to
    the Imacons and to the low-end 4000dpi drum scanners such as the Howteks ? Even
    used, the Heidelberg Tango is still $25000, way out of my price range.

  2. #2
    Doug Dolde
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    High-end scanners

    There's a Seybold report that tested quite a few of those you listed except for the Tango. I believe the Screen Cezanne was judged best of the bunch.

    http://www.seyboldreports.com/WP99/scanners.htm

  3. #3
    Coot
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    High-end scanners

    Just be aware that Seybold eport is dated 1999.

  4. #4
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    High-end scanners

    I made this same choice last year. I bought a used Optronix ColorGetter 3 Pro drum scanner. I'm very happy with my choice.

    In the final analysis, the main difference between flat bed scanners (high end, low end, whatever) and drum scanners (high end, low end, whatever) comes down to just a handful of details, IMHO.

    1) all flat beds use CCDs, they light the film uniformly with unfocused light.

    2) all drum scanners use PMTs and light the film with a controlled focused spot.

    3) Software is at least as important as hardware in getting a good image. There is a huge range in software capabilities, but in general the software that controls drum scanners is more flexible and allows you more control of scanning than that for flat beds. This is especially true of entry level flatbeds.

    4) wrapping a piece of film around an acrylic drum under oil is still the best mount you can make. It rigidly positions the emulsion exactly where the sensors expect it to be.

    The bottom line is, if you are a quality fanatic, drum scanning is going to give you that extra level of quality in your images. Drum scans are sharper because of both the PMTs themselves, and the lighting method. Drum scans also seem to me to carry more detail, both highlight and shadow detail. PMT's are also capable of amazing dynamic range which becomes very important if your film reaches densities over 2.0 (a few negatives might do this, while most chromes do).

    Drum scanners are as different from flatbed scanners as LF is from 35mm. Both 35mm and flatbead scans are easier to do than drum scans and LF. But the learning curves are not as numerous nor as steep as many people (usually the inexperienced) make them out to be.

    If I can do it, you can do it. The question really is, do you *want* to do it? That's a question that only you can answer.

    Bruce Watson

  5. #5

    High-end scanners

    Watch out for the older drum scanners - extremely high, or perhaps unavailable service and parts. I've seen some go unsold at bankruptcy auctions, no one would buy them - machines that were $250,000 ten-twelve years ago.

    As digital capture becomes the commercial standard (it is already) the new scanner market is going to dry up - not entirely but manufacturers don't make things that no one buys. If you buy something older and more expensive originally make sure the price is good enough that you can walk away from it after it dies in six months and not feel bad. The Howteks are good but check out service and parts with an eye to the next few years.

    I'd probably go for the Imacon if I was going to buy something for 5X7 but really its hard to make sense out of this unless you are planning on scanning huge quantities of very high res scans and have nothing better to do with your time. For all that time and expense you'll be getting very low return on your investment and your time. I suggest you pay for scans as needed. I think you'd save quite a bit of money in the long-run. You might even find someone who would scan for you in downtime with slow turn-around for much less than standard fees.

    Spend your time and money shooting.

  6. #6

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    High-end scanners

    be brave.... buy a drum scanner. you wont regret it, if you dont have bad luck and there is some unexpected fault on your scanner. but this could happen with a used imacon also,- and it wont be cheap to mend the imacon too. as said before the learning curve for drumscanning is not so hard. the only thing you have to learn more is how to mount the scans. the scanning process itself will be the same,- it depends on the software, your monitoring and your eyes,- nothing else.

    the dust problem with ccd scanners and higher resolutions is unacceptable imo. equal if flatbed or imacon.

    i advice you a screen 1030ai or a scanmate 4000 or 5000 drum scanner. both companies offer still service and parts ( at least here in germany ). the software of the scanmate is updated till now, the screen software is old but functional. the screen seems to be very robust and has a great sharpening tool, it use therefore a fourth tube. the scanmate is faster and more modern designed,- also it seems therefore less robust than the screen. anyway my scanmate 5000 runs now nearly 1 year without a problem ( app. 1 - 2000 scanns ). howteks seem to have its individual problems,- anyway i dont have personal experience with them, but this is what i noticed in contact with two photographers around me who have one. the howteks seem to be really loud and slow. also some banding problems with hi resolutions can appear, if the belts and this things are not absolute acuurately- i hope the howtek owners will forgive me,- its just my impression i had communicating with the owners of the drum scanners lasr year. but you will find modern software of many companies ( silverfast, vuescan and many more ) and a great community use them, so you will find easy support and help. the scanning quality of all this machines is very hi,- if you know to use them.

  7. #7
    Coot
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    High-end scanners

    I do high-end brochure work and scan using the first Imacon Flextight Precision (4x5 max). It's been chugging faithfully along daily for over six years and over 4000 scans with zero maintenance--not even adjustments. Quality has never been an issue for cmyk press printing or 20x24 display prints. I have no connection to Imacon, financial or otherwise.

  8. #8
    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
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    High-end scanners

    Hogarth, thanks for your reply. I saw a few Optronics for sale, but I was concerned about the fact that the company had gone out of business.

    Are you saying that whatever drum scans are better than whatever flatbed ? It would seem, looking at the specs, that high-end flatbeds would scan to 5000dpi. The Howtek 4000 and 4500 series can to 4000dpi. Your drum, and others, scan to 8000dpi, but there is probably no need to go above 5000dpi on normal film. On paper, all of them claim D3.9 or D4.0. Only the Tango has a claim for D4.2. I know that the specs for the low-end flatbeds are grossly overstated, but I thought that those for the high-end flatbeds were accurate. Those are manufactured by the same companies that manufacture drums, and targetted to the same public. The link that I posted has a representative from Screen stating that some of their flatbeds and drums perform the "same". Do you have any evidence that this is not true ?

    LF gives an order of magnitude improvement over 35mm, but, at least from the specs (assuming again they are realistic) the high-end flatbeds are very close to most drums (at least to those under 10K) and appear significantly easier to operate. I am not talking about Epson or Microtek scanners.

    I understand the point about wet-mounting, I thought you could (should ?) do it on a flatbed as well.

  9. #9
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    High-end scanners

    The big historical market for drum scanners was pre-press. That market completely imploded with the advent of pro-quality digital capture in the mid 1990s. The only people buying drum scanners today are photographers, and most of them are LF types. That is what makes the things "affordable" to us. My little ColorGetter sold for more than USD 50K new, and I bought the entire system, computer and all the extras, for less than 1/10 that. That aught to tell you that there *is* no market.

    This lack of demand by the pre-press houses is why all the major makers of drum scanners bailed. AFAIK, there is a single supplier of drum scanners today, that being Aztek. I just wish I liked their design better. Howteks (Aztek bought the scanner biz from Howtek in the late 1990s IIRC) use belt drive to run the drum. They are well known for banding because of the drive system. It's not a big deal, just a maintenance issue to keep some belts around.

    Even if the manufacturers aren't supplying new units, there are plenty of players out there selling parts and service. That's not really a problem, IMHO. Of course, your mileage, and comfort level, may vary.

    Now for the flames I'm about to get: "Are you saying that whatever drum scans are better than whatever flatbed?" From a quality-of-the-final-scan perspective, I would take a mid 1990s PMT over a 2003 CCD, yes I would. Clearly a poorly performing PMT would be swamped by a state of the art CCD. But a state of the mid 1990s PMT can easily out perform a state of the art CCD. That said, CCDs get better every day.

    The rep. from Screen is simply trying to sell you what he has available. He can't sell you a new drum scanner because Screen, like Heidleberg, Crossfeld, DuPont, Fuji, Optronix, IGS, etc. dropped out of the market. Do I have any evidence that their flatbeds perform the same as their drums used to? No, but I very much doubt that claim. Still, I would have to own and operate both to actually know, and I don't have the resources for that. Other people I trust have that experience however. Many of them are on-line at:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ScanHi-End/messages

    If you can't get your questions answered by looking in the archives, ask the group. This is a group that uses both highend flatbeds and drum scanners. Questions of the "which is better" type usually surface a few opinions ;-)

    When I said that LF is to 35mm what drum scans are to flatbeds, I didn't mean in terms of quality. I meant in terms of difficulty. The quality difference here isn't an order of magnitude. It's more like 20%. That's why you should send out an image and have it scanned a few different ways. See if the difference is worth it to you.

    Yes, you can certainly fluid mount on a flatbed. You can't, however, pull it as tight as you can around a drum. Does it matter? That would probably depend on how much of an enlargement you are going to make.

    Finally, about specs, it seems to me that all the manufacturers of all the scanners lie through their teeth. My ColorGetter, for example, has a claimed resolution over 8000dpi, but in fact has an optical resolution of closer to 4000 dpi (6.25 micron aperture). However, its scaling algorithms are pretty darn good, compared to Photoshop say. The Tango is even worse. I believe it's smallest aperture was something like 11 microns (somebody correct me if I'm wrong) which would put its optical resolution around 2600 dpi. The software scales that way up over 11,000 dpi though, and does it really well (as I understand this, it isn't straight up scaling, but some interesting tricks with math and optics).

    Dmax is a similar story. They all lie it seems to me. There is solid agreement from actual users though that PMTs have a considerable edge over CCDs in DMax still. The answer again is to send out a nice dense chrome and see what kind of file you get back.

    Bruce Watson

  10. #10

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    High-end scanners

    I hate to disagree with Hogarth as I respect his opinions very much .... But....FWIW, I used to operate a pre-press business with a Leaf scanner and Iris proofer in the mid 1990s. I was friends with a photographer who bought a Howtek drum, and another shop in town had the highly regard Screen drum scanner. A printer I worked with had one of the $250,000 Crosfields. And other shops had other good scanners. We all exchanged files, and often worked on each other's projects (this was good and bad...) Bottom line was that the lowly $14,000 Leaf was competitive with all of the drum scanners. Not to brag, but HOW you scan is so much more importnat than getting the last 0.1% of quality out of the machine's specs. If you're trying to pull an extended range out of your film, a slightly better machine may help SOMEWHAT but you will probably have to resort to blending images or using tricks to really get the tonal range you want. I consistently got better scans than my peers with my Leaf because I was willing to learn how to use it, and have a photographer's eye. Had I been using their drum scanners I might have gotten even better scans, but again, based on what I saw coming through, I doubt that it would have made any difference.

    Another point in favor of the Imacon is that people like Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe use them, and they can use whatever they want. I honestly think an Imacon will do as well as anything else out there. And Imacon WILL STAY IN BUSINESS and update their software for modern OSs, unlike the big boys (Heidelberg?) who are desparate to exit the scanning biz.

    Also, the time spent dustbusting can be spent oil mounting. I think it's a wash.

    Nowdays I use a cheap Epson 3200 for most things and a friend's Imacon for larger images and difficult scans. Using a friend's scanner is by far the best option - I hated having $100K in digital gear on lease - I sold the $50K Iris for $1000 a few years ago.

    Every photographer starts out saying "I want the ultimate in resolution, etc." but quickly realizes that 1 gigabyte, 16-bit .tif files from 8x10 film and 30x40 Giclee/Lightjet prints are very expensive and usually not worth the investment - but if you can do it, more power to you.

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