View Full Version : Drum scanning equipment recommendation for novice?

Michael Mutmansky
19-May-2004, 08:04
Greetings folks,

I'm in the process of selecting a new scanner, and the thought has occurred to me that it might make sense for me to consider a used (pre-owned!) drum scanner as an alternate to the current flatbed offerings.

I shoot 4x5, 8x10 and also will use rollfilm on my 4x5 at times. The problems come from my use of the rollfilm. My current scanner (Epson 2450) is woefully inadequate for 6x9, and only marginally satisfactory for 4x5 film. There are issues of sharpness, and also issues of dmax and noise that are a real problem for me to accept.

I know that the newer Epson 4870 is better in both respects, and the new Microtek i900 will probably also be better, and also allow me to scan 8x10 in addition to the smaller formats. However, they are both based on CCD's and will still have some of the inherent noise and dmax issues.

The problem is that I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and I look into the print shadows, and am not happy with what I see. My thinking is that I may be better suited getting a pre-owned tabletop drum scanner for a few thousand dollars, than continuing down the path of CCD scanning.

I'm familiar with the nature of drum scanners, and am the kind of person who is willing to spend the effort on wet-mounting, and the learning curve, etc. to do this right.

Of the many, many, tabletop drum scanners out there, what is a good product to consider for a drum scanner novice? One that may have parts available, and service, if necessary.

Here's my current limitations. I use a PC computer, and I intend to scan 6x9, 6x17, 4x5, and 8x10. Mostly chromes, some color negs, and also some B+W negatives. I would need a scanner that has the software and either some sort of documentation/education information, or a ready and willing source for information on how to get the most out of the scanner. I'd like information on reputable sources for pre-owned scanners and equipment also.

Please Note: if you feel that going the drum scanner route is a mistake, please tell me why, and what you think is a suitable alternate for a person who tends to be a bit of a perfectionist. I appreciate any discussions pro or con, as I am in the fact-finding stage right now.


Ken Lee
19-May-2004, 08:51
You mention a lot of requirements, but I don't think you mention how much you need to enlarge your images.

Janko Belaj
19-May-2004, 09:14
Hello Michael, (and sorry on my clumsy English)
I have been using (working with) a few drum scanners, both kind - table top and stand alone, so I may try to help you find something what will suit your needs. (no, I'm not connected to any seller:)) btw, I'm lucky to be working as photographer in large prepress firm so I can give my slides to be scanned on fine "Tango" or, if I'm in sort of hurry, on "Topaz" (large ccd scanner)
My first question to you will be what kind of money (how much) are you ready to invest? I'm afraid that serious drum scanners are still pretty costly, nomather how used. What I know that there was one (Danish?) firm "Scan View", they were producing small desk top kind of scanners "Scan Mate". The smallest and earliest models were pd-drum scanners (photo diode), but they had a big range of inexpensive pmt-drum scanners. I was working with ScanView ScanMate II plus", (or "Plus II", I'm not quite sure right now) and with larger model ScanMate ... 3000 (they had "5000" and "11000" models, I'm sure, but I forgot name of smaller units).
The two smallest had a fixed drum what was a real problem for precise mounting of transparencies. In deed of any kind of original... Larger models had a mounting station and removable drums, much easier to mount and, after all, it was easier to clean drums and scanner himself after scanning.
So, I think you will have a big road just to choose your gear right now. In my area (middle Europe) there are still pretty much services offering help in fixing "old" scanners, but I don't know how is in your area. If you don't have such services around, you will have to find model with lot of used parts on the market. But, for such situations might be two reasons - either chosen model was so bad that a lot of them have been broken (like that photodiode of the smallest ScanMate scanner), or it was so good model that lot of spare parts have been unused... (but that might be costly)... uf, my clumsy english.
Hope that helped a little bit.


Michael Mutmansky
19-May-2004, 09:45

Sorry... I neglected to mention this issue. Many of the inexpensive scanners will do a decent job scanning up to about 1200 or 1600 dpi. I am interested in a solid scan in the 2400 dpi range or slightly higher to accommodate smaller (MF) film formats.

I noticed you have a Microtek 2500f scanner, and have considered this scanner, but the scanner dmax is lower than the dmax from the 1800f, and so I am at a bit unsure if the resolution increase is worth the loss in dmax that it can read. I am currently thinking about the 1800f or the i900 as the frontrunners (assuming the i900 delivers on it's prerelease specifications).

The 2500 comes in at about $2500, which is about the starting point for some of the used drum scanners out there, which is why I feel that I have to at least consider this option.


Thanks for the comments. I understand you just fine.


Amadou Diallo
19-May-2004, 10:37
Michael, Lack of image sharpness, poor DMax and shadow noise will simply cease to be issues with a drum scanner. Keep in mind though useable software, a clean drum, mounting station, and consumables for mounting and cleaning must be factored in to the purchase price. From a reputable dealer with a 90 day warranty budget about $5500 to be set up and ready to scan.

A big issue is volume. Are you going to be doing enough of your own scans to justify the set up, cost and significant learning curve required? It's not rocket science, but techniques have to be learned and you've got to be anal about dust and static build up on the drum. Also, tabletop drum scanners have a huge footprint and require a very sturdy surface.

But you'll get a quality of information from your film that's second to none. There are a fair number of Howtek 4500s out there. Howteks can still be serviced as well. Stay away from the earlier 4000 model. It's long in the tooth by now and many more of them are at the end of serviceable life. Feel free to email offlist if you have more specific questions.

Edward (Halifax,NS)
19-May-2004, 10:44
What about something like the Polaroid SprintScan 45 instead?

Bruce Watson
19-May-2004, 12:12
My only format is 4x5. I also tried the 2450, which I also felt was marginally satisfactory for 4x5. I went through the same analysis as you, and came to the same conclusion. I bought a used Optronics ColorGetter 3 Pro drum scanner, and haven't looked back. The scans are amazingly sharp. The density range is huge. There are learning curves, but they aren't nearly as steep as people make out. This is a perfectly valid path to excellent scans, believe me.

I've got a bunch of information about the recent history of the drum scanner market, the players, dealers, where to get supplies, etc. that would just put this group to sleep (way more information about scanners than sane people really want to know). If you want it, email me off-list and I'll send you a copy.

Roger Hein
19-May-2004, 14:57

I'm curious - what is your intended output (inkjet prints, inkjet/imagesetter negs?)?

Ken Lee
19-May-2004, 17:54
For what it's worth, I'm not convinced that my Microtek 2500f actually gets 2500 ppi. The last time I tried, I couldn't tell much difference between 1250 upsized, and 2500. I have found it fine for doing 4x5 B&W, and it allows me to scan larger transparencies at 1250, up to 8x10 - and to proof 4x5's at a time.

If I had it to do over again, on my budget, I'd just get an Epson for 4x5, since I never enlarge 4x5 by a factor greater than four or five - or had I known enough, I might have gotten a used drum scanner.

On the other hand, the Minolta Dimage Multi Pro I sold to finance the Microtek, did a great job with Medium Format, putting the Microtek to real shame. Once your scanner can pick up the actual film grain, (somewhere past 2500 ppi ?) there's little need for higher resolution. I found it to be superb.

If you can get one machine to do both, you're in business. Otherwise, get one for each. Some have suggested that if you are willing to perform multiple scans at different levels of brightness, you can increase the DMax of any scanner. It's a slow technique, but it can help get the detail out of deep shadows.

Michael Mutmansky
19-May-2004, 19:45

My main intent is for commercial work and color enlargements. I recently saw some digitally printed PT/PD prints that for the first time, I considered to be worth comparing to an original negative. However, that has a much lower dpi requirement than any typical enlargement will have, so I am not really considering that as a requirement parameter. At this point, I still keep my digital and PT/PD away from each other (water and oil).


Thanks for the feedback on your 2500. That is exactly the type of information I can use to help make a decision on the path to take right now. I have considered getting a good/excellent film scanner like the Nikon 8000/9000 and then a larger scanner for 4x5 and up. I think that is probably the most logical approach for most purposes, but I have a few concerns about this approach.

The biggest concern is that I won't be able to get a 4x5 scan and a 6x9 scan to look the same due to the different equipment and software that the scans will go through. In a commercial context, it's often not as important that an image be absolutely accurate, but that there is consistancy from one image to the next, and I was thinking that using a single scanner would be the best way to help ensure this.

I've read the feedback that QTL got last year on this issue, and from the sound of it he decided to get the 4870 for his 5x7's. This is a bit of a surprise, because the image size he was talking about seemed to me to be large enough for a drum scanner to show it's benefits. If QTL is listening, I'd like to hear what his thoughts are based on the research he did last year.

I've heard mention that some people are getting good MF and also 4x5 scans out of the Imacon Photo (with the USM turned OFF for real, not set to 0!). For the 4x5 scans, two smaller scans are made, and then the two are composited in PS. If this works, it may be a reasonable single tool solution that would work as a decent temporary solution, presuming that the volume of 4x5's isn't too great.

It's readily apparent here:


That the 4870, or just about any other decent $500 scanner is going to be an improvement over the 2450 I currently have. However, it is also apparent that the Nikon 8000 and Imacon are that much better than the 4870 for MF work. I suspect that the Imacon scans have the hidden USM included, though, so it is a little difficult to compare them directly and declare it the best.


Ken Lee
20-May-2004, 04:48
You might enjoy this article (http://www.kenrockwell.com/minolta/mpcomp.htm" target="_blank) where Ken Rockwell compares the Minolta against Nikon, Imacon, etc. I previously had a Nikon scanner, and also did experience the banding problem in sky areas.

Personally, I found the Epson comparisons at galerie-photo.com a little under-whelming. It makes me wonder how Epson can claim a substantial increase in resolution between the two models. It looks more like a change in tonality than actual detail.

Ken Lee
20-May-2004, 04:51
Keep in mind that the Imacon is not a drum scanner per se.

As Ken Rockwell points out..."It has nothing to do with legitimate drum scanners which are described here (http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/scantek.htm#drum" target="_blank). The Imacons are just conventional CCD scanners with an innovative curved film holder and clean optical path."

George Stewart
20-May-2004, 07:35
I've done a lot of research on this subject and also need a scanner for up to 8x10 films. Presently I'm using the Imacon 343 to scan up through 4x5. I'm still lacking in the ability to do larger films. I thought about a used drum scanner but issues about drivers, SCSI connections, and software scared me off. Based on comparison scans I had done, I think the best value is the Creo IQ Smart2 flatbed scanner. Unfortunately the price is on the high side at $12,000. I'd recommend saving, and doing it right. Why shoot 8x10 if the output is less than superlative.

Michael Mutmansky
20-May-2004, 10:14

Your comments about the differences between the 2450 and the 4870 are correct in my mind, too. There is a subtle inprovement in sharpness (the mass of thorns in the bottom right does have a little better individual seperation), but overall there doesn't appear to be a real substantial improvement, but it is clearly a little bit better. The dpi and dmax claims of Epson and the rest are fundamentally bogus, and independant tests have shown this to be the case. I believe I read the the top resolution of the 4870 is actually around 1700 dpi.

The 4870 doesn't really compare to the Nikon favorably at all, however. And that is the primary point that I came away from that webpage with.

I understand the Imacon is not a drum scanner, and that there is a good bit of marketing hype associated with a number of their claims, but I do think it holds it's own reasonably well, and if I could track down a pre-owned Photo that would permit me to do both 4x5 (in two scans) and 120, then it may be a good way to go. I'd then have to forego scanning anything larger, but I don't consider that a real problem to live with.