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Thread: Professional versus home scan?

  1. #1
    Apicomplexan DrPablo's Avatar
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    Professional versus home scan?

    If I produce a relatively low number of images (being a hobbyist), which would be more economical -- getting a professional drum scan from the lab that develops my film, or purchasing a scanner that's up to the task?

    Secondly, if I want to print enlargements, like a 40x50 or whatever, should I do it by sending in a digital file or should I send the negative / transparency?

  2. #2
    Ted Harris's Avatar
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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    It all dpends on how large you want to print and what you consider satisfactory. Generally speaking if you are planning on mostly printing 8x10 and 11x14 you will likely be very pleased with the results from one of the consumer scanners. Add to that the great deal on refurbished Epson 4870 scanners direct from Epson that is available through 7/3 .... $160 with a coupon code which I can PM to you. At that price you can't lose since the 4870 is very little different than the current moel.

    As for a professional scan you need to check your lab's capability and see how well they do. Not all lab's are equal as you probably knowfrom having lab's do wet darkroom enlargements for you. If you are really going to print 40x50 you need to be very sure of the quality of the lab and their understandingof your needs. Send the lab a negative or transparency. Hopefully the same lab that does the scan will be able to do the print. Tell then you want the highest resolution scan they can deliver, not a scan for print size. Make sure they will produce a proof print for you too. You can get this service from ej arts in the East and West Coast Imaging in the West as well as several others.

    Disclaimer ... as most folks here know I have no connections with Epson and in fact am not prticularly fond of their scanners most of the time but this deal is too good to miss.

  3. #3
    Ted Harris's Avatar
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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    Correction ... the 4870's for $160 seem to be gone, no longer listed in the Clearance Center on Epson's website but they may be back before the deadline. I knwo three people who got one yesterday.

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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    As Ted says, it's all about how big you want to print. From there, decide what dpi you want for printing, and go backwards. This will tell you how big of a file you need. Another cosideration is 8-bit versus 16-bit. This is very important when out-sourcing your scanning because most labs typically charge by the megabyte and when scanning at 16-bit versus 8-bit, the cost doubles.

    For example, I print occasionally at 48x60 from 8x10 film. To print this big at 300 dpi, I scan at 2000dpi, which results in a file size of rougly 850Mb at 8-bit and 1.7G at 16-bit. With these numbers, a lab that typically charges $.50/Mb makes it $425 for the 8-bit and $850 for the 16-bit files. I don't about you, but that's waaaaaay too high for my blood. As a result, I found a used Howtek 4500 for $5000, and I made my money back in a very short time.

    The other advantage of having my own scanner is that I now have a better creative control over the scan.

    Good luck with your decision.

  5. #5
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    As you can imagine, the answer is "it depends."

    It depends on the value you put on quality. It depends on how big a print you want to make "normally." It depends on your actual volume of scans to make big prints over time. It depends on a lot of things, and you are the only one who knows the answers.

    I bought my own drum scanner. Every scan I make is a drum scan at about 11x enlargement (so I can do 10x prints with some room for cropping). I use the scan-once-use-many philosophy. I've made some beautiful huge prints from my scans.

    I did this because I did the math with my own variables and it turned out that it made sense for me. Will it for you? You'll have to do your own math with your own variables and find out. Let us know what you decide.

    Bruce Watson

  6. #6

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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    I shoot 4x5 black and white and scan on a Canon 9950. My best bet is that I am getting about 1800 real DPI, and I overscan at 4800 and downsample to reduce noise. I get extremely good 18 x 24 prints, and unless you stick your nose in them, excellent 24x30 prints at reasonable viewing distances. The scanner and software is about $500, and the Epson 700 is probably a little better at a little more money. That is less than 4 drum scans. I have shot about 900 sheets in the last year, probably scanned 700 of them, so at even $100 for drum scans, I would be looking at $70,000. Even if you only shoot 100 sheets a year, which is less than 9 a month, you would be looking at $10,000 for cheap drum scans.

    If you are going to work digitally, you need to scan most of your shots, so it gets very expensive very fast. If you are only shooting a few shots a month, it is not worth becoming a drum scanner mechanic. If I were doing this as my day job, I would join Bruce and buy a drum scanner, but then I have a little engineering in my background. If I were a well paid professional, I would have the lab do drum scans and charge the client.:-)

    Unless money does not matter, and it may not, a good scan from a top of the line consumer scanner will give you a file that will make a better print than you will be able to take advantage of until you are a lot more experienced. I think it would be better to do more of the cheaper scans than to be limited by your scanning budget.

  7. #7

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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    Depends what level of quality is important to you, your subject matter and style, and how you view your work - no pun intended. A high-end flat bed scanner would likely be more economical if you just want to scan your own material for personal use. But if you have any interest in selling or gifting large prints, a consumer-level scanner would not produce top-quality prints.

    Most of us moved up to LF photography for the superior results this format makes possible. If you have outstanding exposures on large format slide film that are technically excellent, and want to produce the best prints, a professional high-end drum scan is the way to go. From that digital scan, a good lab can produce prints that will make your jaw drop.

    Check out www.westcoastimaging.com which has an excellent reputation (I don't work for them, and they didn't put me up to this). Unfortunately pro drum scans can be expensive. Fortunately, they're currently offering a 25% discount on drum scans.

  8. #8

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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    I would like to differentiate between the theoritical and the real. A properly run consumer scanner like the 9950 or the 700 will let you do a 16x20 or even slightly larger that is sharper and has as good tonality as the best of AA's prints - if you can hold up your end with the images. While a modern drum scan and a perfect negative is certainly sharper than anything AA did, most of us would be happy to do as well as he did. If you have to choose, better to have a 100 (or 1000) consumer scans than 10 drum scans, at least until you can produce those perfectly exposed and composed negatives every time. If you do not have to choose, get the drum scans. If money were no object, I certainly would. Since it is, I am betting that I get much better prints by shooting more film and working harder on the negatives and print sfrom that film, than by having only a small number of files to work from. Once you have been through those 100 scans and find the handful of really good shots, then get a drum scan and see how much difference it makes in your printing.
    Last edited by Ed Richards; 29-Jun-2006 at 19:52.

  9. #9

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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    "But if you have any interest in selling or gifting large prints, a consumer-level scanner would not produce top-quality prints."

    Really? What do you consider "large" or "top quality" or "consumer level?" I make what I consider to be "top quality" prints in the 13x19 range from scans made on my Epson 4990, which I assume you would consider to be a "consumer level" scanner. At least they're indistinguishable from prints made from scans on the Imacon $10,000 or so scanner that was used at the Palm Beach Photographic Workshops when I attended a workshop there so I assume they're "top quality."

    IMHO vague statements like the one I've quoted here are very misleading and incorrectly cause people with little scanning experience to think that they need drum scans or $10,000 flat beds to make excellent prints since there's no indication of what the poster considers to be "large" or "top quality." I'd agree that if "large" means say 20x24 or bigger prints and "top quality" means equivalent in technical terms to a print the same size made in a darkroom by a talented darkroom printer from 4x5 film then a drum scan or a scan from a very expensive (maybe $3000 and up) flat bed is probably needed. But how many people have printers that will make prints larger than about 16x20 and even if they have such a printer, how often do they actually make prints that size? I don't know about others, and certainly there's a big difference between amateurs and pros, but because of ink and paper costs I confine prints larger than about 8x10 to those I plan to mat and display, which is maybe 1 out of every 50 or more photographs that I make. And when I do make a print larger than that it can't exceed 13" in width because that's the largest width my Epson 1160, 1280, and 2200 printers could handle. But for me and my purposes a print of about 13x19 is a big print, bigger than I used to make in a darkroom and more than adequate for display and (hopefully) sale. I may or may not be typical of the other "serious amateurs" here but the people (unfortunately few) who buy my prints don't for the most part even want prints that when framed and matted will be four or five feet long.

    It would be interesting to take a poll here and see what most of us average in terms of routine print size and maximum print size. I'd be willing to bet that very few people here other than the pros (by which I mean those who derive a substantial part of their living from photography) routinely make prints larger than about 16x20 and for that you don't IMHO need a drum scan or a scanner costing more than about $1000 to make a "top quality" print.
    Brian Ellis
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    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  10. #10

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    Re: Professional versus home scan?

    I think the biggest question you need to ask yourself here is, "Do I WANT to dedicate the time and effort into learning the process and all the nuances that go along with it?"

    Your answer will dictate where you go next. From a purely economical point of view, if your energy and time is worth more doing other things then, no, I'd send them out to a competent lab. However, if you'd like to invest the time and effort into "learning" how to do it yourself, then I'd definitely recommend you buy a scanner and go for it! I'm sure Ted can speak to the learning curve side of the process.

    As for sending the lab the original or a disk, personally, I'd send them the transparency/negative. They can then match the colors and see first hand what they're working with.

    But, I'd also recommend that you use a first rate, reliable and competent lab!

    Cheers
    Life in the fast lane!

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