Microtek ScanMaker i800
By MIKE PASINI
-- A Scanner for Everyone
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: February 2006
Microtek (http://www.microtek.com) announced its ScanMaker i800 at Photoshop World in Sept. 2005 and is just shipping a Pro version with upgraded software to read the included IT8 targets. We received an early review unit which sat by our side for a couple of months handling our routine scanning tasks.
It handled everything we threw at it -- line art, 35mm negatives, slides, prints -- rather effortlessly, regardless of which scanning application we favored at the moment. Not only is the i800 versatile, but it's also affordable at just $399.99 list.
What's affordable about $400 list? How about a Dmax of 4.0, 48-bit color and 9600x4800 dpi optical resolution on a legal-sized scanning bed with your choice of High-Speed USB 2.0 or FireWire ports?
Inexpensive flatbeds strain to get their Dmax (the maximum recordable density with 4.0 being very black) into the high threes, fine for the 2.0 dynamic range (Dmax minus the rarely stated Dmin) you need to scan reflective material. But slides can be up around 3.2 to no more than 4.0 (and negs a little less). Given a Dmin of around 0.3, let's say, anything less than a Dmax of 4.0 is going to have trouble capturing shadow detail in slides. For more about Dmax, see our April 15, 2005 issue (http://www.imaging-resource.com/IRNEWS/index-arch.html).
An inexpensive flatbed may have an optical resolution as low as 1200-dpi (although the trend is upward). If you scan a 35mm film frame at that resolution, your maximum enlargement for a 300-dpi dye sub printer is 4x6. To get an 8x10, you have to be able to scan 2400 dpi. So the low number of the scanner's optical resolution should be a least 2400 for film. Which happens to be the current limit for 8.5-inch wide flatbeds. Manufacturers achieve resolutions greater than that by stacking CCDs at a half-pixel offset.
Shadowed by the i900 behind it
So the i800 brings the price of some heavy duty scanning features within range of those of us who don't scan images for a living. You can, we found, get very good results from it.
The full spec sheet for the i800 includes these noteworthy features:
- 9600x4800 dpi optical resolution
- 48-bit color (16-bit channels)
- 4.0 Dmax
- 8.5x14-inch, legal size scanning bed
- High-Speed USB and FireWire ports
- Built-in transparency adapter
- Microtek EZ-Lock film holders for film up to 8x12, including templates for four six-frame strips of 35mm film, 12 mounted 35mm slides, two 4x5s and medium format panoramic.
- Smart-Touch buttons to automate scanner functions like Power, Digital ICED, Scan, Copy, Email, OCR, PDF and Custom
- PictuRescue software with Digital ICE for physical defects and ColorRescue for color restoration
- Microtek's ScanMaker 5 and ScanMaker Pro 7 software, as well as SilverFast SE for the i800. Our early unit didn't have the full set of software but the support site does make it easy to catch up.
DESIGN | Back to Contents
The solidly-built i800 is a conventional flatbed design. All scannable material sits on (and faces) a glass plate under which the CCD array tracks along the length of the scanner to make the image. Reflective material like a print is illuminated by a lamp in the scanner body. Transmissive material like a film negative or slide is illuminated by a lamp in the lid. The lid, by the way, stays up all by itself when you lift it up -- a feature that impressed everyone who saw it.
|The USB, FireWire, Adapter and Power Ports
Power is supplied by an AC adapter brick. And both High-Speed USB and FireWire 400 ports are provided at the back of the unit, where a rather large cable connects the lid to the scanner body.
The front panel sports a number of buttons (a light touch does it) enabled by the Microtek Scanner Configuration utility software installed with ScanMaker 5.
Regardless of platform, you need a CD-ROM drive to install the scanning software, a color display with 24-bit color output and 128-MB RAM (256-MB for Digital ICE).
Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP is supported on a Pentium III or higher system with a USB (1.x or 2.0) or IEEE-1394 port.
Macintosh OS 9.x and 10.2 or higher is supported on an iMac or G3-G5 with built-in USB or FireWire ports.
A nice, clear, easy-to-follow poster accompanies the i800. Finding a spot for the long narrow scanner may be your biggest problem. The power brick and AC cord need a three-prong plug. Both USB and FireWire cables are provided to connect to your computer. High-speed USB, which is what we used, connected to a Belkin High-speed USB hub.
Three CDs are included, an Elements install and two ScanMaker installs (Standard and Pro) with a feature comparison checklist so you can decide which you want to use. We rather think the Pro version should have all the features of the Standard version, but that's not how it works. Only the Standard version pays any attention to the scanner's buttons.
Microtek's Jerry Jusek told us "the Pro version is a major upgrade of our existing ScanWizard and is available via free download as an upgrade for existing Microtek ScanWizard Pro users." Units shipped after our review unit also include LaserSofts's Silverfast SE scanning application.
The installation CDs also contain Ulead Photo Explorer and ABBYY FineReader OCR software for Mac OS 9 or Windows only. But the support site has a 35-MB download of FineReader that installs as a plug-in for ScanMaker 5 on OS X.
|The Scanner Lock
Looking up from underneath
As with any flatbed, you have to unlock the imaging unit before you can use it. In this case, the lock is a red slide in the back corner.
|The Adapter Lock
The lamp moves with the sensor to provide even and constant illumination
And because the i800 has a transparent media adapter (the scanner lid) with a moving rather than fixed light source (to provide even, consistent illumination), you have to unlock that as well with the small slide switch near the hinge.
Part of any scanner install here is calibrating and profiling the device. But, unlike the i900 or the i800 Pro, the i800 does not include either IT8 targets for calibration or calibration options in software. Instead, the unit uses a default profile. That's better than nothing and if, like us, you want to roll your own, you can just order the i800 Pro.
We're not great fans of scanner buttons. While they are intended to make access to the scanner's features simple, they rely on specific software (a printer driver, an email application, etc.) that's once removed from the hardware itself. Great if they work, as long as they work. But you're really better off learning how to activate these features in software that won't break when your OS is updated.
In addition to the Power button, there are seven Smart-Touch buttons:
- Digital ICE -- Interestingly enough, the button-activated version addresses physical defects (like scratches, rips and tears) of prints. To handle defects in film and transparencies, you enable ICE in software.
- Scan -- Captures an image to a file or an application for further processing.
- Copy -- Behaves much like a photocopier, scanning whatever is on the scanner bed and sending it immediately to your printer through your computer. Unlike an all-in-once device, however, this depends on installing a printer driver.
- Email -- Opens the scanned image in your email editor.
- OCR -- Converts a scanned image of text into ASCII text, saving retyping.
- PDF -- Saves the scanned image as an Adobe Portable Document that can be viewed with Adobe Reader software.
- Custom -- You can assign one of four common functions to this button: Power Saving (which turns the lamp off to prolong its life), Scan (a second Scan button with alternate settings), Fax (to launch a Fax driver on your computer) and Launch Application (to select an application to open the scanned image).
Press the PDF button and you get a PDF
EZ-LOCK FILM HOLDERS | Back to Contents
The film holders that ship with the i800 precisely align 35mm filmstrips, 120 film and 4x5 film on the flatbed where software can find each frame during batch scanning. Since you can load four strips of 35mm film, each with six frames, that's more than a small convenience. Film is loaded emulsion up.
The film holders for 120 and 4x5 film feature spring-actuated tension grips which hold the film perfectly flat during scanning for edge-to-edge sharpness. Curled film is a common scan problem for film this size, so it's big news to see it so deftly handled (and at this price, too).
|The 120 EZ-Lock Adapter
The yellow circle highlights the sponge tension grip
When closed the 120 film is pulled tight and flat, as seen from the bottom
You can also scan film up to 8x12 on the flatbed using a small Film Alignment Ruler that includes a clear calibration strip to help crop the image.
Using the film holders is simple enough, but spend a minute with the manual to see how to align the images (facing the glass) and lock them into the various holders.
To scan, you first have to remove the black mat that usually provides a background to reflective scanning. Simply slide the mat to the side away from the lid lock and lift it out. It's a little confusing until you realize there are plastic "springs" that hold it in place. The film holders then slip into the frame vacated by the mat.
|The Plastic Spring
Each of the film holders has a calibration strip at the front end of the holder (where the scanning starts, that is). Even without a holder, the Film Alignment Ruler includes a calibration strip.
|The 35mm Adapter's Calibration Strip
Note the cutout at the right side of the black adapter
We asked Jerry what the strip does. "The basic process of the calibration is to adjust for lack of uniformity in the light source and CCD elements. Of course, the lamp intensity is not uniform from edge to edge and all CCD elements are not identical, particularly in regards to noise."
We also asked about the 35mm strip holder. We had a little trouble with ours, which is a different design from the one used in the i900. The i800 holder carries twice as many strips but they are held in place by a long flexible flap on the top side of the strip. You should just be able to slip a film strip into the slot formed by the plastic holder and the flexible flap, but we found it took some effort. And when we tried to remove our film strip, it was stuck.
After removing the film, we were able to loosen the grip by running a thick sheet of paper into the slot and leaving it for an hour or two, but we recommend testing your holder for this before using it with your precious film.
Much as we love to review software, we shy away from it when we review scanners because you do have options.
Microtek includes three. Its ScanWizard software, which knows about the i800's buttons, is designed for the casual user. ScanWizard Pro knows about the film templates, but we find it less than a felicitous experience. A version of SilverFast SE for the i800 is also included. If you know SilverFast, that's good news. Unfortunately, VueScan (yet another third party application, but one that is not hardware specific) did not recognize the i800.
Our hardware installation put the scanner out of arm's reach, which is usually no problem. But it did mean we were less enamored in the front panel buttons. So we weren't inclined to use ScanWizard 5.
SilverFast will let you do batch scanning, but you have to draw the frames for each image (and that's a lot of frames on four strips of six 35mm negatives). But it does let you save the setup.
VueScan probably handles that most simply by asking for the size of each frame and the offset of the first one, so you can make some simple adjustments to set up a film holder and save the setup.
|The Configuration Utility
There are some interesting tradeoffs among these options if you are scanning negatives. Negative emulsions have different characteristics, requiring different conversions to positive for each manufacturer, film type and speed. VueScan seems to have the most complete library of emulsions with SilverFast a close second but ScanWizard Pro never seems to have what we're scanning (which is mainly pre-1998 film).
Each of these options offers different ways of rescuing damaged or faded images. We have no favorites there either, prefering to work manually on damage and happy with color restoration on all of them.
You'd laugh to see us installing and uninstalling each of these solutions as we stumble from one project to the next, hoping one or the other of them would make the task just a little bit easier. It seems you need all three to get anything done these days.
We refer you to our review of SilverFast (http://www.imaging-resource.com/SOFT/SF6/SF6.HTM) and VueScan (http://imaging-resource.com/SOFT/VUE/VUE.HTM) for more information about them. But, frankly, the genre could use a lot more attention to the user interface.
Nothing prevents you from upgrading to SilverFast Ai and calibrating the i800 with reflection and film targets, but it isn't cheap. So how is calibration handled?
Jerry told us, "A factory default profile is used, which by the way is impressively accurate due to the consistency of the scanner." Apart from a tendency to oversaturate, we'd agree the default profile was generally accurate. Oddly enough, using a default profile is how Konica Minolta handles calibration with their high-end 5400 II 35mm film scanner. Maybe CCDs are getting as consistent as inkjet cartridges.
But for the finicky among us, Jerry added that the i800 Pro "includes a full version of Silverfast Ai and both film and reflective targets. This will allow for ICC profile generation. By the way, the Silverfast targets have bar codes so the IT8 target data is automatically located. A nice touch."
We used SilverFast to do our dirty work since VueScan could not find the scanner on the USB bus.
Our first task was to scan a 30 year old negative in ScanMaker Pro (which knew about the film holder). We had no problem with that at all. The software did have the Kodak emulsion in its database to our delight and the resulting print looked like we'd taken the image yesterday when compared to the original, slightly faded print, which we'd kept out of the light all these years.
||100 Pct. Crop
Our second task was to scan a road map for our lucky Cousin on his way to Italy. Our ancestral home is not on many maps, but we happened to have one that showed the road to the place, anyway. This is simply colored line art. Again, the scanner delivered excellent reproduction, this time in SilverFast.
|The Map at 150 dpi
||100 Pct. Crop
Our third task was a nasty little problem we've never been able to solve: a print made on linen textured paper. This was pretty popular 20 years ago before the glossy print became the standard. Our test print is pretty bad: bad exposure from the small automatic camera, poor printing and that linen paper. It's also pretty old. But it's an image with a lot of sentimental value to us. So we're always looking for some way to retrieve it from the indignities it has suffered. SilverFast again did very well with it, minimizing the linen texture (if not eliminating it).
|The Linen Print
||100 Pct. Crop
Task Four was, like the map, a scan of colored line art, this time Flat Stanley (http://www.flatstanley.com). The black mat made it impossible to see Stanley's cartoon outline, so we laid a piece of white paper over him before scanning. He'd been colored in markers, which translated into a bit more intense colors.
|Line Art at 300 dpi
||100 Pct. Crop
Our final task was scanning a few slides. This is where you can see the Dmax in action. All three of our samples have lots of detail in the shadows and the i800 managed to hang on to most of it. Again, we saw the oversaturation (particularly in the park shot) but that's easily corrected. Any of these scans would make an exceptional print.
||100 Pct. Crop
||100 Pct. Crop
||100 Pct. Crop
The i800 has the resolution, bit-depth and Dmax to handle 35mm negatives and slides, prints and a variety of other scanning jobs without breaking a sweat. We applaud the inclusion of both High-Speed USB and FireWire ports. And we're happy to see a variety of EZ-Lock film holders, too (although we hope the 35mm filmstrip holder is not as troublesome as ours).
We're less impressed with front panel buttons than we might be, we suppose. But what really worries us is the inability to calibrate and profile this device. Fortunately, Microtek answers that quibble with the Pro version. But in that case, we'd quibble a bit more about the transparency adapter, a standard configuration certainly, but it does require you to scan film through glass. Again, Microtek has an answer (but it's about $100 for every answer, if you're counting): the i900.
So where does that put the i800? As one of the best scanners we've seen for someone who does not want to be bothered with calibration and profiling, who just wants the durned thing to work. And who happens to have a lot of things to scan, too -- film, slides, prints. And wouldn't at all mind if they could just press a button to do it! In that sense, the limitations we've noted are actually features. Fortunately, the box itself has the horsepower to deliver.