QUALITY UNDER $200
CanoScan 8800F --
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: April 2010
Canon's CanoScan 8800F belongs to a new class of scanner designed to streamline what is often an arduous task into a rewarding one. We recently reviewed the Epson V600, which directly competes with the CanoScan 8800F in this class.
Relying on an LED light source and a generic profile to drive their own well-organized software, these scanners can deliver perfectly delightful results from negatives, slides and prints without requiring a degree from Scanning University.
That's good news for the amateur with a few shoeboxes in the closet. And the modest $200 list price ($175 street) for the CanoScan 8800F is even better news, although that price tag is in the same neighborhood as a multifunction device which includes a scanner.
The only bad news is how long it takes to scan that shoebox. There's no way around that, unfortunately. Scanning, even on a nimble unit like the CanoScan 8800F, is never going to be as fast as taking a snapshot. So we still recommend taking the shoeboxes to a reliable lab for quick digitization of your collection and using a scanner at home to work on your favorite images.
As we took a CanoScan 8800F through its pace, we tried to see if it could compete with the leading desktop scanners as well as the scanners found in inexpensive multifunction devices.
It's easy enough to snap a photo and get a great image almost every time but scanning a print of that image can take a lot of skill.
In our review of the $250 Epson V600 we published a Short Course on Scanning that covers the key topics of resolution, sharpness, Dmax, bit depth, connection speed, batch scanning, software, film carriers and calibration targets.
Those are the things that separate a $2,000 scanner from a $700 scanner from a $300 from a $100 scanner. And from a multifunction device, too.
A quick look at the $200 CanoScan 8800F's specifications shows it measures up well in most areas:
- At 4800 dpi, resolution exceeds our minimum 2400 dpi film scanner requirement
- Bit depth is a full 16-bits per channel for both color and black and white images
- Connection speed is the full-blown USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
- You can indeed batch scan originals -- and about twice as many thanks to the wide transparency adapter light source
- The three simple film carriers handle 35mm negative strips up to six frames long, mounted 35mm slides and up to three 120 film negatives (with a film flattener)
Canon doesn't report the density range for its scanners. This number reveals the ability of the scanner to see both detail in dark areas of your originals (the highlights in negatives) and detail in the highlights. Many companies fudge the number by combining two scans (one for the shadows and another for the highlights). Third-party scanning software now offers just that capability (multi-exposure), so it isn't quite the crime it was. We'll just have to carefully examine the scans to determine if the CanoScan 8800F measures up.
Like the Epson V600, the CanoScan 8800F doesn't include calibration targets. Both units rely on a consistent LED light source, which makes it feasible to use a generic profile that does a good enough job for most originals. That profile is accessed by the manufacturer's software. If you're using third-party scanning software like VueScan, you can build your own profile.
The real value of a scanner like the CanoScan 8800F, however, is how much of the scanning work it does for you. Can you drop your original into the scanner and, a few seconds later, have a good digital copy of it?
The full specifications for the CanoScan 8800F are:
Scanner Type: Flatbed, color and monochrome
Scanner Element: Charge-Coupled Device
Light Source: White LED
Max. Resolutions: Optical: 4800 x 9600 dpi; Interpolated: 19,200 x 19,200 dpi
Scanning Mode: Color: 48-bit input with 48-bit or 24-bit output (16-bit or 8-bit channels); Grayscale: 48-bit input with 8-bit or 16-bit output (for film scanning only)
Maximum Document Size: 8.5 x 11.7 inches
Buttons. Seven scanner buttons including four PDF, Copy, Photo/Film, Email
Maximum Film Size: 35mm x 12 frames (negative/positive), 35mm x 4 frames (negative / positive mounted slides), 22cm x 6 film strip (120 roll film)
Scanning Speed: 12.1 msec./line at 2400 or 4800 dpi; 6.1 msec./line at 1200 dpi; 1.7 msec./lin at 600 dpi; 1.0 msec./line at 300 dpi
Interface: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed
Dimensions: 10.7 x 18.9 x 4.0 inches (W x D x H)
Weight: 9.2 lbs.
OS Compatibility: Windows Vista, Windows XP/2000 and Mac OS X v.10.2.8 to 10.5.x (although the OS X Leopard driver must be downloaded from Canon's 8800F downloads page)
Software: CD-ROM including Printer Driver, Setup Software and User's Guide, Adobe Photoshop Elements (v5.0 for Windows and v4.0 for Mac OS), ArcSoft PhotoStudio, MP Navigator EX, NewSoft Presto! PageManager® (Windows only), ScanSoft OmniPage SE
Power Source: AC adapter 120V, 60Hz
Max. Power Consumption: 18W, 1.5W standby
Environmental Conditions (without condensation): Operating temperature: 50 to 95 degrees F; Operating humidity: 10 to 90 degrees RH
Warranty: Toll-free technical phone support plus 1-year limited warranty with InstantExchange program.
The retail box includes:
- CanoScan 8800F Scanner
- AC adapter
- Adobe Photoshop Elements CD-ROMs (Windows v5.0, Mac v4.0)
- Documentation kit with Cross Sell Sheet, Quick Start Guide, Setup Software & User's Guide CD-ROM and Warranty Card
- Film guides for 35mm (Negative/Positive), 35mm (Negative/Positive Mounted Slides) and 120 Roll Film Strip
- Power cord
- USB cable
If scanning itself is going to be easy, then setup should be a breeze. And setting up the CanoScan 8800F was so simple you might wonder if you're getting your money's worth.
When we opened the box, we saw the cardboard box with the three film holders in it staring back at us. We just lifted that out and set it aside.
Next we lifted out the power block (one secret to the compact size of the scanner) and its power cord.
Then we were ready to lift the scanner out. We removed the top two Styrofoam blocks that hold it securely in the box and simply slid it out, leaving the bottom two blocks in place.
The CanoScan 8800F has a piano black finish on the lid and front that wraps around its gray plastic and metal body. That's covered to prevent scratches, so we removed the plastic by first pulling off the orange tape.
The scanner mechanism is locked, as a big blue label warns you. We left the scanner locked until we located it where we'd actually be using it. You should lock it whenever you move it.
Meanwhile, we connected the power brick, the power cord and the USB cable (but we didn't connect the scanner to our computer). Before we made that connection, we installed the software.
Installing the software was painless and quick, too. We inserted the CD, ran the installer, agreed to do the Easy Install to install all the components (including Arcsoft's PhotoStudio) and let it run.
That did require a restart.
Then we plugged the scanner into the computer and, after checking to make sure it was unlocked (the slide is a bit stiff), we fired it up. Startup is very quick. You'll hear the scanner move briefly back and forth and then it's ready. The LEDs require no warmup.
We had neglected to fully seat the USB cable in the scanner. You have to give it a firm little push to get it all the way in. It should be perpendicular to the back of the unit if you've done it right. We hadn't done it right, so the software couldn't find the scanner.
We also launched VueScan to see if it could run the CanoScan 8800F. It found it just fine.
The CanoScan 8800F has a set of buttons on the lid. To use them you have to have installed the software that recognizes them (MP Navigator EX), which is done for you with the Easy Install option.
On Mac OS X, you also have to set Image Capture to open MP Navigator EX automatically when a scanner button is pressed. The Quick Start Guide explains this if you need help.
You can configure the buttons in MP Navigator EX to do one of several options.
Although it's long, the CanoScan 8800F is one of the more compact flatbed film scanners we've tested and noticeably smaller than the Epson V600. It's still another box to put on your desk, unlike a multifunction device that can scan film like the MP980.
It actually looks a little sleeker than it is because it's shaped somewhat like a boat with a hull that is narrower than the deck. The transparency adapter is not as thick as most, marred only by the very thick electrical cord connecting it to the scanner at the back.
Also on the back, where they should be, you'll find the power port and the USB port.
From the front, the shiny piano black plastic fans out to embrace a row of buttons. Those include the Power button (ringed with a blue LED to indicate status), four PDF buttons and three other task buttons.
The top stays up by itself once you've opened it more than 45 degrees or so. The white back lifts out easily to reveal the film light source.
On the glass platen, an embossed arrow indicates the corner to orient your original material. Along the back edge a small pin indicates where to attach the film holders. On the front edge a small tab shows where to seat the other end of the film holders.
The three film holders are very simple. They each have a calibration area near the pin end that should be kept clear.
The 35mm film strip holder takes two strips of up to six frames. You pinch the inner plastic frame to release it, swing it up and insert your film. Nothing in the frame rubs against it but there are guides to properly align it as well as a boxed R to indicate how to orient the original.
The 120 film strip holder works just the same but includes a stiffer plastic piece to help hold that larger film size flat if it's curled. There's no other tension applied by the film holder.
The 35mm slide film holder merely contains up to four mounted slides you drop into the open areas. It's the simplest holder of the three.
And yes, you can scan without a holder. The actual scan area is 3.125 x 9 inches. But you might as well use the 120 holder if you're going to do that.
In sum, the device is lightweight and compact but very well engineered, down to the film holders. Nothing requires any particular manual dexterity or elaborate physical gestures. It's as if Canon did a time/motion study on scanning.
There are two technological features of the CanoScan 8800F worth pointing out before we get to work.
The first is Canon's FARE technology.
Canon's Film Automatic Retouching and Enhancement technology removes dust and scratch marks automatically from film scans using an infra-red process much like SilverFast's iSRD or Digital ICE.
Level 2 and 3 performs several automatic corrections. Fading Correction that restores hues and tints, transforming faded film originals into vivid color. Grain Correction removes grain from high ISO film.
Level 3 also includes Backlight Correction to lighten dark subjects standing in front of a bright background.
The second technological feature worth mentioning is ScanGear, Canon's scanning driver and application. It's one of the best scanning applications we've used. What we appreciate most is the clarity of its workflow decisions and how easy it is to find the settings you need to configure.
Canon simply makes it more pleasant than most, certainly less frustrating than Epson and on a par with Kodak and HP.
Even if you know nothing about scanning, this software makes it easy to get good results.
You can use Canon's MP Navigator EX 1.0 application to access the ScanGear TWAIN driver or, more typically, launch your image editing software to tap into ScanGear. We used Photoshop CS3 and ScanGear for all our tests.
ScanGear provides three options. The version supplied with the CanoScan 8800F is a little different from that supplied with the MP devices. There's a Simple and Advanced tab but the third tab is Multi Scan for gang scanning (rather than Auto Scan).
They all provide a preview so you can quickly get a thumbnail of what's on the scanner bed and decide how you want to handle it. Where they differ is in the options each panel provides.
Simple Mode makes scanning as easy as it can be. You simply tell the driver what you are scanning (a document, color photo, magazine, newspaper, negative film, positive film), tell it to display a preview (it can do that automatically, too), tell it what you want (a print, image or OCR), pick the output size (if necessary), crop (if necessary), correct the image (remove dust/scratches, fade, backlight, gutter shadow for books, color pattern corrections) and finally perform the scan.
Advanced Mode can save settings and is a bit more specific about them so you can set the resolution or adjust the color yourself. Image Settings, for example, can toggle unsharp masking and descreening. It can also set the level of dust and scratch removal, fade correction, grain correction, backlight correction and gutter shadow correction. It's something like a manual mode for the driver compared to Simple Mode.
Multi-Scan scans multiple images into separate files, providing a batch scanning solution within ScanGear.
We liked the ScanGear interface (and we don't say that much about scanning software interfaces). If you need help a boxed question mark icon takes you to the Canon manual (but not to the page you need). An info icon presents all the scanner settings at a glance, so you can see what's going on behind the curtain in Simple Mode. That's a great way to learn how to set Advanced Mode.
The one thing missing in ScanGear is the one feature we've come to value enormously in scanning software: multi-exposure. This technique scans the image twice: once for shadow detail and again for highlight detail. It's HDR for scanners, extending the density range you would normally get in one pass. And it can make even a scanner with a short density range capable of delivering excellent results from even difficult material like slides.
ScanGear doesn't have it (perhaps to keep scanning times quick) but VueScan and SilverFast both offer it for the CanoScan 8800F. So if you find you aren't getting detail in the shadows or you're blowing out detail in the highlights, those products are the solution.
Document Scanning. Scanning documents was quick and easy. You can use the buttons on the front of the scanner or launch MP Navigator EX 1.0 to get the ball rolling.
This is the easiest feat for a scanner and it was no trouble for the CanoScan 8800F, but it can be harder than it has to be. Our test scan was a typeset letter which we scanned two ways.
The first was using Navigator's OCR button. That scanned the image as a JPEG and sent the JPEG to OmniPage SE. We told OmniPage to convert the image into plain ASCII text and it did just that without a single error despite a wide variety of fonts.
The second was using Navigator's PDF button. That scanned the letter, saving it as a PDF file which was not itself an image but contained discreet text. We could copy and paste the text of the letter into other documents from the PDF. The only thing Navigator didn't do was turn Web addresses into links.
Photo Scanning. Photo scanning requires a dynamic range of just 2.0 (compared to 3.2 to 4.0 for slides). So, again, not very taxing for today's scanners.
Our test image, scanned in Simple Mode, was the baby picture against a red couch. Detail was crisp, color was accurate. It was overall a bit lighter than the original, but seen alone you would not complain.
And because you can put several images on the glass and use the Multi-Scan option of ScanGear, the CanoScan 8800F should do a very efficient job of scanning old prints. If they're faded, just enable the color restoration function of ScanGear.
Black & White Negative Scanning. To test the tonal range of the scanner, we scanned a 120 film negative in both ScanGear and VueScan. ScanGear's Advanced Mode did an admirable job, presenting a perfectly acceptable histogram of the image.
VueScan, with multi-exposure enabled, also did a very nice job. But it held onto detail in the shadows a bit better. And that's the point of multi-exposure.
Color Negative Scanning. Most shoeboxes are full of prints. But if your family photographer was diligent the color negatives shouldn't be hard to find. And you want to scan from the color negatives rather than the prints. Even if the prints look good, there may be a much better image hiding in the color negative.
The dynamic range required to scan a color negative is slightly less than for a slide, although a good deal more than for a print. A single pass on the CanoScan 8800F was sufficient to get a color negative scan with detail in both the shadows and highlights.
But color negatives present another problem. They have to be transformed into a positive. This is a lot more complex than simply inverting the color values and filtering the orange mask. And to add to the complexity, no one formula works for all color negative emulsions. They all have their own personality.
SilverFast and VueScan handle this by providing a library of color negative transformations. You just pick the one that matches your film.
ScanGear doesn't seem to provide that. It's all behind the curtain so we can't say how it works, but you have no choice. And the scanner can't itself tell. The proof, of course, is in the color balance of the scan. And we were a bit disappointed in what Simple Mode made of our ruins of Santa Barbara landscape test image.
It held detail, as we noted, in both the shadows and highlights. But the color was just a bit off. Seen in isolation, the turquoise sky, sandy stone and the faint lake might not bother you.
But we scanned the image again in VueScan where we could pick the emulsion and use multi-exposure -- plus we had calibrated the scanner. The difference is dramatic. The sky is no longer turquoise but deep blue. The sandy stone turns out to be reddish. And the faint lake is a bit less obscure without dominating the ruins.
We went back to ScanGear to try to approximate the VueScan results, taking out a little green and brightening the scan. The color rendering is closer but the tonal range doesn't match.
Color Slide Scanning. We threw our Kodachrome slide of gorgeous Maserati at the CanoScan 8800F. Kodachrome is a tough nut to crack. It tends to scan a bit too blue, requiring a calibration target of its own, and it doesn't work with infrared defect removal, like black and white film.
We scanned it using both Simple Mode and Advanced Mode. And we compared it to the test scans of the same slide from the Epson V600 and Canon MP980.
Both Simple Mode and the V600 scanned the slide too blue. The MP980 punched up the red a bit and delivered better contrast than the Simple Mode and the V600 scans. Best results, though, were achieved by the Advanced Mode scan where we could adjust the red and brighten the image manually.
Advanced Mode scan came closest to the Microtek M1 scan. That's saying something, considering the M1 is about $400 more expensive.
While the CanoScan 8800F proved to be a competent machine, we had to ask how it was more competent than a multifunction device like the Canon MP980 or MP990 and how it compared to more expensive scanners like the Epson V700 or Microtek M1.
It's similar to the MP980 except for capacity. It can handle 120 film (the MP980 can't) and it can do two strips of negatives (the MP980 can't).
It compares to the high end scanners in image quality if you spend the time and have the skill to tweak its scans. The included ScanGear software gets you almost there itself, but without multi-exposure, the high end scanners always beat the CanoScan 8800F. Fortunately, you can add that with either SilverFast or VueScan. But you'll need an IT8 target to calibrate it, too. All of that raises the price.
That leaves us to consider how it compares to the Epson V600. And here we'll just say we prefer the Canon software. If ease-of-use matters to you, you'll prefer the Canon software, too.
In conclusion, the goal of simple scanning still seems out of reach. We're sticking with our advice to get your collection professionally scanned by a lab with a high-speed, calibrated scanner. Then you can spend the time it takes to linger over a scan of the real keepers in your collection.
And if you're looking for a scanner to do that with, the CanoScan 8800F -- with the right software -- can do the job.