A Tale of Two Scanners

My printer, a Canon MP480, has a decent scanner but no light or adapters for scanning negatives or slides. While every spare cent was going towards tuition at the now-defunct College of Santa Fe, I bought a cheap scanner. It’s an ImageLab FS-5C05. I think I paid about US $50 for it on Amazon. Not total crap but not great either. It scans to an SD card or internal memory. There are no drivers or settings. It’s 5 megapixels, or about 3600 DPI. Its sensor is a bit noisy, it uses too much JPEG compression, and the click stops for each frame never line up correctly. That said, it does a passable job for snapshots and you can line the negatives up pretty well by ignoring the stops and using the little LCD on the unit as a guide.

I bought a Canon CanonScan 9000F about a year ago but just set it up last week. It does a great job scanning prints (max 4800 DPI). Negatives (9600 DPI) are a mixed bag so far. The trays don’t hold the negatives very flat — I had to insert them wrong side up (convex side of the curl up). The exposure level seems to vary a lot depending on where in the tray a negative is located. It comes with an adapter to hold 120mm negatives flat. I may have to make something that does the same for 35mm. I need to make a shield too, for negative sections that don’t reach end-to-end in the trays. I’m hoping that will help the exposure variation. When 35mm negatives are selected as the source in the software, it expects a perfectly aligned 36X24 mm frame. On the Olympus Pen-EES half-frame negatives, this created some strange crops even when both exposures were visible in the tray frame. It’s far from obvious if there is a way to resize the scan area for negatives. The software doesn’t have resizing frame handles the way it does for scanning prints.

Aside: Obviously, I like Canon hardware. My first digital camera was an A70 (died), I had an SX20is (stolen), and I have an SX10is and an EOS 60D in addition to the MP480 and the scanner. However, if you have trouble after warranty, don’t bother with their “customer loyalty” program. It seems like a good deal — trade in your broken gear for refurbished goodies at a discount. Nope. Whole lots of nope. The discounts are off of MSRP, which no one actually gets or even asks. You don’t get the same warranty and there’s no way to know if something is open-box-can’t-be-sold-as-new or waaaay broken and repaired. It *does* come with heaps of shitty attitude from the phone reps.

Anyhoo… On to some photos.

Both images are rotated since the Olympus uses portrait format half-frames. Both have the half-frame break and scanner borders cropped and both are resized for the web. The ImageLab cropped a little top-to-bottom, which is left-to-right on these rotated frames. The Canon scan is flipped horizontally due to having to load the negatives wrong side up. The Canon cropped quite a bit off of the bottom (side of the half-frame) — consistent with not being able to choose anything but an ideal 35mm frame size. I did a LOT of clone tool dust cleanup on the ImageLab scan (it’s on the sensor) and ran a mild noise reduction filter. On the Canon scan, I did a little dust edit but the negatives are pretty clean. I left the “snowfall” on the right side of the image. It’s not dust. I read a few complaints about it in reviews but I haven’t seen any solution. It’s hit or miss. Rescan and it may be gone or it may be different. The ImageLab scan is a little green and the Canon scan is a little blue. On this photo, the ImageLab scanner did much better on color and exposure.

The car wash from Breaking Bad - ImageLabs

The car wash from Breaking Bad – ImageLabs

The car wash from Breaking Bad - CanoScan

The car wash from Breaking Bad – CanoScan

Other than web-prep (rotating, flipping, resizing) I left these alone. You can really see the quality difference in the Canon sensor. The ImageLab overexposed and the Canon underexposed — both by quite a bit.

Albuquerque Crowne Plaza - ImageLab

Albuquerque Crowne Plaza – ImageLab

Albuquerque Crowne Plaza - CanoScan

Albuquerque Crowne Plaza – CanoScan

Web-prep only. The ImageLab got the exposure right. The Canon is really underexposed, the sky is full of noise, and there’s the snow again. At current prices, the Canon is about 3 times the price. When it was the new model (when I bought it) the differential was about 8X.

Big-I - ImageLab

Big-I – ImageLab

Big-I - CanoScan

Big-I – CanoScan

So far, the Canon is really disappointing. I can tell the sensor is up to the task — when it gets it right, the scans are glorious. At 6 minutes per negative raw scan time, plus rotate, crop, and flip, I don’t know if it’s worth it to retry until it gets it right. The next test is to use a TWAIN driver and bypass the rather lame Canon software altogether.

Other items of note: If you get a Canon scanner, do NOT use the default installation. It installs an ArcSoft photo editor and ArcSoft Connect, an always-on spam daemon that’s a pain to completely uninstall. The install also uninstalled the scanning software for the MP480 without asking. Not cool bitches, not cool.