Perfection for $299?
During September and October 2000 I lived in Atlanta, GA, and traveled extensively in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Though not the primary purpose for my being there, a significant aspect of my activities while in the Southeast was to photograph fall colours in Great Smoky National Park. Consequently I was away from my desktop darkroom for almost 2 months.
I had a laptop computer with me which allowed for maintaining this web site and keeping up with my correspondence. But, my scanner (an Imacon FlexTight Photo) was back home in Toronto and inaccessible until November. What to do?
If I was shooting with my Canon EOS system the problem would not have been too great. There are several reasonable quality and inexpensive 35mm scanners that I could buy as a short-term solution. Or, while in major cities I could have Kodak Photo CD scans made. But, I was shooting medium format this trip; Rollei 6008, Hasselblad ArcBody and Fuji XPan (which is effectively medium format), and the choice of inexpensive scanners was much more limited. (Inexpensive Kodak Photo CD and Picture CD scans simply aren't available from medium format film).
Here was the issue. My Imacon scanner at home was about the best there is short of a drum scanner, and some would argue that it's just as good. While reasonable quality 35mm scanners can be had for $500, decent medium format film scanners for the serious user start at $5,000 while those in the $799 to $2,000 price range simply are too expensive for a short term solution, and therefore not worth the investment regardless of image quality.
The Epson 1200U Photo
I was very pleased to discover a very inexpensive solution to my dilemma, the Epson Precision 1200U Photo scanner. For USD $299 (and available widely for less), this 1200 X 2400 DPI scanner includes a transparency adaptor which handles 35mm, 120 and 4X5" film sizes. (All other flat-bed scanners with film handling capability anywhere near this price point are only 600 dpi).
The 1200U Photo is available with a USB connector, so attaching it to my laptop on the road is a cinch. Because it's small and light-weight, traveling with it by car, using it in motels and finally bringing it home with me at the end of this trip was simplified as well.
In operation the scanner is quick and simply to use. It has a Twain interface so it "plugs" right into PhotoShop, and the Epson supplied scanning software is remarkably competent given the low price of the unit.
So, What Do The Scans Look Like?
In a word, not bad at all. Don't misunderstand. It is in no way comparable to more expensive scanners, and not even in the same league as something like an Imacon, but the value for the money is high.
I'm scanning my 6X6cm and 24X56mm film at 1200 dpi, which is the scanner's true optical resolution. While it is speced as a 1200X2400 dpi unit, the reality is that the 2400 rating is based on the use of a stepper motor, and while better than interpolation, it is not real optical resolution. These scans allow me to make an 8X10" at 300 dpi. ( I have scanned a colleague's 35mm slides at 2400 DPI and produced 21MB files which also print quite nicely at up to 8X10").
The major obvious drawback to this scanner is noise in the shadows. It's quite noticeable, but it can be ameliorated by using PhotoShop's Noise/Despeckle filter after the Unsharp Mask is applied.
Wolf Pen Gap, White County, Georgia. September 2000
Photographed with a Hasselblad XPan and 45mm lens on Provia 100F.
Scanned with the Epson 1200U Photo.
The Cost Rational
For less than $300 I was able to scan my transparencies and negs while traveling, evaluate them by making 8X10" prints (on an Epson 870), and upload them here on my web site. The quality obtainable for these purposes is more than adequate and the price within reason for a short term requirement like mine.
Having this scanner for the two month period while away from home was a joy, and enabled me to evaluate my work without a long delay or expensive lab scans. Naturally, when I returned home and once again had access to my primary scanner I rescaned any worthwhile images for permanent use.
Few people have my particular need for MF scanning while traveling, but for someone who works in medium format or 4X5" and wants to make some moderate resolution scans at low cost, or who is just getting his or her feet wet in digital image processing on a budget, the Epson 1200U Photo is an excellent beginners tool.
September 15, 2000
Epson has announced an update to the 1200U, the 1240U. More information can be found on Epson's UK site.
It's worth noting as well that the September 19, 2000 issue of PC Magazine tests flat bed scanners and rates the 1200U as their Editor's Choice. Note that they were not testing it with the transparency adaptor, but instead the less expensive model for reflective use only. If you're buying this scanner to handle film be sure to get the Photo version.