James Photography's Scanner Bake-Off

Updated March 11, 2005

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What is a Bake-Off?
Originally the term was first used to describe cooking competitions, with the winner having baked the best pie/cake/whatever in the eyes (and tastebuds) of a panel of judges. The phrase is now used in technology to compare similar products, such as HTTP caching appliances, medical 3D visualization technologies, and even fax modems. There are SO many variables to compare that product benchmark tests don't tell the whole story.

Aren't film scanners obsolete? Hasn't everyone gone digital?
So you'd think with all the hype and propaganda, but in fact film is still a preferred medium for many pros. Film scanners will continue to play an important role for many photographers for some time to come, so it's important to stay on top of the latest technology.

So Why a Bake-Off for Film Scanners?
Ever wonder what the difference in quality is between scanners that have similar DPI ratings, but very different prices? A manufacturer offering 4800 DPI may sound high-end, but there are in fact differences in the image sharpness... I ran into this when comparing a lab scan of a 35mm slide to that of my own film scanner. No comparison.

Something's Missing Here
I have yet to see a manufacturer's ad or promo material that grades the optics by any standard, which is at the heart of a scanner's quality. It is a known fact amongst professionals that the more one pays, the sharper the output from any given film scanner, but where's the data on lens and focusing features? To get a little insight into my background in this area, read my article on budget scanners.

Let's Run a Little Test, You and I...
This is the second year for this test - last year's was based solely on resolution quality. The results are posted at the link at the top of this page. This year the subject slide to be scanned will be a still life composition that will challenge not only a scanner's resolution capability, but the operator's talent as well. In other words, digital re-touching of the image is allowed this year, such as sharpening, shadow/highlight enhancement, colour balancing, contrast, etc. Pull all the stops out...

...will be done by a panel of experienced full-time professionals, and their ratings will be averaged for each entry. The panel consists of:
  • Mark Vitaris. Mark is a full-time commercial photographer based in Calgary, Canada, and runs "Mark Vitaris Photography". More of a bio to come soon.
  • George N. Nyman, PhD. George is a consultant for optics, imaging, microscopy, photography, and photofinishing. He is familiar with the process of comparing scanners, having done so on a smaller scale - take a peek at his web site.
  • Danny Burk, a full-time fine art photographer who does gallery showings of his work all over Michigan and Indianna. Danny also has a drum scanning service, so his sharp eye for scanner output will be of great value to the bake-off.
  • Darwin Wiggett, who operates Natural Moments Photography with his wife Anita Dalmer, editor-in-chief of Photolife magazine. Darwin has a number of stock agencies that carry his work, and has been published in numerous magazines, as well as a few coffee table books. As a talented "Photoshopper", he scans and prepares most of his own work for publication.
  • Julian Ferreira, Operations Director at The Camera Store in Calgary, Canada. In his 25 plus years in the photo industry Julian has built a reputation as a people photographer, working mainly in the entertainment/movie industry. As a partner in The Camera Store in Calgary his time now days is divided between the store and working on his B&W fine art.

Some Techie Details
The slides are shot with:
  • Pentax MZ-5n
  • Remote cable
  • Manfrotto tripod
  • Pentax 50mm prime at f11
  • Provia 100-F
  • Flashes and umbrellas

What do I Get for Participating?!?
..your name on this web site! And the chance to participate in possibly the only scanner comparison of it's kind. There may be others, but I've yet to come across one. So, send us your name & address and scanner make/model and DPI specs, and you'll get a slide in the mail...

Happy shooting!


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Typical Disclaimer Stuff
There are no alliances or special considerations when it comes to brands, as this scanner bake-off is not an endorsement of any product or manufacturer. Any and all participation is voluntary. All results are impartial and fair, so if anyone takes offence, or even wants to litigate, they can bite me.