Help me pick a large(r) format flatbed scanner
July 10, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning to buy a new flatbed scanner, and the decision about which one to get is going to hinge on some fairly picky details that don't usually show up in "consumer"-level reviews. If you have hands-on experience with flatbed scanners with larger-than-8.5"x11" scanbeds, preferably models that are still available at retail, can you help?

My UMAX Astra 1200S is a trusty friend and it still works as well as it did on the day I bought it, but I'm hitting its limitations pretty hard lately.

The tricky part is that I scan a lot of LP/12" single sleeves so the replacement has have a scanbed that's at least 12 1/4" long in at least one direction*. There are very few flatbeds this large anymore; most of the "legal-size" scanners run larger-than-letter-sized media through a document feeder (though lately there seem to be some with scanbeds large enough for four 6"x4" photos).

*I have a good process for doing sleeves in two passes and stitching the two together, and don't mind continuing with that if I have to, though it'd be nice to finally be able to skip that step.

On top of the size requirement I'd like to avoid some of the issues that have been bothering me with my current scanner:
  • I'd like the scanbed to be level with the rest of the top of the scanner. The glass on the UMAX is recessed slightly, which means a 12" record sleeve only touches the glass on one edge. The inconsistent color/luminosity this causes makes it harder to stitch the two halves together. (This isn't a requirement if the scanbed is large enough for a single-pass LP scan though.)
  • On the UMAX, bright areas tend to "halo" into dark areas (example exaggerated). I'd like not to have to clean this up anymore.
  • The UMAX illuminates the originals in a way that exaggerates many kinds of flaws. Dings and warping on CD booklets can lead to large luminosity variations, otherwise-tough-to-spot scuffs become prominent, and I get direct reflections of the light source on glossy and textured sleeves. Are there scanner designs that are less sensitive to these problems?
  • 600dpi scans are slooooooow on the UMAX -- on the order of ten minutes or so for a full-size scan, and on originals wider than a CD booklet the scanner has to make hundreds of very loud back-and-forth passes. I'm guessing this is not an issue with anything made in, say, the USB era.
  • I need the option of running under 64-bit Windows as I'm hitting a wall trying to work on 600dpi LP scans in Photoshop. I don't need the pack-in software to run on 64-bit Windows, though, as I use Vuescan.
What I don't really care about:
  • As noted above the pack-in software that comes with the scanner doesn't matter, since I use VueScan. As long as that can talk to the scanner somehow I'm good.
  • Transparency-scanning features. I don't work with slides or negatives.
  • I can live with an all-in-one model, but it'd have to perform better than the alternatives to make it worth the extra space it takes up.
  • Native resolution above 600dpi isn't necessary, assuming that's even a factor now.
(FWIW, I've tried using a copy stand + DSLR but it doesn't give me the resolution I want.)

Any advice would be helpful, particularly if you can comment on the specific issues above. Thanks!
posted by Lazlo to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
I use a Microtek ScanMaker 9800XL. This is an A3 sized scanner which is stated to be 12x17 but in scanning laserdisc jackets, that last eighth of an inch on two sides is lost (but you say you are willing to stitch). There is enough space around the scan opening to lay an LP jacket flat. There will be a shine where a CD booklet curls up at the spine, but you can lift the cover off and lay a bunch of books or other weights to compress the artwork and suppress that a bit. I've used it with VueScan in OS X. Microtek was hoping to leave the consumer market, but they seem to have kept an online store open so it might be available other places as well.
posted by channaher at 2:40 PM on July 10, 2011

Just like channaher suggested you should look for A3 scanners. This European paper size should bee an easily googleable feature. For a recommendation, you might want to look at a Plustek OpticBook A300. I have used the smaller A4 model and one of its main features was the plane transition from the scanbed to at least one of the long borders to faciliate scanning books without breaking their spine. I liked the A4 model quite well. The website says that it scans an A3 page in about 3 seconds at 300dpi and it can scan up to the 600dpi that you specified. 64Bit Drivers are supplied. Seems a bit pricey but also to be very well matched to your requirements even though an even larger A2 version is not available.
posted by mmkhd at 5:29 PM on July 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. I'm aware that A3 scanners exist but have no way to tell if they have the same issues as my current scanner as described above.
posted by Lazlo at 7:14 PM on July 10, 2011

Sorry, it just sounded as if you had a hard time finding any examples of current large format scanners, so I thought that a good term for googling might help you.
Hopefully somebody with recent large format scanner experience will stumble upon this thread...
posted by mmkhd at 7:03 AM on July 11, 2011

Best answer: Following Up:

In the end I bought an old Epson Expression 836XL. This was Epson's top-of-the-line large-format scanner in the late '90s, taking the same place in their lineup that the $2,500 Expression 10000XL-GA occupies today. That makes it from roughly the same generation of scanning technology as the UMAX, but despite its age it resolved almost all of my problems:
  • The glass is flush with the top of the scanner, so items that are too big for the glass are still evenly lit across the entire scan. (Unfortunately this includes LP & 12" sleeves, which are a couple of tenths of an inch wider than the scan area, but in cases where that matters the scans will be a lot easier to stitch together with the lighting issue resolved.)
  • I haven't noticed any haloing so far.
  • Scuffs, minor stains, and the natural texture of the paper are not exaggerated by the light source. The difference is striking. Lesson learned: if I had bought an Expression 10000XL five years ago, it would have paid for itself long ago just in the time saved on cleaning up this kind of thing.
  • A single-pass 800dpi (native resolution) LP scan takes around a minute and a half.
  • I'm not sure about 64-bit Windows yet. But I didn't need any of the native drivers to get it working on XP -- Vuescan's built-in driver handles it fine, and according to Vuescan's site it works with at least one USB-to-SCSI converter if my I can't get my SCSI card working.
The only issues so far:
  • It doesn't scale very well inside the scanner. I have to scan at 800dpi or 400dpi or I get a lot of moire. I prefer 600dpi; 32-bit Photoshop has problems handling LP scans that are higher-resolution than that.
  • I'm getting some subtle streaking on dark areas of the output due to dust on the capture element, but that's to be expected on a scanner that's pushing 15 years old. I used to fix this problem myself on the UMAX but will probably let a pro handle it for this one.
I bought it on eBay from User-Friendly Recycling in Taunton, MA. They got a fragile, heavy item (~50lbs -- it's built like a tank) from MA to Oakland with no issues whatsoever.
posted by Lazlo at 12:11 PM on November 13, 2011

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