What is the best flatbed scanner for a biological laboratory?
January 28, 2014 5:08 AM   Subscribe

I am in charge of buying a flatbed scanner for my lab. I am looking for a stand-alone scanner — as in, no connected computer required. Ideally, we would push a button on the scanner and then the image would be loaded directly onto a USB stick. (I have no idea what to call this type of scanner, which makes make using the Google difficult.) Also required: at least 200mm x 200mm size, and not a document-feeder type of scanner (as we will be using this for petri dishes). Any recommendations?

Additionally, I would like to have these features:
- an option to use a power cord, and not rely on batteries (otherwise, Doxie flip scanner might be an option, although it is small)
- a small picture screen to double check the image before it is sent to the USB stick

The reason for some of these needs/wants is related to finding the fastest way of scanning hundreds of petri dishes. Defining the scan area using a computer and hitting scan is quite slow for each plate, and we do not want to maintain a computer in the lab. Our petri dishes are not always the traditional round, 90mm guys, so a scanner designed for labs might also not work. Thanks!
posted by Peter Petridish to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
What's your budget for this? I know several makers of standalone (with USB/networked capacity) scanners but they're designed for libraries with a relatively high price point compared to other scanner models.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:03 AM on January 28, 2014

Is a scanner absolutely what you need? It seems like an older digital SLR (so you can put it on manual and control the aperture, etc) on a stand with controlled lighting might also fill this particular use case, and then you would have a decent screen and the ability to just pop cards as needed. You could add a remote shutter to minimize having to touch the whole camera.
posted by rockindata at 6:47 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Use a camera not a scanner. Build a stand for the camera (plumbing pipes - lots of instructions online), get a couple of led panels for consistent illumination and make a box to block stray light. eBay for an external power source. Once everything is set up, use camera in manual mode, at iso 100.
posted by Sophont at 6:49 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding that scanner kiosks/standalone scanners may not be what you want. They generally are intended for document scanning in libraries and have features you don't need, like a beveled glass that extends to the edge of the scanner to make scanning into the gutter of a bound volume possible, optimization for rapidly producing searchable PDFs (automatic page edge and orientation detection, black and white, OCRed) and have interfaces which can be fiddly to set up to other specifications--try manually defining the scan area with a sized-down image on a touchscreen. Entering file names is similarly frustrating, and if you don't enter one, the models I have used assign the same pattern of generic names with each new session. And, they're expensive.

I think what you would be much better served by sticking with a scanner or camera tethered to a dedicated (tiny?) computer, and instead trying other scanner software---the stuff shipped with scanners is widely considered to be criminally terrible. It's been a while since I looked into it but VueScan used to be the preferred 3rd party solution. There should be an evaluation copy available. Once you get the settings dialed in it shouldn't require more than a few clicks, and you could set it up to save to a network share or USB drive etc.
posted by pullayup at 6:52 AM on January 28, 2014

A camera is your best bet. Cheap stand alone scanners do not have the Density range that you can get with even the cheapest digital camera.
posted by Gungho at 7:54 AM on January 28, 2014

Whichever one you get, make sure it can save to an SD card, then pickup an EyeFi card. Then you can scan and optionally have it wirelessly sent to any PC, Laptop, Phone, etc. For cheap and simple, I love Doxie scanners.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:56 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hmmmm. I am initially against buying a camera because of cost (budget is ~300 pounds), and amount of work to set up (in the case of building a stand for the camera, setting it up with an external LED panel, and getting a remote shutter).

We will be using it for simple tasks that do not require a high resolution so my thought is that a SLR camera is a bit overkill. We will use it for counting how many colonies are on a plate and quantifying how much "red color" are in defined areas on the plates compared to controls.
posted by Peter Petridish at 8:44 AM on January 28, 2014

If an SLR would be overkill, why not use a cheap point-and-shoot camera with an EyeFi card? Most point and shoots have a tripod mount.
posted by monotreme at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2014

Yeah, if your budget is 300 pounds for everything, I would also suggest looking up camera + stand scanner tutorials. (Or looking around to see if there is a used flatbed scanner option that could be hooked up to a cheaper and older computer.) An older/refurbished camera would be a good option, though I don't have any local recommendations on where to look for one-- you might even ask around your university to see if any departments are updating their equipment and selling their older ones. I don't know if you would need a DSLR; you might just need a decent point and shoot. The scanners I use definitely are overkill for this, and their set-up is oriented around books; they're also something like ten times your price range.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:32 AM on January 28, 2014

If someone else is looking at this question, or you decide to change your budget by a log or 2, there are machines that are built precisely to count and analyze large amounts of petri dishes - I haven't used any extensively, but here's an example
posted by fermezporte at 12:55 PM on January 28, 2014

A nice canon non-dslr would cost less than $100. Use chdk and you can make or buy a usb remote for less than $30. LED panels are about $35 each, and there's some cheap copy stands for $50 or you can get a monitor stand and attach a cheap tripod head or quick release.
posted by Sophont at 9:27 PM on January 28, 2014

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