I've been testing and
reporting on flat-bed scanners for almost the entire history of their
being available to individual computer users. Thus far I've been
skeptical of the ability of affordable models to serve as 35mm film
scanners comparable to dedicated 35mm scanners. The specifications of
the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO seem to indicate a change that might just
alter that view.
Although the Perfection 3200 PRO is a replacement of Epson's very
popular Perfection 2450 and has some similarities to it, the 3200 should
be seen as a next generation scanner. The appearance similarities do
not reflect the changes in the core of the scanner, the linear array
CCD and the optics that support a much advanced level of performance.
Although the optical resolution is 3200dpi, Epson's Micro Step
technology increases the physical resolution capability to 3200x6400dpi.
Another significant advantage is in the interface computer connection,
with the Perfection 3200 PRO providing both USB and FireWire ports.
And although superficial and apparently minor, the one weakness of the
2450 that has been improved in the Perfection 3200 PRO is the new set
of redesigned and much more effective film carriers.
inclusion of the full version of LaserSoft SilverFast Ai
6 as part of the Perfection 3200 PRO package assures the
user has the depth of tools to output truly professional
quality scans from all photo image media.
Photos © 2003, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved
These physical improvements alone would be significant, but are amplified
by the software, which is a part of the PRO model package. This includes
LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 6, a professional level but easy to learn and
use scanning software. In addition there's a complete color management
software system in Monaco EZcolor 2.5 that includes IT-8 reference targets
and the ability to calibrate and profile your monitor, the Epson Perfection
3200 PRO scanner, and your printer. This uses the scanner to read the
data to calibrate print results. This functionality is further backed
up with three ArcSoft applications: PhotoStudio, PhotoBase, and Panorama
Maker. Finally, the foundation of an effective digital darkroom is also
included in the 3200 PRO software bundle with a copy of Adobe Photoshop
The Epson Perfection 3200 PRO will scan prints and documents, 35mm slides
and negatives, as well as all format sizes of 120 film and 4x5 sheet film
at a level of performance specifications considered "professional"
not long ago, all at an announced price of $599. The only question is
whether or not the promise in the features and specifications live up
to the expectations they engender.
Kodachrome had most of the important information on the
image in the shadow of the storefront's setback entrance.
I was able to adjust the balance of tones bringing up the
darker tones quite easily with SilverFast. Even though the
dynamic range of the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO is not as
great--at 3.4--when compared to some contemporary
scanners, it is quite sufficient. And a greater dynamic
range might very well make scanning negatives more difficult
by having to ramp the density values more steeply to fill
the output gamma.
Using The Epson Perfection
Typical of mainstream computer peripherals today, the Epson Perfection
3200 PRO offers an easy, fault-free installation, accomplished by following
the well-documented steps. Right after unpacking the scanner I had it
turned on and was scanning some pages of documents I wanted to OCR into
digital text files. This was facilitated by using Epson's Scan software,
which I found has been refined and streamlined to make each of the utility
scanning functions as easy and successful as possible. This brought to
mind the fact that a flatbed scanner has many uses beyond the support
of a digital darkroom that add to its value, including working as a copier
in conjunction with a printer and as a fax machine with the necessary
software and a modem.
Imaging Skill Set
I was eager to get into the digital darkroom realm and launched SilverFast
Ai 6 from Photoshop to scan a selection of 35mm slides, color negatives,
and black and white negatives. Even with some contrasty Kodachromes the
results I obtained right off the bat encouraged me to scan many more 35mm
images than I had intended. Of course, obtaining good scans immediately
was made easier because I have been using SilverFast over a long period
of time with a number of scanners, including my own 35mm dedicated scanner.
Silver-based black and white negatives have always been
a challenge, particularly 35mm film sizes. However, the
Perfection 3200 PRO yields a very desirable range and separation
of tones. Apparent graininess was kept to a minimum. I had
made attempts to scan this negative twice before, unsuccessfully.
This current success was not because of the luck of a third
attempt, but entirely the result of the favorable attributes
of the Epson scanner.
The Epson Vs. A Dedicated
That dedicated film scanner has 4000dpi resolution, so I thought that
it would be a tough match for the Epson. This is a reasonable expectation,
but with many images I found the Epson had its own advantages. One of
those advantages was discovered when scanning some grainier films. For
those who have worked in the darkroom, you can compare what occurred to
switching from a condenser light head to a cold light head on your enlarger.
With a cold light head grain is less apparent in a print--the same
goes for the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO. This is probably due to the more
diffuse light source of the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO compared to a dedicated
Other Image Quality
In all of the other dimensions of scan quality--color, brightness,
and contrast--the Perfection 3200 PRO delivered what I wanted and
responded very well to the adjustments I made in SilverFast. To double-check
my results I chose film images I had scanned previously using a 2700dpi
dedicated 35mm scanner. I was able to improve on the results, sometimes
by quite a bit. I associated this good experience with the fact that I
found LaserSoft's new dust and scratch removal system more effective
with the Perfection 3200 PRO than with my dedicated 35mm scanner. Considering
the fact many of my film images have seen better days, the fact I could
output cleaner image scans was not a gift horse I was going to look in
I later switched to larger format films. Even with the 6x4.5cm 120 film,
the scan results I was able to obtain were consistently first rate. I
even scanned one of my friend James Chen's recent 4x5 Ektachrome
architectural interiors and the file quality was impressive to him; and
that's considering many of the scans Chen uses are made by a service
bureau with a drum scanner. To me, that says a lot for an under-$600 consumer
As romantic as the public impression of fashion photography
is, the reality of an assignment can be a photographic nightmare.
In this case it was a
dark-brown suede leather dress, which was a challenge to
capture and clearly define all of the detail. Reproducing
the 120 negative with the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO allowed
the photography to be captured cleanly and sharply and to
also enhance the subtle differences in the tones of the
Evaluation And Recommendation
Over the years testing and evaluating products I usually find some weakness
that could be improved to make it a more effective or easier to use tool.
Epson has been making the Perfection line of scanners for some years now,
refining these scanners with each new model. Although I am not suggesting
they will not be able to improve on this latest 3200 PRO model, my experience
with it produced results I only dreamed of even from professional-level
products of just a few years ago. But this is not meant to imply that
the most exacting and demanding professional should be satisfied with
an Epson Perfection 3200 PRO scanner. But I am convinced that every photo
enthusiast who wants to begin doing photography by setting up a digital
darkroom would be hard pressed to make a better choice for a start with
the Epson PRO package.
Considering that many people these days are budget and price conscious,
the other new model, the Epson Perfection 3200 PHOTO, is $200 less than
the PRO model. This might be a good alternative for those who already
have a digital darkroom set up with the PRO software bundle. However,
it is my solid conviction that the potential of the scanner's performance
needs the full LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 6 version to achieve optimum results.
So, you need to deduct the cost of the LaserSoft upgrade from SE to SilverFast
Ai 6 if you are considering the PHOTO model.
For any photographer who has not yet turned a computer into a digital
darkroom, this new Epson Perfection 3200 PRO package, I believe, is the
most complete and ideal solution yet to be offered. All most will need
to add is a printer. I must conclude by saying that I am a bit puzzled
that Epson has not put one of their photo printers together with this
new scanner and offered it as the "Epson Digital Darkroom."
Type: Flat-bed single-pass color scanner
Resolution: 3200dpi optical resolution; 3200x6400dpi
maximum hardware resolution with Epson Micro Step Drive; 12,800dpi maximum
Color Depth: 48-bit color scanning with 3.4 dynamic range
for transparencies; 16-bit internal/external; 16-bit gray scale scanning
Dynamic Range: 3.4 D-max
Features: ColorTrue(r) II imaging technology; high-speed
scanning; advanced driver for professional quality scanning; built-in
4x9" transparency adapter; USB 2.0 interface standard; FireWire
Software (PRO Model): LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast Ai
6; Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0; Monaco EZcolor 2.5; ArcSoft PhotoStudio,
PhotoBase, Panorama Maker; Epson TWAIN and Smart Panel
Light Source: Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp (CCFL)
Photoelectric Device: Color CCD line sensor
Maximum Read Area: 8.5x11.7"
Dimensions And Weight: 11.9x18.7x4.8"; 13.2 lbs
Estimated Street Price: $599
For more information call (800) 463-7766, or visit their web site at www.epson.com.