Slide scanner reviews

Scanners are bringing old slides out of the cupboard. But perfect pictures require patience.
 
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  • Updated:1 Nov 2011
 

01 .Introduction

Slide-scanners
You can take superb quality pictures with most digital cameras, even the ones built into many smartphones. Digital pictures are versatile – print them out large or small as happy snaps, cards, calendars, even posters or canvas prints. You can also share them via email and post them online for all to see. But what about good, old-fashioned print photos?

Go back a few years, before digital cameras were high quality, ubiquitous and cheap, and you’ll find much of your photo history stored as prints or slides. The only way to preserve those precious pictorial memories kept in albums, boxes and suitcases is to scan them.

But how best to convert your old pictures for a digital world?

In brief

  • Not all scanners handle all media or sizes.
  • Claimed resolution is not a good guide to quality.
  • It may be better to use a scanning service.

Products on test

  • Canon CS9000F
  • Canon LiDE210
  • Epson Perfection V33
  • Epson Perfection V500 Photo
  • Kaiser Baas PhotoMaker
  • Kaiser Baas Photo and Negative scanner
  • Kaiser Baas PhotoMaker Pro
  • Kaiser Baas PhotoMaker Touch
  • Microtek S480
  • OTEK PS-A4A
  • QPIX PS970H
  • QPIX PS989

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The range of scanning options is quite diverse, even among apparently similar types of scanners. Our test models include three that only handle reflective media (eg photo prints), three that only do film and six that do both. It’s important to assess your scanning needs first and buy a scanner to suit.

Several of the models on test are very compact and, in some cases, even portable, running on battery power and scanning to a memory card without needing to be connected to a PC. Some scanners handle a wide range of formats and some make it easy to “gang up” a group of photos, slides or negatives for faster processing of large numbers of images.

 You might think that a machine dedicated to scanning film only would do a better job than a “jack of all trades” flatbed scanner, but we found that is not always the case. We also found that you should be wary of claims on marketing materials and the packaging. Many claim to do “high quality” scans, but none of the scanners on test produced more than just acceptable quality. We found that flatbed scanners generally did a better job than dedicated film scanners but with few exceptions, we found the quality of the scans still left a lot to be desired. Several models on test produced unacceptable results, even for “cheap and cheerful” bulk picture conversion (see our Scan quality scores in the table).

While some film scanners scan fairly quickly, enabling the processing of more pictures, if the quality is not acceptable to you then speed doesn’t matter.

If you have a lot of slides to convert to digital format and you want to preserve them in high-quality digital format, it might be far quicker and easier to pack them all off to a slide scanning service. Some services offer bulk scanning of slides, transparencies, negatives and photos at less than $1 per scan. Try a web search for “image scanning services”.  

Work out the cost of having your scans done by a service and weigh that up against the cost of a decent scanner (and the time you’ll take to do them yourself). If you’ll be doing hundreds of scans, the DIY solution with a decent quality scanner may still be your best option.

4 CHOICE buys

Canon CS9000F

Scored 73/100 | $32973%

Good points:

• Highest overall, ease of use and quality score
• Equal highest software ease of use score
• Highest optical scan resolution
• Bundles in image editing software for Windows AND Mac OS

Bad points:

• 2nd most expensive scanner on test

 

Canon LiDE210

Scored 68/100 | $14268%

Good points:

• Equal highest software ease of use score
• Bundles in software for Windows AND Mac OS

Bad points:

• Unable to scan negatives or slides

 

Epson Perfection V500 Photo

Scored 66/100 | $35966%

Good points:

• Highest optical scan resolution
• Bundles in image editing software for Windows AND Mac OS

Bad points:

• Most expensive scanner on test

 

Microtek S480

Scored 63/100 | $22063%

Good points:

• Transparency adapter integrated into scanner lid
• Bundles in software for Windows AND Mac OS

Bad points:

• The bundled film guides don't lock into place on the scanning surface like other scanners in this test

 
 

How we test

Our testing of each scanner takes into account the ease of use of setting up and using each scanner, plus an assessment of the quality of the scans produced.

Ease of use includes installation of hardware and software, including assessing any built-in help, tutorials and reference material. It also includes looking at the user interface, software default settings and the ease of using the hardware, including any photo/film guides supplied.

Quality of scans is assessed by an expert user panel, looking at overall quality, detail, colour balance, sharpness and colour accuracy.

Make a selection

 
 
Flatbed scanner
Upright scanner
Sheet-fed scanner
Reflective media (eg photos)
 

Compare products

 
Table Allowing the user to select a number of products dependant on their filter options.
Items to compare

Select up to 5 items below.
Then click the compare button

Compare
 
Price ($)Overall scoreEase of use score (%)Scan quality (%)Average time taken to scan two 4 x 6in prints (seconds)Average time taken to scan four negatives/slides (seconds)Size HxDxW (mm)Weight (kg)Flatbed scannerUpright scannerSheet-fed scannerReflective media (eg photos)Transmissive media (trans, slide, neg)Highest resolutionClaimed optical resolution (dpi)Mac / PCMedia card readerOne-touch scan buttonMulti-scan mode (photo)OCR Text RecognitionScanning frame-guide for 35mm transparenciesScanning frame-guide for 35mm negativeScanning frame-guide for 110mm negativeScanning frame-guide for reflective 4 x 6inScanning frame-guide for 120mmScanning frame-guide for 220mmWarranty (years)WebsiteGood PointsBad Points
                               
CS9000F3297377681798
LiDE21014268756016na
Perfection V500 Photo35966676538203
S48022063755047168
PhotoMaker69607445na37
Perfection V3312957635033na
PhotoMaker Pro118537135na37
PhotoMaker Touch194477320na27
PS-A4A10046613034na
Photo and Negative scanner2294457303845
PS970H1363858172541
PS9891783662101333
Compare
USING THE TABLE

Price paid, as of July 2012
Scores The overall score is made up of Ease of Use score (50%) and Quality score (50%).
TABLE NOTES

  • Some scanners are bundled with film guides to accommodate multiple items that can be scanned in one pass.
  • The claimed highest resolution may involve interpolation.
  • The one-touch scan button is a hardware button, scanning selections without the need to configure software.
  • Multi-scan mode (photo) means the scanner supports scanning of multiple 4" x 6" prints at once.
  • OCR text recognition is the electronic conversion of scanned images of handwritten, typewritten or printed text. The accuracy of included OCR was not tested. 

Choosing a scanner

Not everybody needs the same sort of scanner. Here’s what to look for when deciding which scanner is right for your requirements:

  • Scanner: Do you need to scan images or documents? All scanners on test are image scanners, designed to predominantly scan pictures.
  • Flatbed scanners can handle photos, bound pages and even some 3D objects. Some flatbeds can handle film (transparencies, slides, negatives) and usually come with guides for placement. Flatbeds may also have a sheet feeder (also called an ADF, or auto document feeder) and a duplexing unit, which scans one side of the page before automatically flipping it over to scan the other side.
  • Film scanners only handle transmissive materials and are usually upright rather than flatbed. They come with holders for scanning multiple slides, transparencies or negatives. Note, however, that cheaper dedicated slide scanners are not necessarily better than flatbed scanners that also take film formats.
  • Portable scanners are compact and can operate without mains power but may sacrifice features or quality for convenience. Some scan directly to a memory card and can be used independently of a PC.
  • Document scanners are designed to regularly handle lots of text documents, digitising printed pages, including business cards. Typically in an upright configuration with a sheet feeder, they scan both sides of a page at the same time for fast processing of documents.
  • Media: Reflective material includes photos, pictures, drawings and even 3D objects, such as coins. Transmissive material includes transparencies, slides and photo negatives.
  • Format: What sizes do you need to scan? Flatbed scanners can commonly scan up to A4 or US Letter size, but some scan up to A3 size. Transparencies can be several sizes, most commonly 35mm, and negatives come in a range of common sizes.
  • Resolution: The higher the scan resolution, the more detail captured and the larger the file size created. For scanning text, even a 200 pixels per inch (ppi) scan is good enough for most purposes, while 300 ppi is standard (at a one-to-one size ratio) for pictures, but if you want to enlarge the original a higher resolution is recommended. Most scanners handle at least 600 ppi, which is usually sufficient.
  • Film scanning usually requires much higher resolution, however, because the original size of some media, such as photo negatives and 35mm slides, is so small. For film scans of small media you’ll want 2400, 4800 or even 9600 ppi. You may see scan resolution quoted as optical resolution, which is determined by the optics in the scanner. Interpolated means the resolution has been increased by using a software technique called interpolation, which creates extra pixels to make an image larger, based on calculations involving the surrounding pixels.
  • Software: In addition to scanning software, the scanner may also come with software for editing and cataloguing your images, OCR software for converting scanned text into editable text, searchable PDF creation and business card scanning.

Film or print?

Is it better to scan prints or film? There’s a reason purists prefer transparencies to prints. With the right scanner, scanning trannies (slides) or negatives will yield better digital images than scanning photo prints. Apart from Polaroids (which are not of the highest quality anyway), slides and negatives are the originals and prints are second-generation copies of the film. As such, they don’t contain as much detail as the film they were made from. Use film where possible.

What format to save?

Most scanning programs will give you a choice of file formats in which to save your scans, though they will usually default to either JPEG (.jpg) or TIFF (.tif or .tiff).

JPEG is arguably the most common and compatible image format, used by most consumer-quality digital cameras and scanners and supported by most imaging software. The JPEG format lets you compress your scans to produce a small file size, but to do so it uses “lossy compression”. This means some image information is lost, the higher the compression used. You can vary the amount of compression, so for best quality pictures save at the lowest compression (ie highest quality). The JPEG format is great for creating copies of your images in smaller file sizes for uploading or sharing online or via email. JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group.

TIFF is the standard for commercial/professional printing. It can be saved uncompressed or with compression, but file sizes are relatively large. TIFF stands for Tagged Image File Format.

Storing scans

How best to store your scans? On your computer hard drive, obviously, where they can be catalogued with software for easy retrieval, slideshows, creating photobooks and sharing with others.

Of course, you should make sure your computer is backed up regularly, including all your photos, in case the hard drive fails or in the event of any other computer calamity (fire, theft, flood and so on).

Many people also archive their digital images to CD or DVD, which is a relatively cheap way to store them for posterity (preferably offsite where they are safe from the aforementioned calamities).

But if long-term optical storage is your goal, you should choose your brand and type of media carefully or your digital memories may not last so long after all.  Not all optical discs are created equal and cheap discs won’t necessarily last for years. Over time – mere years or perhaps only months if not stored carefully – the optical disc substrate can degrade, making the disc unreadable.

For long-term storage, make sure you choose “archival quality” discs. They will cost a little more than the bargain bin discs, but they should last far longer – a claimed “300 years” in the case of some brands. Again, only if stored correctly.

How do you store them? It’s quite simple really: to give you an optimal optical media lifespan the basic guideline is to store all optical media in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight which is free of dust and airborne contaminants.

Jargon buster 

DPI (Dots per inch): Refers to print resolution, or how many dots a printer produces in one linear inch to create an image. Standard photo quality is 300dpi.
PPI (Pixels per inch): The number of pixels (picture elements) per linear inch in a digital image.
Film format: In the context of this test, the size and shape of film used in still photography – the most common formats for scanners being 35mm, 110mm negative, i120mm, 220mm.
Filmstrip: Photographic film that contains one or more single images (frames).
Negative: Film with an image the inverse of a positive image, either in colour or monochrome. Negative film comes in all formats.
Transparency: A transparency is an unmounted positive photographic image on film — either colour or monochrome.
Slide: A slide is a mounted transparency. The most common size is 35mm (also called 135 film). It is exactly 35mm wide. This format was introduced in 1934 and quickly became the most popular format.