EPSON Perfection 3490 PHOTO Scanner Review

Today we will introduce to you a scanner that can boast this nearly ideal balance between attractive price and great performance for the buck. This model proved to be ideal for those who have to scan multi-page text documents, magazine illustrations for the Web, and standard photographs. Read more in our review today!

by Sergey Samarin
12/17/2005 | 09:36 AM

Following some internal roadmap, EPSON announced two new scanners in the Perfection family in early September. These models, Perfection 3490 and 3590, are to continue the traditions of the clan. They are meant for amateur photographers as they can process both transparent and reflective originals of the form-factors amateurs work with usually.

 

The models differ very little between each other, just as the September 2004 models, EPSON Perfection 2480 and 2580, did. In other words, the 3590 model is additionally equipped with an automatic film feeder, while the 3490 is a somewhat simplified version. The recommended price of the Perfection 3490 and 3590 is $150 and $190, respectively.

We got only one model for our tests, so this review is all about the Perfection 3490. As usual, let’s first read through the model’s specification and then we will discuss its functionality and check it in some tests.

Specification


The main advantage of the Perfection 3490 over the older Perfection 2480 is the higher optical resolution, 3200dpi against 2400dpi. The optical density range has remained the same, 3.2Dmax. The exterior case design, the size and weight of the new scanner is the same, too, so we can only talk about minor, “cosmetic” changes here. Thus, the Perfection 3490 has got a different CCD array, but costs $10 more than the older model! The 3490 has very good technical characteristics for its class and its low price is surely going to attract the customer.

Package and Accessories

The package, designed in the EPSON style, contains the following items:

Functionality

The case of the EPSON Perfection 3490 PHOTO is made of robust plastic with decorative inserts. The connectors are all located on the back panel of the scanner, while the transportation lock that you should unblock before turning the device on, is placed at the bottom.


Major connectors

The Perfection 3490 package includes a special holder that is placed on the glass to scan transparent originals. The slide-adapter’s lamp is located in the scanner’s lid and is normally covered with a removable panel.


Slide-adapter lamp in the lid is covered
with decorative plastic panel


The frame for transparent originals is set
directly onto the flatbed glass top

The scanner is rather simple. Four quick-launch buttons on the face panel are the only controls available. They launch the scan program with the presets for sending the scanned image to the printer, by e-mail or for scanning directly into the PDF format.


Quick Start buttons on the front panel

The scanner driver’s interface hasn’t changed much and, like with any other model of the Perfection series, offers the user three main scan modes: Full Auto Mode, Home Mode, and Professional Mode. The user can choose whatever mode suits him/her better. I also want to single out the exceptionally efficient batch-scan function that allows scanning numerous originals in a single pass. The driver can automatically identify the boundaries of the originals, even if they are scattered on the glass in no particular order.

Dust Removal and Color Restoration are implemented in the driver. These intelligent functions are both activated in the driver’s control panel, and are off by default.

The software Dust Removal technology helps to solve the problem of mechanical defects in the digitized image. Taking but little of system resources or additional scanning time, it can identify and eliminate dust particles in transparent originals. Dust Removal works with all types of film, including black-and-white negative films, which were so popular just a few years ago. The user can enable this technology in the driver when necessary (again, it is off by default).

The Color Restoration technology can improve faded photographs that have lost their original color. The main effect of this technology is in increasing the color temperature of the digitized image. You can actually do almost the same by using a color management system or correcting the colors in some image-processing software. Anyway, I guess this function will be found useful, especially by people who are not versed in digital image processing. Use it carefully, though, as sometimes this technology makes the image colors quite unnatural.

The operation of these software image-enhancing technologies will be illustrated below.

Testbed and Methods

I tested the scanner using our traditional methodology for an in-depth examination of all the properties of the device. The configuration of the testbed remains the same, so you can compare the results with those we got in our earlier reviews. In some tests I offer the results of other scanners for comparison’s sake.

The testbed configuration:

I am going to check the following:

Scanning Speed

The time it takes to digitize something is a very important parameter of any scanner and is critically evaluated by the potential buyer. As I mentioned above, the Perfection 3490 and the Perfection 2480 are designed very much alike. Should their speeds be similar as the result? Well, the 3490 has a higher optical resolution, which requires more time to produce a scan. That’s why it is more correct to compare the new model with a same-class scanner, like the Perfection 3170, for example.

So the scanning speed was determined for a standard 10x15cm (4x6”) photograph scanned at different resolutions (300dpi, 600dpi, 1200dpi and 3200dpi). Here are the results:

Image Noises

I dwelt upon the nature of digital noise in some earlier articles. In brief, the signal-to-noise ratio is indicative of the tolerance of the scanner’s electronics to various kinds of interference. The image noise can be random or correlated. I’ll deal with each type independently.

Random Noise

The graphs below show the dependence of the amount of random noise on the reflection power of the grayscale sectors of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60R2 target.

The signal-to-noise ratio, which is the ratio of the median of a grayscale sector to the deviation, should be regarded as “bigger is better”. That is, the bigger the SNR, the higher the scanner’s noise tolerance. The delta SNR parameter is the total of the measurements.


The higher is the delta SNR value, the better is the protection of the scanner against EMI

As you see, the delta SNR of the Perfection 3490 is far lower than that of the 3170. I also want to offer you the results of the Perfection 2480 and 2580 models for comparison:

So, the hardware components of the latest scanner models from EPSON, especially of the inexpensive ones, seem to be poorly protected against interference.

Correlated Noise

Correlated forms of noise are the most annoying – they show themselves as image “patterns” (horizontal or vertical stripes, usually). The predominance of such noise greatly reduces the signal-to-noise coefficient, which is calculated as the ratio of the median to the deviation. The calculated coefficients are put into the next diagram. Bigger values are better:

Profiling and Gamut Ranges

In this section I will measure the error in the scanner’s interpretation of the colors of the original IT8.7/2 color target with the help of a color management system. In other words, I will learn the coefficient of the color distortion introduced by the scanner into the image. Below are the gamut range diagrams for opaque (reflective) and transparent (emissive) originals.

The triangle-outlined gamut range is a projection on the plane and shows the scanner’s palette in the visible light spectrum. Knowing the coordinates of the vertexes of the triangles, it is possible to calculate their areas for comparison.

For the comparison’s sake, there are the gamut ranges of the standard sRGB and Wide Gamut RGB color spaces in the diagram (the former is used for the majority of monitors and the latter is the maximum area in the CIE La*b* space).

The next diagram is constructed by calculating the difference between the colors of the color target and of its scan. Note that Color Difference values above 5.0 are discernable by most people, i.e. evident for the “average” human eye.

The diagram suggests that the Perfection 3490 represents the colors more realistically – they are closer to the original colors of the color target. This is an advantage of the tested scanner, of course.

Resolution

The resolution is the accepted criterion for dividing scanners into different categories. This parameter is indeed an important characteristic of any scanner. The real optical resolution depends not only on the number of elements in the CCD array but on the entire optical system.

It is possible to check how well the scanner digitizes an original with numerous tiny details. For such tests special patterns with alternating black and white lines are employed. The spatial frequency parameter of a pattern is determined by the number of line pairs per inch (lppi). A pattern looks like that:


Applied Image QA-69-P-RM pattern

There are five patterns here with a different spatial frequency (30, 70, 95, 140 and 180lppi) and I will scan them at the maximum optical resolution of the scanner. The image contrast tends to degenerate at higher spatial frequencies. This tendency is characterized with modulation . By measuring the modulation for the five patterns of the target it is possible to see the dependence between the image contrast and the spatial frequency of the patterns. I publish the results of two other scanners for the sake of comparison.

Next, I will calculate the modulation transfer function (MTF), which is the frequency characteristic of the scanner’s optical system (see my earlier reviews for details about the MTF calculation).

The graph above shows you the MTF for the test patterns. I took the leftmost, 30lppi pattern of an Applied Image QA-69-P-RM target as the reference area. The MTFs are calculated for the green channel of the target image. The following MTF diagram is based on the obtained data:

As you can see, the Perfection 3490 performs as expected from a device of its category and is true to the declared optical resolution. I also want to add that the scanner manages to represent the minutest details of the image and keep the contrast at a high enough level (for example, there is almost no aberration of any of the basic colors on high-contrast color transitions. This fact is indicative of a rather high-quality optical system).

Scanning Quality

The Perfection 3490 is a CCD scanner with a good optical system, so it can scan volumetric objects with a rather big depth resolution. This feature helps to create a sharp image of the centerfold of a thick book or magazine – for your character recognition software to process it without errors. Another application of this property may be to “photograph” volumetric objects. To check this out I put a few pens on the scanner’s glass and scanned them.


Volumentic objects scan

Well, scanning such objects is rather a purely theoretical test. Let’s see what we have with standard-type originals. First, let’s check the color restoration technology on a faded snapshot:


Without Color Correction


With Color Correction

Next you can visually evaluate the scans of two types of originals. The originals were KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60 R2/E3A color targets. The scan parameters were set up according to the three basic modes: without color correction, with an ICM profile, and with automatic tone correction.


A scan of 35mm slide of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60E3A target
in the Auto Exposure mode


A scan of 35mm slide of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60E3A target
with an ICM profile


A scan of 35mm slide of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60E3A target
with no color correction

I should note that the Dust Removal technology that you can turn on in the scanner’s driver works incorrectly. It is rather strange as I didn’t observe that with other scanner models from EPSON. Just take a look at the next scan:


Software dust removal failed

The dust is still on the film, but the Dust Removal “erased” some spots of the image that are not dust at all!

And here are some scans of the Q-60R2 target to show you how the scanner can scan photographs:


A scan of 5x7 picture of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60R2 target
in the Auto Exposure mode


A scan of 5x7 picture of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60R2 target
with an ICM profile


A scan of 5x7 picture of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60R2 target
with no color correction

If you compare the scans of the reflective and transparent originals, you can note that the Perfection 3490 works much better with photographs than with film.

Conclusion

The EPSON Perfection 3490 PHOTO strives to reach the hard-to-achieve balance between the price and usefulness of a device. I view this scanner as an ideal purchase for people who have to scan multi-page text documents, magazine illustrations for the Web, and standard photographs, but if you want a scanner to digitize positive and negative films, I’d advise you to consider some other model. On the whole, the Perfection 3490 is an expectedly appealing device, though.

Highs:

Lows: