EPSON F-3200 Film Scanner: Millennium Dome

According to the company’s official press releases EPSON F-3200 Film Scanner is targeted for “professionals and photo-enthusiasts”. We decided to take a closer look at the digitizing quality and performance of this device to see if it will please the experienced and demanding professional users.

by Sergey Samarin
06/16/2005 | 09:47 AM

The Millennium Dome is a huge construction that had been built to meet the new millennium in London. It is dedicated to the achievements of human mind in science and technology. I found another Millennium Dome in a new multi-format specialized slide-scanner EPSON F-3200 which had been announced at the end of the last year at Photokina.

 

And even though the new product, according to the press release, is targeted at experienced photographers and professionals, I think it will suit excellently for people who don’t know much about scanning but do have a large archive of shot film.

In fact, the scanning process is automated so thoroughly here that all you have to do is put the originals into appropriate holders.

An interesting feature, the scanner can send scanned images directly to a photo-printer or write them to a memory card, besides saving them on the computer. This functionality as well as the impeccable looks became a strong argument for the F-3200 to be enrolled into the list of our test subjects.



EPSON F-3200 Film Scanner

Technical Characteristics

The following table lists the basic technical characteristics of the new scanner:

The scanner uses a color six-line CCD array that ensures an optical resolution of 3200dpi. The scanner’s mechanical resolution is 6400dpi thanks to the sub-scanning technology called Micro Step Drive. Since the F-3200 is first of all intended for scanning transparent originals, the maximum optical density is up to this purpose – 3.8Dmax. The device may connect to the computer via USB 2.0 or FireWire. Moreover, there’s a second USB connector on the scanner for connecting to a printer. This is a brief description, but I will dwell on some interesting points in the Functionality section.

Accessories


The colors of the box are EPSON’s corporate colors

You are going to find the following in the box:

As you can see, this is a quite exhaustive kit. The only thing that’s probably missing is a FireWire cable. By the way, the FireWire interface of the F-3200 is intended for connection to Macs, the USB one being preferable for the PC (when working with the scanner I noticed that I could access its card-reader from the computer only via USB connection). But I’m running somewhat ahead. The functionality of this scanner model is described in the next section.

Functionality


The F-3200 with a holder inserted into the slot

Talking about the EPSON F-3200 Film Scanner, it is impossible to skip over its cute and unusual design. This machine is going to be an eye-catcher on any desk, yet occupying a minimum of space. Well, it actually takes little space only when it is used just as a decoration. For the scanner to work normally it must not stand too close to the wall and the input/output slots must not be blocked up. Beginning a scan operation involves placing the original into a special holder (there are five holders included). Each holder is intended for a particular format of the original:


35mm slides holder (8 frames)


35mm film holder (2 stripes, 12 frames)


Medium-format 120/220 film holder


This holder is for reflective originals, i.e. photographs


2x5” film holder

The holders were designed properly and are very caring about the film. After cautiously inserting the original into the appropriate holder, you load the holder into the intake slot. The scanner’s mechanism will drive it in and then the scanner will wait for more commands from the user. Particularly, you can use your computer and open the scanned image in an image-processing application or save it as a file. You can scan to the memory card, having beforehand inserted one into the scanner’s card-reader. Or you can use the direct-print function and immediately print out the scan. I won’t discuss the latter feature because of its limitations: direct printing is supported with EPSON’s Stylus Photo R800 and Stylus Photo 2100 and is thus only interesting for owners of these printers.

I just want to mention that the scanner allows setting up all of the printer’s properties and choosing the print settings and the paper type. You can also set up the brightness, contrast, and color balance parameters for the images. When printing from a memory card, you can output the date picture was taken. The settings are all shown on the scanner’s color display:

The scanner supports firmware updates for working with the printers. One 16MB CompactFlash memory card is included with the scanner for that purpose. The slot for memory cards is shown on the next snapshot:


The memory card slot is covered under a flap door

As I said above, the EPSON F-3200 allows sending images from a memory card directly to the printer, without mediation of a computer. Besides that, you can save the images you digitize on the memory card, too. The scanner supports almost all widely spread formats, namely CompactFlash, Microdrive, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Magic Gate Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, SD Card, miniSD Card, MultiMedia Card, xD-Picture Card, and Smart Media.


The front panel of the F-3200

The scanner’s face panel carries all of the controls and an average-size display. The power-on and eject-holder buttons are located a little lower, to the left and to the right of the intake slot.


The functional buttons are located on the left of the face panel


The four navigation buttons
and three control buttons are located on the right


Interface connectors

The interface connectors to the computer and printer are located on the scanner’s rear panel.


The back panel of the F-3200

Also on the rear panel there is a socket for the power cord and the door of the output slot.


The gadget for cleaning the scanner’s optics

You receive a special gadget for cleaning the internal glass of the scanner from dust. The cleaning is performed when the device is turned off.

Software

As I said above, you get three CDs with software along with the scanner. These are:

You must install the software from EPSON before attaching the scanner to the computer. Besides the driver, the following components can be installed from the first CD:


Exclusive utilities from EPSON

The scanner’s driver – more precisely, the software shell that is invoked from the control application – is known well to users. EPSON has unified it for all its scanners, thus making it much easier for hardware reviewers to describe its functionality. In fact, if you’ve ever worked with one scanner from EPSON, you won’t spend much time mastering the software for another model.

The driver of the F-3200 offers two modes: Home Mode and Professional Mode. Like before, EPSON invites you to choose a particular mode depending on your level of expertise.

 
Home Mode is for inexperienced users

 
Professional Mode is for professionals


The preview window

Besides the software from EPSON, I would like to single out the professional version of a popular third-party scanning program. This is SilverFast Ai 6. It comes in a DVD box with a booklet and two calibration targets of the IT8.7 format. You should realize of course that such additions directly affect the price of the product.

Testbed and Methods

I will stick to our traditional methodology, omitting some sections peculiar to flatbed scanners. The scanner was attached to this computer:

Speed Characteristics

Speed is a highly important characteristic of any scanner, be it a specialized slide-scanner or a flatbed machine. When designing a new model, each manufacturer seeks for ways to improve the speed qualities of the scanner. In this case, the first thing you notice about the F-3200 is the handy holders for the originals. Thanks to them, and to the batch scan mode, it takes much less time to digitize a series of originals. In fact, the F-3200 can sort out large photo archives much faster than any other scanner. And it will do that with a quite acceptable quality.

So, I measured the time it took to digitize originals of two standard formats in four basic resolutions. I didn’t count in the lamp warm-up time. The results are listed in the following table:

Image Noise

Measuring noise distortions helps us appreciate the noise tolerance of the scanner’s electronics, so this section can be found in any scanner-related review on our site. We have two test steps here.

Random Noise

The graphs below show the dependence of the amount of random noise on the reflecting capability of the sections of the Kodak IT8.7/2 Q-60E1 target (it is a transparent 4x5” target). Bigger SNR values are better, indicating the scanner’s higher tolerance to noise.

Correlated noise

Correlated noise comes as an inherent defect of the CCD technology (electrical crosstalk of the light-sensitive array) as well as due to instability of the intensity of the scanner’s lamp. The amount of correlated noise (and of random noise, too) is somewhat lower with slide scanners than with flatbed ones. It is explained by the use of smaller lamps whose intensity is more stable. This minimizes noise deviations in the scanned image.

I put down only one correlated noise value for the F-3200 – 9.82 – although I usually produce two for flatbed scanners. The fact is I couldn’t place the target into the holder vertically. That’s also why I couldn’t scan line density patterns – the target didn’t fit into any of the holders.

Profiling

I used a KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60E1 target for determining the gamut range of the scanner. The data from the scanned target were calculated by a special program and represented as the following diagram:

To build the next diagram I found the difference between the colors of the original target and the scan. The Color Difference value should not exceed 5.0 or the color discrepancies become visible for a majority of people.


The closer to the X axis, the better

Digitizing Quality

Now that we’ve gone through the “academic” part of the tests we can try the scanner with different typical originals. Below you can see scans of a color target made in three scan modes: with auto correction, with the exclusive ICM profile, and without any color correction.


A scan of 4x5 film of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60E1 target
in the Auto Exposure mode


A scan of 4x5 film of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60E1 target
with an ICM profile


A scan of 4x5 film of the KODAK IT8.7/2 Q-60E1 target
with no color correction

These scans will help you form your opinion about the digitization quality and the color representation of the scanner. Other examples include scans of medium-format film and an ordinary photograph.


A medium-format scan (Kodak Ektachrome E100S film)


A full-scale fragment of the scan


A scan of a standard 10x15 photograph


Another scan of a 10x15 photograph

The scan quality of the medium-format slide is impressive: the scanner represents minutest details and halftones. As for scanning standard photographs, I think the F-3200 is inferior to the flatbed Perfection 3170. But you can click on the examples and examine each scan for yourself.

Conclusion

It’s nice to see such pretty and elegant machines as the F-3200. It’s also nice to see EPSON being so meticulous when developing each new scanner model. And still, the EPSON F-3200 Film Scanner is not quite the device they wrote about in the official press releases. I would question its targeting at “professionals and photo-enthusiasts”. It is rather suitable for a mass user. And if so, the price does not conform to the budget of an ordinary buyer. It is overtly overstated – spending about $650 for this scanner would be a squander, I think.

The functionality of the F-3200, if examined cool-headedly, proves to be limited. The direct connection to printers feature is not necessary at all in the way it is implemented now. The integrated card-reader isn’t quite a handy feature, either. Yet these things, as well as the professional application SilverFast with two calibration targets, shouldn’t have affected the price of the scanner so heavily.

Highs:

Lows: