Pacific Image Electronics might not be a familiar name to many over here in the UK. Their PrimeFilm 3600 Pro we're reviewing here is placed at the top of their range of film scanners. It is also, as far as we can tell identical to the Microtek 3600, other than a different colour exterior.
- 3600dpi resolution
- 3.6D Maximum Density
- Cold cathode fluorescent lamp
- 24.3mm x 36.5mm scanning area
- Batch Scanning
- USB & Firewire interfaces
- Dimensions: 238x103x177mm
- Weight: 2.2kg
- Price: 399.90
Despite the low price of the unit, it is built quite well and has the benefit of both USB and Firewire connections. There is no firewire card provided with the scanner, so check whether your computer has the necessary support before you get too excited!
At the back of the scanner, there is a switch to determine if the scanner is using the USB or Firewire connection. Making up for this minor inconvenience, there are two firewire connections present to allow the daisy-chaining of Firewire devices.
The method employed by this scanner for scanning film strips is a rarely seen one. Most of the mid to high-end scanners provide holders for a strip of film, but this provides an auto-feeding slot through which you can feed a whole roll of film. This method has the drawback that unless you're very careful the film, it is going to come out of the scanner and land on a dusty surface. Film is fed in the top and comes out the bottom of the scanner and some care has to be exercised feeding the film inside.
Using slides, you can insert one at a time into the front of the scanner, there is no functionality provided for scanning APS films.
At a very brief first glance, the utility provided with this scanner is just an average scanning utility. However when you actually start using it, or trying to use it, you realise this isn't the case. Intuitiveness, stability and ease of use all seem to have been neglected by the designers. There's no clear text labels to most of the buttons, it crashed on several occasions and there is no clear help information at all.
On a more positive note, when you've got used to the quirkiness and often unreliability of this utility it is possible to get some scanning done. There's a reasonably high level of control provided through the Colour Balance and Levels & Curves settings.
Click on the small image above to load an animated, larger version of the TWAIN software.
In terms of the figures below, especially for the Firewire times, the PF 3600 PRO appears a fast scanner. What these figures don't show is the time wasted waiting for the scanner to recover from crashes and this really damages any appeal the fast speeds could have offered.
|Prescan of slide
|Prescan of slide
Black text = USB 1.1 connection, Grey text = Firewire
As you'd expect, the Firewire connection is considerably faster than the USB 1.1 connection, especially so when scanning to large file-sizes.
||Overall, this isn't a bad effort for a budget price scanner, with the high resolution providing a good amount of detail. The image is passable, but skin tones are slightly dull and under-saturated. More disturbing is the noise shown in the next comparison images below.
On the left is the PF 3600 PRO scan and on the right, the Minolta Scan Dual III scan of the same slide. Whilst the PF 3600 PRO features a higher resolution on paper, the Minolta shows none of the appalling image noise and also has better colour definition.
Minolta Scan Dual 3 colour negative scan
PF 3600 Pro colour negative scan
As a comparison, we've included another Minolta Scan Dual 3 fairground scan at the top. The PF 3600 image appears bolder, but the colours aren't accurate enough. The compensating factor is the high resolution of the scanner capturing a lot of detail. The image is passable mainly because there isn't the same degree of noise visible as in the bride image.
||More disappointment, the image noise is back with a vengeance. Colours are under-saturated and the image is not impressive at all.
Above are crops of the original scans, on the left the PF 3600 PRO and on the right the Minolta Scan Dual 3. The noise is plainly visible on the PF 3600 PRO, as is the low contrast.
With the large expanses of dark area, this image also suffered from noise.
This black and white negative was scanned quite well, with the noise being harder to notice than in the colour images.
In many ways the PF 3600 Pro has the potential to be a good scanner. It's well built, has quite a good specification and fast connection options. Unfortunately, in reality this is not a good scanner. It's let down by image noise, colour accuracy, buggy/hard to use software and an un-competitive price. With the recently released Minolta Scan Dual 3, the level of performance required for 400 has been pushed up a notch and this PF 3600 Pro can't keep up.
If you're in the market for a 3-400 film scanner, we'd recommend saving around 100 and looking at the Minolta Scan Dual 3 or consider spending more for even higher quality.
In summary the main positive points of the PF 3600 Pro are:
Good build quality
Speed of scanning
USB & Firewire connections
Negative points are:
Poor image quality in most cases
Unstable and hard to use scanning utility
Audible noise of scanner (think roadwork's)