Microtek ScanMaker 5 Flatbed Scanner Review

Microtek's ScanMaker 5 is part of a range of models from one of the leading scanner manufacturers. It's a big beast with a pro spec so we'll see if its performance is just as meaty.

|  Microtek ScanMaker 5 in Flatbed Scanners
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Microtek's ScanMaker 5 is part of a range of models from one of the leading scanner manufacturers. It's a big beast with a pro spec so we'll see if its performance is just as meaty.
While most design houses and bureaux would be looking at this type of scanner for their in-house work it can also be a suitable option for photographers wishing to scan prints, flat artwork and transparencies.

I've mentioned big, and you certainly need a free desk to hold it. The space needed to house this brute is about 38cm wide and 70cm deep which includes room for the protruding SCSI plug. You'll also need plenty of extra room at the front (at least 40cm) to allow the transparency tray to be pulled out.

The scanner connects to either Mac or PC platforms using a SCSI connector. The back of the scanner has a 50 pin and the other end, that goes into the computer, is a standard 25pin (a lead is supplied). The PC model also comes with an Adaptec 2902 SCSI card and installation software.
Installing the unit is straightforward, especially if you don't already have any SCSI items connected. If you do own a SCSI Zip drive or CD writer, you have to make a chain and ensure each item in the chain has its own SCSI ID number. Technical support could be needed at this stage, and the Microtek support is very good.

Once installed you can call up the scanner from your image editing program, using either the ScanWizard scanning utility or the excellent SilverFast program. In both cases the software gives you a set of editing tools to adjust size, resolution, sharpness etc, using a preview scan before you go on to make the final scan.

If you use ScanWizard, it's well worth calibrating the scanner first to ensure the most accurate colours. A Microtek utility is provided to do this called DCR (Dynamic Colour Rendition) that automatically checks out the scanner and creates a suitable profile for negatives and transparency scanning.

Microtek ScanMaker 5
A scale is provided to help you align prints to scan.

Microtek ScanMaker 5
Several prints can be scanned in one go, providing they are placed within the scanning area.

There are two ways to make a scan. The usual glass platen is provided to support scanning artwork, prints, and photos and is illuminated by a fluorescent tube that travels underneath the scanning area. Many flatbed scanners have an optional transparency hood with a second tube that travels above the glass platen to backlight transparent materials. The ScanMaker 5 works in a different way, using a tray that slots beneath the internal fluorescent light. This is useful for most materials as you don't have the glass surface to keep clean so, in theory, the scans should be cleaner.

Microtek ScanMaker 5
The tray of transparencies slides into the scanner chassis.

Two trays are provided that slide inside the unit. One is a universal glass holder that can be used for a variety of sizes of film and the other is a holder that takes various adaptors, one for two 35mm strips of six, a 6x9cm with four slots, 4x5in with two apertures and a 35mm frame that holds 12 mounted slides.

Microtek ScanMaker 5
Mounted slides being added to the frame.

In use these are fiddly to use because every time you scan a fresh set of slides you have to take out the tray, unload, reload and fit back. The advantage is if you have several sizes to scan because you can be loading up the next tray as the first is being scanned. Also if you develop a system you can save time doing pre-scans as the trays hold the next set of images in the same spot.

The 35mm unmounted tray is also frustrating because it pulls the strip across as you close it, so you need to manoeuvre it a little to ensure you don't end up scanning the rebate.
The quality of scans is as much down to the way the software controls the scanner as to the hardware itself. The Microtek has a good optical system, with 36-bit colour and 1000dpi resolution, it's also solidly built, but it's the supplied Silverfast that adds icing to this very large cake.

Silverfast offers batch scanning, very accurate previews, and a vast amount of control to ensure your scans are as good as possible. There's a guide to help you through the process and scanning accuracy is very good. All the non-digital material on ePHOTOzine has been scanned using the Microtek. It's also a model that many magazines use for their illustrations.
If you work in a quiet office the sound of this scanner is annoying - it's loud and can be a distraction, but if you're in a typical noisy environment this won't be a problem.

Microtek ScanMaker 5
Silverfast's batch scanning allows individual slides from the tray to be selected, resized and cropped, as well as adjusted for sharpness, colour and saturation.

It's big, but it certainly performs and Silverfast aids the process to ensure brilliant results are created from all types of materials. If you mostly scan 35mm slides, go for a dedicated film scanner, but if you have a combination of materials including medium-format this is well worth considering.

Microtek ScanMaker 5
A scan of a 35mm trannie at maximum optical resolution creates a 3.8Mb file.

Test by Peter Bargh

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