THREE SCANNERS

MINOLTA vs IMACON vs LEAF

A comparison of three scanners :

This page contains a summary of my findings. For a more detailed analysis of the scans please visit the test image page of the review.

Leafscan 45

The mother of all modern CCD scanners. A reference since the early '90s. It can scan up to 5080dpi (2540dpi for medium format)  and up to 4"x5" (10x12cm). Declared DMax: 3.7.

Not very practical to move around, unless you are a body builder! It is huge and weighs around 40 kg. (80 lbs.). The weight of early '90s technology...

The version tested here comes with both SCSI-II (for MacIntosh) and GPIB (for PC) interfaces.

Is it still a viable choice? According to your needs and budget, yes. The quality of scans is quite acceptable even compared to its younger brethren. Speed in color scans is slow because this scanner has a linear CCD (compared to today's 3-linear CCDs), so 3 passes are needed to get a complete RGB image. The quality of the sw plug-in for Mac is still good even compared to today's standards, and does a very good job especially with color negatives. In short:

 

Imacon Flextight Precision II

This has been replaced by 848, 949, X5 (current model). Imacon is considered a reference among CCD scanners. The precision II scans up to 5760dpi and up to 5"x7" (13x18cm), with a declared DMAX of 4.1. A full description can be found here .

It uses the so-called flextight technology to improve film flatness. This is an interesting feature, albeit preventing the use of framed slides (I believe an adapter for framed 35mm slides can be provided by Imacon on request).

The overall size and footprint are not small, but it is a feather weight compared to the Leaf.

It is a very, very good scanner in general, except for some weakness in the deep shadows, which are a little noisy. Its scanned images have a lovely three-dimensional look which I cannot find in lesser scanners. Quality wise, I would position this scanner on the top with regard to negative scanning. Re slides (and particularly with dense slides), I position it slightly below real drum scanners (Aztek, ICG, Howtek, Screen), and above prosumer level CCD scanners such as the Nikons and the Minolta. See the test images). Ease of use, excellent control sw and an outstanding company support are the real strenghts of this scanner, in my opinion. And of course if you need to scan something larger than medium format, the competitors become scarce and expensive.

In short:

 

Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro

This was the latest of the last wave of medium format scanners. It scans up to 4800dpi (3200dpi with medium format, 4800 dpi is interpolated). The declared Dmax is 4.8, which sounds more like fiction rather than facts. However, it is currently the only scanner which is able to exploit internally the full 16 bits of image data (the Imacon itself uses 14 bits). The scanner is definitely small, roughly the size of a shoe box. It comes with both SCSI-II and Firewire interfaces.

My comments here refer to using the scanner with the first control sw version, which has been replaced by Minolta. Please check my evaluation of the latest sw version . You may also be interested in checking the improvements achieved by using the Scanhancer 5LE.

The overall quality of the scanner is very good. The film holders are very well designed. The software is, in my view, somewhat disappointing. I believe Minolta addressed the needs of the amateur users. You can get scans of reasonable quality quickly, but you may also easily end up with clipped highlights and shadows. Here is a list of what could (and should) be improved in the sw:

Overall, the quality of the sw is not as good as the scanner itself. Even compared with the Leaf plug-in (at least 8/9 years old...), this software is a little disappointing. Minolta should reflect on who are the target users for this scanner.

An alternative to the Minolta software is available : the Vuescan software from Ed Hamrick (providing better control over the tonal range), while unfortunately, Silverfast from Lasersoft does not support any of the Minolta scanners ( update : Lasersoft announced a Silverfast version for the Multi pro in May 2003).

Software limitations aside, the tonal range of the scanner is very good, and will allow you to extract nearly every bit of information even from the most difficult slides. The shadows are very good and improve dramatically when multisampling is used. At 4x the deep shadows are cleaner than with the Imacon. At 16x they look nearly perfect. There is some faint flare in contrasted areas, however, that I did not notice in the Imacon.

3/4 elements of my unit's CCD are not working perfectly, probably due to some dust (I have to check with Minolta). Unfortunately, it looks like you cannot clean the scanner yourself.

The speed is very good, at least unless all the features are used together (especially GEM makes scanning very slow). In short:

 

Comparison Images

comparison scans of the 3 scanners are available. Make up your own evaluation.

 

The Bottom line

If you need to scan up to medium format, the Minolta may be a good choice. Compared with the Imacon, although weaker in some areas (flare, blooming, control software), it wins in others (deep shadow noise with multi-sampling). Concerning sharpness, I do not have a final verdict. Some Minolta scans look sharper, but in other cases the opposite is true (see the test scans). I would give an edge to the Imacon, depending on the specific type of original. The ICE function available in the Scan Multi Pro can be a bless in some cases. However, the Minolta software is far from being perfect, especially with negatives. The latest sw versions improved the rendering of grain and gradients, but there are still problems with the automatic calculation of the dynamic range. I suggest to skip the internal controls and correct the image afterwards, or again, use a different scanning software. Finally, the Multi Pro can be complemented with the Scanhancer, a very clever device that further helps improving the quality of scans.

Add-on : after long evaluations and discussions with technicians and photographers, I have come to the conclusion that, beyond pixel-by-pixel peeping, the overall quality of the Imacon is clearly superior. I suspect this could be due to a superior lens (Rodenstock). Also, the virtual drum guarantees that the whole image is perfectly in focus. With the Minolta, the use of a glass holder is mandatory if you want to extract the details in all areas of a transparency.

Regarding the Leaf, I must say that it will not be easy to find another high-tech equipment from ten years ago which still can keep up with the newcomers. The Leafscan can. Of course it has its drawbacks.  Heavyweight. Slow with color slides and negatives. Some blooming. Little support available (except from some very good web user groups around). However, if you find a used unit in good conditions, it could still be a bargain...

Related Links

Imaging Resource Forum

Multi-Pro Photographical review

Multi-Pro Ken Rockwell review

IMulti-Pro Imaging Resource review

The Multi-Pro User Group at Yahoo

The Leaf User Group at Yahoo

 


Text and Photographs Copyright © 2003-2009 Stefano Allari.

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