Epson Perfection 3200 Pro
Does This Scanner Have Everything You Need

I've been testing and reporting on flat-bed scanners for almost the entire history of their being available to individual computer users. Thus far I've been skeptical of the ability of affordable models to serve as 35mm film scanners comparable to dedicated 35mm scanners. The specifications of the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO seem to indicate a change that might just alter that view.

Although the Perfection 3200 PRO is a replacement of Epson's very popular Perfection 2450 and has some similarities to it, the 3200 should be seen as a next generation scanner. The appearance similarities do not reflect the changes in the core of the scanner, the linear array CCD and the optics that support a much advanced level of performance. Although the optical resolution is 3200dpi, Epson's Micro Step technology increases the physical resolution capability to 3200x6400dpi. Another significant advantage is in the interface computer connection, with the Perfection 3200 PRO providing both USB and FireWire ports. And although superficial and apparently minor, the one weakness of the 2450 that has been improved in the Perfection 3200 PRO is the new set of redesigned and much more effective film carriers.

The inclusion of the full version of LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 6 as part of the Perfection 3200 PRO package assures the user has the depth of tools to output truly professional quality scans from all photo image media.
Photos © 2003, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

Software Bundle
These physical improvements alone would be significant, but are amplified by the software, which is a part of the PRO model package. This includes LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 6, a professional level but easy to learn and use scanning software. In addition there's a complete color management software system in Monaco EZcolor 2.5 that includes IT-8 reference targets and the ability to calibrate and profile your monitor, the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO scanner, and your printer. This uses the scanner to read the data to calibrate print results. This functionality is further backed up with three ArcSoft applications: PhotoStudio, PhotoBase, and Panorama Maker. Finally, the foundation of an effective digital darkroom is also included in the 3200 PRO software bundle with a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0.

The Epson Perfection 3200 PRO will scan prints and documents, 35mm slides and negatives, as well as all format sizes of 120 film and 4x5 sheet film at a level of performance specifications considered "professional" not long ago, all at an announced price of $599. The only question is whether or not the promise in the features and specifications live up to the expectations they engender.

This Kodachrome had most of the important information on the image in the shadow of the storefront's setback entrance. I was able to adjust the balance of tones bringing up the darker tones quite easily with SilverFast. Even though the dynamic range of the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO is not as great--at 3.4--when compared to some contemporary scanners, it is quite sufficient. And a greater dynamic range might very well make scanning negatives more difficult by having to ramp the density values more steeply to fill the output gamma.

Using The Epson Perfection 3200 PRO
Typical of mainstream computer peripherals today, the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO offers an easy, fault-free installation, accomplished by following the well-documented steps. Right after unpacking the scanner I had it turned on and was scanning some pages of documents I wanted to OCR into digital text files. This was facilitated by using Epson's Scan software, which I found has been refined and streamlined to make each of the utility scanning functions as easy and successful as possible. This brought to mind the fact that a flatbed scanner has many uses beyond the support of a digital darkroom that add to its value, including working as a copier in conjunction with a printer and as a fax machine with the necessary software and a modem.

Imaging Skill Set
I was eager to get into the digital darkroom realm and launched SilverFast Ai 6 from Photoshop to scan a selection of 35mm slides, color negatives, and black and white negatives. Even with some contrasty Kodachromes the results I obtained right off the bat encouraged me to scan many more 35mm images than I had intended. Of course, obtaining good scans immediately was made easier because I have been using SilverFast over a long period of time with a number of scanners, including my own 35mm dedicated scanner.

Silver-based black and white negatives have always been a challenge, particularly 35mm film sizes. However, the Perfection 3200 PRO yields a very desirable range and separation of tones. Apparent graininess was kept to a minimum. I had made attempts to scan this negative twice before, unsuccessfully. This current success was not because of the luck of a third attempt, but entirely the result of the favorable attributes of the Epson scanner.

The Epson Vs. A Dedicated Film Scanner
That dedicated film scanner has 4000dpi resolution, so I thought that it would be a tough match for the Epson. This is a reasonable expectation, but with many images I found the Epson had its own advantages. One of those advantages was discovered when scanning some grainier films. For those who have worked in the darkroom, you can compare what occurred to switching from a condenser light head to a cold light head on your enlarger. With a cold light head grain is less apparent in a print--the same goes for the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO. This is probably due to the more diffuse light source of the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO compared to a dedicated 35mm scanner.

Other Image Quality Parameters
In all of the other dimensions of scan quality--color, brightness, and contrast--the Perfection 3200 PRO delivered what I wanted and responded very well to the adjustments I made in SilverFast. To double-check my results I chose film images I had scanned previously using a 2700dpi dedicated 35mm scanner. I was able to improve on the results, sometimes by quite a bit. I associated this good experience with the fact that I found LaserSoft's new dust and scratch removal system more effective with the Perfection 3200 PRO than with my dedicated 35mm scanner. Considering the fact many of my film images have seen better days, the fact I could output cleaner image scans was not a gift horse I was going to look in the mouth.

I later switched to larger format films. Even with the 6x4.5cm 120 film, the scan results I was able to obtain were consistently first rate. I even scanned one of my friend James Chen's recent 4x5 Ektachrome architectural interiors and the file quality was impressive to him; and that's considering many of the scans Chen uses are made by a service bureau with a drum scanner. To me, that says a lot for an under-$600 consumer product.

As romantic as the public impression of fashion photography is, the reality of an assignment can be a photographic nightmare. In this case it was a
dark-brown suede leather dress, which was a challenge to capture and clearly define all of the detail. Reproducing the 120 negative with the Epson Perfection 3200 PRO allowed the photography to be captured cleanly and sharply and to also enhance the subtle differences in the tones of the dress.

Evaluation And Recommendation
Over the years testing and evaluating products I usually find some weakness that could be improved to make it a more effective or easier to use tool. Epson has been making the Perfection line of scanners for some years now, refining these scanners with each new model. Although I am not suggesting they will not be able to improve on this latest 3200 PRO model, my experience with it produced results I only dreamed of even from professional-level products of just a few years ago. But this is not meant to imply that the most exacting and demanding professional should be satisfied with an Epson Perfection 3200 PRO scanner. But I am convinced that every photo enthusiast who wants to begin doing photography by setting up a digital darkroom would be hard pressed to make a better choice for a start with the Epson PRO package.

Considering that many people these days are budget and price conscious, the other new model, the Epson Perfection 3200 PHOTO, is $200 less than the PRO model. This might be a good alternative for those who already have a digital darkroom set up with the PRO software bundle. However, it is my solid conviction that the potential of the scanner's performance needs the full LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 6 version to achieve optimum results. So, you need to deduct the cost of the LaserSoft upgrade from SE to SilverFast Ai 6 if you are considering the PHOTO model.

For any photographer who has not yet turned a computer into a digital darkroom, this new Epson Perfection 3200 PRO package, I believe, is the most complete and ideal solution yet to be offered. All most will need to add is a printer. I must conclude by saying that I am a bit puzzled that Epson has not put one of their photo printers together with this new scanner and offered it as the "Epson Digital Darkroom."

Technical Specifications
Type: Flat-bed single-pass color scanner
Resolution: 3200dpi optical resolution; 3200x6400dpi maximum hardware resolution with Epson Micro Step Drive; 12,800dpi maximum interpolated resolution
Color Depth: 48-bit color scanning with 3.4 dynamic range for transparencies; 16-bit internal/external; 16-bit gray scale scanning
Dynamic Range: 3.4 D-max
Features: ColorTrue(r) II imaging technology; high-speed scanning; advanced driver for professional quality scanning; built-in 4x9" transparency adapter; USB 2.0 interface standard; FireWire connectivity
Software (PRO Model): LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast Ai 6; Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0; Monaco EZcolor 2.5; ArcSoft PhotoStudio, PhotoBase, Panorama Maker; Epson TWAIN and Smart Panel
Light Source: Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp (CCFL)
Photoelectric Device: Color CCD line sensor
Maximum Read Area: 8.5x11.7"
Dimensions And Weight: 11.9x18.7x4.8"; 13.2 lbs
Estimated Street Price: $599

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