Microtek Scanmaker 8700 Pro
Is This The Ideal All Around Scanner

Microtek Scanmaker 8700 Pro

The Microtek Scanmaker 8700 Pro flat-bed, dual-bed scanner provides the typical 8.5x14" reflective print scanning of a flat-bed plus Emulsion-Direct film scanning via a film drawer that accommodates all film sizes from 35mm through 8x10". For a photographer with or planning to build a digital darkroom, this Scanmaker 8700 Pro covers all of the possible bases for getting photos into a computer. Whether this full range of capabilities is ideal depends to an extent on the photographer. But I assume there are many photographers like myself who have made pictures with two or more film formats and have prints that need to be scanned. The Microtek Scanmaker 8700 Pro will handle all of those tasks. How well it does with each is the subject of this report.

Aside from the Microtek ScanWizard 6 drivers for both Windows and Mac OS 9, there is also ScanWizard 7 for the new Apple Mac OS X. Being the first scanner driver I have had available for OS X, and an upgraded version of ScanWizard, I had to try it. The interface is basically the same, but the design is slicker and requires less setup configuration. In addition there are some re-designed tools like Advanced Image Correction Selective Color. This is a much friendlier and more effective graphic interface for the tool. However the on-screen color wheel and control features are too small, requiring very minute movements of the cursor, which results in relatively large changes. Moreover, the change transition made by the processing resulted in some pixelation at the edges. Like many OS X utilities and applications I have used, there is still a need for more refinement.

The features, specifications, and software bundle included with the Scanmaker 8700 Pro are an indication of whether the scanner is suited to an individual photographer's needs. The dual-bed design providing glassless film carriers (excepting 8x10) is an advantage anyone who has done wet darkroom enlarging will appreciate. The high optical resolution of 2400x1200dpi is sufficient to produce a good quality digital image of a 35mm film frame sufficient to produce a letter-size print (approx. 8x10" image). The 42-bit color depth for input and output scanned at a dynamic range with a 3.4 D-max provides a high level of capability to capture and reproduce the color density range of slide and transparency films. A choice of both USB and FireWire computer connection assures fast and easy image data transfer and control of the scanner's operation.

All personal computer systems are supported with Microtek ScanWizard drivers for Windows and both Mac OS X and OS 9, as well as the LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 5.5 Photoshop plug-in driver. Photoshop Elements is included in the bundle. The Scanmaker 8700 Pro also includes Kodak Precision calibration software and both reflective and film IT-8 references to calibrate and profile the scanner. And, the software bundle is topped off with Genuine Fractals Print Pro so you can make poster-size or even larger prints from your scans.

Consistent with my experience with every scanner I have tested or used for which LaserSoft provided SilverFast support, the Scanmaker 8700 Pro ran smoother and faster with it.
Photos © 2002, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

Using The Microtek Scanmaker 8700 Pro
Installing and setting up the Scanmaker 8700 Pro to work with on my computers was faultless and relatively easy, especially considering the number of different software packages involved. I chose to run the scanner using the FireWire connection (but also tried it with USB, which was just as satisfactory but with slower scan image data transfer). This was the first scanner driver I have had that supports Mac OS X, so my curiosity got the best of me and I tried it first using the new Microtek ScanWizard 7 driver running from Adobe Photoshop 7. This newest way of working functioned quite well, and revealed some design changes in the color adjustment tools in ScanWizard 7. But I have so far found no compelling reason, from a digital photography perspective, to work in OS X. The software still needs some rough edges polished. So, the remainder of my scan testing was done in Mac OS 9.2 scanning into Adobe Photoshop 7.

A good part of my test scans were made from transparencies of various size and film type, as well as a wide range of image subjects. Regardless of whether the original was a little off in exposure, had a color cast, or was a difficult subject for reasons of contrast or color content, I was able to make a very acceptable scan at worst and an excellent one at best without any disappointment in the post-scan print test image. As noted in the text, transparency scans were marginally softer, even though individually adjusted for sharpening, when compared to scans I made from color and black and white negatives. In the print test results this minor difference was barely noticeable.

My selection of images to make my test scans was more at random than usual, and included many of varying photographic quality, as well as some that were on the money. Of course, I included slides, color negatives, and black and white film representing just about every film format there is (with the exception of my panoramic 120 6x12cm images, which are not supported by the SnapTrans holders included). The only 120 size which is part of the standard package is 6x9cm. This required a little clipping of 120 film ends to tape to smaller film frames. This was my only way to obtain full support of the smaller than 6x9cm sizes so one edge would not droop and go out of focus. Otherwise the system is efficient and effective, resulting in scans that are generally cleaner than those made with conventional flat-bed scanners.

Theoretically, as there are no glass surfaces involved, the Scanmaker 8700 Pro film scans should be sharper and crisper by avoiding refractions created by glass surfaces. I found this to be the case. But I did notice that of the almost 100 high-resolution scans I made, those of transparencies seemed softer than either color negative scans or black and white film. I re-checked the transparencies I had scanned with a strong loupe, but film image sharpness was not the issue. I have no real insight into this, as it is not explained logically by any factor I can think of.

I scanned a substantial number of black and white silver-based film images. In every instance, regardless of format size or the density range of the negative scanned, I obtained some of the best gray scale images for printing I have achieved with any scanner.

Besides facilitating scanning 8x10 film, which I suspect few but myself and some other old-timers have, the glass carrier is useful for proofing a whole roll of 120 film (6x7cm format being the usual exception, because arranging 10 frames within 8x10" always leaves one out). And for those with 6x12cm and longer panoramic film images, being careful to avoid Newton rings, the glass carrier is also useful.

Once my scans were done I cleaned them up in Photoshop, which was an easier than usual task, which leads me to believe that the dual-bed glassless Emulsion-Direct system produces cleaner scans. Most prints made from the scans were done on letter-size paper. The rest of my scans were done to print on 13x19" paper at 300dpi image resolution. So, I also made a few large prints, which are much more revealing.

Color negative scanning has been more of a challenge, in part because the negative provides no reference to how the image should look, but also because scanner software developers had given the tools needed less consideration than those for transparency scanning. With the new LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 5.5 NegaFix which provides Film Term support for most popular emulsions, the conversion from a negative with a dye base to a positive is now accurately translated and adjusting the image colors is no more difficult than it is if the image were a positive transparency. This image of wild irises presents the two most difficult colors to reproduce in a digital print, but good color fidelity was rather easily achieved to create a very realistic print.

Evaluation & Recommendation
The concept and design of the Microtek Scanmaker 8700 Pro is to be an all-in-one scanner to meet all of a user's needs. Personally, I have a full range of originals in size and type that the scanner handles, and I found that it accomplished all of the tasks put to it very well, and with exceptional efficiency. It is a fast-running scanner for its class using the FireWire interface. The under-$1000 MSRP would make the scanner a good value alone, but with the generous software bundle included it is an unusual value.

All of the other dimensions of quality were consistently good and very competitive in its price class. I was most impressed with the quality of scans from color and black and white film negatives, especially because LaserSoft SilverFast Ai 5.5 with NegaFix is included with the software bundle. The native Microtek ScanWizard software is quite effective, but the color adjustment tools it includes are not as easy to use or as powerful as the LaserSoft provides. About the only detraction I can think of is that the Scanmaker 8700 Pro is about the largest and heaviest scanner in its class I have worked with, so it does demand a generous space on a sturdy desk.

For more information about the Scanmaker 8700 Pro and for a full list of specs, visit the Microtek web site at www.microtekusa.com.