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Scanner: EPSON Perfection 4870 Photo

EPSON Perfection 4870 Photo When it came to photo scanners, I was a strong Hewlett Packard fan until 2004. Back in 1994, I bought my first scanner from them, a sturdy machine, which was fantastic for many years. I replaced it with a HP Scanjet 5470c which turned out to be not cool at all, despite the rather high price and the various promises made by their marketing...

And then, all of a sudden, I had a pile of B&W photos to scan, and I wondered what to do? After a lot of research, I decided to go for a new scanner, finally turning away from HP. It had to be the EPSON Perfection 4870 Photo. Like the 5470c, the EPSON comes with a transparency adapter for slides. As I use the Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II for this, this review will focus on the photo scanning qualities of the EPSON.

The device alone looks cool and stylish and (wake-up call for HP) has a manual power switch, so you easily can switch it on and off. As silly as it sounds, I really do not like the idea of devices that sleep until you need them. This costs just money and you can not really hard-reset the device if needed (only by unplugging and re-plugging the power cord). I like simple designs.

The installation instructions were clear and easy to follow. Scanner and software installed quickly, and I started to do some scans. But suddenly there was a problem! The scanner would not do more than five or six consecutive scans! An error message would appear telling me that the software is running out of memory. It recommended to close another application in order to continue to work. Only after a system restart it would do another bunch of scans. Needless to say, this message came up even when no other application was running! To me, it looked like a serious bug (memory leak) somewhere in their software.

As the scanner and software worked fine in every other aspect, I called their German tech support. While talking to the guy on the other end, I was under the impression that he had never seen the scanner, never installed it or even used it! First he talked me through the system requirements (no luck, my system rocks). Then he would recommend to download the latest software (again no luck, the latest version came with the scanner), and I began to feel that I was educating him... At one point, he wondered why I purchased "the old 4870" because there was "a new model out already". As you may guess, that comment did it - I was over the edge and started to almost yell at the guy, asking for his supervisor. Apparently, there was no supervisor on duty. And the promised call-back never came. Too bad.

My conclusion: If you do have a problem with the device, you better do not turn to their support, at least not when you are in Germany. Compared to the HP (never needed their support), this was a real nightmare. - And sorry, EPSON, this was definitely not my fault! After much fiddling on my own, I discovered that the problem was caused by the auto size recognition feature, which automatically identifies the area to be scanned. Turning off this feature solved the problem.

Anyway, from then on, the scanner worked like a charm.

As I will focus on the photo scanning capabilities only, I cannot (yet) comment on its ability to scan slides or negatives. For my tests, I have been using the version 2.03G of the "EPSON Scan" software. All tests were done in "professional mode", which allows you to manually set all the settings for the scan, with automatic brightness.

Sharpness - Colours - Definition

Using the old photo I used for the HP test, I scanned it at 1200 dpi and made the following photos. We can easily compare the EPSON (left) to the HP (right):

Overview, the complete photo (original size 97 x 68 mm):
Original photo, EPSON Perfection 4870 Photo Original photo, HP Scanjet 5470c

A closer look at the car:
Detail, EPSON Detail, HP

Finally, an enlargement (400%) of a part of the tire:
400% enlargement, EPSON 400% enlargement, HP

As the JPEG compression alters the image to a certain extent, I provide the 2nd image as uncompressed TIFF to you. But beware! The download is not for the faint hearted: slightly over 1 MB! Click here for TIFF

Especially the 400% blowup makes it clear to me, that the EPSON is playing in a completely different league. Where the HP Scanjet 5470c just delivers electronic junk (oddly coloured pixels), the EPSON delivers full areas almost without any grain! Fan-tas-tique! To be fair, I have to mention, that I did the EPSON scan with the 48-bit colour depth, while the HP scan was done with 24 bits.

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Scan Examples

Here are some more example of the excellent results with the automatic brightness correction. All scans have been done with 48-bits, then just cropped, reduced in size, and put to 24-bits with Photoshop (no brightness or colour adjustments at all!). Finally, I compressed the files using the fantastic ImageOptimizer software by XAT. I think, the results are absolutely fantastic!

Alsace, France (2002)

Alsace, France (2002)

Kiel, Germany (1986)

Charlottenberg/Lahn, Germany (1957)

Kos, Greece (1994)

Speed

The EPSON is lightning fast! It's as simple as that. It is so fast that I tend to do larger scans than I actually need, so my hard disk fills slowly, and I have to clean up from time to time. :-)

The scan software actually supports the batch processing of scans, because it automatically counts up for each scan. While this is not rocket science, neither HP nor Minolta implemented such a feature for the scanners I own. Now, it's really easy to just scan a pile of photos without having to worry about and manually enter the numbers! Nice.

All-in-all, speed and handling are waaaay better than the 5470c.

Summary

If you are looking for a serious, yet affordable, scanner to digitize your photo prints, well, the EPSON Perfection 4870 Photo is it. Definitely. Having said that, the device might be way over the top and a waste of money if you intend to use it for a few scans for the web. But as soon as you want excellent scans in higher resolutions, go for it!

After the experience with their customer service (in Germany), computer novices will want to consider to get the device from an experienced store with experienced people behind the counter. This way you can simply turn to them in case of problems, and you avoid the EPSON support center which was no (i.e. zero) help at all for me.

However, if you are a professional and know how to setup and run scanners and computers, I recommend to buy the EPSON Prefection 4870 Photo now from Amazon or any other trusted online shop.

Once everything is up and running, the speed and the quality will simply blow you away. It's incredible.

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