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Scanner: HP Scanjet 5470c

I bought my first HP scanner back in 1994: a sturdy HP IIcx, which had an optical resolution of up to 400 dpi. It could not handle slides at all, but it was surprisingly good for medium resolution scans of photo prints. In April 2002 I decided to upgrade my scanner, mostly because I wanted to scan slides as well. As I was very satisfied with my old HP, I looked at the current Scanjet series. Finally I purchased the HP Scanjet 5470c, which comes with a transparency adapter.

The software installed quickly, and I was up and running in about 30 minutes after unpacking the device. The scanning quality of photo prints is okay-ish, but definitely better than my old scanner. That was not a surprise to me. I expected the technology to be way better in 2002 than in 1994. The HP Scanjet 5470c allows for up to 2400 dpi optical resolution, so it is sufficient for slides. Or so I thought.

In the past, I gave slides for the Web site to a service bureau, which burned a Kodak PhotoCD from the slides. High quality, very convenient and fast, but a bit expensive. This was the benchmark. I would expect this quality from a slide scanner.

The truth is, that the HP Scanjet 5470c can neither compete with the Kodak PhotoCD nor with the Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II at all. It is impossible to get reliable results from slide scanning!

Problem #1: Sharpness of framed slides

The scanner conveniently comes with a tray that can take up to three framed slides. BUT the scanner is obviously focused on photo prints. So, when scanning framed slides using the tray, the image is resting "above" the focused area. In theory, the can has to be unsharp. And in practice?


Left Scan from HP Scanjet 5470c.
Middle The same slide from Kodak PhotoCD.
Right The same slide from Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II.

Well, the result is obvious. The Kodak PhotoCD takes what is on the slide and creates a crisp, sharp scan. The high contrast in the slide is no problem at all. Just take a look at the area below the castle. The restaurant sign seems to be much sharper. You can even read the word "DANCING". Okay, I guess that by breaking the slide free from the frame and putting it to the focused area on the scanner, the result might be better. I did not try it, though, because I do not want to break frames just to make scans.
Therefore, it's 1:0 for Kodak PhotoCD.

Problem #2: Colours

While the scanner is doing an okay-ish job on photo prints, it is doing a poor job on slides. Colours are simply unpredictable. It took me quite some time to fiddle around with Photoshop to get results that were anywhere close to the original slide. Still, sometimes it did not work out good enough, and the slides were flaw and looked like from the 50s. Look here:


Left Scan from HP Scanjet 5470c.
Right The same slide from Kodak PhotoCD.

Again, the same slide was not a problem for Kodak PhotoCD. Just the normal tweaking, and - voila - a sharp picture with correct colours and high contrast. I asked myself: why? And I figured out that the transparency light seemed to be not correct. I put my calibrated slide sorter (which cost as much as the scanner) next to the transparency adapter's light, and it turned out that the two lights were clearly different from each other. Ho-hum. Could someone please explain how one is supposed to do correct slide scanning with this light??
2:0 for Kodak PhotoCD.

Problem #3: Speed

The HP is slooooow. It takes forever to scan a slide, even at 1200 dpi. I know, it is a lot of data that needs to be transferred, but a scan from a slide should not take longer than a scan from a photo print. I guess that the high resolution still poses a problem to the HP. While the Kodak PhotoCD is even slower (waiting 10 days for 100 scans), I do not waste time with scanning, plus I do not need to archive the stuff as it comes on a CD-ROM.
3:0 for Kodak PhotoCD.

Problem #4: Quality of Photo Scans (added April 2005)

Okay, we see that the HP lost out when it came to scanning slides. However, when I wanted to scan a huge amount of old black & whites in December 2004, I discovered another major flaw of the Scanjet 5470c, which finally lead me to buy a new photo scanner, the EPSON Perfection 4870 Photo.

So what's the problem? While the scanner offers a real resolution of up to 2400 dpi also for prints, you better not make use of this resolution, because you will see grain all over the scan, which clearly does not come from the original photo! When I saw this, I was completely baffled, because I did not really expect such bad results. Here's the evidence:

The photo is from an old photo album in the 30s. It measures 97 x 68 mm, and I scanned it using 24-bit RGB at 1200 dpi resolution. The left image gives you an overview, the second image is a detail of the original scan, and the third image finally provides you a blown-up version (400%) of a detail of the front right tire. The "digital grain", chunks of oddly coloured pixels, can clearly be seen here. :-)

Original photo Detail scanned at 1200 dpi 400% enlargement of detailed photo

As the JPEG compression alters the grain 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


Final score: 0:4 against HP Scanjet 5470c.

Summary

If you want a scanner just for photo prints to show off on the web in low resolutions, you may consider the HP (but ask yourself whether you want to pay for a transparency adapter that you won't use, and for optical resolution that you won't use). If you want to scan slides or negatives or high resolution prints, forget it. It is not worth the trouble. I decided to get rid of the HP and to go for better devices, targetting at semi-pros. Today I am a happy user of the Minolta Dimage Scan Elite II and the EPSON Perfection 4870 Photo.

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