Sunday, July 29, 2007

Review: Canon CanoScan 8400F Film/Negative Scanner

Review I bought the CanoScan 8400F from Newegg for $123 in June 2006, and decided to sell it in July 2007. Newegg no longer sells it. It is an old scanner, in the sense that newer models have inevitably come along; but I expect this particular scanner, and many others like it, will be circulating for years to come. Also, at this time I am preparing the eBay ad through which I will sell it. So I am taking some time to write up what I have learned from my year's usage of this machine. I did find the Newegg ad from which I purchased in the Waybackmachine website. According to that ad, as of spring 2006, the scanner had an average five-egg rating (out of five max) from 175 voters. I am inclined to be somewhat more critical. I would give it four eggs rather than five. Here are my criticisms: 1. The design is very nice. My scanner still looks good. But they designed the black plastic part of the lid from plastic that is too soft. I was pretty careful with my scanner; yet things do happen, over the course of a year. Despite my best efforts, mine has picked up some small scratches. Some might not mind such thingsn at all. I do, a bit. I wish the designers had not seemingly done their best to make those scratches visible. 2. The buttons on the front did not work for me. There are four buttons, labeled E-mail, PDF, Scan, and Copy (which, incidentally, are not exactly the four uses for which I would want buttons). I think I may have had them working at one point. As I recall, the trick was to have the CanoScan Toolbox open before trying to use the buttons. I am not sure whether I used that trick on this machine, or on the other Canon scanners I have had, or both. Point is, it's not working for me right now. I am sure I could figure it out. Canon's tech support has been responsive for me. But that's not good enough. The whole reason for buttons on the front is to keep it simple. Buttons on front are for people who just want to step up and press (you guessed it) a button and make their scan. 3. The quality of the scans is good to very good. It has not been fantastic, however, and I expected fantastic when (a) I had fantastic scans from my older CanoScan LiDE 30 (I mean, ordinary documents scanned on that machine looked as if someone had taken a picture of them, literally) and (b) I was spending twice as much as some scanners cost. I am sure there may have been some settings I could have tinkered with to make things better. But I'm not a photographer. I didn't plan to invest the time (and did not, in fact, invest the time) to learn how to work magic with a photo. 4. The controls were painful to use. I could not tell what some of the options in the ScanGear software were for. Obviously, I could (and I did) tinker, to some extent; I actually have gotten reasonably good at adjusting gamma and contrast especially. But I still would not say I have mastered the other available controls, and I am sure a lot of other people are much the same. It is good that the controls are there. But the companion problem is that this scanner did not retain settings. Someone said that this is due to Windows XP, and indeed I have had the same experience with other scanners. I'm just wondering whether it was impossible for Canon to do anything about it. At my level of expertise, it seemed that each photo's settings had to be adjusted again from scratch. I just didn't have time or patience for that. I had too many photos and frames to scan. 5. The holder for the 35mm negatives, in particular, was not very accommodating. Old negatives curl. They may just not be very cooperative; and that holder expected them to. I was able to work with it nonetheless, but it was a hassle sometimes. I suggest an approach that would latch firmly onto one edge of the negative, and then impose lateral pressure to bring the other side down to an appropriate place. Again, though, I don't know if any other scanners in this price range are better in this regard; this is the only negative scanner I have used. In the end, with few exceptions, I was able to make it work. 6. Software installation was good, the first time around, and a hassle, the second time. This may have been my fault. It is possible that, the second time, I connected the scanner before I installed the software. I am pretty sure that was not the case, but it is possible. I do appreciate Canon's earnest efforts to help me through it. Their tech support, via e-mail, was very responsive. But again, I really want to avoid that kind of time-consuming, relatively unproductive hassle. With those caveats, I would definitely recommend this scanner. I was able to use it to work through a good number of negatives. It scanned to a pretty fine resolution. It has been a solid, reliable performer. I haven't seen another scanner that I would have bought in its place, though I haven't been looking either. I also found that Canon's tech support was readily available. Out of three or four e-mails that I sent them, all but one got an actual human response within just a few hours. They did not respond to one of my e-mails, but I think that is probably because I had baffled them and they did not know the solution to my problem. That problem ultimately appeared to derive from an issue with my Windows installation, not with Canon software or hardware. Usage Tips Some may not understand, as I did not understand, how the negative scanning feature of this machine works. Basically, the scanner contains two scanning light bulbs. The second one is in the lid. You remove the white cushion that you would ordinarily leave in the lid (if you were scanning documents, for example), and you plug in a cord that runs from the lid to the body of the scanner; and when you tell the scanning software that you're scanning from negatives, it uses the lap in the lid to shine light through the negatives, so that the scanning lamp in the base can see what's on the negatives. To hold your negatives in place, the scanner comes with three plastic frames. The scanner can sense when these are in place; I think it won't turn on the lid light unless you're using one of these. The frame that will be most commonly used will probably be the one designed to hold 35mm film negatives. Note: you can also use these frames to accommodate other sizes of negatives. For example, I used the largest frame to scan negatives from a 1970s-era disc camera, where the negatives were arrayed in circular fashion -- but I was only able to scan one frame at a time! I also used the 35mm one to scan 110 film negatives, but there I had to cut the 110 negatives into sets of two and let the pair straddle the boundary between the 35mm frames. I got my best results, when scanning negatives, by clicking on Preview every time I loaded a new batch. I thought it wasn't necessary, because after all I was scanning exactly the same parts of the screen. But in ways that I did not fully understand, the system seemed to be making automatic adjustments to each new batch, and if I did not preview, I would not see them. Note that the automatic adjustment feature works differently if you select one negative frame, in particular, and crop within it. Other frames in the same batch may suddenly look better or worse. In some situations, where I was loading negatives from diverse sources, I found that I had to take several passes. On the first scan, I might have settings that would work for negatives 1, 3, and 8; on the second pass, I might have to use very different settings for negatives 2 and 6; and so forth. Be sure to look at your results. Using the highest setting for dust and scratches may remove crispness. But using the lowest setting may give you poor results. On balance, I definitely got my money's worth from this product. I wish it had been easier to use, and the quality was not of the very highest level. But I have a lot of pictures available to me, now, that had been locked up in negatives, and I'm grateful for that. It really did the job for me. I have emphasized negative scanning here, because that's this scanner's specialty, but with the foregoing criticisms, it also did a good job creating PDFs and JPGs from documents.