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Imacon Scanner vs Drum Scanning?

Jon Paul , Apr 03, 2006; 12:56 a.m.

I am currently having my 4x5 transparencies scanned by a lab. I am considering purchasing an Imacon "drum" scanner. Would I be sacrificing quality? I produce very large (up to 96") prints via lightjet. Any input via experience would be appreciated.

Regards, JP


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Beepy . , Apr 03, 2006; 03:24 a.m.

No direct experience:-( I took an Imacon scan of 4x5 as experiment to 40" x 50" lightjet. It was very good looking. But I wonder how much more I could've take it. The true resolution maximum of an Imacon when scanning 4x5 is 2040 dpi. I think that is leaving information on the table for a well shot 4x5 negative/slide?

Hopefully someone else will weigh in...

Steve Swinehart , Apr 03, 2006; 11:08 a.m.

One of the problems with scanning large format images is the file size. A 16 bit scan of a 4x5 on an Imacon is about 500mb file to start with. A little manipulation and layers and you're between 1 and 2 gigabyte file size. You need to keep that in mind as well as the resolution, Dmax of the scanner, etc. Let's assume you had a drum scan made a 4800 ppi - the file size would be over a gigabyte. Do you have the computer equipment to handle the file?

Could you amplify on "sacrificing quality"? What do you mean by that statement? What "quality" are you worried about? Also,which Imacon do you think you might purchase: 646,848,949? The specs for each of the scanners are different.

Bruce Watson , Apr 03, 2006; 11:15 a.m.

Beware the hype of Imacon. Imacon has never made a drum scanner. They have never made a PMT scanner. What they make is a line of CCD scanners that hold the film in a curve. It's an interesting innovation, yes. But there is much more to a drum scanner than the curve of the film.

For what you want to do (96 / 5 = 19.2x enlargement) you need a drum scanner for best quality. You need the higher resolution, the higher sharpness, and fluid mounting, all of which will be very visible in the final print.

For a visual comparison, look here:


This is a comparison of various flat beds, Imacons, and drum scanners, all scanning the same piece of 5x4 Velvia.

If you are really thinking about buying an Imacon, I suggest you seriously consider buying a used drum scanner instead. It will save you a bucket of money, and give you a considerable visual improvement in your 96" prints.

Search around in the archives here:


I think you have to join to see the archives and post questions. This is a fairly good resource that has people using all kinds of high end scanners. More information is good, yes?

Steve Swinehart , Apr 03, 2006; 11:30 a.m.

Imacon NEVER says their scanners are "drum scanners." So, there can be no "hype" involved from Imacon. They are very careful to state it is a virtual drum, holding the film in an arc over the imager. There are some benefits to this approach.

Secondly, the link you gave to the scanner tests is virtually useless as the Imacon scanners listed are no longer made; and the performance of the Imacon scanners listed is not close to the current models.

Also, the latest version of their Flexcolor software (with an included firmware upgrade) makes the scanners perform even better.

Don't believe all of the hype you read in these forums by people who don't use the equipment, but have an opinion.

Scott Eaton , Apr 03, 2006; 11:55 a.m.

Don't believe all of the hype you read in these forums by people who don't use the equipment, but have an opinion.

This is so true.

As we've seen in endless posts and examples on the topic, a well run Imacon, Nikon 8000, or even Polaroid scanner can beat a drum scanner. Regretfully, not all drum operators know what they are doing, and/or screw up the mounting process resutling in soft & mushy scans. Like I said, I've seen too many posts of crappy drum scans in this very forum to make a broad proclamation that drums are the end all means of scanning.

Given all devices run with equal competence, a well maintained Tango drum will beat the Imacon or Nikon, especially with trannies. I woulnd't however rule out an Imacon at all for what Jon Paul wants to do.

Bruce Watson , Apr 03, 2006; 12:12 p.m.


The OP asked the question "Would I be sacrificing quality?" He's asking for an opinion. I gave him mine. I gave him reasons. I gave him sources for his own research, and to allow him to gather opinions from other people. This helps the OP find other sources that either support or contradict what I've said.

I was in the OP's position three years ago. I did the research. I asked the questions. I bought a drum scanner and have been using it for the last three years. I have an idea what it can do. I've formed my opinion from experience.

If you don't like my opinion, that's OK. Make your case though logic. Build a rational argument. But at least try to keep it civil.

BTW, I just looked at the Imacon website here:


How do you explain the claim for a 4.9 Dmax, if not hype? I don't know how they would prove it - the Kodak density target only goes to 3.6. What are they scanning to prove this claim?

Bruce Watson , Apr 03, 2006; 12:35 p.m.

I should also point out that the OP can do some serious original research by having his own trannies scanned on various machines. He can find people to scan his work on Imacons, good commercial flat beds like the Creo-Scitex Eversmart, and drum scanners (at this enlargement level, something sharper than a Tango - an Aztek Premier or an ICG 380 maybe, even a 12 year old Optronics ColorGetter, all sharper than a Tango). When I did this, I made sure to get scans without sharpening. I color corrected in Photoshop to make each of them as identical as possible, and gave each some level of "capture sharpening" (drum scans got none) to try to level the playing field.

He can then take one or more sections out of each file and print them using his preferred output. This will give him small sections (say, 12 or 18 inches square) of what would be his 19.2x enlargement that he can put on the wall and compare side-by-side and make his own analysis. You can't get much more objective than that.

If you do that Jon, be sure and post your results. I for one would like to know what *you* think.

Now I'm done with this thread. Y'all can trash drum scanners all you want without my interference. Just remember, what any of us *believe* can not and will not change the *truth.*

mark L , Apr 03, 2006; 06:34 p.m.

what a hissy fit....anyway, it's more than quality, and it's more than the scanner used, as said before, the operator makes a big difference. I would rather make my own scans on my imacon rather than have somebody who has no idea what I want, making my scans for me on a drum scanner. not to mention the amount of time I would have to sacrifice getting the film to the lab and then picking it back up. plus the possiblity of having your images damaged, no one treats your negs/trans better than you.

these are some additional things to think about.

Jeff Grant , Apr 03, 2006; 06:51 p.m.

My understanding about the latest Imacon software is that it is all about digital backs and not scanners. I would also love to see anything substantial about the differences between various models of Imacon scanners. The major change has been the change from SCSI to Firewire but I believe that the results are pretty much unchanged. I wouldn't actually recommend scanning 4x5 on a Flextight Photo as it is done in 2 passes and requires an amount of fiddling to join the two parts.

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