Scanners for Panoramic Film

Flatbed Scanners for Panoramic Film Compared Side-by-Side

Epson 4180, Epson 4870, Canon 8400F, Canon 9900F,
& Nikon Coolscan III for reference…

The recent flatbed scanners from Epson and Canon have finally become good enough to scan 35mm film with. Here I compare the Epson Perfection 4180 & 4870 and the Canon CanoScan 8400F and 9900F. We’re looking at 35mm here, but suffice to say the same observations will hold for larger scans such as panoramics, 6×9, etc.

I love shooting with the Widelux FV (original chrome classic panoramic camera from the 1950′s). Along with the Hasselblad XPan, these panoramic formats generally don’t work in 35mm film scanners that depend on a fixed frame size. The HP Photosmart S20 was an exception, but that scanner doesn’t have IR dust cleaning and doesn’t support multi-pass scanning.

So the panoramics (along with a Rolleiflex 2.8D / Xenotar and Fuji GS645S) have given me quite a stack of film that needs a medium format scanner. I’ve always eyed the flatbed film scanners as a lower-cost, easier way to scan film than a medium format scanner such as the Nikon 8000 or Minolta Scan Multi. I like the idea of laying down multiple strips of film, pressing the button, and going off to do something else for a while. And now, finally, these new flatbeds make that possible.

The Lineup

  • Canon 8400F: Two strips of 35mm film
  • Canon 9900F: Four strips of film, IR dust cleaning
  • Epson 4180: Two strips of film
  • Epson 4870: Four strips of film, IR dust cleaning


Canon CanoScan 8400F

This frame is 35mm 400 ASA C41 negative (from a Leica M6 with 35mm Summicron f2, Tokyo’s Tsukiji district), scanned on the Canon 8400F. I’ve done minimal adjusting here, just barely enough to bring the Epson and Canon images into a comparable state.

First, notice that there’s a certain “pop-out” quality to the reds. This is not just a fluke – it’s a consistent artifact particular to this scanner. In the case of a neon sign, it might be OK. But even things like a red patch on someone’s jackt just seem to be popping out of the picture – just not right if you compare this to some of the other scans.


Canon 9900F

The same reference scanned on the Canoscan 9900F. I still have the same trouble with reds on this scanner, as with the 8400. The sign letters on the brown building (upper-right) seem to be sitting on top of the image. But maybe it’s just me, and here on the 9900F I wouldn’t notice it as much as on the 8400F.

The 9900F has double the capacity of the 8400F and offers IR dust cleaning – a pretty big step up if you have lots of stuff to scan.


Epson Perfection 4180

This is the same 35mm negative as above, scanned on the Epson. Notice the reds – They’re sitting at the same saturation as the other colors, perhaps more realistic. This is just another gray Tokyo day near the docks.


Epson Perfection 4870

The same reference, this time on the Epson Perfection 4870. As with the 4180, the overall color is well balanced.

The Epson 4870 introduces infra-red cleaning and double the capacity of the 4180 and 8400F. Otherwise, this is in the same scanner class as the others.


Here’s a 2x magnification of the construction sign, on the Canon 8400F scan. It’s not the highest res the scanner will do, but it’s high enough to uncover some ugly details.

Obviously, there’s a whole lotta color fringing going on here, and it’s due to the optics of the scanner. This is not my Summicron’s fault!


The same cropped detail, from the Canon 9900F. Optics are substantially better than the 8400F.


Here’s the same 2x mag, from the Epson 4180 scan. It’s not the highest res the scanner will do. In fact, the Epson is rated at 4800 DPI while the Canon 8400F reaches 3200 DPI. Just to note: The scans were originally done at about 3300 x 2200 pixels.

Optics seem on par with the better Canon. The detail is clean. A good unsharp mask filter could really tighten this up.


Crop from the Epson 4870, unprocessed. The optics are OK, chromatic separation is under control. Very similar to the Epson 4180 though I’m not sure why this scan is heavier on the detail. I suspect that was “different settings / different day” effect.


Just for reference, here’s the same detail from a Nikon Coolscan III / LS-30 film scanner. Obviously, this is a sharper scanner than all of the flatbeds. Since the Nikon is rated at 2700 DPI, less than the flatbeds, we can see that claims of resolution in flatbeds are obviously overblown. The Coolscan has auto-focus.


Canon 8400F scan: Shadow noise! Well, OK, it’s color neg so this is actually near-white noise.

I suspect this is not so much “random noise” as it is bit resolution aliasing. I tried rescuing a few scans by setting multiple exposures (using Hamrick Vuescan), but that just re-iterated the same errors on the same pixelized boundaries.

In the software section (below), we’ll see some ways to clean this up on shadowy negs.


Now check out the Epson 4180 scan – much quieter. Notice, too, the grays here are more monochrome.

The Epson 4870 has very similar “shadow” performance. In the software section (below), we’ll see some ways to clean this up on shadowy negs.


Reference from the Nikon Coolscan III / LS-30 film scanner…

The rather bi-tonal “wet glistening” artifact from the previous flatbed scans appears to be something about the film itself, as the same effect is showing up here on the Nikon.

Also, the noise seems to have a finer detail to it – I don’t know how to put this exactly but I think the image will show… Perhaps by scaling the images down, the Nikon scan would ultimately appear to be quieter than the Epson flatbed.

Overall conclusions

  • The Canon optics are often second to Epson’s, though in most cases it’s difficult to tell. Sometimes you get a hideous chroma on some highlight detail from Canon – This happened to me with both the 8400 and 9900F.
  • The Canon software has one definite advantage over Epsons: The ability to manually crop from any sized rectangle – So for scanning panoramics, the Canon software would almost win just on that one feature. The Epson software can only do automatic thumbnails, but in some cases, they can automatically sense a 60mm Widelux frame! That doesn’t always work…
  • Both Canon and Epson have excellent color automation for C41 negatives. I can’t understand why Vuescan has such a hard (if not impossible) time dealing with negative color, while the Canon and Epson software makes color “just work”.