Sunday, March 02, 2008

Microtek ArtixScan M1: An Informal Review

Update February 12, 2013:

Microtek has new scanners, the M2 and F2 , links and info on my blog "Here"

Update November 14, 2011:

I have had this scanner for over 3 years now and have done about 2000 scans with it, mostly all 4 x 5 black and white negatives, I recently sent it in for repairs as I was having focus issues, the scanner was not producing correctly focused images, I live in Canada, so I shipped it off to California in the US for repairs, please note if you ever buy one of these keep the box, you never know when you might need it for shipping. Mictotek in the US was good to deal in terms of repairs at least for me, they had my scanner in and out in a couple of weeks, the scanner worked fine when I got it back, but do check your focus as it can mis-focus from time to time.

Here is my original review:

I'm not in the habit of posting equipment reviews on my blog, especially for that of a film scanner, most of whom I'm sure shoot digital. But in the world of hybrid large format camera film photography and digital printing, I thought some people may find my thoughts interesting, I should also mention I'm not a technical junkie and there are a number of reviews on the internet that have far more in depth technical specs and data that I could ever provide.

I recently acquired the new Microtek ArtixScan M1 after having owned the Microtek Scanmaker i900 for the past 3 years or so. I felt it was a decent scanner that did a lot of scans for me, last year alone I did about 400 scans with the i900 and never failed to work for me. The i900 was the first really decent scanner I had owned, I bought at the time because of the features that it had, I could scan 4 x 5 to 8 x 10 film and the machine was then priced around $800 , which I could afford, I thought this was good. I was making my first foray into the brand new for me world of ink jet printing, before that I had a traditional darkroom set up in the spare bedroom of my home, with the new scanner, computer and 17 inch wide printer I squeezed this all into my then existing darkroom, I dismantled my home made 8 x 10 horizontal enlarger which was six feet long ( keep in mind my darkroom was only 10 x 10 feet ) I used photoshop to "develop" my images into ones and zeros and I liked what it was doing for me from an artistic view point, I felt there were tonalities and contrast ranges that would have been very difficult to achieve if I were making a projection made print with a conventional enlarger and tray development in the darkroom ( I know there are others who are far better at darkroom printing than myself ! ) I eventually dismantled my darkroom completely and set up a small film developing station in the laundry room of my house, I transformed the old darkroom into my new computer generated print room using my Epson 4800 printer, I put my wood working skills to use and made a nice wood desk and printer stand and gave the old darkroom a fresh coat of paint.

A big part of the cross over to digitizing my work involved the scanner, I needed something good, but I'm not a millionaire and can't afford some of the high end drums scanners or flat bed scanners that can easily cost $10,000 or more, I believe its best to afford the best you can buy with the given funds at your disposal and to go out and make pictures with that given equipment and no worry about what you don't have.

With the introduction late last year of the long awaited Microtek ArtixScan M1 which is priced around $800 US for the pro version, I wondered do I really need a new scanner ?, after using it for the past several weeks I have concluded the M1 is a lot better than my old i900, the scans are cleaner in the sense that they don't look as "grainy" ( in some photos ) it has better dynamic range from shadows to highlights and although its hard to see at the size I am printing there is better sharpness, I could see this in comparisons scans I did from a 35 mm slide on the i900 , the M1 and also a friend's Nikon Coolscan ED V. The Mictotek M1 35 mm scans are far better by a long shot than the i900, but not quite as sharp as the dedicated 35 mm Nikon scanner, no surprise there, although with a powerful sharpening tool like FlocalBlade I was able to sharpen up the 35 mm scans quite a bit and which I feel would make a very respectable or slightly bigger 8 x 10 print. I also scanned in one of my earlier 4 x 5 black and white images from the old Kettle Valley Railway line near Kelowna , B.C., I made this picture of a trestle in the summer of 1987, at a time before I fully understood the Ansel Adam's Zone System, the sky is quite a bit over exposed on this T-Max negative, the M1 did a nice job of retaining detail in the sky with out it looking too grainy after I finished enhancing the image ( see posted image ). I mostly scan using the SilverFast scanning software and use the optional HDR 16 bit grayscale mode, this give me a negative when opened in Adobe Photoshop, but before I open them in CS3 I scan a batch of negatives and use Automator on my Mac computer to invert them into positives and assign a color profile to the image, then I work on each image as time permits.

I will be using this scanner to archive my older black and white images that I have shot over the past twenty years from various formats which include 120 medium format film to 8 x 10 almost all black and white, and most of my negatives are I feel quite good technically, no blasted high lights or missing detail from shadow areas, I feel this scanner should be quite capable of handling the task of making some darn fine fine prints up to 40 x 50 inches depending on the negative size.

So there it is, maybe not much of a long in depth review per se but more of a run down of my digital imaging work flow using the M1, if there are any questions you can e-mail me or post a response on this blog.

I am posting one of my very few color images from my collection that I made with my 8 x 10 view camera, this image was shot on Galiano Island around 1994 with a 300 mm Schneider lens. I have never pursued color very much with the view camera ( maybe an idea for another blog entry ) , for one even back then, 14 or 15 years ago it was very costly , the film was costing me $10 per sheet ( Fuji ) plus $7 a sheet to have it processed that works out to $17.00 each time I clicked the shutter, now what do they say about wood working...... measure twice and cut once ? well its kinda the same with the a 8 x 10 view camera and color slide film, meter twice and click once !


Anonymous said...

Looks like a good buy, gary! From the kettle bridge pic, I can see lots of detail, despite the small image size for this blog. I particularly love the clouds in this shot. The colour pic at the top of this post, is that the one you mention is one of the few colour shots you've done in large format? If so, did you do any more processing on it; it looks quite reddish/purpleish to me? Cheers! ;O)

Gary Nylander said...


--Thanks for you comments!

--Yes the scanner did do a nice job of bringing out the detail in the clouds in the Kettle Valley Railway image, I know on the web its hard to see detail compared to what a real print would look like.

--Yes its one of the few color images that I have shot in large format, 8 x 10, its a color slide and the reddish/purplish hue is what it looks like on the slide and to the best to my recollection it's what the sky looked like when I shot the image.


Robert Koopmans said...

Hey Gary,

I wonder if the "graininess" you mentioned might be related to film choice as well, from what I've read, scanners don't like the T-grain films much (T-MAX, Delta) even though they are extremely fine-grained films. I had problems with graininess as well in 4x5 with Ilford Delta, and was baffled. Delta 100 is fine-grained film!

In the end, switched over to the Efke films, they are a high-silver, ADOX formula from the 50s, extremely fine-grained with a more traditional grain structure and they scan like a bloody dream!! Absolutely beautiful on the scanner. Contrasty film, though, might be tough to print out of an enlarger at times. But really something on the flatbed.

Gary Nylander said...

Hi Rob,

Yes there is doubt that the "graininess" that I mentioned is due to film choice which has been Kodak Tri-X ( the 320 ISO ), I have been using this film as my main choice for the last ten years or so, I really love it, despite the fact that it tends to be on the grainy side, by the time prints are made at 16 x 20 or so it does not become a factor ( in my view ).

I have not tried the Efke films, I will have to check them out one of these days, what ISO are you using ?

Vancouver Isle Doug said...

I just stumbled upon your photography blog and have to tell you that I think the color photo you have posted here is gorgeous! We just moved to East Sooke last fall and I've been taking lots of shots with my little Fuji digital camera. Certainly not on the level that you are but I'm having fun. I'm going to flag your blog now and check back periodically for some great shots and maybe a bit of encouragement. Good job!!

Gary Nylander said...

Thanks, Doug, I love the East Sooke area, East Sooke Regional Park is one of my favourite parks !

ZnB said...

Hi Gary,
I am thinking of buying a M1 and would like to hear from you a bit more about your experience. What you think about the film holders, both 35mm and 120 ? Can these holders keep the film flat (relatively) ? I have been using Epsons and the film holders are not good enough. I have also used my friend's Nikon 8000ED and it does a better job. Thank you

Gary Nylander said...

I have been using this scanner for about 5 months now and I am happy with the results from the M1, I mostly scan black and white negatives so they many not be as challenging as color slides to scan. The 35mm and 120 holders work well and keep the film relatively flat, but if you want top quality holders check out :

ZnB said...

Hi Gary,
Thanks for your info. I read about those film holders but the price is quite high. I'll give those that come with the scanner a try first. Most of my scans are B&W too. ZnB

Anonymous said...

I've had the M1 for a while now and really like it. If there is a really in-depth review at

Anonymous said...

Hi, I know you posted about the scanner over a year ago but I am wondering how you like it today. I bought one in Jan 2008 and loved it. I used it for a year scanning about 1000 old family photos from 1880-1960 and then it stopped working. They no longer repair them but offer to exchange it which I did and now the second one has stopped working. I keep searching online hoping to find words of wisdom about getting it to work again. BTW I love you photography!

Gary Nylander said...

Hello Anonymous,

Yes I still like it today, its has been working great for myself, it has not given me any trouble.