Sunday, February 10, 2013

Microtek's new ArtixScan F2 scanner

             Botany Bay, Vancouver Island, December 2012

This is a short mini review of Microtek's new F2 scanner, as I have probably said in some of my previous reviews, I am not a professional reviewer by any stretch of the imagination, I do scan a lot of negatives though, last year it was over five-hundred 4 x 5 black and white negatives ( T-Max 400 film ). 

Some background, I have owned the Mictotek series of flatbed scanners going back to the model ScanMaker i900 that I bought in 2004. I liked it because at the time it was one of the few scanners on the market that could scan my 8 x 10 negatives and something that I could afford in my price range, now of course there are other scanners on the market, like the Epson V700 and V750 scanners. In late 2007 I upgraded to the new M1 scanner, it featured auto focus, a while ago I did a scan comparison test between my M1 and an Epson V750, I thought that the Epson scans were a tad sharper than the Microtek M1, but not by a whole lot, I also thought that the M1 scans looked less "grainy" than the V750 scans, I thought that by the time I made prints in the 16 x 20 print range with a little extra sharpening that those differences would not be an issue at all. The M1 scanner has been a real work horse for me, after 2000 scans it needed some repairs to the autofocus system, so I sent it off to Microtek in California, they were able to fix it no problem.

I recently purchased Microtek's latest flatbed scanner the ArtixScan F2 model which is only compatible with Mac computers ( the M2 version is for PC computers ), you can read about the full technical details by clicking here: "Microtek ArtixSan F2" . First thing I would say about this F2 scanner is that It's quite heavy weighing in at 26.4 lbs ( 12kg ) and will take a sizeable footprint on your desk or table, 22.3" x 15.1" x 6.3"/ 567 x 385 x 158 mm, it features auto focus scan head, 4800-dpi optical CCD, twin scan-bed with patented Emulsion Direct Imaging Technology ( E.D.I.T. ). LED light source, ( new for the M2/F2 scanners ), it comes bundled with LaserSoft's SilverFast Studio 8 and ScanWizard Pro. Please note for the M2 there is only ScanWizard Pro available. Personally I prefer to use the SilverFast, I have used product with good results over the years.

In comparison to the M1 ( which I still own ) and the new ArtixScan F2, I would have to say that the key improvements  with the new ArtixScan F2 would be: 1). It's a lot quieter, I notice this when the machine goes through its focus stage during the scanning process, 2). It's much faster to starting up after turning the power button on and 3).The scan time is much faster, probably on average about 40% faster. Microtek claims the F2/M2 produces sharper scans, I did a few comparison tests, I used a 35mm colour Kodachrome slide, as far as I could the two scans looked the same, maybe very slight increase in detail with the F2 scanner.  4). I noticed that the most improvement in terms of sharpness was  with the overall edge to edge sharpness of my scans especially when scanning from my 4 x 5 negatives, I am happy to see this. Also these flat beds start to show their weakness when scanning medium format film or smaller, (35mm ) , from the tests that I have done I would say with  F2 scanner maximum enlargement size would be about 8X  or 800% from the original sized negative or slide, I would suggest that if anyone one has a lot of 35mm or medium format negatives to scan perhaps look at a dedicated scanner for those size of formats like the new Pustek OpticFilm 120.

Also back in March of 2008 I did mini-review of the then new M1 scanner, you can read about it "Here". As with other Microtek scanners in this model range ( i900, F1/M1 F2/M2 ) they are all about the same size and shape and look almost identical with the same grey/black colour scheme made of hard plastic, they have always been a very solid feeling to these machines,  things like film holders have gone unchanged for many years now, which should in theory should make it easier to find these parts. As with most scanners, the film holders are probably one of the weakest parts, most are made of plastic and will eventually break with time or they will bend out of shape or not hold the film flat. I almost exclusively scan large format negatives with this F2 scanner. I have been using some specially constructed film holders that I had custom made for me when I had a horizontal 8 x 10 enlarger that I made out of an old Century 8 x 10 view camera, very basic,  I had a local machine shop make me up some aluminium plates ( 1/8" in thickness ) with precision cut rectangular holes made with their milling machine, these were cut just a tad smaller for my three sizes of sheet film that I use, 4 x 5, 5 x 7 and 8 x 10 these plates are then attached to the standard open trays that comes supplied with the scanner, the important thing is that these plate are perfectly flat, hence getting them done with a milling machine, a little pricey too to get them made. I just use a little bit of light scotch tape to gently stretch the  negative across the opening, it works well for me.

A little about SilverFast 8 software: I posted back in August of last year about this new software, you can read about it "Here". I quite like SilverFast 8, as I have previously stated I prefer to use the "16 bit HDR " grayscale setting for almost all of my black and white scans, this is effectively a "raw" scan which I can then work on in Photoshop. Another really neat feature of SilverFast 8 is that the resolution bar indicates the maximum amount of "optical dpi" that the scanner can produce, it tells you when you are in the interpolated part of the scanner, the real optical scan resolution of the F2 scanner as far as I can tell is about 2400-dpi from what SilverFast 8 tells me on the adjustable resolution scale, very handy information. Also SilverFast has been very good with me in terms of their technical support, they always answer my emails promptly and have even worked with me step by step via telephone from Germany to resolve one issue.

In conclusion, I think for my purposes this ArtixScan F2 is a good scanner, it does the job ( for me ). Every scanner will have some kind of issues to work around, in the past my M1 has done a lot of scans and I hope that the new F2 will do likewise ( I now have the M1 as my back up ) I also really like the glassless scanning option which I originally liked with the i900 scanner, it almost seems like I am using a large format enlarger in my old darkroom!, for the most part the auto focus works well, how ever I will mention that every once and while it will mis-focus usually due to the focus spot being in an area of the negative where there is little or no detail. I'm sure there are others out there who will have their own opinions and preferences as to what scanner to use, although I would suggest when critical information is needed from negatives to produce the very best prints, the drum scanner and a properly trained operator is still the best way to go. If anyone has any questions, please post here or email me, I will try to answer as best as I can, I am no technical wizard, there are others out there with far more knowledge in that respect than I do, I just know the basics to get my negatives scanned in as best as possible using the best possible equipment that I can afford.

UPDATE ( August 29, 2014 ): Several readers have contacted me asking where can they get Microtek's new ArtixScan F2, I personally contacted Microtek myself, to purchase in North America:

Company: Iscantek Inc. 
Address: 14145 Proctor Ave Ste 10, La Puente CA 91746 
Tel: 626-269-9948 
FAX: 626-333-7240 
Contact: Mr. Loi Giai Han 


Ralf said...

I'll start with mentioning that I'm not a professional photographer, I'm just an enthusiastic amateur who enjoys using old film cameras.
At the moment I mainly use TMX400 B&W film (both 35mm and medium format) and I do my own developing. Then I scan the negatives with a simple Rollei DF-S100SE. For the medium format I use a Canon flatbed scanner with a home made light source placed about an inch above the negative. Considering my cheap and simple scan method, the results (after a little tweaking in Photoshop)are not bad and seem acceptable for small format web use, and for deciding which photos I'd like to have printed. However, for actual prints I use the old enlarger and wet-darkroom method. I think the quality of such prints is excellent, but I read that you also used to do that and have now switched to a fully digital workflow. Do you think there are real advantages regarding quality with the digital printing? Or is there little difference in quality but mainly in convenience of the workflow? I'm just wondering if it would be worth investing in a better scanner (or have my favourite negatives drum scanned). Thanks in advance for your opinion!

Gary Nylander said...

Hello Ralf,

Yes, I have been shooting with a hybrid system ( film/scan/digital print ) for the past 8 years or so and before that I printed in a wet darkroom, which I am still have visions of using to make contact prints from my 8 x 10 negatives. I regards to your questions I don't think there is one really clear definitive answer, each system has it's strengths, something that I have learned about digital printing compared to making the same print in a darkroom is that darkroom made prints tend to have a natural "S" curve to them while preparing the scanned digital file from the negative the curve line is more linear, I have found that I have to apply a "S" curve to my digital images to make them work, in fact I apply quite a few different "S" curves in different parts of the picture and by doing that for my level of printing experience I am able to exceed what I was able to make in the darkroom, plus with the computer I can clean up dust mark that I sometimes get with large format negatives. Each way of printing will involve your "vision" and there are no less convenient way of making a fine print either through the traditional wet darkroom method or digital printing method.


Ralf said...

Hello Gary,
Thanks for the extensive reply! Very good suggestion about the S curves in Photoshop; I'll certainly experiment with that in order to give my scans a more natural/analog look. It sounds perfectly logical - and I'm pleased to hear - that both darkroom and digital printing methods (like film cameras and digital cameras) have their own advantages and disadvantages. So there is no need to decide in advance on a standard workflow to follow, but let the creative mind decide case per case. A very comforting and inspiring thought! Thanks for your help :-)

Gary Nylander said...

Ralf, you are welcome! each method is a means to the end, and each begins with your own unique "vision" .

Brian E. Davis said...

Hi, Great review. Just curious as to where/how you purchased the F2? I've been trying to contact Microtek about purchasing this scanner for my digital lab at Oregon State University but haven't gotten any response. I can't find this model available for purchase anywhere.

Brian E. Davis
Oregon State University Libraries

Gary Nylander said...

Hi Brian,

I purchased my F2 scanner directly from Microtek a 18 months ago, I gather though that they are no longer offering that option. If you go to this website page:

On that link there is a contact name, phone number and email you could try, I think they are now shipping theses scanners from Asia directly to customers. Hope that info helps.


Brian E. Davis said...

Thanks Gary. I hope that I eventually hear from someone at Microtek. I used to have a ScanMaker 9800XL and loved it.


Gary Nylander said...

Brian, Hopefully someone will contact you. I had a phone call from a fellow in the US a couple months ago, who read my review here, who was having the same problem, I believe he did hear back from Microtek.