What's the best Mac scanner? 6 flatbed scanners tested
29th Oct 2010 | 09:26
Scanners from Canon, Epson and HP tested
Best Mac scanner: speed, greyscale scan
Standalone flatbed scanners, as opposed to multifunction devices that scan, print, photocopy and, in some cases, fax, are becoming more rare.
The market for budget flatbed scanners for Mac is basically shared by three companies; Canon, Epson and HP.
There are a few minor players such as Mustek and Visioneer, and Xerox claims to be working on Mac drivers for its budget scanner range, but if you're seeking out a recent scanner that is compatible with OS X right now, you have to go for one of the big three.
There are four main types of document scanner available. The flatbed scanner has you place your documents on a glass surface, under which a light and sensor array passes, capturing the image. High-quality but expensive drum scanners mount the scanned image on a cylinder that rotates at speed in front of a sensor. Sheet-feed scanners slide pages past a stationary scan-head, and handheld scanners are physically dragged over the image by the user.
As drum and sheet-feed scanners are mainly for business use, and handheld scanners waned in popularity as the far more capable flatbed scanners fell in price, it's the ever-popular flatbed devices we cover for this group test.
So what is the best flatbed scanner for Mac?
We look at six models from Canon, Epson and HP, costing around the £100 mark.
Canon CanoScan 5600F - £112
Canon CanoScan LiDE 200 - £62
Epson Perfection V300 Photo - £76
Epson Perfection V500 Photo - £160
HP Scanjet G2710 - £59
HP Scanjet G3110 - £78
Test One: Speed
See how fast the devices go with an A4 scan
The problem with following manufacturers' stated speeds is you can't know whether you're comparing like with like. What did they scan? At what resolution? What filters were used?
For this speed test, we scanned the cover of last issue's MacFormat, in full colour and at 300 dpi (dots per inch). We turned all filters off except for the descreen, which is designed to remove the dotted effect you get when scanning printed media. This filter can slow down scanners, so it's useful to see how they perform with it switched on.
The two Canons and the Epson Perfection V300 Photo all turned in times of around 40 seconds, which isn't too shabby. The HP Scanjet G3110 and the Epson Perfection V500 Photo did better, scanning in 24 and 23 seconds respectively.
The HP Scanjet G2710 had no descreen option, so comparisons were difficult, but its scan time of 22 seconds with no active filters was nothing to write home about.
Test Two: Test-card scan
Which scanner produced the sharpest greyscale image?
For this test, we used a card given away with our sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine. Printed in black and white and packed with text, grids and lines, we scanned at 150 dpi and again used a descreen filter.
The Canon scanners gave near-faultless white backgrounds and solid, dark characters. There was very little smudging around close parallel lines, and grids were reproduced accurately. Very tightly packed parallel lines were slightly less even than they should have been, and the greyscale ramp had difficulty distinguishing between shades very close to black, but if you want a budget scanner for text documents and line drawings, best make it a Canon.
The Epson Perfection V500 Photo was very close to the quality offered by the Canons, and actually did a better job with the greyscale ramp. It only struggled to differentiate when it reached around 90% black. Its grids were slightly less consistent and text a little less vivid, though.
Best Mac scanner: colour scan, feature
Test Three: Colour scan
How do our six scanners handle a MacFormat cover?
Full marks for the Epson Perfection V500 Photo here. It got the contrast just right, with beautifully rich colours that were neither too light nor too dark. Its white space was clearly defined, and totally black areas crisp and well realised. Perhaps the masthead could've been a little sharper, though the barcode was nice and solid.
Its sister device, the V300, was only slightly behind. The Canon CanoScans were very clear and crisp with fine details excellently reproduced, but they were ever so slightly washed out, the LiDE 200 more so than the 5600F. Nothing that's beyond a little tweaking, but just enough to keep them behind the Epsons.
The HP Scanjets performed less well. The G2710 gave the white area behind our logo a distinctly blue hue, and the G3110's results looked a little tired and subdued. Again, a little clever editing could bring them up to standard but they simply weren't as solid as the other scanners.
Test Four: Design & features
What do our scanners offer beyond basic scanning?
The Canon CanoScan LiDE 200 was the smallest and lightest of the scanners on offer, and powered solely through its USB port with no power cable needed. It's thin and light enough for your laptop bag, and even has a stand to position it in a near-vertical orientation, though it's the only scanner on test that can't scan transparencies.
Its stablemate, the CanoScan 5600F, offered the most buttons for one-touch access to regularly used features. You can scan to print, email, copy and create PDFs.
The Epson Perfection V500 Photo comes bundled with ABBYY FineReader 5.0 Sprint Plus OCR application and some impressive tools for correcting and enhancing scanned photos and film. Unfortunately, the build quality of both the Epsons was a little below par. Not terrible, just a little less robust than the others.
The Scanjet G2710 has a gorgeous clear Perspex trim, though the software for both of the HP scanners was awkward to use.
The Winner / Canon CanoScan LiDE 200
Canon's CanoScan LiDE 200 gives a little bit more than the rest. Canon's LiDE (LED Indirect Exposure) system places the sensor and the light source very close together, making it both space and energy efficient.
The result? A scanner that's small and light enough to carry around with your laptop, and which draws both power and data through a single USB connection. You can even use the stand to mount it in a near-vertical position, if you really needed to.
Transportability is not at the expense of image quality either. It offered excellent results in both our scanning tests, though it can't scan transparencies. If this feature is important to you, perhaps you should try the Epson Perfection V500 Photo instead.
First published in MacFormat Issue 225
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