Epson 4990... how bad is it really for 35mm and MF?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by eric_gundersen, Sep 26, 2005.

  1. I know this has been discussed almost to death on this forum, and I
    apologize in advance for anyone who's sick of this topic yet.. but I'm
    one of those people who agonizes over any purchasing decision I make
    (you should see me at the grocery store).. and this is driving me
    absolutely batty.

    I'm trying to make a decision on a film scanner, mostly for scanning
    MF and my collection of 35mm negatives from the last 10 years. I've
    been reading the posts in this forum and it's pretty much been settled
    that film scanners (Minolta Dimage Multi, Nikon 8000, etc) are going
    to give the best quality film scans under $5k...

    I have read many good things about the Epson 4990 however, but many of
    you have said it is not very good for 35mm and MF scans. The question
    I have is, how bad is it really, compared to a film scanner? I mean
    anyone know any sites with photo comparisons? In my limited Googling I
    can't find any direct comparisons of this scanner against a film
    scanner for 35mm and MF. There are comparisons on 4x5 here: and it
    looks pretty close at 4x5.

    I want the Minolta Dimage Pro, but my budget is more towards the
    Epson. The fact that it scans 4x5 is a plus as I've been thinking
    about dabbling a little in large format.

    My goal is to be able to scan these at good enough of a quality to
    print and display these prints at some of the art galleries around
    town, mainly the MF scans. Am I dreaming to think I can do this with a
    $500 scanner? If I put two 16x20's next to one another, framed and on
    the wall, will I be able to tell the difference between a dedicated
    film scanner and a 4990? Or, are they almost the same and everyone is
    just splitting hairs at this point?

    Any links or info anyone could give me that would help me make up my
    mind would be greatly appreciated. I don't know anyone who owns both
    of these and will let me test them myself..

    Thanks, Eric
  2. I have no links to offer. I do have some words of wisdom - you get what you pay for. I too wanted to get a flatbed scanner to do high-end work. I went around and had test scans made and was unimpressed with the Microtek 1800f which is supposedly better than the 4990. The 1800f is good for perhaps a 3x enlargement (forget 16x20 even from 4x5). If you looked at prints made from scans from the 4990 and a Nikon 9000, there would be a big difference at greater than 2x enlargements. When I first saw the scan from the 1800f, I thought that it was pretty good. Then I had the same film scanned on an expensive Creo and the difference was huge. I'd recommend saving for the right scanner. I saved for years each to purchase an Imacon 343 then a used Creo IQSmart2, the latter being used for LF films up to 8x10. I'm glad I did.
  3. "you get what you pay for"

    Well, yes. But from the samples I've seen, if you scan at 4800 ppi, noise reduce, sharpen lightly, bicubic downsample to 1800 ppi, sharpen again, the 4990 will produce a fairly decent 6x enlargement. For four times the price, the Nikon 9000 will produce better 7x, and maybe better 8x enlargements, but film itself is beginning to fail above that. If you can put up with 9x13 from 645, 13x13 from 6x6, and 13x16 from 6x7, you're home free. You won't be happy with the 4990 for 35mm slides, though. (Although you may be surprised with its scans of 35mm negatives.)

    Anyway, if you've never done any scanning before, shut up and buy the 4990. At the worst, you'll learn enough to know what you want out of a real scanner (or that what you really want is a dSLR), and it's pretty much the only game in town for 4x5.
  4. Flatbed. The first problem is the glass itself. It starts to show its limit at 1600 dpi, so the optimal res is probably 2400 . At maximum 4800, the dots are smaller but softer.

    The 4990 has at least more subtle rendition (Dmax) that the previous models, still less than recent film scanners. Ice is a must these days and it has it.

    Since medium format film machines are so expensive, it is a reasonnable value play for that but for 35mm, it is not enough for nice large prints.

    The best way now is probably to get a Nikon Coolscan V (or 5000 for lots of negs) for 35mm AND a 4990 for larger films BUT have the very best large film work commercialy digitalise with a high end scanner (like Imacon) for spectacular prints.

    Still, you have to answer : what film format is used and what quality is needed for each.

    I don't think a 16x20 produced by mf on the 4990 (or any flatbed) will be good enough for what you want.
  5. I can't really answer your question about two 16x20's side by side but it works pretty well for 4x5. If I was scanning smaller formats I would pick a medium format scanner like the Nikon or Imacon. The scans need a LOT of sharpening. I use mine mainly for proofing then send out for a 200-300mb drum scan if it's a portfolio grade image
  6. jtk


    People that are unhappy with 4990 are mostly just repeating things they've heard. Standard P.N stuff.

    Many users report that it's capable of diffusion enlarger quality (ie unsharp Vs condenser) from 35mm. Skill enters heavily into this. Practice makes perfect etc. It's certainly very good for 6X7.

    Yes, you'll be able to distinguish the two 16X20 from 6X7, but 4990 will do a good job (even lesser flatbeds work well with 6X7).
  7. Hey, just how wonderful are your negs and slides anyway? I've got a 4490, the lesser version of the 4990. It gives me better MF results than anything I ever got from a wet lab, and I just did some 35mm negs, not knowing how good the scans might be, and was very pleasently surprised. B&w grain was nicely resolved, not soft and not enhanced. I've yet to do slides, but from what I've seen so far, I expect little to complain about. Remember that most 35mm doesn't hold up very well at 16x20 anyway, compared to larger formats. In this digital age, everyones expectations seem to be much higher. IMO, there is always something better, and a true film scanner will certainly be better. As a practical matter, I scan at 4800dpi, do reasonable amounts of post processing, and am very happy with the results. IMO, unless you can download original scans at high resolution (huge) files on the web won't answer your questions. If you can only afford the 4990, buy it and get on with the task at hand. The product is excellent and, just as important, the software is also up to the task.
  8. I have the Epson 3200 and Minolta Multi Pro. The 4990 is similar, but better than the 3200. It is not bad. It is very good. The difference depends on the original. For some originals the 3200 does such an excellent job that it is hardly possible to see a difference. It generally does badly in slides that have a lot of dark areas. Sometimes it can give a bit soft results, but not always. Film scanner seems to be more consistent, and can better extract detail from the dark areas of the original. I have scanned some 24x65mm originals and printed them up to 33x90cm size with excellent results from the 3200. I have also scanned some 6x7 originals that do not look too good when printed just to A4 size. That is why I eventually got the Multi Pro.

    Sure, you can always get a little bit better result by spending more money, but what is good enough? These Epson scanners are excellent value. By spending five times more you can get a little bit better quality. By spending another 2-3 times more and getting an Imacon you can get little bit more again, but then you lose ICE and spend ages spotting. Pay another 4-5 x more and get a drum scanner for yet another improvement that really is minor at this stage. You will see a difference if you compare the prints side by side. But if the print from lower cost alternatives is good enough why worry? And nobody will be able to compare your prints side by side unless you supply the comparison prints.

    Be selective on the advice as well. It is unlikely that someone who has spent $30 000 on a drum scanner or $8000 on Imacon is going to say that you can actually get very acceptable results in many cases by using a $500 scanner.
  9. There is a good review of the 4990 here.
  10. It's good enough for 8x10 or letter with proper sharpening.
  11. i have tested epson 4990 using a very sharp 70mm colornegative. image is 57mm high. 11x enlargement and print shows details which are 1/10mm on print, 1/100mm on film. grain is not perfectly sharp. i will make further tests since film was in contact with glass(not the most perfect focus-distance). btw: i could compare the same subject enlarged a bit more with epson 2450. its like day and night(not sharp). next test will be using standard holder and when available scanmax-wetscan-holder.
    julio fernandez will prepare different panoramic masks starting from 24x58mm(horizon) up to 60mm x 7 inch(largest window when scanning sideways. i will provide him these filmsizes. he has also a 8x10 inch-version. standardversion is 5x7.
    he(a chemist from canada) is also offering a new liquid(seaway shipping over the ocean-3 weeks must be calculated. in scanmax-yahoo-list - impressive comparison-scans can be viewed. grain/scratch-reduction, best contrast/color.
  12. test
  13. The Epson flatbeds you are looking at are better than you would reasonably expect (for the
    money) but not up to what the Nikon can do. I've used both an Epson 3200 and a Nikon
    5000 and find both to be worthy investments.

    My advice is to try the flatbed route--especially if much of your work is MF. For those truly
    special images, step up and get an Imacon drum scan with the money you save by
    foregoing the Nikon film scanner. If you are scanning mostly 35mm, I would do the
    opposite and go with the Nikon 5000.

    Let us know what you decide!

  14. Eric, this link:
    will give the most extensive tests and comparisons ever seen on these scanners on the net. The answer to your question is impossible if you don't specify the output size. If you print out at 10cmx15cm... any scanner would do. Yours, AM (if someone could tell me how to insert a link...)
  15. sorry, scanmax-groups-link has changed:
  16. Most of the complaints about the Epson 4990 seem to be from users of 6x6 format. When cropped to 645 it is only 3.2x bigger then 35mm, which isn't enough. I have no problem using 6x7, 6x9, 4x5 (which is what I bought it for).

    If your going to frame a large print, or selling numbered prints, doesn't it make sense to go for the best (drum). So in that sense a Nikon 9000 or Epson 4990 is mostly used for editing hundreds of images. However to be fair, many people have sold images from the 9000 or 4990 (check out for all his images sold using flatbeds). When you want BIG, or maximum quality , only the drum will do. To me the Nikon 9000 is a waste of money, simply because when the time comes when I need a superb 30x40 print, the Nikon 9000 is not enough, so why have it when I must send out anyways. In smaller print sizes they both perform well enough, although the 9000 allows a bigger print.

    By the way, most agree 6x enlargement is about right for the Epson 4990. The 3x comment is not reasonable. The Epson 4990 produces very high quality if you know how to print correctly. The problem is many people complaining in here have no real printing experience or knowledge. So if their results are bad they tend to blame the equipment. I suggest you read Vinces article at Photo-i. He knows what is going on. I also would trust Rockwell, Norman Koren. They know what their doing. Give a Hasselblad to an amateur, he will return a lousy print and blame the camera, same problem here.
  17. Good unsharp masking skill is almost an art and definitely important to get the most out of your scans - especially with a flatbed. Many people who have not mastered unsharp masking would really see big gains in their scans if they would invest in a sharpening program like Focalblade or one of its competitors. If you are going to go th budget route by buying a flatbed and want to get up to speed faster, you might want to budget for the cost of one of these software packages.
    Dougs MF Film Holder for batch scanning of 120/220 medium format film with flatbeds
  18. jtk


    Doug, please expand a little on your Focalblade recommendation...I'll ask the question on a separate thread.
  19. "Most people" are hardly a criterion to use for print quality.

    I'm one of the people who think the Epson is lacking in detail even in a 3x enlargement. I've been doing my digital printing since 1999 and my prints are generally speaking much better than what I have been getting from pro labs widely used for exhibition prints. An Imacon, Kodak HR500 or drum scan from a sharp iso 100 transparency (Mamiya 7, tripod) will have considerably more detail than a scan with my Epson 4990. I've tested deliberately curving the slide to see if it's a plane of focus problem and it doesn't appear to be so. The differences start to become obvious at 8x10 inch print sizes.

    The LS-9000 is a scanner which I would have bought if I had had any foresight into what I was getting into. I think the flatbed route is a big waste of time - I haven't saved that much money over a LS-9000 since in almost all cases I have to have the final scan done at a lab anyway (to get the detail). If the LS-9000 is as good as my LS-5000, it would certainly be sufficient for all my uses, saving much money and running to and back from labs. However, right now I can't afford it.

    Sharpening can compensate to a poor scanner lens to some extent but it won't really recover what isn't there. I suggest anyone who thinks the Epson 4990 is good for scanning 6x7 to make fine prints to visit an opthalmologist - and I'm not kidding.
  20. Ilkka,

    Are you sure your scanner is working properly? Do you scan with ICE off? I agree, anything over 6x is pushing an Epson, but my 4870/1280 can easily do a 4-5x print when viewed at the "sniffing" distance.
  21. Ilkka, I really think you have something wrong with your scanner. To many people agree to about a 6x magnification, and your the only one to ever mention 3x. So something is not right. When you look at (an expert in this field, from what I remember he does research in this area, design, etc), Norman has analyzed it to death, he has also been making beatiful prints which he sells, which to me suggests something wrong at your end. When Ken Rockwell says he likes his machine and Vince at Photo-i loves it with commets such as the following in his review ..."The 4990 is without doubt an excellent scanner which will satisfy most users' needs." or "For medium and large format scans the 4990 produces outstanding quality, certainly good enough for any professional photographer" or "I haven't got any drum scans here at the moment, but looking at the image quality on both medium and large format scans I wouldn't expect a drum scan to be a major leap ahead in end result quality, perhaps a mega leap forward in price. ".....these are people who know how to use them, and I feel I can trust. I also have a critical eye, but sometimes looking at it under a microscope is uncessesary, and just enjoying the print (accepting compromises) is what we must do. After all printing at 300ppi is a compromise (Epsons run best at 360ppi), printing larger prints at 240ppi is also a compromise, and people are happy with it. If you looked at the print on someones wall you wouldn't notice it, but in a side by side comparison you might. Erics link with photos showing a drum scan vs a 4990 scan make it clear the differences are not that great (after sharpening, which is what really matters). I agree, images are much softer in the 4990 before sharpening, but as Vince is surprising how far you can sharpen. If I have a great shot, I want it to get a treatment that is nothing but the best, that means a drum scan for me(not flatbed, and not Nikon 9000). Of course, there is a grey area where we all can do professional work with a 9000 or 4990, it boils all down to how big a print you want to make, and how big your original negative is. If you want to tell me the 4990 is junk, your barking up the wrong tree, because everyone uses the 4990 for 4x5 to 8x10 and wouldn't if it were not capable of quality (and in this category were picky about quality). So it boils down to where does the quality break down under enlargement, most agree 6x (if you feel it is 3x that is fine too, but check your machine out, or your just one who prefers a 360ppi print to a 300 ppi print because your extremely critical). If you want bigger enlargements get a 9000, if you want even larger get a drum scan done, that simple! It boils down to a question of size of print you want, not quality of print. I'm not saying there won't be any difference, but it sure is close. If you want to spend 5-10x more, go ahead, I just might buy a Nikon 10000 soon as it's available, or wait for the Nikon 11000 if it still is not up to snuff. Until it meets my stds, I will have drum scans done of my best work, and edit through the piles of slides with a flatbed and frame them up just a bit smaller (for most 13x19 is a nice size, and 6x7 film easily covers this). I have no problem doing 16x20 using 6x9, and far bigger in 4x5.

    The real issue I notice is we have people with different skill levels, they try a piece of equipment and say it junk. What really is the problem is they don't understand the basics of printing, how to pull the brilliant colors out, how to introduce brilliance into a print so it bounces off the page. Just put the average Joe in front of a enlarger and see what you get (flat prints ready for the basket), then give the same negative to a master printer....and watch it turn into a masterpiece. No different in the digital world. To get a great print, you have to know how to get there, most people don't.
  22. Many thanks for all the responses. I just wanted a little more clarification on this. As we all know, sometimes the naysayers can be overly picky.. I've met some self-professed "audiophiles" who think anything less than a $5000 audio amplifier sounds like crap, when my $300 Sony sounds perfectly acceptable to me. But on the other hand, if the Epson is really that bad, of course I'd rather apply that $500 to something better.

    I think I'll probably just pick up the 4990 regardless, since it's such a good flatbed scanner, and just send out for a drum scan if needed. Worst case I'll wait until next spring and look for something better.

    From what everyone has said I gather it should at least be sufficient for proofing or smaller final prints from 6x7, and then maybe I'll have a little extra money to pick up another lens.

    Thanks again for all your help!
  23. fpa


    Late to the party, I know, but if you're going the Epson route, then I'd recommend looking at Doug Fisher's holder for it. I have a 4870 for office work, which I found mushy when used for film. I bought the aftermarket holder, and found the scans to be noticeably sharper. It may be the better flatness, or moving the film up a touch into the area of sharpest focus, but the results are visibly better using it. You can simulate this effect, of course, by putting a sheet of thin matboard under the default holder, and then taking several scans to establish the actual plane of focus. It will never be a Nikon9K/Drum Scanner, but then not everybody owns a top-end enlarger + glass and shoots only tripod-mounted Velvia either.
    In the end, YMMV, but it's at least capable of making decent prints of moderate size, if used carefully.
  24. I have a flextigh presision 3 at my studio and a epson 4990 at my home, from both of them i
    scan 2x2 or 4x5 and get excellent result from both of them for a 16x20, of course i get more
    precise details from my Imacon, but only if i compare both of the scan, because at first the
    scan form my epson look fantastic. For the 35mm i do them only on the Imacon, the other
    sucks! For your money invest in a Epson 4990, if you win the loterie...go with something like
    a coolscan or a Imacon, whatever the model you could afford.
  25. although i guess that the testimages are not perfectly sharp-anyhow go to scanmax and check the scans with an without wetscanning. its like day and night.
    at photokina new zeiss ikon was shown with a test-print gallery around 30x40cm. i have zeiss since 26 years. and the lenses are still razorsharp. but the prints from newest zeiss-ikon-lenses looked very lousy. beside bad colors i could not see the sharpness i was familiar with on ordinary enlarger prints. so scanning and printing was lousy.
    last test was 70mm film shot with special military camera(laying on ground). details were razorsharp. although film was a bit grainy(agfa avicolor n200(old version) very small details could be seen thanks to zeiss planar lens already perfectly sharp at fstop 4(1 stop). details of 1/100mm on film could be see on 12x enlargement. since film was put directly on glass-which is not perfect focus distance-grain is a bit supressed. when using scanmax-wetscan-holder at the right distance result would be perfect. as i have that holder i will post results. we will prepare panoramic mask of all kind of sizes from 24x58mm(horizon) up to 60mmx 7 inch. or longer. julio fernandez is offering different holder-sizes 5x7 and 8x10 maybe special 35mm.

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