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Imagine a flatbed scanner with a higher optical resolution than most dedicated film scanners, plus professional scanning and OCR software, all for under £200 (including VAT). Microtek’s latest ScanMaker 6100 has an amazing specification on paper, with an optical resolution of 3,200-x-6,400dpi. It’s a slim, compact design with a new CCD that’s claimed to reproduce fine detail. What’s more, if you trade in any old scanner before 31 March, Microtek will knock £50 off the price.

Too good to be true? Sadly, yes. It’s a reasonably good print scanner, but its film-reading abilities aren’t a patch on a dedicated 35mm or medium format scanner.

While the resolution is enough for enlarging 35mm film frames up to A3 size and beyond, there’s more to image quality than resolution. All the negative and transparency originals I tried were noisy with soft detail, even at medium resolutions (18MB scans, enough for A4). Prints were grainy too. On the other hand, 1-bit line art reproduction is amazing at 3,200dpi or more – enough to scan printed halftones without de-screening.

The ScanMaker 6100 can scan reflection copy (prints) in full colour, greyscale or with 1-bit mono for OCR scanning. Although 48-bit colour and 16-bit mono are read, the software outputs 24 and 8 bits respectively.

The transparency hood includes a useful illuminator window for previewing films. There are film holders for 35mm slides, 35mm film strips, 6-x-9cm and 4-x-5 inch single-frame film. Although the reflection copy up to 216-x-297mm can be read along the full bed size, the high resolution film scanning area only extends over 4-x-5 inches (127-x-101.6mm) at one end of the glass bed. Although the 35mm filmstrip holder extends for most of the bed length, you can only preview or read half at a time, so you have to turn the holder around to read the others.

The two EZ-lock film holders work well – one is for 35mm strips, the other for 35mm slides and 6-x-7 film. You pre-load them, then put them on the bed where raised loops engage with slots in the scanner for precise alignment. This lets the scanner detect each frame. A template holder is included for 4-x-5 inch film, without the alignment.

A port in a storm

An array of seven function buttons across the front panel let you create common types of scan with one touch, including copying, email, scan-to-Web and a customizable set.

The only port is for USB 2.0. It will run with USB 1.1, but high-resolution files are big, so you’ll probably appreciate the extra bandwidth of a USB 2.0 card if you don’t have one already.

Considering the price, the software bundle is excellent. Microtek ScanWizard and LaserSoft SilverFast scanning software, Adobe PhotoDeluxe 4 (Win) and Photoshop SE (Mac), ABBYY FineReader Sprint OCR, Ulead Photo Explorer, and Ulead DVD PictureShow SE.

Microtek’s own ScanWizard 5 software offers two levels of complexity. The standard set is fully automatic – it asks you basic questions about the intended use of the scan and then does everything for you, with no manual controls. The Advanced setting gives you full controls, with automatic plus manual overrides for image density, colour, size, resolution, and scale.

LaserSoft SilverFast SE scanning software is provided as a higher quality alternative to ScanWizard, with a wider range of manual tools plus excellent automation. It can handle prints, and negative or positive film, with pre-set colour balances for popular film makes. It has similar quality-enhancement tools to the Digital ICE3 system that’s licensed for many film scanners plus Microtek’s own ScanMaker 6800 flatbed. These include SRD (a dust and scratch remover), ACR (Adaptive Colour Restoration) for faded colours in originals, and GANE (Grain & Noise Elimination). Given the noisiness of 35mm scans, GANE is practically obligatory, though it still gives a slightly mottled appearance. The SRD dust-buster works quite well but its parameter set-up menu is awfully slow.

Overall the ScanMaker 6100 is a brave effort to overcome the resolution limitations of consumer flatbed scanners when reading small format films. It’s a pity that it doesn’t quite come off.