Heidelberg Tango-Primescan Drum Scanner

An editorial on one of the finest drum scanners and drum scanning misunderstandings.
Misunderstanding: Drum scanner resolution and quality is determined by aperture size.
Drum scanners can have apertures as small as 2 to 3 microns. However, actual scanning will reveal most films do not scan well at that spot size. The Tango-Primescan is a digital drum scanner and determines resolution as a function of A/D sampling rate and precise cross-feed stepping; not just physical aperture size where too small of an aperture can over emphasize film grain, creating additional noise in a phenomenon known as grain aliasing.
 
A smaller aperture may improve optical resolution on a test chart, but would yield undesirable results when scanning film, diminishing returns in perceived resolution or detail. Matching the aperture to the film grain and then independently increasing the scan size/resolution will exceed the native optical resolution capability of the aperture/scanner and require interpolation to compensate for the disparity...”Quality is more than microns, pixels or megabytes!”
 
Misunderstanding: Bigger is better.
There is a threshold to oversampling or scanning at extremely high resolutions. Scans in the gigabytes achieved through interpolation will effectively defocus the image adding pixels between real ones. These “padded” scans may keep grain and noise in check but will require adjustments to avoid appearing dull, flat and soft at print size. Large scans are essential when required, but impulsive, indulgent scanning at exceedingly large sizes needlessly consumes resources...“Sometimes, less is more!”
 
Misunderstanding: The Tango-Primescan drum scanner has a fixed aperture.
All Heidelberg high-end drum scanners never had a fixed aperture. The Tango-Primescan drum scanner has 25 apertures. Depending on the scan parameters chosen by the operator, the scanner selects one of those 25. The operator then has the option to override the scanner's aperture selection depending upon the desired image appearance (i.e. sharp vs. soft or grainy vs. smooth).
 
Misunderstanding: The Tango-Primescan drum scanner is for publication scanning, not photographic or fine-art scanning.
Heidelberg prepared the Tango-Primescan to function in a device independent, CIE-Lab colorspace allowing the scanner to successfully support both CMYK and RGB working environments. As commercial publication (CMYK) scanning diminishes, the life of this scanner continues on in the professional photography and fine-art (RGB) world for those understanding its’ design and operation.
 
A drum scanner can’t make the distinction between an image used for fine-art reproduction or commercial publication. That is for a skilled operator to determine and to properly tailor the hardware and software for the task at hand...”It’s not the scanner, it’s the operator!”
 
Misunderstanding: The Tango-Primescan is not capable of scanning negatives.
Scanning negatives is a matter of interpretation, evaluation and execution. Without appropriate interaction and accurate visual reference, results will be uncertain and most always subjective. The Tango-Primescan is capable of scanning negatives provided the operator has the knowledge, ability and proficiency to return the desired results...“Great color takes intelligent human intervention!” -Bruce Fraser
 
Misunderstanding: Scans should be sharpened in Photoshop.
Photoshop is an excellent tool, however it can only manipulate a fixed amount of data or pixels. Once the scan was acquired, careless or excessive post scanning sharpening may reveal/introduce image artifacts, defects and noise. It is important to note that as enlargement factors increase, sharpening needs decrease, making this entire issue rather obvious or moot to an experienced operator.
 
The Tango-Primescan drum scanner utilizes physical and digital apertures. Skilled incorporation through proprietary hardware and software will resolve maximum visual detail and subject acuity. Basic capture-sharpening principals are essential for improving overall image quality when scanning. From there, post scanning creative and output sharpening techniques can be applied as deemed appropriate.
 
Misunderstanding: Flatbed or slide scans are just as good as drum scans.
Compared to PMT drum scanners, CCD scanners only produce “good enough” results. CCD scanners have a tendency to be less sharp, resolve less shadow detail, introduce noise, and are prone to flare and sensor blooming. Even at modest enlargements, PMT drum scans from a capable operator offer the highest possible standards for exacting results...”Drum scans simply look better!”
 
Misunderstanding: Drum scans are prohibitively expensive.
Inexpensive flatbed or slide scans frequently require additional time, effort and expense to make them acceptable. The more quality is an important consideration, drum scans from an experienced professional become a realistic, reasonable and compelling option. A “$0.29” scan will only get a “$0.29” scanner, a “$0.29” scanner operator and a “$0.29” level of quality, dedication and service...”You get what you pay for!”
 
Misunderstanding: Offering drum scans by the megabyte is a questionable, disrespectful or inferior service.
Offering scans by the megabyte allows the client to intelligently consider what is best for their present and future needs. Whatever the size, all factors should be thoughtfully taken into account to create an optimal scan. Regardless of how they’re expressed, larger scans, more pixels or a more comprehensive service will command a greater expense...”At any size, quality is fundamental and indispensable!”
 
Misunderstanding: Buying your own drum scanner.
Used drum scanners found on public auction or classified sites typically require additional attention from a qualified engineer/technician. Even after the initial purchase, there is the learning curve for proper operation, and then the time consuming task of scanning and processing the files. Any large scale or quality project requires a professionally minded effort demonstrating that personal time is valuable...”Time is money!”
 
Misunderstanding: Scanning is best performed by photographers.
There is no comparison to years of scanning experience. Scanner operators from the “old school” possess a thorough understanding of a scanner’s capability and the scanning process. Even though CMYK’s narrow color space does not meet fine-art standards, the experience of “pre-press” scanning offers the unique insight of controlling and reproducing a beautiful original in limited, challenging or less than ideal conditions.
 
Photographers are talented individuals at capturing and creating a visual image. Regardless of genre, style, or artistic opinion, scanning is the accurate and faithful reproduction of what was captured/created. Through cooperation and communication, the photographer’s needs and artistic statement can be fulfilled and conveyed. The consummate scanner operator has the mind-set, attention to detail, respect and unbiased objectivity that aptly serves photographic and fine-art reproduction.
 
A dedicated scanner operator is as demanding of quality as any artist. Like any discipline, there are good and bad scanner operators as the subtleties of scanning elude many. Some personal scans may surpass haphazardly made professional scans, but there are professional scanner operators who posses the ability and are committed to producing exceptional scans for photographers and artists.
 
Misunderstanding: The emphasis on brands, specifications and technology.
While worth considering, there’s more to drum scanners and drum scanning than manufacturers, spec-sheets and tech-talk. All professional level drum scanners are capable of producing top-quality scans. They’re only different in design/operation and it’s opinion as to which is better or preferred. The priority is how an individual uses the drum scanner and the associated technology for the sake of the image...”Image is paramount!”
 
 
James Beck Digital • Independent Separation Inc.