What the 3170 really does well is scanning multiple prints or negatives at the same time. And it's pretty quick doing it as well. When scanning prints the image quality leaves no doubt. It also has an option for an automatic sheet feeder, should you ever need to digitize your manilla folders.
The image quality with transparencies is a little more difficult to judge. I've shot dozens of rolls of various consumer and professional film during the last year and for some reason I've got the best results in terms of color and sharpness with Fuji Superia line (100, 200 & 400). Kodak Gold 100 and Agfa Vista 100 & 200 coming slightly behing and Konica Centuria 400, Agfa HD and Kodak Royal Supra requiring somewhat more post-processing to get good results. What's the logic behind this is really beyond me, but there seems to be an odd consistency to it. This however applies to the 3170 and Epson Scan only. Different scanner and even scanner software probably make a huge difference here.
Color in general requires some post-processing to be correct. Images straight from the scanner tend to be a little toward green and blue, but color correction in Photoshop usually gives very good results. Best color accuracy is probably available only through third-party software such as Vuescan. For what I've tried Vuescan seems to give more accurate results than Epson Scan, which of course is not to say Epson Scan wouldn't be good enough for most of us.
Thereís certainly a limit to image sharpness with the 3170. I've seen resolution estimates of 1500-1600 dpi which translates to 4 megapixels of true resolution for a 35 mm frame. From my experience this seems to vary depending whether you're using slide or color negative film and especially what brand of color negative. 3200 dpi, as advertized, is certainly an overestimated figure, but my subjective estimate would fall somewhere between the 1500-2000 range, dark images probably in the lower end of the range, but crisp daylight images often presenting detail closer to 2000 dpi.
At the end of the day image quality comes down to what's good enough for you. If you're into scanning film only, there are better choices available at only moderately higher price Ė Minolta Dimage Scan Dual IV being just one, not to mention the automated correction functions already available in the $600-$900 range with Nikon Coolscan V ED or Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400, to name a few.
Among the few downsides of the 3170 is the lack of automatic dust and scratch removal, which may be a show-stopper if you're planning to digitize boxes of dark dusty slides. Simply the time it takes to clean hundreds of slides in Photoshop isn't worth the effort. The other is that 3170 tends to crop a 35 mm negative unevenly resulting in a more like a 3000x1900 pixel image when downsampled to the six megapixel size I generally use for archiving. If you're doing prints at some point, the images have to be manually cropped again.
Where 35 mm scanners arenít in short supply, scanning medium format doesn't really get any cheaper than this. There's the new 4870 available which does medium format (and lots of other things) at a slighlty higher resolution. It does have digital ICE and comes with a third party scanning software, but with a price tag of $500. The 3170 can get you sharp 3500 x 3500 images from a 6x6 negative translating into a 35 x 35 cm print at 250 dpi. Whether the 4870 is really worth the extra cost is really up to you.
But for $200 it's hard to go wrong. For what it does, this thing is cheap. Period. Itís really hard to beat the price / performance ratio this thing offers. If you'll find out that the image quality isn't up to your standards you can always upgrade to a dedicated film scanner and still retain much of the versatility the 3170 offers with a modest investment.
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