What's the best Mac scanner? 6 flatbed scanners tested

Scanners from Canon, Epson and HP tested

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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.

The contenders

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

Epson v300

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 results

Test 1

Test Two: Test-card scan

Which scanner produced the sharpest greyscale image?

Canon

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.

Test results

Test 2