ScanSnap Squad Review: Scanning Books with the ScanSnap SV600 versus iX500

Thursday, March 6, 2014
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Thanks to those who communicated with me following my initial ScanSnap iX500 post. It’s great to find others who are like-minded! This post will give more details on my workflow with the iX500, and some initial ScanSnap SV600 reactions. At the end I have included a link to a Dropbox folder where you can see my results.

Disclaimer: The book I scanned for these tests is in the public domain, is not copyrighted, and cost me a princely $2 brand new.

Let me start with the SV600 Contactless Scanner, to which my reaction is WOW! This is an incredible piece. It doesn’t take the place of my iX500 for production work, but can do things the iX500 can’t. Obviously, since it doesn’t involve cutting up my books, it is wonderful for preserving rare and valuable materials. It does photographs and the like wonderfully, even though that isn’t necessarily its intended purpose. Additionally, the iX600 handles materials up to 8.5 inches without folding them, while the SV600 is rated at up to 12 x 17 inches, but I’ve had no trouble going to 13.5 x 18.5 inches, and it could probably go larger. My wife recently wanted a digital copy of a musical arrangement she had made for our children on manuscript paper. It was too wide for the iX500 but the SV600 handled it beautifully.

If you’ve not yet seen the SV600 in action, there are a number of YouTube videos available, including one from ScanSnap – go ahead, check it out. To add a bit to the backstory here, I’ve previously built my own non-destructive photographic scanner based on the units you can see here. The unit featured on the home page is essentially identical to what I built. It cost me about the same to build as the retail price on the SV600. The results were okay but definitely not in the same league as those produced by the ScanSnap. In addition, it was large and cumbersome, and not really portable. I sold it when we decided to downsize our home, got a bit more for it than it cost me, and a few weeks later the SV600 was announced. It was great timing for a great product!

I decided to put the SV600 and iX500 up against each other, head-to-head, on scanning a little book I bought just for this test. I first scanned the book using the manual scan mode of the SV600, holding down the pages with my fingers. I used the default settings (200dpi color, 400dpi BW) on my Mac. The scan took 5:40 (5 minutes and 40 seconds), the page-splitting process took 2:15, and removing the finger tips from the pages via the ScanSnap software took another 7:28, for a total of 15:23. The raw size of this scan was 16.3 MB.

I then tried putting a piece of glass over the book to hold it flatter and eliminate the fingers. This scan took 6:21, the page-splitting took 1:03, and there was no finger tip removal (“point retouching”) needed, for a total of 7:24 and a scan size of 9.4 MB. A big part of the size difference is, I think, a combination of the non-white (recycled paper) pages and my fingers intruding a bit too far into the image. You’ll be able to see that some of the pages on the “finger” version of the file were detected as color rather than BW.

After finishing this second run-through, I razored off the spine of the book, which took about 1:30, and fed Beowulf to the iX500. The scan took 0:58 whether I used “better” mode (200 color/400 BW) or “best” (300 color/600 BW). The iX500 can also directly OCR the text, and on “better” mode with in-unit OCR the scan took 1:03. File sizes were 8.6 MB for “better”, 9.1 MB for “better” with in-unit OCR, and 15.7 MB for “best”. All of these results include the color covers and the body of the book, which is nominally BW (A table summarizing results will follow at the bottom of this post).

My standard workflow includes a pass through Adobe Acrobat Pro XI for OCR and optimization. I use ClearScan at 600dpi, and if you have a look at the processed samples, you’ll notice two things: they are incredibly crisp no matter how much you zoom in, and they are very small. The 16.3 MB SV600 file is now 4.2 MB, the 9.4 MB SV600 file is now 2.1 MB, the 15.7 MB iX500 file is now 1.7 MB, and the 8.6/9.1 MB iX500 file is now 1.3 MB. You shouldn’t see too much difference in quality between the different Adobe-processed files, and of course the smaller the file the more quickly it loads on my iPad and the more of these I can store.

So, how about some observations and conclusions?

First, you can get better results on the SV600 than I got with this book. I was really going for speed rather than quality, and you’ll see some pages in those files that are beautiful and others that are not quite so terrific. Also, the ScanSnap Manager for the SV600 on the PC (but not yet on the Mac) can do automatic page turn detection (very cool!), which will speed things up and also give you better results: if you have to hit the Scan button and then move your hand to holding down the page, the book will sometimes move. Of course, this is worse with a small and light book like this edition of Beowulf. The SV600 is capable of incredible results, and most of the materials I’ve scanned with it have come out wonderfully. Secondly, for my conversion of books to pdf, the iX500 is unbeatable at its price-point, from my perspective. The ease, speed, and quality of scanning is truly incredible. Yes, I am destroying books in order to make them searchable and exquisitely portable (no, these are not shared with others: that would be a violation of copyright. For the record, I need to make clear that I am not a lawyer, and am not giving any legal advice on converting your own books into electronic form.)

My conclusion: I need both of these units. The one that gets the most use is the iX500. It’s my workhorse. The one that is definitely the coolest and can do things I’d only dreamed of before is the SV600 – it’s the one that makes people ooh and ahh when I demonstrate what I do. It is wonderful for archival purposes and for preserving data.

Here’s a link to my sample files – followed by a table summarizing times and sizes.

ScanSnap SV600 - iX500 Comparison Chart

Waldemar Kowalski
ScanSnap Squad Member, Education

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