Olympus ES-10

Olympus ES-10 picture Olympus' ES­10 was one of the first on the market and has been around a good few years now. Unusually, it relies on a parallel port connection rather than SCSI. This simplicity, along with its low price and Olympus' reputation for quality optics, leads some to regard it as a possible budget buy. Others will take one look at the inferior specifications and dismiss it as mediocre.

Hardware: Olympus USA
Olympus Europe
for local Olympus address see Olympus website

  • 1770ppi, 8bit channel RGB, with claimed 10­bit performance due to "Super Latitude"™
  • Parallel interface, so PC only
  • 35mm cut film and mounted, and APS adaptor
  • 80-300sec scan time (single pass RGB)
  • Can scan 60x90pel APS index scans @5sec each
  • Also sold bundled with the Centurion S APS camera in USA as "Digital Photo Studio".
Software: Win 3.1 &Win95 only ­ Win98/WinNT unspecified.
Olympus Pictra Album, Adobe PhotoDeluxe and InMedia Presentations Slides and Sound (USA). Current bundle in other markets includes Photodeluxe but otherwise unknown.
Scan Contributor: Steve Beet
email steve.beet@ieee.org
Steve's website at http://members.tripod.com/~SteveBeet/
including >70 scans
Mirror at http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/5009/
Contributor's comments "Most of my photographs are black & white, but when I use colour, I use fast negative film. I prefer this because I take a lot of pictures at night, around dusk, and in difficult lighting conditions. I would take them at dawn too, if I could get up that early.

For some time I've been fed up with processing labs introducing strange colour casts to my pictures (or removing casts which I'd created deliberately). I hate it when I take an intense, moody evening shot, and the print comes back looking like it was taken on a rainy lunchtime. I didn't want to get involved in colour printing myself, but a good-quality film scanner would allow me to get my pictures looking the way I wanted. In mid­1997, the Olympus ES­10 seemed like the best compromise between price, depth and resolution (24 bits per pixel, 1770 dpi). Given Olympus' expertise in lens design, I expected the optical quality to be good. I bought a PC parallel port version.

Soon afterwards, competing models became available from a number of other manufacturers. Some of these boasted a higher resolution for a similar price, but I don't regret my purchase at all.

Pros & Cons

The ES-10 does indeed have good optics (giving sharper images than some 2700 dpi scanners), and it's fast enough for my purposes. It has enough resolution and depth to produce A4 prints of better quality than many high­street photo processors.

The focussing is manual, via a small wheel on the top of the unit, with a "focus meter" to show when the image is sharp. This mechanism is quite tolerant of misadjustment, but it is also a bit sloppy, so it can take a few back-and-forth movements to get the focus spot on.

The bad points are largely due to the software. I suspect that a lot of these criticisms would apply equally well to many other scanners, so don't take them too seriously. There has been a new release of the software (V1.20) since I bought my ES­10, and the functionality is now slightly improved. The latest version of this (European) software can be downloaded from Olympus' European site, but if you live in the USA, you get better software in the first place, so don't bother.

The European software is not geared up to large-scale processing. There's no way to store exposure and colour correction settings and there's no way to change the default film type (except by editing some undocumented files - see the "Tips" below). If you only use one type of film, and it isn't "colour slide", you'll soon get fed up with having to tell the scanner which one it is.

Finally, there are far too few film types catered for on the standard menu. If you use any "unusual" films, or want to scan old negatives (like I do), you'll need to do a lot of post­processing to correct colour casts, and this can be tedious. However, there's lots of other photo­processing software out there, and much of it can do this kind of correction easily.


1. Make sure you set the "exposure compensation" slider correctly, i.e. as high as you can without losing highlight detail. This changes the way the scan is performed and will keep the maximum possible detail in the shadows. If you want the picture to look darker, only change the brightness after the scan is complete. Conversely, the "image retouch" (colour balance and gamma) settings seem to be applied AFTER the scan, and so are less critical.

2. If you scan at less than maximum resolution and you see excessive grain, unevenness or colouration of any fine lines in the scan, try slightly defocussing the scanner. This gives a similar effect to scanning at full resolution then resizing the image in software, but it's much quicker!

3. With my version of the ES­10 software, parameters for a number of ISO400 film types are supplied, but the software normally uses only the ISO100 versions. By editing the parameter files, it's possible to trick the software into using the ISO400 parameters instead. Contact me if you want details.

4. If you have trouble sharing a parallel port between different devices, get a second port. They're dirt­cheap and will save a lot of hassle. "


Full frame ES­10 scan This scan is a reduced-resolution 600 x 400 JPEG with low compression, to show overall colour accuracy and saturation, as outlined on the protocol page. For an indication of optical quality and resolution, see the full resolution detail scan
Scan of full frame Q60
  • Good eveness of illumination and colour across the frame.
  • Excellent mid grey neutrality. RGB is more closely balanced than most scanners.
  • Gamma is nearer 2.2 than the target 1.8 set for these tests. This leads to rather desaturated colours and slightly 'blown' highlights. Gamma correction of 0.8 brings it back to 1.8. However, there is no advantage to doing this at the prescan stage ­ one may as well do it after scanning, in whatever digital imaging software is used. Note that if, like contributor Steve, output is destined for an HP inkjet printer, the default gamma of ~2.2 will actually be about right.
  • Overall, a very creditable colour rendition, with a good degree of neutrality compared to many scanners. The Green channel is the most uneven, showing some 'droop' in higher tones (ie excess Magenta), with a transition to excess Green in darker tones. But this divergence is fairly minor compared to many other scanners, and it may be amenable further correction. Even so, with most subjects, this scanner will produce satisfyingly neutral results.
  • Even allowing for gamma, colour saturation is somewhat degraded. It isn't that the primary colours are weak or low contrast ­Black & White points are well set. Rather the Green channel unevenness degrades the more intense Red values. Yellow lacks warmth and intensity, whilst Blue is rather over­intense. But these are niggles; the ES­10 is still more neutral than most.
  • Shadow detail is impressive for an 8­bit/channel device, inasmuch as separation can still be seen as low as Steps 19­20.. The Olympus thus measures close to its specification, at around 2.0 (against a theoretical Density range of 2.1 for 8 bits). As claimed by Olympus, this is better than some scanners capable of greater bit depth achieve. There is a 'however', however, and it's the pretty obtrusive shadow noise which casts a blue fog over much of the retained detail.


Q60 Face detail This scan is a low-compression JPEG at the ES­10's's maximum resolution of 1,770ppi, to show optical quality. The section of negative you are viewing is approx 3.4mm x 7mm.
Full res detail scan of Q60 face
  • Another scanner with optical flare (top LHS)
  • Optically sharp, and so it should be with the Olympus name on the box. In fact the degree of sharpness along with a slight grittiness (which some will mistake for grain, and it isn't) suggests that some cheating is occurring. I'd bet money that a sharpening filter is being applied in the driver. Fine, except there are times when such things are best turned off because of artefacts caused by aliasing problems. This is probably why the contributor, Steve, resorts to maliciously defocussing the scanner to cope with grainy film. A software 'filter off' switch would be preferable. The sharpening filter almost certainly coarsens the CCD noise noted below.
  • Shadow detail is surprisingly well captured for an 24bit scanner, so perhaps there is something more than marketing­speak to "Super Latitude"™.
  • Significant Blue channel shadow noise in darker tones. This is exagerrated by the too­high gamma. Reducing gamma restores tonal balance and saturation, suppresses most of the noise, but extinguishes some of the shadow detail as well. Having done this, the scan bears a resemblance to that from the Nikon LS1000 face detail, apart from being 65% of the resolution and having slightly more cadaverous ideas about skin tones. Good at the price.
CONCLUSIONS Despite being from one of the best­known names in photography, the ES­10 is a rare creature, seldom seen, and even less frequently purchased. I get the feeling that despite being early in the market, the relatively low resolution and bit depth of the Olympus has relegated it to poor relation of the Nikons, Minolta, and Canon filmscanners. Which really goes to show how much the scanner market is led by numbers ­ and perceptions. Sure, nothing can alter the fact that the ES­10 has only 2/3 of the pixels of its more expensive rivals, but it's still the equivalent of a 3.6Mpixel digicam and easily capable of A4 inkjet output. Moreover it achieves a decent degree of neutrality and shadow detail, better than many scanners at any price.

All is not perfect though. The apparent inclusion of a compulsory sharpening filter is a thoroughly bad idea, just as it is in the Kodak RFS3570. Sharpening, or unsharp masking, applied in Photoshop or whatever, always seems to use superior algorithms, and you also retain the choice. Some images will be positively harmed by such filters, and in the Olympus it seems to accentuate CCD noise and aliasing errors. There will be times when a slightly soft unfiltered scan would be the better trade­off.

Finally, that parallel interface. Simple and easy it may seem, but use with a pass-thru printer connection (and even moreso, further parallel peripherals such as a Zip or tape drive) can be fraught. Be warned: some modern printer drivers simply will not share a port. Even if they do, 5mins is a long time for a scan. Provided you can live with that, and the resolution, the Olympus is an elegantly balanced device. It's a quality scanner at a low price, which time unfairly forgot because of its specifications, not because the results are lacking.

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Copyright ©Tony Sleep 1998