Canon & the Mac: Lide 500F Scanner Review?

Having recently decided to Get Things Done, I have finally given in and purhased one of those “scanner things”.

Personally, I find that some things are just better on paper (generally paper things such as books) and others are best on the computer (generally digital things such as webpages, digital music, etc.). I thus don’t print out much and have even less desire to scan anything in.

Now my “big GTD master plan” involves building a searchable archiving system and I’ve gone with a wiki-kind of setup. Scanning in some of my paper notes would therefore be a good idea..

But which scanner to get? Here’s my feature list:

  • Mac compatible
  • small foot print
  • reasonably fast
  • reasonably cheap
  • possibly “luggable”

I don’t know about you, but lots of printers work only moderately well on the Mac. My wife and my sister between them, have gone through at least a dozen HP printers over the years and some (or actually all of them) play only moderately well with the Mac. USB port oddities, suddenly refuses to print, software is odd and doesn’t always work etc. etc.

Now what is the safest way of getting truly Mac compatible gear? I though buying it at the Apple Store would do the trick. Surely they know what works and what doesn’t.

Well, my scanner “of choice” was the Canon CanoScan LiDE 500F. I was aware of the fact that this gorgeous scanner was being replaced by the CanonScan LiDE600F soon, but Apple didn’t sell it yet and I don’t really care about having “twice the resolution” (= twice the file size) for my paper notes.

Why the Canon Lide 500F?:

  • It’s a Canon. I’m a Canon EOS digital camera fan
  • It’s sold by Apple and thus Mac compatible
  • It’s small and luggable
  • It doesn’t need a separate power supply (powered via USB alone!)
  • It can stand on its side saving desk space
  • It’s only moderately expensive (circa 150 USD)
  • It’s not an HP and thus has to be better

My experience: awful.

The scanner looks the part: small, light, well-engineered. Everything I ever wanted. What’s more it’s got one of those photo scanning (for your “legacy” photo negatives) devices, which could be fun.

I install the software downloaded straight from their website. I don’t even bother with the included CD since as a seasoned computer user I know that these are the buggy 1.0 releases of the drivers that aren’t likely to still work on 10.4 (let alone 10.5).

Now HP have this regrettable habit of bringing out a printer/ scanner/ all-in-one and providing a driver for the latest Windows or Mac OS X version available at the time of the launch (tough luck for those with “old” OS versions) and then doing absolutely no further work on the driver. This means that every time you upgrade your OS you are as likely as not to find that your printer/ scanner/ all-in-one no longer works. The solution: buy a new one!

This works out great for HP. You buy the same printer/ scanner/ all-in-one every few years with no real difference between the old models and the new ones, solely because the driver does not work anymore. Hhmm.. thus I don’t buy HP anymore.

Now Canon are different and Apple wouldn’t sell junk on their webstore? Yes, I know. How naive can you get?

To cut a long story short: there are no universal drivers for the Lide 500F, touching a button on the scanner will crash something called the “CNQL2410_ButtonManager” with a KERN_PROTECTION_FAILURE and ensure that you have to take your keyboard plug out and then re-plug it for it work again. The included software (Omnipage & some third rate OS 9-migrated photo editing software) is so old that it still proudly features 32×32 pixel icons and none of the included scanning software stays up for longer than a few seconds before you need to re-plug the scanner (or reboot your machine).

What you get for $150 from Canon

Thanks Canon. Thanks Apple. For nothing.

Unfortunately since I’m one of these “I never return anything because it’s not the reseller’s fault if I chose the wrong thing” people, I thought “I’ll just wait until they update their drivers. Surely they ARE updating the drivers to a device that is still sold today”.

Regrettably, however, that too is probably a bit naive. The software hasn’t been updated since 2005 and has apparently never really worked under 10.4, which has been out for a while now… in fact is going to be replaced soon. Nor has it ever worked on Intel CPUs which have now replaced the PowerPC in all current Mac models.

I have now (foolishly) kept the scanner for more than 14 days and apparently the AppleStore only allows returns up to 14 day after delivery. A seasoned “I return anything that isn’t perfect. It’s the reseller’s fault if they sell junk” person would have known that of course.

A word about the USB powered scanner idea: it’s not working. The scanner may not need much juice but it does presumably need an awful lot more than a mouse or a keyboard. Connecting the scanner to a USB hub is not recommended by Canon (they blame the poor USB hub quality of some third party vendors for this) and plugging it straight into a port on your Mac Pro won’t solve all the problems either. I find myself re-plugging my USB peripherals an awful lot since the scanner came along.. wouldn’t it be nice to have power lead?

The silver lining of the story is that apparently using OS X’s built-in Image Capture application (mentioned nowhere) seems to work ok. Panic over. Scanner work-able after all. Just not perfect. Or acceptable?

Now being somewhat disenchanted with Canon’s support policies and being a long-term HP sufferer (you may already know that when a peripheral somewhere in your family doesn’t work on a Mac, it’s your fault and you’d better get it sorted quickly), my question is:

Can anybody recommend a scanner that “just works” for an Intel-Mac running 10.4?

What is Epson’s OS X support like? Any other dark horses? Any non-evil printer/ scanner companies anywhere?

And what about the CanonScan LiDE600F that has recently been released and may be in the shops soon? It does have a Universal Binary driver but does it work?

And finally the big question:

How come Canon cannot be bothered to change the 5 lines of code it would take to port the Lide 600F driver to work with the Lide 500F that it still sells? Could it be a scam to get you to “upgrade” your brand new scanner? And do you want to buy anything from this type of company?