With its conventional flatbed design and opaque beige exterior, the Umax Astra 1220U might look out of place next to a Bondi-blue iMac. But the colours that really matter are the ones that show up after you’ve captured an image, and here the USB scanner does a good job especially considering the £99 price tag.
The Astra 1220U – also available in a SCSI version (1220S) for £129 ex VAT – isn’t the cheapest scanner on the market. But with 600-dpi optical resolution and 30-bit colour depth, it delivers better image quality than do its bargain-basement rivals, which typically offer 24-bit, 300-dpi image capture. (Umax advertises the 1220U as a 36-bit device, but it actually captures 30 bits and then uses hardware tricks to boost the colour depth.)
We used the Astra 1220U to scan a standard test image at 300 dpi, then printed the image with no modification on an ink-jet and dye-sublimation proofer. The scanner did an excellent job of capturing fine detail, and except for slightly saturated reds, colours matched up well with the original. Line art scanned at 600dpi also reproduced well.
Umax’s VistaScan software, included as both a stand-alone application and an Adobe Photoshop plug-in, puts an easy-to-use interface on the essential image-capture features. The program’s Beginner mode comes close to offering a one-button scan operation: you just pick a destination (such as an image file or a text file for OCR), perform a preview scan, and let VistaScan do the rest. You can also send output directly to a printer.
VistaScan’s Advanced mode offers full control over resolution, scaling, bit depth, and other scanning parameters. You can apply transfer curves to compensate for colour shifts or use a descreening function to remove moiré patterns from halftones. The only complaint we have is that the software makes it a little tricky to save images under user-supplied file names.
The scanner is bundled with Adobe PhotoDeluxe 1.0 for image-editing, Caere’s OmniPage LE for text recognition, and Umax’s own Presto Page Manager for launching scanning applications.
This is a lot of scanner for the money – and therein lies the rub for many iMac owners. With its high resolution and extra bit depth, the Astra 1220U produces hefty files on a Mac that sports just 32MB of RAM in its base model; you may find yourself running out of memory as you play with those great-looking images you’ve captured. But if you’re willing to limit yourself to small images – or boost your RAM – you’ll find this a great scanner for the price.