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Introduction

For less than £100, you can buy a flatbed scanner that will give you decent results. But if you want higher-resolution scans and the ability to scan 35mm slides and colour negatives, you’ll have to look a bit higher in the price and feature range. Picking from the crowded desktop-scanner market, Macworld Lab looked at four USB/FireWire flatbed scanners that had an optical resolution of at least 1,200dpi and could handle scanning 35mm slides and film: Canon’s CanoScan D1230UF and Microtek’s ScanMaker 5700, which have an optical resolution of 1,200-x-2,400dpi; Hewlett-Packard’s ScanJet 5470CXI, 2,400-x-2,400dpi; and the Epson Perfection 1650 Photo, 1,600-x-3,200 dpi. All the units we tested connect to the Mac via a USB port. The ScanMaker also sports a FireWire port, while the ScanJet includes a parallel port, which is compatible only with PCs. Basic setup for all these scanners was a painless task. Mac-specific documentation from these veteran scanner vendors is thorough and helpful. As of press time, native OS X support hadn’t yet arrived for these scanners, but with the pending arrival of the Carbonized Adobe Photoshop 7, OS X scanner drivers should not be far behind. (Check the vendors’ Web sites for the latest driver updates.) All of the scanners we tested worked well in OS X’s Classic mode and in OS 9 using the existing drivers. Scanning software should be easy to use and flexible enough to guide novices through useful presets while allowing experts to change parameters such as gamma curves, shadow and highlight control, brightness and contrast, and colour correction. All the scanners’ software had these controls, but HP’s PrecisionScan Pro software and Canon’s CanoScan software lead the rest in terms of usability. PrecisionScan Pro’s interface, for example, felt very Mac-centric, with intuitive controls and menu structures that put the important features in the main window. All the scanners include TWAIN drivers to provide easy access to applications that support this feature, such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and OCR (optical character recognition) software such as OmniPage. High-resolution scanning isn’t the only thing these scanners are good for. All but the CanoScan let you send a scanned image directly to a printer, attach it to an email, run it through an OCR program to convert it to editable text, and even share it on the Web, by using buttons on the scanners. The trouble with bits
These scanners offer more than the 24 bits of colour (8 bits each for red, green, and blue) you’ll find on lower-end models. The CanoScan and the ScanMaker offer 42-bit colour depth, while the ScanJet and the Epson Perfection offer 48-bit colour depth. For many users, this higher bit depth will add up to one noticeable difference – a doubling of file sizes. This advanced feature captures trillions of colours instead of the 16.7 million you get with 24-bit colour. Though you may assume that the more colours captured, the better the scan, this is not always the case. The quality of the scanned image depends on your software and the output device’s ability to process information. Image-editing apps such as Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop LE can open and manipulate 42- and 48-bit scanned files. But Adobe Elements (bundled with the Perfection and ScanMaker) doesn’t support 48-bit image files, and converts files down to 24-bit images. The key advantage of a higher bit depth is that if you capture more data, you’ll have much more headroom for editing images that need major corrections to tone or colour. If you don’t need to make big adjustments using an image editor that supports 48-bit images, save storage space by avoiding this option. From cropping a scan to removing red-eye, the image-editing software included with these scanners is your ticket to a better final image. The CanoScan includes Adobe Photoshop LE, and the Perfection and ScanMaker bundle the superior consumer software Adobe Photoshop Elements (which usually costs £79, and so represents major added-value). The ScanJet includes ArcSoft PhotoStudio. If you’re scanning low-resolution images for the Web or on-screen viewing, the amount of time it takes to complete the scan is minimal. On the other hand, higher-resolution scans can take much longer because the file is so much larger. We tested the scanners’ speeds by scanning a 4-x-6-inch photo at a high resolution of 1,200dpi in 24-bit scanning mode. The scanners’ performance varied widely: When connected via USB, the CanoScan, which employs hardware compression to send image data over USB, took top honours, completing our high-resolution time test in 2 minutes and 29 seconds. The Epson Perfection came in second. When connected via FireWire, the Microtek ScanMaker proved to be the fastest contender, with a scan time of only 1 minute and 10 seconds. That’s a real time-saving, and if your Mac has FireWire, you should seriously consider this option – although the ScanMaker is quite a bit more expensive than the USB scanners. Image quality
Low-end scanners have a limited ability to reproduce high-quality images. Higher-resolution scanners can enlarge an image without losing all its subtle details – this justifies their higher prices. To judge image quality, we printed scans from these scanners on a high-end graphic-arts ink-jet printer, the Epson Stylus Pro 5000. The quality of the images was superior to that of output from these scanners’ lower-resolution counterparts. The Epson Perfection 1650 had the best overall image quality, with good colour reproduction, as well as excellent highlights and shadow detail. Our only complaint with the Epson Perfection was that the scanned image lacked the sharp, crisp details of the original. The ScanJet and the CanoScan had great image detail, though the images were dark in some areas. The CanoScan’s colour accuracy beat out that of the ScanJet, which exhibited a subtle red cast. Transparency scanning
Scanning photographic prints and other reflective media is the core job of a desktop scanner. These four scanners are also capable of scanning transparent media such as slides and colour negatives. If you’re scanning transparency media, you’ll need a backlight unit to assist the scanner in capturing data. The CanoScan, Epson Perfection, and ScanMaker have this functionality built into the scanner lids, and the ScanJet comes with an external unit that you place over the flatbed scanner’s glass. For simplicity and ease of use, we preferred having the transparency unit built into the lids. While this dual functionality makes sense, our image-quality tests made it very clear that the resulting scans would need some retouching help from an image-editing program. The Epson Perfection 1650 Photo and HP ScanJet 5470CXI yielded good detail but suffered (along with the other scanners) from brightness and contrast problems. The CanoScan, ScanJet, and ScanMaker scans also showed some noise that affected image quality. If scanning transparencies is an important part of what you do, we recommend that you invest in a slide scanner, which will yield much better results. (For a review of slide scanners, see Reviews, November 2001.)
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