Consumer Reports - Scanners

Feb 7 21:59 2007 Brooke Yan Print This Article

A scanner is a simple, cheap way to digitize images for printing, editing on your computer, or sending via e-mail.

You don’t need a digital cameras to take advantage of the computer’s ability to edit photos. Continuing improvements in scanners have made it cheaper and easier to turn photos into digital images that you can enhance,Guest Posting resize, and share. And flatbed scanners are no longer restricted to printed originals. Our tests show that the best flatbeds are now a match for pricey film scanners when it comes to digitizing slides and negatives. That’s no small accomplishment, reflecting improvements to the resolution that new scanners deliver and better accessories to hold film strips or slides securely for sharp, accurate scans.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE

A number of scanners come from companies, including Microtek and Visioneer, that made their name in scanning technology. Other brands include computer makers and photo specialists such as Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Nikon.

Which type of scanner you should consider--flatbed, sheet-fed, or film--depends largely on how you will use it. If you’re short on space, consider a multifunction device.

Flatbed scanners. More than 90 percent of the scanners on the market are flatbeds. They work well for text, graphics, photos, and anything else that is flat, including a kindergartner’s latest drawing. Flatbeds include optical-character-recognition (OCR) software, which converts words on a printed page into a word-processing file in your computer. They also include basic image-editing software. Some stores may throw in a flatbed scanner for free, or for a few dollars extra, when you purchase a desktop computer.

A key specification for a scanner is its maximum optical resolution, measured in dots per inch (dpi). You’ll pay more for greater resolution.

Price range: less than $100 for 600x1,200 dpi; $100 to $500 for models with greater resolution.

Sheet-fed models. Sheet-fed models can automatically scan a stack of loose pages, but they sometimes damage pages that pass through their innards. And they can’t scan anything much thicker than a sheet of paper (meaning an old photo might be too thick). This type of scanner is often the one that comes as part of a multifunction device that can also print, send, and receive faxes. An increasing percentage of multifunction devices, however, include a flatbed scanner. Sheet-fed scanners also use OCR software.

Price range: $100 to $600.

Film scanners. Serious photographers may want a film-only scanner that scans directly from an original slide (transparency) or negative. Some can accept small prints as well.

Price range: $400 to $800.

IMPORTANT FEATURES

While the quality of images a scanner produces depends in part on the software included with it, there are several hardware features to consider.

You start scanning by running driver software that comes with the scanner or by pressing a preprogrammed button. Models with buttons automate routine tasks to let you operate your scanner as you would other office equipment. On some models you can customize the functions of the buttons. Any of these tasks can also be performed through the scanner’s software without using buttons. A copy/print button initiates a scan and sends a command to print the results on your printer, effectively making the two devices act as a copier. Other button functions found on some models include scan to a file, scan to a fax modem, scan to e-mail, scan to Web, scan to OCR, cancel scan, power save, start scanner software, and power on/off.

You can also start the driver software from within an application, such as a word processor, that adheres to an industry standard known as TWAIN. A scanner’s driver software allows you to preview a scan onscreen and crop it or adjust contrast and brightness. Once you’re satisfied with the edited image, you can perform a final scan and pass the image to a running program or save it on your computer. You can make more extensive changes to an image with specialized image-editing software. And to scan text from a book or letter into a word-processing file in your computer, you run OCR software.

Many documents combine text with graphic elements, such as photographs and drawings. A handy software feature that’s found on many scanners, called multiple-scan mode, lets you break down such hybrids into different sections that can be processed separately in a single scan. You can designate, for example, that the sections of a magazine article that are pure text go to the OCR software independently of the article’s graphic elements. Other scanners would require a separate scan for each section of the document.

Some flatbed models come with film adapters designed to scan film or slides, but if you need to scan from film or slides often, you’re better off getting a separate film scanner.

HOW TO CHOOSE

Consider how much resolution you need. If you want a scanner solely for printed originals, look mainly at models that deliver 1,200 dot-per-inch (dpi) resolution; they are generally the least expensive models. You can always set a scanner to work at less than its maximum resolution. In fact, most scans of photos, graphics, and text need only 150 to 300 dpi. (For images to be viewed onscreen, 75 dpi will suffice.) Higher-resolution scans take longer and create bigger files, but usually add little.

For film and negatives, you’ll want resolution of at least 2,400 dpi. Such a high setting is needed to capture enough detail so that an image created from a 35mm original can be enlarged.

When comparing specs, focus on the native optical resolution. It’s more important than the “interpolated” or “enhanced” resolution, which comes in handy only when scanning line art.

Consider color-bit depth for film. If you plan to make enlargements of prints or to scan negatives or slides, pay attention to a specification known as color-bit depth. The greater the color-bit depth (24-bit is basic, 48-bit is tops), the better the scanner can differentiate among subtle gradations of light and dark.

Consider a multifunction unit. If you won’t make heavy demands on a scanner (for instance, you cannot scan film or slides) and you need a general-use printer, especially for a tight space, a multifunction printer/scanner/copier may serve.

Don’t sweat quality and speed. The majority of the scanners we recently tested were judged very good based on their ability to reproduce a color photo at maximum optical resolution. The rest were judged good, which means their scans were less crisp with less-accurate colors.

Speed matters if you expect to be scanning regularly. In our recent tests, the fastest took about 10 seconds to scan an 8x10-inch photo at 300 dpi, while the slowest needed about 40 seconds.

Don’t sweat the software. All the scanners we recently tested came with software for scanning, image editing, and optical character recognition (which lets you scan text directly into a word-processing program). Some had software for making digital photo albums or other projects. All models also included software, often built into the hardware, that can repair image flaws caused by damaged originals.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

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Brooke Yan
Brooke Yan

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