PhotoSmart Photo Scanner
from Hewlett Packard

By William LaMartin, Editor, Tampa PC Users Group

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This last Father’s Day brought me something I have wanted for a long time, a scanner for negatives and slides. I have been using an HP ScanJet llcx flat bed scanner for, perhaps, five years to bring photos or printed text into my computer. But this scanner does not have the ability to scan negatives or slides. There was a negative scanning attachment (actually a new top for the scanner as I remember) available when I bought the scanner. The price was over $600. Needless to say, I didn’t buy it.

The price of the new PhotoSmart Photo Scanner is $399. In addition to 35mm negatives and slides, it will also scan in a photograph up to 5" x 7" in size. It comes with a SCSI interface card and cable. When I first saw the scanner, my worry was how I was going to install it. If it required an interrupt, then I had problems, since, like many of you, my computer is out of interrupts. But a little thought and $35 led to a very nice solution.

The solution was to connect it to the already existent HP ScanJet llcx in a SCSI daisy chain. Specifically the llcx was already connected to a SCSI interface card in the computer, and the llcx had an additional SCSI connector on its back to connect another SCSI device. However, to accomplish this I had to locate a special SCSI cable that had a DB 25 pin male connector on one end and a Mini 50 pin male High Density connector on the other. HP sold one for $30, but I more conveniently also found one for $35 at a local cable store (Advanced Cable Connection Inc.). After connecting the new scanner to the back of the old one, I just had to set the new scanner’s SCSI address to a different number than 2, which was used by my original scanner. Then, shut down Windows 95 and restart. Windows 95 finds the new scanner, and I install the scanner’s imaging software.

To use the scanner you first select by pressing a button which media you are going to scan: 35 mm negative, 35 mm slide or photo. Second, you insert the item and the scanner takes it inside, where the software takes over and presents you with a view of the resulting photo on screen. For negatives, it will take in as many as five frames at once and display them on screen in thumbnail size. You then click on the one you want to work with, and, as with a slide scan or a photo scan, that one is enlarged on the screen.

Once on the screen, you can rotate, resize, modify the color, or change the brightness and contrast of the image. Additionally, you have a number of different formats in which to save the image file including tif and jpg. You may also specify the size of the resulting image. An 8 x 10 in the tif format will eat up about 5.5 MB of your hard drive. I mostly save my files as 4 x 6 tif images. If I am going to send the photo to someone in an email message or use it on the web, I will save it instead as a jpg file, reducing the file size considerably (using the standard 10:1 compression, a 4 x 6 photo with a 1.5 MB file turns into a 150 KB file).

Although the PhotoSmart scanner software is fairly adequate for correcting most simple problems like exposure correction and color correction, I prefer to simply scan it and save it. I then open the file in Corel Photo-Paint, where I have a much larger pallet of tools with which to work. If you don’t have a graphics program like Corel Photo-Paint or Micorografx Picture Publisher, then HP has also included Microsoft Picture It!TM photo manipulation software that lets you easily enhance your photos and use them to create photo projects on your PC. I didn’t install this software since I already have Corel Photo-Paint..

The scanning resolution for photos is an optical 300 DPI; for 35 mm negatives and slides it is an optical 2400 DPI. Note that you need the higher DPI for 35 mm negatives and slides since you will usually be enlarging them so much more than you would a photo that you scanned.

Regarding quality, a scan of a negative produces a much sharper image than does a scan of a photo made from that negative. I have sent email with jpg images made from some negative scans, and people tell me they can not believe the quality of the images—the best they have ever seen.

The only thing missing from this piece of hardware is the ability to scan in negatives larger than 35 mm. I have a lot of large format negatives both from old photos—when all negatives were large—and from my more recent work with a camera using the 6 cm x 7 cm format.

HP has two companion pieces of hardware, a digital camera and a photo printer. Their prices are coincidentally $399 also. I have not worked with either. u

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Ed Snow assembling the newsletter Aug. 1996—from a negative scan.