What a Flatbed Scanner
Can Do for Your Workflow
What to Know Before You Buy
By DANIEL OEY, Product Manager,
Epson America, Inc.
Whether you need to scan your images for clients, upload photos to the Internet for sale or promotion, or just archive your photo assignments, there's a scanner right for you. Flatbed scanners offer professional photographers—as well as graphic arts and prepress professional—big-time performance these days, with amazing quality, color accuracy, and blazing-fast speeds. They're also a vital first step into the digital realm.
ENTERING THE DIGITAL ON RAMP
An important aspect of a scanner is image quality, the faithfulness with which it captures the colors and details of the original. If you're looking to scan only negatives or 35mm slides to work on digitally and print, then you're probably in the market for a dedicated film scanner to capture the maximum amount of information stored on the original film.
So should a quality-conscious studio photographer cross flatbeds off the shopping list? You want to print the best picture, so you want the right input device. Should you then put money down on an expensive film scanner to scan in your originals? Or wait for prices to plummet on high-end digital backs for your medium- or large-format camera?
The good news is that flatbed-scanned output from film is getting better all the time. Results from some flatbed scanners even rival the output from some entry-level slide scanners. If you want versatility and a cost-efficient way to get into digital photography, you may want to look at flatbed scanners. They're ideal for tasks beyond just scanning negatives or slides to produce accurate prints.
There's a lot to be learned before you race full throttle down the digital thoroughfare. When that day arrives, you'll be preoccupied with buying and operating the right digital camera, getting more up to speed on Photoshop, and learning how to print images on different media. Until then, a flatbed scanner is a versatile, affordable first step onto the digital "on ramp."
EFFICIENCY AND VOLUME
Even if you're into digital, the objective in scanning is sometimes pure efficiency and volume. You may not be trying to place a high-res photo on the cover of Bride's magazine or laboring to create a stunning portrait print for a top customer. You just need to digitize photos as fast as possible. When paired with a good inkjet photo printer, flatbed scanners are great at creating proofs or contact sheets in-house. With a flatbed scanner, you now have the workflow to input multiple images to later print as proofs, burn onto CDs, input to video, drop into a website, or send via email.
Flatbed scanners can be more versatile than slide scanners. If you need to print out a duplicate proof, you can scan reflective prints on a flatbed. Or, if you need to input a batch of originals, you can scan many at once. Most slide scanners only scan one or a few at a time.
If you shoot medium- or large-format in the studio and need to scan high-resolution images, you need a specialized slide scanner that costs even more than the best 35mm slide scanner. A flatbed can be an affordable alternative for getting images into the computer. Since you already have more data capture in large format, because the negative or slide is larger than a 35mm frame, you don't require as much resolution from a scanner.
MEASURING & DEFINING IMAGE QUALITY
When you set out to buy a flatbed scanner, it's helpful to recognize several terms referring to image quality. A key aspect of image quality is resolution, measured in dots per inch (dpi). To meet a range of user needs, Epson offers scanners with resolutions from 600 to 2400 dots per inch.
Optical density or dynamic range measures the brightness range that a scanner captures. The higher the dynamic range, the greater range of tone. Epson provides scanners with optical density ranging from 3.0 to 3.6 Dmax, capturing greater detail in highlight and shadow areas, important when scanning positive or negative film.
Color bit depth is the maximum color level a scanner can enumerate. More bits will give you better image reproduction. Epson offers scanners with 42- to 48-bit color processing. The higher bit color processing pays off more with slides, negs, and transparencies than with reflective art because of their wider dynamic range of color and light-to-dark values.
Most scanners connect to computers via USB, SCSI, or IEEE 1394 (FireWire). USB (Universal Serial Bus), which replaces older methods linking scanners and computers via the parallel port, is a faster, more convenient connection for most people. Your computer needs the USB port for this type of scanner.
Some still prefer attaching a scanner to a computer via the SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) port for higher performance and speed. And for even faster performance, Epson offers high-speed FireWire (IEEE 1394) scanners. FireWire combines Plug & Play and Hot Swapping capabilities with high-speed data throughput. Although the type of connection helps determine how quickly the device scans an image, a scanner's speed is also influenced by its on-board processing capability.