Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
The Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart Photo Scanner is a compact unit that won't take
too much desktop real estate, is relatively easy to set up, and produces great
As an alternative to PhotoCD scans, this is a great value. It's a rather
compact unit that won't take a lot of desktop real estate, and it connects to
your PC via a provided SCSI host adaptor (or you can just connect it to an
Easy to install and setup
The installation time is directly proportional to the amount of junk you have
to move out of the way before you can open your PC's case. >From the time you
open your PC, count on about 20 minutes. Then add some time to put the junk back
in place. No particularly special tools are needed, other than a screwdriver
(most PC's have Philips screws, though some HP's have Torx screws inside).
Installing the scanner involves a few steps, the exact number of which
actually depends on wether you already have a SCSI host adaptor on your PC or
not. I didn't, so it boiled down to:
Install the supplied SCSI host adaptor
Playing with hardware is my favorite thing to do, so this part was easy. It's
a standard ISA 16 bit board, with a connector on the L bracket.
Plug in a cable
The SCSI cable is supplied. You can plug it into the SCSI host adaptor, or if
you already have SCSI devices, on the last device on the chain. There's a rotary
switch in the back of the unit to select the SCSI ID. The device is
auto-terminating, so there's no need to add an external terminator even if it's
the last device on the SCSI chain.
Load the drivers
When you power back your computer, after putting it back together, Windows 95
will detect the new hardware, and prompt you to load the disk with the drivers.
Follow the prompts, reboot once more, run the install program in the supplied CD
again, and it'll install the rest of the scanning software.
Scanning is easy
Basically, you insert the media, and a window pops up, prompting you to "click
here" to start scanning. Once you "click there", the media is scanned at a fairly
fast speed at a medium resolution, and it's presented on the screen.
You can now make some adjustments to color balance and exposure, choose the
cropping size and scanning resolution, and if you inserted a negative strip, you
can choose which frame to scan.
Once the above is completed, you select the output, and the actual scanning
take place. The actual speed depends on the resolution. At 1200dpi, you can count
on about 30 to 45 seconds for a 35mm frame.
Multiple input media supported
You can scan mounted slides (35mm, no glass mounts), negative strips (color or
b&w, up to six frames per strip) and prints (up to 5"x7"). Unfortunately,
only reflective media can be scanned at sizes other than 35mm. This means that
you still need Pro PhotoCD scans for your beautiful 4x5 transparencies. A plastic
pouch is provided to feed delicate media (an old photo that's falling apart or
some really thin media, for instance).
Resolution is good
With negatives and slides, you can do up to 2400dpi. In the web world, pixels
have more meaning than dots per inch, and at max resolution, you're looking at
about 2000 x 3000 pixels for a 35mm frame, which rivals PhotoCD resolutions.
For a $500 scanner, quality is surprisingly good. The main problem I
encountered is dealing with dust control. Using a can of compressed air and a
fine camel brush helps a lot in this regard.
For photos that are destined to be displayed on the web, this scanner is a
fine alternative to PhotoCD scans, though if the intention is to eventually
output to a high end printer or film recorder, PhotoCD or FlashPIX are probably
The control software is user affectionate
I consider this somewhat of a hindrance. I suppose the original design
criteria was to make it as easy to use as possible, but all the beeps get to be
annoying after a while, and the slide controls for exposure and color correction
don't offer the ability to enter discrete values. On the other hand, PhotoShop
has lots of tools with which to manipulate a picture.
This means that while the provided software allows for minimal control of the
basics, it doesn't have any advanced features, so you really do need some sort of
image processing tool. Besides the above mentioned PhotoShop, which retails for
close to $600 with sales tax, there are some shareware options like Lview. A copy
of Microsoft's Picture It! is included in the package, though it's really
designed for the very light user.
It's memory hungry
With 64MB, and only the scanning software plus PhotoShop running, I had a
moderate amount of swapping activity at 1200dpi, and the system was almost
impossible to use at 2400dpi. Increasing the memory to 96MB eliminated the
swapping at even 2400dpi, so this is probably the minimum amount of memory
recommended for high resolution scans. Fortunately, memory is relatively cheap
After some experimentation, I found that a good compromise is to select a
medium resolution that yields 900 x 600 pixels.
How to deal with the output
The scanning software can produce files in various formats (bit maps, jpeg,
gif, tiff, flashpix, and one or two others), or you can direct the scan to
PhotoShop, which I think is the most convenient way, since it saves an
intermediate step. You can then manipulate the image as needed, and save it in
whatever format you prefer (say, a medium quality JPEG for web publishing, and a
BMP for archival).
One of the great advantages of PhotoCD is that each scan is stored into a
single file of moderate size (around 5MB), which includes multiple resolutions
between 192x128 all the way up to 3072x2048, with thumbnails. The supplied
software, unfortunately, does not have a similar option, so if you want to have a
given frame scanned into multiple resolutions, you will need to scan it one time
for each resolution desired.
Speaking of file sizes, a 35mm frame scanned at the maximum resolution and
saved as a bitmap file will take about 18 to 22 megabytes.
Another minor nit is the fact that if you want to scan multiple frames from a
given negative strip, you need to insert the strip once for each scan. This means
that if you happen to be really good at taking pictures and want to scan all four
frames on a single strip at three resolutions per frame, you need to feed the
strip twelve times. Rather annoying and time consuming.
Some technical details
The light source is a Xenon fluorescent tube, and pixel depth works out to 10
bits for each of the three colors. The unit weighs 6 pounds (2.72kg) and measures
3.5" (9cm) tall, 7.75" (20cm) wide and 11.5" (29.7cm) deep.
It's a great value, and if you expect to have a lot of scanning done, it's an
economical alternative to PhotoCD.
The documentation provided is certainly adequate, and a multimedia CD with
videoclips is provided. Pity that it's only compatible with Windows 95, and not
available for Macintosh or Unix (I suppose asking for a VMS version of the
software is too much...).
There's some third party drivers available, which reportedly work with Windows
NT and Windows 98. They are available at