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...
HP PhotoSmart PhotoScanner is a desktop scanner
that can handle prints up to 13 x 18 cm (5 x 7 inches), negatives and mounted
slides. When scanning prints, the scanner offers a resolution of 300 dpi; for
scanning negatives and slides, it offers 2400 dpi. It scans at a depth of 30 bit.
The package includes an ISA-type SCSI card, SCSI cable, scanner software and
Microsoft PictureIt!. It should be
available at a price of just over 1100 guilders, or about $500.
It doesn't do any other film format than 35mm, so no 4x5, no APS. The only
available model is the SCSI model, there is no parallel port version. The scanner
is of a fixed-focus type and HP only supports Windows 95. Windows NT does work,
but is simply not supported. Slide mounts can be up to 4mm thick, but best
results are achieved with mounts of 1.8mm or thinner.
The picture showing my computer setup was taken on Kodak Gold 400 print
film and scanned from negative by the HP scanner. The picture on the monitor is
from my second wedding
Top photo: Tulip field, Heemskerk, Holland. Nikon
F100, AF 24-50 at 24mm, Fuji Sensia II 100, hand
Note: there is a newer version of this scanner, the S20. It features
36bit scanning (internally) and a USB-interface. This review is about the older
Installation of the scanner is really simple. First, turn on your computer and
insert the CD that comes along with the scanner. The appropriate SCSI drivers are
installed and you can watch a video about how to proceed next.
Following the instructions, you
open the computer and "gently lower the card into the slot." The hardest part is
over. Close the computer, connect the scanner to the SCSI card, boot and watch
Windows detect your new hardware.
More videos are included, this time about using the scanner. Have a brief look
at them and then insert your first picture to be scanned.
A note about the system requirements... A fast computer is good, but a lot of
memory is better. If you intend to do many high resolution scans, I suggest
getting at least 64MB RAM in your machine. My AMD K6-200 with 64MB handles
2400dpi scans well, although editing and especially applying filters does cause
it to (seriously) swap at times. Also, make room on your hard disk since scans
can be up to 22MB. Compressing your files into JPEGs helps, but not enough if you
have to store a couple of hundred of them. I suggest getting a ZIP- or JAZ-drive,
or a CD-Writer.
Update: I have upgraded to an AMD Athlon 500 with 128MB RAM. I noticed
quite a performance increase, probably due to both the faster processor and the
larger amount of memory.
Working with the scanner
The scanner offers a simple user interface, consisting of two buttons. The
first selects the type of media you want to scan: slides, negatives or prints.
After selecting the correct type, the scanner adjusts the media-insertion-opening
to fit the media and calibrates itself. The second button is an eject-button. If
that button (or the software eject option) should fail, you can open the scanner
cover and retrieve the medium manually.
After inserting the picture, the
software pops up and you can set resolution, crop the image and correct exposure
and colour. If the resulting image is less than 16MB, you can send it directly to
your favorite photo editor, by default Microsoft PictureIt!. You can also save it
to file; formats supported are: BMP, FlashPix, JPEG and TIFF. No options can be
set. I save my scans as TIFF-files, then use either
Paint Shop Pro,
PhotoShop or The GIMP (included in all major Linux distributions). I store edited
TIFF files of about 1500 x 2300 pixels on a CD-recordable and I create smaller
JPEGs for slide shows and my website.
The quality of the scans is suprisingly good, although 300 dpi scans from
prints is not great; many flatbeds can do better. However, when scanning
negatives and slides, you get an optical resolution of 2400dpi and this makes for
images slightly bigger than 2000 x 3000 pixels. This is sufficiently large for
approximately 20 x 30 cm inkjet prints.
Many people have reported problems with slides: shadows contain more noise
(artifacts) than detail. The problems are said to vary with the computer and/or
SCSI card used. My scanner also displays this problem, although certainly not
with every slide. The only 'solution' is to turn down the shadows, causing them
to become plain black. With negatives, these problems have not been reported.
So far, you might have come to the conclusion that when buying the HP, you'd
get a $500 Nikon Super
CoolScan. You're not. Here are the drawbacks (or should I say, the $1800
explanation for the Nikon?)
After each scan, all controls are reset and there's no way to save your
After each scan, the medium is ejected. Perhaps with slides and prints this
is OK, but with negatives, it can be a hassle since you have to re-insert the
strip and wait for the preview to complete.
The controls are limited. For example, exposure control is limited to
midtones, highlights and shadows. No histograms or other advanced features.
It's fixed focus. I have not yet found focussing problems, but if you do, you
can't adjust it.
As mentioned, the scanner can't really read into the shadows of
A general problem with scanners, not just with this one, is dust. All kinds of
little things tend to cling to my slides and negatives, showing up fairly clear
in the scan. Use a blower to get rid of the most before scanning and use the
Clone-tool to touch up the scan afterwards. Using a drawing tablet, such as the
Dynalink FreeDraw (aka AceCad Flair) makes this 'digital dust buster' job a lot
My reaction when the first preview scan appeared, was "Wow! This is great!"
It's big fun working with this scanner. The HP is great value for money and it
handles the supported media well. If you're expecting the pro features mentioned
in the previous paragraph, then prepare for spending some serious money on a