THE CUTTING EDGE: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : Picture the Options for Scanning Photo Images

About a year ago our family dog, Shaggy, jumped the fence and was nowhere to be found. After calling the pound and checking with the neighbors, my next move was to create a missing-dog poster--complete with a color photo. A couple of hours later, we had nearly 100 posters of her all around the neighborhood-- and I had one more reason to be grateful for having access to a color scanner and color printer. Shaggy, as it turned out, had been picked up by the dogcatcher.

You don't need a missing dog to appreciate the ability to include color photos in your documents. Last year, we sent out personalized holiday cards adorned with our family photo. I put a scanned color photo on my professional bio and include family photos in letters we send to relatives. Businesses can use the technology for product photos, company ID cards and other things. Subscribers to on-line services can e-mail photos to friends in distant cities, and people with their own World Wide Web pages can share their pictures with people all around the world.

There are several ways to get pictures into your PC. One option is to scan them using a flatbed color scanner or a low-cost photo reader. Another is to have a photo-finisher process your pictures on CD-ROMs or floppy disks. Or you can trade in your traditional camera for a digital camera that bypasses film completely, transferring images directly from the camera's memory to your computer's hard disk.

If you want to work with existing photos, the easiest and cheapest method is to use a scanner. A flatbed color scanner is the most versatile because you can use it for large images (up to 8 1/2-by-11), including images in bound books. All flatbed scanners come with graphic scanning software, and some come with optical character recognition software that turns printed or typed pages into computer text.

Most scanners come with a piece of software called a Twain driver, which allows you to scan images directly from a graphic program, such as PhotoShop. That frees you from having to rely on the software that came with your scanner. Nevertheless, some scanners come with excellent graphic software. Canon's IX 4015, which I've been using recently, comes with Ofoto, an easy-to-use program that automatically determines the best settings for each photo. It adjusts contrast and brightness and even optimizes the images to the specifications of your printer. It can straighten out crooked images and crop away unnecessary white space. The Epson 1000C color scanner comes with a version of PhotoShop.

Scanners are rated by bit-depth (among other things). The more expensive 30-bit scanners can recognize more colors (up to 60 million), which translates into a more accurate reproduction of the original image. This won't matter if you're mainly dealing with family pictures or children's drawings, but it can be important in certain commercial applications where it's essential to match colors with the original. The less expensive 24-bit scanners, however, are more than good enough for most personal uses. I used a 24-bit scanner for the photo that appears on my World Wide Web site, and I'm happy with the results.

Epson, on Monday, is expected to announce its new Action Scanning System II, designed for "first-time scanner users." The attractively priced ($499) package will consist of a 24-bit scanner that handles 8 1/2-by-11-inch images, along with cables and both graphic and OCR software. The IBM-PC version will connect to the parallel (printer) port and the Mac version, like virtually all Mac scanners, will connect to the SCSI port. (Most IBM-PC scanners connect to a SCSI port, which is not a standard item on all machines.)

If you just want to scan standard-sized photos, you'll get excellent results with the EasyPhoto Reader from Storm Software ([800] 275-5734). The small (5 1/2-by-6-by-3-inch) device scans photos up to 5-by-7 and is easy to install and use. The $249 device, which plugs into a PC's parallel port, comes with photo-editing software. You can also purchase the software (version 2.0) alone for $49 or you can download a free copy of version 1.0 from the company's World Wide Web site ( storm/). A Mac version will be available mid-November.

If you don't plan to scan a lot of photos, you can save yourself an initial investment by having your film processed onto a photo CD or a floppy disk. Many Kodak processing labs can return your pictures on a CD-ROM for about $20 for 24 images. Starting this month, the discs will come with a photo-insert software that makes it easy to insert your pictures into standard word processing documents. You can start with unexposed film or bring in negatives.

You don't have a CD-ROM drive? Seattle Filmworks ([800] 445-3348), a mail-order photo processing company, will process your pictures onto a floppy disk for $3.95 (for 24 images) plus the cost of developing. You get prints and negatives, as well as a floppy disk. Files can be imported into most PC and Mac word processing and graphics programs.

Finally, you can bypass film by getting a digital camera, such as the Chinon ES 3000, Apple QuickTake 150 or Kodak DC40. These cameras, which typically cost about $800, store your images in the camera's memory until you transfer them by cable to your PC or Mac.

I've used the Chinon ES 3000 and found the picture quality to be mediocre--certainly no better than a cheap snapshot camera. Its zoom lens is a nice touch, and its software is easy to use, but most people are better off with a standard camera and a scanner. One big advantage, however, is that there's there's no cost for film or developing.

You can send e-mail to Lawrence J. Magid via the Internet at and visit his World Wide Web site at

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