Candid snapshots. (computer-imaging hardware) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Robert Bixby
What are your alternatives when you want to get images into your desktop publishing system? The hand scanner is the first option to explore. In fact, if the hand scanner has one single purpose for which it was clearly designed, it was scanning photos into a computer. (Here's a tip: Buy a small sheet of window glass or thick clear plastic, such as a clear report cover. Cover your photo with it as you scan it with a hand scanner. Using the glass or plastic results in a much smoother scan and reduces the possibility of scratching the picture.)
COMPUTE has covered both color and gray-scale hand scanners in reviews and Test Lab, so most regular readers are thoroughly familiar with these options.
Another alternative is the flatbed scanner. These scanners have been available so long that they've begun to appear regularly among resellers' wares. You can find a wide selection of good quality discontinued flatbed scanners for about the same price as new hand scanners.
Watch out for outdated features lists when looking over this hardware (you'll probably want gray scale as a minimum capability; if you can get color or OCR with the scanner, you'll value either of these).
Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing three pieces of imaging hardware. First, and by far the most expensive and capable, was the Canon CJ-10 color scanner, printer, and copier. It's based on the Canon color copier. If you make color copies, it's likely that you've seen this unit in action. It's essentially a 400-dpi color ink-jet printer bound to a high-resolution color scanner.
To turn the color copier into a desktop computer peripheral, Canon added a control module on which the copier stands and a SCSI interface card for your computer. Using Aldus PhotoStyler, you can scan in images, edit the images with a full range of tools, and then print the images.
One drawback to the system is that it uses special paper. This seems like an unfortunate limitation for a machine that costs almost $8,000. If, however, you are doing color proofs and standard-width (8 1/2-inch) paper is adequate for your purposes, I think the printer does a better job than the Tektronix Phaser, which is currently a standard in color proofing. And the Tektronix doesn't scan. It only prints.
But what if you don't want to capture an existing photograph, but you do want to get started in the art of electronic photography? Electronic cameras have arrived, Canon makes the Xapshot, and Logitech makes the Fotoman. If you aren't interested in conventional photography and you don't mind being tied to your computer, you might consider purchasing a black-and-white television camera (Damark has advertised a surveillance camera for around $200) or using your camcorder camera in combination with Digital Vision's long and growing line of image capture boards for the PC. Another option is Electrim. Electrim recently sent me two cameras for capturing images. The EDC-1000 digital camera captures gray-scale images of 192 x 330 pixels ($400). The EDC-1000C captures color images of 751 x 488 pixels ($950). As you will guess from the number of pixels involved, the 1000C will not work with a standard VGA card, although Electrim is working on more flexible software that will enable the color camera to be used with standard VGA systems at reduced resolution. Electrim also manufactures a high-resolution 753 x 488 pixel gray-scale camera, the EDC-1000HR ($850), which also requires Super VGA for full performance but will operate at lower resolution with standard VGA.
There is nothing fancy about the systems. All you get are a camera head (a tiny black box about half the size of a bar of soap), a cable, a card, and image-capture software. More sophisticated image-editing software is available from Electrim for the EDC-1000 for an additional $150. If you're interested (as I am) in capturing three-dimensional, real-world images making use of lighting techniques, these cameras will serve you very well. The high-resolution systems require at least 800 x 600 resolution at 256 colors. Electrim markets a Genoa Super VGA board for $190 that will fill the bill. Lenses are sold separately ($50 for a 16 mm, $60 for an 8 mm, and $180 for a 12-75 mm zoom lens). For more information, contact Electrim, P.O. Box 2074, Princeton, New Jersey 08543; (609) 683-5546.