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SCANNERS DEVELOP USEFULLY.

Byline: Eric A. Taub The New York Times News

As a movie and television line producer in Santa Clarita, Dennis Sugasawara spends his working life around sharp 35 mm film images. So when he wanted to send shots of his newborn boy via e-mail to relatives around the world, he faced a decision: Buy one of the latest digital still cameras and load the pictures directly into his computer or buy a cheap flatbed scanner.

He chose the scanner. While Sugasawara liked the simplicity of working with a digital camera, simplicity alone didn't compensate for poorer-quality images and the cost.

``Standard film still produces better images than a digital camera,'' he said. ``And my scanner only cost me $129.''

Like most things digital, the home scanner market has exploded, thanks to the growth of the Internet and a sharp drop in price. Today, many scanners are available for not much more than $100, with output quality and features approaching those that cost $2,000 seven years ago, said Keith Kemerer, product development manager for Microtek Lab, manufacturer of one of the five most popular consumer scanners.

While scanners have long been used by graphics professionals to create documents ready for professional reproduction, consumers are discovering that they can easily scan photographs - and often slides and negatives, if they pay for transparency modules - and then, in a computer, can alter colors, change the contrast or remove ``red eye.''

Then they can send the images to a family Web site or as attachments to e-mail. Students are using scanners to import images into school reports, while small-business owners are storing documents digitally and, with the aid of optical character recognition, or OCR, software, importing multiple pages of text directly into a standard word processing program for easy editing.

Manufacturers also tout a scanner's ability to act as a home copy machine, by sending a scan directly to a printer. But don't think that a scanner will let you become a junior Kinko's. Several minutes will probably pass before you will be able to see one page printed out.

The vast majority of scanners sold today are flatbed units: You lay a document, image or three-dimensional object on a glass plate. A charge-coupled device, designed to detect differences in the reflectivity of an object, travels the length of the glass. The scanner converts the light and dark areas of the document or image it is analyzing into digital values.

When deciding what scanner to buy, consider three elements: the unit's resolution capabilities, its bit depth (which determines the richness of the image) and the bundled software that lets the machine work. Resolution defines the sharpness of the reproduction.

Low-cost units today typically offer ``optical'' resolution of 600 dots per inch horizontally by 1,200 dpi vertically. That's plenty for home use. In fact, when scanning images solely to be sent over the Internet, scanning at 72 dpi is high enough because that is all that typical computer monitors can reproduce.

Save the higher resolutions (and the resultant larger file sizes) of 300 or 600 horizontal dpi for printing photographs. The higher the resolution, the sharper the printed image will appear.

The software question is trickier. Scanners require several different software programs: a scanner driver; a scan-management program, which acts like a central control station for your work; and an OCR program to turn documents into text that can be edited.

Each manufacturer tries to integrate the three, but their success ranges from adequate to abysmal. If you are using your scanner only for images, you may want to skip the bundled software in favor of a photo manipulation program like Adobe Photodeluxe. That way, you can bypass the extraneous management program and scan directly into the software you'll use to alter your pictures.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 31, 1999
Words:630
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