Eddie's HP-Photosmart page.
Obsolete Page,
I now use a canoscan FS2710.

(See my photo gallery for more images scanned with photosmart, they are 800*600 high quality Jpegs.)

A few weeks ago (august 98), I became the part owner of a HP Photosmart scanner. This was after much agonizing over what to buy. Our primary requirement was for a slide and negative scanner suitable for archiving our photo collections and making web pages etc. The photosmart was one of around five scanners on our short list, none of the others scanned prints.

The HP photosmart scanner is able to scan up to 7*5 inch prints and 35mm mounted slides and filmstrips. The price is around AU$800 (RRP AU$940). The scanner is a moving film/paper type and not to be confused with flatbeds with transperancy adaptors. The photosmart was in our price range, it had good resolution and mostly good reviews. Surfing the web exposed two re-occuring complaints.

These are :-

  • That the HP driver required re-insertion of negative strips after each frame was scanned.

  • That some slide scans produced noise in the dark portions of the image.

Others expressed concern about the film being rolled through without any protective carrier. I read about a third party batch mode scanning program called Vuesmart - having an alternative to the HP software helped sway us towards the Photosmart.

We bought our scanner from on special from interstate - the scanner had a faulty media-type switch and was replaced. That was bad news number one. Number two was that it took nearly 30 minutes to scan one slide at 2400 DPI plus write it out to disk from Photoshop :-( Number three was the noise problem showed up in the very first slide scan :-( :-(

My PC (P90) is not up to the task of scanning beyond 1200 DPI as it only has 24 meg of ram fitted, I expect a huge improvement when I upgrade to 64 meg. (Later - my P300 with 64 meg RAM did improved things somewhat)

The scanner was sold bundled with a SCSI card and microsoft "picture it" software.

The good news is that, from negatives and prints, the resolution and color balance are much better than the scans from my cheap flatbed scanner. For small compressed images there isn't much difference but for anything over say 200*300 you can notice the improvement.

The is a 300*200 reduction from a 2400 DPI scan. It was scanned from a kodak-gold (100 ISO) colour negative. Click either image for a 900*600 version of the same photo. Even the 900*600 pixel image (241K) looses much of the detail which is in the un-compressed 3368*2240 scan.
This is a 200*200 pixel portion of the full resolution scan. You can be forgiven for not even seeing this house in the above image.

So what do I think of HP driver?
Well I've seen worse but it could be better.

The Bad.....
The software seems to be aimed at the "scan and print" users rather than those who just want image files. It took a while to confirm that it was re-sizing my scans by default and almost as long to figure out how to stop it. I would have expected this in the tools/resolution section but no it was cropping section. I haven't found a control for Jpeg quality. Is it in there somewhere?

The ejection of the negative strips after every scan is plain silly but I actually find the number of mouse clicks and key strokes to save each file is more annoying. All that's needed to fix this is one button that saves the image using a series of automatically generated names. (eg image001.jpg, image002.jpg etc). Leave the long winded option there for those who want it but many of us will use thumbnails to sort files not filenames. Give to programmers 10 rolls of film each to scan before they go home and they'll think of easier ways to do things :-)

There's no way I could see to keep the exposure and colour settings from one scan to the next - so even when you're scanning a series of photos that all have the same exposure and balance you have to correct each one as you go. When I scanned 50 Kodachrome slides each one needed roughtly the same amount of red added - this gets quite annoying. Most of my negative scans seems to have a cyan/red cross over in them - highlights are cyan shadows are red. Again this could be fixed in software.

What do I think of the noise problem?
Well obviously it sux but you have to bear in mind this is a budget scanner and you get what you pay for. Unlike the software issue - fixing the hardware could be expensive (or not depending on what the problem is). The noise is not random (thermal) noise, it's being picked up from somewhere - most likely it's from the PC. Some speculate that the problem is from noise being transmitted down the SCSI cable (or radiated from it?). Some ferrite around the cable will be worth a try, or shielding the PC and scanner? Note that this is only a problem with scans from some slides, prints and negs scans are fine. I tried reproducing the noise problem the other night and couldn't - I don't know what changed but it scanned the same images with the fringes? (weeks later) - I have seen artifacts in negative scans - usually in light gray skies. I now strongly suspect power supply noise as a contributing factor but I don't think it power supply noise alone.

What about the roller mechanism?
It seems fine. Unless the film miss-tracks (which doesn't seem to do) the image area of the 35mm film strips does not touch anything, it's only driven by the edges. I've re-scanned the same negative maybe 20 times during testing without damaging it. Once you get the knack of inserting the strip - it's easy.

About VueSmart.

VueSmart is a free program for registered users of VuePrint (15 day trial shareware - $40 to register, US $ I presume). It is written by Ed Hamrick. see VuePrint - Technical
VueSmart is a totally different kettle of fish to the bundled driver. Vuesmart is a batch scanner. The user has dozens of options to play with but once the scanning starts the user just feeds in the film - strip after strip. Vuesmart works by scanning a whole strip of film in a single pass, saving it as a TIF file and then processing this file into cropped images of either TIF and/or JPEG format.
Vue-Smart version 3.0,
Each version has seen significant improvements over the previous ones - both in terms of its user interface and automatic color correction. About the time I download version 3, I had the unpleasant experience of upgrading to windows-98, this is an ordeal I still have not recovered from. Win-98 rendered VueSmart useless for a time. The symptoms of the problem were windows giving me "out of disk space" errors (I had about 1 gigbyte free in two partitions) and the images had lines across them (across not along as you'd get from crud on the ccd). VueSmart was the only program giving this error message but it was probably the only program writing 33 megabyte files to disk. The problem *appears* to have been caused by Norton Utilities deletion protection software. I have not had the problem since uninstalling Nortons but you never can tell. I scanned one roll of film which was hot out of the film processor and was not totally happy with the results. I checked the film type an was surprised to find it was not a "kodak gold 100 generation 6" as I'd assumed. I'm not sure what it is, the colored strips would indicate it a generation 2 film but has the number 100-5 on it which I'd guess to mean generation 5 - and there's no such animal in the options. I re-scanned it as a generation 2 and changed the gamma from 2.2 to 1.8. The results were fairly good but I feel the generation 6 film I'd scanned with VS version 2 was better. I'll update this page next time I have a new gen-6 film to scan. (Don't hold your breath waiting). I've posted a contact sheet of the images for you to check out. Note the film covers a range of conditions including some underexposed shots and very high contrast lighting. Of the 37 photos there's only one which I think it got wrong. This is frame 34 - a photo of a house and it's reflection in a lake. This is mainly too light but could be corrected fairly well without rescanning. I used six of these images for my web-site and only made slight gamma corrections to five of them and gamma and color corrections to frame 11. This is much less correcting than I used to do using the HP software - I'd often correct during the scanning and again before using them on the web. The actual scanning is much less painful with VueSmart, I haven't timed it but I'd guess it takes around a minute per frame on my cyrix-300 (running at 266 meg). If the negatives are dirty this gives just enough time for cleaning each strip. As stated earlier VueSmart is a companion to VuePrint - you have to have a registered copy of VuePrint installed to disable the watermarking (I haven't seen the watermarks because I was registered). I would have preferred it as a separate package but it's the Eds prerogative to bundle it as he sees fit. I suspect Version 3 will not the last release it will be interesting to see where it's headed. I'd also like to note that I have no way to check my monitor settings. What looks good on mine may look bad on yours. If anybody knows of a test image for calibrating monitors please drop me a line.

Will batch scanning work?
Well yes and no. I don't think anyone can write a program to match a human in fine tuning the image. In my 5 years in the professional photo-finishing industry there were many cases where experts in colour balancing had different opinions on what a particular print should look like. There is no rigid formula for what is good, different people have different preferences - computers aren't good at that sort of thing.

So is automatic batch scanning is doomed?
If you want every file to be perfect then yes it's doomed. However if the aim it the scan a lots of film and get the images into the digital domain as quickly as possible then it's the way to go. What is required is a way to archive photos with a mimimum loss of information, how it looks is not that important as long as the information is there for further processing. I'd expect that image compression of the raw scanner data would fit the bill - but in the case of negatives few thumbnails program accept negative files. In 40 years time when your grand-children (or whoever) try to view your photos - the concept of a negative may be pretty foreign and programs to view them non-existent (hopefully windows will be long gone too). I think saving them as positives is safer. How much information is lost in balancing and gamma correcting I don't know, there could be an improvement in compression ratios for corrected images - again I don't know. I doubt there'd be a huge difference in the information content between corrected and raw so we may as well correct them as best we can. What compression? I think JPEG viewers will be around for quite a while but the new lossless PGN format should be ideal once it become more common. Of course the software doesn't know which way is up so some images need to be rotated afterwards. It would be neat to have a thumbnail and slide show program that could remember the orientation in it's data base and show the images right way up while leaving the original image files as is. The same could be done with other corrections such as gamma, colour balance and cropping.

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