Hewlett Packard Scanjet 4C
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PRODUCT REVIEW - by Lloyd Erlick.

Recently I acquired a desktop scanner made by Hewlett Packard. I have been extremely impressed with it, even though it is second-hand and not even made up of parts from the same model.

The body is a Scanjet 4c, the current HP model as of this writing (May 14, 1996). I scan black and white negatives, which are transparencies to a scanner. I was lucky to find a machine that included a transparency adapter, a replacement for the cover of the scanner. It contains a light source so the negatives can be scanned by transmitted light. (In other words, the scan is accomplished by light going through the transparency, not reflecting from it.)

As it happens, the transparency adapter came from a previous model HP scanner, and has been cobbled onto the body of the 4c. A very nice feature, actually, since a user upgrading from an older model would not have to purchase the new model's transparency adapter. In the venal corporate game of extracting every nickel from the customer by putting the screw holes in a different pattern, HP scores low. They score high in the straight dealings department, though. This is a good example of a rarity in our culture: the design philosophy of the people behind a product, evident from observation of the product, is in this case ethical and even-handed. Lots of people know the score in this regard vis a vis camera makers and enlarger makers.

Naturally, my skepticism was fairly high when I was confronted with this device and an exceptionally good offer on the price. Second-hand goods and a lid from a previous model, eh? However, since it was clean and unscratched, especially including the glass and the translucent plastic of the transparency adapter, I was hopeful.

Installing it on my own garden-variety pentium clonebox was easy. The SCSI card supplied by HP went in easily. All connections were smooth; the software installed right off. The printed material from HP was exact and covered the whole process. I have never installed hardware down to card-level before, and my first experience worked first try. I think that is due to the forethought of Hewlett Packard, not my innate skills!

Using it to scan my negs is a pleasure. My desire to stand in the darkroom making contact sheets was always pretty slight; now I have a much easier and superior method. I can put a roll of negatives on the 4c in their filing sleeve. I use the type of sleeve that is three-hole punched to store in regular-size three-ring binders. They're a little bigger than 8 1/2 x 11, but the 4c accommodates anything up to legal size, so I don't have to handle my negs to scan them. Of course the big question was whether the scan quality would be adequate through the filing sleeve. It is! A whole roll of negs, even 35mm negs, can be scanned right in their sleeve. If it's done at a resolution of 300 dpi, the resulting file is not, well, too many megabytes. But the payoff is that a single 35 mm frame can be pulled out and magnified onscreen by whatever imaging program. The result is fine for making judgements on things like the subject's facial expression, and even the emotional content of the image. Mechanical things like shadow detail and composition are vastly easier to observe than on contact sheets. Enlarging a cropped section of a frame onscreen is simple, and a peculiar addition to the concept of 'contact sheet'. Contact scan? More like 'preliminary file,' since they're just roaming the magnetic field, home, home on the disk.

Individual frames, selected by the foregoing process, can easily be scanned directly. When I find a frame I like, I put it on the scanner bed directly, no sleeve. The software accompanying the scanner, called DeskScan II, provides a convenient method of selecting a portion of the scan area: for example, a 35 mm frame can be singled out and scanned at 600 dpi. The file size is not outrageous, it's only a short scan-time for a small area like a 35 mm or 6x6 frame, and the ability to examine the picture is enormous.

A side-benefit of all this could pay for the scanner in savings of darkroom materials over the long term. There would be very little need to enlarge a negative we did not know in advance was worth the effort. Even for things like contrast settings on the enlarger light, the scanner at least tells me which ballpark I'm playing in. It's easy to learn what negative 'look' is associated with which 'look' of the negative onscreen. There is good potential for reducing paper and chemistry waste.

My dearly beloved 1972 Datsun 510, painted the ugly greengoldyellow how I loved it. Once in a while a piece of gear happens along that is actually valid and worth its existence. My old 510 sure was one of those, and so is the HP Scanjet 4c.

Copyright Lloyd Erlick. All rights reserved.