Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart S-20 Scanner

The HP PhotoSmart S-20's new software is presented in two screens. The first provides selection of the type of media and resolution that is to be scanned, as well as thumbnails of the preview images made by the scanner. Click on the upper left corner of a thumbnail frame and a larger preview is presented with dialog windows to adjust size, orientation, sharpness, tone level, and color, as well as a histogram which reflects the affect of the adjustments.
Photos © 1999, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

When it was first introduced the Hewlett-Packard Photo-Smart scanner was an unprecedented bargain for the photo enthusiast. It was capable of scanning prints up to 5x7" as well as film, and it was a compact, convenient to use design. Now after considerable acceptance and success of the original S-10 model, HP has released an S-20 model upgrade. The sleek, diminutive desktop design remains the same, but the scanning specifications for film have been improved, the handling of positive and negative 35mm film has been extended for mounted or film strip format, and the software is now even easier to use, more efficient, and offers a fuller manual control of color adjustment. In other words, none of the compromises imposed by the limitations of the S-10 are found in the new S-20, and the price of the new model is the same as the original cost of the S-10, $499.

Another new feature of this latest S-20 PhotoSmart scanner is it has a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection interface. For users with relatively new PCs this will not be a problem as most since the release of Windows 98 include a USB connector. For users of older PCs it will be necessary to be running Windows 98 (Windows 95 does not support USB without a patch), and a PCI/USB interface card will have to be installed. The film scanning resolution of 2400dpi has been retained, but now at an increased color depth of 36 bit, 12 bits per RGB channel. Output directly from the PhotoSmart scanner's software used as a stand-alone application can be saved in .BMP, .TIF, compressed .JPG, as well as FlashPix .FPX file formats. Microsoft PictureIt 99 software is also bundled with the scanner.

Full resolution scans from slides, including the option to select between regular slide film (E-6), Kodachrome, or old faded slides, can result in accurate, well-balanced image files of 8x10" at 300dpi that will make fine photo-realistic ink jet prints.

Scanning With The New HP PhotoSmart S-20. First, I had to install a PCI/USB interface card in my computer before setting up the S-20 scanner. This was quite an easy job as the card is fully plug-and-play, and the driver for it is on the Windows 98 system CD. HP is very, very explicit in repeating the instructions several times that users should install the PhotoSmart scanner software before connecting the scanner. I followed the instructions and took note of the many warnings, which resulted in a very smooth and uneventful installation and setup.

To begin testing I scanned a print version (5x7") of the IT-8 international color reference, and made the scan using only the software's auto adjust. I then made a print from the file saved from this scan. The almost exact match in the print to the original IT-8 reference print was very encouraging. So, I continued my tests, including a selection of Kodachrome slides. I soon found that the new software, although easy to use and much more flexible to adjust final scan output, does not include any automatic correction for highlight/shadow color caste removal, so the manual color balance adjustment needs to be used if the color in the original is off. And, although there is a histogram display which is most useful, it is not interactive, it just reflects the affect of any manual changes made with the highlight, mid-tone, shadow slider controls. Nevertheless, the manual control options support making adjustments to compensate for inadequacies in the original image, which the S-10 model did not allow.

Of the Kodachromes I scanned for testing, some involved parts of the image in direct sun as well as significant areas in shade. I was able to use the HMS slider control to adjust the final scan to include good tonality and detail in shadows and highlights. But, I found I could get even better scans in terms of the image qualities in the final result when I began scanning using the S-20 TWAIN driver from within Photoshop 5.0.2. I was surprised to discover the PhotoSmart scanner transfers its full 36-bit scan to Photoshop and opens the image in 16-bit Mode in the Photoshop workspace. This allows scanning difficult images that require extensive color correction adjustment using the Level and Curve adjustments in Photoshop before converting Mode to 8 bit (24-bit RGB) without any data loss. The results I obtained scanning without any manual adjustment in the PhotoSmart software with the HP S-20 into Photoshop, and then color correcting in 16-bit Mode, were very close to what I would expect using a much more expensive scanner and professional scanning software. So, besides providing an easy to use scanning software utility as a stand-alone application with much more flexibility than was available with the previous model, the S-20 can also be used with the more extensive color correction tools of Photoshop.

Evaluation And Recommendation. Considering the original HP Photo-Smart S-10 scanner has a large and enthusiastic following, with all of the improvements in the new S-20, it now offers the typical 35mm photo enthusiast an ideal and affordable beginning and the basis for a great digital darkroom. Although my testing of this new model largely concentrated on just how much difference the new specifications and features improved the product, its most likely use of scanning strips of color negatives, and that is its forte. The built-in, automatic translation from a color negative to positive image, considering all of the variations in dye base color and density of different brand films, works exceedingly well. Scanning at its maximum 2400dpi, the HP S-20 produces a nice 8x10 image at 300dpi which results in very high fidelity prints made with a "photo-realistic" ink jet printer. Selling at the original price for the S-10, the new HP PhotoSmart at $499 is an even better buy.

For more information about the HP PhotoSmart S-20 scanner, call (800) 752-0900 or visit their web site at: www.photosmart.com.

Technical Specifications

Scan Formats: Prints to 5x7"; 35mm film in strips of five frames; and mounted 35mm film images, positive and negative, black and white, and color
Resolution: 300dpi prints; 2400dpi 35mm film
Color Depth: 12 bits per RGB channel = 36 bits
OS Support: TWAIN driver for Windows 95/98
Interface: Universal Serial Bus (USB)
Dimensions: 3.9x8x11.6"
Weight: 6 lbs