It's been a while since we delved into the wide world of scanners. What better time to dive right back in than just before the holiday buying season? A scanner is the perfect gift for any photo buff or student in your family. And, hey, there's no harm in looking for something for your own desk, too, while you're here. Because you're probably trying to stretch your dollars at this time of year, we've chosen eight flatbed scanners that sell for $200 or less. Even if you're partial to the most expensive one, you're not likely to break the bank.
First, you'll want to determine the type of scanner that best suits your needs. There are several types of scanners, including flatbed, photo, film, and sheetfed. Some flatbed scanners, such as the Epson Perfection 1670 Photo, are specifically designed to scan color photos, and many are also able to scan film with the help of an adapter for transparent materials. All of the scanners in this roundup are flatbed scanners.
Scanning area is another determining factor when buying a scanner. Most flatbed scanners have a maximum scanning area of 8.5x11 to 8.5x14 inches, which is sufficient for home use. Another consideration is the resolution of the scanner, which is indicated in dots per inch (dpi). Generally, higher-resolution scanners cost more and provide sharper, higher-quality images, although this is not always true. You'll also want to note the scanner's scanning speed; if you'll be doing a lot of scanning, you'll want a fast scanner. (We were unable to test for scan speed in this roundup, but future scanner reviews will include speed tests.)
Finally, you may want to consider the technology that the scanner uses. A scanner will use one of two scanning methods: the "old" technology, which is called CCD (charged coupled devices), or the "new" technology, called CIS (contact image sensor). Scanners that employ CCD technology use optical components, such as mirrors and lenses, to pick up an image being scanned, whereas CIS scanners use a single row of sensors that are positioned very close to the item being scanned. The result is that CIS scanners can have a much smaller and slimmer design, but CCD scanners generally offer better-quality scans.
How we tested
Due to time and resource constraints, we tested these eight scanners for image quality on opaque scans only. We did not test film or slide scan quality (though we did give points for a scanner's capability to do so), nor did we test for scan speed. We viewed the scanned images on a 19-inch SyncMaster 957MB
flat-screen CRT provided by Samsung.
For each scan, we used a color-evaluation document that CNET Labs developed in-house. This document is an 8.5x11-inch sheet that incorporates one monochrome and two color photographs, two gradient patterns, seven continuous-tone color blocks, a multicolored overprinting test pattern, and three detailed line-art graphics. We scanned the document at each scanner's default settings for color (either 150dpi or 200dpi), and compared the resulting scanned image with the original document. We also compared all eight scanners' results with each of the other scanners'.
A jury consisting of the editors and authors (and, in some cases, lab personnel) evaluated the scan quality. We graded the color scan on the following criteria: color matching, color saturation, color gradient, geometry, exposure, noise, and focus. The grayscale and text scans were graded for overall image quality, focal clarity, contrast quality, and the presence or absence of artifacts,
or chunks of stray pixels that don't belong in the image.