Umax's PowerLook 1100, introduced last January, was the first flatbed scanner to use FireWire. Targeted at high-end users, its $1,000 street price was too high for general consumers. However, with the number of SCSI scanners dwindling, and Apple's reliance on FireWire, a more economical FireWire scanner was bound to come to market.
While not particularly cheap at $249, the Astra 6400 offers an appealing alternative to USB. The 6400 boasts a maximum optical resolution of 600 by 1,200 pixels and a 9,600-by-9,600-pixel resolution with interpolation. The scanner supports 42-bit color depth, and provides single-touch scanning, enabling users to make a quick scan and import it into a graphics application, printer, or e-mail client with the click of a button. For owners of older Power Macs without built-in FireWire, the 6400 is packaged with a 3-port FireWire PCI card that works flawlessly with Apple's current FireWire software. An optional transparency cover is available for an additional $69; the Umax Astra 6450 ($299) comes with this cover built-in.
Umax's VistaScan software and Adobe's Photoshop 5.0 LE are bundled with the scanner. VistaScan is intuitive and offers both beginners and advanced users tools to work with. Default settings are programmed for common output such as Web pages, photo albums, and newsletters.
The Astra 6400's most impressive feature is its speed. When scanning an 8.5-by-11-inch picture at 300 dpi with no filters enabled, the 6400 easily bested the Astra 4000U USB scanner ( ; Reviews , December 2000). Where the 4000U took an entire minute to scan this image, the 6400 took only 25 seconds -- very impressive, especially for those who are constantly rescanning for perfection.
After scanning at several different resolutions, our results were pleasing but not perfect. For the most part, colors were on target, but they seemed oversaturated. Even with VistaScan's sharpen filters, there was a lack of sharpness and detail. Overall, however, scans were good and have the potential to improve through editing.