Scanners keep getting better and less expensive, but even within this competitive landscape, Epson’s Expression 800 is a breakthrough in price and performance. When equipped with an optional transparency adapter, it’s the first under-$1,000 flatbed that we’d consider when scanning 35mm slides for anything other than the Web.
The scanner is available in three configurations. The $699 Executive includes Epson TWAIN Pro and LaserSoft SilverFast Lite scanning modules, Adobe Photoshop 5 LE, NewSoft Presto Page Manager, and Xerox TextBridge Classic OCR software. The $799 Artist model adds the full LaserSoft SilverFast 4 and Monaco Profiler Lite. But the real breakthrough comes in the $999 Pro package, which adds a transparency adapter to the Artist bundle, transforming the Expression 800 into a slide scanner.
The Expression 800 uses a quarter-stepping motor to move the scanner head in 3,200-dpi increments, producing a true optical resolution of 800 by 3,200 dpi. We’ve generally been skeptical about interpolated resolution in scanners, but at 2,400 by 2,400 dpi we found that the flatbed gives excellent results from 35mm slides. The dynamic range, quoted at 3.3, is adequate for most transparencies, although high-contrast slides may exhibit blocked or noisy shadows. The scanner is also fast and quiet, and it offers switchable SCSI termination.
LaserSoft’s SilverFast 4.0 is a powerful scanner driver that functions as a stand-alone application or as a Photoshop plug-in. It’s ColorSync-savvy, offers a full range of control, and allows you to scan directly to CMYK, RGB, or gray scale. The AutoPilot feature allows relative novices to produce good scans right off the bat, but achieving total mastery over SilverFast entails a fairly steep learning curve.
The software’s Unsharp Masking filter works wellan important point because too much sharpening can create aliasing effects that reveal the horizontal interpolation. On the downside, it takes a lot of work to get good scans from color negatives.
Monaco Profiler Lite does a great job of creating profiles for the scanner and ink-jet printers. Rather than forcing you to measure color patches with an expensive spectrophotometer or colorimeter, it uses the scanner to measure printed output.
Macworld’s Buying Advice The Executive bundle is a good deal, but if you’re happy with its functionality, you’re also likely to be happy with a less expensive scanner. The Artist bundle is also a good deal, but the Pro version is the real breakthrough, letting you scan everything from 35mm film to 8-by-10-inch reflective originals for about $1,000.