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>According to conventional wisdom, all scanners that are a part of a
>combined printer/scanner/copier/fax  all-in-one machine are inherently
>inferior to stand alone

The obvious drawback is that with so many functions combined in one
machine, if anything goes wrong you lose the use of all those
functions. If you have separate machines they are individually
less complex, and can be repaired or replaced individually.
Moreover, a multi-function device is inevitably not going to offer
the best quality in each of its functions - some part of it will
be inferior to what is available from other makers, but one can't
pick and choose the best if they are all in one machine.

>I'm looking for a
>scanner that will do "near service bureau quality"  :- ) on color photos at
>a reasonable price for a non-professional.

I don't see how that's possible. Anything near service bureau
quality is simply not available on any scanners costing less than a
couple of thousand pounds at the very least. But if you are
talking about the quality of drum scanners, then even the top
flatbeds are quite a lot lower in quality. I've never heard of any
multifunction devices with scanner modules of even high end flatbed
quality - it wouldn't make commercial sense.

For a non-professional scanner, the quality will inevitably be
significantly lower than from a bureau. What you have to discover
is what quality is enough for you. I suggest getting a photo
original, with demanding areas such as subtle tone gradations,
dark shadow details, varying blues, and skin tones. Take or send it
to suppliers of various scanners and ask for a raw scanned file at
a certain resolution from their scanners, then compare them on your
computer, magnifying the tricky areas, and outputting them to a
test print or whatever.

One of the main differences in high end scanners is the quality of
the optics, and the technical specs don't reveal that until you do
the scan. Another difference is the ability to resolve details in
shadows - if your scanner quotes a spec of 3.6D, or 3.7D (can't
remember what this is called, but it's a logarithmic scale
achieving perfection at 4.0 and patheticness below around 3.4 I
think) you know it's serious about quality; if it doesn't quote a
number at all, you know it's embarrassed about any professional
comparing it. Another is the ease, effectiveness, and quality of
supplied software to calibrate the colour response. Many affordable
scanners do not get close to true colours at all, and may not even
manage it after the best calibration. But it all depends on how
demanding you are - if you don't notice the flaws, or if they don't
show sufficiently on your output, then you'll be happy anyway. You
could try checking the specs of the top flatbeds from Agfa and
Umax to see what lower spec machines are missing. Resolution is
only a small part of measuring the quality.

I hope this helps


Tim Sheppard                    tim@lilliput-p.win-uk.net
Lilliput Press   -   Publisher of fine books in miniature
England                         http://www.lilliput.co.uk
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