Graphic Arts: PowerLook looks good – UMAX Technologies’ PowerLook 3000 flatbed scanner – Hardware Review

Graphic Arts: PowerLook looks good – UMAX Technologies’ PowerLook 3000 flatbed scanner – Hardware Review – Evaluation

Bruce Fraser

Action continues to be fast and furious in the less-than-$10,000 flatbed scanner market. UMAX Technologies Inc.’s latest offering, the $6,995 PowerLook 3000, boasts a better spec than anything we’ve seen in this price range, with true optical maximum resolutions of 3,048 by 3,048 dpi and a dMax (maximum black) of 3.6. Specs only tell part of the story, however. While the hardware is immensely capable, the MagicScan driver software leaves something to be desired.

The PowerLook 3000 has a high enough resolution and a wide enough dynamic range to handle originals as small as 35mm slides or as large as 8-by-10-inch transparencies with no loss of quality. The maximum scan area is 8.5 by 11.7 inches for reflective and transmissive originals, but the 3,048-by-3,048-dpi resolution only works on a 3.4-inch-wide strip of the scanning bed. For the full scan area, the resolution is 1,220 by 3,048 dpi – still good enough for anything larger than medium-format film – through the use of a dual-lens system like the one UMAX pioneered with the Gemini scanner.

But the PowerLook 3000 has an innovation of its own: Unlike most flatbed scanners that move the scan head along the length of the bed, the entire optical chain is fixed, and the scan bed moves the original past the scanning head. While this increases the footprint of the scanner – you must leave a 14-inch space for the bed to travel – the results are excellent, comparable to flatbed scanners with price tags well into the five-figure range.

Software shortcomings

The downside to all this? MagicScan 4.1, the scanner control software, doesn’t live up to the promise of the hardware. MagicScan functions as either a Photoshop plug-in or a stand-alone application. As the former, it works reasonably well with Photoshop 4.0x, but it’s not ready for Photoshop 5: Unless you have the RGB Setup set to Monitor RGB (which is a bad idea for several reasons), the color you see in the plug-in will be quite different from what arrives in Photoshop. This isn’t entirely UMAX’s fault, nor is MagicScan the only scanner plug-in with this problem. But if you’re using Photoshop 5, trying to make tone and color corrections in the plug-in is basically a waste of time.

MagicScan uses the old Kodak-based MagicMatch color management technology, which is not usable with Photoshop 5, and in any case is a primitive technology. As a stopgap measure, UMAX included the Apple ColorSync plug-ins for Photoshop, along with some generic ColorSync profiles for the scanner, but those only let you postprocess the data, not scan into a defined color space.

A better approach with Photoshop 5 is to transfer the raw high-bit data into Photoshop. MagicScan supports this quite well, particularly when you use one of the supplied film holders. The package includes single-frame holders for 6-by-9cm and 4-by-5-inch film, a six-up holder for mounted slides, and a 12-up holder for uncut 35mm film strips. When you use one of the film holders, MagicScan automatically sets the preview area and crop (though we often had to fine-tune the cropping). With 35mm film, you can fill one of the film holders, set the crop and resolution for each frame, then walk away and let the PowerLook write the high-bit data to disk or transfer it directly to Photoshop.

The other work flow supported by the PowerLook 3000 package is to use Binuscan Inc.’s PhotoPerfect Master, an intelligent agent that performs automatic tone and color correction including optional conversion to CMYK for a variety of printing conditions. If you like the automatic color corrections and color separations that this produces, you’ll find they’re even better with the PowerLook 3000 than with other UMAX scanners it supports, simply because the PowerLook 3000 gives PhotoPerfect much better data to work with.

The software bundle includes Live Picture 2.6, Xerox’s TextBridge OCR software and Adobe Photoshop 4 LE.

Conclusions

The PowerLook 3000 offers quite a lot for the money, but the hardware is most exciting. It produces results that compare favorably with those of dedicated film scanners costing more than $10,000, and even on 35mm originals it does a better job than any dedicated 35mm scanner available. Our only reservation: With this generation of MagicScan, it’s not always easy to tap the power of the scanner hardware.

UMAX Technologies Inc. of Fremont, Calif., is at (510) 651-4000 or (800) 562-0311; fax (510) 651-8834; http://www.umax.com.

PowerLook 3000

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UMAX Technologies Inc. List price: $6,995

Hits: Excellent hardware; handles 35mm slides to letter-size prints or transparencies with no loss of quality; good batch-scanning features.

Misses: MagicScan scanner control software is usable but not as strong as the hardware; hard to integrate into Photoshop 5 work flows.

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