Epson Perfection 2580
Whether you're a beginning user or a professional photographer who needs a second scanner at home for editing your party pictures, the Epson Perfection 2580 Photo will serve you well. It features a decent set of software tools, and the film autoloader is especially convenient for working with 35mm negatives. And at just $149 (list), this Epson leaves you with enough money to buy a printer or a sizable memory card.
The Perfection 2580's space-capsule-like silver-and-gray pebble finish is stylish, and its 10.8-by-16.5-inch footprint won't hog too much desk space. Epson built an autoloader into the lid for convenient 35mm film scanning. The package also includes a standard adapter for handling mounted slides and a USB cable for connecting the unit to either a Mac or a PC. Before you start, you'll need to install the driver and the EpsonScan utility, which provides an easy way of setting up scans based on your skill level.
If you're a digital-imaging newbie, you'll probably be happy using Full Auto mode, which requires no more effort than selecting Auto and clicking the Scan button. If you want to make some basic image adjustments, try the Home mode, which gives you options for fiddling with brightness, color, and resolution. The Professional mode gives you full control over the image size, the resolution, the color, and the exposure. You can also adjust sharpening, descreening (used for taking the half-tone dots out of magazine or newspaper pictures), and dust removal.
With an optical density of 3.2 and an optical resolution of 2,400dpi, the Perfection 2580 offers performance that would set you back a few hundred a couple years ago. Print scans came out fairly well, with even flesh tones and a relatively high level of image sharpness. While it's no match for a dedicated film scanner, the Perfection 2580 turned out decent 35mm scans--good enough for uploading to the Web or e-mailing to friends. And Epson gets bonus points for the convenient autoloader. You can also use the supplied adapter to scan mounted 35mm slides.
Family archivists will appreciate the dust-removal tool, which removed specks from negatives and transparencies with moderate success. However, using this tool triples your scanning time and will cost you a bit of sharpness. The Easy Photo Fix option does a pretty decent job of restoring a neutral color balance; it applies a preset color correction to compensate for the way prints tend to fade over time. It's not perfect, but it'll take a couple of years off your family treasures.
As for help options, you can install Epson's Smart Panel software, which displays a pop-up menu with eight button functions for scanning, OCR, basic image editing, and sharing pictures via the Epson Web site. This is a great newbie feature but one you will probably grow out of. You can access all the standard drivers and manuals at the Epson Web site. If you need additional help, you can call Epson's tech support Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT.