After a printer, I would say that a flatbed scanner is typically the next most important part of a PC-user’s setup. Of course, how essential you regard this bit of kit largely depends on your requirements. For instance, if you’re just scanning in run of the mill text documents then a top of the range scanner is not really needed. However, if like me you have more than a passing interest in photography then a scanner such as this Epson Perfection 3170 photo will surely appeal to you. The reason? Well, not only can it perform everyday scanning tasks, but it can also be used to scan photographic film from a range of formats.
I have to admit that I use one of Epson’s Perfection scanners at home and I’ve been impressed with the results from that. However, I wasn’t so keen on the external film adapter that I had to plug in every time I wanted to scan in my negatives and transparencies. This has all changed now, and the 3170 comes complete with the film adapter built into the removable lid. As you can see from the images, this film adapter basically consists of a light diffusing strip that runs along the lid’s length. Behind this is a secondary light that shines through the film ready for when the six-line CCD sensor travels underneath the glass document table in a single pass.
In order for the film to be positioned correctly, Epson has included three film holders. One for scanning up to 12 35mm negatives, another for four slides/transparencies, and a final one for a single medium format (120/220 or 6 x 9cm) frame.
Loading these was relatively easy but if you get stuck the excellent CD-based documentation gives clear explanations on what to do. Furthermore, remember to plug the cable that protrudes from the lid into the main base of the 3170, otherwise you’ll get nowhere. For storage, two of the holders can be tucked away behind the sponge-backed A4 document cover (see picture).
Before I get onto any results let’s take a closer look at the features. First up, Epson claims a top optical resolution of 3,200 x 6,200 dpi. I always take this with a pinch of salt as resolution largely depends on the optical quality of the lens. That said, it certainly needs to be a relatively high-resolution scanner in order for detail to be resolved from media such as 35mm film. It’s also a 48bit scanner, which literally means you have a 16bit analogue to digital converter addressing each of the three RGB primary colours. This should allow for better shadow detail and smoother tonal ranges. There’s no FireWire interface, but a USB 2.0 port and the necessary cabling are supplied.
Around the front of the unit you’ve got four buttons. These include a scan to web function that, when pressed, scans an image and then uploads it to the Epson photo-sharing site. The scan to email button works in a similar shortcut fashion and you can even choose which mail program to use if you have more than one installed.
Of the two remaining buttons one activates the copying function - with an interface that actually looks like a photocopier’s – whereas the other is of course Epson’s familiar start button which can be assigned to any of the 10 programs found in the Smart Panel by simply selecting one from a drop down menu.
However, it’s worth noting that under Windows XP I had to manually assign the Epson Smart Panel applet to each of these four buttons before they would launch the programs.