Ever since I bought my first flatbed scanner, I thought it would be great if I could digitally archive my stack of old film prints to create a permanent and easily accessible image library for my friends and family to see. Well, I’m now on my third scanner and still no closer to achieving that goal, simply because it takes so long to place each photo face down onto the flatbed glass then scan, straighten, edit and finally save the image to the hard disk. To put it in perspective, a single scan of a standard 15 x 10cm (6 x 4in) print at a modest 300dpi takes me about two minutes from start to finish with my current set-up. Multiply that by my numerous photos and it soon becomes clear why my digital archive remains incomplete.
So, wouldn’t it be great if the whole process could be automated in some way? This is where the new HP Scanjet 5530 Photosmart scanner comes in. The 5530's lid cleverly integrates an Automatic Photo Feeder (APF) that allows you to scan up to 24 photos at a time at the touch of a button. Photos are automatically fed across the scanner glass on a cushion of air (generated by two small fans housed in the lid) before popping out at the other end of the scanner lid.
This layer of air protects the photos from damage by the scanner’s mechanics as well as friction from the flatbed glass, although HP advises against using the APF to scan fragile, irreplaceable or damaged photos. The 5530 also comes with a separate plug-in Transparent Material Adapter (TMA) for scanning 35mm negatives and slides but disappointingly not medium format film. All this imaging wizardry comes at a price though, as the 5530 is a fairly chunky (yet well built) piece of equipment measuring in at 312 x 545 x 173mm (WxHxD).
As for connectivity, the 5530 has a high speed USB 2.0 connection (cable included) and is both PC and MAC compatible, although there’s no FireWire interface. The step-by-step instruction sheet makes setting up the scanner a straightforward affair and the HP Photo & Imaging software installed first time without a hitch. As well as the TWAIN scanner driver, the comprehensive suite of HP software includes Photo and Imaging Director which controls all major functions and Photo & Imaging Gallery for viewing photos and carrying out basic image editing. HP also bundles several other applications including ArcSoft's Collage Creator software, ReadIris Pro 8 for optical character recognition (OCR) and a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0.
The 5530 features a 2,400 x 4,800dpi optical resolution and an internal 48bit colour depth. On the front panel, six separate task buttons provide shortcuts to some of the ‘Scan’, ‘Copy’ and ‘Share’ software functions that are present in the Photo and Imaging Director applet. By default, images scanned using the supplied HP software are converted to 24bit data before being transferred to the computer. However, this can be overridden if you prefer working with the original 48bit files, especially if you like using the TWAIN driver in a 48bit compatible software package such as Photoshop.
One thing I found particularly annoying when using the TWAIN driver was that it automatically closed once it finished a single scan instead of prompting you for additional media (except when scanning from the Automatic Photo Feeder). So if you’ve got lots of pictures or documents that you want to manually scan into a third party graphics package, you’ll have to re-open the TWAIN driver and re-select your scan settings each time. Another minor irritation is that the TWAIN driver automatically performs a reflective preview scan each time you open it, even if you intend to scan slides or negatives using the plug-in TMA. Overall though, we found the HP software suite quite easy to use and it can also give you control over how the final image is scanned.