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Canon CanoScan 8600F

>> Friday, January 9, 2009

Quality that blew away the competition in the 8400F's day is no longer as impressive. On top of that, the 8600F costs 20 percent more than the 8400F, which means it has to do better to match it on bang for the buck. The good news is that the 8600F does do better. The 8600F's claimed optical resolution of 4,800 pixels per inch is significantly higher than the 8400F's 3,200 ppi, and the actual ability to resolve detail which is usually limited by a scanner's optics rather than its ppi rating is improved as well.

The difference isn't dramatic, but if you look at images of the same photo scanned by both models side by side, the 8400F's scan shows slightly softer focus and a little less detail. More important, the 8600F scan quality compares well with that of its current competition. Setting up the 8600F is absolutely standard install the software and then plug in the power cord and USB cable.

The bundled software includes both Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 and ArcSoft PhotoStudio 5.5 for photo editing, NewSoft Presto! PageManager 7.15 for document management, and ScanSoft OmniPage SE 4.0 optical character recognition (OCR) software for converting scanned documents to editable text. The installation program also installs Twain and WIA drivers, so the scanner can work with almost any Microsoft Windows program with a scan command.

You can also call up Canon's scan control software to start a scan, or use one of the six scan buttons on the front of the scanner. The button choices include scanning directly to PDF format, your email program, or your printer. All of these options are easy to use, with the Twain driver offering a Simple mode, which handles most things automatically, and an Advanced mode that gives you much more control.

One of the features I've long appreciated in Canon scanners is backlight correction, which lets you easily fix photos which have, for example, a darkened face against a bright background. The option lets you bring out detail in the face simply by turning the backlight correction on, instead of having to experiment with adjusting settings by hand. The 8600F driver offers three levels of correction.

When you change settings, it shows the effect on the preview scan, so you can pick the best choice before scanning. The driver also includes software based options to restore color to faded photos and remove dust and scratches. The color restoration and dust removal worked reasonably well in my tests. But like almost all similar features other than the hardware based (and expensive) Digital ICE, the software didn't do much to remove the scratches on my test photo, and the dust removal also mistook some fine details for dust.

That's not unusual, but it makes the feature a mixed blessing. Otherwise, the 8600F's scan quality for both photographic prints and film was more than acceptable, certainly good enough to print for friends and family as snapshots. Skin tone shading was smoother than on some other inexpensive scanners such as the Epson Perfection V350, and no worse than a match for others, including the HP Scanjet G4050.

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