Price When Reviewed: £859 plus VAT
Epson has earned a good reputation for its high-quality scanners. The Epson Expression 1600 in particular impressed us greatly and won a Digit Best Buy on the basis of its high-resolution, top-quality images and general ease of use. Building on that legacy, Epson has introduced the next generation of flatbed scanners with the launch of the Epson Expression 1680 series. While sharing the same 1,600-x-3,200dpi optical resolution as the 1600, the Expression 1680 Pro ups the stakes by offering 48-bit scans and a dynamic range of 3.6 – well over the 1600’s already high 3.3. It’s the combination of bit depth and higher dynamic range that makes this scanner a suitable tool for professional graphic artists and photographers. Compared with a scanner that can capture 24-bit RGB images, where each colour channel contains 256 possible levels, the Expression 1680’s 48-bit file sees each channel contains 65,536 possible levels. This equates to more detail being captured, particularly in the darker areas of an image. The Epson Expression 1680 Pro’s dynamic range of 3.6D will also appeal to those users who need to scan film. Unlike prints, where the overall difference in light levels reflected vary slightly resulting in a dynamic range of, say, 2.0, film can have a density range of up to 3.5. To that end, the 1680 Pro version comes with an robust transparency adaptor as standard that features an 8-x-10 inch scanning area, and a well-designed set of film holders for various-size film formats. The 1680’s scan quality, like that of its predecessor the Expression 1600, is excellent with accurate, vibrant colours, and sharp detail maintained across highlights and shadows. Although the 1680 Pro has a dual-interface (USB and SCSI), it ships with just a USB cable which we used to test the unit. The results were more than satisfactory. A 5-x-7 colour print scanned at 24-bit and 300dpi previewed in just under seven seconds and a scan obtained in one minute 25 seconds. The scanner created a scan of a 35mm slide at 24-bit, 1,600dpi in 60 seconds. Using a SCSI connection should improve these times and a FireWire (IEEE 1394) version of the Expression 1680 Pro is available for those who require their images scanned at the double. Be prepared to pay an extra £195 plus VAT for the privilege. What’s really impressive with this scanner is the generous software bundle it ships with. These include LaserSoft SilverFast Ai5, Xerox Textbridge Classic, Presto PageManager, Epson TWAIN Pro 2 (and its network-capable client version) and Adobe Photoshop 5.0 LE. The latter choice seems a little redundant as most buyers of this scanner who are interested in 48-bit scans will no doubt already have a full copy of the latest version. The inclusion of SilverFast Ai5 is of particular interest for pros. This powerful scanning and image-processing application offers advanced colour management features, and the ability to perform corrections with a preview in real-time. The Epson Expression 1680 Pro’s build quality is impressive, and the scanner was easy to set up and operate. Switching between the document cover and the transparency adaptor was straightforward and, if the 1680 is connected directly to your computer, you can launch straight into Epson TWAIN Pro by pressing the scanner’s large Start button. The 1680 Pro is a good choice for graphic professionals who demand top-quality reflective and transparency scanning. The only disadvantage is the cost. At £859 plus VAT (or £649 without the transparency adaptor), this scanner costs several hundred pounds more than the similarly spec’d Microtek ScanMaker 8700 or HP ScanJet 7450c.