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Microtek ScanMaker 6800
Digital ICE is cool, but use it wisely
ScanMaker 6800
Microtek
Windows 98SE/2000/Me/XP, Macintosh OS 9.x or later
My grandparents had their 50th wedding anniversary a few years ago, and I found myself charged with scanning one of the few surviving photos of their wedding day to make a card for them. The photo was far from ideal; aside from a bit of water damage, there were several creases ranging in size from tiny to massive, as well as a tear. Over the course of a week, I spent much of my spare time carefully repairing that image in Photoshop until the version on my screen looked almost flawless.

I was really proud of my work on that picture, so I felt a little twinge when I learned of the Microtek ScanMaker 6800. The scanner includes a feature called Digital ICE (Image Correction and Enhancement, licensed from Applied Science Fiction), which aims to automatically correct tears, creases and wrinkles in photos—a digital Botox, as it were.

Up until now, Digital ICE has only appeared in film scanners. It works by scanning an extra channel of information, on top of the usual red, green, and blue channels: what Applied Science Fiction call a D (for defect) channel. What that means in practical terms is that the scanner lamp makes an extra pass after it scans the image in order to figure out what and where an image's physical defects are. The data is then processed and the defects are repaired before passing the image information on to the computer.

Microtek have the ScanMaker 6800 pegged as a corporate/midrange scanner, no doubt due to its price tag; its other features, like 4800 x 2400 dpi resolution, 48-bit colour, transparency scanning, and high-speed USB 2.0 scanning are all shared to varying degrees with less expensive scanners in their SOHO category. (But unlike those other models, the ScanMaker 6800 also has FireWire connectivity.) However, I can see the prospect of automatic defect correction being a draw for people who manage large photo collections of varying quality—genealogy enthusiasts come immediately to mind, for instance, especially since Digital ICE only works on photographs, not printed matter.

To activate Digital ICE, you have to use Microtek's ScanWizard software in Advanced mode; there's a simple checkbox for it under all the other options on the left-hand control panel.

I took a 4'' x 7'' glossy photo of my son Max and tore it twice, once horizontally and once vertically, then scanned it at 300 dpi without Digital ICE; it took 25 seconds. When I turned Digital ICE on, ScanWizard took 7 minutes and 15 seconds, thanks to the extra pass and processing time. When I looked at the two resulting images in Photoshop at 25% of its full size, the corrected image looked good as new—depending on where I looked. Even at that size, there was a ghost of the vertical tear that started at the couch and ended in Max's hair; it wasn't as jarring as the original tear, but it was still obvious that something was there. The horizontal tear went through his arm, but it wasn't until I bumped the zoom up to 33% that I noticed the blurry distortion where the tear had run along the top of his arm. These are both nitpicks: only absolute sticklers for detail would have noticed these glitches, and even then probably only if they were looking for them. It should also be noted that most of the "ghost tears" were undetectable unless I specifically zoomed in close to look for them.

I tried repairing the problem areas on my own, and produced better results than the Digital ICE feature did in about five minutes. But if I had done the whole thing by hand, it would have taken much more time than using the scanner—I would have also had to repair the parts the scanner handled perfectly. Subsequent tests with tears followed pretty much the same pattern. If I had had the option of using a ScanMaker 6800 when I was working on my grandparents' photo, I likely would have done a combination of both methods—using Digital ICE to correct most of the image, and cleaning up problematic areas myself.

I also tested Digital ICE on two photos with creases, rather than outright tears, and they were handled perfectly. My last test was on an old passport photo with an embossed stamp on it, which produced only a minor artifact that I corrected in seconds.

Despite its capabilities the Digital ICE feature isn't perfect, but if you've got a stack of less than perfect photos to scan, the time savings will probably be worth the premium you'll pay for it.

Originally appeared in The Computer Paper (September 2003)
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