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Epson V850 film scanner review

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Review of Epson V850 film scanner

Epson’s premium flatbed film scanner



Keith Cooper has been looking at Epson’s V850 flatbed scanner, first announced at Photkina in September 2014.

Keith hasn’t used film for Northlight’s professional photography work for over 10 years, but does have an extensive collection of negatives and slides from the last century, before his move to digital.

This review is based on using the scanner on a Apple Mac Pro running OSX 10.9

This review is intended as an overview of the scanner’s capabilities using scans of some of my older photos, such as the view of Toronto at night (1994) from the top of the CN Tower. It’s from an Ektachrome slide. Given my lack of recent film experience, this isn’t a comparative review against other scan solutions, but I’m sure more quantitative studies will follow elsewhere.

toronto 94

What do you get with the V850

Features (from Epson)
  • Slides, film, medium format & prints
  • Dual lens system
  • Swaps between 6400 dpi for slides and film, and 4800 dpi for photos
  • High productivity
  • One second warm up time
  • Two sets of film holders. Improved film holders provide a greater degree of control and accuracy, as the height at which the film sits above the scanner bed can be finely adjusted to achieve the sharpest focus possible. The holders’ rigid frames, combined with anti-Newton ring plates, also gives a flatter hold for further quality improvements. The V850 Pro comes with two sets of film holders, meaning you can prepare a second set of originals for scanning while the first is still scanning, increasing your productivity.
  • Dynamic range accurately reproduce tonal range and gradation of the original
  • Removes imperfections – Digital ICE Technologies cleans-up old film and photos

See also: Epson’s V850 product page

Available at: Amazon.com B&H | Adorama | Amazon UK

In the Box

The scanner is well packed with very solid packaging.

Perfection V850 Pro packaging

The scanner has any moving parts ‘locked’ in place.

Lots of bits of tape to remove.

scanner secured for shipping

The transparency unit has a connector at the back which plugs into the base unit, as does the USB connection and external power supply (which also serves to keep excess heat out of the scanner).

scan lid raised on V850

Also in the box are two sets of film holders.

The second set (V850 only) allows you to be preparing a second set of film or slides, whilst the first set is being scanned.

Times vary, but 2-3 minutes for a 35mm slide at highest resolution is to be expected (longer if you want an infra-red scan too).

film and slide mounts supplied with scanner

You can see the ‘Anti Newton’ frosted film that holds film flat in the holder.

At the left, you can see the spacer bar that is used for larger sheets of film (up to 10×8), whilst below it is the white backing plate used for reflective scanning.

This just clips into place.

white backing plate for scanning

The scanner comes with Epson’s scanner software, along with a copy of SilverFast SE Plus 8 and X-Rite i1Profiler for scanner profiling.

I’ll look at the other software later, but have used Epson’s scan software for most testing.

supplied software

Basic scanning with Epson’s software

An admission…

I’ve not shot any film for over 10 years and from a working professional photographer’s point of view, have no great desire to ever do so again. However, I do have quite a collection of negatives and slides from the 20th century, of varying quality.

I’ll show some examples of slides, B&W film and some colour negative film to give a feel for how well the scanner performs.

I did think of shooting a roll or two of 120 film with my Mamiya 645 kit, but as someone who’s film experience is now quite some time ago, I realised that with the increased costs and availability of film and processing much reduced these days, it was going to be a lot of trouble for pretty minimal benefit…

If you are still an experienced film user, please see this review as just an overview – precise testing will have to wait for someone to get one of these scanners who is considerably more experienced with modern film scanning.

Used with care, Epson’s scanning software can give perfectly good results, and shows the functionality of the scanner very well.

The software downloads during installation, so the CD that you are supplied with doesn’t actually do much other than kick the process off.

There is however a problem in that you need to enter the model of the product that you are installing the software for.

However, unless you are pretty familiar with Epson’s product naming conventions, you may take a while.

problems in setting up software

I first tried V850, thinking that there would be some sort of search that would be slightly smart…

No luck. Not until I put in ‘Perfection V850 Pro’ was I able to proceed. Minus ten points for annoying the user Epson…

The software also installs a manual that can be read off-line. This is mostly fairly clear to read and well worth a browse.

I started off with some basic scanning – the outside of my fold-up business card.

A preview scan allows me to select a marquee outlining the scan area.

Scan preview

Detail shows ink dots.

I’ve applied a levels adjustment to expand contrast – you can do this before scanning in the Epson Scan software, although remember that clipping at any point in the scan process can’t be recovered.

magnified view of scan

For most people looking at the V850 however, it’s film scanning that’s of more interest.

Film scanning

The photo below shows three strips of six frames of black and white film loaded into the holder

loading film strips into scan holder

The spring clips hold the film in place – be careful to avoid finger marks on film when pressing the centre sections of the clips in place.

Also visible, are six height adjustment sliders (5 settings) that allow you to set the height of the film plane relative to the scanning mechanism (there are no references to this in the documentation as far as I could see).

The holder has two lugs that locate it in place.

film placed in scanner

The other size film holders also locate this way.

Here’s the preview of those images – I’ve rotated the frames to make it easier to see the images.

Some of the adjustments you can make before scanning.

Some of the images on this film, from a visit to Canada in 1994, are ones I’ve worked on in the past, both in the darkroom, and subsequently scanned with my Canon FS4000 dedicated film scanner, where I have some of the original scan files in our archive.

Here’s one of the shots using the V850, of ice at the toe of the Athabasca glacier – I suspect that if I stood at this spot today it would still be quite a walk to reach the current position of the ice.

ice at the toe of the Athabasca glacier

Detail in the shadows (thin areas of the negative) is very well held.

As would be expected from 20 year old negatives that have spent time in the darkroom and scanners, there was quite a bit of dust to remove…

Comparing a 100% crop of another image (L) with one from the FS4000 (R) shows the finer detail and shadow detail.

comparing scanner capabilities

There’s plenty of detail in the highlights too, as this extreme application of an adjustment curve shows (move your mouse over the image to see).

A larger view of some water worn rock in a stream in the Canadian Rockies.

water worn rocks

It was during scanning of another strip of film (from 1986) that I noticed that the auto frame selection was cropping the images excessively at the top and bottom of the film strip.

Unfortunately there seems to way to change this automatic ‘wide screen’ view?

auto frame detection gets it wrong

Thus, to get the full frame I had to go back and manually select the frame border.

You can see the crop if you compare the images above and below.

manual frame selection

A rotation and crop gets the image that’s been on the front page of the Northlight Images site since I first set it up.

house at Shingle street

The little house is at Shingle Street on the Suffolk coast.

This is an image I know well, and still have many original files from when I first worked on it.

Comparisons are very difficult to make, but this image gives a view of a sharpened FS4000 scan (lower right) and a reduced size (67%) sharpened scan from the V850 (top).

The larger blurred image (left) is the direct V850 output at 6400 dpi – but with no sharpening applied (the film was Ilford FP4).

The scan settings allow for variable amounts of sharpening.

The optimal amount (which could vary in different parts of the image) will depend on what you are doing with the scan afterwards.

This is as about as far as I want to take comparisons, since I’ve no knowledge of the precise scan setup used with the FS4000, and this is the image that formed the basis of a 79″ width print (printed on my Epson 9600).

  • Added notes – post publication: In the example above I show the sharpening set to Gaussian. I’ve since been told that ‘lens blur’ is more appropriate and that a deconvolution sharpener such as Focus Magic even better.
  • I have subsequently re-scanned the negative with the FS4000 and have some large 100% crop comparison images on my Google+ page
  • I also have a photo taken with a USB microscope of this part of the negative, which suggests that the V850 view of the grain is not quite so far out – Grain image on Google+
  • Using the FS4000 (with Vuescan) confirms my feelings that the V850 handles dynamic range noticeably better in a single scan, although the FS4000 has a naturally crisper output. Of course, it only does 35mm, so not much help if you use 120 film or larger.
  • I also found, in one of my drawers, a 21 step sensitivity guide (‘Dynachem’ Stouffer – based on GATF 215) I believe this has 0.15 density steps. It was scanned using the large film guide to hold it flat.
  • I don’t remember where the strip actually came from, but I include it here for those that know about such stuff ;-) …please do mail me if you have any comments about this?/li>
  • scan comparison article shows parts (100%) of the same image scanned with a V750, V850, FS4000, Imacon 949 and Heidelberg Tango drum scanner.

GATF 215 21 step test strip on Epson V850 - negative

GATF 215 21 step test strip on Epson V850 - positive

Note some ‘ghosting’ on the densest patches – I suspect this comes from the scanner glass? A test with it in the 35mm film holder shows no signs of this.

Contact sheets

If you have a clear wallet or some other means of storing your negatives, and it will fit the scan area, then you can do a low res (800 dpi) scan to create a contact sheet.

You may need to tweak exposure to get all the detail, but the frame numbers and film type are clearly visible.

negatives used to make a 'contact sheet'

Colour Negatives

I have numerous packets of prints and negatives from the 1980’s, so I picked a few to see how the scan software handled the orange film base colour (seen as blueish in this negative view).

Well it worked just fine, although just who these people with me (centre) are eludes me … posing for an album cover shot on the beach at Aberystwyth.

My wife wonders if now we have a photograph of it, can we throw away that jumper… no!

on the beach - album cover

With these negatives I tried out some of the dust removal options, which rely on an infra-red scan of the negative to spot dust/hairs etc.

The dust removal works well in places (move your mouse over the image to see) but was rather prone to producing image artefacts (note the odd shift in part of the image).

My suspicion is that automated dust removal is always going come second best to manually cloning/healing dust spots, and that you should take care to keep everything as clean as you can in the first place.

Transparencies

I’ve lots of slides in rotary magazines from the 70’s/80’s/90’s (I still have a working projector and screen), but I know from previous scanning attempts that image quality is not that great for many of them (I started my career as a photographer this century).

The holder takes up to 12 slides (Ektachrome here I believe)

Things worked better once I put them in the right way round (below) – note the reminder that text should be reversed

35mm slides loaded in scanner

Much as I keep all my RAW files today after download, it seems I used to keep all duff slides in their boxes, whilst the good ones went into the rotary magazines (old tip about looking a better photographer – only show your best shots to people ;-)

less than optimal slides

Some of the images above were badly underexposed, but the V850 was able to get ‘usable’ results from many.

The scanner software offers quite a few ‘fixes’ for images, such as colour restoration for this image at Weymouth (move your mouse over the image to see).

These rather dense slides from Yellowstone may not be great, but look a lot better than in the projector.

underexposed transparencies

This view of Toronto (1994) from the CN Tower was from when I was in Canada for a conference.

Toronto at night, 1994 view from CN tower

Scanning old 120 slides from the sixties

Karen (my wife and a subject in some of the photos) recently obtained a box of medium format slides from her father, taken in the 1960’s

I’ve just selected a few here (in different thicknesses of mount) and placed them directly on the scanner. As you can see, you can get quite a few on at once if need be.

large medium format colour slides from the 1960's ready for scanning

A quick preview scan and I’ve manually selected the areas for scanning. I’ve picked ‘only’ 2400 dpi since this gives ~5kx5k pixel images, or 140MB files at 16 bit.

The colours are faded, but it’s worth trying the built-in correction – move your mouse over the image to see the difference it makes.

Hopefully the examples here give a good overview of what the scanner can do.

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t use film any more, so can’t comment on changes from previous Epson film scanners (such as the V750).

Other scan software

A copy of SilverFastSE Plus 8 is included with the scanner. It is licensed with just the one scanner.

There is a more advanced version of the software available from the developers, although it’s by no means cheap, particularly if you have several different scanners (at 300 euros – or 130 euros for upgrade from the included s/w).

The software is something I’ve come across many times over the years, and to be quite honest, I’ve never really liked it. This is not so much a criticism of its capabilities, but more its design and interface, which I’ve never found intuitive to use. I mention this here, since I know that a lot of people -do- like using it, and if you get a V850, then you should give it a go.

One slight problem if you’ve a computer with no optical drive is this step during setup. Something I’ve not seen for years…

It is possible to get a diskless install, but it involves contacting SilverFast to get them to give you a new serial number.

Here’s a single strip of 35mm film previewed.

I’ve had to manually select the frame to be scanned at full resolution, although it is possible to store preset frames, and the software does include options for smarter image location.

preview scan of 35mm black and white film

The software offers a wide range of image adjustment and optimisation tools.

There is also a short printed manual – do read it to get a feel for how the software offers different workflow option. It’s a very different thing to load up a few strips of negatives to see what they’re like, and to spend time on getting the very best scan of just one frame.

A preview from a set of 35mm Ektachrome slides

preview scan of 12 35mm slides

I note that you have the option to directly share results to flickr and facebook – just why I’d want to share a 140MB scan file is not immediately obvious, but I suppose every bit of image software these days has to have a ‘share any old stuff’ option…

The scan quality was as good as I’d come to expect from the V850 (I didn’t look at SilverFast until after quite a bit of experimenting with the Epson software).

Other solutions

My scanner driver software of choice for many years has been Vuescan, which not only supports over 2500 scanners (at no extra cost), but is (very) regularly updated to ensure compatibility and enhance functionality. It happily drives my Canon FS4000 film scanner and even an ancient UMAX PowerLook III, driven via a firewire to SCSI converter.

Profiling with i1Profiler

The V850 is supplied with a copy of i1Profiler for scanners, along with reflective and transmissive IT8 calibration targets.

i1 Profiler is supplied with the scanner

I looked at this software in one of our i1Profiler reviews when scanner profiling was introduced, but only using a ColorChecker card for reflective scans.

The software supplied is several releases out of date, so I’d suggest going to X-Rite’s web site and downloading the latest version of i1Profiler right from the start [X-Rite i1Profiler support], although do note that the supplied serial number will only give you scanner profiling.

The software needs images at certain resolutions to automatically detect the targets.

i1 Profiler target patches detected

Be sure to turn off colour controls for profiling (Epson Scan).

turning off colour controls

You also need an uncompressed TIFF file (even lossless compression is not supported for some reason).

uncompressed TIFF files are needed

The target is scanned at the appropriate resolution.

creating a profiling target scan

Here, you can see a scan file that has worked with auto detection. The green squares are where the software will read data for profiling.

The software also wants a reference file for the target, to tell it what the actual values for the patches should be.

reference file information for scanner profiling

For some reason, my installation of i1Profiler didn’t have the up to date measurement files, so I had to get them from X-Rite.

loading reference files for profiling

Profiles are of use when making use of your scan files, although you’d normally then convert images to whatever working space you are using.

SilverFast and Vuescan have direct support for profiling built in, using the supplied targets, although the fact that the reference file for the reflective target is in the proprietary ‘.mrf’ format effectively makes it unusable for other software (.txt is needed).

It seems you can use the transparency target with Vuescan – see here for more details (thanks Matthias)

i1Profiler can make very good profiles from the supplied targets, which can form part of a colour managed workflow.

Things to note though are:

  • For transparencies, the best profiles are probably produced from targets created with the same film. This is particularly noticeable if you’re looking for the best results with large format transparencies (I believe the supplied targets are using Ektachrome). Specialist targets are available from a number of suppliers.
  • You can’t effectively profile colour negatives.
  • Some versions of i1Profiler have a bug in the scanner profiling section whereby any data values over 245 in the image file will crash the software stone dead. Make sure to crop tightly to avoid any white edges that might do this.

V850 Conclusions

Buying the Epson V850

We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying the V850, or any other items at all, via our link with Amazon.
Amazon UK link / Amazon Fr / Amazon De
Amazon USA link / Amazon Canada link

It won’t cost any more (nor less we’re afraid) but will contribute towards the running costs of our site.

 

Also available at: B&H and Adorama

During the testing for this review, I’ve scanned several hundred images in a variety of (mostly 35mm) formats.The scanner is capable of producing sharp detailed scans with its basic software or the additional SilverFast software provided.

It’s a solidly built bit of kit that used with care, can get the best out your film without breaking the bank.

The question I’ve most been asked about this scanner is ‘How fast is it?’

It’s a tricky one to answer since it depends on how many images you want to scan from whatever film you’ve loaded and at what resolution. It also depends on how much adjustment and correction you wish to apply to images – dust removal will virtually double the scan time per frame, which for 35mm was some 2-3 minutes for a single 35mm frame at full (6400) resolution.

I note the scan times listed in the specifications below, but consider them somewhat optimistic for real-world scanning. However, the ‘time remaining’ estimates you see when starting out a scan, are usually somewhat over estimated.

Dust is always a serious issue with film scanning and you will almost certainly have to spend time cleaning up results.

There is an optional fluid mounting kit for this scanner. This wasn’t available when I looked at the printer, but perhaps just as well given the scanner has to go back to Epson…

fluid mount for Epson scannerThe Epson Fluid Mount is designed to perform wet mount film scanning with the mount for select photo scanners. This system allows for additional scratch and dust removal, grain reduction on black and white films as well as scanning alternative film formats and for the avoidance of newton rings. It is compatible with V700 Photo, V750 Pro, V800 Photo, and V850 Pro Scanners.”

How much trouble is the need to scan?

If you’ve just a few 120 negatives, or 5×4 sheets, then the care needed to get great results is easily just a small part of the workflow. Similarly, producing overview scans of lots of slides or film strips is no great deal at modest resolutions (but get an interesting book to read).

Just don’t think that digitising thousands of slides or film strips will be anything but a mind numbingly tedious task – I find it a great encouragement to be more drastic in my editing of what is worth scanning at high res (YMMV).

The inclusion of i1Profiler reflective and transmissive profiling targets allow you to achieve consistent colour rendition, although to get the best from them you need to appreciate how best to use a colour managed workflow when dealing with film and where profiling offers the most benefits.

The supplied version of the software was several versions old, so might best be installed via a fresh download from X-Rite.

The automatic frame detection of the Epson software greatly speeds up quickly looking at strips of film, particularly if like me, your records from when you took them are not extensive. I’m unsure as to why it is consistently over-cropping the images, but could find no way of altering this.

The benefits of scanning at 6400 dpi were not always obvious over the slightly faster 4200 dpi scans, particularly since both are pushing the amount of detail in my B&W negatives, and certainly my colour slides. However, when I did work on one scan (the Athabasca glacier one) the higher resolution image was easier to upscale, when combined with selective sharpening and local contrast enhancement. It’s in trying this upscaling where I find the biggest difference between digital and film images, having produced large (>6 feet) prints from both.

I have considerably more experience (and tools) in Photoshop, so would prefer to use the scanner to acquire as good a basic image as possible and adjust overall image tonality, sharpness or cropping later on in the process. I’m no more looking for the scanner software to ‘correct’ my scans than I am for my camera to apply ‘picture styles’ to my images. Just what works best for your own workflow is something you’ll have to experiment with – for example in my digital work, I just don’t find Adobe Lightroom of any benefit whatsoever, yet I’ll still recommend it as something to look at when people are looking to improve or refine their workflow.

Available at: Amazon.com B&H | Adorama | Amazon UK

Follow up Information

After this review I was asked if one of my negatives could be scanned on some other scanners. I’ve written up a short scan comparison article showing parts of the same image scanned with a V750, V850, FS4000, Imacon 949 and Heidelberg Tango drum scanner.

Summary

A4 flatbed scanner for reflective and transmissive media (6400 dpi optical resolution).

Supplied with film and slide holders for 25mm, 120, 5×4 and sheet film up to 10×8.

Includes SilverFast SE Plus 8 and i1Profiler with IT8-7 targets.

Specifications
Scanner 
Scanner typeFlatbed Scanner
Scanning Resolution6,400 DPI (Horizontal x Vertical)
Optical Density4 Dmax
Paper FormatsA4
Colour DepthInput: 48 Bits Colour, Output: 48 Bits Colour
Light SourceWhite LED, IR LED with ReadyScan LED Technology
Scanning MethodFixed documents and moving carriage
Scan speed 
Reflective scanningColour (speed/best): 12/15 s/page, A4 Preview: 6 s/page ,
Film scanning35mm negative film, 4800 dpi:  59 s – Best, 35mm negative film, 2400 dpi:  32 s – Best, 35mm positive film, 4800 dpi:  66 s – Best, 35mm positive film, 2400 dpi:  37 s – Best
Scanning Features 
Image ImprovementGrain reduction, Dust removal, Print Image Matching II, Colour palette tool for Easy Colour Fix, Backlight Correction, Colour Restoration, Unsharp Mask with Noise Reduction, De-Screening with Document Type Optimiser, Digital ICE Technologies (for film and photo)
Connectivity
InterfacesHi-Speed USB – compatible with USB 2.0 specification
General
Supply Voltage (UK)AC 220 V – 240 V,50 Hz – 60 Hz
Energy Use23 Watt (Operation), 12 Watt (ready), 1.5 Watt (sleep mode)
Product dimensions503‎ x 308 x 152 mm (Width x Depth x Height)
Product weight6.6 kg
Included SoftwareEpson Copy Utility, Epson Event Manager, Epson Scan
Compatible Operating SystemsMac OS 10.6+, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Vista
Electrical StandardsEnergy Star Compliant
HumidityOperation 10% – 80%, Storage 10% – 85%
TemperatureOperation 5° C – 35° C, Storage -25° C – 60° C
What’s in the boxAC adapter, Driver and utilities (CD), Main unit, Power cable, Setup guide, Software (CD), USB cable, Warranty document
Other areas of our site that may be of interest...

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We've a whole section of the site devoted to  Digital Black and White photography and printing. It covers all the specialist articles and reviews written by Keith Cooper.

There is a gallery of landscape photography and fine art prints.

 


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