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Review of Epson V850 film scanner
Epson's latest 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
It's been a while since I last scanned some film, but I know that a lot of people are still enjoying it as part of their photography, particularly in larger formats where images can be captured in very great detail.
Epson's new scanner moves to LED lighting, giving a quick turn on and reducing heat in the moving parts of the scan mechanism.
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 (see links at the foot of the article for any we've been sent)
Features (from Epson)
The scanner has any moving parts 'locked' in place.
Lots of bits of tape to remove.
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).
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).
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 10x8), whilst below it is the white backing plate used for reflective scanning.
This just clips into place.
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.
Basic scanning with Epson's software
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.
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.
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.
For most people looking at the V850 however, it's film scanning that's of more interest.
The photo below shows three strips of six frames of black and white film loaded into the 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.
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.
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.
A larger view of some water worn rock in a stream in the Canadian Rockies.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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 ;-)
These rather dense slides from Yellowstone may not be great, but look a lot better than in the projector.
This view of Toronto (1994) from the CN Tower was from when I was in Canada for a conference.
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.
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).
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
Be sure to turn off colour controls for profiling (Epson Scan).
You also need an uncompressed TIFF file (even lossless compression is not supported for some reason).
The target is scanned at the appropriate resolution.
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.
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.
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).
i1Profiler can make very good profiles from the supplied targets, which can form part of a colour managed workflow.
Things to note though are:
Buying the Epson V850
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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...
How much trouble is the need to scan?
If you've just a few 120 negatives, or 5x4 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.
I hope this overview has been of interest - I'll add any more quantitative reviews I find to the links/references below.
Discuss this review with Keith in the comments section below or on Google+
Note that this group specifically includes scanned B&W film...
A4 flatbed scanner for reflective and transmissive media (6400 dpi optical resolution).
Supplied with film and slide holders for 25mm, 120, 5x4 and sheet film up to 10x8.
Includes SilverFast SE Plus 8 and i1Profiler with IT8-7 targets.
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