Over the last few months I’ve really got back into photography using film and thought it was time I got myself a scanner so I could experiment with digitising some of the pictures I’ve taken. Although we have an HP photosmart C8180 combined scanner, printer & copier it isn’t possible to control any aspect of the scanning – you just place the film in the holder and JPEG files get copied to an SD card. This works to an extent, but is no good with any negatives which aren’t perfectly exposed because the dark areas are then very noisy.
For the colour films I’ve exposed over the last few weeks I’ve been using a development service in Hull called Photo Express who do a really good job of developing and will also scan the films as well. Although they can produce TIFF files, the default is to produce JPEGs with TIFF files an extra £2, so I started to think about the cost of this. Scanning each film costs £4.50 when scanned as TIFF and the Epson v550 scanner is about £170 so would pay for itself after about 40 films, however that’s only part of the story.
At some time in the future, I want to get a medium format camera and will need some method for digitising the pictures. Also, I develop black & white film myself so having a scanner is useful for those situation as well, although I have used a slide duplicator in the past for that with reasonable success. Finally I still have a whole batch of colour slides and negative film which my Dad took in the past 50 years to digitise as well.
So, since it was my Birthday last week I put the Epson Perfection v550 on my Amazon wish list and hoped that it would turn up – and by the wonders of the Internet (and my wife) it did. These therefore are my first impressions of the scanner, the software and a few samples of scans with it.
The Epson Perfection v550 Photo is a flat bed scanner which is suppled with holders for 35mm film strips, 35mm slides and medium format film. It’s therefore possible to scan both pictures and film although the film holders seem quite flimsy. In fact, just after I’d received the scanner I did a quick search to see if replacements are available because I was worried they could be damaged. There are replacements, but at a price of about 20 Euro + shipping I think I need to be careful to keep the ones supplied in good condition!
One of the features I liked, and the main reason I thought the v550 would be good, was the ability to carry out an Infra Red scan which is supposed to find scratches and dust on the negatives and allow them to be eliminated from the final scan. This is important if it works because a lot of the slides and film of my Dad’s has not been looked after and is in a pretty mucky state. Every blemish removed by the scanning process is a bit less work to do in photoshop later.
In use I’ve found the scanner to be remarkably quiet – it’s easy to have it running while you are doing something else on the computer because it is so quiet. For the record I’m running a 2011 iMac with 12G ram and found the installation process to be easy and straight forward.
The thing I was initially interested in was whether the scans produced would be good enough to be used in place of the results I’m getting from the lab. I have to say that I’m amazed at how good the unit is. The results below are taken from a set of negatives I recently shot using my Pentax SFX-n whilst we were on holiday in Gloucestershire. I’ve scanned the negatives in TIFF format and then taken a JPEG copy of the file just after import into Lightroom. I then did exactly the same with the files I already had from the scans the lab supplied (which were also scanned in TIFF format). In the gallery below the first image in every case is from the v550 and the second is from the lab. I guess all these type tests are subjective, but in my view the first file shows more detail in shadow areas and the highlights are less blown, although the colours are slightly more muted. I’ve also found that the default scan area using the epson software is slightly cropped. I would recommend looking at these pictures in full screen to properly gauge the scans yourself (the full sized versions are here – use the arrow keys to navigate or click each picture for the next)
Epson Scan software
The epson scan software is supplied with the scanner and is easy enough to use to scan both negatives and slides. I’ve also looked as a couple of alternatives called VueScan and Silverfast and downloaded some demo versions of those.
At the moment I’ve found the IR scanning to not work very well using the default Epson software but have found it to be more successful using VueScan. The Silverfast software has not been terribly successful on my Mac because it has crashed when making a second scan to reduce noise. I’ve going to carry on experimenting with all the software packages now I know that the scanner itself is capable of good results.