As I shoot a fair amount of film I clearly need a scanner to get them in a form I can manipulate and upload to share with a wider audience. Because I don’t have the facilities to do my own printing that means scanning film, either negatives or positives, so I need a scanner with a film unit, since an ordinary flatbed isn’t suitable. For the last few years I’ve been using an Epson Perfection 1650 Photo which has a built in 35mm film unit. While adequate for casual use, since I’ve become more focused on film photography and been going through my archives I’ve found it lacking in a couple of ways – noise and speed. Also, as it is only equipped for 35mm film, my increasing use of medium format has hit another deficiency. Even using a home-made film support the scanner cannot scan the full width of a strip of 120. It might just manage a 6×4.5 frame, but as I shoot 6×6 or larger this means that for most of my films I have to scan each frame twice, and stitch the two halves together.
Here’s an example of a frame from my Bronica S2A scanned with the 1650. The noise problem is most obvious on the left – it’s not so much the level of noise but that it forms stripes in the direction of scanning, which are much more distracting than purely random noise. The speed issue is also worse for medium format, scanning a negative twice the size of a 35mm frame obviously takes twice as long, but on top of that I have to scan it again, and then spend time stitching, so from starting the scan to editing the photo takes more like 5 times as long.
This was getting frustrating, and I’ve been looking at replacing the 1650 for some time. I finally settled on the Epson Perfection V500 Photo, because it scans up to 6×12 out of the box, but without breaking the 200 quid barrier. The V700 or V750 would offer more future scanning options (up to 4×5″ or larger) and scan more frames at once, but both cost a bit too much more. Looking at the spec I didn’t see a big enough difference between the V500 and the upcoming V600 to justify the extra money.
So how does it perform? Well it’s much, much faster. The combination of LED light sources and USB2 means it starts up instantly, and scans much faster. The bundled TWAIN software is also much improved replacing an exposure slider with a histogram with fully adjustable white-point, black-point and gamma sliders and greatly improving the control of all aspects of the scan. The thumbnail detection is also much more effective especially for 35mm slides – although it doesn’t cope very well with the square frames of my family archive of 126 Kodachromes – for 6×6 it crops a bit too tightly. Here’s the same negative of the robot scanned with the V500.
The noise is much better – it’s there but none of the striping. In a high resolution scan, the whole tonal range of the negative can be captured in one go, a massive improvement on the 1650.