6.17.2012

Window Light in the Early Evening. Some thoughts about scanners.

Scanned from a Kodachrome. Shot on a Canon film Camera with one of the 
First Tamron SP normal focal length zooms.  Something like a 35-80mm.
Scanned on a cheapo flatbed scanner.

I'm going through old slides and making scans for myself. I've owned Nikon dedicated film scanners (both medium format and 35mm) and I've had plenty of film drum scanned but for some reason I prefer to do my own stuff on a cheap, non-prestigious, Epson flat bed scanner.  We're talking here about a scanner that currently sells for around $180.

The machine is smaller than other scanners I've owned and sits on the right hand side of my desk in a constant state of readiness.  The machine's full name is Epson Perfection V500 Photo.  It won't scan 4x5 inch film but will do most conventional medium format formats and it will scan 35mm transparencies and negatives.  Film  holders are supplied for 120mm film and 35mm film in most of its permutations.

The slide above was taken in mixed light.  It's a Kodachrome 64 slide. How difficult and time consuming is it to make an image like the one above?  Let's see.  I put the slide holder on the glass surface of the scanner.  There's guide indention on the scanner body that matches up with the holder. Very straightforward.  The slide holder has four squares in which to drop your slide, still in slide mount. Close the top, open the Epson scan software, click in the film type (trans or neg; color or black and white) decide on the bit depth you need (24 or 48) determine the size you'd like the the image to end up at (dimensions and DPI) then hit preview.  You can zoom in on the image in the preview window.  Once you see the image large you can more accurately crop and adjust.

I go into the curves menu and set the white point and black points on the represented histogram.  If the color needs to be tweaked I go into the color adjustment menu and play around with the R, G, & B sliders till I get what I want.  There are also menus for saturation, contrast and exposure.  In the curves menu I can also set how I want the toe and shoulder of the film to look = soft, rounded curves or straight overly accurate curves.

When I have everything hunky dory in the different corrections menus I go back to the main menu and set the amount of unsharp masking I want and whether I want the canned "color restoration" to kick in.  Then I hit "scan."

I can't use the Digital Ice dust removal with traditional black and white film or with Kodachrome slides. Something to do with the physical topology of the film so I leave these controls unchecked.  It does mean that I'll inevitably be doing some retouching to the files to remove dust spots before I use the images.  So, a straight scan of a film from a slide done at 6000 by 4000 pixels (final size) takes about three minutes.

I hear all kinds of nonsense from people about what's needed  for good scans.  There is a camp that believes flat bed scanners are incapable of doing usable work.  There's another camp that's seen good scans from flat bed scanners but believes that you need to pull slides out of their cardboard mounts and coat them with oil before you can get a good scan and then there's the group that believes the scanners may be usable but only when paired with really good and really expensive software.  Almost as though you have to pass an initiation to join in the cult of scanning.

I don't fall into any of those camps.  I routinely scan all kinds of stuff on the Epson and I'm always able to use the output to deliver jobs or to make prints from it for shows and portfolios.  If you are unable to get a good scan on an Epson V500 or V700 I believe you might be over-thinking the process.  The most important thing is to explore the software thoroughly and trust your perceptions.

The native resolution of the scanner is 4800 dpi.  That means a full scan of a medium formatsquare negative or trans scan is 12,000 by 12,000.  And you can make that scan as a 48 bit file if you are willing to save it as a Tiff.  But I'll tell you right now that this will be one monstrously big file....

If my math is correct you should be able to generate a medium format scan that measures 40 by 40 inches at 300 dpi.  That's pretty darn good.  35mm scans clock in at about 7200 pixels and can make a print, at native resolution of the scanner, equal to 16 by 24 inches at 300 dpi.

My needs aren't that radical and my expectations are that the machine will deliver files for good display of 35mm stuff on the web or on an iPad while the files from medium format film will be good for prints up to 20 by 20 inches. Given that I've been sharing images with you for years which come from this scanner, without any complaints on my part or on your behalf I'd say I'm get pretty good performance from a $180 device that comes with its own software drivers.

I have used Silverfast and VueScan and I like the bundled Epson software best. The other two may be wonderful for people who are really, really interested in scanning and it might get you an extra one or two percentage increase in quality but I'm happy with the straightforward simplicity of Epson's solution.  I am running it on OS 10.7.4 on a MacBook Pro.  Takes a couple of minutes to launch and then it's fast and crash free.

The scanner will allow you to load four mounted slides for scanning and let you preview the four, crop them, color correct and size each on individually and then allow you to batch scan all four without mediation.

If you have a big inventory of  MF slides, can't afford to just dump them on the desk of a scanning supplier and write a check, and are mostly interested in printing and sharing the images you should look at a machine like this one.  If you need ultimate image quality for a big ad client you'll be better off having service drum scan your image.  At least then you've covered part of your ass when people start looking for who to blame in the production phase.

In all seriousness though,  I used to hear that clients would never use digital images from digital cameras for XXXX reasons.  Then I heard the same thing about cheap scanners.  But I've got to tell you it's just not true.

Here's the drill:  launch app > install correct film holder > choose film type > choose preview > Choose zoom > crop > color correct >  choose size (geometrical) and bit dept (24 or 48)  > engage restore color  (matter of taste) > push scan.  A window will pop up asking you where and how to save the file.  Once scanned take the image into PhotoShop and retouch out the dust and scratches in the method of your preference.  Scan one time as big as you ever think you'll need and resize and save copies for other uses.  Kinda fun to be able to engage your film files for the greater good of the universe and your artistic sharing.














20 comments:

Bold Photography said...

Sheesh - a $150 scanner can't *possibly* be any good...

lol...

Even scanning technology has gotten exciting these days... what a fun time to be a photographer!

Billy said...

RE Multiple camps for scanners...
So it's just like any other area of photography? Purists, elitists, hobbyists etc.

I love scanning 617 velvia.

Craig Yuill said...

Twelve years ago I bought one of the V500's predecessors. Other than the resolution (1600x3200 dpi) I thought it produced scans with good DR and colours. Much better than the Photo CD scans produced by a local lab.

These days I'm using one of the Plustek 35mm film scanners to scan my old 35mm slides and negs. It resolves much more detail than my old flatbed. Tests show that scanners typically resolve only half of their maximum stated resolution, and this has largely been my experience as well. I have thought about getting a V700 or 750 to replace my old flatbed. But your scans with the V500 have convinced me that using a less-expensive and smaller scanner might be the way to go. I think the V600 might be a better model for me since I have 4x5 negs and transparencies to scan.

Thanks for informing us about your scanning workflow.

Craig said...

Kirk, have you done any testing to see if the 4800dpi resolution is really noticeably better than scanning at a much lower level? I've seen one site (I forget where, unfortunately) that claimed to have tested a number of scanners, including some of the Epson Perfection series, and they said that the flatbed scanners in particular rarely really deliver the kind of resolution they claim to. I think with one of the Epsons (I forget if it was the V500 or the V600) they said that actual resolution was more like 1800dpi or so. The scanner can give you a big huge 4800dpi file, of course, but they said it wouldn't actually have 4800dpi worth of information -- the additional resolution is lost in blurriness. Now, I have no idea whether these people actually know how to get the best results out of any scanner, or whether they just plugged it in and scanned some slides, but that's why I'm interested to find out what you've done to determine how to best make use of your scanner or how much real resolution it can provide.

Michael Ferron said...

I have a V700 and scanning snobs make fun of it. 'Can't be any good" I'll tell you it's damn good, even with 35mm. And it's easy. Also agree Epson's simple software gets it right with maybe just a levels adjustment. Vuescan and Silverfast both over complicate things for me.

Michael Ferron said...

PS I scan 35mm @ 3600 DPI. Pretty much the actual limit of the scanner IMO.

Bill Bresler said...

Here, here. I've been using an Epson 4180 (I think) for about 5 years and routinely make prints from MF B&W negs at 15x15 inches. I have even emergency scanned 4x5 using a small inverted lightbox over the neg. The scanner has a bum pixel or something, and I now get a line through the scan. I can retouch but it's a pain. Tome to upgrade to the V700.

Sam said...

Good to hear your thoughts on this. Reassuring also. My first scanner when I first got into film was a cheap HP flatbed scanner which I still own. I scanned my Velvia slides which had so blown me away in the slide viewer for their razor sharpness and punchy vivid colour. The scan looked so soft and drab I was sure something was broken! I am reassured to hear that the Epsons are good enough for 35mm.

I also favour the manufacturer software when possible. I own a pro Vuescan license and have played with Silverfast demos but nothing is anywhere as usable and efficient on my Coolscan 9000 as good old Nikon Scan (which for me works fine on 10.6.8).

That old HP has still been of use to me when I started into 4x5. Since the tranny adapter is only 35mm film wide, though, I initially had to make my own sliding holder and stitch 4 strips together in Photoshop to scan one sheet of film. For the big film this scanner was fine -- if inconvenient.

kirk tuck said...

Craig, I haven't done scientific tests and I'm sure that the manufacturers fudge a bit but the detail in my MF scans is more than adequate for 25 by 25 inch prints. I guess that's the real test.

kirk tuck said...

That's my experience as well. Thanks Michael.

Craig said...

Sounds good to me. Thanks!

cidereye said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this Kirk. Interesting to see you seem to do most adjustments in the scan software and not in PS or LR afterwards which I have mostly always done myself.

The "so called" experts always claim that one needs to do a pretty much flat scan in your scan software with zero adjustments, no sharpening etc and then edit the file in PS. As you rightly said in the article, maybe you might be over thinking things on scanning. You know, your scans IMHO prove this to be correct so many thanks for your opinion & observations on this!

kirk tuck said...

Thanks. The more stuff you get right in the front of the process the fewer things you're trying to fix with fewer pixels....

Woodruff said...

Dadgumit....If I would have left it in the developer a little longer that negative would have done a lot better on my scanner, 40 years later... and if I would have put them in a sheet instead of a cheap sleeve as long as my arm... and... wait... you were talking about the V500 which is the first and only one I have used. I have had a blast getting more out of old bad "K-mart" transparencies and all the old dusty and scratched Tri-X and Pan-X from high school and beyond. This has been a great fun and the kids won't have an excuse not to keep my old stuff that is now digital. Cheers... and Kirk, thanks for the great writing.

Ken Hurst said...

That did it for me. I had already been considering getting a V500, so I just ordered one. Although not from Amazon, but a refurbished one from Epson for $99.00. With free shipping.

kirk tuck said...

Very cool. Can you put up a link for others who might want a bargain like that? Best, Kirk

Ken Hurst said...

Here's where I found it Kirk:
http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/consumer/consDetail.jsp?BV_UseBVCookie=yes&oid=63076139

ohnostudio said...

I got decent results from the previous incarnation of Epson that was film capable. What was it 2400, 6400? Can't remember. It's under my desk and I'm too lazy to look. While I wouldn't entertain the idea of doing a cover with the old machine, It was certainly good enough for 1/4 page commercial use, for stock, and for general photo sharing.

I have used the V series at a friend's house, and it that much better. As I am going back to MF film for a few projects, I'll be getting the V series, and passing off my older but still capable older Epson to one of my photography Old Fart friends. I'll give him a few lessons and he will have a ball with it. Sadness though - the older Epson series did 4x5 film while the V series does not. Not to worry though, my old 4x5 film doesn't have a lot of potential use. And I can always finagle some way of transferring it if I really need to.

herbster said...

v700 comes with holders for 4x5 as well.

kirk tuck said...

That's the only thing I really miss with the V500. But there are so few old 4x5's of mine that I'm interested in scanning...