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Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner
October 26th, 2010Answers the need for professional scanning at reasonable price.
The Epson Perfection V600 scans photos, 35mm film and slides, 6 x 22 cm medium-format film. With its automated buttons, the scanner is easy to use. The hardware performs admirably, but the EPSON Scan software may leave you wanting.
I developed an interest in our family's photo history a few years back, so while my sister works in Ancestry and Geni.com to put the jigsaw puzzle of our family together, I supply the photos, when available. Now, this is no easy task, because no one in our family kept records. This adventure includes visits to relatives we barely know, cemeteries, library research, and much product support. We discovered my Great Grandfather was a portrait photographer in Boston from 1907-1932 and after my Dad's death, we found a few precious Hoffman Studios portraits squirreled away, which I scanned for this review.
It turns out you need a lot of equipment to resurrect a lost history and thankfully this project coincides with my need to review a variety of products. Armed with slides, photos, and stereo slides, the next few weeks will bring you reviews of a few flatbed, slide and specialty scanners and software, Adobe Photoshop and Bridge CS5, Adobe Lightroom 3, Fotomagico from Boinx. I may even throw in a few utility programs for good measure.
I tested the Epson Perfection V600 Photo first. This 48-bit, 6400 x 9600 dpi scanner comes in a sleek black cabinet. It ships with EPSON Scan (I used version 3.81a), Photoshop Elements, ABBYY Fine Reader, Epson Creativity Suite, film holders for 35mm negatives and mounted slides, plus one for 6 x 22 cm medium-format film.
Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner
This scanner answers the need for professional scanning at a more reasonable price than its big brother. The V600 feature set isn't as robust as the V700, and it doesnít ship with LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast, but at less than half the cost, the V600 is a worthy scanner, if you spend some time with it. I tested the scanner on new and old prints, 35mm slides negatives, and even successfully scanned some stereo slides. No scanner on the market today is equipped to do stereo slides, so I am thrilled that the included 35mm slide tray can accommodate them with a little bit of finagling.
V600 Photo Scanner with Slides Mounted
The Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner also comes with an installation poster, so setup is a breeze. The included power supply and USB cords are long enough to put the device off to the side of your computer workspace too. A horizontal blue light on the front flashes while scanning is in progress; it serves as a warning not to open the lid while it is working.
V600 Photo Scanner Buttons and Display
The V600 uses an LED (White Light Emitting Diode), which means the scanner needs no warm-up time. This mercury free light source is also environmentally friendly. It scans at 6400 dpi with a 3.4 dynamic range (DMAX). Now, Iíve heard that 3.5 DMAX is the lowest you want to scan slides, plus few recommend flatbed scanners for this task, but you can achieve acceptable results, as long as you donít use the Epson Scan software. If you do not need large photographic scans or slides scans, the similar, but less expensive ($119) Epson Perfection V330 Photo Scanner that scans at 4800 dpi may meet your needs. Some experts think that the DMAX rating is of little use, but if you want to learn more, there is a very short tutorial on the Virtual Training Company site. (See Resources at the end of this article). Letís look at the software now.
Over the years of testing scanners, Iíve learned that it is all about the software you use to scan. Oddly enough, in 1994 Epson produced a booklet called, ďWhat You Should Know About Scanning,Ē which talks about how the scanner works in concert with the software. It stresses how important it is to learn the software. This leads me to wonder why, with all the effort put into the excellent hardware Epson produces, why they donít include software worthy to use with their scanners. While EPSON scan is serviceable, it doesn't do a great job with all types of photos.
EPSON Scan Start Screen
Using the latest Epson software, I encountered some odd problems, such as banding in the Preview window. The Preview window selection marquis also performed inconsistently when I scanned inside of Photoshop CS4 and CS5. Sometimes two selection rectangles appeared and sometimes the selection moved unreliably. When these problems persisted, I rebooted my Mac and the problem went away, but that is a time waster.
EPSON Scan Preview Problem
EPSON Scan lets you choose from four different scan modes: Full Auto, Home, Office, and Professional.
EPSON Scan Modes
Full auto mode gave me no choice to name the file. I had to click the Customize button and then the File Save Settings button to open a dialog in which I could rename the files, choose type of format to scan (TIF, JPG, and others). Thatís unnecessarily time consuming.
EPSON Scan File Save Settings
Even in auto mode, there is a noticeable difference between 300 and 400 dpi and custom settings. In the compiled photo below, I turned on Dust Removal and Color Restoration in the right side photo. Iím not sure you can see it in the low resolution photo, but the scan on the right has better color, but significantly more grain.
Yes - This is me with Grandpa - circa 1900
Home and Office mode let you scan documents or photos quickly with a number of presets. Due to the importance of settings, Iíll jump right to the Professional Mode, which allows you to preview the scan and set a number of color options.
EPSON Scan - Left=Office Mode and Right = Professional Mode
In the Configuration dialog, in which you can choose from Color Control, ColorSync, or No Color Correction, there was a significant difference in the photo preview from Color Control and No Color Correction. Color Control on seemed to blow out the shadow and detail in highlighted areas. Unsharp Mask is checked by default and that I donít like. You have little control over the how it is applied. I think you are better off turning off Color Control and Unsharp Mask and fixing the photo later in Adobe Photoshop Elements or Photoshop.
The problem is when Color Control is off; you also no longer have access to the Dust Removal or the DIGITAL ICE Technology checkboxes in the Adjustments area. Digital ICE looks at the infrared channel with a special infrared LED light to find dust and scratches, which it removes in the scanning process. You cannot use Digital ICE technology when scanning Kodachrome slides though, because it sees the extra emulsion layer as dirt, so it should not be activated when scanning Kodachrome slides. I wish scanner companies would put this in bold print in their documentation, but many do not even mention it.
Comparing Epson with Epson
My 7+ year old Epson scanner, the Epson Perfection 3200 Photo, cost about $700 with Photoshop, while the Epson Perfection V600 costs $199 bundled with Photoshop Elements. That's a striking price reduction for a scanner that performs quickly and has more built-in features, as noted above. Below are samples from both scanners and I am surprised that my old scanner captured more detail than the newer V600. I used the same settings in EPSON scan, but used the Mac OS X 10.4 version on my PowerPC G4 for the 3200. (Iím sorry I donít have the version number, because my PPC drive died shortly after I did these scans.)
My Dad 1930s - V600 Left - 3200 Right
Photo Frame: V600 Left - 3200 Right
Although the color is better in the V600 scans on the left, there is more detail in the 3200 scans on the right. I tested this with a few old photos, and the 3200 consistently captured more detail. It looks as if the LED light is too bright and blows out some of the detail, but I really am not sure why the V600 does not perform better. It was a disappointing test.
I listened to a number of scanning-related podcasts and one claims that Image Capture in Mac OS X 10.6 is better than Epson's software, so I tested it. Image Capture lets you get the job done quickly and offers one feature Epson's software omits: The ability to straighten images easily.
Image Capture Software
I did not notice a significant difference between the final scans, but the whites do not seem quite so blown out. So, using Image Capture may be an better solution for many of you. It works well, doesnít have so many confusing options, and comes with your operating system.
Image Capture - Color Control Turned Off (left) and On (right) (My Mom in 1934)
When you scan at normal resolutions, such as 24-bit color at 300 or 600 dpi, the scanning process proceeds quickly. I chose 48-bit color at 3200 dpi for some slides, which makes large files (67.8MB). It took about 2 minutes, and 4800 dpi took 6 minutes per slide (152.5MB). This is a far cry from the 20 minutes that my old Epson took to scan a simple photo.
Included with the Epson are two plastic carrier trays specifically designed to hold 35mm slides, strips of 35mm negative film, and medium-format film. Both holders are clearly marked and the help file shows you exactly how to put them on the scanning bed. A Document Mat rests in plastic tabs inside the top cover, which serves as a cover for the transparency unit. It slides out easily with a built-in handle.
I scanned four slides and EPSON Scan automatically saved them into one TIF file, that isn't very useful. It made a 605MB, whereas scanning the same files individually, only yielded 500MB. You can always separate the individual slides after scanning, but you lose individual control over each scan.
EPSON Scan Slide Preview
To resolve this problem you need to press the Configuration button and change the Thumbnail Cropping Area in the Preview tab to Large. This means you must do the Preview scan again.
PSON Scan Slide Configuration Dialog
I discovered you can scan stereo slides if you remove the 35mm film strip holder cover and lay the long slides on the area in which you would normally insert the film. You align the holder with the A tab, not the C tab to scan stereo. I was not able to scan both frames of the slide in one swoop, but that's a minor inconvenience.
The general rule of thumb is to scan slides at highest optical resolution available, but scanning at 9600 dpi took 8 minutes and yielded a 384MB file, which is a bit much. I opted for 4800 dpi, which makes 80-90MB files, still too big, but I prefer too much information, as opposed to not enough. The general recommendation from the scanning community is to scan slides at 2400 dpi, which I think is too low. I tested slides with and without color restoration, and thought EPSON Scan did an acceptable color correction, although it is better to color correct in photo editing software.
EPSON Scan Single Slide Preview
When you spend so much on a scanner, you may not want to invest more in the process, but I found a striking difference in the quality of my scans when I switched to LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast AI (https://www.silverfast.com/). Their software includes versions for each scanner model and one came out for the Epson V600 a few months after the scanner. With its dual pass scan processing, the results are significantly better than when using EPSON scan. Seriously, itís $49 or $200 well spent. SilverFast includes different versions, depending on your needs, which accounts for the wide price range.
If you seek a photo scanner to duplicate prints and negatives for web site posting or to make prints similar to the original size of the object, the Epson Perfection v600 includes some robust features. You can quickly scan with the EPSON scan default settings. If you want more detail in your scans, you do need to play with the software to learn the best settings. I was not impressed with the results I achieved from the bundled software though, so I suggest you try SilverFast. If you want to scan slides, the dynamic range is not quite high enough, and you will get better results from a higher end flatbed scanner like the V700 or from a dedicated slide scanner. If you need to do a mix of photos and documents, the scanner should perform well for you and last a long time.
iTunes Store Free Podcast - The Image Doctors, ID #105, Nov. 26, 2009. (Covers Epson V600 and scanning.)
Virtual Training Company (VTC) - Introduction / Color Depth/DMAX/S/R Ratings
Photo.net - Dynamic Range (or Lies, Damned lies, Statistics and Scanner Specs - with apologies to Benjamin Disreali), by Bob Atkin, 2003.
-Nice build quality.
-Easy to set up.
-Automated front buttons.
-OCR and photo editing software included.
-Can use any scanning software.
-EPSON Scan does not yield the best scans.
-Must spend money on better scan software for best results.