One of my first purchases as a new film photographer was the Epson V550. I used that scanner for a couple years, scanning rolls for myself and my friends late into the night. I’m sure I pissed off more than a couple neighbours with the electronic whirring piercing through the thin walls of my Montreal apartment.
Later on, I moved across the country. And since I was going by plane, it didn’t make sense to bring the scanner with me. So I sold it, and elected to buy another after attempting low-budget DSLR scanning with the equipment I already had on hand.
Lacking a reliable way to mount my DSLR, and not having a dedicated macro lens, I went back to the Epson scanners. This time, I went for the V600 for no reason other than Amazon no longer stocked the $50 cheaper V550.
But now, a year later, I’ve revisited DSLR scanning, and have been loving the results I’m getting with my Sony A7III. A big reason for that is because I bought the right equipment to make it work this time. (Find out what gear I use to scan film with my digital camera here).
But even though I admit there are many reasons why DSLR scanning is superior to using a flatbed scanner, I do believe that this unit still has a place on the market. If you’re new to film photography and are thinking about purchasing one of these scanners, I absolutely recommend it. But if you already have a DSLR camera with a macro lens, then it may be worth spending a bit extra to get into scanning with your camera.
Before we get into it, let’s go over what exactly are the differences between the V550 and the V600 scanners
Epson V550 and V600 Overview
The Epson V600 was originally released back in 2009, while the V550 weirdly came out in 2013. That said, the scanners both contain the same scanning technology from the 2009 version, and come with film holders capable of scanning 35mm and medium format film.
When these models were released, were meant to help entry-level consumers digitize their collection of film photos. Both the V600 and V550 were cheap, reliable, and produced good enough results if you were cataloguing family negatives.
Professional photographers will be pushed to the Epson V750, or Epson V850 models, which have better film holders and are also capable of scanning 4×5 or 8×10 negatives.
The only benefit the V600 scanner has over the V550, is that the V600 has a software update allowing it to use Digital ICE to remove dust and scratches on prints and negatives, where the V550 can only perform dust removal on negatives. Otherwise the scan quality, film holders, size, shape, and weight all remain identical.
The images aren’t as sharp, and the files aren’t as flexible
When I finally got my latest DSLR film scanning setup together, there was an immediate, noticeable difference. I could see the graininess in the film. So finally, I was able to tell that the reason my photos weren’t sharp wasn’t just film inherently being softer than digital. Turns out I’m just bad at focusing manual lenses.
Just joking of course, but being able to see that much more detail from DSLR scans means that I can crop the images more without losing quality. Meanwhile, the V600 scanner has a maximum effective resolution of around 1560 DPI, despite advertising that says it is capable of to scanning up to 6400 DPI. Going any larger than the 1600 DPI setting is simply introducing extra bulk (up to 1Gb, to be precise) to the image without creating any extra details to work with in Lightroom or Photoshop.
The V550 and V600 are still using the same imaging sensors Epson developed back in 2009. Even for the time, they weren’t known for producing sharp results.
The other benefit of scanning with a DSLR is the colors. Digital cameras shooting raw are able to capture far more colors and dynamic range in a single image than a flatbed scanner — no matter what model. And if you’re working with dense negatives, there’s even room to get more detail by combining exposures to make an HDR scan.
Getting consistent results is near impossible
This is a big sticking point for me. Getting consistent results on color film scans is a new phenomena for me. Modern print film wasn’t meant to have a baked in color like films of the past. They were designed for maximum flexibility so that the user could shoot indoors and outdoors on the same roll, and then decide how to adjust the colors in the darkroom.
But the issue I’ve had with the Epson scanner and both the bundled Epson and Silverfast scanning applications is that I was never able to get the same look from image to image. I would get different results even if the images were shot within seconds of each other in the same light.
DSLR scanning fixes that problem. If I’m shooting all in the same scene, I can copy and paste the settings from the converted Negative Lab Pro scans onto different images in Lightroom.
Loading and unloading the film takes forever
These scanners can only scan 3x 6×6, 4x 6×45, or 2x 6×7 negatives when shooting medium format. For 35mm, it can scan a total of 12 shots each time. No matter what, this means you’re loading and unloading the film holders between 4 and 5 times to scan a single roll of film.
Whether it’s 120 or 135 film, I find a single roll of film can take between 45 minutes and hour depending on how much manual adjustments need to be done per roll of film. If the scanning application is unable to automatically detect the film borders, you’ll be spending an hour or more.
When scanning with a DSLR, you can scan the entire roll in a single strip using something like the Essential Film Holder. This device holds the film perfectly flat, and allows the user to slide the film through, perfectly lining up each frame between scans. This speeds up the scanning process significantly. However, using Negative lab pro is still time consuming. In the end, scanning a roll of film on a DSLR takes between 30 minutes and an hour depending on the complexity. 120 film, however, is much faster with DSLR scanning than 35mm.
The machine in unfailingly dusty
I don’t know how, but even if I only put the scanner away for the lunch break, it’ll be dusty by the time I get back. The glass seems like it’s consistently electrically charged, attracting large quantities of sticky super dust. Regular cloths don’t seem to work, even with a good amount of spray.
Would I still recommend the Epson V600?
Here’s the thing. There is a time and place where the Epson V600 shines. And that’s that it’s a simply device that gives hassle-free usable results. Even if the scans aren’t perfect, they’re far far better than anything done with a mobile phone.
In the end, this scanner works well. And it’s far cheaper for entry-level users than purchasing a scanning setup — and that’s true even if you already have a digital camera. For my setup, I spent $500 on a Manfrotto tripod with the horizontal column, $40 on a light pad, $140 on the Essential Film Holder, and another $450 on a macro lens. For that price, I could have bought almost 4 Epson V600 scanners.
At the price, this scanner pays itself off after scanning around 15 rolls. And I’ve scanned hundreds with it. So over time, I’ve absolutely gotten my money’s worth.
For beginners, the Epson flatbed scanners are going to be everything you need. They will produce better images with medium format negatives, but even 35mm scans at a high-enough quality to make it worthwhile. Over time you will outgrow this device. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just enough to keep you going in film photography without spending fortunes of cash on lab scans.
There are thousands of memories that I have catalogued only because of this scanner. And I don’t regret purchasing it. I’ve outgrown this scanner for this period in my life, but I know for a fact that there are thousands of photographers out there who will benefit more from purchasing this scanner than they would from getting film scanned at a lab, or purchasing a DSLR scanning rig.
Daren is a journalist and wedding photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. He’s been taking personal and professional photos on film since 2017 and began developing and printing his own photos after wanting more control than what local labs could offer. Discover his newest publications at Soft Grain Books, or check out the print shop.