What I Learned ... Scanning: #007 Epson V600
AKA: Andrew D. McClees slowly goes insane.
When shooting film, in 2019, printing and sharing photos in person is dead. Sometimes we do still print photos (or sets of photos), but largely most of photography has migrated to being consumed on screens, either Mobile via instagram, or on Computer, probably also on instagram -- I feel like Flickr is dead, I’m sure there’s a bunch of people who disagree -- but really, IG is the premiere online platform for photography in 2019 (Given, instagram isn’t really aimed at, nor is it actually for photographers -- that’s another essay though).
Anyway, circling back, when shooting film there are really only two ways to get your film images off the negative and into a computer: 1. You (or your lab) use a scanner, to scan your negatives into your computer. 2. You use a DSLR/Mirrorless Rig to take pictures of the negatives, then subsequently process/invert them in photoshop. I think collectively, most of us who scan/digitize negatives can all agree this is probably the biggest, most obnoxious bottleneck in our workflows, regardless of how we go about doing our scanning.
For all intents and purposes many people will argue that using a DSLR setup is “easier” and “faster” than owning and operating a scanner. And while I definitely can believe it is faster, and produces a better result for the owners of quality DSLR’s who also have a good understanding of Macro Lenses, light tables, and setting things up, the combined price of all those things kind of blows the price of the scanner out of the water. Given, most people own a digital camera, but factoring in a good dedicated macro lens (I mean, how many non-product/non-macro photographers, regardless of digital vs. film use a macro lens, or have one just sitting around?), a light table, a decent tripod, and enough space to build a setup, this to me is not a largely feasible solution for most shooters, or most of us with limited time/space/budget requirements.
So let’s talk scanners. If you’ve ever gotten film commercially developed (and if you’re reading this you probably definitely have), you’ve probably gotten scans back from whatever lab you sent your film to. Those scans were probably at least fairly decent, if a little expensive. The color correction is good, and the general scan quality is pretty okay, and definitely good enough to share on instagram or even make 3x5 to 5x7 prints. On top of that you didn’t have to work that hard at getting the scans, and you probably got your film turned around really quickly. Lab quality scanners are great, they can process a bunch of film really fast. Unfortunately they’re really expensive (remember they used to be an industrial good that everyone actually *needed* rather than wanted), and rapidly either dying off due to age, OR lack of compatibility with modern computer drivers, and connections -- making them almost a non-solution. In the bottom of the film collapse you could buy a pakon 135+ for maybe -- I’ll link a Matt Day video here about it -- 300-400 dollars -- pakons now retail for 900+ dollars easy (go look at the Pakon user group on facebook), and that’s for a basic, “low-res” model. And that’s if you want to own a scanner like that at home -- the price of scanning will inevitably bleed you dry if you keep sending both your color and your BNW to the lab. Honestly, any good lab should still save you time and money if you’re scanning color -- but the cost of entry at a given time, or just the sheer size of your backlog may stop you from sending your color or slide film to a lab (this has definitely been me, and is me right now -- Buy a t shirt?)
I’m sure some seasoned professionals will chime in here about paying for quality, or that “the only real way to print or do photography is hand printing” or “what about drum scanners, or flextights.” And yeah, those are all great options, but as feasible everyday solutions, they’re not really viable options. Besides, do you have like 10k minimum sitting around? Didn’t think so.
So now we’re down in the realm of consumer-grade (not that the average “consumer” is really using any of these) film scanners. Let’s say this market caps out at 2k. Let’s do a quick rundown of the options/archetypes over on B+H: you have the crazy expensive plustek -- which usually can only do 35mm film (lest you want to pay another 1k for 120 capabilities) -- but gives really great results. You have the Flatbeds (read Epson V600+V800/V850) which are in the exact right price pockets, but aren’t really hyper specialized to scanning film like the plustek designs. And then you have the non-photographer style scanners, which seem to be okay, but otherwise are pretty weak, and pretty small with no real option to scan or accommodate 120/medium format film.
Looking at the options, by the statistics -- the Epson scanners are the right buy, unless you know you’re only going to shoot 35mm film, in which case you should buy a plustek and be happy. Epson has a basic model for getting into scanning (the v600) for about 200 dollars that can theoretically get you scans big enough for pretty much any kind of display you’d need to do, and a more upmarket one (the epson v800) with better resolution, and a larger scanning area if you’re so inclined to shoot large format, up to 8x10 for like 600 dollars. And then an even more premium one than that -- the epson v850, which is (to the best of my knowledge) basically the same, but with 100-200 dollars worth of nicer features. Given that -- it sounds like the V600 is a great deal.
The Epson V600 is a great deal. But, it’s the only so-called deal in town. The epson v600 “works.” It delivers adequate scans at an adequate size, and the software supplied (epson scan) is easy enough to use, and at 200 dollars, maximum, it's a stomachable purchase. And that’s about the end of the nice things I can and will say about it.
If you’re reading this, and shoot film, there’s a pretty good chance you own, have owned, or have friends who own an epson v600, and while opinions may vary, I think to some extent we’ll all agree on this:
The Epson v600 sucks. It sucks a giant bag of dicks.
Here are my main three complaints, in order of frustration.
The software has a learning curve, and color is a massive pain in the ass.
It’s a jank piece of shit in terms of engineering and coding.
I’m not typically the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to learning technical procedures, or doing finicky bullshit.
I think that qualifies me extremely well to deliver my first criticism. The Epson V600 has a really annoying learning curve, and getting good colors out of it is finicky. I’ve shot and scanned mostly, if not entirely fujifilm -- apparently kodak scans better -- and while I’ll take some of the blame for the faulty scans/negatives, being too blue due to home processing -- the amount of time it took just to kinda scoop and shape the negatives into an acceptable color-correct version was steep. Again, I’ll admit I’m a beginner to color scanning, but the fact that it took me a good chunk of time to even get mildly palatable results using the auto-correct as a baseline is telling.
When scanning color, the scanner is even slower than it is when scanning black and white; and it usually takes me an hour to scan a roll of black and white film.
120, 35mm, whatever, it takes a fucking hour. That’s fucking bullshit. I’ve gotten into this argument repeatedly with people who “like scanning” but do you really want to sit there while you wait for your negatives to appear on your computer? Like it’s barely even grindwork, it’s just sitting there, waiting for your negatives to process. And while I know the flatbeds can be slow because of their design, it’s extremely frustrating to have to sit there and do next to nothing while the stupid thing loads. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re like me, and your scanner has the driver error where you need to constantly click the software icon to make it scan your negative move on from each individual scan, it can easily take even more than hour if you forget you’re scanning, or that your scanner’s automatic batch scan doesn’t work, or that it just randomly decides to stop working.
The epson v600 is a janky scanner.
It’s made of cheap plastic which, I’m sure, helps keep the cost down, and it comes with crappy plastic film holders for scanning, which again, do their job fine, but don’t feel good to use. Those complaints pale in comparison to the fact that you have to A. patch the scanner driver so that the batch scanning function (ie scanning multiple negatives at the same time) works properly, B. hope to god that the patch works, because otherwise it’s the same business as usual and you’re stuck clicking the button to make the scanner advance, and C. Fanatically clean the scanner, or else you end up being stuck with weird bands of black or gray or color running through the middle of your images (which don’t appear until after you’ve finished scanning), forcing you to have to stop, clean the calibration area, and hope that the banding will go away. I have one friend who had to essentially get rid of his V600 because the calibration area couldn’t be cleaned and the banding just wouldn’t go away. By my Standards, items B and C make it a clear failure of a product.
So those are my complaints with the Epson V600. I don’t think I’m alone in them. I don’t think epson will do jack shit to fix their product or make a better scanner. I don’t think epson is out to get film shooters, nor are they indifferent to us, but I do believe we/the scanner market is such a small portion of their income, they’re probably not going to bother to make a newer better scanner -- if anything they’ll rehash the same exact scanner they have for the past two generations or fifteen years (yeah, seriously, the epson v500/v550 is more or less the exact same scanner as the v600), and we’ll all keep buying it.
Usually I write about positive things I’ve learned in these articles, but really all I’ve learned how to do is push a button and tweak things the same way I would in any other photo-editing program. I haven’t learned anything about photography here, except that the scanner market is incredibly poorly served. I’d prefer not to end this on too sour of a note, so let me fire off one last hot take:
I don’t care what film Kodak brings back next, or even that they bring any film back at all. Ektachrome and an overspecialized 3200 speed bnw film mean absolutely nothing to me.
Kodak should bring back the Pakon.
But bring it back with USB-C/3.0 Mac OS/Windows 10 (that’s the current OS right?) software and drivers. Most people shoot mostly 35mm if they shoot film. Personally I think lowering the bar (and the costs) to entry of efficient and good home scanning/and shooting would go a lot further towards keeping film alive than paywalling it behind obsolete products. The original pakon’s had great quality reasonable scans, and they had Kodak’s proprietary color science/scanning technology which enabled some really great color interpolation, easily. But above all that the Pakons are fast, and don’t seem to need a whole lot of handholding to do their scans. If they could make a new model capable of doing 120 film, even better, but I’d take just 35mm.
Anyway, all food for thought. If you liked the article and also hate your v600, share this article. If you hated it, and think I’m an idiot fight me in the comments.
Thanks for reading!