review

What I Learned … Scanning #007: Epson V600

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.

If you know, you know.

If you know, you know.

but it’s the only affordable, relatively versatile (meaning it can do both 35mm and 120) scanner available, so it still gets bought, sold, recommended, and used.

Here are my main three complaints, in order of frustration.

  1. The software has a learning curve, and color is a massive pain in the ass.

  2. It’s slow.

  3. 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.

If you’re feeling generous, or you liked this content, go pick up a zine or shirt in the shop.

Thanks for reading!

What I learned shooting #005: Pentax 6x7 (MLU)

What I learned Shooting #005: Pentax 6x7 (MLU)

I deeply resent that I have to write this article. I deeply resent the fact that I paid 200 dollars for a broken Pentax 6x7, and then had to throw another 100 bucks to get it to work. I resent the fact that the Pentax 6x7 is the it-girl camera (or at least, it sure seems like it) in medium format right now, alongside the Mamiya 7ii, the evergreen favorite.

I know your first instinct as a reader will be to ask “why bother writing it if you hate doing it, or that you have to do it” -- and to that my response is simple: reviews, specifically camera reviews for in-demand cameras get website traffic. Likewise with film reviews for permanent favorite emulsions, ie your HP5+, your Portra 400, your Ektar, your Fuji Pro400h Reviews. I’m not above a little commercialism, I’d even argue it’s healthy.

That aside, The Pentax 6x7 (MLU) or non MLU is a great camera, and I do really like it, a lot. Some of the images I’ve gotten from it, like the glassy more-than-real, but still organic images it produces when I’m shooting at the heights of my abilities (not trying to be egocentric, it just seems like the highs that come out of this camera are really, really really high). I’m probably never going to sell it, if for no other reason, than I could probably never afford to buy the dumb thing back.

To save you the trouble of reading *another* fawning. Pentax 6x7 review:

The Pentax 6x7 is a big clunky steel machine with no frills. The lenses are my favorite general look of all the medium format systems that I’ve seen, or had access to so far. It’s capable of taking some really amazing photos that would be very very hard to replicate in 35mm. I think the best examples currently posted up on my website are the photos in Feature #4: Apocalypse Gulch. I think my (current) flagship Editorial Homecoming (Mourning) is great, and it shows off the optics, but not quite as clearly as the Salton Sea photos.

For a slightly different perspective, I think this review by Daniel J. Schneider is probably more helpful to an actual potential buyer than my post/review/essay this is going to be.

My Best/Worst about the camera, with brief explanations:

Here’s my top five favorite things about the camera:

  1. The Lenses, and their rendering. I know in terms of pure sharpness the Zeiss lenses on the Hasselblad probably blow the Pentax 6x7’s to shit, as well as the painfully sharp Mamiya RB/RZ or Mamiya 7 series glass; but I think the Pentax lenses have tend to have a certain (still super sharp/high resolving power, if that’s your bag) human look that suits my own particular need/style of photography really well.

  2. The Viewfinder is kinda magic. Not like it makes you better, but just having a giant bright image makes it really nice to compose and shoot on. I guess I have some (minor) complaints about the focusing because the depth of field tends to be super thin, but overall, the viewfinder (ground glass) just shines. I haven’t had a chance to use a dedicated waist level finder or chimney on the Pentax 6x7, but when I’ve just stared down through the ground glass it’s pretty amazing.

  3. The Aspect Ratio. The Pentax 6x7 has a nearly perfect 4:3 ratio, which, for what it’s worth makes it pretty perfect for darkroom printing on the common sizes, ie 8x10, 11x14, 20*24. Beyond that I think the the boxy, relatively even aspect ratio also lends itself to a more thoughtful, slow composition style, as opposed to the more dynamic ratio of 3:2 (ie 35mm). I know cropping is always an option, but usually the way the box or viewfinder

  4. It’s Imposing. I know I typically tout the Minolta XD-11’s nice compact feel in hand, and the form factor is small, so this may come as a surprise. But I like that the Pentax 6x7 is a big, gnarly, imposing camera, that makes a loud-ish, clack, when the shutter fires. It makes you, and to some extent, the subject (if you’re doing portraiture) take the camera seriously. It feels like an event, when you shoot and work with the camera, but maybe not as involved or static as one would when shooting and setting up a large format.

  5. (hypocritically) Flex Value. I’ve pissed and moaned a lot about price here (or if you keep reading I will), but there’s something kinda nice about owning an expensive piece of gear, and one that seems to be retaining it’s value, or even increasing it. I typically scoff at the Leica community, more for the idolatry of the red dot and the flex around it, but it’s kinda nice to brag that you got a deal on your (now expensive) camera, and show it off some. But not too much, nobody likes a rich prick.

Here’s some stuff I don’t love about the camera:

  1. It’s heavy. Not so heavy that it’ll break your back, or do permanent damage right off the bat, but the thing is definitely very heavy, and after a long day of hiking with the thing, you’re not going to feel great. I don’t actually care that the camera’s big or (relatively) loud -- I’m not really a street photographer, or at least what I do in street photography is so irrelevant to disturbing people that the noise and physical size/threatening look of the Pentax 6x7 don’t really matter that much.

  2. It’s expensive, and the price of replacement is just going to keep going up. A big reason why I’ve never even bothered to experiment with another system is that I don’t think I’d get enough money back selling whatever else I tried to buy back my original equipment if I didn’t like it -- and the camera’s good enough for what I use it for that I guess it doesn’t matter, but I still don’t like the thought of paying another 500 dollars to shoot the camera.

  3. The Eye level finder only covers 90% of the frame. It’s a perfectly nice finder/prism, but missing 10% of your image can be kinda tough, or like easy to forget about. Usually the image is pretty much exactly what I shoot, but that extra 10% has definitely snuck up on me before, requiring me to go back and crop back in, which overall is fine, but definitely a little demoralizing or frustrating.

  4. The flash sync speed kinda sucks. There’s no real good way to shoot flash with the camera, handheld, even with the specialized leaf shutter lenses, it’s still a pain and a lot of button clicks to get everything right, and not really anything you’d want to do handheld. I’m not a huge flash shooter or anything but this is admittedly, a significant border to entry for me.

  5. I’m now part of the medium format community, or like, if I want to share something (like this or one of my features/editorials) on facebook to a group to kinda get more eyes on it, I have to wade through the sea of shit that is the group of dumb, stubborn, fucks with no discernable taste who see fit to constantly criticize anything they neither understand nor like for not meeting their narrow, boring, and tasteless criteria of good photography, that seems to reek of being a professional hobbyist who approaches photography as an engineering question than an art. On top of that, the belief that they could be wrong is so foreign to them, that they refuse to try to see anything in a light that doesn’t favor them. There are plenty of perfectly nice people in the groups, but I get burnt out pretty quickly from the constant trolling, or dickish “criticism” which contains no palpable or helpful criticism that tends to hang over the board. (If this is you, you can kindly fuck right off my website, thanks.)

That brings me to, the eponymous section of the review/column:

So, what did I/have I learned shooting the Pentax 6x7:

  1. It’s probably way overpriced for what it should be, or like, I remember looking into buying one three to five years ago (I wasn’t ready for one) and it was like 200 bucks, maybe 300-400 with a lens. Tops. I know the whole film market has grown, and I should be happy, but as someone who’s been a (relatively) long-term film shooter, it kinda chaps my ass that all these johnny come lately kids are (un-intentionally) jacking the price of gear way the fuck up. I guess I should just be glad I don’t give a fuck about premium point and shoots.For a point of comparison, and SEO ranking, even the price of my beloved Minolta XD series cameras, have shot through the roof. Five years ago, when I got my first one, it was basically in mint condition, and I paid maybe 50 bucks for it. To get one of a decent quality, now, it’s something like $150 -- and even then the internal guts of the thing are a crapshoot. Additionally, it’s not like there’s a lot on the US used market either -- so you’re stuck gambling on Japanese eBay, which isn’t totally unreasonably priced, considering convenience of being able to just order the camera, but it’s always 30-40% over whatever budget I have for a camera or lens. Paralleled to the Pentax 6*7, even when I was buying mine, I remember the market being about 400 for a body only, with an unmetered prism, if you’re lucky. All this should probably be couched in “Andrew is an aggressively cheap bastard when  any purchase over $100 dollars is involved -- and his sense of value is way way stunted.”

  2. I like the camera and love the images it produces but I have yet to really bond with the camera in a meaningful way, or build a real relationship aside from “this camera is a tool, a really good tool.” My only real hypotheses are that 1. I haven’t gotten Stockholm syndrome’d by the camera yet -- it’s only been a year and some change, which leads into 2. The weight and expense of the camera, ie the price of 120 film (development and scanning, too), having repairs and CLA’s done (the big name Pentax guy charges $300 bucks for just a CLA -- I’m sure it’s basically a rebuild, but still, it doesn’t sit well with me -- see “I am a cheap bastard” above.), and just the dead weight of lugging the Pentax 6x7 (with lenses) around is prohibitive to me shooting enough with it to really gel with it beyond “camera make photo.”

  3. Right now, I really only take the camera out when I do “serious project work” -- and even then, because I seem to have a nasty habit of accumulating (and shooting) 100 foot rolls of 35mm film, I still seem to end up using the Minolta XD-11 for a good chunk of my projects. That being said I do lug the Pentax 6x7 with me to do landscape photography when I travel -- and it’s definitely been good or great for that -- I have some stuff coming up to show that off, I’m almost done re-scanning all my photos from one specific trip to show that off.

  4. Bracketing is for chumps. Admittedly I haven’t fully incorporated this lesson into daily practice all the time, but typically, the amount I bracket shots has radically decreased way down. Typically (with limited exception) I tend to fall into the category or thought pattern of “first shot, best shot” and it’s borderline madness for me to re-shoot something better the second time when I’m overthinking it, but traditionally I still do or have a lot. Having only ten frames on a roll definitely cuts way down on the amount that I’m tempted to re-do something, if for no other reason than budget.

  5. Having a bigger/better camera doesn’t make your work better. I know this is something I say a lot, but I definitely have gotten some better shots out of the Minolta XD-11 than the Pentax 6x7, on the same day, just because I wasn’t working hard enough at getting the Pentax 6X7 framing right, or I just flat out didn’t have the right/wide enough lens for it. You can’t always make your new fancy toy work out for everything, as much as you want it to.

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What I learned shooting... #4: Agfapan APX100 (35mm)

A thorough review and overview of one of the last batch of Agfapan APX100 in 35mm. Tested primarily with the Minolta XD-11, and Rokkor MC-PG 50mm 1.4 lens, and to a lesser extent the Minoltina AL-s. Primary Developers used were Kodak Xtol, and Rodinal.

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