For years now, I've sat in my home office looking at a huge crate full of 35mm pictures and negatives, thinking "one day I'll scan that lot in".
Recommend this product?
Long story short - I got a new scanner at work - the Epson V4490 which is essentially the V500 but with a regular bulb (I'll explain later). I did a couple of test scans and was so impressed I went out and bought the V500 the same day for use at home.
What is it?
It's a flatbed scanner with a built-in light source in the lid for doing transparencies, slides, negatives and such. It also has built-in digital ICE technology (more later). The crucial difference between the V500 and the cheaper V4490 is that the V500 uses white LEDs for its light source instead of bulbs. This eliminates the usual scanner warm-up time which, when you're doing a lot of scanning, can add up to a substantial time saving. The LED light source is also a more consistent and predictable colour.
Setting the V500 up is a snap. Install the included software, then unpack the scanner, get all the tape off it, unlock the main scanner slide and the in-lid light source and plug it in.
Get this - an actual metal frame!
In this world of throw-away everything's-made-of-plastic consumer items, I was surprised to find a metal frame in this scanner. So it's pretty sturdy-feeling. The hinge on the lid had a nice feel to it and the plastics they've used don't feel cheap. It gives a nice first impression.
The lid on this scanner folds flat (obviously) to clamp paper and thin items down, but has a detent at about 30 degrees to hold it out of the way for if you're doing thicker items. It also comes off completely for it you need a whole lotta scanner bed with no obstruction.
The scanner comes with Epson Scan - their driver and software package (as well as a trial optical character recognition package). The last time I used bundled scanner software was HP's effort back in the 90's and it was a really dodgy affair. The Epson package, by comparison, is lovely to use. I've scanned in hundreds of negatives and pictures now and it really is one of the most user-friendly imaging packages I've come across. It has three levels of operation from simple press-and-save up to full pro mode. Whilst the first two modes are good, it's the pro mode that you'll likely find the most useful.
To scan regular images, you'd use this unit just like you would expect. Put the picture or magazine on the scanner bed face-down and press the button. It launches Epson Scan and previews the image. You can ask it to auto-locate the image to be scanned, or you can drag any number of marquees out to select different sections to scan. So for example you can put 4 photos on the scanner and in preview mode, put a marquee around each one. The resulting scans will be saved into 4 different files. Before you do the final scan there's a positive smorgasbord of options to mess around with including colour depth, resolution (up to an unfeasibly high 4800dpi) and a good selection of image correction options. For reflective images like photos, books and magazines, you have the options for colour restoration, backlight correction, dust removal and grain reduction. I've had really surprisingly good results with the various options for the wide and varied selection of photos I've scanned in.
For me though the real power has been displayed in its ability to scan negatives. You pull a white backing piece out of the lid of the scanner to reveal the second light source - the one which shines through negatives from the back. The scanner comes with a very easy to use negative-holder which can hold three different types of film - medium format, 35mm and slides. The holder itself has three tabs on the side which locate into recesses in the scanner bed itself to ensure the top light source is perfectly positioned over your source images.
In Epson Scan, once you select film mode, it works in a slightly different way. It scans the film strips and then auto-detects where the images are, presenting you with a thumbnail view of all detected pictures. You then tick the boxes for the ones you want it to scan at full resolution and off it goes. You don't have to manually select marquees or regions to try to isolate the pictures. Very nice.
Also in film mode, you get an extra option - digital ICE - and this is the powerhouse of this scanner. Digital ICE is a combined hardware and software solution to the problems of dust and scratches on film negatives. As minute as they are, when scanned at high resolution, they look like railway lines and boulders. Digital ICE uses hardware in the scanner to look for surface imperfections on the negatives. Anything wrong with the surface is registered as physical noise and when the scanner scans the actual picture, it does it taking account of the noise map for each frame and fills in the noise with samples from areas immediately around each scratch or piece of dust. With digital ICE turned off, scanned negatives are full of white spots and lines - the dust and scratches. With Digital ICE turned on, they're all gone. The scans take longer - about 14 minutes for 8 negatives instead of 8 minutes for 8, but the end result is absolutely worth it. Once you add in colour restoration, backlight compensation and grain reduction, the followup time in photoshop is dramatically reduced. In most cases, to zero.
As you can tell, I was well impressed with how this thing handles my negatives, but if you're going to be using the scanner to do your own negatives, I highly recommend investing in an extra piece of software called NeatImage Pro (www.neatimage.com). It is designed purely to remove noise from images, and as good as Epson Scan is, you will end up with some remaining film grain showing up in the final images. I've found NeatImage can remove that last bit of grain to give truly wonderful final results.
Epinions doesn't allow images to be posted, but I've put three examples in a Picasa album. They show a raw negative image, the same scan with Digital ICE turned on, and then that image after it's been run through Neat Image Pro.
You can find the three pics here : http://picasaweb.google.com/chris.longhurst/EpsonV500
Low light vs. good light.
When scanning negatives, anything taken in low light conditions will ultimately give worse results. This scanner does best with pictures taken in good conditions with plenty of light. The low light scans are perfectly acceptable but you'll need to do more grain and noise reduction afterwards.
The hardware buttons.
The scanner itself has four hardware buttons on it. The biggest is "scan" which launches Epson Scan as described above. "PDF" scans whatever is on the scanner bed and turns it into a PDF file. Email scans in whatever is on the scanner bed and turns it into an attachment in a blank email. Copy scans in whatever is on the scanner bed and prints it out immediately on your printer. I'm not a huge fan of the email and copy buttons but the PDF one has been useful on occasion.
What about Photoshop?
This scanner integrates neatly with Adobe Photoshop (and I suspect any other scanner-capable package), giving you a new menu option that essentially launches Epson Scan, but sends the result into the open Photoshop document rather than saving it to disk.
Epson 4490 versus V500
So what's the difference between these two scanners? Simple - the LED light source. That's it. The 4490 uses a traditional scanner light source, the V500 uses LEDs. The Epson Scan software is identical as is the negative holder. In fact, the scanners themselves are identical in shape and size with the colour of the plastic being the only external difference. The 4490 is 50 bucks cheaper and if you're not into big-time scanning jobs, it's probably the better option. For me, with hundreds more 35mm films to go, the consistent light output and zero wait time of the LED light sources is a must.
Flatbed Scanners vs. film scanners.
A few years ago I bought a Minolta film-scanner. I got off to a good start with it but ultimately gave up. Today, film-scanners are really hard to come by unless you can afford over $1000 for a Nikon pro unit. So what's the difference between flatbed scanners and film scanners when it comes to scanning in negatives? With a flatbed scanner, the focus point is fixed. If your negatives are horribly bent or warped, the scanner can't compensate for it. Dedicated film-scanners can - they can vary the focus across the negative. Having said that, the frame Epson give you to clamp the negatives in is pretty good at flattening out even the most curly of old negatives. Unless you're scanning stuff for professional use, I've come to the conclusion that products like this Epson are more than capable.
Scanners vs. all-in-ones.
I've heard a couple of comments on the Epson scanner along the lines of "wow - I didn't know anyone made just scanners any more". In truth, a lot of companies make dedicated scanners, but there's a booming market in scanner- fax- copier- printer-combos. The advantage in those units is bang for your buck - 4 units in one. The disadvantages should be obvious. A combo unit for 250 bucks, or a 4-in-one. How good do you think each individual component of a 4-in-one is going to be? You got it - low. A $250 dedicated flatbed scanner will give infinitely better results than the $60 scanner included in a 4-in-one. Apart from that, if any one component breaks in a 4-in-one, you've essentially got to junk the entire machine for a new one.
I've been there.
Just don't do it.
Get a separate printer, scanner, copier and fax machine. It's going to cost more but you won't regret it.
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Amount Paid (US$): 249