Epson Perfection V850 Pro Scanner Review


The film holders are well constructed, with the film and filmstrip holders having a slightly diffuse transparent cover that aids in keeping even curly film flat.
Courtesy of Epson

Epson announced two new scanners last year for those who want to archive their film files and/or create wall-worthy prints from their negatives and slides. The Epson Perfection V800 Photo and V850 Pro allow for scanning all sizes up to 4x5 inches using the supplied frames, and up to 8x10 inches without them, including creating contact sheets. While the V850 Pro is the subject of this review, I’ll outline features and differences between the two as we go.

These are flatbed scanners and while there have been some doubts in the past about the usefulness of such for 35mm film, my work with the V850 soon dismissed those concerns. The units sell for (MSRP) $949 for the V850 Pro and $739 for the V800. I should note that getting similar dpi capabilities with, for example, a medium format dedicated film scanner can easily cost twice as much or more.

V800 And V850 Features
Both scanners utilize LED light sources that require virtually no warm-up time and to me seemed to “open up” tonal values, especially in black-and-white negatives. The newly designed frame film holders seem sturdy enough and after a short break-in period, snapped tight and snug over the strip and cut film sizes. (The 35mm-mounted slide holder has a slip-in clip arrangement.) The optics include Anti-Newton ring glass, which helps eliminate moiré patterns and color shifts.

Both models come with Digital ICE, the famed hardware/software dust and dirt removing utility that recognizes flaws and “moves” them to a layer that it eliminates during final image processing. (Note: As in the past, this does not work on Kodachromes and black-and-white film.) The differences? The V800 comes with Epson Scan software and LaserSoft Imaging SilverFast SE (V8) while the V850 comes with LaserSoft’s SE Plus (V8), X-Rite’s i1 Scanner and IT8 targets for film and reflective materials (photographs, etc.). Sold separately, SE Plus goes for about $119 retail. The difference between the two SilverFast software sets has to do with some special features I suppose you could live without, with the Plus offering items such as multi-exposure scanning (increases dynamic range), a type of “auto contrast” control, a Kodachrome profile, and other advanced scanning features.

But what should sell you on the V850 is the fact that it incorporates what Epson dubs High Pass Optics with an anti-reflection coating and a high reflection mirror for enhanced image quality. This setup can deliver 6400dpi (optical) when used with the film holders, resulting in a scan size from 35mm that is quite impressive. It is also said to deliver 33 percent faster scans than the V800. (I did not have a V800 to compare.) The V850 also comes with two sets of film holders so you can prep another set of images as your scanner does its work on the first, something volume users will appreciate. Anyway, if all that seems worth the $200 extra, go for it—I think in the long run it is.

The unit weighs in at about 15 pounds and can take up a hunk of your desktop space, measuring 12-inches wide by almost 20-inches long. Although disks come with the software and utilities, it’s always best to ensure the latest drivers, etc., by checking on the companies’ websites, and making sure you register the products to get upgrade notices. I won’t go into unpacking and plugging in, etc., as these are self-evident and available on a startup guide.

SilverFast SE Plus Workspace

Epson Scan Workspace
This screenshot reveals some of the key controls in the Epson Scan software workspace. Once profiled with the X-Rite i1 Scanner software it became my choice for transparency scans. While controls are not as extensive as in the SilverFast option, having a histogram, color and contrast controls can do the trick, especially when scanning 35mm slides at 6400dpi.
ALl Photos © George Schaub

To The Test: Software
The place to begin is with software, as a scanner is basically like a toaster in the sense that once you push the button it goes about its business. That’s not to say that optics, scan module, etc., are unimportant, but if you screw up in the software controls even the fanciest scanner specs will not get you out of a jam.

The first step is the Epson and SilverFast scanner drivers and software and the X-Rite i1 Scanner software for creating a color profile for the scanner. There are numerous (film) profiles preloaded into the supplied LaserSoft software itself. You shouldn’t let the idea of profiling a scanner freak you out, as X-Rite has made it easy, and all you do is place the “target” in the 4x5 frame, place it in the scanner and let the software guide you along. There is also a “reflective” (print or document) profiler, but my work here was with film.

One important note: when given the option in the X-Rite software choose Version 2, not Version 4, which is the default. You then name the profile (the default name is scanner,icc) and choose it later when you get to scanning.

It’s not my intention to rewrite the instruction book here but to give you my recommendations on the ways I found to get the most with each type and format of film and comments about quality, speed, and some basic controls. I’ll do a quick walk-through on general scanning procedure with this unit first.

Black-and-White Negative Scans
This 6x6cm image made in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon was scanned using the medium format film holder and Epson Scan software. Minimal processing was required post-scan and the resultant file size was 330MB, enough for a 44-inch square print at 300dpi.

Scan Workflow
Like all software there is a learning period where you figure out shortcuts and what the optimum settings may be. Reading the manuals is definitely recommended, and SilverFast even has embedded video tutorials. Generally, you put, say, mounted slides into the appropriate holder. You set up the parameters of the scan, such as dpi, destination folder, type of film, etc., in the workspace.

You then do a prescan, which scans each frame you have loaded. In the case of the Epson software you click on the “full frame” icon when the thumbnails appear, and then simply follow the “Next” arrows to work on each subsequent image.

For SilverFast, define the frame(s) you want to work on by checking the thumbnail. You select a single thumbnail and then “Zoom” it up (Command/+ on the Mac) to bring it full screen to do any corrective work.

You are given a raft full of controls when the image is full size: color balance, contrast, brightness, bit depth, scan resolution, etc. (See screenshots and captions.) As the unit goes up to 6400dpi optical you can get quite good-sized prints (excellent 16x20 prints and bigger if the film image is right on) from 35mm, and considerably larger from medium format film.

There are practical limits, and all I can say is that when you scan you begin to see just what a cheap lens actually costs, so invest in an 8x loupe and use it as one of your chief editing tools. In scanning, you cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, though you can certainly improve the original image color and contrast.

Films And Formats
Everyone has their own “philosophy of scanning.” For me, the scan should “do no harm” and the purpose of the work should be to capture every potential tone and color available in the film, and no more. In other words, leave any highly interpretive renditions to later. Some might consider this as lacking creative intention, but as a former darkroom printer, and one who knows a bit about the power of Photoshop and other editing programs, my approach is to fix in the scanner when needed (it’s like creating the “perfect” negative) to realize the best potential of the tonal and color balance and then refine later.

Film, by its very nature, is fairly circumscribed, at least after it’s developed, so why narrow the choices even further during scanning?

Digital ICE
The scratches and dirt software in both the Epson Scan (Digital ICE) and SilverFast (iSRD) software can do wonders, especially on very funky film like this 1984 color negative shot on South Las Vegas Boulevard. Note the horrendous condition on the scan done without applying the filter in this takeout (top, left) and the results with applying it (top, right). The full frame (above) is post-Photoshop, and is a prime example of photo archeology, as that iconic motel is long gone, replaced by one of the newer casino complexes on the south end of the Strip.

Color Transparencies
For 35mm, load the 12-slide holder emulsion up (the flat side of the film) and open the Epson Scan software. Click on the Configuration button and choose the profile (icc.profile or generic Epson profile for the scanner) from the drop-down menu. Select your image parameters such as Film Type and dpi. For my work I selected 24- and 48-bit color and 3200dpi and 6400dpi. Then click Preview. (See illustration.)

In the Epson Scan software, the machine quickly (about 15 seconds) scans all the images and then presents you with thumbnails of each. Move the cursor over an image and click on the frame you want to work on, then click the Full Size icon on the left and you will get a larger preview. Then double-click on the image adjustment tools (histogram, color, etc., and also choose if you want Digital ICE, called Dust Reduction) and do your work. At the base of the box is a “Next” button. Click on it to move to the next image and follow the procedures above.

After all are done to your satisfaction click on the Size button on the left of the workspace to bring back the corrected thumbnails. You can then uncheck any you do not wish to scan, then simply click on the Scan button in the control panel. If you haven’t already done so, set destination, confirm the profile, choose file format (TIFF or JPEG), and ID a folder. That’s it. Scan time is about one to two minutes per image, with a full clip taking about 16 minutes.

I scanned 35mm, 6x6, 6x4.5, 6x17, 6x9, 4x5, and even a couple of old Hasselblad super-wide 35s. Of course the better the image, the better the scan, but “corrective” work was easy thanks to a WYSIWYG work environment. Real dogs were a challenge, though color shifts could be corrected. Digital ICE worked great on funky old slides (and especially color negatives), but as mentioned will not work with Kodachrome emulsions.

Density loss is another matter as there’s no information in a burnt-out slide’s highlights. So, scan before your slides go off a cliff, which after a number of years they will, although I must say that late lamented Kodachromes shot as far back as 1972 held their own.

I should mention that SilverFast cautions you about image quality above 3200dpi for 35mm film, while the Epson software does not. Epson tech tells me that you can go up to 6400dpi when the film is in a holder because that signals the unit to kick in the high-res optics.

Color Negatives
I never was much of a color negative shooter, but I managed to dig some out from 20 years or so back. The problem with color negatives is that there are so many film profiles, that is, brands, speeds, and even stock numbers from emulsion runs that could vary month to month. While the Epson Scan Professional Mode worked fine at approximating these profiles, I chose the SilverFast software because it has numerous profiles preloaded, that is, a catalog of film brands and types. This is not foolproof because of the above-mentioned emulsion variations, but you can scroll through them to find one that will put you in the ballpark; start with the named film profile and go from there.

The 35mm film holder allows you to scan three strips of six frames, and it is pleasing and surprising in how fast the whole process proceeds. The workflow is the same as described in the color transparency section above, although SilverFast tempts you with many more processing options. The main difference is in how you get to full-view frames. In SilverFast you click on the thumbnail preview and use Command/+ on a Mac (similar on a PC) to “zoom” it to screen size.

Film Profiles
While the Epson Scan software does a great job with most slides, SilverFast has the added option of very specific profiles for even esoteric films, such as for this Scotch 1000 emulsion. This is of great help with color negative films, but here was applied to get a quality scan from this ethereal image.

The great thing about this quality scanner is that it encourages you to dig through the old files and resurrect images you made in the past, a form of photo archeology that can be fun and rewarding. This image was made on Kodak Tri-X at the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1984.

Black And White
There are some challenges with black and white, with only one having to do with the scanner software itself, and that is that Digital ICE cannot help you with dust and scratches. Other than that, using SilverFast, I was able to both profile according to the software’s extensive list of options (including chromogenic films) and control density and contrast—which is what you want to focus on. Unlike digital black and white, you cannot make selective “burn and dodge” moves and have to treat the negative as an “entity.”

This is probably the biggest challenge in doing black-and-white scans, and requires you do not overdo too-deep shadows or boost highlights for contrast. It’s often a compromise, one where the “do no harm” edict is in full effect. Think of it as trying to create the ideal negative that later you can interpret and perhaps expand on when you go to “print controls ” in Photoshop, etc. Remember, watch those highlights, even if the scan is a bit soft in contrast. This is one discipline where those who have worked in the darkroom will have an advantage, but make some mistakes and you’ll learn soon enough.

Some of my older negatives (40 years back!) were pretty ragged, and all I can say is to care for your negatives well, and get them out of any non-archival storage sleeves or containers today. But even those that had lost density (where the shadows were mere ghosts of their former Zone 3/4-ishness) were rescued to some extent. (By the way, if you want 16-bit black-and-white (grayscale) negative scans, use SilverFast, as the Epson Scan limits the options that reveal themselves when 8-bit output is chosen.)

Recommendations And Conclusions
I have worked with numerous scanners and scanner software packages over the years and can say without reservation that the Epson Perfection V850 Pro is the best affordable scanner yet.

While those without scanning experience will have some learning to do, it’s well worth the effort for the results you can achieve. The speed, high resolution, available controls, and impressive output make scanning fun rather than a chore. I consider this unit an excellent choice for schools, workshops, photo clubs who share gear, and for the individual photographer who has catching up on film files on their bucket list.

Those with film archives who want to extend the life of the image into the digital age (thus counter film’s inexorable and inevitable destabilization) or prep images for large inkjet prints or to send to stock files will benefit from this unit. But I also consider it an excellent choice for those who still shoot film and want to create prints without having to resort to the chemical printing darkroom or who want to ready their work for the web imaging scene.

The combination of these large, high-quality scans and a good inkjet printer is hard to beat, and is in fact the method practiced by a good number of the icons of the previous silver print world.

I recently resurrected my old Rollei 2.8E and bought a 120 rollfilm developing tank. Now that I know that I can confidently get great 120MB and larger files in simple fashion without having to spend five grand on the next full-frame, multi-megapixel DSLR, I can’t wait to start shooting with that classic again.

Those Film Holder Height Adjustments
The film holders have “height adjusters” at the four corners, sliders with five indents that raise the holder from the bed. The default height is the second indent. I queried Epson and they told me that this was a way to help focus the optics on the film plane, should you notice unsharpness not evident in close inspection of the image through an 8x loupe (my emphasis). This is supposed to make up for the effect of film curl or unevenness in the scan. Mounted slides always have a bit of a curl, and different mounts may have different heights (such as plastic vs. cardboard). The 35mm slide holders here are slotted and do not have a cover. (The medium format and negative film holders do.) Make sure all the height adjusters are at the same indent. If the scan is softer than you think it should be on a particular slide, try a higher or lower adjustment. This is a trial and error thing and may have to be set differently according to the slide mount type, but in any case always adjust the four sliders equally. You could, I suppose, unmount the 35mm transparency and use the covered holders, as prepress houses do. Frankly, I kept the height at the default and had no problems, but they are there if you want to try it.

cdjohannes's picture

How does the Epson V850 compare with the 5000ED. My reason for asking is that I have a working 5000ED and I would like to find a replacement. It appears that the Epson does not do APS scanning and that is okay...If I purchase new software to move the 5000ED to a new computer, then I will spend approximately 1/2 of the purchase price of a new scanner and then if the 5000ED dies....

Thank you in advance for any insight you can provide. My guess is that there are others with similar situations.

yv1934p's picture

I have the same question. How good is the Epson against the Nikon?

yv1934p's picture

I have the same question. How good is the Epson against the Nikon?

gschaub1's picture

The Coolscan no longer receives support from Nikon, though Nikon says you can use VueScan or Silverfast to access it. The Epson is very good for a flatbed that can handle 35mm and up, and of course the Nikon's top size for scanning is 35mm. The Epson has features that allow for productivity in scanning batches of slides and negs. And I got very high dpi from the Epson, as well as excellent resolution capabilities due to high res up to 6400 dpi. It's been a long time since I worked with the Nikon, frankly, but overall the Epson is today's state of the art in that under 1K scanner offering arena. But, like all gear, if you are content with what you have and it delivers what you need, and you are not challenged in its use when you re-up your system, then stick with it.