The Epson V850 Pro Scanner in Context

February 20, 2015 ·

Mark Segal

New scanner models that claim properties of high resolution and high dynamic range for scanning film always raise considerable interest these days, because there is a dearth of choice on the new product market, while the highly-reputed models of the past have become costly legacy items. Hence when Epson provided me the opportunity to review the new model V850 Pro, the controversies sprang to mind regarding how well a flatbed scanner could compare with high quality dedicated film scanners and whether you need to spend a fortune to get very usable results from a scanner. These issues remain topical to a great many people holding large archives of film media they hope one day to digitize – or are doing so already.

Epson V850 Pro (Photo: courtesy of Epson America)
Epson V850 Pro (Photo: courtesy of Epson America)

The film media we scan is diverse: 35mm, medium format, negatives, positives, colour, black and white (B&W), and more. As well, people who scan photographic media are concerned about resolution, sharpness, dynamic range, colour management, productivity, reliability and ease of use. All of these things depend not only on the scanner itself, but importantly, also on the software used to drive it.

Reviewing how one scanner handles all this is a fulsome task in itself. Doing it comparatively with several other scanners of interest to many  (e.g. Epson V750, Plustek OF120, Nikon 5000, Nikon 9000, Imacon, Minolta 5400) considerably multiplied the task. Nonetheless I thought it timely to approach the review this way, and to try to answer as many of the questions that I’ve seen about how these scanners compare. Therefore this is a lengthy article that tries to put the V850 Pro in a useful comparative context. The article is accessible as a PDF download here.

To write this article I operated or participated in the operation of all these scanners from scratch using carefully selected media that would suit the evaluation requirements; I made about three dozen 11*17 inch prints for verification of outcomes I saw on my display and traveled to the US in order to use an Imacon 848 and Nikon 9000, neither of which I had in my own “scanner stable”.

6x9 cm positive transparency for evaluation of center and border sharpness (Photo: courtesy and co. Christopher Campbell)
6×9 cm positive transparency for evaluation of center and border sharpness
(Photo: courtesy and co. Christopher Campbell)

There are numerous methodological factors that go into this work, and I explain the more salient ones in the article, so readers will appreciate the context and the boundaries of what’s been done.

In this summary overview, for those anxious to know the bottom line without reading the downloadable article, I provide below an extract of the general conclusions regarding the Epson V850 Pro.

I think the Epson V850 Pro is a versatile and quality performer. It’s overall performance is similar to that of the V750, except that it’s faster and the film holders are more robust; people who already use a V750 would see no other advantage up-grading to the V850. It produces very detailed, high quality reflective scans. The high-end dedicated film scanners will outperform it for apparent sharpness when scanning 35mm media, but the perceived extent of the difference is reduced when viewing prints of the sharpened file at least up to 11* 17 inches of image size. Its output from medium format B&W negatives and colour positives is of a high standard. The scanner is reliable – I did not experience one freeze or crash using it with SilverFast 8 throughout the testing period. The Epson V850 combined with SilverFast 8 makes a powerful productivity combination for batch scanning. This will be especially attractive to people who have large archives of 35mm film media they wish to scan.

I recommend using the bundled EpsonScan software for business document scanning. I used SilverFast 8 Ai Studio for all the reflective photo and transparent film scanning I did for this article (save for the Imacon scans); however, for refined quartertone luminance adjustments, sharpening and one instance of grain mitigation I used other specialized applications.

SilverFast 8 Application GUI with Converted 6*9 B&W Negative (Photo: Ilford FP4, 1970 co. Mark D Segal)
SilverFast 8 Application GUI with Converted 6*9 B&W Negative
(Photo: Ilford FP4, 1970 co. Mark D Segal)

I unequivocally recommend that people who buy this scanner with the intention of scanning film should upgrade the bundled SilverFast SE/SE+ version to SilverFast Ai Studio. The up-grade features are worthwhile and the pricing is reasonable. Having done so, for customizing colour management of the scanner, buy a SilverFast target and save yourselves the time and aggravation of using X-Rite i1 Scanner that is included with the V850

DOWNLOAD THE 89 Page PDF
The New Epson V850 Pro Scanner-Final

More generally, SilverFast 8 is an efficient and user-friendly application bundling a lot of capability for producing high quality scans; colour correction is a real strength of this software, and batch-scanning with the Epson V850 Pro very efficient, especially in the Ai Studio version. Even considering the very capable software options we can deploy in a post-scan workflow, starting with a good quality, well balanced scan makes anything else you do afterward with the file easier and in some cases better. The Epson V850 Pro combined with SilverFast 8 makes it possible to produce high quality scans rather easily.

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Mark has been making photographs for the past six decades and started adopting a digital workflow in 1999 first with scanning film, then going fully digital in 2004. He has worked with a considerable range of software, equipment and techniques over the years, accumulated substantial experience as an author, educator and communicator in several fields and is a frequent contributor to the Luminous-Landscape website. Mark developed a particular interest in film scanning and authored the ebook “Scanning Workflows with SilverFast 8, SilverFast HDR, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop” available on the SilverFast website. In his “other life” (the one that pays for the photography), Mark is a retiree from the World Bank Group and now a consultant in electric power development.

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