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Epson V600 for Photo Perfection

High Technology Product Reviews | Epson V600 for Photo Perfection
You'd expect a photo scanner at this price to scan up to four 35mm slides or two strips of 35mm film at a time, as the V600 does. You probably wouldn't expect it to also offer a 6,400 pixel-per-inch (ppi) optical resolution as well as scan medium-format film, including 120/220 and the entire range of panoramic formats up to 6 by 22 centimeters. But the V600 does that too. The unexpected extras help make it a great choice if you have medium-format film to scan and are on a tight budget.

Specifications
Maximum Optical Resolution
6400 pixels
Mechanical Resolution
9600 pixels
Maximum Scan Area
Letter
Scanning Options
Reflective, Transparency
Flatbed
Yes
The V600 fits in Epson's line between the less expensive Editors' Choice Epson Perfection V500 Photo, scanner and the more expensive Epson Perfection V700 Photo. Despite the evenly spaced model numbers, it's much closer in price and capability to the V500, but it offers some important extras. In particular, it includes Digital ICE—the hardware-based approach for digitally removing dust and scratches—for both prints and film. The V500 includes Digital ICE for film only.

Setup and Basic Scanning
Setup is typical for a flatbed scanner. Simply install the software, plug in the power cord and supplied USB cable, and turn the scanner on. I installed it on a system running Windows Vista, but according to Epson, it also comes with drivers and a full set of software for Windows 7, XP, 2000 and Mac OX 10.3.9 through 10.6. Like most scanners, the V600 comes with TWAIN and WIA drivers, so you can scan from most programs with a scan command. Also included are Adobe Photoshop Elements and Abbyy FineReader 6.0 Sprint for optical character recognition (OCR).

The V600's scan utility will be familiar to anyone who's worked with a recent Epson scanner or MFP. The utility lets you start a scan either from your computer or by using one of the four buttons on the scanner itself. One of the buttons simply brings up the scan utility on your PC. The other three are for copying (by sending the scan to your printer), e-mailing (by launching an e-mail message on your PC and adding the scan as an attachment), and saving to a PDF file (with the option set by default to recognize the text and save it in searchable PDF format).

As I've mentioned in other reviews, the Epson utility offers one particularly nice touch for scanning to PDF files. After scanning each page, you can add another page by pressing a button on the screen or the scanner, or end the scan by pressing a different button. This isn't as easy as scanning a multi-page file with an automatic document feeder (ADF)—it does nothing to help put the next page on the flatbed—but it's as easy as it can be without an ADF.

From Fully Automatic to Full Manual Control
Epson has also carried forward its full range of choices for scanning modes, ranging from fully automatic to fully manual. The Full Auto Mode lets you simply hit a scan button. The driver prescans, analyzes what it sees, chooses appropriate settings, and scans. Home Mode and Office Mode add manual control over selected settings. Professional Mode gives you full manual control over sophisticated options like color correction and tonal adjustments.

It's very much worth mention that the Full Auto Mode does an excellent job, to the point where even sophisticated users may have trouble improving on the results for most originals. However, there are some features for improving scans that even the most casual user should take the time to explore.

For faded originals, the driver offers a color restore option. Even more useful is backlight correction to automatically fix photos with, say, a dark face against a bright background. With both of these features, you generally need to see the prescan before you can decide whether to turn the feature on.

The driver also offers both software-based dust removal and the hardware-based Digital ICE, which takes multiple scans and analyzes them to find and remove the dust and scratches. In my tests, Digital ICE did the better job (as expected, because the multiple scans give it more information to work with), but it also added artifacts in some cases. If you want the best possible scan with dust and scratch removal, you need to try it both ways for any given original, and then compare the results.

Scan Speed, Quality, and Other Issues
The V600 is firmly in the top tier for scan quality for flatbed scanners that cost less than $500. All of the scans in my tests were more than good enough for printing at 8-by-10 or larger at high enough quality to make them suitable for framing. The 4-by-6 prints that I scanned and then printed on an Epson PictureMate printer showed only subtle differences from the original. For film scanning, the V600 managed to pick up the satin sheen in a bridal grown and the two levels of black in a tuxedo—two details that a drugstore print made from the same negative missed.

The V600's ability to resolve detail isn't quite a match for the much more expensive Epson Perfection V700 Photo, which claims the same 6,400-ppi resolution but with much better optics. On the other hand, it's a close match to the Editors' Choice V500, which also offers 6,400 ppi.

The V600's scan speed is well with the typical range for flatbeds for both prints and film. As with an increasing number of scanners, it uses an LED light source, which makes scan times more consistent by eliminating warm-up time. LEDs also have the advantage over traditional cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) of not containing mercury, which makes them more environmentally friendly as well.

In my tests using the fully automatic mode, the scanner took 28 to 29 seconds to prescan, automatically adjust settings, and then scan a 4-by-6 photo at 300 ppi and 400 ppi. Using Professional mode to scan manually took about 6 seconds for a prescan, plus 9 seconds for the scan itself. Using Digital ICE in Professional mode upped the scan time to 1 minute 4 seconds.

Scanning slides in the fully automatic mode took a total of 2:50 for the maximum of four slides, with the driver automatically adjusting the settings so the final result would be four 4- by 6-inch images at 300 ppi. Manually scanning a single slide at 2,400 ppi took a consistent 35 to 36 seconds for a normal scan and 4:31 with Digital ICE. (At one point, after letting the scanner sit idle long enough to fall into sleep mode, the scan time jumped to a consistent 1:03. Turning the scanner and computer off and then on again returned the time to the 35- to 36-second level, however, and I was not able to get the scanner back into whatever state slowed down the scan time)

As with any scanner that lacks an automatic document feeder and concentrates on photos, the V600 isn't really meant for office tasks like copying, faxing, and scanning documents for optical character recognition (OCR). If you don't mind placing the pages on the flatbed by hand, however, it will work reasonably well for light-duty use. In my tests, using the OCR program it comes with, it managed to read our Times New Roman test page at 8 points and our Arial test page at 6 points without a mistake. And its ability to scan to a searchable PDF format provides a basic document management capability.

That said, using the V600 for office tasks is a decidedly secondary consideration, and certainly not a reason to pick the V600 over another scanner. As with the V500 Photo, the argument for getting the V600 is for photos, and particularly for film. It offers more than acceptable scan quality and speed, and compared to the V500, it offers additional flexibility for medium format film plus Digital ICE for prints as well as film. If you need-or want-either feature, the V600 is the obvious choice.

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