Diving headfirst into digitizing my family’s photographs this past month has led me down many paths seeking information on best practices for digitizing important memories of my family. After lots of research and trade offs between cost and functionality I decided on the Epson Perfection V550.
Although being the little brother of the V600, the V550 has the same Dmax of 3.4. The V550 has 6,400 DPI optical resolution while the V600 boasts 9,600. The V550 also only has Digital ICE for negatives, not regular scanning. Both were trade offs I was happy to make considering I only needed 3,200 DPI and most of the photographs were in good shape.
The V550 scanner has good build quality aside from the film inserts which I will address in this review. It comes with an external power adapter and a lengthy USB cord. 4 buttons on the front are quickly ignored, the power button is on the right side near the bottom of the scanner. The printer turns on and is ready to scan in around 10 seconds. The scanner turns itself off automatically after a few hours of no use. The bottom side of the scan bed had dust on it, as well as one scratch and some (what looks like) white dirt on one spot of the glass. Luckily these were in areas that didn’t affect negative film scanning. I haven’t seen how difficult it is to open the scanner and clean off the contaminants yet.
The official Epson scanning software works correctly, offering quite a few options when in “professional” mode. Drivers installed quickly on my Windows 10 x64 machine and I was scanning in some test pictures after a few minutes of setup.
I processed around 2,000 strips of film for this review, scanning in around ~800 images total after pruning.
The film holders for the V550 were lackluster. The main holder I used was for 35mm film. The plastic inserts can hold 2 35mm strips with 6 exposures on each of them. The plastic holder has to be aligned on the bed correctly for the overhead light to shine through the images correctly. This alignment is accomplished with a little tab sticking out of the side of the insert. I found myself having to wiggle the insert after inserting film to ensure it was in place correctly.
For film in good condition, not bent or curved too much, the holder was able to keep the film in place while scanning. For negatives that were bent or curved a moderate amount the holder was unable to flatten the negatives completely due to the clips not engaging due to the amount of force the film put on the holder. The film is only held in place by 3 main clips running through the middle of the holder and an additional 6 along the sides.
I found the side holders not much help, with no real grip being placed on the film when in place. Clipping the holder in place took finesse. Getting one end of the holder in place would often cause the opposite side to come undone. Even after hundreds of scans I couldn’t get into reproducible method, I had to run my hand up and down the holder twice to make sure everything was in place. Attaching the holder would often cause the negatives to move out of position. Film that had moderate to severe curling was difficult to get held in place and flat by the inserts. Removing the holder meant digging a finder under the end of the holder to pry the clips loose. The medium film sized holder swiveled on one end, a method I feel would have worked better than what the 35mm holder used.
While the scanner is in film mode, either with VueScan or the official Epson software, switching between different pictures caused the scanner to “calibrate” itself. The scanner started and stopped before and after each image, with a 10 second pause for each as the top and bottom scanner motors whirled back and forth. Upon closer inspection, the bottom scanner light flashed on and off in repeatable patterns, possibly to align the bottom and top scanner and lights. This became frustrating especially when Digital ICE was enabled, as the same alignment procedure occurred during the second pass of each image also. If I scanned all 12 negatives available at the time, it would have been quicker to scan across the entire print bed and have the software crop out the pictures the user requested. This delay caused a lot of time wasted when scanning negatives in.
If I accidentally pressed one of the buttons on the front of the scanner while getting film ready on the scan bed, the scanner would fire up and try to start capturing pictures. Unlike a regular scan though, the bottom scanner and top light work together to expose a negative correctly. When the lid is open and a scan starts the scanner detects the lack of overhead light causing the error light flashes on the front. Both VueScan and the scanner have to be turned off and back on to get them functioning properly again.
For the price the V550 is a good value, offering good optical resolution and ability to scan an assortment of media. The shoddy insert build quality along the amount of time needed to scan in negative images are the scanner’s main downfalls for my personal use. Compared to the rest of the Epson lineup (V600, 700, 800, and 850), the V550 has the best bang for the buck for an entry level scanner.