Epson Perfection 2450 Photo Review
This page - Overview, Print scanning, Black and white negative scanning
Page 2 - Medium format slide scanning and shadow detail test
Page 3 - Colour negative scanning
Page 4 - Comparison with 1640SU Photo, Acer Scanwit and Canon Canoscan 2700 and other thoughts
Silverfast Ai review
Update 09 December 2002 - Epson has recently announced the Perfection 3200 Photo, the replacement for the 2450. It features increased resolution (3200dpi instead of 2400) and speed (Epson claim it is up to 3 times faster than the 2450). I haven't used one so please don't email me asking how the image quality compares with the 2450 or a dedicated film scanner. If you want to know, email Epson and ask them to send me one for review!
Epson announced this photo scanner a while ago, and I think the photographic community has eagerly anticipated its arrival ever since. We already knew that the Epson Perfection 1640SU Photo was a very fine scanner for prints, and very reasonable for scanning medium format slides. This new scanner has the advantage of a 2400 dpi resolution versus the 1640's 1600 dpi. At the time this review was first published (November 2001), very little information was available on the internet, so I thought it would be worthwhile sharing my thoughts and a few sample scans.
What do you want it for?
One man's good scanner is another man's absolute waste of space - it's important to determine from the outset what you want to use it for. I have two main uses for it - scanning prints and scanning medium format slides (and maybe negatives). I already have a dedicated 35mm film scanner so it doesn't matter to me if the Epson is no good for making 35mm enlargements. Also I don't care particularly about the software bundle, or whether it's fast for scanning normal documents. Having said that, I do print the odd letter on my Epson photo printer, and similarly I might scan the odd document so good document scanning speed would be a bonus.
The main thing photographers are going to care about on a scanner is picture quality. There is quite a lot to test. First of all:
3) Colour negatives
4) Black and white negatives
In fact there are more variables than that - each different film may scan differently (for example XP2, which is processed in colour chemistry, has very different characteristics from other black and white films). Even the same film can scan differently depending on how it has been developed - most high-street processors in the UK, especially the 1 hour ones, seem to ruin your negatives by underdeveloping them, leading to lots of noise in the scans. The same film properly developed may give much denser negatives and far superior scans.
As well as the 4 different media types listed above, there are at least 4 different scanner characteristics which affect picture quality:
2) dynamic range (ability to "see into" shadows)
3) colour rendition
4) noise (or "digital grain" - it looks like grain but isn't!)
And that's just image quality - there are also practical issues to consider such as scanner speed, design etc.
No wonder most sources tend to produce superficial reviews and gloss over most of the above image quality issues - I don't propose to spend the rest of my life evaluating them all either!
The Bottom Line
I thought I would break with tradition and put the bottom line at the top. This review is a bit of a "work in progress" and maybe my opinions will change as I test different aspects of the scanner. But at the moment, my opinion is that this is an amazing piece of kit for the price. I think it is more than adequate for my print scanning needs and is also capable of making scans from my 6x7cm slides which look sharp at super A3 size. Not the last word in medium format scanning by any means, but fantastic for 1/10th of the price of Nikon's Coolscan 8000.
The above is the result of scanning a sharp 35mm slide at 2400dpi on the Epson, then reducing the size and sharpening it with the unsharp mask tool on Photoshop. You can see that there is a strong magenta cast from the default colour settings - this could easily be corrected, however.
The picture to the left is a very small section of the above slide, shown at "actual pixels" resolution after being scanned at 2400dpi and sharpened using the unsharp mask. I don't believe that using the unsharp mask is "cheating" - I think it's the fairest way of showing the scanner's quality, as all scanners will benefit from some unsharp masking. As you can see there is very little "noise" despite using unsharp masking, and the shadow detail is good. Sharpness is also not bad. My initial impression is that shadow detail and shadow noise are better than my old Epson 1640SU Photo, and sharpness is also better.
To the left is a scan of the same slide using my Acer Scanwit 2720S film scanner at 2700dpi. The fact that this scanner has 2700dpi to the Epson's 2400dpi does not account for the extra detail - The Acer is simply a sharper scanner. You can see the individual windows of the Bank of China building, which are not visible on the Epson scan. However, the Epson's fuzziness helps obscure the specks of dust which are picked out by the Acer!
UPDATE - I have heard that the reason the Acer and other dedicated film scanners pick up every speck of dust is to do with the collimated light source used in this type of scanner. The transparency lid on the Epson 2450 and other flatbed scanners is a diffuse light source, and helps mask dust and scratches. For doing small prints, the Epson may actually have the advantage over the Acer, saving time removing all the dirt in Photoshop.
The above photo was scanned from a 6x4 print. I would make the following comments:
1) The slightly odd colour cast is well reproduced from the original (it was processed in a cheap high-street lab in Cairns, Australia)
2) The print only took 5 seconds to scan at 48 bit colour and 300dpi. It took a further 5 seconds to transfer all the data to my computer through the USB port - but presumably if you were using the faster Firewire connection that delay would be reduced or eliminated altogether.
3) More shadow detail is visible on the scan than on the print under normal room lighting!
4) The scanner picks up a lot of dust, thumb prints etc that lower resolution scanners would not pick up. This is, I suppose, the downside to the fact that this scanner is far sharper than what is necessary to produce a sharp scan of a print.
and white negatives (XP2)
above is scanned from an XP2 negative using the Epson 2450. (2) is
from the same negative using the Scanwit 2720S. The picture to the
left is scanned from the print using the Epson 2450.
My conclusion is that neither film scanner is particularly good for scanning this type of film. Both scans (1) and (2) look quite grainy, but the print is not grainy and this "grain" would appear to actually be scanner "noise".
The great thing about the web is that it's interactive - no sooner had I published the above conclusion than I received an email with a suggestion for making better black and white scans from the Perfection 2450. The image to the left was scanned from the negative at 1600 dpi, just as image (1) above was. However, this time I scanned it as a colour slide, then inverted it and removed the colour in Photoshop. What a difference! It still doesn't look quite as sharp as the scan from the print above, but if anything it looks less grainy, and certainly much better than image (1). This technique is probably well worth trying with any scanner.
This is becoming quite an interactive review - I have just received another email suggesting I try the black and white negative again, this time directly on the glass instead of using the film holders. The picture to the left is the result - definitely an improvement in sharpness, and now in my opinion better than the scan from the print. So my initial conclusion is now completely reversed - it seems it is possible to make very reasonable prints from XP2 using the Epson 2450 Photo!