A Viewfinder Darkly

Photography tips and tutorials

Scanning old slides with the Epson V500

June 10 2015

by Philip Northeast

Over thirty years of my film photography are sitting in boxes of  transparencies and negatives hiding in the cupboard. I learnt much about photography over the years. Even though as a raw beginner in photography my  techniques were far from ideal,  my basic instincts were always there.

The scanning project has two aims. First is exploring the film scanning techniques and settings with theEpson V500 and the other is searching  the old photographs for any suitable for my photo library.

The only time it ever snowed in our suburb, thirty years ago

The only time it ever snowed in our suburb, thirty years ago

A special purpose film scanner may well produce better quality, but for many purposes it is not needed.  The Epson V500  flatbed scanner is not for the full high quality professional use, rather it is ideally suited to the photo enthusiast wanting to digitise their collections of photos. The quality of the scans is good enough for general editorial use on web sites. This fits both my main needs.

The Epson V500 has the essential attribute for file scanning with a light source in the lid. Normal flatbed scanners use light reflected from the original back down to the scanning receivers. For film scanning you remove a cover inside the Epson’s lid to reveal the film light source.  This adaptability  makes the Epson a good general purpose machine capable of good quality print scans as well as film.

The settings I chose are a compromise between quality  of the image and the time it takes to scan and the resultant file size. Scanners produce large files that can really chew up hard disk space. Therefore bigger is not always better. You need to work out the size and resolution you really need for your purpose, rather than waste quality that will never be appreciated when the image is used.

Take a close look at the slide film itself. It has a shiny side and a slightly duller side. Put it on the scanner with the shiny side down so that the dull side is facing the light source for the scanner, this produces less reflections and more light through the slide for a brighter scanned image

Although the recommended resolution for scanning film is  3000dpi or higher,  I set the resolution to 1200dpi for my slide scanning project. I am satisfied with equality of the scans for use in social media and as stock photos for web site articles. It still takes about ten minutes to scan a set of four slides and produces a 17 M bit image. Large Image files can easily fill a hard drive.

This youngster now has a wife and family of his own

This youngster now has a wife and family of his own( and a Yamaha R1)

Target size, I set this to equal the file produced by a 6 Mp camera, at 3000 x 2000 pixels. This might not seem much  compared to current high end digital cameras, but once again the quality  is more than enough for my main purposes.  It does need to be larger than the default which matches the target to the source size. Enlarging the image in the scanning process is necessary  to make a usable digital image. This is normal for slide film, because it was always intended to be enlarged for printing or projection.

Epson Scan software settings

Epson Scan software settings

The scanning software sets the maximum document size during the preview scan. It is possible to make the document size smaller, but not larger.


There is a range of adjustments available in scanning software but I do not use most of them.  However, a couple I find very useful that save time when I start adjusting the scanned images in Lightroom.

The levels tool ensures  the range of exposure values from black to white are used in the scanned image. This gives more detail by showing subtle changes in colour tone.

The exposure histogram from the preview scan

The exposure histogram from the preview scan

I did leave the unsharp mask box ticked for no particular reason.

The last is the best, Digital ICE technology.  This does an excellent job of reducing scratches and dust specks from the scanned image. This is based on a hardware solution where the scanner makes a second pass with an infra red light source. Most colour film dyes absorb less infra red light than dust and scratches, so the software uses an infrared scan to identify them and remove them from the main white light scan. It certainly cleans up all the little pieces that take a long time to remove with the spot removal tool in Lightroom. Cleaning the slides is not recommended as it is easy to permanently damage the chemical emulsion.

Adjusting colour

Then I import the scanned images into Lightroom for cataloguing and final adjustments. Lightroom has very useful tools for setting the colour balance, the auto function is a good place to start.  Different slides have their own colour balance and some of  my older slides have faded and do need restoration.

Scanner tips

Keep the glass platform clean, it is easy to get finger marks and dust on it during a scanning session.The slide film seems to attract more than enough dust and marks without adding more.

Taking the film strip out of these plastic mount was easy and necessary

Taking the film strip out of these plastic mount was easy and necessary

Plastic mounts confuse the scanner over the size and where the film is. One solution to take the filmstrip out  of the mount and put it in the film holder section rather then the slide mount section of the film template.

The Wrap

These settings are a rough guide. I haven’t fully explored all the options with the Epson Scan software, never mind considering other scanning software. As I work my way through my collection of old slides any that are really good are kept separate. These can be rescanned later at a higher resolution, and after a deeper  exploration of  the scanning software.

Biggest limiting factor in quality was the original photograph, some date back to mid 1970’s when I bought my first SLR camera.  For me some of the subjects outweigh the technical merits of the scanning. Some are a small part of  history so being able to share digital versions makes the exercise worthwhile.


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2 responses to “Scanning old slides with the Epson V500”

  1. Gisele Croce says:

    Hi, Philip, good article, thanks for sharing your experience with Epson V500 scanner. I live in Caracas, Venezuela, and I bought this scanner through Amazon about 6 years ago. My aim was similar than yours, to scan a lot of old slides that are stored in their plastic boxes and the projector roundboxes around the house. It has been a bit difficult to me to get this compromise between quality and size of the scanned images.

    As for slides I have tested many resolutions and target, what confuses me more is target size and now I’m using Letter size. I also check Color Restoration most of the times the pictures are faded or reddish, then I process them a bit more with Picasa for cutting, rotating, contrast, red eyes and so on (I don’t know how to use Photoshop or Lightroom. I use Digital Ice (Quality) specially when there is sky in the image or dust or scratches.

    I’ve got a friend of mine who “contracts” me from time to time to scan his slides and the last time I put a high resolution, saved as TIFF, got heavy files, edited them with Picasa, saved again as JPG and reduce size with LightImage Resizer. For his puroposes they were good, but I want to learn to an expert level.

    When it comes to scan printed photos (9×13 or 10×15) I doubt again with target size. And Digital Ice doesn’t work for printed and I must use the other dust cleaner medium or high level).

    Please, Philip, I’d like you to give me your email to send you some of the slides and printed photos I have scanned. This way I could get your opinion and help. I wpould appreciate this too much.

    Many thanks.

  2. Gisele Croce says:

    PD. It’s right when you say that the scanner get confused with the slide plaastic frame (specially with the thicker ones) but I have no time to pull them out and use the negative frame.

    And one question? have you had your scanner got maintenance by a technician ? I think mine needs internal cleaning (the glass looks dirty inside) but I’m afraid they affect calibration or something…do scanners need to be revised from time to time? Thanks.

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