About a year ago I purchased an Epson V39 scanner with the intent of using to digitize family photos and documents. With a year of use under my belt, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share my thoughts on the product and explain why I selected it in the first place.
I think it’s important to note that I have taken courses on archival preservation while pursuing my library science degree, so my perspective differs somewhat from a typical consumer. My focus is on creating the highest possible quality digital images that will have the best chance of long-term digital preservation. What suits my needs may not suit yours, but I hope that explaining my thought process will get you thinking about what you want to get out of your scanner purchase so you can choose the best option for you!
Before I started shopping I made a list of the criteria that I was looking for in a scanner.
- Flat-bed style
- High resolution (3000+ dpi)
- Will produce TIFF files
- At least 8.5×11 capture area
- Not bulky for travel
- Under $100
- Not Canon brand
I wanted something flat-bed style, as opposed to a wand or feeder scanner, because this is the least damaging to fragile photos. Anytime you have a photo pressed against a surface while moving you could cause damage to the emulsion on the photo. The high resolution and file format were important to me for creating preservation-quality scans. However, I also wanted something large enough to scan standard document sizes without stitching them together digitally. At the time I purchased the scanner, I knew I would be traveling to visit family. I wanted something that would be easy to take with me and inexpensive in case something happened to it during the trip.
Finally, I ruled out Canon brand scanners after reading a review by an artist who explained how different scanners handle field depth. She explained that Canon doesn’t handle field depth very well, which I knew wouldn’t be suitable for a genealogist who is scanning a warped photo or a book with a spine.
Based on these criteria I immediately ruled out the Flip Pal scanner. I bring this up because it has been so popular with genealogists that I feel the need to explain why I did not consider it for this purchase. You can see the comparison of the Epson V39 and the Flip Pal below. The Flip Pal only produces JPG files. This is fine for general use, but is not acceptable for digital preservation standards because JPG files can be compressed in a way that loses some of their content. It also produces only 300 and 600 dpi images. Again, this is fine for general use online, but it will not translate well to manipulation and preservation. The higher the resolution, the more detailed image you can capture. This means that a small image could be blown up without pixilation. Finally, anything larger than the 4″x6″ surface requires a “stitcher” program that turns multiple images into a larger image. This is an extremely inefficient way to scan large documents and photos. Certainly the Flip Pal has a place for many people who need to travel light or just want a way to get their photos from albums to Facebook, but I would not recommend it to someone who is serious about digital preservation.
After much shopping I settled on the Epson V39 scanner and I have been very happy with my choice! It met or exceeded all my criteria:
In addition to the criteria I shopped for, there have been some other great things about my Epson V39 scanner. First, I have been very pleased with its scanning time and customization. Prior to this I had been using a multi-function printer as my main scanner and it was incredibly slow. Although it’s not instantaneous, the Epson is much faster! The option to scan multiple photos to separate files at once also saves time when scanning large batches of photos or album pages. The software is familiar to anyone who has used an Epson scanner. Although the default settings make it easy to get started, I also appreciate the ability to fine-tune the settings for a specific situation.
Second, it’s entirely USB powered. This means that when I travel I don’t have to take another power cord with me and find two wall plugs. I can run the scanner completely from my laptop battery if I’m only scanning for a short time or I can plug in my laptop if needed. I also like how the scanner powers on automatically when it’s plugged in, so no need to turn it on and off.
Third, the scanner is very portable. It’s about he size of a typical 14-inch laptop but a little thicker and much lighter. I put mine in an old Pyrex dish carrier for car travel. It wouldn’t be ideal for air travel, but it would be possible, if necessary. One of the reasons I wanted to stay under $100 was so that I wasn’t afraid to take it on the road with me. If something happens to the scanner, I haven’t invested too much in it. Although I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth already!
Finally, the removable lid has made it easy to scan over-sized books and album pages. As previously mentioned, the software allows for the scan of multiple images at once, so scanning an album page can go a lot quicker this way! The legal-sized surface has been large enough to accommodate almost everything I’ve tried to scan in the last year.
There is only one thing I really don’t like about this scanner, which is the scanning surface area. As with most flatbed scanners, the scannable area does not go all the way to the edge of the glass. It takes a little bit of time to become familiar with the slight border around the scanning surface that will be cut off. Like I said, this is not a problem unique to the Epson V39, you will find most flatbed scanners have this issue. I have been thinking about creating some sort of squared bracket from cardboard that could assist with lining up the photos away from the edge, but I haven’t tried to do that yet.
Despite this drawback, I would still recommend this scanner to anyone who is looking to preserve family photos. It has been so easy for me to use and checks all the boxes I look for in a scanner. I have gotten a lot of use out of this scanner over the last year. I foresee a lot more use as I’m in the middle of a archival preservation project right now and unearthing some new photos and documents!
If you are looking to buy a scanner for your family photos, I would strongly recommend first thinking about what you plan to scan, the purpose of digitizing your images, and what features you need in a scanner. If you still aren’t sure about your dpi and file format needs, I recommend doing some more research so that you can understand whether the limitations of your scanner will impact the plans you have for your images.
Do you like or dislike the scanner you have? Share your reviews with us in the comments below!