The Pakon F135+ vs the Epson V600
First of all, I want to thank Tim for letting me share this on his blog. My name is Lorenz Gohlke and I am a documentary photographer and I only shoot film #believeinfilm. Todays topic will be the comparison of one of the most popular flatbed scanners currently available and an old, almost ancient dedicated 35mm scanner. Let's see how the Epson V600 and the Kodak Pakon F135+ compare.
ease of use
The V600 is your traditional flatbed. Dust is your worst enemy and scanning a whole roll of 35mm takes ages. Furthermore you have to cut your film before the scanning process. The included filmholders are quite clumsy and don't usually flatten out the film enough. Because of this, you have to wait a while after developing, before you're able to properly scan your film. The included EPSON Scan software is quite easy to use and isn't too prone to crashing.
The Pakon is a different beast! It requires using Windows XP, which might bring back some memories (oh shutdown sound...I've missed you) but still is an incredibly outdated operating system. I use mine with my MacBook, by using the free software VirtualBox to run XP. This setup works incredibly well and hasn't failed me once! The Pakon Scanning Interface (PSI) has definitely seen better days! For me personally, it works quite well. Crashes are rare and after watching Matt Day's very informative video on how to use the Pakon, I feel very comfortable with the interface. I would also recommend the Facebook group Kodak/Pakon F135 Scanner, the members are friendly and always happy to help out. With the software out of the way, we can focus on what the Pakon does best: Scanning a whole roll of 35mm in under 2 minutes, which is simply put amazing! Not having to worry about film flatness, not having to cut the roll into single strips and not having to be present whilst the Pakon is doing it's job is great and safes a lot of time. This also means that you can scan your film shortly after it finished drying, which allows you to develop, scan and archive in about 3-4 hours (2 hours for the drying process).
what you need
I would recommend buying a pair of cotton gloves, to prevent getting fingerprints all over your negs. When scanning with the V600, compressed air is a necessity! At least, as long as you don't want to spend hours for cleaning up your scans. Which btw, will still take you a while. I personally also use the graphic arts cleaner by Tetanal, which has antistatic properties and helps removing drying spots and other junk from your negs.
The highest resolution I would ever use on the V600 is 2400 dpi, because it's the closest option to it's optical resolution. Increasing it any more will actually worsen the quality of the scans.
The Pakon offers a max resolution of 3000x2000 which roughly equals 2100 dpi. This enables you to print 8x10" at 300 dpi.
You might now think that the Epson offers better quality scans, due to it's slightly larger file sizes, I would have to disagree strongly. I prepared some examples from both scanners to highlight the differences between the two.
The black and white scan test was done with Ilford HP5+ pushed to 1600, a very demanding film to scan, due to the high contrast and somewhat large grain. I also chose a difficult film to test the scanners color capabilities. The film scanned was Cinestill's 800T, which is Kodak Vision 3 film with the remjet removed and should technically go easy on the scanners, because it's made specifically for scanning. But, the slight push to 800 and the difficult light, I used the film in, makes it a challenge for the two scanners.
I exported all the scans as JPGs, due to there being almost no benefit in exporting as Tiff files. Both scanners were used in "auto" mode for the first test. Auto mode, for me, means that I didn't make any adjustments and let the scanners do all the work. The second test involved adjusting the settings to save the as much detail as possible, which basically means producing a very flat scan. I also edited the scans to show what they would look like as a finished product.
auto bw scans
The sepia tint of the Pakon scan probably jumped right in your face. The scanner was never intended to scan traditional bw film and only has a setting for bw C41 film which is why normal bw film turns out sepia. The Pakon definitely struggles with the high contrast and intense grain of the film and blows out most of the highlights. The sharpness is amazing and the shadow detail is also very good.
The V600 does a better job choosing the right settings for an automatic scan, but the sharpness is definitely disappointing. I would accredit the superior auto mode to the more up to date scanning software.
On another note, it seems as if the Epson cuts of a good amount of the longer sides of the negative, the Pakon does a way better job at scanning the whole frame, which is likely due to it being a dedicated 35mm scanner. Just compare the left edges of the two scans.
adjusted flat bw scans
Now we can see the Pakon shine, I adjusted the contrast and exposure of the scan to achieve a flat scan. This means that as much highlight and shadow detail as possible is saved. I am actually very happy with this scan, because it offers a good balance between dynamic range and contrast.
The Epson scan is also very good when it comes to dynamic range, I would consider saying that it actually provides a better dynamic range than the Pakon. I could probably have made the Pakon scan even more flat, but liked the way it looked. Sharpness is still horrible.
This comparison truly illustrates the huge difference between the two scans. Whilst the Epson scan has the upper hand when it comes to flatness, the Pakon absolutely destroys it in terms of sharpness. This becomes especially evident in the thin railing.
edited bw scans
At first, I edited the Pakon scan to my liking, mainly because I am more used to working with it's files in Lightroom. Afterwards, I tried to even out the differences between the two scans, by adjusting the V600 scan to match the two.
I am actually quite surprised about how close I got them, but the superior sharpness of the Pakon still make a significant difference. This is very noticeable when looking at the grain of the HP5 scans. Whilst the V600 looks more grainy and muddy, the Pakon offers beautiful sharp and detailed grain, almost resembling a silver gelatin print. I also prefer the contrast of the Pakon.
auto color scans
The auto Pakon scan looks quite usable, actually. I dislike the intense blue tint, but that could be attributed to the Cinestill's tendency to render shadows as blueish.
The V600 is flatter, but renders the whole scene in a gross green tint. I also have to bring up the intense cropping again! Well, I think we can forget about the sharpness, can't we...
adjusted flat color scans
This flat scan is almost perfect, at least in my eye. I appreciate the dynamic range and as far as I remember, this comes quite close to how the scene looked when I witnessed it, maybe a little too blue.
I still dislike the V600's color scan. Green just looks ugly in night scenes.
The differences are exaggerated when comparing the scans at 2:1 magnification. The poor sharpness and large grain is very noticeable in the V600 scan, whilst the Pakon is already quite useable. I also noticed the greater amount of color noise in the V600 file.
edited color scans
I used the same methodology to edit these scans and have to say that I prefer the Pakon file (again). It's more detailed, sharper and offers a greater dynamic range. The colors look more natural and more vibrant. Scanning color truly puts the Pakon in front. I mean that's exactly what that scanner was made for and it is perfect for doing exactly that.
Did anyone here question the Pakon destroying the V600? Probably not, but I was actually surprised about how close you can get the two scans. Nevertheless, the Pakon is the better scanner for 35mm, because of the way superior sharpness, color scans and speed. The V600, being a flatbed, is also able to scan 120, which it does quite well. I've kept that scanner mainly because I also need to scan my Medium Format film.
The biggest problems with the Pakon is the high price point of about 700-850$/€ and the horrible availability, especially in Europe. The V600 is still available new and it costs about a third of the Pakon. I would actually recommend going for the V550 instead of the V600, mainly because it's technically the same scanner and a bit cheaper.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this article and hope that some of you learned something. I will provide all the scans as a download link and if any of you have any further questions, you can hit me up on my Instagram @enzogohlke or on my website.