When Good Enough Is Best
Once, after I had been living abroad for a while, I came back to this country with some money in my pocket. Since I was a keen motorcyclist I decided to spend some of it on the finest motorcycle that money could, at that time, buy: a 1000cc BMW. I figured that it was probably the only time in my life that I would be able to afford to do such a thing ( – which regrettably enough turned out to be quite correct). So I bought this magnificent machine and rode off into the sunset expecting motorcycling heaven.
But: the greater the expectation, the greater the potential disappointment. No matter what machine you are on, the rain is still just as wet, traffic is just as heavy, and many routes are just as tedious. So it turned out to be: it took me and that machine quite a long time to overcome the blandishments of the BMW marketing department (and of my own colourful imagination). Once I had done so things were fine. I owned it for about 25 years and Mrs Barker and I had many fine adventures on it.
The lesson I drew from the episode is that, unless you know exactly what you are doing (and who ever does?) it is never a good move to buy the brightest and the best of any product line. Mid-range, or second-hand, or doing without, or reframing the issue are all potential options. What you have to ask yourself is not: is this the best? The better question to ask for both mental and financial equilibrium should be: is this good enough? You really don’t need any more than that. This is a principle that I most recently put into operation with a bit of photokit: a scanner.
Since I have now been shooting film almost entirely for eighteen months or so I decided it would be a good idea to buy a scanner. Locally around Manchester you pay somewhere between £20-£27 for developing and scanning one roll of 35mm film (36 shots) or one roll of 120 medium format (12 shots). So that gets expensive. There again, so does buying a scanner if you are not careful.
Secondhand is a possibility when buying electronic equipment but personally I hesitate over that option: you never quite know what you are getting. New top of the range scanners cost tens of thousands of pounds but they are for professional use. For the non-professional prices start at about £50 or so and top out somewhere over £1000. I did my research on the net. A Canon 1900 (£190) was neck and neck with an Epson V600 (£260) for quality. But – the top of the range Epsons (£550 +) were, according to various reviews, EVEN BETTER! This is when I decided to employ my BMW principle. I went for the Canon. That turned out to be out of stock everywhere so I went for the Epson V600 from First Call Photographic whom I have used in the past and found reliable.
The cognoscenti are a bit sniffy about the quality of scans on a flatbed scanner. I tried to keep an open mind. Here is a comparison between the same negative scanned by my local lab and then scanned on the Epson. I’ve tried to keep roughly the same settings in Lightroom but they can’t be exactly the same because the input from the two scans don’t match one another exactly.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot in it. The bottom right quarter on the lab scan looks a bit sharper but the backs of the mannequins at the top seem to have slightly more tonal range on the Epson scan. This is a first attempt. If I have understood the scanning process correctly you have an extra step with extra opportunities when you scan the image yourself. This is that when the negative is first scanned and you preview it you can adjust it and are given a histogram to do so – which shows the full tonal range of the proposed scan. When you employ a lab you simply have to take whatever tonal settings they give you. I think that’s right, anyway.
I could have gone for the more expensive scanner for double the price – but wouldn’t I just have got the BMW effect? My conclusion? This is good enough.