photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Managing film scans in Aperture

thus avoiding giving money to Microsoft

in Apple Aperture , Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In recent months I’ve found myself doing a lot more film photography, and this reopens the old issues of how best to manage film scans alongside digital camera files. Ultimately they’re all just photos, and I’d like to be able to manage them together. In the “old days”, I used iView Media Pro to manage all my scans, and built up a considerable number of catalogs, including a “reference” catalog for finished, best work.  These days I’ve got Aperture to do this for me for my digital camera files, and the iView stuff lives on if ever I want to go back to earlier work.  However, I’ve still been trying to use iView to manage my film scans. It really is a very powerful tool, but ever since it was taken over by Microsoft, and recast as “Expression Media”, it has stagnated. Two versions of Expression Media have been released, and apart from packaging and some very marginal new features, they offer nothing to justify the absurd upgrade price. And in fact, I can’t even buy an upgrade in Switzerland. Microsoft’s online store points me at the full version, with a ridiculous price, wherever I click from.  Why do I care if it offers nothing ? Well, there’s things in iView 3 which don’t work properly any more on Mac OS X 10.5 - I think OS X 10.3 was current when iView 3 was released. And if I’m committing work to it, it seemed a safer bet to be up to date.

But I couldn’t do it, so I was prompted to see what Aperture could do for me. One winning point Aperture scored over the competition from Day 1 was the ability to manage large files - and 16 bit 4800dpi scans from XPan film are large, over 170Mb. It doesn’t make much sense to process these files in Aperture - Photoshop is the right tool for that - but managing them, maybe.

Recently, and belatedly, I’ve started scanning linear 16bit “RAW” scans, and post-processing them away from the scanning software. This implies that I’m going to have various “versions” of the same “master”, and one flaw in iView was that it can’t easily handle this scenario. But Aperture can: it has stacks. Nice stacks too.

Snapz Pro XScreenSnapz001.jpg

Here, you can see the Aperture browser showing a few XPAn scans, all arranged into stacks, with the “RAW” file and the processed versions.

It works pretty well, although it doesn’t quite have the cataloging flexibility of iView. However, keeping to a consistent file naming scheme, and using Aperture’s list view, ordered by file name, it is simple enough to associate versions created outside of Aperture. Having decided to use this method, I can now in fact make it even simpler - drop the “_RAW” suffix I’ve been adding to the 16bit lineear scans, and let Aperture generate version filenames in the usual when, by launching Adobe Photoshop as an external editor.

I think this is a nice example of the flexibility of Aperture, and a justification of its philosophy to NOT impose a workflow, but rather to provide the environment in which you can roll your own.


Adolph Gassers, San Francisco

Liar, liar, pants on fire

in General Rants , Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Last week I was in San Francisco. I took my XPan with me, and expected to be able to buy some decent film in situ - surely film is still alive in the heartland of f64 et al ?

Well it appears not. The only place I could find which even admitted to stocking film, Discount Camera (which seems like an ok place) only had some old Sensia. I wanted my favourite Velvia 100F. They suggested I visit Adolph Gasser’s (that’s A-Dolf, of course). Beautiful website by the way, so retro, so 1995.

So I did.  I found my way to the film section, and encountered an overweight, grumpy soap dodger who seemed to resent having to deal with a customer.

I asked if they have Velvia 100F, and was treated to a condescending lecture which informed me that Merkins didn’t like Velvia 100F, and it had been replaced with Velvia 100S (which I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in the US of A or anywhere else). I was also informed that 100F has been out for “over 15 years” and was no longer available.

Having had quite enough of this blatantly untrue and / or pig-ignorant bullshit, I decided to cut my losses, buy some Provia 100F, and get out in the fresh air.

Well, imagine my surprise when I saw this ad, this evening, on the American website…


So, in the hope that this might get Googled by somebody somewhere, Do Not Visit Adolph Gassers in San Francisco. And forget any idea you might have that all Americans are service oriented….


LaserSoft plumbs the depths

It is strictly verboten to speak!

in General Rants , Thursday, June 04, 2009

This really is the final straw for my relationship as a customer with Germany’s worst software house, LaserSoft

I few days ago, I submitted a topic to the user forum, asking for shared experiences on scanning Portra 160NC with Silverfast. I did not criticise any aspect of Silverfast, or Lasersoft, in fact as far as I remember I was complimentary. I was just a novice negative user looking for advice with the famous NegaFix miracle solution.

So, today, I was a bit surprised to receive this:

Hello drm,

You are receiving this notification because your topic “Scanning Portra
160NC” at “LaserSoft Imaging” was disapproved by a moderator or

The following reason was given for the disapproval:

Dear Customer,

our(sic) SilverFast forum is not intended for individual techsupport as this
would make the forum hard to read for users that seek certain help or
information. Also our Support staff can not hadle (sic) “everyday” support over
the forum efficently (sic), therefore please use our support assistent (sic) to get
individual support. If there is no answer in the support assistent (sic) that
solves your problem you will automatically be redirected to our Support
request form where you can create a support ticket.

Yours Truely (sic),
The Site Admin

One can only applaud them from keeping upsetting information like my post from their nervous users.

My answer, also verbatim, after I edited out some possibly inappropriate references to the teutonic character (especially when reflecting on the excellent support I have received from NIK software’s team in Germany):

This is really so bloody stupid. I take the time to participate in your forum, asking a general question to the community about scanning a particular film stock which I’m not familiar with. This is not “tech support” - even if I did also ask tech support - it is actually a topic I have no experience in and am seeking other’s advice. In general this is what a user forum is for (Adobe, Apple, PhaseOne, Microsoft, etc etc)

Your site COULD be the destination for everybody still interested in scanning. It could become a huge resource for the community which in turn benefit you by increasing attention on your products (this is called “marketing”- I suggest you research it)

Fine, I will no longer waste my time on your forum, or your software. Actually, thanks to other resources in the web, I have discovered the wonderful ColorNeg & ColorPos plugins from C F Systems, which demonstrate what a piece of crap “NegaFix"is in particular, and in fact how bad the rest of your terrible, expensive software actually is.

The emperor has no clothes. SilverFast is complete sh*t. There is no magic bullet (VueScan hasn’t got one either). Scan in raw mode and sort it out in Photoshop, or invest in ColorNeg.


Any colour you like

High praise for C F Systems

in Product reviews , Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I’ve been scanning slide film for ages. I’m on my 3rd film scanner (and probably the last, the way the market is going), but I only very recently decided to try working with negative film. I was tempted to do this after hearing about Kodak’s new Ektar 100 film. It sounded like it combined the best of both worlds: the extended exposure latitude of negative, and the definition of slide, and threw in excellent colour density into the bargain. Unfortunately, I haven’t used it yet, although I do have 5 rolls waiting for me to put them in the camera. Obtaining anything even vaguely esoteric in this sleepy cut-off corner of Switzerland is never easy, and one week was not a long enough lead time for my order to arrive before I left for the Eolian Islands. However, I did manage to find a 5 pack of Kodak Portra 160NC, which I was assured would be great for landscape (a lucky coincidence, since it was the only thing the shop had). So when I finished the few rolls of assorted Velvia 100F and Provia 400X I had found at the back of a drawer, I tried using it in my Hasselblad XPan.

The next challenge was getting it processed but I’ll gloss over that (try explaining to Hicksville Cameras that no, you don’t want prints, and NO you do NOT want the film to be cut ... ). Finally comes the moment of truth when it has to be fed into the scanner. I daresay that with experience you can judge the merit of a frame by eyeballing a negative, but I certainly can’t. So scanning is the only way to reveal what I’d actually photographed.  Turns out I’d spent a few days on Mars. Or had accidentally used colour infrared film. At least that was my conclusion looking at the results of SilverFast’s much vaunted (by them) NegaFix tool. This is supposed to characterise the stated film - and yes, it does included Portra 160NC in its list - and produce a beautifully rendered inversion to true colour. Well, to be blunt, it doesn’t.  I spent a frustrating day trying endless combinations of settings, fooling around with SilverFast’s arcane user interface, trying to convince myself that colour calibration was indeed disabled as it should be, but all to no avail. Everything ended up looking like a faded 1970’s Kodacolor snapshot.

I searched around on the web to find out if I was actually attempting the impossible: maybe Portra 160NC doesn’t work outdoors ? But instead I found a few examples of beautiful landscapes taken using it - and a reference to something I’d never heard of, C F System’s ColorNeg Photoshop plugin.  So I tried it.

I hate to say it, but the installation process for ColorNeg, at least on the Mac, is something of a challenge. And the user interface is, to put it politely, unconventional. But the results soon made me forget any superficial objections. I’ll say straight away, ColorNeg renders SilverFast totally pointless. In fact, it even introduces a suspicion that most of the vast array of correction tools available in SilverFast are mainly there to overcome glitches it inserts itself. With ColorNeg, all you need to do is a make a “raw” 16-bit linear scan, open the file in Photoshop, and point ColorNeg at it. Five times out of ten, ColorNeg’s default rendition is perfect, and the rest of the time a minor tweak of the lightness slider gets the rendition I want. Actually, since there is no “correct” way to convert a negative scan to display space, ColorNeg would need to be equipped with a mind reading interface to get it right every time. So problem solved: I can scan Portra 160NC.

But it gets better: ColorNeg has a sibling, ColorPos, which does the same magic on slide film. Again, scan at 16bit linear, point ColorPos at it, and hey presto, perfect result. This is unbelievable, compared to fiddling around in SilverFast or VueScan or whatever. I’m not going to even try to understand the mathematical thinking behind these plugins, which David Dunthorn, their author, describes on the C F Systems website, or the plethora of advanced adjustments available to the initiate, but what I do understand is that they work.  I have immediately adopted a new workflow - scan and archive raw 16bit linear scans, and convert them to display space in Photoshop using these plugins. This is a workflow I’ve been aware of for ages, but trying the various implementations of it using SilverFast HDR or VueScan has never convinced me.

It is really amazing that at this point in the evolution of digital imaging an individual could go back to basics and reinvent the whole process with such effective results. How come companies like Adobe and Lasersoft, with all their resources and experience, cannot do as well ? Probably because there is no commercial benefit to them. It is easy to bury non-optimal or even mediocre processes under layer upon layer of feature creep, which marketing has a far easier job with than selling the message “hey guys - guess what ? we got the basics wrong, so we’re starting over”.  David Dunthorn deserves far, far more recognition that he’s got.


Fumaroles on the crater of Vulcano. Colour reproduction by ColorPos

Registration is $67, which covers both versions, as well as GamSat, a colour integrity-preserving saturation adjustment plug-in which I’ve only peeked at so far. Excellent value for money.

(Read more about ColorNeg over at the Auspicious Dragon. Somehow I missed it when these posts were published last year)