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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

A Scanning Workflow with Silverfast

just like the old days

in Film , Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently scanning film.  Strangely, I actually enjoy it. Somehow it gives me greater satisfaction that working with digital files, it feels like a more creative process. And although in the past I haven’t always been fully complimentary about Silverfast, the scanning software I use, I think it’s time to set the record straight. 

The worst thing I can say about Silverfast is that it is sometimes a bit eccentric, and in this I include the software and the company. But frankly a bit of eccentricity isn’t a bad thing at all in my book. Silverfast, the company, as represented through its vast web site and forum moderators, is significantly different from the bland corporate face we see more or less everywhere else these days. Silverfast the product may have some UI issues, but actually they’re not so bad, and finally who cares, when it works so well ? I could think of some other niche applications in the imaging world (hello ImagePrint, hi there ColorEyes) who have far, far worse User Interfaces … albeit often equally good people.

A while back I realized that I had quite a lot of folders on my various hard drives with the word “rescan” in their name. Right now I’m re-evaluating and rescanning my whole catalog of Iceland XPan slides, and although I’m coming up with different interpretations from those I made a few years back, they’re not always better - just different. So the idea of “baking in” corrections seems less attractive than scanning a master file and reprocessing it at leisure, never touching the raw scan data.

I’ve played around with this a bit in the past, using Silverfast Studio AI’s 48bit HDR Color output, and trying to process in Photoshop using a variety of techniques. Well, sometimes it worked, sometimes not so well, whatever I tried. I’m sure it CAN be done in Photoshop - well, almost sure - but I’m equally sure I’d need a level of expertise and fundamental understanding far better than mine, not to mention a lot of spare time.

The alternative, of course, is to use Silverfast HDR, which re-opens and reprocesses HDR scans. I have to admit I haven’t been all that polite about HDR in the past, partly on performance grounds, partly on cost. On the performance side, a bit of RTFM and working with the demo has worked wonders, not to mention the patient and detailed help from the Silverfast team on the user forum. I now fully appreciate how to set it up and how to make it work for me. Spending a few minutes learning how to use the Job Manager was also a bit of an eye opener…

On the cost grounds, I’ve complained that HDR and HDR Studio are little more than a “Re-open” dialog which could be added to Studio, Well, I’m wrong.  Actually, technically I suspect I’m close to right, but from a business perspective I’m wrong.  I guess there could be a case for an extra product in the range which can ONLY do 48 bit HDR Color scans, without all the SE or AI processing features, but I can imagine that would be difficult to justify, and probably would not end up much cheaper.

The basic point is that HDR Studio offers you the option of a more flexible workflow, but part of that flexibility is that you can still process at the scan stage in AI Studio if you wish, or need to. And however many scanners you have, you only need one copy of HDR Studio, which is an important point.

As for the cost… well it’s worth looking out for special offers on the Lasersoft web site.  I have a Canon 9000F flatbed scanner which I’m starting to use for proof sheets, and that came with Silverfast SE bundles.  Lasersoft advertise a 25% discount for upgrades, but, well, the current discounted upgrade price from SE to Archive Suite is worth buying the scanner for! It certainly works out rather more than 25%.

So, I now have what must be close to the ultimate workflow for scanning my XPan film:

1. Low resolution index scan using Silverfast AI Studio on the Canoscan into Expression Media

2. Selection of best frames in Expression Media / Silverfast VLT, and “raw” 48 Bit HDR scan on the Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro, with Scanhancer fitted, and multiexposure enabled.

3. Colour balance a batch in HDR Studio, trying different settings for GANE where needed

4. Batch process using Job Manager

5. Spotting, sharpening and further fine-tuning in Photoshop

A note on Multiexposure: I’ve had mixed results with Multiexposure in the past, in particular with mis-alignment, and I’ve tended to prefer to use 8x Multisampling. However, for whatever reason (software update, luck ?), I’m now having no problems at all with Multiexposure, and I use it in HDR scans as a matter of routine. At worst, it is as good as Multisampling, but usually a bit better in shadow regions, and it is one helluva lot faster. So from being a sceptic, I’m now a full convert. I suspect that it was released a touch too early, and as a result, got some bad press early on, which is a pity.

As the years go by it is becoming harder and harder to find reasonably-priced solutions for scanning film. And yet the signs that film is making a comeback of sorts, or at least that its decline has halted. Lasersoft are doing the community a great service by keeping a whole raft of dedicated film scanners long-since abandoned by their makers (Polaroid, Minolta, and now Nikon) fully usable with modern operating systems and hardware, and I, for one, am happy to support them as a licensed customer.

The only thing is, if they do actually manage to implement HDRi support for Minolta, then I’m going to have to start all over again!

xpan_ticino01_08.jpg

A local cow gives Silverfast HDR a big thumbs up!

 

 

Canoscan 9000F vs Minolta DSMP

a bit of pixel-peeping

in Film , Monday, July 12, 2010

I’ve recently started using a Canon Canoscan 9000F to speed up my scanning workflow, using it primarily to make fast, low resolution quick’n’dirty index scans. I’ll write more about that in another post, but I thought it would be interesting to see how the Canoscan stacks up against the Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro in the overall image quality stakes. I should emphasise at the outset that I do not expect a $350 flatbed scanner to match a $3500 film scanner, but you never know - and since the film scanner is no spring chicken, I have to start thinking about what I’m going to do when the day comes that it stops working.

Comparing scanners can be fraught with peril, as my colleague Bruce Percy discovered not so long ago, but I’m going to leap in regardless.

So, I took a recent a Velvia 100 XPan shot of a local cow I happened to pass by the other day, I scanned it on both scanners, in both cases using SilverFast AI Studio, both with Auto-IT8 calibration, and to 48-bit HDR Color with Digital ICE enabled on the Minolta, and 64-bit HDRi on the Canoscan (Silverfast does not yet support HDRi on the Minolta).  In both cases I used Silverfast’s Multiexposure, and scanned at 4800dpi. This is the optical resolution of the Minolta; the Canoscan claims 9600dpi, which seems ... unrealistic ... and in any case, various authorities claim that 3200 dpi is as much as you can extract from 35mm film. However, in my experience, the Minolta does deliver a little more data at 4800. I also used the Scanhancer on the Minolta, to get the best possible result.

I made the scans,then opened both in Silverfast HDR Studio. Here, for the sake of a level playing field, I used the Auto function to adjust tonal balance, and output to ProPhoto RGB colour space.

I was interested in three factors: dynamic range, colour fidelity, and detail. The first thing I looked at were the histograms from the two scanners. First Canon, then Minolta:

hist canon.jpg

Histogram from the Canon scan

hist minolta.jpg

Histogram from the Minolta scan

It is fairly evident from these that the Minolta scan holds a greater range of data values. There is also an interesting offset in the bright peak in the blue channel in the Canon’s histogram.

So, now to the colour comparison - and introducing the aforementioned cow: first the Canoscan, then the Minolta

xpan_ticino01_08_c2Hi.jpg
xpan_ticino01_08.jpg

 

Well, we’re not too far out. The blue peak in the Canon histogram shows itself in the blue tint to the sky, which arguably is more attractive, however, and you’re going to have to take my word for this, the Minolta version is pretty much spot on compared to the Velvia transparency.

I’m not entirely sure what is going on here, as I would expect the Auto-IT8 calibration to smooth this out. However, I’m not sure that using a 35mm IT8 target on the Canoscan is ideal (I need to check with Lasersoft), and of course this is just one image ... hardly a trend!

Of course I’m not too concerned about this: the Minolta is my reference scanner, and the scans that Silverfast delivers from that are extremely accurate. However, my general and possibly naive assumption is that while dynamic range and resolution will of course vary, in a fully calibrated system, and within device limits, the colour gradation should be quite close.

The last thing to look at is detail. In both cases I applied light “capture” sharpening using PixelGenius Sharpener (in future I may evaluate using Silverfast USM sharpening for this step). Below are 100% crops from each scanner, Canoscan first. Please do note that JPEG compression does degrade things a little.

canon100crop.jpg
minolta100crop.jpg

Here the difference is quite clear. From other experiments I’ve observed that the Canoscan’s effective optical resolution peaks at around 2400dpi - there is no difference in scan quality at higher resolutions. The Minolta is resolving grain (what little there is in Velvia 100) and this has been slightly accentuated by the light sharpening.

In terms of usable detail, however, there’s not a lot in it, and both will print fine up to A3. What is more important is that the Minolta resolves considerably more shadow detail. I suspect that the Canon is losing out by not having any control over focus. In fact here I let the Minolta auto-focus, but for critical cases, I often use manual focus, which can make quite a difference (it’s a very slow process though). Here, actually, I thing the AF has done a pretty good job.

So, my conclusion is that the Canoscan delivers a very commendable performance, especially considering the price. I’m a bit intrigued by the inaccuracies in the colour gradation, and I’ll probably investigate that a little further when I have time - but I don’t consider it a big deal.

 

 

Any colour you like

it’s all subjective

in Hasselblad XPan , Thursday, July 08, 2010

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently wondering about what type of film to take to Svalbard next month. The arguments about the subjective qualities of different types rage across the internet (yes, still), with no end of “expert”, dogmatic opinions (as well as the odd voice of reason).

I won’t go into the arguments here, but I did remember an interesting experience from a few years back.

During a photographic trip around Iceland in March 2008 with Daniel Bergmann, we were driving towards the town of Vik while a storm front was approaching from the south, making a very dramatic contrast between thick, dense cloud reflect dark sand and sea, and snow covered dunes.

We stopped to take a few photos. I was using my XPan loaded with Fuji Velvia 100F, Daniel was using his Canon EOS 1Ds Mk whatever.

When I got the processed film, it looked like this:

ice0803-dark-sky.jpg

uncorrected scan

Not at ALL what I remembered!  No, I remember a leaden gray sky and pure white snow, so after some fairly drastic Photoshoppery (the slide has very low contrast, which should have given me a clue) I ended up with this:

ice0803-dark-sky-a.jpg

the Truth ... is out there ?

Daniel meanwhile worked on his RAW file, without any idea or sight of what I had done, and some later mailed me this (cropped by me from his 35mm FF format):

daniel_solheimasandur_edit.jpg

Daniel Bergmann’s view (© Daniel Bergmann)

Interestingly, he’s ended up with much more blue, pretty much as the Velvia 100F slide suggested, and a lot lower contrast: I think he’s believed the camera, as opposed to me trying to recreate whatever I could remember of my impression.

The point of all this is this: with such a range of subjectivity, which can give results which are neither “right” nor “wrong” (even removing a colour cast is subjective), what characteristics of film can really be so important ? In the digital age, the main issue surely is to capture a neutral image which will give as much latitude as possible for subjective interpretation.

Which pretty much rules out Velvia 50, the great favourite of landscape photographers since Noah launched the Ark…

 

 

Matt Lauder

panoramas down under

I recently discovered Australian photographer Matt Lauder’s website, along with his pay-to-view tutorial site, rubbing pixels.

logo.png

It’s an interesting site, and you can get a good feel for his style from the generous selection of free content. His approach is pretty much the no-nonsense, straight to the point sort of thing you’d expect from an Australian (and that’s a compliment).

I’m particularly drawn to Matt’s work and teaching as he goes for a similar blend of DSLR / film panorama as I do, although on steroids ... he’s working with 617 film (or even 624), whereas for me the limit is XPan 66x24mm ... he’s got an Imacon scanner (cue pure envy) and I’ve got a Minolta (well, actually, that’s no so bad). Certainly there’s enough there to convince me to subscribe.

I don’t fully agree with everything he does or recommends - but he says himself, there are endless ways to skin a cat in Photoshop.

Definitely well worth a look!