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Silverfast open wishlist

do feel free to ignore me

in Silverfast , Thursday, September 20, 2018

Some time ago, I submitted a list of carefully thought out feature requests to the appropriate section in the Silverfast forum. This, being one of the most dysfunctional software product official fora I have ever seen, my post was not uncharacteristically ignored. I am used to Silverfast’s public facing support being as unbelievably incoherent as their software, and indeed direct customer support, is good, that I just accepted that my goodwill as a customer means zero to Silverfast / Lasersoft, and the time that I spent compiling the list equally so.

But anyway, in the hope that just possibly another route might work, I’ve finally decided to post a version here. After all, this is not a list of complaints, but rather observations from a heavy Silverfast user, and features I’d like to see implemented.

I have been using Silverfast constantly for over 15 years, and even if I have some criticisms, I am happy with it, and thankful that it exists to enable me to make faithfull scans of both negatives and slides. I’m a Silverfast fan - just, as the French say, “Qui aime bien châtie bien”.

Feature requests: Most of my suggestions pertain principally to Silverfast HDR, since I always use the seperate scan/process workflow, but some may also relate to Ai. So, here we go.

Sf8screen


Dear Silverfast,

1. Zooming


Please provide a more intuitive zoom mechanism, following general industry practices, e.g. as in Photoshop, and allows a numeric input ? Also, please provide generic 1:1 / HQ buttons outside of the processing tools, for example in the menu bar, so that these can be activated without enabling a processing tool.

The current Zoom tool is not really a zoom tool at all, more a toggle between a zoom level set elsewhere, and full image view. Therefore, the Zoom tool is only activated if the preview is in 1:1 or HQ mode (only achievable if one of the relevant tools such as USM or iSRD has been activated first), or if command-drag has been used to focus on an arbitrary rectangle. Command-Drag allows an arbitrary zoom of any given area (although it seems rather unstable), but the numeric value is known only after the zoom. Also it does not work if 1:1 or HQ is set first. Afterwards, the zoom tool is active, but only 2 settings - “zoom in” =1:1, “zoom out” = “fit in view”. To get to, say, exactly 200% is more or less impossible. Being able to zoom into an image to evaluate (e.g) sharpness is a key part of the editing process, and until Silverfast HDR offers this, it will never offer a complete solution.

2. Frame cropping


I would recommend making the ability to rotate frames a bit more obvious. The purpose of the handles is not well revealed by the closed hand pointer; a rotate icon would be better. Also, a levelling tool would be nice to have, as would be the ability to constrain cropping to a set ratio, or the existing ratio by, e.g., Shift+drag (although then the shift+click shortcut for the colour sampler would have to change)

3. Startup / Utility screen


It really isn’t clear why needs to be shown at startup, in particular in SF HDR. There is no scanner choice required, so why put up this blocking modal dialog ? It should instead be possible to open the ultility screen from the Help Menu, similarly, if I remember correctly, to SF 6. The problem is the current mechanism prevents opening images directly in SF 8. Say, for example, I have my scans organised in an external DAM application, such as Photo Supreme, which allows me to maintain permanent catalogs. From there I can open, e.g., a TIFF in Photoshop in one click, but I cannot open an HDR-TIFF in SF HDR because of this blocking dialog.

Even better would be to be able send a series of images from the external application to the Job Manager. This is not a criticism of VLT. VLT is a good basic management tool and has its place in my workflow, but it cannot create catalogs, and it is not practical for managing 1000s of scans. As far as I know, Lasersoft is not competing in the DAM software market, so what reason could there be to
not play nice with these applications?
So, please could you consider changing how the service dialog is accessed ? It would massively improve usability within a full-system workflow (And maybe not only just in HDR, although in SF-scan it is less of an issue)

4. Multiple frame selection


Multiple frame selection for film scanners. This might sound strange, but here is a use case: to scan panoramic format 35mm frames on Plustek 120, I use the Plustek-recommended method of inserting the 35mm filmstrip holder but telling Silverfast that it is a 6x9 holder. Then I can preview and set a frame on the 24x66 area. However I can load two 24x66 strips in the 35mm holder, so it would be very useful if I could then set two frames in Silverfast, as I would be able to do on a flatbed scanner. Of course, I do know that you can “queue” scans in Silverfast (set the frame, start scan, set another frame, and click scan again, it will process the second when the first has finished), but that is a feature you discover by accident, and it gives no feedback whatsoever.

5. UI stuff


- remove the IT8 button from the vertical tool bar. Since it is more of a configuration task, and in particularly in Silverfast HDR is a very specialist tool indeed, it really doesn’t belong there and is far too easy to click by accident.

- a “percentage” option in the Image Dimensions / Output options would be extremely useful.

Allow the auto-frame tool to redefine an existing frame, rather than wipe out the already set filename.

Add a colour picker (similar to the midPiP tool) to the (excellent) global colour correction tool to enable increased selection accuracy.

A configurable high/low clipping indicator would be nice too. Just about every other application has this.

Specific to VLT



- Make VLT Thumbnails update based on HDR/HDRi saved settings - including rotation.

- Make it possible to start Job Manager when in VLT mode.

- Allow deletion of files from VLT browser



Finally: I’m not here to tell Lasersoft how to run their company. My only wish is that they survive and continue to support the current product portfolio. However, I would observe that they are dramatically missing an opportunity in not fully engaging with the #FilmsNotDead movement. For a start, modernising and opening up the Silverfast forum to become the reference place to visit for expert and user to user advice on film scanning would I believe generate significant benefits for Silverfast. This would also mean opening up user to user discussion of competing products, and to be tolerant of reasonable amounts of criticism, even when it is unfair. Appointing moderators from the community can help, so that Silverfast employees do have to engage directly. This is not a revolutionary idea: it’s 2018, but the Silverfast forum is stuck in a 1998 mindset. I cannot see how getting free feedback and input from paying, engaged customers, channeled through product management could have a downside.

(Postscript: I note that Silverfast is inviting visitors to see them at Photokina. I guess to speak to a rep they'll have to line up for a ticket, get the ticket approved by a booth moderator, wait for a reply, get a ticket to reply to the reply, and so forth. Should be fun.)
 

The Hasselblad XPan - a very long term review

better late than never

in Hasselblad XPan , Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I acquired my first Hasselblad XPan in the spring of 2000. So maybe it’s about time to write a few words about it.

Drm 20180818 EM580047

My interest in so-called panoramic photography began in the mid-1990s, when I was professionally involved in the emerging multimedia world. In particular I adopted very early versions of Apple’s QuickTime VR technology to generate immersive walkthroughs of various scenes. As time was generally limited, initially I used an Apple QuickTake 200 camera to generate content (640Kpx images, approximately 30 per set of 4 very expensive lithium AA batteries), then experimented with Polaroid instant slide film. At some point I realised that it could be interesting to unwrap the 360 QTVR files to create widescreen stills. I used these in creating a couple of CD sleeves, which was a sideline of mine at the time, and in personal work. So when the Hasselblad XPan appeared on the scene in late 1998, I was fully primed.

Xpan ir2001 02

2000: Lago di Lugano, infrared.

It was another year or so before I could actually afford it, but by then end of 2000 I had the camera and all three lenses, and took them with me on a 5 week trek around New Zealand - which later turned out to be the spiritual home of the XPan :-).

The same kit travelled with me to Canada and the USA, to Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Italy, before finally setting off on a tour of Svalbard by yacht in 2010. A couple of days into the trip, when distracted from photography by a storm, I inadvertently left the camera in the inflatable dinghy lashed to the deck. Several hours later it was discovered submerged in a puddle of salt water. And that was game over for XPan number one.

Xpan nz rs10 006

2001: New Zealand

There was no way I was going to be without an XPan though, and I was lucky to find an unused XPan II for a reasonable price, in fact under $1’000 once I traded in my little used Fuji GS670. Fortunately this was before XPan prices passed ‘stupid’ level and reached ‘absurd’. The XPan II carried on where it’s predecessor left off, and has visited Iceland, Norway, Patagonia, Antarctica and various places around Europe. It had a bit of a rest in 2016, where it got a bit eclipsed by my Linhof 612 obsession, but this year it has regained favour.

So, that was a long intro, but it shows that I should be in a position to write a long term user review of both versions of the XPan.

Snhg ref 55

2002: Andalucia

Xpan ch2003 10 01

2003: Switzerland

First though let’s clear up a few things. The camera was fully designed and built by Fujifilm in Japan. For some reason Fuji felt that it was not commercially viable under their name alone, so they sought an international marketing partner. Reportedly it was first offered to Leica, who turned it down: just as well, otherwise the red dot tax would have made it unaffordable. Hasselblad said yes, and turned it into a marketing success. Far fewer people know what a “Fuji TX-1” is than recognise “Hasselblad XPan”. It is said that the lens designs were specified and quality controlled by Hasselblad, but this seems hard to believe. Fuji was, and remains, a top tier lens designer and manufacturer. Hasselblad has never built a lens in-house. In any case, Hasselblad XPans were delivered with quality control certificates from both Fuji and Hasselblad, and all of the system components were stamped “Made in Japan”. Possibly the TX cameras did not come with the esoteric and little used Hasselblad tripod plate. In any case, it was a successful partnership, which was later extended with the H-1 camera and lenses.

Xpan iceland25 04

2004: Iceland

Basic specifications are very well known, but let’s summarise them anyway. The XPan is a coupled rangefinder camera with a large, clear finder with framelines for 45mm and 90mm lenses. The body is made of aluminium with a magnesium skin, which is a bit prone to scuffing and paint flaking (it doesn’t matter). It has a fully electronic metal shutter with controlled speeds from (remarkably) 8 seconds to 1/1000th. Using the bulb setting exposures up to 30 seconds (early XPan I), 270 seconds (later and updated XPan I) or 540 seconds (XPan II) can be made. Note though that since the shutter is electronic, holding it open for long exposures is bad news for the batteries. It has an LCD panel on the back which displays exposure info, and provides access to several settings. On the top plate there is a small LCD panel which shows remaing frames and the mode (panoramic or normal). So far this applies to both version I and version II, but from now on there is some divergence.

Xpan eolie 210509 7

2005: Vulcano

A criticism of the XPan I was that did not show exposure information in the viewfinder. The only display was a set of LEDs showing under- or over-exposure. A particular complaint I had is that it did not show any indication that exposure compensation was set. This was fully addressed in the XPan II, but a high price was paid. Both versions support DX-encoding for setting ISO, but on the XPan I, a lockable dial on the front panel allows this to be over-ridden manually. A dial on the top plate, integrated with the on-off-mode switch, allows up to 2 stops of exposure compensation to be set. The XPan II loses all of this. The front dial disappears altogether, and the top plate loses the exposure compensation dial. It all looks rather bare - all that remains, apart from the exposure dial, is the switch with off, single shot, continuous shot (1 frame per second) and timer positions. The exposure compensation and ISO have to be set using the LCD panel and its very fiddly buttons, and this is really no fun even in good conditions. In the cold it is a nightmare. In exchange, you get a very clear film speed display in the viewfinder. And an extra $1000 or so on used prices. The only other difference is that the XPan II supports a custom electronic cable release, if you can find one. But you can also use a standard threaded mechanical cable, so, whatever.

Toscana06 12

2006: Tuscany

The exposure dial includes the setting for aperture priority. I have always found the upper-biased, center-weighted metering to be very accurate, and therefore aperture priority works well. Note that the metering seems to be biased towards landscape photography with slide film. With negative film it may be a good idea to dial in an extra stop, or to compensate using the ISO setting. The meter reads down to the 4EV, which I’ve always found to be a little restricting - a little more sensitivity would have been nice, especially given the up to 8 sec timed shutter release.

Xpan ticino01 08

2007: Switzerland

Returning to the back panel, there is a recessed button to rewind the film before it reaches the end, and a backlight to illuminate both LCDs. Settings include a rewind mode which leaves the film leader out, which is very useful for those doing their own development, or for changing film mid-roll (if you remember the frame count you can reload it and advance over exposed frames in manual mode with the lens cap on). Note, the very first batch of XPan Is, with long shutter speed restricted to 30 seconds, had an issue with fogging infrared film. The Xpan II was advertised as fixing this issue, but in fact the later batches of XPan Is did not show it either. Personally I only used IR film in the XPan in 2000-2001. I don’t remember getting any good shots, but I never had any issues with fogging.

Ice0803 sunlit mountain2

2008: Iceland

The XPan is very pleasant to handle. It is well balanced with all three lenses, and the shutter button has just the right half/full pressure resistance. The viewfinder is gorgeous and the rangefinder patch easy to see, although as often as not I preset focussing at hyperlocal distances. I’ve always had the impression that the 30mm viewfinder is polarised, but I guess at that angle of view it can’t be. Nevertheless, the world actually looks better through the 30mm viewfinder than in real life! The body viewfinder framelines change with lens, with mode /standard, panoramic), and adjust for parallax. The 30mm viewfinder is fixed, but it has frameline notches to indicate the standard frame size. The XPan II handling is slightly improved by the viewfinder display, but with the already discussed tradeoffs. The lens focus rings are silky smooth and nicely weighted, and the aperture rings are firm and precise. However only full stop steps are possible. Generally the XPan is a real “feel good” camera to use. It can get a bit heavy if you carry it around all day with a full set of lenses, it is solid metal after all, but nothing too dramatic.

Krossfjorden

2010: Svalbard

Many XPan owners have a preference for a particular lens, usually the 45mm or 30mm. I’m more equal opportunities - I find all 3 lenses to be excellent, and of the three I actually prefer the 90mm for landscape use, although I’ll admit that for street it is less adapted. I’ve owned two copies of the 30mm lens, and both have come down with so-called “Schneideritis” even though it is not a Schneider lens. Possibly there is a related Fujinonitis strain. My first one was replaced (somewhat reluctantly) by Hasselblad for this very reason. The replacement soon came down with the same symptoms. However, there is absolutely no impact on the optical behaviour of the lens, and it doesn’t seem too be contagious, so I just ignore it. Another blight to strike the 30mm lens, or rather its viewfinder, is the bubble level drying up. This is annoying, but it seems quite common. I have contacted the French Hasselblad specialists “Les Victor” about a repair, apparently they can fix it at a reasonable price.

Stromboli

2011: Stromboli

One of the first issues to hit XPan users is of course, how to actually deal with the output. In the early days, Hasselblad (I suppose) promoted the format to a network of labs which could print the panoramic format, and supplied sheets of special stickers in the camera box which could be fixed to the film canisters to indicate to the lab that they contained XPan frames. I know I had my first XPan roll lab printed, probably by Jessops pro shop in Oxford Street, London, where I bought it, and probably on the day I bought it. But from then on, pretty much it has been the hybrid route for me: lab developing, home scanning, home printing. I don’t think I’ve ever shot a roll of traditional black and white film in the XPan, only colour negative, colour positive and Scala. Maybe a few rolls of Polaroid instant film too.

Xpan breggia051212 006

2012: Switzerland

To start with, scanning XPan film at home was tricky. Unless you were basically a millionaire, there were no film scanners that could take anything other than standard 35mm frames, and flatbed scanners outside of the unattainable Linotype-Hell or Scitex were hopeless. So initially, using a Microtek 4000 scanner, I painstakingly scanned each frame in two halves, and merged them in Photoshop. Even with a high end Mac, this was tedious. So the barriers to entry were actually pretty high, and the XPan was very much considered a professional’s camera. Gradually things got easier. Just about affordable Medium Format desktop scanners emergec from companies such as Polaroid, Microtek, Nikon and Minolta, several of which specifically handled 35mm panoramic format, and I eventually settled on a Minolta MultiScan Pro which lasted me over 10 years. When after these years of service it started getting troublesome, I finally replaced it with a Plustek Opticfilm 120, which has been efficiently devouring both XPan and medium format film ever since. I thoroughly recommend this scanner, by the way.

Xpan antarctica06 06

2013: Antarctica

It’s been a long journey with this camera, and although the current valuation (based on eBay) sometimes makes be think of selling it and using the proceeds to buy a small island, I’m not done with it yet. After all, I’m still waiting for my rolls of Film Ferrania slide film, not to mention new Ektachrome, to put through it. As an aside, Ektachrome 100G was the film that really made the XPan sing for me. At present I have to use Provia 100F, not a great hardship, but back in the days when there was choice, it wasn’t always the film I reached for.

Xpan sardegna1409 02 09

2014: Sardinia

Xpan norway1506 2 07

2015: Norway

So, should you buy an XPan today? Frankly, at eBay prices, no. It’s not worth it. The camera has crossed the border from “working tool” to “sought-after collectible”. Get a Fuji GSW690 and crop. Or use a digital camera with suitable framing, such as the Sigma dp0 (my candidate for the “digital XPan”). So far, fingers crossed, unlike several other electronic film cameras, the XPan is not displaying any chronic failures that I know of, but they will come, and it will not be repairable. So paying crazy money like $6000 - $7000 for a so-called pristine model on eBay is very unadvisable in my opinion, not to mention well over $1000 for a non-working body. In particular the markup on XPan II bodies is absolutely not justified from any photographic point of view.

If you do find one which is more realistically priced because it isn’t collector-pristine, bear in mind that any XPan body actually used for photography will inevitably acquire scuff marks and paint chips, and this is not an indication of over-heavy use. Although note, the extreme beaters you sometimes see on eBay do surprise me. My camera is not mollycoddled at all, so to get it in the beaten up condition of some I’ve seen must take real dedication. Having said that, I do remember in 2004 seen an XPan belonging to US landscape photographer Steve Kossack practically stripped of paint, so I guess it is feasible.

Xpan variochrome2 06

2017: Switzerland

Up to a few years ago you could still buy good used models with a warranty through reputable second hand dealers, but that supply seems to have dried up. Who is going to trade in their camera to a dealer for maybe $1000 when $3000 on eBay is now considered “cheap”?

Passion

2018: Calabria

The XPan has acquired mythological status. Personally, to a great extent, it defines me as a photographer, but that’s because of circumstances. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, with adequate cash, to get in at the ground floor. But it is only a camera. Today, there are other paths to follow, and plenty of other ways to pursue “widescreen” photography. If you happen to come across an XPan in fair condition with no bits missing for under $2000, then go for it. Otherwise, be sure you know what you’re getting into!

Drm 20180818 EM580048

More of my XPan photography:

More XPan reading:

 

RIP Media Pro (1995-2018)

phased out

in General Rants , Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Last week I received a very unwelcome email from Phase One, current owners of the venerable MediaPro DAM application, announcing their decision to discontinue the product.

Mediaprose

This isn’t really a big surprise, but it reflects very badly on Phase One as a company. They took over MediaPro from Microsoft in May 2010. I suppose their idea was to bolt it on the Capture One in some way, so as to have a more complete competitor to Lightroom and Aperture. In the event, some Media Pro concepts and design concepts have made their way in Capture One, but they didn’t need to buy the product for that. I doubt that they recruited any developers along with the acquisition, as the original team was hired by Microsoft when they took it over in 2006, and since almost no further development was done, probably that team dispersed.

It is a massive compliment to the original developers that MediaPro could still be a valid tool, and indeed in many ways a benchmark, after about 15 years of almost total neglect. It had a few pointless corporate make-overs, and the catalogue size limit was raised, but apart from that, zilch, apart from the (usually late) integration of the Capture One rendering engine.  Indeed, on the Mac some menu items are unchanged since pre OS-X days. And yet it is still elegant and very effective.

The problem appears to be that, unsurprisingly, the codebase is now completely obsolete, and will soon stop working at least on new macOS releases.  But this is nothing new: if Phase One had done a little due diligence back in 2o10 they would already have known this. The best case scenario is that they failed to do so, and hence were incompetent. The alternative is that they knew damn well it was heading for a cliff, did nothing, and milked whatever remaining customer base there was for all they could until finally they could pretend no longer.  The last full release, the grandly named Media Pro Second Edition, brought precisely nothing to the table, apart from a standard Phase One inflated price tag.

Their proposal now is that users switch to Capture One, which as a DAM, has far less functionality, and is frankly a joke compared to MediaPro for cataloging.  They are not even offering a discounted, or (gasp) free CaptureOne license as an apology. They are basically saying “thanks for your money, now fuck off”, or some Danish variant thereof.

Well, frankly, that seems to be par for the course for PhaseOne. I will certainly not be a customer of theirs any longer.  Their hardware is obviously out of my league, and their CaptureOne software is actually nothing special, and is ridiculously overpriced. Sadly a lot of people fall for the garish, overblown default look that CaptureOne applies to Raw files, and then get sucked in to its clumsy gasworks of a user interface and terrible catalog performance. Yes, it can all be dialled down, but side by side I’ve never seen anything that Capture One can do that Lightroom cannot do equally well or better.

But in any case, their behaviour with MediaPro shows just how much contempt they have for their non-megabucks spending customers.

I will be migrating to PhotoSupreme from MediaPro.  In many ways it is not as elegant, but it has a lot more functionality, and as far as I can see, the best alternative on macOS.


Iview2000

The iView website, back in 2000. Interesting that it was already available in Danish…