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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Some thoughts on Mylio

here, there & everywhere

in Product reviews , Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The following is a fairly lengthy commentary on Mylio, a product which has been vaguely on my radar for some time. It first emerged towards the end of 2014, and received a lot of glowing praise. Mylio promises to do this (amongst other things): allow you to access a catalogue of all your photos stored on any of your digital devices on all of these, with near instantaneous updates. It’s an ambitious objective which others have tried, and failed, to achieve, but at this level at least, Mylio absolutely hits it out of the park. So what is Mylio, anyway? To me this was initially a little difficult to grasp, but basically Mylio is a photo management application, with feature-parity applications for Mac, PC, iDevice & Android, together with a set of cloud services and storage which bind all these together, if (and this “if” is important) you want it to.

Mylio

Mylio Mac version, showing a folder view

So why would I need Mylio? Well, the idea of being able to access, and work with, a catalogue and sub-catalogues of my photography at any time and any place is highly appealing. It means, for example, that I can do things like tagging, rating, keyboarding and editing photos (in the sense of curation) while being stuck on a train, or in an airport. It means that I have access at any time to portfolios to show people. Mylio even offers the possibility of processing RAW images from many formats, with quite an extensive toolset.

I’ve been hoping and searching for such a tool for over a decade. Aperture coupled with PixelSync came close, until Apple first destroyed the ability for PixelSync to access Aperture’s library, and then killed Aperture itself. And of course never even attempted to provide a cross-device solution for Aperture. In fact in my opinion Aperture set, and still sets the benchmark for Digital Asset Management (DAM) in the digital photography age. The combination of it’s abstracted approach to file storage, which disassociates the concept of a photo with a single physical file, the much-copied but never equalled Stacks, the superbly implemented metadata tools, the quick browsing mode introduced in later versions, and extras such as the light table and book tools, were and still are way in front of the competition.

Mylio ipad

Mylio iPad version, showing the same folder

It is quite striking now just how many advanced and pro photographers - who we assumed all had to be using Lightroom - are now coming out of the woodwork looking for alternatives to Aperture. The Aperture pro user community was never very verbose, at least compared to Lightroom. There, Adobe marketing lavished money and flattery on building up an army of shills, all in turn pushing their tutorials, books and workshops. It is remarkable how large a market there seems to be for teaching people how to use what is supposed to be such an intuitive application. But it is also remarkable how many articles on Mylio by independent writers mention that they specifically need an alternative to Aperture.  So Mylio is well worth my attention, and setting Aperture as a benchmark seems fair.

As I’ve already said, on the cross-device side Mylio blows Aperture and everything else into the weeds. Setting up multiple devices and synching between them is ridiculously easy. Mylio gets around the issue of moving large amounts of data around by allowing you to set the type of synchronisation by device, at thumbnail, preview or full file level. Using full file synchronisation of course provides a seamless way to maintain backups. Optionally, you can also buy cloud storage and use this to back up valuable files. Mylio does not actually require you to use cloud storage, a point that many seem not to understand. It works at a multi-device peer to peer level, where the cloud is just another device. It also has intelligence, and options, built-in to sync by wifi only when available, and to use cellular data only if enabled. Finally it provides a method of creating a temporary ad-hoc wifi network between two devices for when there is no adequate internet connection available. I could go on for a while about the synchronisation aspects of Mylio, but suffice it to say it is all very, very impressive. Another impressive aspect is the speed of import and preview creation. Aperture was extremely fast at this, compared say to Lightroom or CaptureOne, but Mylio is just as rapid.

Mylio iphone

Mylio iPhone version, again, showing the same folder

For a customer who’s interest in photography is basically as a part of their social life, we could stop here, and just say “buy it”. It is far better than Apple’s offerings, and I assume also Google’s, and Adobe has nothing to touch it in this market. The strong, one-touch integration with Facebook and Flickr is a killer feature. But what about other customers, which for the sake of discussion I’ll call “advanced” ? Well, clearly different advanced customers have different needs, so generalisation is futile, but for me Mylio is not quite there yet.

So what is missing in Mylio ? The biggest stumbling block is the lack of any kind of “Stacks” or “Versions” feature.  A standard Use Case for me is to select a photo and open it in an external RAW processor, such as Iridient Developer, and then save a version back.  I would like my DAM application to keep track of these versions. Mylio cannot. In fact, Mylio, today, can only show one variant of any file with any extension at a time: if you have two files, Myphoto.tif and Myphoto.jpg, in the same folder, Mylio can only show one or the other. Not both. PhotoSupreme can show both, or indeed many, in the same folder - provided they have the same filename root. Aperture could not only show many, but they didn’t have to be in the same folder or even the same volume, or have the same name, because Aperture works by file reference from its database, not by relying on a physical organization. The fact that Mylio cannot do this does make me a little concerned about possible fundamental design weaknesses. However, it does, I believe, have a feature which can detect file duplicates using a hash signature, so possibly an extension of this technology could be used to implement a strong variants feature. Hey, Mylio, if you want me to write the functional specification, just get in touch :-). Or better, as many frustrated CaptureOne users have written in the PhaseOne forums, “just copy Aperture, fercrissakes!”.

Silver Efex Pro 2

The fact that Mylio makes it as easy as a simple click to open a RAW file in any local application that can handle it - here, Nik SiverEFX Pro - makes it incredibly frustrating that it doesn’t follow up and manage the results.

This is really the only major stumbling block for me, but it’s a big one. A medium sized stumbling block is the currently quite primitive keywording system. For something which is aimed at being a near-permanent, long term and robust tool for managing photos - and “memories” - I’d like to see some attention given to a set of keyword and keywording management tools, and metadata management in general. It’s not a bad start at all for a 1st release, but it isn’t 1999 any more. Again, copy Aperture! A smaller complaint is that even in the “fluid” view, there is sometimes some truncation of preview images when the proportions tend towards the wider end. So for a gallery of XPan images this has some limitations.

I should emphasise that I have raised all these points with Mylio support, and have received rapid, detailed and attentive answers. Obviously they’re not going to implement everything every customer asks for, but they do say they’re taking suggestions onboard, and I believe them. Generally Mylio customer support gets very high praise.

The Mylio user interfaces are very smooth and well designed. Generally they are very intuitive, but there’s plenty of online help if you get stuck, there’s the aforementioned excellent customer support, and there’s also The Official Guide to Mylio available at a token price. Really not too much to say there except to compliment Mylio’s UI designers on a job well done. Performance is also good on all devices I’ve used it on (2008 Mac Pro, 2011 MacBook Air, iPad 2, iPhone 5), to the extent that basically you don’t notice it. Which is as it should be. Reviewing, rating and sorting photos in Mylio is a complete breeze.

Mylio also provides a complete set of image editing tools, including a RAW processing stack. I’ve played around with this a bit, and it seems to work well enough, but it isn’t something I would expect to use. Although I can understand the commercial argument behind providing this feature, frankly I think it is a little out of line with the overall Mylio vision. My understanding is that Mylio wants to help liberate us from locked-in, “silo” applications, not provide (yet) another alternative. There is no shortage of excellent, mature RAW processing tools, but on the other hand there are practically no DAM tools, consumer level or other, that aren’t stuck in a 20-year old paradigm. Having said this, the ability to check actual exposure latitude and sharpness when sorting and rating is certainly useful.

So how does a Mylio-based setup compare with other solutions? Well, since Aperture imploded, I’ve tried two things - actually three. I’ll start with the third, which was returning to the venerable, but still quite impressive MediaPro, now owned by PhaseOne. MediaPro has many strengths, and I’m very familiar and invested in it. But since it was first sold to Microsoft, and then to PhaseOne, it has received no significant feature development at all, and is quite literally stuck in the 1990s. It’s a great pity, but clearly it is nuts to hope that PhaseOne are ever going to do anything with it, so despite everything, and with great regret, I’ve largely given up on it. So my next move was to try to find an alternative which did not lead to a new locked-in solution (e.g Lightroom) or indeed to any kind of dependency on Adobe. I found this in IDImager PhotoSupreme, which I’ve written about previously. I still do quite respect PhotoSupreme, but finally I have to admit that it is slow, locks up or crashes when trying to deal with anything heavier than trivial import tasks, and has some quite weird UI design and workflow touches which lead to a near vertical learning curve. It’s got some really nice ideas, but it desperately needs a decent User Experience designer to work with the one-man band developer. Also, it doesn’t even attempt to provide multi-device support. A saving grace is that it does have a “Stacks” feature, and quite an innovative one at that, but it is filename based and is not enough to save the day, for me. So my next move was to see if I could live with CaptureOne 8, complete with it’s kludged-together, bastardised MediaPro catalog add-on. Well, I managed after some effort to import my complete Aperture library, and I have been working with CaptureOne for some months, but ultimately I’m finding that it isn’t the best RAW processor for my Olympus ORF files - it gives very smudgy fine detail - and personally I don’t really like the rather unsubtle default look which it applies, and which is hard to undo. I keep coming back to Iridient Developer. But ultimately, the ideal solution is flexibility of choice, and to use the right tool for the right job, just like we used to be able to choose which film to use. And Mylio promises a solution which easily enables just that.

There has been quite a lot of commentary about Mylio’s pricing on various fora and blogs, with two main themes: first, people are shocked that they’re expected to pay at all, and second that they’re “not gonna put 27 Tb of their photos in any damned cloud”. As far as the second argument is concerned, it’s a complete strawman. Mylio offers a cloud option, but does not require it. You can keep all your originals on your own computer, no problem, no fuss. As for pricing, well personally I’d call Mylio reassuringly expensive. If I’m going to commit basically a lifetime of photography to an application, I want the company behind that application to have a solid long term business model. And such a business model still requires a primary revenue stream. Sure, Google, Yahoo, Facebook will give you “free” cloud space. But if it’s free, you’re not the revenue source, i.e you’re not the customer. Somebody else is. So what are they buying ? If you’re comfortable with the answer to that question, fine. Personally, I’m not. If I decided to go ahead with Mylio, it will cost me $100 a year, for the second tier, which is slightly less than my web hosting. Seems ok to me.

A persistent, and valid criticism of the subscription model is that it pushes you into vendor lock-in. If you have invested a lot of time and effort into working with proprietary tools, then you’re exposed to the risk of losing your work, if the vendor goes to of business, or changes strategy, or you can no longer afford the pricing. Leaving aside the non-destructive RAW processing, Mylio works essentially with XMP sidecar files, so all your rating and keywording work is safe. And since it works with XMP files, any changes made show up in other XMP-conversant applications, and, generally, vice-versa.  I say “generally” because for example with Iridient Developer, star ratings set in Mylio show up fine (Iridient reads the XMP file), but in reverse direction it doesn’t work, as Iridient writes only to it’s own, proprietary idsf file. Which, really, is fine, as I’d want to use Mylio to rate and sort photos, and then send them as a batch to Iridient to process them.

And this, then, is where just now, it all breaks down. As I’ve already said, Mylio cannot recognise multiple derivatives, or variants, of the same photo, so when I save a TIFF back from Iridient, Mylio, having it’s “prefer RAW” option set, will ignore it - unless I change the filename root, thus destroying the only referencing I have. And even then, Mylio will interpret this as a new, completely separate photo.  It is a new file - but it is not a new photo. Until Mylio sorts this out, it will remain a highly promising, ever-so-close, but ultimately inadequate application for me. I’ll just have to hope that I’m not the only one who feels this way, and that there is sufficient business justification to expand the feature set.

So, in summary, I like Mylio a lot. It doesn’t (yet?) do quite what I want, but it might still do enough to be worth subscribing too. But it you are not burdened by the cumbersome needs of my personal workflow, you might already find that Mylio’s fulfilled promise of letting you access all your photos, on any device, everywhere, is quite enough reason to adopt it.

 

Replacing Aperture

the Great Leap Forward

in Product reviews , Thursday, March 12, 2015

The writing on the wall has gotten so large that even I can see it. It is crystal clear that Apple are never going to replace Aperture in any meaningful way. They are going to develop their “Photos” thing, which will let people look at thousands of photos on their watch (sorry, Watch). Well, fine. Whatever. I’m sure the shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank. Ten years ago, Apple made integrated hardware and software which provided a fantastic, frictionless way to manage and process digital photos. Now, they don’t. They make glitzy computers which look like dustbins or gold doorstops, which you can barely plug an external disk into. They make very, very dumbed down software, which ironically, is not even intuitive to use. And they run a chain of hugely successful luxury boutiques. They’re not heading down any road I want to go down.

So, time for a change. It hasn’t been an easy task to find a solution, but I think I’ve got there. I’ve discarded Adobe Lightroom, because it is so hideous it makes my eyes bleed. I’m skipping on Capture One because parts of it are just weird, it pitches too much at the high end, and the cataloging part is a bug -ridden, sluggish disaster area. But more important, I’m skipping both of these because I’ve learnt my lesson about relying on closed solutions.

The solution I’ve decided on is to use ID Imager PhotoSupreme as my cataloging tool, and Iridient Developer as my RAW Developer, with Adobe Photoshop CS6 for finishing, printing, and working on scanner-sourced files. PhotoSupreme is a cross-platform application built on top of an open-source SQL database. It acts both as an advanced cataloging tool, comparable to the venerable but obsolete MediaPro, and as a hub to other workflow applications. I’ve been running a trial for 30 days, and have just bought a license. There is some sign that PhaseOne has not given up on MediaPro, but I’ve given up waiting.

Photo Supreme window

A collection view in PhotoSupreme

PhotoSupreme takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve been using MediaPro for about 100 years, not to mention Aperture. Being old and stupid doesn’t help either. Neither does the rather patchy documentation (although an active and helpful user community where the developer participates is a big help). It has its own way of doing things, and newcomers need to take time to get in sync with it. Actually, I think I had a quick look at it a while back, and discarded it as lacking various features. Well, actually, there are very few features it lacks, but you need to work out where they are, and how they work. Once everything starts to click into place, it reveals itself as a very powerful application. I suppose the core difference between PhotoSupreme and MediaPro is that MediaPro encourages use of multiple catalogs, and PhotoSupreme doesn’t really, although it does support them. PhotoSupreme organisation metaphors are different to MediaPro’s but ultimately let you do the same things. But PhotoSupreme has one absolute killer feature, to me anyway: Version Sets.

Photo Supreme Version

Version Sets: the holy grail

PhotoSupreme’s Version Sets are like Aperture’s Stacks (and therefore Lightroom’s clumsy copy of the same). A Version Set collects various versions of the same image (or actually completely different images if you want). But it actually goes further than Aperture, and allows you to indicate the purpose of each version, through “placeholders”. So, you can have a master RAW (or a Silverfast HDR), a JPG for web, another JPG for Flickr, a PSD for printing. And you can add your own placeholders to the core set, pretty much ad-infinitum as far as I can see. The way in which Version Sets are displayed is a little confusing at first, but basically boils down to whether you have a physical (e.g folder) or logical (e.g collection) view open.

PhotoSupreme provides effective import tools for Aperture libraries and MediaPro catalogs, as well as other application formats. There is a single-user version which seems to work fine with several hundred thousand images (according to forum members - I’m nowhere near that prolific), but if that isn’t enough, there’s a heavy duty multi-user version.

All in all, this is a perfect front-end to Iridient Developer. ID has just hit version 3.0, and just keeps getting better. I won’t go into any detail about it here, I’ve written about Iridient a lot in the past. You can read a nice review of Version 3 here. ID can’t do any kind of local editing or pixel-based operations, so Photoshop remind on hand for that. And that’s fine, it’s what it’s good at.

The interesting thing about PhotoSupreme and Iridient Developer is that they’re both developed by one-man band operations, PS by Hert van Zwietering, and ID by Brian Griffith. And despite both inevitably having a few minor rough edges, they make the efforts of certain megaCorporations look pretty sad. And neither impose any kind of lock-in, either through software design, or through pay-or-lose-access rental schemes.

It’s still going to be a hell of a job transitioning from Aperture, but now I’m beginning to feel it will be an upgrade, not a downgrade.

 

From Russia with love

albeit somewhat overdue

in Product reviews , Saturday, April 27, 2013

Well, well, look what DHL dropped off yesterday. A brand new Lomography Belair “Belairgon” 114mm lens, apparently hand machined from a solid block of aluminium by Zenith in Russia.

The packaging is quite impressive, and the lens is built like, well, something Russian. It’s quite hefty, and apart from back lens cap, which is standard Lomography low grade plastic sh*t, generally it gives a good impression. Very firm but fluid movement, well put together. Unfortunately, the companion viewfinder is of the same type as the standard Belair lenses, so absolutely hopeless. Actually, it’s worse, as for some incomprehensible reasons the hipster designers have coloured it some virulent shade of orangey-red on the inside, which reflects in the (dim and blurry) view. Awesome.

So, first impressions, without having actually used it yet, are of a lens built to a standard way above the body it fits on to. Next step will be to see if it can actually rescue the Belair by delivering some decent photos.

Personally I find “Zenith. Russia” far sexier than “Lomography”....

The focus scale is far more useful than the one on the plastic lenses. Due to the Belair design, there are only 2 aperture settings, f/8 and f/16, which is fairly useless. Coupled with the lack of any manual exposure setting, there is a strong element of chance with any Belair shot, which I suppose is what “lomography” is all about. But “spray and pray” gets pretty expensive when you’re dealing with 120 format film.

 

Widescreen Plastic

a field review of the Belair 612

in Product reviews , Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lomography. The painfully hip (although probably not so much these days) trend for making photographs with hopelessly bad cameras, where the whole point is in the flaws and general eccentricities. Or, alternatively, a company in Austria making a nice little sum turning out garishly packaged plastic boxes promising aforementioned hipness.  Either way, the argument seems to be that Lomography is especially creative. I find this somewhat hard to understand, as the artist (the photographer, presumably) has little to no control over the creative process, having a few wildly inaccurate, crude controls, and the random lens, light leak and framing behaviours to deal with. Fun, maybe. Creative, not so much. But what do I know, I’m not hip.

Having said all that, back in November, in a fit of retail therapy I ordered Lomography’s latest creation, the 612 format Belair panoramic camera. I’ve always wanted to work with the 612 format, and while a Linhof 612 would cost around $4000, the Belair costs approximately 1/20th of that. While their first attempt at a panoramic camera, the Sprocket Rocket, in my view verges on the insulting, they seemed to be sort of serious about this one. So what the hell.

So it turned up in January, and to be honest I took one look at it and shoved it in the back of a cupboard. I wasn’t in the mood for it. But last week, I took it for a spin.

The Belair 612 comes in various finishes. Mine is called a “Jetsetter”. It’s plastic with some kind of a metal (I think “tin” best describes it) shell, and boasts a plastic faux-leather wraparound. It looks cute from a way off. It comes with two interchangeable lenses, a 58mm and a 90mm, both with f/8 and f/16 settings (cloudy & sunny…). And it has automatic exposure, with settable ISO. Focussing is zone only. Both lenses have dedicated viewfinders. These are truly, truly awful.

Drm 2013 03 19 IMG 0926

The Belair 612 Jetsetter, fired up and ready to rock

Drm 2013 03 19 IMG 0927

The Belair 612 Jetsetter flexes its bellows

Drm 2013 03 19 IMG 0929

The Belair 612 Jetsetter gazes squints into the distance

As far as operation goes, it’s basically a no-frills medium format film camera, which is fine. However the film loading is unnecessarily tricky, as the take up canister has little wiggle room, and you need to be careful to keep tension on the spool. It’s not exactly a Hasselblad A12, let’s put it that way. The shutter release is a bit of angled metal sticking out of the front standard. It is almost impossible to avoid camera shake when triggering it, and there’s neither remote release nor timer.

So, ok, it’s not that impressive out of box. Even if it is a comparatively classy box. And even considering the price.  So how well does it work ?  I loaded it up with some Lomography X Pro Slide Film (Agfa RSX II, apparently) and tried it out, both handheld and on a tripod, with both lenses.  I made a few standard mistakes that can catch you out with any camera of this type, including double exposures, and winding on the film too far. But generally it worked.  Here are some results, scanned at 2400dpi.

Bel set1 01

58mm lens, focused at 4m, f/8, tripod

Bel set1 02

58mm lens, focused at infinity, f/16, tripod

Bel set1 03

The Belair is maybe more suited for this sort of handheld shot

A 100% crop from the centre of the second image shows pretty much what I see through a loupe on the light table: not exactly medium format resolution. Just mush, basically.

Belair100pcent


So, the results from the plastic lenses are as one could predict. I have got one of Lomography’s Russian-sourced glass lenses on order, but they have been repeatedly delayed.  The camera does not seem to be too prone to light leaks, which will surely come as a big disappointment to the hipsters, and given that I was using slide film, the exposure was in general ok. But it would be safer to use negative film. On the plus side, it is sort of fun to use, and I could immediately confirm that I like the 612 format.

But with those lenses, no pressure plate to keep the film flat in the camera, and adding to that the relative difficulty of scanning 120 format film, sharpness is not a characteristic which is going to be associated with the Belair 612.

It’s got a certain allure, but it doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a “serious” camera or a Lomo post-modern toy, and given the expense of feeding it 120 roll film, I’m not sure it makes that much sense. You could get far better results simply by cropping an image from pretty much any point and shoot digicam - and then run it through Instagram or whatever if you really must.

In conclusion, I didn’t really get on with the Belair. But that’s just me - it may well work for you and inspire your creativity. There’s certainly no cheaper medium-format, interchangeable lens, panoramic camera on the market. I wish I could recommend the Belair 612, but I can’t. Let’s see what it can do with a real lens. If it ever arrives.

 

Silverfast 8 HDR Review

Just outta beta

in Product reviews , Friday, October 12, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, Silverfast 8 HDR finally, quietly slipped out of Beta. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, so it’s time for a quick review. I’m running Silverfast HDR under MacOS X 10.8.2, and it was actually this that I was waiting for before upgrading from Snow Leopard.

SilverFast HDR 8

So, what’s new in this first full release (8.0.1r16)? Well there seem to be a lot of small stability fixes, and everything runs more smoothly, but perhaps the most obvious, and very welcome, is the pre-population of the output file name with the input name. Now, a great enhancement would be to be able set up a rule for this. For. Example, I always name my HDR files “whatever.hdr.tif” - so it would be great if I could specify that the form of the output should be the first part of the filename, and the appropriate suffix, e.g “whatever.psd”.

The Job Manager now seems to be fully featured. Actually I think that this was already introduced during the Beta, but it’s main feature isn’t very obvious and deserves to be highlighted. Previous versions of HDR included a semi-standalone, fully featured file browser / organiser, the VLT (Virtual Light Table). Amongst other things this enabled you to open a large sequence of files and handle them as a batch in HDR. You could switch between files in HDR using the Job Manager, and carry out all the edits you wanted, before submitting the whole batch for output processing - a very powerful and useful feature (yes, I know RAW processors such as CaptureOne do similar things, but remember that Silverfast seriously predates any of these). Anyway, the VLT is missing in action, but the Job Manager functionality has been restored by allowing multiple files to be selected in HDR’s file open dialog, which then appear as a batch in the Job Manager. I’m not really sure we still need the VLT.

JobManager

The Job Manager: clicking on any thumbnail opens the image in the editor

For people unfamiliar about Silverfast’s approach, maybe a few words of explanation would be useful. First, “HDR”: in the Silverfast world, HDR really applies to a workflow, where 48 (or 64) bit, uncorrected, colour managed, linear Gamma scans are made, saved, and later reopened and processed in a dedicated application - Silverfast HDR. Lasersoft describe this as an archival workflow, since you create and save a “raw” (not “RAW” scan with the highest possible fidelity, and can then create as many output variations as you wish without altering the original scan. The alternative is to create scans with corrections “baked in”, a much less flexible approach. So, “HDR” in this sense has nothing to do with “HDR” in the digital photography sense, but to be fair Lasersoft was using this terminology long before the now commonly understood meaning was in general circulation.

Silverfast diagram

The Silverfast HDR workflow

I should also note that VueScan supports a similar workflow, although personally I’ve never been able to it to work to my satisfaction. A great advantage of Silverfast in general is that while it can be complex - indeed, very complex, in the vast majority of cases it also delivers very acceptable “all auto” one-touch results. You can dive deep into Silverfast, but you don’t have to. That’s not my experience with VueScan, which pretty much requires that you come to terms with its arcane and user-hostile interface before delivering the excellent results that it is capable of. Of course, there’s no avoiding the fact that you get what you pay for: VueScan is a lot cheaper that Silverfast, especially the full Archive Suite, but there may be considerable trade offs in time you spend in front of your computer screen. Suffice it to say that I respect VueScan as a viable alternative, but I made my choice a while ago.

Before ending this topic, I should mention that you can, if you so desire, open Silverfast 48bit HDRs in other applications such as Photoshop, but at the price of losing Silverfast’s proprietary processing algorithms. If you’re a Photoshop luminary and relish a serious challenge then possibly you could get results as good as Silverfast’s, but I’ve got better things to do with my time!

Returning to the review itself, the obvious general highlight in version 8 is the all-new user interface. New users will find it far easier to understand and use than the previous versions, while upgraders will generally not be too disorientated. All the tools remain, with similar, but updated icon design, and many features are now accessible through a standard OS menu bar. Application Preferences have been moved to where one would generally expect to find them. The UI is now unified in a single window, although tool palettes can be floated and detached.

SilverFast HDR 8 UI

The Silverfast 8 User Interface

SilverFast HDR 8 UI panels

The Silverfast 8 User Interface - with undocked tool palettes

The UI is in general quite configurable and generally a pleasure to work with, although it retains a few idiosyncratic touches. One major improvement is that most adjustments can be toggled on or off, therefore allowing a before and after view. It would be great if there were a global toggle to switch back to the unadjusted file, but this is a good start. Various adjustments have detail improvements, including highlight / shadow compensation, the USM sharpening tool, and especially the very effective iSRD dust & scratch removal. However, version 6’s clone tool seems to have gone. In fact, were Silverfast to gain a few extra tools such as free rotation and something like Photoshop’s patch tool, it could become fully standalone. It even includes a pretty nifty layout / print module, PrinTao, but this is unfortunately of little practical use as files almost always require a little extra work in Photoshop.

One area where Silverfast has long held the aces is in colour correction. This has been even further improved in version 8. Features like the multi-point “neutral pipette”, and the global and selective colour correction tools would take far too long to cover here (for that I recommend Mark Segal’s excellent book), but make complex colour cast removal (or creative colour adjustment) not only fairly simple but even fun. In a geeky sort of way. One minor grumble is that the excellent colour cast removal slider, which often is all you need, and in all cases will get you in the ballpark, has been hidden in the advanced settings of the gradation tool. This seems a strange decision. Actually so long as you calibrate your scanner(s), using the idiot-proof IT8 tool, quite often Silverfast will deliver excellent results with one click on the auto-adjust button.

SilverFast CC

The three main colour editing tools

SilverFast neutral

The effect of a single click with the neutral pipette - left corrected, right original with magenta cast

Of course all these adjustment tools are available in the scanner-specific companion application, Silverfast Ai Studio, but if you use them there you’re baking them into your scan. One tool you do, however, need to use at scan time is the noise-reducing multi-exposure. One important issue for people with older scanners considering upgrading is that some features of version 6 are not going to make it into version 8. This includes Digital ICE support (for licensing reasons), which is replaced, more than adequately, by iSRD, and multi-sampling, which is replaced by multi-exposure. I’m not too sure about the latter: in version 6, when multi-exposure works, it is as good as, if not better than, multi-sampling, as well as faster, but sometimes it suffers from alignment problems, seemingly at random, which make scans useless. Multi-sampling in version 8 works fine for my CanoScan 9000F, but my Minolta film scanner is not yet supported (and probably never will be), so I have no idea if it has been improved.

So far Silverfast 8 HDR has been pretty stable. I have encountered a few glitches with the Job Manager, where it sometimes gets confused about image rotation, and where the application has crashed half way through a batch process. Annoying, but the edit settings for each image in the batch were retained, so no great harm done.

With version 8 Silverfast has gained a new lease of life. It retains the solid strengths of the previous versions, in some cases with significant enhancements, and packages them all up in a vastly improved user interface which will be much more familiar in concept to users of other image editing applications. Although there are alternatives, in my opinion Silverfast has cemented its position as the gold standard for the film-based digital imaging workflow. The full Archive Suite with Silverfast HDR is not cheap, but if you’re regularly shooting and scanning film, it’s an investment that will pay off in quality of results and time saved. And it will make your scans sing.

Note: coincidentally, today Lasersoft announced the lower cost Silverfast SE Archive Suite

 

 
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