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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Silverfast 8 - initial impressions

A look at SF 8 HDR Public Beta

in Product reviews , Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lasersoft Imaging released Silverfast 8 towards the end of August. Unfortunately, they don’t yet support my main scanner, although they do support my CanoScan 9000F, but they have just released a public Beta of Silverfast 8 HDR. Since most of my time with Silverfast 6.6 is spent using HDR, this was welcome news.

Since it has come during a bit of a lull in both photography and especially scanning, I haven’t really had much reason to try it, but yesterday evening I thought I’d give it a go. Note, this article is written under the influence of a combined throat infection and heavy cold.

The big thing about Silverfast 8 is the user interface redesign, but that’s not the only point. However, it really dominates the update, so here it is.

SilverFast 8 HDR Studio BetaSnap002

The Silverfast 8 HDR Studio user interface

and here it was:

Sf hdr 6

The Silverfast 6 HDR Studio user interface

Silverfast 8 introduces a modern, compact, unified user interface which, although remaining a little idiosyncratic, is a huge improvement.

I haven’t run anything approaching a full session, so I’ll just list a few early impressions. These are taken from running on MacOS X 10.6.8.

Positives:

- hugely improved UI. Massive step forward
- installs and runs following normal guidelines, including access to preference panels, etc. Uses standard OS toolbar.
- detachable tool panel, so you can “roll your own” UI to some extent
- ability to turn various edits on and off in preview (like Aperture or Lightroom)
- ability to run Silverfast 8 and Silverfast 8 HDR concurrently - I think. I’m not 100% sure as my trial of Silverfast 8 for CanoScan 9000F has expired, but I can open both launch screens at the same time. I can also run SF 8 HDR and SF 6 HDR (or AI Studio) at the same time.

Negatives (remembering that this is a Beta):

- allows quit without warning to save edited images
- the colour cast slider seems to have vanished. Now the level is set in Preferences only

Neutral:

- the image manager, Silverfast VLT, which works as a front end to Silverfast HDR 6.6, is gone.  This is not necessarily a bad thing as it is somewhat buggy and has some very poor design choices. However as a way of building up Job Manager lists is was pretty good. Maybe it will return.
- seems stable. No crashes so far.


Generally all the tools remain the same, including the superlative colour correction tools, but they’re easier to use and understand.

All in all it looks encouraging. Let’s just hope Lasersoft come up with a pricelist which takes into account that it’s not 2001 anymore, otherwise selling a product like this into a dwindling market is going to be pretty challenging.

 

New Medium Format film scanner

Reflecta throws out a lifebelt

in Film , Thursday, June 30, 2011

For those of us still in the Stone Age of film, and slide film at that, there’s a lot to worry about. Dwindling film supplies and variety, processing labs dropping like flies, and especially that day when the film scanner goes bleeeeeep-kerTHUNK. And then it’s Game Over, unless of course you’re willing to sell your soul to Hasselblad for a Flextight. The last (and first, really) wave of affordable, high quality medium format scanners from Nikon, Minolta, Polaroid and Microtek are fast approaching Lights Out. But remarkably, a potential saviour has arisen in the shape of Germany’s Reflecta. Although they’re probably not well known outside of Central Europe, Reflecta is a company with a long history. Typically they’ve made various low to mid-range accessories and devices, including slide projectors (I believe some Leica slide projectors were rebadged Reflectas) and cheap and cheerful 35mm film scanners. However, as the mid to semi-pro market collapsed, Reflecta has been cautiously and quietly edging upwards, acquiring a credibility-enhancing partnership with Silverfast on the way, as well as some encouraging reviews. Although the fact that they have practically no credible competiton must help. And now, well they’ve taken the major step of announcing their first medium format scanner.

And note, unlike any of it’s comparable predecessors it goes up to 6x12. It doesn’t appear to have a dedicated 35mm panoramic holder, but I guess one can be cobbled together.

On paper the specifications look modest. A DMax of 3.6 (I wonder how many people remember what that means) and an optical resolution of 3200dpi. Probably enough, and actually probably closer to the truth than claims of 4800dpi and similar, but not terribly exciting for the marketing men. But then it doesn’t need to be. It has no competition whatsoever, if you discount worn out overpriced eBay fodder.

From pre-release photos it appears to have a mechanism and construction similar to the Microtek / Polaroid 120 scanner, with a moving holder and fixed sensor, which is a pity. Moving sensor systems generally provide a much better platform for multisampling.

It is due to be available in July, but so far no pricing has been announced. I would expect something in the range of €1000, but I suppose it could be higher.

And will it be any good? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. But with the alternative being Nothing, I suppose the bar’s not set too high.

 

Colorburst RIP

RIPoff?

in Product reviews , Sunday, May 29, 2011

Intrigued by a blog post by Bruce Percy about Colorburst RIP, which triggered quite a discussion, I decided to give it a try, since a fully featured 15 day demo is available.

I used to be a happy user of ColorByte’s Imageprint RIP - and what qualifies to be called a “RIP” or not, quite honestly I couldn’t care less. Imageprint basically gives you high quality print output, with minimal fuss (albeit with a somewhat clunky UI), and no wasted time or materials. It is fairly expensive, on the face of it, but when you consider the cost of the alternative DIY profiling route, it’s a bargain. Even for hobbyists. However, at present I don’t use it. I use the much improved Epson driver, with my own profiles built using XRite’s ColorMunki. Also, I have ImagePrint 6 licensed for the Epson 2100, and these days I use an Epson 3800. As and when I can afford to upgrade, I still might, but since I’m pretty settled on a couple of paper types, and having tried the demo I couldn’t see a huge benefit over the modern Epson driver, it’s not a priority.

Back to Colorburst. So, I downloaded it and installed it. First off, it’s quite a different beast to ImagePrint. There’s no layout facility, but the UI is a little more polished. However, Colorburst’s UI offers little more than ImagePrint’s Job Manager. Colorburst provides packaged “environments” for printer / paper / ink combinations. They offer a fairly wide range, but significantly smaller, and much less up to date, than ImagePrint’s. For example, my favorite paper, Hahnemuehle Photo Rag Baryta, didn’t make the cut. However I did have a few sheets of Epson Traditional Photo Paper (aka Exhibition Fibre) lying around, so I tried that.

And I got exactly what I expected: a relatively desaturated print representing a CMYK press proof, which as I understand is what Colorburst RIP is supposed to do - but it does seem that it’s being represented as a full gamut inkjet replacement driver for photographic final prints. Well, maybe there are some settings somewhere, or environments, or other proprietary stuff you can twiddle to fix that, but then one has to ask what the point is ? You may as well invest the time in learning mainstream color management. And it isn’t all the difficult.

Colorburst offers no preview, so for example you can’t know that the option you selected to “auto rotate” doesn’t always work - so you’re wasting paper.

As far as I can tell, Colorburst RIP is a great tool for DTP specialists need to get accurate, contract-rated offset proofs. If you’re working with a printing house on publishing a book, it’s fantastic. And back in the day I used to do that sort of work, I wish I’d had it. But it is absolutely not going to deliver anything approaching the best Adobe RGB color space screen to paper output you can get. And neither is it supposed to.

 

Sprocket Rocket

Junk. No, really.

in Product reviews , Thursday, December 02, 2010

Back in the mists of time when cameras like the Holga first appeared, they were pretty much born out of necessity. Within the cultural and economic constraints they existed in, they were the best that could be done, and certainly better than nothing.

Being elevated to a cultural chic platform certainly changed all that. Suddenly that unfocussed, badly vignetted, flare ridden and imprecisely framed look was the next Big Thing in Cool. And it turn into an industry. The Lomo look became a major trend, and made a virtue of what was, to all intents, just bad photography.  Some interesting and possibly even good art came out of it, but these days it’s really just got out of control.  The painful limitations that the devices impose can only be held up as virtues for so long.

Nevertheless, when I saw the announcement of the Sprocket Rocket panoramic camera from Lomography, I was interested. I even briefly thought of buying one ... until I saw the price. It is quite frankly ridiculous.

The Sprocket Rocket’s main claim to frame is that the image area includes the film rebate, or “sprockets”. Yeah, well, whatever. A cute effect that wears off after about 1 photo, and can anyway be pretty easily faked in Photoshop. Oh, and it’s panoramic, with a “super wide angle lens” - apparently something like 30mm, f/13, although the website doesn’t tell, and plastic, of course - and a couple of knobs which let you wind the film forwards - and backwards - to make absolutely damn sure that you get overlaps and other magnificently arty imperfections.

And speaking of imperfections, well here the Sprocket Rocket really shines.  It appears to be just about impossible to take anything approaching a “good” photo with this POS, and the “badness” of what it does produce is just, well, bad. Not interesting, not arty, just gouge-your-eyes-out ugly. Massive vignetting, weird colour, no focus, and of course, sprockets.

home_01.jpg

Yours, for ONLY $89.00.  Oh. And you’ll need a “scanning mask”. That’ll be another $30 or so.

Really, you can do so much better than this with any number of easily obtained vintage cameras. You can get the distressed look if you want, but you get to choose. Creativity means nothing if you’ve got no part in the process.

Lomography: it’s cool-speak for “laughing all the way to the bank”.

 

Olympus EP-2

my preshussssss!

in Olympus E-System , Friday, November 12, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write more about the Olympus EP-2 for a while, but for various reasons I didn’t get around to it. One of these is that I wanted to compare with the E-3, but I haven’t got a lens adaptor for the EP-2 yet, and in any case, I’m not really into doing “tests”. Anyway, there’s little point: it is glaringly obvious that in terms of image quality, the EP-2 is way ahead, even with the 14-42mm kit lens.  I say “even with” ... to be honest, I seriously doubt that the vast majority of web chattering about lens quality is based on any sort of objective evaluation of real-world use. This lens certainly isn’t limiting my photography.

Oh, and it’s great fun to use.

drm_ep2_20101017__A170345.jpg

An EP-2 photo using the Fake Hasselblad preset

There are a few things I don’t like so much about the camera, and all of them are concerned with handling and the user interface.  The control dial is pretty horrible to use. You have to be very, very careful to not completely change the setup when you were intending to dial in +0.3EV. The various ways of changing settings, through the menu, the super control panel, or the info layer (if that’s what it’s called) are just too confusing. At least one of them should go, and actually, although I’m very familiar with it, my choice would be to deep-six the super control panel. As I get used to the info method I’m finding I hardly ever use the control panel. I wonder if it has made it through to the E-5, or if Olympus consider it to be a “consumer” feature ?

drm_ep2_20101027__A270354.jpg

Another pretty picture

There are a lot of things I do like. First of all, in my experience so far this camera has by far the most accurate auto-exposure of any Olympus E-System camera I’ve used. Very good and very consistent, unlike the E-3 which frankly seems to use random guesstimation as it’s baseline method. Second, dynamic range is also much better. The photo above would have caused my all sorts of problems with the E-3. With the EP-2, it’s just routine. The EVF is excellent, and without it the camera would not be anywhere near as useful or enjoyable. It would be nice if it were orientable in two axes, like the E-3’s screen. The general feel and construction of the camera is very good, and personally I love the design. It is so much easier to carry this camera around than a DSLR, although it is notable that it is only slightly smaller than the E-400. I like the shutter sound, although it would be nicer if it were a touch quieter. Oh, and I really like the AF-C Tracking Mode - this is fantastic when combined with “focus and recompose” shooting, although I suppose that wasn’t quite what it was meant for! It might not be quite so hot with fast moving targets - I don’t know, I haven’t tried - but it works fine for motionless inanimate objects. 

I’m not quite so keen on manual focus.  I’m still not entirely sure how to pre-set the focus point: I found out once, and then forgot (manual ? what manual). And moving the focus point while zoomed in in MF mode is probably the most frustrating and curse-inducing activity I’ve encountered on a camera in many years. But then again, who cares when you’ve got AF-C Tracking Mode ?

So, I won’t be selling it. In fact, since I bought it, I haven’t picked up the E-3 (or E-400) once. Obviously in some cases the E-3 will still be the better tool, but in general I can see it settling on a quiet semi-retirement.

 
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