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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Deep South

the Antarctica archives

in Antarctica , Friday, December 07, 2012

With my forthcoming cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula as the excuse, a few days ago I started posting some scans of slides dragged from the ancient past, when I spent two summer field seasons in Antarctica on British and Norwegian science programmes.

I’ve got something like 1500 slides from those trips, a mix of Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64, and Ektachrome (100, I think). About 250 I had selected around 15 years ago, and stored in archival boxes. The rest, some of which I’ve barely glanced at, are in the “rejects” folder. Many are in poor condition, having suffered fungus attacks. A large proportion are badly exposed, badly composed, heavily vignetted, or out of focus. Usually all of these. But some are interesting - to me at least, from a number of points of view. They show how I took photographs when I had no real idea of what phtography was about. Sometimes they are of some merit, but mostly they show that I was trying to tell stories to people back home, to capture atmospheres, moods and colours. There’s no real sense that I had any concept of “landscape photography” as an aim in itself.

some freshly minted scans

From a technical point of view, I’m benefitting from a lot more experience in scanning. I have had attempts at scanning selections in the past, in particular about 6 years ago, when I published a small book, but now I have a fully colour managed Kodachrome calibrated, Silverast HDR workflow, and I can use Silverfast 8 HDR. I started scanning on my Canoscan 9000F flatbed, but eventually switched to the Minolta film scanner. Even though the benefit with some of these slides is minimal, and I lose the 64bit HDRi option, the ability to auto focus, set the focus point, or fully manual focus on the Minolta is a significant benefit for extracting the finest detail.

Initially I was hoping to create a Blurb book, just for me, to take along on the trip, but the amount of work required just to do the initial 48bit HDR scans is huge. It seems I’ve been feeding the scanners since summer, and I’m not even half way through. So at best it will be an iPad portfolio, and starting a few days back, a daily post on Flickr. Maybe life is easier with digital…

 

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

 

 

A Silverfast 8 Book Review

now all we need is the software

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In mid-2012, given the parlous state of film-based photography (especially colour slide film), and the less than encouraging signs from Lasersoft Imaging, the chances that a new book on Silverfast would be published must have been remote. That it would also be a very good book, even less so. Scanning veteran Mark D Segal has nevertheless confounded expectations with his eBook, “Scanning Workflows with Silverfast 8, Silverfast HDR, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop”. The title may be quite a mouthful, but it is justified through the contents.

Msegal sf

Although the book was written in close collaboration with Lasersoft, makes of Silverfast (of itself a positive sign), it’s no hagiography. Where the author feels that Silverfast is not going to give you best results, he makes no excuse for providing alternative solutions in Photoshop and Lightroom. However, with his exhaustive - but never exhausting - exposition of Silverfast’s vast feature set, he reveals and clarifies areas of the application which I’ve either never used or never been comfortable with.

The book targets Silverfast 8, which for me remains something of a pipedream, and I’m stuck with SF6 for scanning with my Minolta film scanner, and although I religiously download each new public Beta of SF8 HDR, I’m sorry to say that that is still way short of usable. However, although some tools, for example AACO shadow recovery, are improved in SF8, what Mark writes is still applicable to SF6.

The last book to be written on Silverfast was Taz Tally’s Official Silverfast Manual published in 2003, which while pretty good for its day, only covered film scanning as an afterthought on the included CD. Mark’s book on the other hand is firmly focused on film, both positive and negative.

The writing still is clear and communicative, avoiding the trite humour that so many writers seem to feel they can’t do without. The author is not going to get rich with this book, which is available for €29.95 from the Silverfast web site. It is clearly something of a labour of love - let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be a requiem.

 

An open letter to Lasersoft Imaging

also known as “Silverfast”

in Silverfast , Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dear Lasersoft Imaging,

Quoting from your website, “on August 17th [2011], scanner software SilverFast 8 has been released”. Today is June 21st, 2012, and recently, Beta 10 of Silverfast HDR was released, with little obvious change, except, apparently, in fiddling around with the infrared channel which has been causing you some issues.

Silverfast HDR 8 has no features that are not present in Silverfast 6 HDR. It does, however, miss a few. Zooming doesn’t work. You can see an image at a size which fits the window (about 4% in my scans), or, if you discover the hidden workaround, 100%. That’s it. At least you can pan the 100% view. From playing around, it seems that headline features such as GANE simply don’t work, although the controls are there. There is no way to batch process, a key feature of all previous versions.  There is no equivalent to version 6’s flawed, but useful, Virtual Light Table.

You do have a completely new GUI, which is long overdue. It is an improvement, at least, but hardly earth-shaking. And, crucially, it works on Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), unlike version 6. Your company’s total refusal to follow any sort of UI standard is baffling though, as well as financially counter-productive. But Lion, and Silverfast 8, were released a long time ago. In fact, OS X 10.8 is imminent, even if we allow that it is little more than a marketing wrapper for a service pack for 10.7.  And Silverfast HDR 8 is still in Beta.

I’m not holding out any hope for a Silverfast AI 8 for my Minolta Scan Multi Pro. It seems that this is just too hard for your engineers, even though it didn’t seem to be a big deal for Ed Hamrick. Anyway, I have now dedicated a semi-retired MacBook Pro to running Silverfast 6.6 AI, but I would like to reprocess the HDR output on my main machine.

I suspect that you are paying the price for years upon years of neglect of a very old, undocumented and labyrinthine code base, and quite possibly the engineers who knew how it worked are gone. For many years you watched the money roll in, and bolted on fairly useless new feature after fairly useless new feature to get the upgrade income. Of course the foundation was - and is - a very good scanning engine, but that’s no longer enough.

I bought into your Archive concept - in both senses of the word -  but it seems that your idea of “archival” is very strange. Your customers now have archive files which can only be processed on current computers with a half-baked Beta. This is a poor reward for the trust your customers have shown.

Personally, I don’t feel any need to join the rush to upgrade to OS X 10.8 - but perhaps I should consider 10.7, as 10.6 is beginning to lock me out of interesting developments. In fact, I have test 10.7.4, and of all the applications I use, including tricky things like monitor calibration and printer drivers, only Silverfast is holding me back.

I challenge to provide a roadmap to a commercial release of Silverfast HDR 8. And to also publish a list of features you intend to include on release, and a list of those which are not currently working in Beta 10 (although you have released Beta 8.0.1r12, the latest update notice on your Silverfast HDR 8 main page is for 8.0.1r4). No gloss, no half-truths, just the facts. This is part of what an open Beta entails, but you seem not to get that.

Yours, in hope of a positive response

David Mantripp

 

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.

 
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