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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Carry On Scanning

still dithering

in Scanning , Sunday, August 31, 2014

Since my last post mourning the apparent demise of my faithful Minolta film scanner, I have tried every kind of arcane trick know to the Internet, and a few more besides, to bring it back to life. It is sometimes possible to get it to revive, but there’s no pattern to it. I managed to extract a full-blown, medium format 16x sampling megascan from it, too, but soon after it relapsed. I have to face facts, I’m wasting far too much precious time on this.

One reason why it has been so much the focus of my attention - apart from a 15 year film archive, which can always benefit from my improving scanning skills - is my current project to refine a set of Antarctic landscape panoramas.  I’m trying to get the colour profile exactly as it should be, which to my way of seeing needs to be delicate, slightly subdued, but still allowing the often astonishing colour to speak.  But not the overblown, digital look that plagues so much photography (Adobe Lightroom default profiles have to take of the blame for this). Of course, photographing on reversal film means that I’ve pretty much defined the look before it gets anywhere near a computer, but there are still opportunities and decisions to be made in the scanning and post-processing stages.  The ideal is to transfer what I see on the light table on the screen, and then to print, but that’s very hard to achieve, especially without a drum scanner. And when I’m engaged in a long stretch of batch scanning, sometimes my initial post-processing attempts are not ideal. For example:

Xpan antarctica06 06 old

I’m not sure what I was thinking of here. The contrast is too strong, and the delicacy of the colours in the ice is lost. I’ve also pushed the sky and sea too much towards neutral.

The revised version is much closer to the Ektachrome, although with less density. In the processing, “less is more” certainly applied. Note, in both cases, reducing down to web sized JPGs is introducing some exaggerated tone transitions, especially in the sky.

Xpan antarctica06 06

Fortunately, using the Silverfast archive workflow I can go back and re-work the post processing without needing to do new scans. Unfortunately, for most of my Antarctic scans I used the Scanhancer to try to eke out the last bit of pixel-peeping quality, and this has not worked out to well. The coupled increase in exposure times seems to have greatly exaggerated shadow noise, possibly due to an ageing scanner CCD, and a few near invisible scratches on the Scanhancer itself have resulted in bands of shadowing on the scans, which was not immediately noticeable, but which are almost impossible to fix.

So going back to the scanner quandary, unless I decide to give up, I have three choices: try to get the Minolta fixed, which seems unlikely, track down a good, working Minolta DSMP or Nikon Coolscan 9000 at a sensible price, or take a chance on a Plustek OpticFilm 120. Although the inter webs are full of whining about the Plustek, two reviewers who actually have some track record have been less negative: Mike Pasini (“we achieved our finest scans of the test images we’ve ever managed. But it wasn’t easy.”), and particularly, Tim Parkin, who is something of a scanner guru (“the OpticFilm is definitely has the potential to be a great scanner and I can only recommend if you have the wherewithall to play around with creating a custom film holder”). Another strong argument is that the OpticFilm is currently in production and support by a company for which scanning is a major business activity. Well, I’m going to dither for a little longer, but I’m leaning towards the OpticFilm. Especially as it supports 6x12 film format and alledgedly could be persuaded to scan 6x17.

 

The Failing Scanner Blues

down in the groove

in Scanning , Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Woke up this morning
Stumbled out of bed
Tried to make a 48 bit HDR scan
But my scanner would not be led

Tried to fire up Vuescan
Gave Dimage Scan a chance
But even good ol’ Silverfast
Couldn’t make that scanner dance

When halfway through my scan
The thread it seems to lose
Yeah, I’m stuck down here in Memphis*
With the Failing Scanner Blues

* well ok, Lugano, but that’s not very Blues.


Yep, my 13 year old Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro has started having senior moments.  Part way through a scan, or even a preview, it just gives up and decides it’s done quite enough.  The software’s left in limbo. Vuescan looks round in confusion, Silverfast, naturally, locks up, and Dimage Scan wonders why the hell I’ve woken it up after a 5 year nap.

This isn’t good news. Received knowledge over at the MultiPro Yahoo Group is that it is probably a symptom of a failing Firewire controller, apparently a known ageing issue with these scanners.  And it probably can’t be fixed. Apparently a company in Germany called RTC Solutions can sometimes fix Konica Minolta scanners, but they’re not answering my email. Probably on holiday. Or stuck at the Gotthard Tunnel with most of Germany.

The MultiPro also has a SCSI interface, which apparently is much more robust.  I believe I last used it around 2005, which would have been when my last SCSI-equipped Mac caught fire just after I’d sold it.  One can in theory use a Firewire to SCSI converter, but these went out of production some 4 years ago, and sell on eBay for $Stupid. And of course Apple have killed off Firewire as well, so that’s not much of a long term solution.  Possibly I could find a Firewire PCIe card which might work in my Mac Pro, and which might then hook up to the scanner, but even then, since I have to use an old version of Silverfast running on a semi-retired laptop (version 8 doesn’t support the MultiPro), if all that unlikely chain worked, I’d still lose my Silverfast workflow. Vuescan would work, but well, it’s not really my first choice.

Things are looking grim on the Medium Format film-scanning front (and not much better on 35mm). There were basically 3 good MF film scanners all launched around 2000: The Polaroid 120 (and Microtek clone), the Nikon Coolscan 8000/9000 and the Minolta MultiPro.  There is some debate over which of the Coolscan 9000 and the MultiPro is better, but there’s not a lot in it. They’re both excellent.  However, the Multipro is half the size & weight of the Nikon, and scans XPan format at 4800dpi rather than 4000dpi. For general MF use, however, the Nikon offers 4000dpi over the Minolta’s 3200.  Of course all of these are out of production, and thanks to Sony’s acquisition of Konica Minolta’s photographic activities, even the statutory period for spares and servicing was ignored.

Today, there are actually two MF scanners available new. The Reflecta MF5000 (and several clones with different labels, such as Pacific Imaging), which isn’t terribly exciting, and the Plustek 120, which in theory is interesting, but has received mixed reviews, to put it politely.  In any case, even a glitch-free Plustek 120 would seem to be inferior to the Minolta MultiPro, a 15-year old design! And you can even find new copies of the Nikon Coolscan 9000, if you’ve got more money than sense.

And of course there are the outrageously expensive Hasselblad Flextight X5 & X1. Sadly I have no grandmothers left to sell. And anyway, they’re don’t even have dust removal - and, reportedly, the MultiPro delivers results almost as good.

MultiPros and Coolscans on eBay fetch prices way in excess of their original retail, and who knows how much life they have in them ? I can hardly complain about my Minolta, it has given over a decade of faithful service, which isn’t bad for an electro-optical-mechanical device.

So I’m left looking at a set of unattractive options: try to patch up the Minolta for a while yet; buy a modern but expensive, slow and less performant Plustek scanner; try to find a secondhand replacement Minolta or Nikon which doesn’t require a kidney to raise the funds.  Or rent a Hasselbad X5, 250km away in Zürich, every now and again, for CHF 300 / hour. Or give up on film.


Meanwhile, while I’ve been writing this, the MultiPro has just managed to get from one end of a scan to another without losing the plot, and delivered this:

Xpan antarctica05 10b hdr

Not (quite) dead yet ?

Really clutching at straws, I’ve ordered a new Firewire 400 cable (yes, even these are special order now, abet $0.50 from the USA). If that fixes it, I’ll be on the phone to the Vatican.

 

 

 

(Black & White Slide) Film’s Not Dead

Phantom of the Opera ?

in Film , Monday, June 17, 2013

I’ve always been aware of the existence of Agfa Scala film, but never got around to using it. I even had a few rolls, with prepaid processing at Joe’s Basement in Soho, London. Both are now gone. Well, at least that’s what the internet says. Joe’s, certainly, sadly shut up shop quite a while ago, and Agfa-Gevaert discontinued Scala around 2004, I think, shortly before parachuting out of the photography business altogether. There are still a few rolls floating around on eBay or elsewhere with a process by data of 2009. So that’s it … or is it ? Because, strangely, I have in front of me a 5 pack of Agfa Scala 200X, produced, apparently, by AgfaPhoto, in Leverkussen, Germany, and with a quite healthy expiry date of October 2014.

So what’s so special about this film ? Well, first, it is one of the very, very few black & white reversal films (“slide films” to you & me) ever produced. It is nominally rated at ISO 200, but can be used up to 1600 with no problem (although apparently not if it is expired). Second, it produces smooth, crisp photos with a very wide tonal range and a sensitivity that touches on the infrared. Third, and most important, it a niche within a niche on an obscure periphery, and totally and utterly pointless in 2013. And its provenance is a little mysterious. Therefore, irresistible.

I was a little bit nervous about using it - I’m a complete novice when it comes to black & white film, but then on the other hand, it is essentially a slide film, which I’m quite familiar with. Anyway, I loaded the first roll into my XPan, rated it a 400 ISO and just trusted it’s ever reliable meter, and tweaking it up by half a stop, just so that I felt in control. And I wandered around the upper part of Colle di Val d’Elsa in Tuscany and took a few photos. Twenty one, to be precise.

Untitled

My first 18 Agfa Scala panoramic shots, including 2 fantastic shots of the inside of a lens cap. Aren’t rangefinders great ?

Scanning Agfa Scala is easy, just so long as you don’t use any kind of infra-red cleaning (like Digital ICE or LIDE). I discovered this to my cost after about 15 time consuming HDR scans.  And HDR scanning (in Silverfast terminology) is also not really necessary in this case.  Also, don’t trust auto focus. Otherwise, no problem. I scanned at 16 bit grayscale - there might be some advantage to 48 bit RGB, but I haven’t had time to experiment. Here are a few examples:

Xpan toscana1305 sl 02
Xpan toscana1305 sl 05
Xpan toscana1305 sl 15
Xpan toscana1305 sl 20
Of course, these are reduced down to 590 pixels wide. The scans are 12500 pixels wide, and the detail is pretty amazing. So, although I’m very, very late to the party, it’s not over yet, and I’m discovering that Scala 200X is fun to use.  What its status or future is, I really don’t know, and neither, it seems, does the internet. Although it carries AgfaPhoto branding, and AgfaPhoto acquire trademark and marketing rights over a range of Agfa Films (see here, although word has it that Agfa CT Precisa 100 is none other than my old friend Fuji Provia 100F in disguise), Scala 200XT is not mentioned on the website.  So, I’m going to buy a few more rolls while I can.  You can too, but only if you email me to ask for the details, I’m not making that mistake again! Processing is still carried out by a number of labs in Europe at least, including Studio 13 in Zürich.
 

Using the Belairgon lens

not quite as crap as the plastic lenses

in Film , Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Just a quick note, as I don’t have a lot of time right now, but I have now received and made quick scans of the first films I shot using the mighty Belair Belairgon 114mm lens hand-welded in Russia from genuine ex-Soyuz engine nozzles.

The results are sort of heading in the direction of encouraging, at least in the sense that they indicate it my be possible to consider the Belair 6x12 as a valid photographic tool in ideal circumstances.  There are hints that something like acceptable sharpness can be obtained, but the total lack of any real control over shutter speed (apart from being certain it’s never going over 1/125th, which is fairly tragic for a 114mm lens on a medium format camera) means that it’s not going to work terribly well hand held.

I also had “fat film” problems which each of the 5 rolls of Velvia 100 I put through it.  I had better luck - perhaps helped by the camera modifications I made - with a subsequent batch of Lomo negative film, but I haven’t seen that yet. And, well, Lomo negative film… hmm.  I also used a tripod. We shall see.

Anyway, the Belairgon 114mm does actually seem worth at least a little perseverance. The scans here are absolutely not optimised, just quick default scans on a flatbed Canoscan 9000F at 2400dpi.  When I have time I’ll see if they’re worth film scanner time.

Bel set2 02
Bel set2 04

Bel set2 05

 

 

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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