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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.

Vuescan is NOT struggling

The other side of the coin

in Scanning , Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Following my recent tirade against Vuescan, Ed Hamrick, the creator and publisher of the application, took the time to defend his point of view rather than just completely ignoring me. It’s only fair to reproduce his message in full:

Hi David,

So, apparently my posting on SilverFast struck a nerve? Business isn’t bean-bag - and competition can be brutal. Yes, I know it offends the sensitive :) but that’s life.

If you’re vaguely interested, VueScan isn’t struggling.  My free upgrade offer is going strongly, and I’m selling $3M per year of VueScan licenses.  It’s a good business.

And you dismiss the one-line comments people make about SilverFast.  It’s actually quite interesting.  Every one of the comments in the list of 1000 comments came from someone
who had actual experience using SilverFast and instead deciced to buy VueScan.  People really, really dislike SilverFast - it’s hard to use, the bizarre three-letter and four letter acronyms aren’t helpful, the blizzard of icons in the user interface are non-intuitive, and they’re really dumb with their pricing.

I actually read the comments, and personally pay very close attention to my user’s criticisms of VueScan.  I answer every e-mail from a customer personally.

I get approached all the time with bundling offers.  Plustek wrote to me last week to get pricing for a bundling deal.  They’ve approached me every year for 4 years They don’t like SilverFast either.  However, bundling is a stupid business strategy and I don’t do it.  I might offer free bundling to Plustek just to help drive LaserSoft out of business, but LaserSoft really isn’t much of a competitor.

And yes, most of the scanner market is well-served by MFP’s.

My web site doesn’t push VueScan Mobile at all - it’s below the fold and only comes up if you come to the page from an iPhone or iPad.

You’d be amazed how many grateful letters I get every day from people saying thanks that they don’t have to use SilverFast any more.

You ask why I have the free upgrade offer?  It’s simple, it’s a way to help drive LaserSoft out of business. That’s why I’m considering offering free bundling deals to anyone currently bundling SilverFast.

At least your review of VueScan was somewhat fair (although you made some trivially simple mistakes because you were hell-bent on finding problems).  You might also try a shorter USB cable.  Many of the cables shipped with Minolta scanners have gone bad over the years and problems with high-speed programs (like VueScan) can be solved with a new USB cable.  SilverFast 6 doesn’t have
these problems because they’re using Rosetta because they’re a PowerPC application and slow (and come on, Intel Macs were released 6 years ago).

Some guy named Erik Vlietinck at it-enquirer.com , who’s a complete witless incompetent, made a review of VueScan vs. SilverFast where he claimed that VueScan did a preview at half the speed of SilverFast.  When I posted a comment that perhaps he was using a higher resolution
preview than VueScan, and that he could solve this with the “Input | Preview resolution” option, he deleted my comment to his review and deleted my user name.  What a weasel.

Let’s see if you have the balls to post my response.  I doubt that you do :)

Regards,
Ed Hamrick

I don’t really want to get into a further argument here. I probably went over the top in my original post, but I was genuinely annoyed at what seemed to be, at least to some extent, a serious and unprovoked case of a pot calling a kettle black…  So, I’m feeling a bit guilty, but I’m used to it.

But one thing I will say: I didn’t go out of my way to try to find fault with Vuescan. If it worked better for me than Silverfast, well, I’m not going to cut my nose off to spite my face.  But it didn’t.  I’d say they’ve both reached the boundary of what can be achieved at this level.  It must add that Ed misunderstood my connection issue - it was the Canoscan that Vuescan couldn’t find, not the Minolta. True, I didn’t put any effort into debugging it, but then again, with Silverfast it just works and always has.

Finally it comes down to individual preferences, and I’m more comfortable with Silverfast. But… consider that I chose Olympus over Canikon, Mac over PC, Aperture over Lightroom ... I tend not to go with the flow. Vuescan is vastly popular and by all accounts deserves to be.  But neither Silverfast, nor the Laserscan people, are the Evil Empire.  There’s a fine line between marketing and dishonesty, and few companies can truly say they’ve never, ever crossed it.

I don’t want Lasersoft to be driven out of business. I’ve spent years using and learning how to get the most out of the software, and for me it is ultra-reliable and enjoyable to use.  So, hopefully, Ed can enjoy his well earned $3M and leave the scraps to the competition… and let naive idiots like me subsidize them.

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