I’ve been spending a lot of time recently scanning film. Strangely, I actually enjoy it. Somehow it gives me greater satisfaction that working with digital files, it feels like a more creative process. And although in the past I haven’t always been fully complimentary about Silverfast, the scanning software I use, I think it’s time to set the record straight.
The worst thing I can say about Silverfast is that it is sometimes a bit eccentric, and in this I include the software and the company. But frankly a bit of eccentricity isn’t a bad thing at all in my book. Silverfast, the company, as represented through its vast web site and forum moderators, is significantly different from the bland corporate face we see more or less everywhere else these days. Silverfast the product may have some UI issues, but actually they’re not so bad, and finally who cares, when it works so well ? I could think of some other niche applications in the imaging world (hello ImagePrint, hi there ColorEyes) who have far, far worse User Interfaces … albeit often equally good people.
A while back I realized that I had quite a lot of folders on my various hard drives with the word “rescan” in their name. Right now I’m re-evaluating and rescanning my whole catalog of Iceland XPan slides, and although I’m coming up with different interpretations from those I made a few years back, they’re not always better - just different. So the idea of “baking in” corrections seems less attractive than scanning a master file and reprocessing it at leisure, never touching the raw scan data.
I’ve played around with this a bit in the past, using Silverfast Studio AI’s 48bit HDR Color output, and trying to process in Photoshop using a variety of techniques. Well, sometimes it worked, sometimes not so well, whatever I tried. I’m sure it CAN be done in Photoshop - well, almost sure - but I’m equally sure I’d need a level of expertise and fundamental understanding far better than mine, not to mention a lot of spare time.
The alternative, of course, is to use Silverfast HDR, which re-opens and reprocesses HDR scans. I have to admit I haven’t been all that polite about HDR in the past, partly on performance grounds, partly on cost. On the performance side, a bit of RTFM and working with the demo has worked wonders, not to mention the patient and detailed help from the Silverfast team on the user forum. I now fully appreciate how to set it up and how to make it work for me. Spending a few minutes learning how to use the Job Manager was also a bit of an eye opener…
On the cost grounds, I’ve complained that HDR and HDR Studio are little more than a “Re-open” dialog which could be added to Studio, Well, I’m wrong. Actually, technically I suspect I’m close to right, but from a business perspective I’m wrong. I guess there could be a case for an extra product in the range which can ONLY do 48 bit HDR Color scans, without all the SE or AI processing features, but I can imagine that would be difficult to justify, and probably would not end up much cheaper.
The basic point is that HDR Studio offers you the option of a more flexible workflow, but part of that flexibility is that you can still process at the scan stage in AI Studio if you wish, or need to. And however many scanners you have, you only need one copy of HDR Studio, which is an important point.
As for the cost… well it’s worth looking out for special offers on the Lasersoft web site. I have a Canon 9000F flatbed scanner which I’m starting to use for proof sheets, and that came with Silverfast SE bundles. Lasersoft advertise a 25% discount for upgrades, but, well, the current discounted upgrade price from SE to Archive Suite is worth buying the scanner for! It certainly works out rather more than 25%.
So, I now have what must be close to the ultimate workflow for scanning my XPan film:
1. Low resolution index scan using Silverfast AI Studio on the Canoscan into Expression Media
2. Selection of best frames in Expression Media / Silverfast VLT, and “raw” 48 Bit HDR scan on the Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro, with Scanhancer fitted, and multiexposure enabled.
3. Colour balance a batch in HDR Studio, trying different settings for GANE where needed
4. Batch process using Job Manager
5. Spotting, sharpening and further fine-tuning in Photoshop
A note on Multiexposure: I’ve had mixed results with Multiexposure in the past, in particular with mis-alignment, and I’ve tended to prefer to use 8x Multisampling. However, for whatever reason (software update, luck ?), I’m now having no problems at all with Multiexposure, and I use it in HDR scans as a matter of routine. At worst, it is as good as Multisampling, but usually a bit better in shadow regions, and it is one helluva lot faster. So from being a sceptic, I’m now a full convert. I suspect that it was released a touch too early, and as a result, got some bad press early on, which is a pity.
As the years go by it is becoming harder and harder to find reasonably-priced solutions for scanning film. And yet the signs that film is making a comeback of sorts, or at least that its decline has halted. Lasersoft are doing the community a great service by keeping a whole raft of dedicated film scanners long-since abandoned by their makers (Polaroid, Minolta, and now Nikon) fully usable with modern operating systems and hardware, and I, for one, am happy to support them as a licensed customer.
The only thing is, if they do actually manage to implement HDRi support for Minolta, then I’m going to have to start all over again!