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Silverfast 9 bursts forth - UPDATED

just when they least expect it…

in Silverfast , Friday, December 18, 2020

A totally unexpected email popped up in my inbox yesterday, announcing the release of Silverfast 9. It’s a weird time of year to announce a new product, but Lasersoft are a weird company (I used to think of them as eccentric, which has a certain charm, but now they’re just weird, as in irritating).

I still like Silverfast. Actually, it’s chugging away now on my Mac, but only as a input provider to Negative Lab Pro. But this update… well, let’s see what’s new:

Banner silverfast9 newsletter en

So, the headline feature is a new E-Book, written by Chief Mad Scientist, Wing Commander Karl-Heinz Zahorsky. Ok. I wonder what Mark Segal thinks about that?

Then we have Innovative Design. Well, from the screenshots this appears to be a touch more lipstick, only this time also available in fashionable black. I regret my cynicism, but I very much doubt that any of the outstanding usability issues have been fixed. The actual layout looks 100% identical to Silverfast 8, with - and here we have to recognise a serious accomplishment - even uglier icons.

Next up, My SilverFast Portal.  This is apparently a web page where I can see a list of licenses I own. Awesome.

And last but very much not least, SAC - Single Archive Command. Yes, we get the obsessive Air Force reference. What this does is anybody’s guess, but it claims to be a “One-click-archiving solution”.  Basically it seems to be rearranging some existing deckchairs (auto frame finding, Job Manager, VLT), and is of use only for flatbed scanners. Also, the blurb adds, without evidence, “you too can enjoy the advantages of our scan booster with the Single Archive Command” and “75% faster with SAC”.  I have no idea why scanning speed itself should be faster with SAC, or why it should be only available through SAC. Sounds a lot like bullshit to me.

So, that’s it. Apart from some other unspecified “improvements”.

And how much does it cost? Well, as ever, Lasersift is very coy about this, making you jump through all sorts of hoops to get a price.  Here’s what I found, eventually:

Sf9price

So, the Archive Suite, which includes Ai Studio AND HDR Studio, costs less than half the upgrade price of Ai Studio alone. Ok. Whatever.  Note the “new” prices though - not sure what they’re smoking up in there in Kiel, but I want some too.  Of course, this only allows my to run SF9 on my Plustek scanner, not on my Canon scanner.  I expect I’d have to pay the same price again to have both on SF9. And I would be very unsurprised to find that trying to run SF8 for Canon and SF9 for Plustek leads to System-Fehler-Alles-Kaput.

Anyway, I suppose I’ll buy it at some point, but based on experience the initial release is likely to be a stable as one-legged Bremerhaven dock worker after a night on the schnapps.

There is one interesting thing - apparently it supports the mythical Plustek Optic Film 120 Pro.

The website is of course a total train wreck, but you can try to check out Silverfast 9 here.

UPDATE, 21st December
Well, I did buy it. Part of the rationale was that LaserSoft have been quite generous with their upgrade policy with v8.  Certainly the first 18 months or so was just bug fixing, but some useful new features were introduced in later 8.x releases, particularly the Copy/Paste settings in Job Manager.

Well, what v9 brings to the table is actually a slight improved Job Manager dialog (all it is somewhat a case of 2 steps forwards, 1 step back), and, get this, they’ve actually REDUCED the Copy/Paste functionality.  Apart from that, there is nothing new I can find apart from a bit of a visual overhaul, which doesn’t amount to much.  The “new E-book” displayed prominently in the marketing email is not included in the release, but is yours for an extra €29.99.  This is a clear case of misadvertising in my opinion.  Then again, I doubt that the content amounts to much more than self-promotion.  I’ve had a good look, but I cannot find the “new NegaFix profiles” mentioned on the website.  One new “feature” is that v9 implements internet-managed spyware licensing. Yet another thing for LaserSoft to screw up, and they surely will.

So-called HDR-Raw files produced in Silverfast Ai v9 and processed/saved in HDR v9 open fine in HDR v8, so clearly nothing significant has changed at the level of file processing.  The much vaunted “One Click Archiving” is not enabled for my Plustek Optic Film 120, even though it can take a tray of up to 10 unmounted 35mm frames (or 5 mounted), so it could potentially be useful.

So what, substantially, do you get for your money?  Maybe stability with new OS releases? A nice warm feeling that you’ve given money to that nice Mr Zahorsky & friends?  I’m afraid that’s about it.
It is still, in my opinion, the best scanning software on the market, but from a company that’s even harder to like than Adobe. And that’s quite an accomplishment.

 

Negative Lab Pro

Auf Wiedersehen, Silverfast

in Film , Friday, October 16, 2020

This is a quick review of Negative Lab Pro, a piece of software I’ve been aware of for some time, but only just now got around to trying.

Upfront, the website claims “NEGATIVE LAB PRO brings impossibly good color negative conversions right into your Lightroom workflow”. And it does exactly this. And it’s a really big deal.

I’m a long term user of Silverfast, and have defended it more than once, despite its insistence on ignoring all conventions, and the total deafness of its developers and managers to any kind of feedback or dialog. Despite all this, it’s pretty good. But the workflow is stuck in the 1990s, even if some minor concessions to openness have been added. Sadly for Silverfast, I think that Negative Lab Pro (NLP) is a major nail in the coffin.

NLP provides conversions which are at least as good, provides a totally non-destructive workflow in Lightroom, enabling easy creation of multiple versions of the same source scan, all fully re-editable.  On top of this it taps into Lightroom’s Profile mechanism to enable devastatingly accurate emulations of the rendition of standard scanners such as Fuji Frontier and Noritsu.

Of course, negative conversion is a very subjective thing, but the respective look of basic Frontier and Noritsu output is quite objective.  Generally I do all my own scanning, but some time ago I did have some lab scans done, just to get a reference point. For for now I’ve just take a recent XPan shot as a test.

NLP test

The top version is Silverfast’s Kodak Portra 400 NegaFix profile at default settings.  The lower is NLP at default settings. Again, colour negative conversion is a very subjective thing, but frankly, the NLP version to me looks like what Portra 400 is supposed to look like. The greens are more natural (although the Silverfast version may just possibly be more accurate, the grass was very green), and the NLP sky is complete free of the cyan tinge given by Silverfast, the shadows are better balanced. Game over, basically.

Of course, Silverfast provides a wide range of tools to tune profiles, to make colour adjustments way beyond what Lightroom alone can do, but all of this is destructive, sits within a clunky application framework, requires multiple steps and multiple file generations, and is generally slow.  NLP also has a wide range of adjustment tools, which are easier to understand and much faster to apply, making far more fun to experiment.

I’m sold on NLP. Silverfast will now be restricted, in most cases, to Raw scanning. Of course, by generating a Raw scan, in theory I can still process it through Siverfast HDR, but it gets very fussy if any other application has so much looked at one its DNG files.

There is only one drawback (and it could be major in some cases): NLP cannot remove dust and scratches using the infrared channel.  But on balance I guess I can live with that.

 

End Frame

the Fat Lady is warming up

in Hasselblad XPan , Thursday, September 17, 2020

This is quite possible the last frame I ever took on my Hasselblad XPan II:

Xpan 2020 08 01 17 copy


After I pressed the shutter, the familiar film winding sound did not come. The film counter LCD showed "E". Pressing the film rewind button had no effect. All I could do was open the back and try to clear the jam.

Having removed the film, I tried to load another. Instead of winding completely, onto frame 21, it quickly stopped, showing frame 1. I tried several times. I tried resetting everything by pulling the batteries out. I tried changing the batteries. I tried cursing. Nothing worked.

This was the first serious outing for the XPan in several years, two weeks in Puglia capturing midday sun-baked inland towns and villages on Portra 400. But it wasn't to be: just a few frames of a masseria near Monopoli.

Xpan 2020 08 01 09 copy


On returning home I contacted Hasselblad customer support. They did actually reply, and did not totally rule out repair. They required that I first send it to a "local dealer", though, rather than direct. Given the likely difficulty of persuading my "local" dealer (who is on the other side of the alps and speaks a weird variant of German) to handle an antique, and also my experience with said dealer's speed, not to mention the notorious sloth of Hasselblad service, I decided instead to send it to Les Victor in Paris. They haven't promised anything, but then again they have fixed my 30mm viewfinder, which Hasselblad customer service said was impossible.

So, fingers crossed, but I'm not optimistic. XPans are heavily reliant on electronics, and they are dying. People, please, do not blow $5000 buying one on eBay. Mine is relatively young (late XPan II) and well looked after, and this came out of the blue. XPans are on borrowed time.

UPDATE, Sept 18th: I heard from Les Victor this morning. Seems they can fix it, and they are going to do a complete service as well. Seems like it's got a reprieve.
 

The Filmopocene

...they do things differently there

in Film , Wednesday, August 05, 2020

I always thought that my persistence with film photography had nothing to do with nostalgia, or wanting to pursue some retro look. I thought it was just that I liked how some film photographs look, here and now, not in the past. Now that I’ve largely abandoned it, I’ve come to realise that it had everything to do with nostalgia. Only with a bit of a twist.

It was part of a much larger longing, one for that halcyon period which stretched between around 1980 to 2010. That period when you could travel to discover places. Sure, you may have read about them in a similar beaten up (hard)copy of Lonely Planet (1st edition), but it was still discovery. You hadn’t seen your destination a million times on Instagram or Facebook, as a backdrop to impossibly hip and gorgeous couple. You hadn’t seen it featured in twenty thousand over-processed Serious Photographer shots on Flickr or 500px. And you didn’t have to reserve a bed three months in advance on booking.com. Actually, you could just turn up, and find somewhere nice to stay.

So in 2002, we could roll up in Oia, Santorini, and stay for a week in an old vaguely refurbished windmill right at the point of the village. Or travel around the Danube Delta in Romania, hopping on and off old ferries, hitching a ride with local fishermen, sleeping wherever we could find someone with a spare room. A year before, we could travel around New Zealand in peak season with booking anything at all in advance (although that scruffy travel guide did help). We could travel dusty roads in Tuscany, stop wherever we wanted, visit museums in Siena without queuing up, have San Gimignano largely to ourselves, and stock up on Fuji Provia or Kodak Ektachrome pretty much everywhere.

Snhg ref 303

Oia, Santorini, peak sunset, back in the Filmopocene

And that’s the trigger - I associate all of these places with boxes of green or yellow film canisters scattered on a night table or shelf somewhere, their latent images patiently waiting to emerge. That’s the world they belonged in, and that world is well and truly gone. It seems that I sometimes tried to recreate it by grabbing a few boxes of Kodak, but it was a fool’s errand. Indeed, in recent times I’ve often felt that I’m forcing myself to find things to photograph with film cameras, but when there’s something I really want to photograph, I inevitably go for digital. The hassle of carrying those little canisters (or rolls) anywhere significant has now grown exponentially - along with their price - and the magic has gone.

Snhg ref 1331

The Age Of Innocence, and film. Peak Pelican in the Danube Delta, Romania

There does remain one exception for me, which is of course the Hasselblad XPan. That is not so much a film camera, more simply a camera which requires film. Film does not define it. I tried to extend this by adopting the expensive and unwieldy Linhof 612, but I was 20 years too late. If only I’d bought one back when I first heard about in New Zealand all those years ago, then it might well have worked for me. Subconsciously I was treating it as a time machine, not a camera.

This was all with a healthy dose of hindsight. I actually sold off most of my film cameras to free up some cash to go down another rabbit hole. It was only later that it dawned on me what was actually tying me to film photography, tangentially triggered by a few books I’ve been reading recently.  But the world has indeed changed, and there really does not seem to be any going back. My origins as a “photographer” are closely tied to that time of more carefree travel. Trying to cling on to it through the artifice of taking film cameras on trips and vacations is futile and just gets in the way of anything coherent I might do as a photographer.  It was, I think, this which has been stifling my creativity (well, that and chronic laziness). I still long for a way to capture that pastel evening light over Sermilik ice fjord or the Gerlache Strait. The closest I - and several others, in my opinion - have ever come to is with medium format film, and that’s gone for me now. 

But one door closes, and another one opens.

 

Farewell Medium Format

and thanks for all the frames

in Film , Tuesday, July 14, 2020

It’s all change at snowhenge headquarters. I’ve recently divested myself of all medium format film cameras, but also all unessential digital stuff which I have acquired over the years. There is no question that I truly love the look of medium format film, especially Kodak Portra 400, but also Fuji 160NS and Kodak E100. But the problem is that I have never found a medium format camera that really works for me. The Bessa 667 III is a beautiful camera which works extremely well - but it has a 50mm equivalent lens, which has never been my thing.  Then there’s the Linhof 612PC. Maybe if I’d bought it 20 years ago, it would have been different, but my 4 year experiment with hasn’t yielded much. It’s a fascinating device, but it is just too cumbersome to use. A big attraction for me, coming from the XPan, was the 8mm fixed shift lens. But the problem here is that it is a positive shift. I usually need negative shift. No problem, you can turn the camera upside down - it even has a tripod socket on the top plate. But unfortunately you can’t fix the viewfinder to the bottom plate, and accessing the lens controls upside down is a recipe for disaster. In most scenarios I get into, it becomes a very unenjoyable experience. On top of that, despite the huge real estate on the body, Linhof contrived to create a design where no known Arca plate could be fitted (to be fair I don’t think removable plates existed when the camera was designed, but still…).  So I had to use a neolithic screw fitting tripod head.  And finally, unless one is very, very careful, the 612 film winding mechanism has a very nasty habit of overlapping exposures. On top of that, the 58mm lens flares badly. I hope the new owner finds it more amenable than I did - at least I sold it at a fair price.

So that’s it - apart from the Hasselblad XPan, I’m out of film.

This does actually carry on with what I wrote in an earlier post: “what is dawning on me is that by and large for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo”. I’m more sure than ever that this is the case for me.

But it’s not even just film. I’ve also sold off my Sigma sd-H, with its lead-lined lenses. It can produce great results, but again, it is very cumbersome, and it only works in very specific lighting situations. I never found a niche for it. My idea was that it would extend the scope offered by my Quattro dp0, but in the end it didn’t: it doesn’t offer the portability of dp0, and the Art lenses, while excellent, are not as good as the dp fixed lenses. So the dp0 stays, but the sd-H is gone. So all that remains is a two-body Olympus OM-D setup, with a generous number of lenses. Oh, and the Ricoh GR, which earns its keep.

All this sell-off (which went very well, and very painlessly via ricardo.ch rather than eBay) has generated a quite reasonable pile of cash. I have imposed a rule on myself that by and large I’m spend no new money on camera gear.  New has to be paid for by old. In this case, the cash hasn’t sat around for long, and my latest acquisition, which I’ve been dithering about for years, has just been delivered and is waiting to be opened. It’s by some margin the most I’ve ever spent on camera gear (the record so far is probably the XPan, which with all lenses must have come to around €4000).

But more on that some other time.

 

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