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.
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.
Dear Lasersoft Imaging,
Quoting from your website, “on August 17th , 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
The latest edition of the online landscape magazine, On Landscape, features an article by Julian Barkway on challenging yourself to climb out of the rut of playing to the gallery and trying to create that perfect, wildly popular Flickr masterpiece. What he has to say certainly resonates with me, although I’m probably several miles further up Cynicism Street than he is. Although I might well see things differently if I were myself a wildly successful babe magnet on Flickr, based on a certain amount of observation and quite a lot of behind the scenes knowledge on content-sharing social websites, I’d say being popular on Flickr (or most other photo sharing sites) has more to do with who you are than what you photograph. I could - but won’t - name a number of highly talented, successfully published photographers who maintain a presence on Flickr and get almost no “action”. I could also easily link to others who’s mundane shots regularly gather 3 or 4 hundred comments. And of course there are talented photographers who are very popular. The dynamics are complex.
I am going somewhere with this ramble, and it is sort of related but different. Every now and again I dig out old photos, especially those on film, and re-evaluate them, whilst gradually building up archival scans of as many as I can. And I come across more than a few shots which I’d discarded when they were fresh, because they didn’t fit the template I was looking for. It’s clear that I had a strong bias towards photos that were closer to those from photographers who’s work - and indeed lifestyles - I aspired to at the time. Since I was, even unconsciously, trying to emulate somebody else’s style, basically it rarely worked. On the other hand, I’m beginning to discover a series of photos which I’ve always been conscious of trying to make but have never been satisfied with, which tend towards a subdued feel with delicate colour and just a touch of ambiguity.
A bit like this.
And finally the truly awesome Polagraph. This film was intended principally for document reproduction (like, I believe, Kodak Technical Pan), but it was a match made in heaven for graveyards, crumbling ruins, etc. Admittedly it is somewhat limited in application, but, oh to have used it in Venice.
Anyway, I’m in a bit of a hurry today, so I’ll let the pictures Speake Their Dismal Wordes.
Both photos taken quite some time ago at the Mount Cemetery, Guildford, England.
So, onto Polaroid Polachrome. This was Polaroid’s instant colour slide film, and a bit of a strange(r) beast. Rated at ISO 40, in terms of colour and saturation it looked surprisingly good on the light table, a bit like a cross between Kodachrome and Velvia. And as far as I can tell from what few slides I still have, taking into account that I never shot it seriously, it seemed to have reasonable dynamic range too. But the really weird thing about Polachrome, which I’d forgotten but have now rediscovered, is that if you look through a loupe you see that the image seems to be made up from series of thin horizontal lines, a bit like a old raster display. This really throws my film scanner:
I couldn’t really get anything sensible from the film scanner, but the Canoscan 9000F managed a little better, being unhampered by high resolution.
This is totally unprocessed, a direct TIF from the scanner. It looks far better on the light table, and it might be possible to extract a far better file from it if I could be bothered, but there’s not much point really.
Here are a couple of shots which hint and what might have been possible way back then. Both direct from the scanner, nothing changed except downsizing to fit.
I seem to be permanently attracted by off-beam, marginal and downright eccentric solutions. So I guess I’ll never own a Canon or a Nikon DSLR. Polaroid instant slide film was fun, albeit most of the time totally impractical. At least the monochrome stuff was almost unique, but Polachrome had to compete with 24 hour or under E6 lab processing, and frankly it was never going to stand a chance, except in very particular situtations, such as a when living in a tent in the Antarctic. No, really.
Tomas Webb wrote more about Polachrome a while back. The comments on his article are a bit painful: I threw out my apparently worthless Polaroid processor… seems I should have put it on eBay!