photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Wet mount scanning

squeezing the last drop out

in Film , Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Back in October, a blog post by Ctein on The Online Photographer first alerted me to existence of 3rd party fluid mounting kits for many scanners.  Specifically, he mentioned ScanScience‘s kits, based on their Lumina fluid.

I was intrigued enough to check this out, and eventually ordered a kit usable on my Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro from ScanScience. Since they are in Canada, and the fluid cannot be carried by air, it takes quite a while to arrive, and it’s also better to order a reasonably generous supply.  So there’s quite an element of flying blind here, but my feeling was, well Ctein knows what he’s talking about, what the hell.

Anyway, it arrived a few days ago, and I started playing around with it. Precision scanning is both fiddly and something of a black art. My initial impression of fluid mounting is that it certainly increases fiddlyness, and also adds several more ways in which you can screw up a scan ... or indeed a scanner, in the worst case scenario.

My initial attempts were not too successful, and I had to dismantle a 6x9 glassless holder to fit the fluid mount assembly as recommended. But after a few tries I started to get the hang of it. The main challenges are getting the right amount of fluid onto the various surfaces, and avoiding dust and dirt contamination.

The basic idea with fluid mounting is to keep the film flat, and to avoid optical path degradation which arises from various factors in dry scanning - I won’t repeat the explanations here, you can find them at ScanScience and various other resources.

The following images show the best result I’ve obtained so far. Comparing a couple of sections of a 4800dpi XPan scan of Ektachrome E100G, wet mounted and dry mounted, shows some advantage, at 100% magnification, for wet mounting.



At the top you can see the wet mount version on the left, dry mount on the right [CORRECTED!]. Colour differences are down to slightly different settings in Silverfast HDR - ignore these. The images have suffered a little in JPG compression, but looking at the rightmost telegraph post, and the background forest, you can see a touch more resolution. But it’s not exactly jaw-dropping.

The next example is a bit more convincing:


Here, the lower scan is wet mounted.  Certainly there is a touch more resolution here. Or maybe I focussed better… who knows ?

ScanScience claim a number of things, including:

- Better edge to edge sharpness: hmm. Probably, but with the “sandwich” mounting technique I’ve evolved over the years, and the relatively deep depth of field of the Minolta, I’m not - so far - seeing any benefit.

- Better contrast and detail: as shown above, yes, but we’re splitting hairs, to be honest.

- Extended dynamic range and saturation: Nope. Well, not for E6 slide film, at least. The Minolta covers the range of E100G and other low(er) contrast films quite happily, and has no issue at all with higher contrast.  However, this benefit may apply more to negative colour and black & white. I’ve yet to try this.

Hides dust & scratches: no. Absolutely not. If anything it makes things worse due to more places for dust to get in, and if dust gets into a fluid layer, it’s pretty much game over, time to remount.

So, in summary, I’m seeing minor improvements which don’t really appear to justify the cost and time.  But it’s not quite as simple as that. First of all, one thing is clear: to get any benefit at all, the image has be well exposed and sharp. Secondly, it seems that the benefits are more towards negative and larger formats.

There’s actually a lot of discussion out there on the interwebs about wet mount scanning, and by & large I’d say the overall impression is of mixed results. In particular, this discussion thread confirms my findings. Pity I didn’t do a bit more research…

At the moment I would tend more to reserving it only for “top picks”, but it’s early days yet.



Scanning Ektar 100

highest definition film ever ?

in Film , Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Recently Lasersoft added support for Ektar 100 to their NegaFix tool for inverting negative scans. I’d been wanting to try out this film for a while now, and in fact I had a few rolls sitting ready. So I pulled my Ricoh GR-1v out of retirement and tried it out.

I scanned the film in the CanoScan 9000F, using SilverFast AI with SRDi dust and scratch removal activated, and just went for the default settings for Ektar 100.


The shot was quite tricky with mixed lighting, but Silverfast pretty much nailed it. The scan is very close to the 1-hour photolab print. Certainly there’s plenty more that could be done, but I was more interested in where the baseline was. Having tried to scan various other negative films last year, I wasn’t expecting much. But I was pleasantly surprised.

The resolution of Ektar 100 is quite astonishing, and if I were to switch to negative film, this would be the one.  However, I’m going to stick with slide film.  It has its own drawbacks, but none of the interpretation issues of negative film, or indeed the lack of immediacy.


A Scanning Workflow with Silverfast

just like the old days

in Film , Wednesday, July 28, 2010

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!


A local cow gives Silverfast HDR a big thumbs up!



Canoscan 9000F vs Minolta DSMP

a bit of pixel-peeping

in Film , Monday, July 12, 2010

I’ve recently started using a Canon Canoscan 9000F to speed up my scanning workflow, using it primarily to make fast, low resolution quick’n’dirty index scans. I’ll write more about that in another post, but I thought it would be interesting to see how the Canoscan stacks up against the Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro in the overall image quality stakes. I should emphasise at the outset that I do not expect a $350 flatbed scanner to match a $3500 film scanner, but you never know - and since the film scanner is no spring chicken, I have to start thinking about what I’m going to do when the day comes that it stops working.

Comparing scanners can be fraught with peril, as my colleague Bruce Percy discovered not so long ago, but I’m going to leap in regardless.

So, I took a recent a Velvia 100 XPan shot of a local cow I happened to pass by the other day, I scanned it on both scanners, in both cases using SilverFast AI Studio, both with Auto-IT8 calibration, and to 48-bit HDR Color with Digital ICE enabled on the Minolta, and 64-bit HDRi on the Canoscan (Silverfast does not yet support HDRi on the Minolta).  In both cases I used Silverfast’s Multiexposure, and scanned at 4800dpi. This is the optical resolution of the Minolta; the Canoscan claims 9600dpi, which seems ... unrealistic ... and in any case, various authorities claim that 3200 dpi is as much as you can extract from 35mm film. However, in my experience, the Minolta does deliver a little more data at 4800. I also used the Scanhancer on the Minolta, to get the best possible result.

I made the scans,then opened both in Silverfast HDR Studio. Here, for the sake of a level playing field, I used the Auto function to adjust tonal balance, and output to ProPhoto RGB colour space.

I was interested in three factors: dynamic range, colour fidelity, and detail. The first thing I looked at were the histograms from the two scanners. First Canon, then Minolta:

hist canon.jpg

Histogram from the Canon scan

hist minolta.jpg

Histogram from the Minolta scan

It is fairly evident from these that the Minolta scan holds a greater range of data values. There is also an interesting offset in the bright peak in the blue channel in the Canon’s histogram.

So, now to the colour comparison - and introducing the aforementioned cow: first the Canoscan, then the Minolta



Well, we’re not too far out. The blue peak in the Canon histogram shows itself in the blue tint to the sky, which arguably is more attractive, however, and you’re going to have to take my word for this, the Minolta version is pretty much spot on compared to the Velvia transparency.

I’m not entirely sure what is going on here, as I would expect the Auto-IT8 calibration to smooth this out. However, I’m not sure that using a 35mm IT8 target on the Canoscan is ideal (I need to check with Lasersoft), and of course this is just one image ... hardly a trend!

Of course I’m not too concerned about this: the Minolta is my reference scanner, and the scans that Silverfast delivers from that are extremely accurate. However, my general and possibly naive assumption is that while dynamic range and resolution will of course vary, in a fully calibrated system, and within device limits, the colour gradation should be quite close.

The last thing to look at is detail. In both cases I applied light “capture” sharpening using PixelGenius Sharpener (in future I may evaluate using Silverfast USM sharpening for this step). Below are 100% crops from each scanner, Canoscan first. Please do note that JPEG compression does degrade things a little.


Here the difference is quite clear. From other experiments I’ve observed that the Canoscan’s effective optical resolution peaks at around 2400dpi - there is no difference in scan quality at higher resolutions. The Minolta is resolving grain (what little there is in Velvia 100) and this has been slightly accentuated by the light sharpening.

In terms of usable detail, however, there’s not a lot in it, and both will print fine up to A3. What is more important is that the Minolta resolves considerably more shadow detail. I suspect that the Canon is losing out by not having any control over focus. In fact here I let the Minolta auto-focus, but for critical cases, I often use manual focus, which can make quite a difference (it’s a very slow process though). Here, actually, I thing the AF has done a pretty good job.

So, my conclusion is that the Canoscan delivers a very commendable performance, especially considering the price. I’m a bit intrigued by the inaccuracies in the colour gradation, and I’ll probably investigate that a little further when I have time - but I don’t consider it a big deal.



Silverfast DC-Pro for E-1 RAW

in Olympus E-System , Monday, February 07, 2005

Lasersoft Imaging is a company with an impressive pedigree in digital imaging. For years, their Silverfast software has been the gold standard in scanning software, supporting a huge range of scanners with a sometimes bewildering variety of options and configurations. From low end consumer devices to high end drum scanners, Silverfast has it covered. Many hardware providers have given up on their software, and either bundle just Silverfast or provide alongside a token face-saving effort of their own. Silverfast is extremely powerful and with some experience can be used to extract the best from scanners, especially film scanners. However, it isn't exactly a usability paragon (although it is better than its only serious rival, the cranky and bug-ridden Vuescan). Since Silverfast is basically a generic image enhancement application layered on top of a device driver, it didn't take a huge leap of imagination to work out that the device driver could be a RAW decoder. And hence a new range of Siverfast variants, the DC range aimed at digital cameras. As a long-time Silverfast Ai user, since Lasersoft claim to support the E-1, I've been tempted to try it for some time. There are 4 variants to Silverfast DC - DC-SE, DC-VLT, DC Pro, and DC Pro Studio. DC SE is the basic version, bundled with some cameras (e.g Leica Digilux); DC-VLT includes the VLT (Virtual Light Table), a RAW engine limited to 24 bit output, and the full, sometimes overwhelming set of image adjustment utilities. DC Pro is the same (also includes VLT) but supports 48 bit output. DC Pro Studio adds some extra features to DC Pro, for example the clone tool, which is I think unique in RAW converters, allowing dust and hot pixels to be removed at the conversion stage. Confused ? Well we've hardly started on Lasersoft's Byzantine product segmentation! Anyway, the main thing to remember is that we have effectively two loosely coupled applications. VLT is essentially for selecting, organising and managing digital images, DC is for processing them, although the boundaries are a bit blurred. The functionality of the VLT depends to some extent on the version. You switch between the two but you cannot have both on screen at the same time. The reason for this is, I suspect, a legacy issue, as the DC series are really a bolt-on to the Ai scanner series. However, the VLT isn't bad at all, once you get used to it. It is fast and responsive, highly customisable, and in my opinion better than Photoshop's File Browser. You can use VLT to select photos from the file system and sort them into any number virtual albums, you can queue images for background processing, and a host of other things, but it must be said that certain features, such as batch processing, are as clear as mud. In many ways VLT combines the best of Olympus, PhaseOne and Adobe's features, but one thing missing is the ability to compare several previews at once. It does avoid imposing its own idea of the world, unlike C1 with its annoying sessions concept. The only drawback is, as I said before, the fact that you have to switch to another application to apply corrections. VLT has also a very complete EXIF browser, one of the best I've seen. vlt.jpg
Silverfast's Virtual Light Table Unfortunately it is when you switch to the (confusingly named) "Silverfast" application that the early promise starts to fade. The initial images presented look quite strange, apparently because Silverfast doesn't use the in-camera white balance. Bringing up the same image simultaneously in Olympus Studio 1.2, C1 SE v3.6 and Silverfast gives almost identical results in the first two, and a completely different rendition in Silverfast. Silverfast does seem to bring out better shadow detail than the other two, but at the expense of a bizarre colour balance which is all but irretrievable, even with the fast power of the image correction tools on offer. DC-Pro, unlike DC-VLT, appears to use the Olympus RAW internal thumbnails (with DC-VLT, thumbnails are generated by VLT, like in C1). Ironically, when you first open an image in Silverfast DC Pro, a very nice looking preview - generated from the thumbnail, I assume - flashes up, only to be overwritten by the above-mentioned oddity. dcpro.jpg
The Silverfast image adjustment application A core feature of the generic Silverfast range is color managed workflow. Silverfast allows you to - indeed encourages you to - calibrate your scanner against a supplied target. DC-Pro also includes camera calibration features, and a supplied target. This really would be a winning feature, except for the fact that even Lasersoft themselves point out that camera calibration is so dependent on external factors that it is of little use except in controlled shooting conditions. It is an interesting feature to have, but it may be at the root of the problem which Silverfast has with the E-1: the interpretation of the RAW data is based on camera profiling, and it appears that with the E-1 at least, Lasersoft have got this seriously wrong. The adjustment tools do allow a reasonable rescue operation to be mounted, but this requires first going to another application to read the in-camera white balance, and to generate a reference image to try to match. All a bit pointless really. For those unfamiliar with the scanner versions, Silverfast also includes some strange-seeming options, such as a Descreen filter. Very useful for scanning printed paper, but not much called for in RAW processing. In the same menu as this unlikely option are the sharpening (USM) tools, and another hangover from film scanning, the GANE grain reduction tool (which can't be applied at the same time as USM!). This, at least, can be used for noise reduction - except that there is a noise reduction slider in the Picture Settings widget (which only comes with DC Pro Studio, as far as I know - even more confused ?). All this needs a serious tidying up operation. DC-Pro Studio adds yet more mayhem, with a more flexible sharpening tool, the above mentioned clone tool (which actually includes a texture matching option putting it on a par with Photoshop's healing brush), and the AACO Auto Adaptive Contrast Optimisation tool, "for the correction of dark, high-contrast areas of the image while preserving the details in the highlights". AACO is a newcomer to Silverfast's vast acronym collection. It seems quite useful, but the early version in Ai Studio was buggy. A final point is that it isn't quite so clear where in the processing these tools are applied. Mac and PC trial versions of all DC Pro variants are available from Lasersoft. The trial is fully functional but imposes a watermark on final output. It does allow one very positive point to be seen - apparently Lasersoft have managed to avoid the dreaded "tetris effect" in bright reds which plagued earlier versions of C1 and others. dcpro2.jpg
300% zoom in Photoshop of Silverfast converted RAW - no Tetris! Silverfast is especially interesting because it offers the promise of a one-stop, integrated solution for both digital and film-sourced raw image processing. It is competitively priced compared to alternatives such as C1, and unlike any other rival it matches and sometimes goes beyond Olympus Studio's organising features. The Silverfast correction tools are really all-encompassing, and in some areas, for example the ability to simultaneously adjust individual RGB or CMY channels, way ahead of Photoshop. A free rotate tool similar to C1's would really complete the package. However the transition from scan correction to RAW adjustment software has been handled clumsily, and needs a serios rethink. There are far too many ambiguous, redundant or plain irrelevant featires. But for Olympus E-1 owners, at present colour fidelity is a showstopper. Lasersoft have stated on the Silverfast forum that fixing the GUI is a priority. If they can fix a few other things, improve E-1 profiling, and try to separate out specific film scanning features from specific digital RAW adjustment features, then they may still be well worth watching.

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