Scanning: The Old World Joins the New
By Mark Segal
So many of us immersed in digital photography only look forward, eagerly awaiting the next generation of digital cameras, new and improved ways of editing pixels, and the ever expanding gamut and dynamic range of inkjet printers. With all the forward momentum, we tend to forget that one of photography’s major purposes is to create memories, allowing us to look backward at what was. And for many of us, that means drawers of negatives, prints and metal boxes full of slides.
Wat Arun, Bangkok (Detail)
Colour Negative Scanned in SilverFast Ai Studio 6.6 with Negafix
All this stuff degrades over time, so the contemporary advice is to digitize it for enhancement and indefinite preservation. Enter scanners and scanning software – a field which retains a steady clientele despite the onslaught of digital capture. A few firms still manufacture film scanners and several scanning applications are on the market, of which SilverFast remains the most comprehensive.
Readers of this website may recall that back in early 2006 Luminous Landscape published a couple of articles I wrote on techniques for scanning colour negatives and the use of SilverFast with my Minolta Scan Elite 5400 scanner. Well, over three years have elapsed and several relevant developments occurred in the interval: Lasersoft Imaging (LSI) has been developing new and interesting features for SilverFast, new models of film scanners were released (in particular the Epson V750 Pro and the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED, both still available) and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom hit the market in February 2007.
Taking stock of all these developments, LaserSoft Imaging asked me if I would be interested in testing new ways of working with SilverFast and writing-up my findings. I considered this an interesting challenge, so we agreed they would provide the latest software and I would do some poking around with it.
Sounds simple enough, but that began an extensive odyssey into the new world of SilverFast, and a loan of an Epson V750, courtesy of Epson America, required because it enables access to the scanner’s infrared channel, not possible with my now discontinued, but still excellent, Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400. After exploring a number of avenues I decided the subject can be most usefully parsed into a few topics of considerable interest:
(1) SilverFast’s Auto iT8 scanner calibration procedure (slides only);
(2) SilverFast’s version of HDR in 64-bit mode;
(3) SilverFast’s new hardware-based dust and scratch removal technology called “iSRD”;
(4) Performance of the Epson V750 Pro scanner; and
(5) An integrated workflow between SilverFast and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
Auto iT8 scanner calibration is a fully integrated and automated procedure for characterizing and profiling one’s scanner with one button push, using SilverFast’s iT8 transparency scanner target. It does a good job, and is of course a highly recommended procedure for anyone concerned about having a properly colour-managed workflow.
SilverFast HDR is LSI’s effort to import certain characteristics of digital raw capture into the realm of image scanning. Two related applications are involved: Silverfast Ai Studio and SilverFast HDR Studio. Provided we use SilverFast HDR in conjunction with SilverFast Studio Ai and set the Image Type in Studio Ai to <64 bit HDRi Colour>, we obtain a scan which captures the full dynamic range the original media and scanner are capable of rendering, with no editing adjustments other than the scanning Gamma selected in Studio Ai “Options”. We then open the image in SilverFast HDR, where we can use SilverFast iSRD for debris removal, and edit the image and re-process it in any number of ways any time, without changing the original scan and without needing to rescan for every new version of the image. It works well, and it has obvious advantages.
iSRD dust and scratch removal provides the best set of working procedures I’ve ever seen for safely and effectively removing debris from scanned images with zero or absolutely minimal impact on image detail. The enabling condition is access to the scanner’s infra-red channel, which is used for identifying debris and distinguishing it from image detail. The Epson V750 scanner supports this feature for both Windows and Mac, and the Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED supports it in the Mac version of SilverFast for now, but Windows support is on the way. iSRD can be used in conjunction with SilverFast’s conventional SRD, which now provides a layer-masking functionality for isolating any residual debris which one could not safely remove globally with iSRD. These tools save possibly tons of time cloning away debris in Photoshop.
The Epson V750 scanner is a very handy, smoothly functioning and rapidly performing device at a reasonable price for the features offered. It’s technology allows full use of SilverFast’s more interesting features, including access to the infra-red channel for iSRD dust and scratch removal discussed above, “Find frames” for identifying and framing images on the flat-bed, performance of batch scanning, and the scanning of a variety of media and media sizes.
Integrated Workflow between SilverFast and Lightroom opens-up very interesting potential to take advantage of the best features each application offers. Basic tools of luminosity and colour adjustment are available in both programs and both work well in each, as we know; but beyond that, each has certain unique features which can be used in tandem to optimize the quality of scanned images. While program integration isn’t seamless, insofar as there is no module for the one in the other, by treating the scanner with SilverFast as a “tethered camera” in Lightroom, one comes as close as possible to program integration without actually having it provided.
In the assocoated downloadable PDF file, I lay out the exact procedure for doing this, and I have tested optional workflows on several “challenging” images. I come to the conclusion that it’s a good idea to explore and exploit the complementarities of these applications.
Mark D. Segal
Mark is a periodic contributor of essays and ideas to this website. He has been making photographs for five decades, got into digital imaging with Photoshop 6 and a film scanner in 1999, was fully digital and a "raw image" convert since 2004 and has produced thousands of inkjet prints using successive generations of Photoshop, Camera Raw, Lightroom and Epson professional printers. Mark's website is at www.markdsegal.com, and he offers one-on-one digital imaging instruction on Silverfast, Lightroom, Camera Raw and Photoshop in the Toronto area.