Hands-On Review: SilverFast Archive Suite 8
While digital cameras have largely replaced images being recorded on film, there still exists the need and desire to archive legacy film photos and to support creative endeavors while film still remains the ideal medium for photography. Keeping up-to-date with an immense digital lifestyle and the necessity to view and share imagery online, one is still faced with the issue of converting these analog, film-based images to digital files. The benefits of digitizing prints and negatives lies not only in the expanded ability for sharing and presenting your work to a wider audience, but also in the added advantages of archivability and space-saving in the context of housing high-resolution reproductions of your photographs electronically.
With these factors in mind, the task of simply digitizing—or in this case scanning—your film and prints is not as straightforward a process as it may seem. The world of scanning is similar to that of cameras in general; there are techniques and applications that are conducive to acquiring the highest-quality representations of physical originals. The scanner itself plays a large part in attaining the image quality desired. Even more so, the way in which you utilize your scanner is ultimately more important and can make the difference between gaining vividness, as originally intended, or a lackluster copy of what can appear to be an outdated medium.
LaserSoft Imaging’s Archive Suite 8 is a dedicated application suite that works to garner the greatest quality from your scanner in order to maximize its potential and produce images that exhibit the subtle nuances and characteristics of analog media. To present an analogy, this software is akin to utilizing a DSLR to photograph in comparison to a simple point-and-shoot camera. The DSLR offers a significantly wider range of controls and methods for photographing a scene, whereas a point-and-shoot is typically limited in a number of ways, due to its smaller sensor, stature, and fixed set of boundaries. While a point-and-shoot’s main asset is its intuitiveness and ease of use, a DSLR can also contain a richer set of automated technologies to provide an equally seamless method of photographing, but with the added option of being able to record more detail from the scene.
SilverFast Ai Studio 8
SilverFast Ai Studio 8 Scanner Software plays the role of the DSLR in this instance, compared to generic point-and-shoot scanning applications, and offers greater control in the way your scanner reacts to the media being scanned, while also allowing for a fully automated workflow that utilizes this enhanced set of technologies to produce higher-quality imagery.
The core feature within SilverFast Ai Studio 8 is the WorkflowPilot, which is a highly intuitive wizard to guide you through the entire process of scanning a document, print, negative, or transparency from start to finish. Where this guide truly excels is in its ability to allow you to control as much or as little as desired, with “stop-off points” for each control the software provides. This unique system of interacting with the program is simply meant as an infrastructure for gaining as much control as desired from the program, or to enable automated control for a simple, quick process. Additionally, tutorial PDFs and embedded QuickTime videos can be accessed from within the program for greater clarity about what each specific scanning control does in regard to the final output scan.
At the start, the WorkflowPilot is activated simply by clicking its icon in the top left of the interface. Once activated, you are guided through the process with a series of steps: selecting the type of original and the intended purpose of the scan; preview scan; resolution and output size for scan; a range of image adjustments; and finally, choosing the scanning destination; and completing the final scan.
Selecting Original and Purpose Type
To begin, you are able to choose from Print, Photo, Negative, Kodachrome, and Slide as your original source. Kodachrome and Slide are separated, as Kodachromes are notoriously difficult to scan than more common E6-developed transparencies, due to their inherent makeup and physically three-layered structure. Once the original has been selected, you are presented with a range of scanning purposes, including Archive, B&W, Color, Descreen, Edit, Email, No Automatic, Photoshop, Presentation, Print, Quick Fix, Repair, Web, and X-Ray Scans. Edit, Print, and Web are the standard choices, whereas the other options lead to a more specified range of controls based on the type of original you are scanning. For example, Quick Fix and Repair purposes can be utilized when the original being scanned is damaged, or Archive can be used to make a “raw” scan of the image without any image enhancements applied. Then, a quick selection is available for the color mode for your scan: either color or black-and-white.
Once the basic guidelines have been set and the Next button is pressed in the WorkflowPilot interface, a preview scan is made that gives a rough overview of the entire scanning area. Once the preview scan is finished, a red bounding box is available for you to crop the specific desired area from which to make a final scan. This can be the individual negative frame or just the print area of a print with borders. A helpful zoom option is available to make this step much easier, especially when working with smaller film formats. In order to gain the best results, it is crucial to not scan any of the unexposed negative or transparency areas or print borders. Options are available to save preferences for applying to subsequent scans or to reset all presets for a fresh start. Within the preview-scan dialogue you also have the option to select a desired output size and resolution for your scan. This will constrain a designated aspect ratio to the bounding box and allow you to select the resolution at which to scan: 200-300dpi is ideal for printing applications, while higher resolutions are better for archiving. Additionally, if scanning negatives, the NegaFix dialog box becomes available and incorporates more than 120 pre-populated film types to better sort through the scanning settings based on the specific film type.
Once the original and purpose-type selections have been made, as well as the pre-scan with image selection, you can begin to apply a wide range of image adjustments for refining the look of the scanned image. This is the area where SilverFast truly shines and is able to acquire the greatest amount of quality, compared to other scanning solutions. The benefit to applying a range of adjustments to images during the scanning process versus assuming you’ll be able to apply them later is akin to the notion of shooting with the intent to fix the image during post production: it rarely works as planned and it's always best to acquire the most, and most accurate, information from the beginning. Once an image has been scanned, any details that have not been scanned cannot be recovered during the final retouching and image-editing segment of a digital workflow. With these principles set, the intent is to fine-tune the image’s qualities as best as possible from the scanning stage, to simplify editing later on.
WorkflowPilot guides you through the range of steps in sequential order to make the best use of the tools, allowing for global adjustments at the beginning, and finishing with more localized control. Automatic Image Optimization can be applied from the beginning to get a sense of how SilverFast renders your image, based on an objective set of histograms and logarithms, each of which can be tuned to your liking later on. When I was working with the program, I found this mode to be especially useful for getting an idea of what detail there was in the original, but would then revert to manual control based on a more subjective approach to fine-tuning the appearance.
The second adjustment in the workflow is the histogram—a common sight for most photographers and one of the easiest for controlling variables that alter contrast, brightness, and color. The histogram can operate in an overarching RGB method for exposure adjustments, or particular R, G, and B channels can be selected for selective color control. Following the histogram is the gradation setting, or what is commonly known as a curves slider. This allows for manipulation in the same manner as a histogram, but in a more precise manner for skewing contrast and value against the optical density of film.
The gradation curve is set with preset anchor points for a more controlled method of tuning specific highlight, mid-tone, or shadow regions of an image with the option to also work within dedicated R, G, and B channels.
A more simplified set of sliders can alternatively be used to make global adjustments to the mid-tone values and contrast settings. Beyond these two controls there is an AACO (Auto Adaptive Contrast Optimization) tool for altering contrast in specific regard to the shadow values; a GCC (Global Color Correction) tool that provides a full CMYRGB color wheel to give a more visual method for changing the overall color balance; and SCC (Selective Color Correction) and ACR (Adaptive Color Restoration) tools for manipulating specific color values and saturation within the image.
After working with these image adjustments that purely relate to the contrast, color, and exposure of the image, a subsequent range of controls is available that works more in line with the physical properties of the scanned object. GANE (Grain and Noise Elimination) gives three settings for minimizing the appearance of grain or noise in a scanned image: Light GANE, Medium GANE, and Strong GANE. When images are scanned at higher resolutions, the actual grain of the film becomes more apparent and can become overwhelming in some cases; GANE works to reduce this over-sharpness to produce a more natural-looking image.
Conversely, USM (Unsharp Masking) is a method for increasing the apparent sharpness of an image by using a system of three sliders to alter the amount and strength of increased sharpness. The effects of both GANE and USM can be previewed in large scale by selecting the 1:1 icon, which will make a pre-scan with the applied changes for closer inspection, while leaving the previous image adjustments intact if the sharpness values are later modified.
Descreening is an ideal control for use when scanning reflective material, such as prints or magazines, and helps to fill in the screen pattern of the printed original so the image takes on a more fluid and natural look. This is especially useful for scanning offset-printed material that exhibits a noticeable dot pattern when magnified, and the dialog box allows you to enter the screen pattern if known, or select from common preset values. Descreening is also helpful for eliminating moiré or similar anomalies.
Going further down the list of adjustments available is the SilverFast Multi-Exposure tool, which works to extend the dynamic range of the scanned original by making two successive passes in order to attain greater detail in both the shadow and highlight regions of a transparent original. Similar to creating HDR images with a digital camera, the Multi-Exposure control afforded by the SilverFast program is capable of attaining a longer range of tones, from low to high, with an increased perceivable contrast ratio and sensitivity for extracting minute gradations and tonal detail from scans than otherwise initially possible.
Lastly, the iSRD (infrared-based Dust and Scratch Removal) and SRD (Dust and Scratch Removal) tool can be employed to significantly reduce the appearance of small dust and scratches on originals. This tool, in particular, helps to minimize the additional time needed post-scan for retouching image defects that become magnified during a traditional scanning process.
iSRD is specifically intended for use with negatives and slides and uses a scanner’s infrared channel to better isolate and retouch minor scratches and dust particles without affecting other aspects of the scan. When compared to other existing dust-reduction technologies, such as Digital ICE, iSRD is capable of performing more precise and accurate dust removal in a faster period of time, due to its support of 64-bit processing. This added speed, as well as manual control over how iSRD performs, works to drastically reduce time previously spent on retouching imagery during conventional post production.
After all of the adjustments have been made and previewed, you are now ready to produce the final scan that exhibits all of the changes and enhancements made to the original preview scan. When beginning this step, you first select the desired file type (TIFF, PSD, JPEG, or JPEG 2000) in which you will save the scan. TIFF and PSD are best suited to printing and archiving, while JPEG and JPEG 2000 are more geared towards Web applications. You can now enter the desired file name and destination. Once this information is complete and the Continue button is pressed, the final scan is made and once complete, the WorkflowPilot is now ready for subsequent scans.
WorkflowPilot’s structure simply acts as a method to guide you through all of these steps in an orderly manner, enabling you to utilize as many or as few of the controls as desired. When working without the WorkflowPilot system, you can access any of the image-adjustment tools in any order desired, in order to perform more specific adjustments for certain applications or needs. Additionally, another strong asset of SilverFast Studio Ai 8 is the ability to multitask from within the program. Rather than waiting several minutes or longer for a high-resolution final scan to be made, you are able to begin applying some of the image adjustments to the follow-up scan while the final scan of the first image is being made.
Auto IT8 Calibration
Aside from an intuitive workflow and host of controls available through SilverFast Studio Ai 8, the software is also highly proficient in the background, and utilizes a number of characteristics to further ensure the highest-quality scans possible. Among these is Auto IT8 Calibration, which is an efficient solution for producing accurate and neutral colors from scans that benefit screen and print-based presentations. Similar to calibrating a monitor or printer, Auto IT8 Calibration is a solution to gaining consistent colors and values from your scanner with each scan. SilverFast employs this rigorous system of color consistency in an automated fashion that requires just two clicks per image once the scanner itself has been calibrated. In order to make use of this feature, an additional IT8 target is needed, and once calibrated, you can simply run scans by selecting the calibration and original type in order to produce rich, accurate, and consistent scans.
SilverFast HDR Studio 8
As a final step in the scanning process, SilverFast HDR Studio 8 is included along with Studio Ai 8 in the Archive Suite 8 and serves to complement the scanning software by converting raw scans into fully processed images that exhibit a broad range of tones and values garnered from the scanned original. Uses the HiRePP function, HDR Studio 8 helps to expedite working with larger file sizes and for applying further image enhancements to these files without slowing computer performance. It also uses the JobManager feature to provide batch processing. You can use your saved settings to automatically process large image quantities. This program even processes the 64-bit image files that contain all of the image details as well as the infrared-channel data, for effective scratch and dust removal, via the iSRD tool. These processed files are well suited to printing and archiving needs, as they contain full detail from the scan without the excessive file size.
While working with the Ai Studio 8 program, I made a few comparison scans to highlight some of the differences and benefits afforded by the intuitive workflow and rich feature set. For these scans I was using an Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner and scanning half-frame 35mm color negative film (each frame has an approximate image area of 18 x 24mm, or half the size of a traditional 24 x 36mm frame). Within these tests I made scans using the proprietary scanning software in Home/Auto mode as well as Professional mode with Digital ICE, and then followed up by using SilverFast Ai Studio 8 with WorkflowPilot enabled and disabled. Finally, I also processed the WorkflowPilot scans using the HDR Studio application.
Click image sections for full-resolution scans.
From top: Silverfast with WorkflowPilot and HDR Studio Processing, Epson Professional Mode, SilverFast without WorkflowPilot, Epson Home/Auto Mode, SilverFast with WorkflowPilot.
In each of the tests it became quickly noticeable how the SilverFast scans excelled in regard to a wider dynamic range as well as greater color accuracy, due to the Multi-Exposure control and Auto IT8 calibration the software afforded. The range of controls also led to more localized color manipulation from the program as well as greater reduction of the dust and scratches that were prevalent on the scanned film. These benefits lead to less time required for further dust spotting and color manipulation, and also simply provide more information for easier, more extensive control during the printing stage.
The time required to perform the SilverFast scans versus the Epson scans was comparatively the same; the Epson Home/Auto scans required very little time due to the minimal number of controls, while the SilverFast scans could take longer, due to the extensive number of options possible prior to making the final scan. However, the richer final scan is worth the necessary additional prep time, since the final result provides an image that requires very little additional post-scan alteration.
The SilverFast Archive Suite 8 scanner software is available for an extensive range of both flatbed and dedicated film scanners:
For more information, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.
|SilverFast Archive Suite 8|
|Operating System||Apple Mac OS X 10.5 or later (Intel Mac only)
Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 or 8
|Processor||Min.: 2GHz; Recommended: Dual Core 2.5GHz|
|RAM||Min.: 2GB; Recommended: 4GB|
|Hard Drive||Min.: 10GB; Recommended: 25GB|
|Other||DVD drive or Internet connection
Supported flatbed or film scanner
Recommended: color-calibrated monitor