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Categorized | Articles, Paul Burwell

Digital Chat – SilverFast Archive Suite (full review)

By Paul Burwell

After processing in SilverFast HDR Studio

After processing in SilverFast HDR Studio

If you’re like me, you probably have a lot of slides and negatives still kicking around from the “old” days. And like me, I’m sure you’ve also sworn to get them finally archived as digital files so you can upgrade them to the digital realm. With some recent technological advances in hardware and software, it’s time to get serious about digitally archiving those negatives and slides.

I recently had the chance to review the SilverFast Archive Suite from LaserSoft Imaging, which consists of SilverFast Ai Studio and SilverFast HDR Studio. This software suite, and particularly its ability to use its new iSRD (infrared smart removal defects) feature, is finally making the scanning of some old family slides something I’d consider working on. Compatible scanners have the ability to scan a transparency with infrared light and this information is used to remove defects from a colour image with the help of the new iSRD feature.

A welcome highlight is the software’s ability to take the drudgery out of calculating what resolution to use when scanning images. I simply tell the software the size the image should be at a particular resolution in pixels per inch (PPI) and the software figures out what resolution I need to use for scanning my slides.

While many scanners advertise very high scanning resolutions, in many cases those resolutions are overstated. Similar to the way that many digital cameras are marketed in regards to their zoom power, the marketing often overstates the capability by including digital zoom on top of any optical zoom (by a lens). Optical zoom is always of a higher quality than a digital zoom. Likewise, scanning resolution is a result of the sensitivity of the scanner’s stepping motor along with the true resolution of its sensor. Make sure you check out the specs for the true optical scanning resolution of the scanner you’re looking at purchasing.

Original Kodachrome slide as scanned

Original Kodachrome slide as scanned

When you start scanning in slides and negatives you learn how time-consuming the process can be. A single negative at a resolution of 2400, 4800 or even 9600 PPI or higher takes a long time (think minutes, not seconds). Fortunately, the SilverFast Suite’s Job Monitor will communicate with your Apple iOS device so that you can leave the scanner to its work while you go about other tasks. During the scanning, your phone or tablet can keep tabs on the progress and notify you when it’s done and the images are saved.

SilverFast’s new HDRi 64-bit scans create RAW files saved in either TIFF or DNG format. This technology results in incredible outcomes with as much information about each pixel being saved as is currently possible. And, as you work through the various included tools to fine-tune your images (rotating/flipping images, setting white/black points, sharpening, scratch and dust removal, contrast optimization, grain and noise reduction), you see the effects in real time even though the software isn’t actually changing your original file.

Instead it’s working in a fashion whereby all the edits and changes are simply recorded in a sidecar file. This makes these edits completely non-destructive to the original image. When you’re finished editing your newly-scanned photos, you put the SilverFast HDR Studio software processor (part of the archive suite) to work, producing files that you’re going to fine-tune in Photoshop or use for some output purpose, like printing or posting to the web.

The Multi Exposure feature is exclusive to SilverFast and is a patented process that increases the dynamic range of any scanner (the number of tones the scanner is able to capture) by making multiple passes over the original at different exposures and then combining the results to create a resulting image that, in my experience, has more dynamic range than the scanner could produce on its own.

Screen view while processing image in SilverFast HDR Studio. This view shows the infrared scanning step (enhanced in software to make defects visible for printing).

Screen view while processing image in SilverFast HDR Studio.
This view shows the infrared scanning step (enhanced in software to make defects visible for printing).

Because the suite is two separate pieces (the Ai Studio and the HDR Studio), the tasks of scanning and editing can be separated. Set up a computer with the Ai Studio connected to a scanner and have virtually anyone perform the drudgery work of scanning the photographs. Once those RAW digital images are created, another person with knowledge on using the software could fine-tune the results for optimal results.

If working in a colour-managed workflow is important to you, the SilverFast Archive Suite will work well for you because once you’ve purchased a calibration target, calibrating your scanner to the standard is simple and virtually automatic.

Organizations like NASA, Museums and the Getty Foundation all use SilverFast Archive Suite, and I can see why. In my tests, their scratch and dust removal technology (iSRD) greatly outperformed other software often bundled with scanners. The SilverFast Archive Suite starts at $299 US and is available through their website, www.silverfast.com.

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