Review by Mark and Leslie Degner
If you’re like us and have been photographing for a long time, way back to the film days, you probably have acquired a flatbed or film scanner to scan your slides, negatives and prints. The problem with those older scanners is that you often can’t get updates for the software that came with the scanner that are compatible with your computer’s newer operating system. So as a result that older, but perfectly good scanner becomes a paperweight. However, don’t send your scanner out the door to the dump as they can be useful again. The solution is a scanning software package called VueScan from Hamrick Software (www.hamrick.com).
Currently we have and use three scanners; a newer Epson all-in-one printer/scanner, an older Epson flatbed scanner and a Nikon 8000ED film scanner, which no longer has software updates from Nikon that are compatible with our computer’s operating system. So our problem, like those of many other photographers, is that we have multiple scanners from different companies and some don’t have current software to use with them. Not a problem for VueScan. With VueScan we run all three of our scanners (or more if we had them) and can have VueScan loaded on up to four different computers all under a single license, eliminating the need to purchase a separate license specific to each scanner. VueScan supports not just a few scanners; it’s compatible with around 2,900 different scanner models and runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux platforms. To keep everything current and running properly, updates to VueScan come out at least once a month.
The Standard version of VueScan ($49.95 US) includes free upgrades for one year, but there’s no film or slide scanning capability or RAW file output with this version. Whereas the professional version ($89.95 US, the one we’re reviewing) includes unlimited software upgrades, the ability to scan film or slides, many other advanced features, and you can create Optical Character Recognition (OCR) text files and do RAW file outputs.
Once you have opened up VueScan, its interface is intuitive and very easy to use. Using the tabs in the upper left corner of the screen, just work your way through from left to right: Input, Crop, Filter, Colour, Output and Preferences. The first few times you use VueScan it will feel slow, but once you’re familiar with the program and have determined the basic settings for your scanning needs you’ll be impressed with how fast it works. We now just open up VueScan, check a few settings and are ready to start scanning. Unlike a lot of software programs these days, the VueScan User Guide (PDF format) is very useful and understandable, with many tips that can explain differences in the setting choices, allowing you to get the best quality from you scans. It’s important to realize that although VueScan is capable of producing very high-quality scans, the actual quality of scan will be ultimately dependent on the quality of the scanner.
Although VueScan is a relatively inexpensive scanning software package, it’s powerful and offers a lot of features, more than we can cover in this review. One of the features that we really like is the consistency of VueScan’s interface when used with different scanners. It doesn’t matter if we’re using it with our Nikon film scanner or our Epson flatbed scanner, the basic layout is the same, with the only difference being some of the feature options that are available depending on the scanner.
Another of the features is Multi-Sample, which reduces the noise or grain from the original image. Unfortunately not all scanners support multi-sampling. Keep in mind increasing the number of samples will increase the scanning time. Another great feature is Multi-Exposure, which is only available when you’re scanning transparencies, and it’s designed to broaden the dynamic range from your scanner so you can get better detail out of the dark areas of the original transparency.
Infrared Clean available for a lot of scanners does a very good job of removing dust and scratches from transparencies and colour negatives. However, it doesn’t work with conventional black and white negatives due to its silver base. We found the light setting was enough for most cleaning, but if that isn’t enough there are also medium and heavy settings to choose from. Just be careful as the heavier the setting, the greater the chance of introducing artifacts into the image.
Output file formats include TIFF, JPEG, PDF, OCR text files, Index files and RAW/DNG files that can be processed within the VueScan program or in Photoshop. Keep in mind VueScan can only process the source data that the scanner itself is able to produce. And of course, if you have a lot of images to scan you can do batch scans without having to fiddle with each and every image separately.
VueScan is inexpensive, versatile and easy-to-use scanning software that allows photographers to get high quality out of a huge variety of flatbed and film scanners. So if you have an old shoebox full of slides or negatives, or maybe a photo album full of prints sitting on a shelf collecting dust, fire up your old scanner and revitalize those images to enjoy them again. It’s guaranteed to bring back a memory or two.