In the BDC era (Before Digital Cameras), we created digital images by scanning analogue ones. Some of us still scan and fortunately, LaserSoft Imaging is there to service our needs. It introduced its SilverFast scanning software more than 15 years ago, and just released version 8.
Whether your desire is to scan photographic prints, pictures printed in magazines, negatives or slides, SilverFast Archive Suite 8 is worth a closer look. The Suite contains two main modules called Ai Studio, which handles the capture portion of the scanning process, and HDR Studio, an image-editing application.
Ai Studio includes a number of components for colour calibration, dynamic-range optimization, artefact removal, etc. To get the best scans, the software should be tuned to the specific characteristics of the hardware. LaserSoft has this covered by offering optimized versions of Ai Studio for many scanners from many manufacturers (the company says its product line offers support for more than 300 scanner models). We used an Epson Perfection V700 scanner connected to an iMac running OS X Lion for this report.
The Control Dock can be set to two modes: WorkFlow Pilot on or off (the screenshot above is with the Workflow Pilot off, which allows you to select specific tools). When turned on, the Workflow Pilot simplifies the scanning process to five steps. “Simplify” is a relative term—scanning is a more complicated process than, say, setting your camera to auto-everything and pressing the shutter button. You still need to understand LaserSoft’s terminology in order to know the consequence of choosing one option over another.
Nevertheless, once you familiarize yourself with the software, WorkFlow Pilot does make scanning a smooth operation. If you don’t use it you’ll still find that Ai Studio’s tools are relatively easy to manipulate. As you make adjustments, the image updates in real time so you can better judge the effects that the sliders and dials are having. This can be very helpful.
It might seem odd to have two toolbars, but there is a logic to it. The standard toolbar holds functions that are generally applicable to all scans (for example colour and tonal adjustments), while the special toolbar carries functions specific to the type of image you are scanning — be it transparency, negative, photographic print or an image from a printed magazine.
One of the first things you’ll want to do is calibrate your scanner. SilverFast Archive Suite ships with reflective (print), large transparency and 35-mm slide versions of an iT8 calibration chart, and an automated profiling tool. With a couple of mouse clicks you can create a custom ICC profile for your scanner.
Dealing with dust and scratches seems to be a constant challenge when scanning negatives and slides, and there are software solutions to this, such as the widely used Digital ICE developed by Kodak. LaserSoft’s solutions to this are called SRD and iSRD. The little “I” in the latter stands for infrared—the software uses an infrared scan (if the scanning hardware has this capability) to identify dust spots and scratches. I was quite impressed at the amount of debris it identifies. Below is a small section of a scan of a 35-mm slide, with what the IR scan identified as dust and scratches highlighted in red.
High-contrast originals may challenge the dynamic range capacity of scanners. SilverFast’s solution is a tool called Multi-Exposure, which makes two scanning passes at different exposures (for highlights and shadows) and merges them.
Another tool you can employ for problematic originals is called Auto Adaptive Contrast Optimization or AACO, which can lift deep shadows without blowing out highlight portions.
Overall, Ai Studio contains more than a dozen tools include those that deal with common scanning issues, such as reducing grain in negatives and slides, or descreening to prevent moiré patterns when you scan pictures out of offset printed sources like magazines. You can also control colour and tonal characteristics and apply unsharp masking.
Ai Studio can save high-bit depth (48- or 64-bit) “HDR” files that contain extra information, such as colour calibration, infrared scratch removal, and exposure correction data. This data is accessible when the image is loaded into HDR Studio. This is a potential time saver. You can set up Ai Studio for batch scanning, and then use HDR Studio to finalize the files. The layout of the HDR Studio’s workspace is nearly identical to Ai Studio’s, but the tools are geared to the later stages of image workflow. The type of HDR file you saved during the scan also determines the kinds of tools available to you in HDR Studio — for example, if you saved the raw infrared scratch removal data in the HDR file, the iSRD tool would show up on the HDR Studio toolbar.
Scanning is not what you’d call a lickety-split kind of process but SilverFast has a few tricks to make it go faster. It is a 64-bit application, and it also supports simultaneous multiple processes. For example, while the hardware is scanning one image, you can be setting the parameters, with live previews on another. That’s pleasant topping on an impressive set of scanning and image correction capabilities.