AFTERMARKET SCANNER CONTROL
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer supplied) scanner software packages are frequently equipped with a minimal set of image adjustment tools. Plus, OEM scanning drivers and software occasionally have problems selecting the correct color balance and proper tonal range. These two interrelated limitations can make creating quality digital images with OEM scanning software a difficult and time consuming chore. Almost all consumer level scanners used in a digital darkroom environment will benefit from the sophisticated tools and options available in a quality aftermarket scan control application.
Some imaging enthusiasts feel that you don't need a complete imaging tool set in your scanner's software driver. This school of thought says you should scan and transfer the scanner's 48 bit RGB data and do all the image adjustments in your image editing program. This approach can work if you have a high end image editing program that supports 48 bit color editing. I find that I get better looking images and histograms if I can bring an image into Photoshop that needs only to be scaled. To achieve this goal you need to have a calibrated workflow between your scanner and scanning software. In other words, your scanning software/driver needs to know the exact color data that your scanner is outputting and be capable of compensating for any variations. Also, the scanning software should have a robust set of image editing tools. Calibration between scanning software and scanner is accomplished using IT8 calibration media (Q60 targets) and a scanner software calibration routine.
While some brands of transparency film may present a challenge to a particular brand of scanner, it is negative film that presents the biggest challenge. The orange mask color that is on all negative films differs in its color tint on each different brand name and ISO speed of negative film. Properly removing the orange mask and setting the initial color balance on negative film scans is a difficult task for scanner software. OEM scanning software is supposed to be 'smart' enough to interpret the film image's color content regardless of the tint of the color mask. In practice, this works most of the time for many of the currently available negative films. However, when the OEM scanning application does not properly interpret and set color balance on negative film scans, the resulting scan can be very difficult to adjust properly. The best results with negative film scans are achieved by scanning with a profile designed for the individual scanner and each different brand of negative film.
I'm not aware of any OEM scanning applications that have user selectable profiles for different brand name/ISO negative films. However, both SilverFast and VueScan have film profiles for the many of the most widely used negative films. SilverFast calls their solution to negative scanning NegaFix.
SilverFast addresses all of the issues mentioned in the paragraphs above and it is the software I use to import scans into Photoshop, so I'll discuss SilverFast first.
LaserSoft's SilverFast Ai with NegaFix© and SilverFast HDR
SilverFast Ai is available as an import plugin for Photoshop or as a TWAIN acquire module usable with TWAIN compliant imaging programs. SilverFast opens within your imaging program (TWAIN or Photoshop plugin) and all pre-scan image parameters and adjustments are done with SilverFast Ai before the image is scanned and exported into your imaging program. SilverFast usually supports all of your scanner's unique features. For instance SilverFast for the Nikon film scanner product lineup supports multi-sample scanning, auto defect elimination (ICE©) and your choice of selected area focus or auto focus and Analog gain (scanning LED intensity). Nikon Scan's implementation of GEM, their film grain reduction feature is not supported in SilverFast.
SilverFast HDR (high dynamic range) is a Photoshop compatible import plugin that is designed to optimize 48 bit images that you have already acquired from your scanner or some other source. The HDR version of SilverFast is opened within Photoshop when you select file/import/SilverFast HDR. SilverFast HDR opens with a file open dialogue. Choose the file you want to optimize and it will open in SilverFast HDR within Photoshop. When you are finished with image optimization in SilverFast HDR, you then "scan" the image into Photoshop as either a 48 bit or 24 bit color file reflecting the adjustments made in SilverFast HDR. The word "scan" in this case just means that you export the adjusted image from the SilverFast HDR plugin interface into Photoshop.
The scanner dependent and HDR versions of SilverFast Ai are nearly identical in their user interface and image adjustment tool setup. SilverFast has a astonishing array of tools. Anything that can be done to a digital image can be done with SilverFast Ai or HDR. SilverFast is ICC compliant which allows the advanced user to have a calibrated color workflow.
You can view SilverFast's histogram graph for each color channel separately or view the RGB histogram or you can view all three color channels overlaid on each other. SilverFast has a curves tool and graph with included highlight, midtone, shadow, brightness and contrast sliders. Curves can be viewed in each color channel or as a combo of RG&B. Color corrections done with the available and familiar 'color wheel' tool are reflected in the curves graph. Color wheel adjustments can be accomplished by sliding the adjustment point within the color wheel, moving individual color channel sliders or by numeric input. Color correction can also be done using an HSL (Hue, Saturation and Luminance - HSL) adjustment tool. I've found the HSL tool to be an extremely useful method of color correction. SilverFast's HSL tool makes it relatively easy to remove unwanted color casts. As an example, you sometimes get a blue/cyan (green) cast with Nikon's LS2000 film scanner and Kodachrome scans. Using normal color corrections in Nikon Scan usually produces unwanted color shifts. In my opinion SilverFast's HSL tool is much easier to use effectively than the HSL tool in Nikon Scan 3 or the hue, saturation and brightness tool in Photoshop. As usual there are multiple ways to apply the HSL tool in SilverFast. Applying corrections with the HSL tool is as easy as asking for 'less cyan' or stronger yellow'. You can also use Hue, Saturation or Luminance sliders for each color channel RGB and CMY or input numerical values for each color channel. SilverFast has an extremely adjustable unsharp mask tool with a before/after preview window and several levels of auto sharpening filters and a de-screening filter. Also available is an unsharp mask combined with de-screening.
The floating densitometer tool is very useful. This tool has a thumbnail about an inch square. The thumbnail can represent either a 16 by 16 pixel area of the preview image surrounding the cursor when the cursor is placed over the preview image (point sample) or a small thumbnail of the entire image (multi-pixel sample). Under the thumbnail in both modes is a small color strip showing a section of pre and post adjustment color and tonal range of a multi-pixel sample reading.
The numerical tonal values for R, G and B are displayed as you move the cursor around the image. In point sample mode (called pixelzoom) you can select the exact pixel that you want to sample. In pixelzoom sample mode there is a small square box in the center of the thumbnail view that represents one pixel. As you move the cursor around in the scanned preview image you can position any pixel in the image to fall into the densitometer's one pixel sample area. The densitometer tool displays both the pre-adjustment numerical tonal values and the values as they would be with your adjustments.
One of the primary uses I've found for this tool is to facilitate the removal of color casts in film. Occasionally the lighting for one my photos was a bit warmer or cooler than I'd like. Also, film processor's sometimes don't get their E6 adjustment strips just right and the resulting transparency will have a slight color cast. As an example, reading a pixel that should be close to white (I'll use 230r, 230g, 230b as an example of acceptable white) and finding that we actually have 230r, 230g, 240b resulting in a slight blue cast. It's an easy matter to add a bit of yellow, while keeping an eye on the post adjustment numerical values until you get all the tonal range numbers for that pixel to read approximately 230. This tool can help to keep you from making minor visual color correction errors due to monitor calibration errors or mild color blindness. This tool can also provide tonal values in CMY, CMYK, LAB HSL, LCH and K
There are many other useful tools and features in this professional level imaging software. I have no experience working with CMYK but I can see that SilverFast should be just as effective in this type of work flow since almost all of the tools provide for a CMYK workflow utilization too. The choices and amount of flexibility within the image adjustment tool set in SilverFast Ai is unsurpassed by any other scanning software I've used. Photoshop has similar tool sets but the HSL color correction available in SilverFast is much more 'fine tunable' than the 'hue saturation and brightness' tool in Photoshop. SilverFast's user interface is suitable for anyone from an advanced beginner home user to a pro lab. SilverFast's tool icons are easy to interpret and have 'mouse over' tool tips. Almost all of the tools have slider adjustments for the novice as well as the opportunity to input numerical values for each adjustment for those who need to be more precise in their approach to adjustments. The results of your inputs can be shown 'live' as you make them in a large image preview window. There is a feature for the novice user called 'Scan Pilot' that walks you through the proper sequence of steps for scanning and adjusting your images.
SilverFast's NegaFix solution to negative scanning allows you to choose a calibrated profile for the brand name and ISO rating of your film of choice. There are over 120 different profiles available. See the current list of profiles by clicking HERE. If by chance your film brand is not represented by a profile, SilverFast has two alternate methods of removing the orange mask. NegaFix has an optional 'advanced' dialog that allows you to fine tune the removal of the orange mask. The dialog has two major parts. The first is the 'expansion' dialog/tool that allows you to adjust the dynamic range of each color channel and the intensity of the mask removal process. The second dialog/tool is a basic curves graph which can be adjusted as RGB or for each separate color channel. When you've adjusted the image to properly remove the orange mask you can save the parameters that you used to a profile that you can use the next time you scan that brand and ISO setting film. The second choice, which is available on my Nikon version of SilverFast is called Negative Direct. With 'Negative Direct' scanning SilverFast uses Nikon's negative color cast removal algorithms to remove the orange mask.
SilverFast Ai for scanners that have a focusing lens includes a very useful focusing tool. This tool has a 'before and after' preview. The focus preview windows show a small section of the selected focus area shown as a FULL RESOLUTION thumbnail. You can select the area to focus on and adjust focus via sliders or numerical input and re-preview the focus thumbnails. Or you can select the area of the image to autofocus on and view the results. With the shallow depth of field inherent in Nikon's film scanners this tool is extremely useful in determining exact focus.
LaserSoft offers an extra feature that is available for an extra charge. "IT8" is a device calibration routine for SilverFast Ai. IT8 calibration allows you to make a profile for your scanner. IT8 calibration insures that grayscale color is totally neutral and colors are correct. I highly recommend purchasing this option. IT8 calibration will make pre and post scan color corrections of transparency scans minimal to non-existent.
Batch scan with film strips is accomplished using a feature called "Job Manager". Job Manager is a workflow management optimization tool. With Job Manager you can select multiple images from a film strip. Unlike some batch scan operations Job Manager allows you to apply individual adjustments and scan parameters for each image file or use the same adjustment parameters for some or all of the image files.
SilverFast, when IT8 calibrated, seems to do a great job of analyzing the image data from my Nikon Super Coolscan 4000 and my Epson V700 Photo scanner with transparency scans. Color and tonal range in default scans have been close to perfect. NegaFix has done a good job with the limited number of negatives I have scanned. SilverFast is as close to 'plug and play' scanning as it gets. If you need to tweak and tune for a particular effect, the imaging toolbox is awesome.
I recently replaced my Epson 2450 multi-format flat bed scanner. I use my multi-format scanner primarily to scan 6X9cm and 4X5” film. The three scanners that made the final cut were the Epson V700 or V750 Pro and Microtek i900. The main reason I narrowed it down to one of these three scanners is that they are all bundled with SilverFast scanning software. I have been using SilverFast for about 10 years now. The intuitive workflow combined with an unparalleled tool array make SilverFast a necessity for my scan and print fine art output. After using my new Epson V700 for a few weeks I decided to upgrade to SilverFast 6.5Ai Studio ME. Ai Studio’s Multi-Exposure feature turns my new V700 into a professional quality output scanner. Scans of dense Velvia chromes with my V700 using SilverFast’s multi-exposure feature are leagues better than what I can achieve with a single pass scan. If I had it to do over, I would have just bought the Epson V750 Pro, which comes bundled with Ai Studio ME. The multi-exposure feature is that good! See a comparative example below. The Velvia chrome used in this comparison was shot close to mid day and as you can see, the shadows were very deep. The difference between the single pass scan and SilverFast's Multi-Exposure scan is nothing less than phenomenal. There's almost no noise in the ME scan and the colors range is vastly improved. The SilverFast 6.5 press release and technical data can be found below my own comparison images.
SilverFast Ai is now at level 6.5. Press Release:
New function in SilverFast 6.5 utilizes varying exposures of each scan - this creates a dynamic range comparable to that of a drum scanner
KIEL, Germany - Dec. 14 -- LaserSoft Imaging's SilverFast, the world standard in scanning software, has now taken a quantum leap in the evolution of genuine High Dynamic Range Imaging. This new function in SilverFast version 6.5 utilizes varying exposures of each scan. This dramatically increases dynamic range, allowing even the most subtle nuances in both shadow and highlight areas to be recognized and enhanced.
SilverFast Multi-Exposure captures the maximum dynamic range of the original by performing multiple scans with different exposures. This is clearly different from the Multi-Sampling procedure, in which multiple scans are performed to identify and remove random noise patterns in an image. The new Multi-Exposure feature not only eliminates noise but also increases the dynamic range of the hardware.
Multiple exposures can eliminate noise and also reveal more fine image details in the highlights and shadows. This will be most noticeable in the sharp specular highlights and pronounced textures.
The following are some significant features and improvements introduced back at SilverFast's Ai software level 6 update: SRD - Smart Removal of Defects (much like Kodak's ICE© but not hardware dependant like ICE©. SCC - Selective Color Correction has up to four layers where each layer can have its own independent color correction with masking. ACR - is part of the Selective Color Correction dialog. A checkbox will enable this function to bring back faded out colors or normalize over-saturated colors. SCG2 - Selective Color to Gray is a unique feature to enable the controlled conversion from colors to gray. GANE - The reduction of grain and noise can be controlled in a “before and after preview” with respect to the final image. This substantially reduces artifacts from noise or film grain. MID PIP 4 - Color casts resulting from mixed light conditions can now comfortably be eliminated. Up to 4 neutral points can be set, and by means of a special dialog neutral density values can be edited. SliverFast Launcher - SilverFast can now be operated by its own Stand-Alone application in addition to the existing Photoshop and Twain Plug-in. The advantage of the “SF Launcher” is the small memory requirement (only 2-4 MB) and the significantly faster loading of the application.
For a very detailed tutorial on SilverFast Ai and SilverFast Ai HDR please visit Ian Lyons SilverFast Tutorial web pages. Visit LaserSoft's SilverFast Web Site to learn more about pricing, features and other LaserSoft SilverFast imaging software.
VueScan is an inexpensive and useful scanning application. It has a very capable imaging tool set. VueScan's user interface has three levels of scanning tool availability and presentation (beginner, intermediate and advanced). You need not be overwhelmed if you are relatively new to scanning or too limited in options if you have a more advanced level of scanning knowledge. VueScan is a very capable program but it does not come close to having the technical depth and variety of tools or Negative profiles that are available in SilverFast. From an intermediate to advanced digital imaging perspective there are some tools missing. VueScan does not have a levels or a curves tool or any color pickers (eye dropper tools). Every adjustment is done with graphical sliders or numerical input. You can view histogram graphs for the adjusted preview image or the actual scanned output file. The histogram graph is an RGB overlay. It uses a separate color coded line to represent the tonality of each color channel. Vuescan has built in ICC calibration routines available for your scanner, printer and film. You'll need to obtain IT8 targets and reference files if you want to calibrate your scanner or film using Vuescan. IT8 scanner targets are available from Kodak. Scanner and film targets are available Here. There is only one version of VueScan and this single application works with a wide variety of scanners. VueScan is not specific device dependant. Learn more about VueScan by clicking this link
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