SilverFast Archive Suite 8


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    SilverFast Archive Suite 8

      In summary

      The quality produced by the scanner is high enough for archived images, making SilverFast Ai Studio 8 a valid choice for both professional photographers and serious enthusiasts with enough images to scan to justify the investment.  HDR Studio 8  is less easy to recommend because it adds very little to Ai Studio 8 and lacks many tools photographers might need for 'finishing' scanned images.

      Most scanned images are likely to require additional work to remove dust and scratch marks that weren't picked up during the scan. The iSRD is pretty good but there will always be situations when blemishes are missed, regardless of the capabilities of the software. The same is true for the AACO tool, which operates globally across the image; there are times when adjustments should be confined to discrete areas.

      We have some reservations about the high price tags commanded by the SilverFast applications, although for anyone who wants to squeeze the best possible quality out of images recorded on film or paper Ai Studio 8 represents the best-performing and most versatile scanning application we have used thus far.

       

      Full review

      LaserSoft Imaging's SilverFast Archive Suite 8 consists of two complementary applications: SilverFast Ai Studio 8 and SilverFast HDR Studio 8. Together, they provide a superior scanner driver  with facilities for dust and scratch removal, colour calibration and dynamic range optimisation plus a post-scan image adjustment application. Ai Studio 8 lets users save scans as high-bit depth (48- or 64-bit) files that can be accessed within HDR Studio 8 for 'finishing'.
       

      The SilverFast Archive Suite 8 package. (Source: LaserSoft Imaging.)

      This integration can save time for photographers with a large number of originals to scan and archive. The workspace layouts and adjustment tools are almost identical in both applications, although Ai Studio's are designed for scanning while HDR Studio's focus upon the later stages in the workflow.

      The adjustments saved as part of the scan will determine the tools available in HDR Studio. So, if the infrared scratch removal data was saved in the HDR file, it will appear in the toolbar in HDR Studio. Users can also set up Ai Studio for batch scanning using the JobManager function common to both applications and then batch 'finish' them with HDR Studio.

      SilverFast Ai Studio's driver software is individually adapted to each scanner model and computer operating system  in order to provide the best possible scan quality. This means when you order the software, regardless of how it is delivered, you must specify the scanner it will be used with. When you buy a new scanner, you must update the software accordingly. If you approach your local distributor, they should be able to negotiate a favourable upgrade price.

      When this review was produced, the Archive Suite represented the cheapest way to purchase both applications. It's available in eight languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

      If you download the software from a website, you miss out on some useful add-ons supplied with the software on DVD. They include a set of bundled tutorials and an integrated colour management system that meets professional standards. It contains IT8 colour calibration targets as a 13 x 18 cm print and also as 6 x 7 cm and 5 x 4-inch and 35-mm transparencies. A quick-start guide to using both applications is also provided.

      LaserSoft Imaging AG  offers trial downloads of its software from its website at http://www.silverfast.com/show/downloads-start/en.html. Since the software we received to review came via a download, we're unable to evaluate the integrated colour management system in the SilverFast Archive Suite 8.

      In Australia and New Zealand, Proscan supplies the suite on disk  and also offers phone support within Australia and New Zealand. (Contact details for the company can be found with the specifications.) Prices vary, depending on the type of scanner, although the following GST-inclusive prices apply to most consumer- and enthusiast-level scanners, when the software is purchased via download in Australia:
       SilverFast Archive Suite 8: $549 (upgrade from the bundled SilverFast SE -  $499)
        SilverFast Ai Studio 8:  $ 329 (upgrade from the bundled SilverFast SE -  $299)

      To obtain the complete package add: $20 for DVD disk shipped, $89 for a SF Kodak (E6) 35mm or  4x5-inch  iT8 target, $99 for a SF Kodachrome 35mm iT8 target and/or $83 for a Fuji 5x7-inch Print iT8 target.

      As a premium product, SilverFast Ai 8 or the Archive Studio requires careful consideration by potential purchasers. In this review we will focus upon the features that justify investing in the software and give it a competitive edge on the scanner manufacturers' driver software.

      Setting Up
       This is essentially the same for both applications, although each is handled separately. Once you've installed the software, you must enter the serial number (if purchased outright) or request a demo licence for the 30-day trial period.
       

      Installing the software from a download.

      Purchasers will be offered the chance to register online so they can receive regular program updates free of charge. They can also subscribe to the newsletter that comes out roughly every two months and contains useful information relating to the selected scanner.

      Installing the program creates a desktop icon for opening each application with a couple of clicks. The first click loads the start page (shown below), while clicking on the Start button opens the work space.

      The work space in SilverFast Ai Studio 8 consists of four main areas, indicated by numbers on the screen grab below.
       

       1. The Controls Dock to the left of the preview window contains a series of dialogs that let you configure the SilverFast tools. By clicking on the arrow button, you can expand and collapse any dialog. If you are using the WorkflowPilot (see below), the controls dock will automatically open the relevant tool dialog which is the next step of your workflow.

      2. The Preview Window shows the current preview scan. You can select individual film frames, as shown in the example above, and the preview will show a simulation of the image as it will appear in the final scan.
       

      3. The Horizontal Toolbar contains the standard scanning tools. A red dot inside the symbol indicates that this tool is active and an image optimisation has been performed. Dropdown menus provide pre-sets within some functions or call up sidebar tool panels for adjusting colour channels, contrast and saturation, as shown in the screen grabs below.
       

      4. The Special Toolbar contains additional tools that may not be required for every image original but can be popped out when needed, as shown in the screen grab above. Active tools are marked with a red dot.

      While the user interface is complex and may seem daunting at first, it's actually easy to use. Novice users can get a feel for the software with the WorkflowPilot, which takes you step-by-step through the scanning process. It's activated by clicking on the icon in the top left corner of the screen (circled in red in the screen grab below).
       

       As the program steps you forward, progress is tracked by the symbol of a plane moving along a time line. This ensures each step is taken in the appropriate sequence, avoiding  potential errors. (If you switch from the manual mode to the WorkflowPilot mode, all previously made adjustments are discarded so it's best to stick with one mode until each scan is completed.)
       

      WorkflowPilot stakes you step-by-step through the scanning process, providing scope for adjusting the brightness, contrast and colour balance of scans using familiar tools.

      If you decide to scan manually, the WorkflowPilot icon turns red, indicating this function has become inactive. In this mode, you use the icons in the horizontal toolbar above the preview window to step through the scanning process.

      Previews are 'live' and immediately reflect the results of any changes to the displayed image. A dialog with controls for adjusting SilverFast's tools will open in the controls dock for every processing step.

      Scanning
      Five steps are involved in the scanning process:

      1. Selecting the source material (print, photo, negative, Kodachrome or slide), the purpose (archive, edit, print, web) for the scan and the colour mode (colour or B&W).
       

      2. Previewing the source material by clicking on the Start button, which opens the Workflow Pilot, or click on the Prescan button in the horizontal toolbar.  This generates a preview in the preview window. Use the mouse to drag the red scanning frame to the desired size, ensuring it is completely with the original frame.

      You can enlarge the selected frame to fill the Preview Window by clicking on the Magnify button on the Special Toolbar, which toggles magnification on and off. The magnified image is scanned a second time to record it in sharp focus.
       

      3. Setting the format and resolution for the scan in the Scan Dimensions dialog box that opens in the controls dock. When scanning negatives, an additional NegaFix dialog box will appear with a dropdown menu listing popular films. Select the manufacturer, film type and exposure speed of your negatives.
       

      4. Adjust the image automatically with the Auto CCR button in the horizontal toolbar or use the Histogram and Gradation tools to tweak exposure levels. Other adjustments that can be applied include AACO (Auto Adaptive Contrast Optimisation) which tweaks contrast in dark areas without affecting lighter zones and the GCC (Global Colour Correction) tool for adjusting the overall colour balance to counteract colour casts that may be found in older films.
       

      Selective Colour Correction (SCC) is also available for adjusting the strength of individual colour channels (RGB and CMY), while GANE Grain and Noise Elimination can be adjust­ed in three stages: light, medium and strong. Unsharp masking can also be applied to boost edge sharpness without altering the saturation and colour values in the image.

      A Descreening control is provided for removing the dot patterns and moire effects resulting from scanning off-set printed originals. The SilverFast Multi-Exposure tool can be sued to optimise the dynamic ranges of film originals by combining  two scans with different expo­sure times.

      Finally, dust and scratches can be removed from film originals with the iSRD (infrared based Dust and Scratch Removal) and SRD (non-infrared) tools. A slider is used to adjust detection strength in the former, while the latter provides two additional sliders for setting the  size from which and the intensity with which defects are treated.
       

      The iSRD tool lets you select a reference area to display dust and scratch marks.
       

      Choosing the Mark setting in the tool's Display menu colours the detected artefacts in red.
       

      The Correct setting in the Display menu shows the effects of dust and scratch removal.

      5. The final step is to select a file format for the scan (TIFF, PSD, JPEG, JP2), a destination for the file and a name for the image file to be created. A progress bar displays the remaining time required for the scan. When the scan is completed, the image file is stored on your hard disk and SilverFast is reset so you can continue with the next scan.

      You can optimise the dynamic range in scans by selecting the Multi-Exposure preview mode, which is one of the Preferences settings (shown in the screen grab below). This causes the scanner to make two scanning passes at different exposures (for highlights and shadows) and merge them.
       

      Batch Scanning
       The JobManager tool in SilverFast Ai Studio 8 provides facilities for batch scanning.  It's only accessible when the WorkflowPilot isn't active and opens in a separate dialog window, which is dockable anywhere in the work space.
       

       

      We found batch scanning to be fairly time-consuming, largely because the software will default to same-size scanning, which leads to small files if you've scanned 35mm originals at 300 ppi. You can set  the output size and quality for several images at the same time by selecting the first image in the JobManager list, setting its size and resolution and pressing the 'Copy adjustments to all frames' button. This opens a pop-up window in which you select 'include the selected resolution' then select the images you want the settings to be copied and then click on the 'Paste adjustments to the selected images' button. 

      You can apply global corrections based on a selected frame in the set and save these corrections for future use so they can be copied to other files displayed in the Job Manager.

      Performance
      Being a 64-bit application, SilverFast Ai Studio 8 is able to multi-task, which means you can preview and adjust one image while scanning another. This prevents the inevitable boredom that occurs while you're waiting for scans to be finalised and makes batch scanning a little faster, although not much.

      Most of the adjustment tools worked well, with the iSRD dust and scratch removal and Auto Adaptive Contrast Optimisation (AACO) tools being the most useful for the scans we made. Multi-Exposure scans produced noticeable improvements with contrasty backlit originals by widening the dynamic range and reducing shadow noise. But it almost doubled the time it took to complete scans.

      Overall scanning times varied according to the degree of enlargement required to produce the scan from the original and the types and amounts of adjustment required. Typical scanning times after all adjustments were made ranged from about one-and-a-half minutes to scan a 35mm transparency for 15 x 10 cm reproduction to 15-and-a-half minutes for a batch of six transparencies in a single film strip for outputting at A4 size.

      As we noted in our review of the CanoScan 9000F (INSERT LINK), scans made with SilverFast Ai Studio 8 contained more detail and had more accurate colours than scans of the same originals carried out with the ScanGear driver bundled with this scanner. 

      SilverFast HDR Studio 8
       The second application in the SilverFast Archive Suite 8 is designed to process images scanned with Ai Studio 8 so they can be archived. Its use is not restricted to scanned images; the tools can also be used to adjust images captured with digital cameras.
       

      Unfortunately, this application lacks a number of essential features photographers require from an image editor. And it's not particularly well documented. There was no user manual online when we clicked on the Help button and the website only provides a one-page 'supplementals' PDF with a brief explanation of how to open files and use the JobManager plus another PDF comparing the HDR 8 and HDR Studio 8 versions. That's it.

      Essential editing tools and functions we were unable to find in HDR Studio 8 include:
       1. Support for editing with layers.
       2. Selective editing tools for cloning, healing, dodging and burning, sharpening and blurring.
       3. Selection tools are limited to rectangular crops.
       4. The only Filter is the Unsharp Mask tool.
       5. There's no support for processing raw files from digital cameras and, although this is available in an alternative application,SilverFast DC, when we checked the list of supported cameras it was out of date by a couple of years.

      Most of these deficiencies arise because SilverFast HDR Studio 8 has been designed to interface with to Ai Studio 8, rather than as an image editor. If that's all you want, it will work for you. The work space has a similar layout to the one in Ai Studio 8, as shown in the screen grab below.  

       

      1. The Controls Dock contains stacked dialog boxes for setting image parameters (dimensions, resolution, file format), a Densitometer for setting the black and white points for the image (to define the dynamic range) and selecting the colour mode and a Picture Settings box containing a histogram.  

      2. The Preview Window shows the loaded image. If you open additional files the JobManager opens automatically, highlighting the active frame in pale blue. You can copy adjustments from one frame to another using the buttons on the JobManager's toolbar.

      3. The Horizontal Toolbar contains the Auto CCR tool and Histogram and Gradation adjustments as well as the Global CC and Selective CC adjustments. 

      4. The Special Toolbar contains the following buttons, all of which act globally on the image as a whole: Info,  Magnify, Rotate/Flip, Pipette, USM, SRD, AACO, GANE, Descreen, IT8 Cal, Job Man and PrinTao. Those that aren't self-explanatory carry out the following functions:

      The Pipette tool provides a quick way to set black, neutral and white points using an eyedropper tool to sample the displayed image.

      The USM tool is used for applying unsharp masking and provides sliders for adjusting the Power, Radius and Threshold of the adjustment along with a 1:1 preview magnification button.

      The SRD tool is the same dust and scratch removal tool as in Ai Studio 8 but without the infrared scanning used by the iSRD tool.

      The AACO tool is the same as in Ai Studio 8 and provides dynamic range adjustments.

      The GANE (Grain and Noise Elimination) tool reduces the effects of film grain and image noise, with pre sets: Light, Medium and Strong.

      The Descreen tool is for removing dot patterns from images scanned from printed documents, such as magazines, newspapers and books.

      We couldn't use the IT8 Cal tool for calibration and profiling because the software wasn't supplied with the required references.

      Pressing the PrinTao button opens a couple of dialog boxes for sending images to a printer, which is selected via a menu box. Once the printer is selected you can access its driver settings and choose the paper profile from a drop-down menu in the Colour management section of the dialog box, as shown below.
       

      A simple click on the Process button on the Horizontal Toolbar and entering the desired file name and the destination folder processes and saves the file in a couple of seconds. Because both applications in the SilverFast Archive Suite 8 programs work with the same algorithms, the files produced by each application are essentially identical when the same adjustments have been applied.

      This consistency is useful for professional photographers who prefer a standardised workflow. It may also be handy for enthusiasts who want consistent quality when scanning batches of different originals. But it's no substitute for a 'proper' image editor.

      Conclusion
      The quality produced by the scanner is high enough for archived images, making SilverFast Ai Studio 8 a valid choice for both professional photographers and serious enthusiasts with enough images to scan to justify the investment.  HDR Studio 8  is less easy to recommend because it adds very little to Ai Studio 8 and lacks many tools photographers might need for 'finishing' scanned images.

      Most scanned images are likely to require additional work to remove dust and scratch marks that weren't picked up during the scan. The iSRD is pretty good but there will always be situations when blemishes are missed, regardless of the capabilities of the software. The same is true for the AACO tool, which operates globally across the image; there are times when adjustments should be confined to discrete areas.

      We have some reservations about the high price tags commanded by the SilverFast applications, although for anyone who wants to squeeze the best possible quality out of images recorded on film or paper Ai Studio 8 represents the best-performing and most versatile scanning application we have used thus far. 

       

      SPECS

       Systems compatibility: Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 (32/64), Mac OS X from 10.5 (Intel Mac only)
       Scanners supported: All enthusiast/professional models from the major scanner manufacturers (including Canon, Epson, Microtek, Nikon, PIE, Plustek and Reflecta)
       Features: Fully automatic IT8 scanner calibration; rapid scanning into a 64bit HDRi RAW data archive, incl. infrared data; image optimisation for different applications using SilverFast HDR Studio; batch processing via JobManager
       Disk space requirement: Min. 2 GB free space on hard disk drive for the software file plus 20 GB free space on the main system hard disk drive for the cache
       Minimum RAM: 2 GB RAM main memory (4 GB RAM recommended)
       Computer interface: DVD drive or internet connection (QuickTime Player and PDF reader required); colour calibrated monitor recommended
       ICC Profile support: Yes, includes more than 120 'canned' negative profiles

       

      Rating

      RRP: AU$549 or 499 Euros

       

      • Ease of Use: 8.5
      • Scan quality: 9.0
      • Versatility: 8.3

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