Photography Software Review: SilverFast Ai Studio 8
A SCANNER may not be at the top of most photographers’ lists of must-have items nowadays, given the popularity of digital capture, but many of us still have a large collection of photographs taken with film cameras that can be digitised. The best way to do this is to use a high-quality scanner with professional-quality scanning software. In this review we look at Laser Soft Imaging’s Silver Fast Ai Studio 8. The software is available for most scanners and can be used as a stand-alone application or as a plug-in for Photoshop. We are testing it with the Epson Perfection V750 Pro, a top-of-the-range flatbed scanner with film-scanning capability. At fi rst glance the Silver Fast 8 interface looks daunting, but after using it a few times each function becomes a lot clearer. For the beginner, the easiest way to start is to use the Work flow Pilot mode, which is accessed by clicking the red ball located at the top left of the interface. The Work flow Pilot guides you through each step of the scanning process, starting with the Source (print, photo, negative, Kodachrome or slide) and Task (archive, black & white, colour, print, web, email, descreen and so on). The next option sets the resolution for the scan, and depending on which Task you have selected the resolution options will vary. You are then taken through a series of image adjustments you can modify to suit your own image. The fi nal scan is either sent to a folder of your choice with the stand-alone version, or to Photoshop if using Silver Fast as a plug-in. For most scans, the Work flowPilot delivers great results. If you do get stuck at any stage, then clicking on a QuickTime Q button opens an informative short movie explaining the current function. In short, you can’t go far wrong with the Work flow Pilot.
The real power with SilverFast 8 is found in the default mode. The interface consists of a large high-resolution preview window, which sits directly below the main tool bar. This consists of the Prescan, Auto Correct, Histogram (levels), Gradation (curves), Global Colour Correction, Selective Colour Correction and Scan buttons. In the left-hand panel is the controls dock that contains all the adjustment settings for each of the functions. The panel associated with the tool in use is highlighted with a red stripe, and these can be dragged out of the dock and relocated on the screen or on a second monitor. Most panels have an Expert mode button that gives more advanced control options, a PDF documentation button, a QuickTime movie tutorial icon, a Reset button and a Save settings icon. The settings and function can be turned on or off, collapsed or closed, or deactivated with check boxes on the top of each panel. The vertical tool bar contains special function tools, such as Zoom, Rotate/ Flip, Unsharp Masking, a pipette for colour correction using a grey point or setting the White and Black points, SRD (Smart Removal of Defects) and an iSRD for hardware infrared dust removal with transparencies for scanners that support IR dust removal. The AACO button (Auto Adaptive Contrast Optimization) lightens shadow areas without affecting the highlight areas. GANE (Grain and Noise Elimination) is, as its name implies, for reducing grain and noise. Descreen removes the screen on printed material, such as newspapers and magazines. The IT8 Cal button creates a profile of your scanner using a IT8 target (a separate purchase is usually necessary for this target). The Job Manager manages the settings for multiple scans, which is useful when batch scanning using a scanner that can accommodate multiple images (negatives and transparencies). Finally, the PrinTao is used to send scans directly to a printer, and includes several useful features such as Titles, Captions, Copyright, Print Positioning and Profi le Choice.
For print scanning, the interface is straightforward. Place a photo or print on the scanner and press the Prescan button. A high-quality preview appears in the main window and you can use this to make selective colour corrections. To get the best results you should ensure that your monitor has been correctly calibrated and profiled. SilverFast includes several Colour Management settings that can be found in the Preferences dialogue panel. For photo print scanning you can select Reflective, Positive, 48>24-bit (colour) or 16>8-bit (greyscale). The Frame buttons can automatically find the borders of all the photos placed on the scanner, although you can easily draw a frame around any image. Multiple photos can be scanned, with each photo having its own unique settings contained within a frame.
For most reflective scans you only need to set the resolution to 300dpi or use the Expert settings and enter an output size, which is handy if you want to enlarge a section of the scan to a specific size. For printed materials such as newspapers and magazines, SilverFast has a descreen button. This works well in removing the print screen, thus avoiding a moiré effect, although it can soften the scan. There is a 1:1 viewing option that lets you monitor the amount of decreen that is applied, and if you select Art Print and apply a low softness value you can achieve some excellent results.
Many photographers will want to scan in their films, transparencies, black & white and colour negatives. SilverFast 8 has many features and functions to make this task as simple as possible. The Epson V750 scanner can accommodate 12 mounted slides at a time, and SilverFast can automatically find each slide and place an accurate frame on it. This worked surprisingly well, as I found that with previous versions this could be a hit or miss. For fi lm scanning you should use the highest optical resolution that your scanner has. For 35mm fi lm this will be 3200-4800dpi. In the Scan Dimensions panel there is a Resolution slider, with the green area indicating optical scan resolution and the red area indicating interpolated resolution. Each frame can contain its own unique settings, including resolution, and these settings can be copied and applied to other frames. Click on the Zoom tool to magnify the current selected frame to fi t the screen, which makes it easier to apply colour corrections. For Unsharp Masking, click the 1:1 button in the USM control panel to see a portion of the image at 100% magnification. The SRD (dust removal) now adds iSRD, which scans the image using the infrared channel (scanners must support infrared scanning). A dropdown list enables you to see where dust has been found by placing a red mark on each dust item. A detection slider enables you to make fi ne adjustments. The iSRD worked very well, removing all the dust from our test slides. Normal scanning at 3200dpi took 40secs, while using iSRD and USM the scan took 1min 57secs. The latter may take longer to complete, but it will save a lot of retouching time. The Job Manager is useful for batch scanning several slides. You can quickly look down the list and see the settings that are going to be applied.
The colour-correction tools are fi rst class. You can start with the Auto correction, which will apply a predefined setting based on highlight and shadow points, or select one of the predefined settings, such as Landscape, Portrait, Snow, Night or Evening. These may be basic adjustments, but they can be used as a starting point for your own custom adjustment.
The Histogram behaves in a similar way to Levels found in most image-editing applications, as does the Gradation (curves) adjustment. In both tools the colour channels can be individually altered, and there is an expert mode that gives further options. The Global Colour correction wheel is an easy way to correct colours. You just drag the small dot to correct or apply a colour cast, while a set of sliders are available in the expert mode. The selective colour tool can be used to change selected colours by clicking on a colour and then using the HSL slider to alter the values or clicking on the colour dots and dragging them to the desired colour.