SilverFast Archive Suite 6.6, by LaserSoft Imaging

Posted: 16-Jul-2014

5 out of 5 Mice Vendor: LaserSoft Imaging Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Robert French Class: MULTIMEDIA

Overview

SilverFast Archive Suite provides the tools necessary for digitizing and archiving large image collections. Targeted at both the professional photographer and high end consumer markets, the major components of the package are two top-of-the line applications. SilverFast Ai IT8 Studio provides the scanning component while SilverFast HDR Studio provides digital image processing. You can scan your slides, negatives, or photographs into 48-bit RAW format and later process the RAW images. The package also has components for automatic IT8 scanner calibration, dust and scratch removal, and batch processing, and you have an extremely powerful tool to tackle that big box of 35mm slides you have stored that you keep promising yourself you're going to do something with some day. Now is the day.

LaserSoft Imaging makes the SilverFast product line. They produce specific applications for scanners, digital cameras, printers, and image processing. SilverFast Archive Suite retails for $699, although street price is closer to $500. Demo versions of their software can be downloaded from http://www.silverfast.com.

Features

  • Auto IT8 Calibration - fully automatic color calibration of your specific scanner. Included in the package are three IT8 targets. One is for scanning prints, which the SilverFast documentation refers to as "reflective" scanning. The other two are for transparencies, with one specifically for Kodachrome slides.
  • Auto Frame Finding - put slides, negatives, photos, or film on the glass of your flatbed scanner and SilverFast will locate the images automatically. This works especially well if you want to scan a mix of sizes.
  • SilverFast's software-based dust and scratch removal tool - remove image defects caused by dust and scratches. Works within SilverFast Ai during the scanning process, but is also available by using SilverFast HDR for images already scanned.
  • Multi-exposure - a technique developed by LaserSoft Imaging for increasing a scanner's capability to recognize contrast levels. You can configure your scan to scan each image 1, 2, 4, 8, or 16 times, each reportedly recognizing additional contrast levels.
  • Batch Scan into 48-bit RAW format, described as 48 Bit HDR (for high dynamic range) in the SilverFast documentation - captures all that the scanner can offer and allows you to post process the RAW image for whatever purpose you require.
  • Virtual Light Table - review your scanned images on a software replica of a photographer's light table
  • Optimize the image with SilverFast Tools - You have the option of optimizing the image in the original scan or scan to RAW format and optimize the RAW image at a later time. This option is made possible by having two stand alone applications make up the majority of the SilverFast Archive Suite package.
  • Batch Process and Output all Images - Both scanning and image processing are easily done in batch mode, and while the scanner glass limits the number of slides you can scan at a time, you can post process as large a batch of images as you desire. Start the post processing and walk away while the software does the heavy lifting.

Requirements

SilverFast 6.5/6.6 minimal system configuration:

  • Windows XP, Windows 2000: 1 GB RAM memory, at least 2 GB free space on hard disk drive
  • Macintosh OS X 10.3.9 or later: 1 GB RAM, at least 2 GB free on HDD

SilverFast 6.5/6.6 recommended system configuration:

  • Windows 7, Windows Vista 32 with service pack 1, XP with SP 3 or later, Windows 2000 with SP 4, 2+ GB RAM memory, at least 2 GB free space on HDD
  • Macintosh OS X 10.3.9 or later, 2+ GB RAM, at least 2 GB free on HDD

Test Machine

  • MacBook Pro, 2.33 Core 2 Duo with 2 GB RAM; Mac OS 10.6.3 (Snow Leopard)
  • Epson Perfection V700 scanner connected by USB

Price

Suggested Retail price is $699, although SilverFast Archive Suite is currently discounted on SilverFast.com for $509.

Installation

SilverFast Archive Suite uses an installer program, and although there were several steps involved before everything was installed, there really weren't any surprises.

The software comes in a shrink-wrapped case holding two CDs.

Both use the same LaserSoft Imaging label with an 'x' having been applied to the box next to Ai, Studio, and ME on the first disk. On the second disk, there were 'x' marks next to HDR and Studio. This was the most visible clue that SilverFast Archive Suite is truly a suite of programs that LaserSoft Imaging has packaged with archiving in mind.

I inserted the first CD into my MacBook Pro and double clicked on the CD image after it appeared on my desktop with the title of SilverFast Install. A window opened with an icon in the center and the label of SilverFast InstallPilot below the icon. Double-clicking the icon started the installation process. A welcome screen appeared and a dialog asked me to please select a language for the installation. English, German, Spanish, and French selections were available. I chose English and clicked the Next button as directed.

A second welcome screen appeared with four options. The first would install SilverFast. The second would open a Readme File. The third would both open the SilverFast manuals in PDF form and provide QuickTime movies before proceeding with the installation. Finally, there was the option to download Adobe Acrobat Reader and Apple QuickTime Player if you didn't already have them installed.

I clicked on the install button and I got another window showing me that it would install SilverFast Manuals and QuickTime Movies unless I unchecked the boxes. It also said it would install SilverFast Ai stand-alone app and Photoshop plug-in along with some color working space profiles and IT8 reference files.

I clicked the Install button, and the process began. A small window with a progress bar appeared that told me it was installing documentation files. After that, another appeared to tell me it was installing movie files. This was followed by another that said it was installing support files. Finally, a window saying "Welcome to the SilverFast (Epson) Installer appeared.

I clicked continue and the installation proceeded. There was the license agreement and then the option to install somewhere other than the default location. Clicking install produced a progress bar while the software was installed. A couple of minutes later, the big green checkmark appeared telling me the installation was successful. I closed out the installation and repeated it all with the second CD, which contained SilverFast HDR Studio. After installing both CDs, I was ready to begin work.

Interface

The interface for SilverFast Archive Suite is almost exclusively iconic. There is no standard Mac OS X menu bar. Pull down menus are all context sensitive. That is, you click on some icons and that results in a context sensitive menu appearing. SilverFast Archive Suite uses a launcher application at startup designed to support the full complement of SilverFast applications.

Clicking on the scanner icon provides the user with button that will launch SilverFast scanning software. Clicking on the icon with 48bit in the middle will provide a button to launch SilverFast HDR image adjustment and optimization software. Not applicable to Archive Suite are icons for Digital Camera software and Printer software, both separate packages from LaserSoft Imaging.

Selecting either the scanner or the 48bit icon allows you to launch the appropriate SilverFast application. Both produce similar visual interfaces. Each uses a large image window with icons down the left side and each has additional smaller windows where you are able to set the many configuration options of the SilverFast software. An item I found exceptionally helpful was the QuickTime icon on most of the windows. Clicking the icon provides a short movie explaining the major functions of the window in question. I found myself clicking the icons time and again as I gained confidence with these powerful programs.

First Launch Movie

Once you are operating within either of the two main programs, you interface with a complete graphical interface. By this I mean that there are no pulldown menus. Every action comes from clicking a button or icon. This makes it a little daunting at first until you get used to the icons meaning. During your learning curve, you can use the technique of hovering your mouse pointer over the icons to get a brief description of what the icon represents.

Graphical User Interface

Thus, while the interface is certainly different in its heavy use of icons in place of the more common standard pull-down menus, the interface is very easy to use once you learn what action the icons perform.

In Use

Aviation Metaphor

Being a former Air Force fighter pilot, one of the first things I noticed with SilverFast was all the aviation metaphors. The installation software is named "SilverFast InstallPilot." When you open either SilverFast Ai IT8 Studio or SilverFast HDR Studio, you will see the icon of an aircraft. Clicking on it will provide you a "pilot" to guide you through the recommended work flow, but more on that later.

ScanPilot Suggests Steps to Follow

References to work flows abound on the SilverFast website. Pilots might call these checklists. Additionally, some of the example videos show photos of the instrument panel inside an aircraft.

There was something else that tipped me off to the aviation metaphors. It was only a day after I received the SilverFast software to review that I learned LaserSoft Imaging's founder and CEO Karl-Heinz Zahorsky wanted to talk to me. He had learned I was going to review SilverFast Archive Suite and perhaps knew that I knew little about SilverFast or LaserSoft Imaging.

At first we discussed his recent flight from Germany to the United States as the pilot of his Mooney aircraft. It was fascinating for me to hear about the locations along the route I once flew years ago in an F-4E. We shared some impressions and memories and then moved into a discussion of the Archive Suite. Time and again Karl-Heinz would use his pilot experiences to describe key elements of his software.

Pilots use checklists. SilverFast provides workflow diagrams. Aircraft cockpits can seem to be overwhelmingly complex when you first see them, but as you go through training and gain experience, things all fall into place. Highly capable software is often very complex, and SilverFast Archive Suite has a tremendous set of "dials and switches.╡ Pilots become accustomed to the dials and switches in an aircraft's cockpit, so can users master this high-end, professional software package. Pilots plan their missions in great detail because it makes it so much easier to execute when the time comes. The SilverFast instructional videos lead you through similar processes so that when it comes time to tackle that huge stack of 35mm slides, you just execute the plan. SilverFast provides you a pilot mode. You get to it by clicking the icon of an aircraft. Pilot mode leads you through a set of steps or workflows as the documentation describes. You configure your pilot by selecting the steps you want included, or just accept the default. You click on the run button and SilverFast pilot leads you through the steps in the recommended order. Sometimes the pilot will activate a process while in other cases the pilot will display a dialog box instructing you to do something. It is something I haven't seen in software before. Its use, I suspect, is proportional to how familiar you are with the software. The more comfortable you get with workflows, icons, and the SilverFast interface, the less I think you'll use the pilot mode.

Using SilverFast to Archive 35mm Slides

Okay, so how do you use SilverFast Archive Suite? I think, like it's name indicates, archiving is what most people will pick the software to do. Let me describe the workflow that seemed to work best for me. It follows closely the SilverFast recommended process.

LaserSoft Imaging's Recommended Workflow

The first step for me was to organize the physical workspace. I had the Epson Perfection v700 on a small table to my right and connected by USB to my MacBook Pro, which I placed slightly to the right as I sat facing my desk. Directly in front of me was clear workspace where I placed the 35mm slide holder ready to add the slides. I'd use this space for loading and unloading the slides as well as taking notes or similar activities.

My Archiving Workspace

To my left was an old 1975 vintage slide viewing and sorting system. It's a simple cardboard frame with a light bulb socket covered by translucent plastic that supports four rows of seven slides each. It was a holdover from my early photography hobby days, but it served very well as a light table.

Finally, on the floor to my left were boxes upon boxes of 35mm slides, some dating back to World War II that I got from my father when he passed away.

With the checklist in mind and the physical space prepared, I was ready to begin. First, I start the launcher program and then clicked on the scanner icon.

SilverFast Universal Launcher

A few seconds later I have SilverFast Ai IT8 Studio up and running. First, I clicked on "General" and checked that my device was selected. If there is more than one scanner connected, this will be an important step. I only had the v700, so after a quick confirmation, I moved on. Next, I set the Scan Mode to "Batch (File)." Other options were available for following non-batch workflows. I moved on, setting Original to "transparency (full area)" and Pos./Neg. setting to "Kodachrome" for my 35mm slides.

Next I saved the frame settings, allowing me to reload them quickly if I decided to do some other things besides 35mm batch processing, a very nice touch. SilverFast remembers the settings you last used, but if you do lots of different things involving settings changes, you will find it very beneficial to save your different configurations for later reuse.

That completed my General setup, so I clicked on "Frame." These settings would affect individual image frames, and I would have 12 image frames for every 35mm scan cycle. First, I set "48 Bit HDR Color." This gave me a scan to 48 Bit RAW format. Since the RAW format captures all the elements of the image, the SilverFast adjustment options go gray. That's because all the processing will be done after the scanning using SilverFast HDR Studio, maybe days later.

Frame Settings

Next I selected my output parameters. Since I wanted to review my images on an HDTV, I selected the output size to be approximately 1920 by 1080 pixels. I could have made my selection in other units such as inches, cm, pica, or point.

Next, I loaded my slide holder, placed it on the Epson's glass, closed the lid, and performed a pre scan. After the rapid pre scan, I selected the automatic frame finder since this was my first pass. You can also manually draw a rectangle around each image. I found that handy to set up a basic structure and then save for later use. The next step is very important. The frame setting works just like it's name implies. It is a setting for a single frame. After getting all your frames created, you select the option to copy your frame setting to all frames. That way you get the same output size, etc.

Copy Individual Frame Settings to All Frames

Okay, now I clicked on "Scan" and my slides were scanned one-by-one into 48 Bit RAW format. That's it. All you do is wait on the slides to scan.

When the first batch was complete, I removed the slide holder, unloaded the slides, reloaded the next batch and started the cycle over. This time I simply confirmed settings since the ones I used before were still there.

How Long Does it Take?

How long does all this take, you might ask? The software is very fast and responsive. The scanning, however, takes minutes rather than seconds, and therein lies the challenge. The debate between bulk load scanners and flatbed scanners has been played out over and over. There is no need to go over that again. Most debaters of the issue seem to agree that the benefits of a flatbed scanner remain after you've completed that stack of 35mm slides, with the bulk loader would go on the shelf or put in the closet, a very expensive proposition. The professional slide archiver is a different situation. For the rest of us, the flatbed seems is the way to go.

I found the combination of SilverFast Archive Suite and the Epson Perfection v700 scanner to be very good. I timed myself over several cycles to see how long things took on average. I began with loading the holder with 12 slides. A prescan and brief look over the images followed. This review was only a second or two because the image selections were remembered from the first setup. Next I started the scan. Each of the 12 images was scanned. When they were finished, I removed the slides from the holder, reloaded with 12 more slides and began the cycle again. On average, a cycle consumed approximately nine minutes and 45 seconds. Of this, six minutes was due to the scanning of the 12 images. If was during this time that I would get my next batch of 12 selected, sorted and ready to load. I could review them on the light table or do just about anything else I need to do.

Other Uses

For those who demand more control on the image processing, there's SilverFast's dust and scratch removal. You get to it by clicking on the iSRD icon to activate it. Then a small window opens with options to manually remove dust and scratch defects. You are able to view your image with all of the defects SilverFast has detected in red. By varying a slider control, you can pick up more and more defects until you reach a stage where you are no longer identifying defects, but are picking up normal image artifacts instead. Back off slightly and you have your own personalized setting. That's not all, you have other controls that let you lasso image defects for special processing. If you have a special image you want to get as good as you can, you'll find this capability especially nice.

Another use for SilverFast Archive Suite is scanning negatives. I found SilverFast Ai's NegaFix process to be very handy. Once you select "negative" as the image type, SilverFast presents a window with configuration options. You first select the file manufacturer, then the type and speed of the original. If this weren't enough, there is an expert mode to allow even additional controls. Plus by clicking on the question mark in the window, you are presented with a PDF version of NegaFix's documentation. Also available via the QuickTime button, is a movie to help with the process steps.

NegaFix for Negatives

Summary

SilverFast Archive Suite by LaserSoft Imaging is a set of tools aimed at archiving large numbers of 35 mm slides, negatives, or prints, and its aim hits the mark. For the first time in many years, I see the possibility of archiving literally boxes full of 35 mm slides from my family photography collection. SilverFast Archive Suite guides the user through an IT8 automatic color calibration of the scanner. Next, the user scans into 48 bit high dynamic range (HDR) RAW format with another 16 bit scan available from the IR channel of supported scanners for automated dust and scratch removal. A user can repeat the scan process over and over, not worrying about processing the images until later. But when the time comes for processing, SilverFast provides the tool to automate the actions, making it a completely unattended operation.

The two major applications of SilverFast Archive Suite have similar look and feel. Admittedly, the total use of icons and buttons instead of more conventional pull down menus took me awhile to get used to, especially memorizing the function of individual icons. But once I did, I grew to appreciate the speed of interaction the interface provided.

I foresee three types of users for this software suite. Professionals who archive as their main business should find SilverFast more than capable for the tasks. In addition to the professional archiver, there's the professional photographer and the prosumer who should find many uses for the various capabilities inherent in SilverFast Ai IT8 Studio and SilverFast HDR Studio, the two major applications of SilverFast Archive Suite. The richness of the capabilities and their depth is truly impressive.

LaserSoft Imaging has a very extensive help library at silverfast.com. I found movie after movie to address every question that came up as I became accustomed with the software. This kind of support structure simply adds value to the purchase.

When I began this review, I was more than a little wary of all the settings and all the different ways a user could perform scanning and image optimization. I was pleasantly surprised how the documentation and helpful movies brought it all into perspective for me and how comfortable I became with the software. SilverFast Archive Suite is one impressive software package.

Pros

  • Scanning Software is optimized for your particular scanner
  • Package works with lossless RAW images
  • Save settings for later reloading -- great timesaver
  • Versatile -- supports many different work flows beyond archiving slides and photos
  • Outstanding website support with movies and documents

Cons

  • Having scanner software linked to a single scanner locks you in to that scanner

Overall Rating

5 out of 5 Mice