Well this user decided a long time back that miracles
were not within my gift and so began the search for alternative scanner
software that would provide me with the the tools I needed. It didn't
take long for me to find what I was looking for - LaserSoft Imaging
SilverFast Ai. That was late 1999 and I've been using SilverFast
with a wide range of scanner types and models ever since. In the
intervening years LaserSoft have continued to develop SilverFast by
implementing new features and tools; most of which are as a direct result of user
feedback. With each new iteration I find myself wondering what next?
Okay we've reached a new milestone and with it we find
that LaserSoft has set an even higher standard for ease of use and
control of our desktop-scanners and digital cameras. SilverFast is now
available for more than 120 scanners and digital cameras. It is designed
to operate under Mac OS9.x and OS-X, Windows 95, 98, 2000, and
Windows NT and XP.
underlined text depicts a Hotlink to a page containing screenshots and
more details on a function or tool. I adopted this approach to minimise download time and keep the main review text to one
page. I hope that you don't find it too awkward or confusing.
SilverFast User Interface
Chief among SilverFast attributes is the intuitive
user interface with sophisticated and powerful controls. Novices and
professionals are equally well catered for and each will appreciate the
ability to edit images in real-time. The user definable controls ensure
that the intelligent automatic tools provide near perfect colour and
tone corrections with nothing more than a simple button click
. For ultimate
image quality it is possible to manually adjust the image at any point
by accessing the the appropriate tools from the Adjustment Tools
The following screenshot shows the SilverFast's
Adjustment Tools palette and by clicking the following hyperlinks: Levels Histogram, Gradation Curves, Colour Balance you can read about the tool. You can also see a larger
preview of the actual tool and its associated control panel.
Adjustment Tools Palette
SilverFast is designed to operate using the full bit-depth
of the scanner or digital camera and can output edited images as either 24bit or 48bit
colour and 8bit or16bit greyscale.
Selection of Image Mode -
Output Type & Bit Depth
All versions of SilverFast allow the user apply various Filters to
their images. The following screenshot shows the selection available within
What's New in Version 6
In their Press Release for SilverFast 6 LaserSoft
Imaging identified "10 new unique highlights". I'm not
sure that all 10 are in fact new, but let's not be pedantic.
Although not new in itself Selective
Colour Correction has nevertheless undergone a major revamp and with it
LaserSoft has introduced a
few new mini-features. Selective Colour Correction can now operate on up to four layers
with each layer having its own independent colour correction. The real
beauty of this new feature is that 4 objects comprising the same initial
RGB value (same colour) can now be treated as different colours. This
enables you to achieve complex colour corrections very easily. With a special function (Mask Edge Size
the Options dialog) we can also control the amount of edge fading for the
SRD or Smart Removal of Defects is most definitely
new. It's LaserSoft's answer to Applied Science Fiction's Digital "ICE" function as found
on more recent Nikon scanners (Note: true ICE dust and scratch removal
is also available as standard with the Nikon version of SilverFast Ai). The main difference between ICE
and SRD is that the latter operates completely within
software and requires no special hardware functions to be implemented
within the scanner itself. The means that SRD is independent of
any particular scanner type or vendor. Dust and scratches are
automatically recognized by SRD which
highlights the artifacts in red. Using the interactive controls we can
adjust the number and size of artifacts that will be picked up. The facility
to select whether SRD will operate on white, black or all artifacts is a
particularly useful feature. SRD
operates in real-time and quickly finds the best possible combination of
settings. If SRD
picks up on image details and attempts to treat them as dust or
scratches we can easily exclude these details using the exclude-mask function. Difficult scratches that cannot be removed
using the normal settings can be handled in another layer or via the Expert
Selective Colour to Grey
or SC2G is another
new feature and one that will please many. Typically some colours that are
normally very easy to distinguish from others will after conversion to
grey appear virtually identical. Many photographers will recognise
this problem. Clearly this is less than desirable
especially when we find it means spending even more time and effort
trying to separate out these shades of grey. With SC2G we can directly
control the way both the primary and secondary colours within the image
convert into shades of grey. SC2R is a very powerful tool and one
that requires some time and effort to fully understand and appreciate. However, once
you've got to grips with SC2R you will probably never want to look at
another B&W film, instead opting to shoot only colour positives and then do
the conversions to grey on the computer.
and Noise Elimination or GANE is the LaserSoft equivalent of the Applied
Science Fiction's Digital ICE "GEM" tool as used on Nikon scanners. Film grain
is present on most photographic emulsions and we find that the higher the film speed, the larger the grain size.
Unfortunately, we also find that many of the new breed of high
resolution film scanners are prone to exaggerating grain; sometimes to
the extent that the quality of an image is significantly reduced. The term Grain Aliasing has been used to describe this
property, but giving it a name does little to reduce its effects. As the
name suggests GANE has the property of reducing the apparent
graininess of film scans, especially negative type film. It also helps
reduce the effects of noise in images captured on low-end digital
cameras. The downside of tools such as GANE is that the resulting
image tends to be slightly soft. LaserSoft continues to work on GANE
and it's hoped that a future version will include the Unsharp Mask
option for restoring lost sharpness. In the meantime we can use Photoshop's
own Unsharp Mask filter.
ACR or as LaserSoft call it Adaptive
Colour Restoration resides within the Selective Colour Correction
dialog and is closely related to it. I'm sure that you will have noticed that film
and print media tends to fade over time often resulting in odd colour
casts. Adaptive Colour Restoration was developed by LaserSoft to
help reduce the worst effects of this ageing process. ACR will quickly
and without too much fuss restore faded colours.
It works really well with old faded negatives and breaths new live into
images that would otherwise be fit for the trashcan. ACR can be used
along with the other tools in the Selective Colour Correction dialog
after automatic correction we can fine tune specific colours that may
have been over/under corrected. If the above description appears familiar
to you - it should. ACR is broadly similar to Digital ICE
"ROC" as used on Nikon scanners.
Application module was first introduced with SilverFast version 5.5
for Mac OS X. At the time neither Photoshop nor any other
image editing program had been ported to OS X and so those who had adopted
OSX found themselves with no means of editing images. Obviously SF_App
was a success and now we find it has been made available for all
platforms and Operating Systems.
Using SF_App SilverFast can be operated as a Stand-Alone application.
This means that if you don't have Photoshop you can still use SilverFast
6. A further advantage of the SF_App is the small memory
footprint of around 2 to 4 MB. With such a low memory overhead SF_App
and therefore SilverFast is significantly faster at loading. This is particularly
useful when using a laptop computer with a small amount of memory.
MidPip4 feature colour casts resulting from mixed light conditions
can now be eliminated. In fact until LaserSoft provide a better means of
correcting white balance in digital camera images MidPip4 can be used to
provide a very effective workaround. Up to four neutral points can be set, and by
means of a special dialog neutral density values can be edited. Whilst this feature doesn't appear to offer anything
special it actually turns out to be a very powerful tool. Fine tuning is
achieved by double-clicking onto the tool and this brings up an
Expert-dialog with edit fields showing the “before and after” RGB or CMY
values. These values can then be changed as desired (e.g. values
slightly off neutral can be set). This way very subtle cast corrections
can be achieved.
IT8 calibration - Version 6.1 and higher include IT8 calibration as
all Film scanners and DCPro. IT8 calibration allows the user
to generate ICC colour profiles for any film scanner or digital camera
supported by SilverFast. Using this feature, you can calibrate your
scanner using a standard colour target which LaserSoft Imaging supplies
to you. SilverFast will not only generate a profile, it will also
generate its own internal calibration based on the target. The LaserSoft IT8 module now
operates in much the same way as other 3rd party profile building
applications and since LaserSoft also supply their own high quality IT8
targets users will. have little need to purchase 3rd party alternatives.
Furthermore, LaserSoft targets are unique in that they
include a bar code that is used by SilverFast to automatically
detect the correct reference file thus further simplifying the process
of creating ICC profiles.
QuickTime Movies - so far as I am aware SilverFast is the first
imaging software to supply QuickTime movies as online training. The user
can instantly understand and know how to operate the function
exemplified by the movie.
31 December 2003
SilverFast DCPro is a special
version of SilverFast designed for high-end Digital Cameras. It is
intended to address the needs of digital photographers who prefer to
capture images using what is know as the RAW image format.
DCPro combines the functionality of SilverFast Ai with the
Virtual Light Table (VLT) feature discussed below. The application also
provides important image correction tools, such as red-eye removal,
colour correction, white balance, and exposure adjustment. Advanced
SilverFast features, including ACR, USM, GANE, selective colour
correction enable users to get the most from their digital images.
DCPro is compatible with a wide range of digital camera models
including those from Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Minolta, Kodak, Olympus, etc.
The latest versions of
SilverFast HDR, DCPro and DC utilise the new
Virtual Light Table (VLT).
Whilst VLT has undergone considerable improvement over recent months I'm
still not convinced of the workflow. VLT is intended to provide an efficient
way to organise images for processing. Images in different file
directories can be viewed in an adjustable overview window using
variable-sized thumbnails. The user can then choose to drag images into
a user-defined Album section. Images can be viewed using the magnifier
located on the VLT. At any time, images from the Album can be corrected
individually in the SilverFast Preview or batch processed in the
SilverFast Job Manager .VLT also incorporates image management features
including: thumbnail sorting, file searching, EXIF preview, and comment
annotation. New printing features in VLT permit printing of contact
sheets as well as full-screen high-resolution preview images are now
SilverFast User Interface
Expanded view of Preview Window
(note: not all buttons will appear fro every scanner
digital camera model)
SilverFast Histogram Tool
The above screenshots show the 3 different ways in which
the histogram can be displayed when the image is in RGB colour
mode (default). However, SilverFast also allows the user to edit
images using the CMYK colour mode and a similar set of
histograms, albeit reversed and coloured CMYK rather RGB.
The Colour Cast Removal tool is particularly
useful for removing casts in both highlights and shadows whilst having
virtually no impact on the midtones. Like many of SilverFast's tools it
operates in real-time and so the user will quickly see the effect of
dragging the slider to the left or right.
The Histogram is probably the most used tool within
SilverFast yet much of it remains a mystery to the user. The following
tutorial should help explain how this tool is best applied -
Image Editing - Levels Histogram.
SilverFast Gradation Curves
The Gradation Curves tool is very powerful and allows the user to
adjust the Gradation (midtones), Contrast, Shadow and Highlight points,
and overall Brightness. It is also possible to manually reshape the
curve to reflect specific image requirements (e.g. S-curves).
The user can define the shape of the curve using either
the slider or via numerical input. We can also decide whether midtone gradation
adjustment is based upon a Normal (N) or Logarithmic (L) scale. Typically
images that show darker than average 3/4 tones will benefit from the use
of the L midtone gradation adjustment.
SilverFast Global Colour Correction
The Global Colour Correction tool allows us to reduce colour
casts that effect the overall image (e.g. whole image appears too yellow
- increase blue). However, it is assumed (and always a good idea) that
the highlight and shadow points have already been neutralised using
either the Histogram tool or Highlight/Shadow pipettes.
The zone bounded by the blue line (see the right hand
screen shot) is where we
can configure increment by which the correction will applied. It has 3
settings: Coarse, Medium (default) and Fine. I find dragging the
"spot" around the colour wheel to be much more effective than
using the sliders. The zone bounded by the red line is where we define
whether the colour correction is applied to the full-scale of the
image, Shadows, Midtones or Highlights.
To make the colour adjustment we can use either the sliders, the "spot"
(LaserSoft call it the Hand)
within the colour wheel or click the coloured dots that surround the
colour wheel. Any adjustments made will also be reflected in the
Gradation Curves dialog as shown below.
Visual Feedback of Colour
Balance Adjustments in Gradation Curves
Strengthening of Green
Selective Colour Adjustment
Selective Colour Correction has been
significantly improved in SilverFast
6 with the addition of Layers (up to 4) and Adaptive Colour
Correction. We can make selection within our image and so restrict
the colour correction to a specific area or we can apply the correction
to our selected colour across all areas of the image. The two
screenshots shown above depict typical situations. The first (left) shows
that I've selected RED and have dragged increased its value (strengthen).
The second screenshot demonstrates an alternative method of applying a
similar edit to greens. The Selective Colour Correction tool is
very powerful allowing very intricate colour edits to be made on the
Size of Edge Mask for Selection
SRD - Dust and Scratch Removal
It's beyond the scope of this review to discuss in detail
how SRD operates, however, I've included the above screenshot to
show the extent of the toolset provided. I'm
not normally a great fan of this type of tool, finding that whilst they fix
one problem it's usually at the expense of overall image quality. That said and
with care SRD does a reasonable albeit slow job of cleaning up most
dust and scratches. I particularly like the ability to create selection
masks using the built-in Lasso and Brush tools. Layers
are also supported (up to 4). For long scratches and/or fibres we can
activate the Longish scratch removal function. However, I should warn
that using this function can further increase overall processing time.
Selective Colour to Greyscale (Before)
The above B&W image shows what can happen when we
simply convert form colour to greyscale. The rear of the boats and the
stone wall shown left of frame are on the dark side even though each was
well separated from adjacent elements in the original colour image. Can
it be fixed?
Selective Colour to Greyscale (After)
Notice that the rear of the right most boat is a lot
brighter as is the shop front and stone wall. There are other areas of
this image were the correction is much more subtle. However, I think you
will agree that the final result is a lot better than the original
Grain and Noise Elimination (GANE)
Removing grain and/or noise form the image is relatively
straight forward with GANE. First we prescan a close-up section of the
image at high resolution and then either choose one of the 3
default settings or manually adjust the parameters to suit our own
preferences. The before and after preview window enables accurate
assessment of the image.
Adaptive Colour Restoration (Default)
By activating the ACR checkbox in the Selective Colour
Correction dialog SilverFast ACR will immediately analyse the
image and apply a correction. Typically this will result in a degree of saturation
increase/decrease that is greater than required. The above image shows what can
happen when ACR is left to its own devices. However, moving the ACR
slider slightly to the left will reduce saturation to a more acceptable
level. Using the ACR slider I reduced saturation slightly and obtained the
image shown below. With a little more effort I could easily reduce saturation
further without sacrificing the overall effect.
Adaptive Colour Restoration
How does it Look and Feel?
In developing DCPro LaserSoft have continued with their tried and
tested application interface. Whilst this interface may not match with
the expectations of those who believe that the Microsoft way is the only
way it does serve its purpose. It's also worth noting that because
SilverFast is fundamentally a Photoshop plug-in there are constraints
placed upon certain aspects of the interface.
SilverFast DCPro User Interface
Apart from the additional controls for adjusting image
Exposure and White Balance plus the special function buttons for: Red Eye
correction, IPTC data editing, high resolution full screen preview, and printing there is little to
differentiate DCPro from the scanner version.
The Exposure/White Balance controls (Picture Settings)
were first introduced to SilverFast HDR in the early part of 2003 and
initially I was quite happy with their operation. However, digicam
images are not the same as those from a scanner and it quickly became
apparent that the White Balance control being limited to slider
operation meant that targeting a specific area of the image as the
source for White Balance wasn't possible. LaserSoft recognised this
limitation and have completely rewritten the tool with the additional of
Tint and Eye-dropper tools. We also have menu
options for all the usual WB settings including: As Shot, Flash,
Tungsten, Daylight, etc.
The Virtual Light Table
The Virtual Light Table (VLT) is a File Browser
much like that found in Photoshop and many of the basic applications
supplied with digital cameras. Although LaserSoft have adapted the File
Browser concept slightly to match their perception of the photographers
workflow. A number of Preset configurations are also available.
SilverFast Virtual Light Table
To open an image for further editing within the main
SilverFast application you drag the its thumbnail to the Album area and
either double-click the thumbnail or click on the little green triangle. Conversion time is
dependent upon processor speed, but I've found that on my Mac OS X system
DCPro converts Canon D30/60 and 10D images noticeably quicker than
Canons own application.
VLT still requires some work so that it truly provides
the "light table" like features required by photographers. Likewise the
IPTC data editor and search facilities still need further work
As is the
case with SilverFast Ai and HDR we find that batch processing of images
is easily handled using the Job Manager Function. Actually Job Manager
is probably the most effective and flexible batch processing tool of any
that I'm currently aware of. The pity is that it isn't obvious to the
new user what it is and how it works.
Batch Processing in Job Manager
Is that all there is to SilverFast 6? Hmm, I haven't
mentioned NegaFix or Job
Manager both of which were originally added as part of the 5.5 update.
Nevertheless, both are extremely useful and important functions. More details
of each can be found in my
I haven't mentioned ScanPilot
or the Expert function nor have I mentioned Permanent
Softproof for CMYK, Plug&Play CMYK, Real-Time Exposure control in histogram (Agfa, Microtek, Polaroid, Nikon)
Grey ICC-profiles support, EasyEdit, Balloon Help for
Mac OS-X and WIN XP, Auto-Registration, Auto-Update check from within SilverFast
and a host of other functions and features that are too numerous to
Are there any downsides to SilverFast 6? - Yes!
- SRD and GANE require a powerful computer with plenty of
memory otherwise image processing can take somewhat longer than most
will find bearable. Nikon users will be happy to learn that LaserSoft
now offer full support for ICE.
Nearly a year after LaserSoft first introduced version
6 they have expanded the range to include a version compatible with a
wide range of digital cameras. Since its release I've received many
emails asking why I have not reviewed DCPro and whether I use it.
Yes I use it, but not exclusively. Furthermore, I don't think a separate
review is necessary since DCPro is effectively SilverFast HDR
with a raw image converter module built in and my thoughts on SilverFast Ai/HDR
are widely known. However, the original
version of DCPro presented me with a number of difficulties not
least of which was the very poor white balance control and the Virtual
Light Table (VLT). With version 6.02rx now publicly available I'm
happy to say that the new white balance controls are a significant improvement
on the first attempt. I still find VLT to be
cumbersome in use, but at least the user now has the ability to delay
image conversion until they are happy that all the images have been
selected. The minor but annoying aliasing artefacts present in the converted
images are now gone and conversion is much quicker. LaserSoft will no
doubt make further workflow improvements to DCPro and very likely these
will also be incorporated into
SilverFast Ai and HDR.
Whilst many of the issues that I and other reviewers had identified
more annoying than show stoppers LaserSoft clearly took some of them to heart
and made the necessary changes. Whether these changes will be enough is another thing.
From my own perspective I still think there is more work to be done, but
I'm also left wondering as to whether there's any real point especially
now that Camera Raw is and integral component of Photoshop.
That said I don't for a moment believe that DCPro is a lost cause
rather that with a bit of thought it actually presents LaserSoft with another opportunity.
What do I mean? Other than RAW image
conversion DCPro and HDR are essentially the same product
and share a large amount of functionality; i.e. processing of images
captured at an earlier time. The "light table" concept (VLT) is
common to both whether we are viewing a large number of raw scans or
digital RAW files. Likewise the range of colour and tone editing tools.
why do we have two separate products? Both these products should
be rolled into one and marketed as such. So far as where the work needs
to be done, well that's pretty obvious - VLT needs to become a
lot more intuitive.
More details on SilverFast 6 Ai, HDR and
DCPro can be obtained from
Imaging web site. There are also fully functional demo versions
of SilverFast available for download along with a number of tutorials.