Photography, Production

SilverFast 8.5 takes frame finding to a new level, adds iOS JobMonitor and true RAW format

SilverFast 8.5

SilverFast 8.5 is another milestone version of this industry-standard scanner software. The application has been updated with IFF+Engine , a new, intelligent frame finding engine, a new JobManager that works in tandem with a brand new iOS JobMonitor, and the new archival file format HDRiRAW. SilverFast 8.5 will control and work with most scanners, but it’s obvious that you are best off to match the best scanner with the best software. Although SilverFast 8.5 will work with any modern photo scanner, my favourites are the Epson Perfection V800, V850, (and V750 and V700). They are a perfect match for SilverFast 8.5 because with scanners the quality of the scan is dictated by the hardware and these are the best scanners for all-round photo scanning. Nevertheless, even if you can’t afford or have the space to operate one of these, SilverFast 8.5 will work perfectly with other film or flatbed scanners and it will get the best out of them.

The word “intelligent” is often abused when it comes to software. We have seen it all: from intelligent databases to intelligent noise-reduction algorithms. One area where intelligent algorithms are really working today is pattern recognition. The software that effortlessly recognises your car’s licence plate so the police can deliver your fine at your doorstep in hours instead of days or weeks, is somewhat related to SilverFast 8.5’s most baffling new feature: IFF+Engine.

SilverFast 8.5 find frames

The IFF+Engine (Intelligent Frame Finding) has much in common with AI (Artificial Intelligence). It searches the scanner flatbed or film holder for photos, slides and filmstrips and is meant to create the appropriate frames in a breeze. I’m always very sceptical when the word “intelligent” is used in a claim, so I tried it out with a whole bunch of slides and filmstrips. I used slides and filmstrips exposed by different cameras, each in their associated scanner holder. The results were stunning for two reasons:

  • The photos were found with no exception and the frames were created as accurately as I’d do it manually
  • I expected SilverFast 8.5 to take at least 20 seconds to find and create every frame, but the operation finished in less than five (5!) seconds.

To be honest, not every frame was fully used. My old cameras all created a fuzzy edge that you couldn’t possibly define by a straight line. The software recognised each image’s edge where the fuzziness stops and the sharp content starts. If you want to make sure you have that fuzzy edge scanned as well, a frame outset option ensures that an image isn’t cropped at all during scanning.

Creating the frame outset is as easy as opening the SilverFast Preferences panel and switching to the “Auto” tab. Enter a value of 5% (or more/less) into the “Find Frames: Outset” text field and a safety margin of this size will be added to all frames when starting the scanning process.

The frame outset capability is important because cameras from different brands and makes (and perhaps manufacturing batches even) may use a different film area width to expose the film, while not every camera transports the film at equal distance. Therefore, the actual image size on slides and filmstrips, as well as the distance between individual images on filmstrips will slightly vary from film to film. That’s why the image width can sometimes be 34.8mm instead of exactly 35mm, for example. The new IFF+Engine takes this into account and detects differences in image size up of to 1/100th of a millimetre.

SilverFast 8.5 JobManager

The JobManager is SilverFast’s tool for efficient batch processing. Batch processing images involves scanning multiple frames automatically in sequence. This saves a lot of time as you can place multiple photos, slides or negatives on a scanner’s flatbed and have them scanned without further action on your part. In SilverFast HDR, the JobManager takes this even further as any number of previously scanned RAW image files can be optimised in batch mode automatically.

SilverFast 8.5 job manager queueIn the past, I found the JobManager relatively complicated and not very flexible. That has changed with the new version. The new JobManager has become much more efficient than its predecessors. It not only scans the frames automatically, but also remembers the adjustments you created when you started the process throughout the entire batch operation. JobManager further allows you to save, load and modify frame sets, and enables you to monitor the scanning progress on an iOS device using the brand new JobManager app.

When using the JobManager with SilverFast Studio 8.5, you start by creating an individual scan frame for each image. Each frame will correspond to a job in the queue of the JobManager. You can now choose to optimise images later by scanning to RAW image scans and archive these on hard disk using the Adobe DNG or SilverFast’s own HDRiRAW format.

An alternative workflow is to optimise the images first and then batch scan them. In such a workflow — and certainly when you’re batch processing photos you took with the same camera in one session or in different sessions but under the same circumstances (lighting, white balance, etc.) — you will usually want the JobManager to use the settings of the first photo for every next image you’re going to scan. In the new version that is easy: you just copy the adjustments of your one photo to all subsequent frames. Settings include the magnification, but also the tone curves, for example.

SilverFast 8.5 job manager copy its settings

With SilverFast HDR and HDR Studio 8, working with the new JobManager is a little different. As part of a SilverFast archiving workflow, you can use the JobManager for HDR image processing. RAW image files that have been archived with SilverFast can then be loaded onto the Virtual Light Table (VLT) of the SilverFast HDR (Studio) 8.5 image processing software.

Select the images you want to process, move them to the JobManager, adjust your image settings and optionally copy these to a multitude of images, and you’re ready. In previous versions of the JobManager every single job was executed in sequence. With version 8.5, you can set up multiple jobs in parallel and automatically process them one after the other.

To speed up jobs even more, you can set up a HDR Watch Folder. You can then set up SilverFast so it scans into that folder and SilverFast HDR will watch this folder (also in a network environment), and pick up the scan as soon as it’s finished. There’s no need to wait until a full batch of scans has finished or to physically move the files to start image optimisation with a HDR Watch Folder anymore.

In the past, the JobManager would sometimes be unstable. The new JobManager seems to have become better in that respect as well. In my tests, it behaved exemplary. Better still, the people at LaserSoft Imaging told me they’re already working on the next time saving feature: a Single Archive Command, which basically is a “one button solution”. You will only have to set resolution, format (e.g. HDRiRAW), target folder, and whether to use iSRD and/or Multi-Exposure. After these options have been set, you will only need to press a single button. All functions will execute automatically after that.

SilverFast HDRiRAW

The new SilverFast HDRiRAW file format, which is available starting with version 8.5, is an archival file format. It is meant to provide security and flexibility. It allows you to non-destructively process images. The HDRiRAW files are the equivalent of the camera RAW format. However, these files originate from an analogue source, your slide, negative or positive photograph. They are real raw data with no gamma correction applied, as that would lose picture information. This is why the older HDR(i) photos looked dark and weren’t recognised as RAW files in other applications. I was therefore surprised to find Capture One Pro and the “Development Persona” of the new Affinity Photo app to recognise the new HDRiRAW files as RAW files.

SilverFast 8.5 hdriraw format

However, I also found you really need SilverFast HDR 8.5 or HDR Studio 8.5 to be able to quickly create colour-true JPEG, PDF or 8/16-bit TIFF versions of these files. The SilverFast HDR 8.5 apps not only develop the HDRiRAW format properly in seconds, they also contain the typical SilverFast tools that allow you to quickly correct for scanner “flaws” like dust, scratches and off-colours.

I was impressed with the new format being a true RAW format that is recognised as such by third-party software. The reason why HDRiRAW can be considered to be a RAW file is because in addition to the image data, colour management information and infrared data (if the scanner allows) for dust and scratch removal are saved with the file. It’s actually better than the digital RAW format that comes out of your digital camera. The latter differs for every camera manufacturer while the HDRiRAW file is the same format no matter which scanner you’re using.

It’s actually a complete image data file format, so that even as your collection of HDRiRAW files grows, future versions of SilverFast will be capable to retrieve all the information your scanner was able to extract from the analogue original. Even Negafix profiles for negatives are included in the file format if they’re available. Optimised images can be exported as ‘spin-off’ TIFF files, while retaining the original image data if the HDRiRAW file. This allows you to create various image optimisations starting from the same original, e.g. for comparison purposes.

SilverFast 8.5 hdr studio hdriraw formatHDRiRAW files are as perfect as your scanner’s technology and quality allows for. By the same token, HDRiRAW always gives you the best foundation for optimisation. It is therefore the best way to quickly build a large digital archive, while also giving you a good foundation to process your individual images. Best of all, I found you don’t need to be a scanning or digital imaging expert as SilverFast HDR or HDR Studio 8.5 will do all the heavy lifting for you.

Scanning photos, slides and negative film to the HDRiRAW format ensures your analogue originals are always protected against loss and destruction. It guarantees you have digital copies that contain all the image data that you possibly could capture at the time of scanning with the scanner used. Image optimisations using SilverFast HDR (Studio) won’t affect the HDRiRAW file, effectively enabling you to benefit from a non-destructive workflow.

If you have HDR(i) files that were created with a previous version of SilverFast, you can easily convert these and all other digital images into the HDRiRAW format using the latest version of SilverFast HDR (Studio). Your digital originals will remain on your system unprocessed while the processed images will be exported as copies.

The iOS SilverFast JobMonitor

SilverFast 8.5 ios job monitor on ipad air 2Finally, SilverFast 8.5 comes with a brand new iOS monitoring app that is free to download from the App Store. The app monitors the status of scanning and image processing jobs. The jobs must be running on a computer running a copy of SilverFast 8 and connected to the same LAN. The jobs must have been initiated by JobManager.

The JobMonitor app will display the progress of scans or image optimisation jobs on your iPhone, iPad or iPod using a Wi-Fi connection. A preview image and progress bar displays for every image in the current job queue. If a Wi-Fi connection is not available, a Push Notification will notify you once your scanner has finished its current job and the iOS device is within range of a network again.

The JobMonitor app connects to SilverFast 8 running on Mac and Windows systems. Apple’s Bonjour protocol has to be installed on the system. For the JobMonitor app to send Push Notifications to your iOS device, ports 2195, 2196 and 5223 are required to allow inbound and outbound TCP packets.