Recovering Memories: Scanning with SilverFast Ai Studio 8

Scanning negatives is both time-consuming and a dark art. I have spent many Sunday afternoons re-scanning old negatives in the hope that I will have finally that found my technique has become stronger than it was when I last scanned that particular photograph. Technology also improves the software, and while scanners have died as far as manufacturer innovations, one has the comfort of knowing that hardware will not become obsolete easily…until USB and the software makers go under.

Case in point, LaserSoft produces the only professional scanning software platform for the major hardware scanners. SilverFast Ai 6.6 has been my software for the past two years, if only because Epson’s included software looks like it was built in the 1980s and it seldom matched OS X platform updates. If you look online, then you will see mentions of the recent forced upgrade implemented by LaserSoft to match the OS X Lion platform – yes, you should always check your major softwares before upgrading, but no, I did not consider this when I was more concerned about ProTools and Adobe. Where did that leave me? I needed to pay $150 for the new upgrade or lose my ability to scan on my MacPro. While I hate paying for a forced upgrade, it seemed like one of those necessary changes, and companies do need to make money to keep going. I get that. Problem was that the demo crashed consistently, the customer support emails were useless, and I felt like the company might collapse before producing a working upgrade – just check out Hamrick’s offer to switch to VueScan to gain an inkling of what I am talking about. ¬†Problem: I do not like VueScan.

Where does that leave SilverFast and my Epson V700 today? Fortunately, they produced a working upgrade this week, and while it was a sour candy to buy it, the interface is much nicer to behold, there have been no further crashes, and I can now use it to scan my best work from the archives. The whole experience has left me wary of upgrading any more of my software for a long time on the Mac Pro. Every program I need to produce professional work currently works [imagine such a concept], and it is at a golden age of efficiency and quality. The reality is that computers are going to change within the next five years from professional workhorses running high-quality peripherals to consumer-based media toys that will sort of do what machines can do today. Like the old film versus digital/ vinyl versus mp3/ paper book versus ebook reader debate, consumers will be told that they do not need the resolution, dynamic range or hassles of old technology…and maybe most people do not, but I want it.

What I notice most about the scanning of these 35mm negatives is that I did a terrible job of my first scans. At that time I was using an Epson 4490 that I had purchased for the school, and frankly I had no idea what I was doing. That being said, the first photograph featured here was featured by Vistek or Henry’s [I cannot remember which] at a trade show, and the scan was nowhere as good as the one today. One for technology.

I think that I had all of my Egypt photos developed and scanned at a Shopper’s Drug Mart on the Danforth. I had come back to Toronto with a life to rebuild, and the last thing I cared about was scanning the images of Egyptian ruins. The two photographs of Karnak were taken with my Canon EOS 3 camera in 50 degree Celsius temperatures at noon; terrible conditions for photography. Taking a look at the photographs I have rescanned myself, I have to say that a re-visit to those negatives is going to be a high priority this week.

India was shot with a broken Pentax Spotmatic. The fact that I have any photographs at all from that trip is a miracle. The entire adventure was a fiasco and far from the magical journey that I had imagined. I look forward to heading there again one day with V. I would definitely shoot film there again, though. Digital might be convenient to ensure that I get the shots, but you really need the dynamic range of film to work with the colours when you return home. Unlike Egypt, it was only 47 degrees in Delhi – mad dogs and Englishmen, mad dogs and Englishmen.

The key to scanning these decade-old negatives is to use scratch and dust reduction in Photoshop CS5. The algorithm is far superior to previous versions and the content aware patching makes easy work of what is left. My current method is to scan at 24oo dpi at 2×1.something, correct the colours in Lightroom, clean in Photoshop, remove noise on a separate layer [but layer mask back in areas where sharpness is critical], and then process in Color efex Pro with Contrast Only and Image Border filters.

The green door image appeared on a coffee shop mural a year after I returned from India – not my photograph, but a professional photographer’s same shot. At that point I realized that I might be able to produce comparable work if I poured my heart and soul into photography. I wonder what type of photograph I could make with this scene today using my Hasselblad 501 CM or even the Leica?

In the end, I will scan a hundred or so photographs this week. Ideally, I would like to create a book or a series of prints for my own keepsakes. We so seldom remember to print our work that when the digital files go dead or the negatives lose their colour accuracy we are left with fading pieces of our memories. I want a record of who I was, what I saw and how I saw this world. Maybe no one cares…maybe a future generation will come across my work and appreciate it for the fact that I printed copies in an age when no one else bothered. Maybe the question about whether scanning film and shooting film is old-fashioned and dated? Do these look like your father’s 35mm film images or those shot with a bleeding edge Canon or Nikon? I am glad I could get my scanning software back online to revisit my work and life.

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