Solutions: Scanning Revisited

Breathe new life into your old film images by using powerful next-generation scanning software

SilverFast Ai Studio 8

This might be one article you didn’t exactly expect to find yourself reading. After all, film photography has almost become a niche pursuit, and most photographers who train their lenses on natural subjects adopted digital photography more than a few years ago. And yet, chances are, you still have a collection, perhaps a large collection, of images captured on film.

Due to the drop in demand, developments in new film scanners certainly have been relatively sparse. However, there have been new developments in software for scanning, which offer the potential to breathe new life into your existing collection of film images. And even if you don’t anticipate finding outlets for your existing images captured on film, now is a good time to create top-quality scans of those images for archival purposes in order to protect against the inevitable degradation of the original transparencies over time.

On the forefront of new scanner software developments is SilverFast from LaserSoft Imaging ( While the original version of SilverFast shipped in 1995, new updates continue, including the latest SilverFast 8 released in late 2011.

With a variety of advanced features, SilverFast makes it possible to extract maximum information from your slides and negatives, which in many cases might enable you to produce better prints than you previously thought possible. It might also mean that some of your older film images can once again compete with your latest digital photos.

One of the more advanced capabilities of SilverFast is its HDR technology. You’re probably already familiar with high dynamic range imaging, which has become popular among many photographers and involves capturing multiple photos at different exposure settings in order to maximize the amount of detail and information that can be presented in a single image. SilverFast’s HDR feature doesn’t involve multiple exposures, but rather takes advantage of the original high-bit data gathered by the film scanner to exert greater control over the final result. Specifically, SilverFast HDR is able to adjust highlight and shadow values, fine-tune tonal gradations within the image and more—all aimed at maximizing the level of detail and overall quality in the scanned image.

SilverFast also continues its long tradition of putting the infrared channel created by a variety of different film scanners to use in order to enable automated cleanup of dust and scratches. This allows SilverFast to produce an image that has had most of the major blemishes removed without significantly reducing image sharpness or detail.

Of course, while SilverFast HDR isn’t what you normally might think of as HDR in light of the use of this term in digital imaging, there’s a feature of SilverFast that is, in effect, an HDR tool. That’s Multi-Exposure, which produces two scans of the image and then blends the information from each into a single image with a higher dynamic range. This enables the software to overcome limitations in the film scanner itself, but more importantly, to extract the maximum amount of information possible out of the original transparency.

One feature that may not turn out to be as helpful as you would expect is SilverFast’s automatic calibration, which requires an industry-standard IT-8 target image (at an additional cost) to create a scanner profile. While this calibration feature has proven to be capable of producing highly accurate color in your scans, accuracy isn’t always beneficial, as in the case of slides or negatives that have shifted in color over years in storage. That said, if you want to ensure that each scan is as color-accurate as possible relative to the original, this is a worthwhile option to consider.

While you probably make an effort to stay informed of the latest developments in digital cameras, lenses, software tools and more, you might have overlooked the latest updates in scanner software. If so, it just might be worthwhile for you to revisit the possibilities. If you have a film scanner (or access to one) and would like to explore what updated technology might make possible for some of your photographic images captured on film, tools like SilverFast are worth a close look.