While I’m often surprised by just how many photographers have never captured an image on film, the reality is that most photographers who have firmly embraced digital photography still have a collection of film images. Perhaps in the excitement of all the latest developments in digital camera technology those "old" film images get forgotten, but there may be some very good reasons to revisit those photos.
Due to the drop in demand for film scanning caused by years of digital camera advancements, developments in new film scanners have been somewhat few and far between. On the software front, however, there continue to be new developments that take better advantage of existing scanner hardware and that offer the potential to breathe new life into your existing collection of film images. Now is a good time to create top-quality scans of those images for archival purposes, and you may be able to put those scans to use for other photography projects, as well.
On the forefront of new scanner software developments is SilverFast from LaserSoft Imaging. While the original version 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 may enable you to produce better prints than you previously thought possible. It also may 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 may normally 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. Multi-Exposure 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.
As a digital photographer, you may not give too much thought to the older images in your library that were captured on film. And yet, thanks to ongoing developments in scanner software, revisiting those film images can make a lot of sense. Whether you’re interested in preserving your earliest photos in digital form, or you want to make the most of your earlier photographs with digital technology, now is a good time to check your film captures and explore the possibilities. You just may be surprised by what the latest tools make possible with even your older photographic images.