LaserSofts SilverFast DCPro

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LaserSoft's SilverFast DCPro processing control interface is essentially the same as the SilverFast Ai scanner version. It provides a large, high quality, real-time interactive preview and efficiently accessible tools to adjust every aspect of a photograph's characteristics.

When editing photo files, Photoshop is the first application that comes to mind. When it comes to scanning software, LaserSoft's SilverFast has acquired a similar association. However, most who are familiar with SilverFast, due to the many scanners that come with the software, are not aware LaserSoft also has had years of experience using the same basic set of color correction and adjustment tools for use with digital camera capture. Now, that combined scanner and digital camera expertise has been applied to raw digital camera file acquisition and processing with the new LaserSoft SilverFast DCPro.

The power and capabilities of the software to yield exceptional image quality from raw files was revealed by images made under challenging conditions, all taken in a fiber glass commercial greenhouse. Daylight filtered through fiber glass has properties that yield a skewed and complex color cast that is only partially corrected by a white balance adjustment. All of the images required a color cast removal adjustment that varied considerably from one image to the next in the set. The result was SilverFast DCPro provided brilliant accuracy. I was astounded, particularly in comparison to a similar set of images made a year before in the same greenhouse on Kodak Supra 100 color negative film.
Photos © 2003, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

This new iteration of SilverFast functions just about the same as the LaserSoft driver for scanners, with some additions. One new feature is VLT (Virtual Light Table), a browser-like separate screen that generates thumbnails for raw image files in a folder or on a storage device connected to your computer. In addition to providing thumbnails from raw camera files for easy visual identification, another pane supports the creation of albums containing thumbnails of selected images (by simply dragging and dropping). There's also direct support for printing pages of thumbnails.

Along with this image management capability comes ease of use. The main DCPro processing screen can be directly activated to process a particular raw image file by double-clicking on a thumbnail in VLT. There's also a new window with an interactive slider for adjustment of Exposure and White Balance.

A Familiar Interface
Those familiar with SilverFast will recognize all of the auto-adjustment options (which can be customized and saved for future use) and manual tools to adjust and optimize the gamut (Histogram), the tonal adjustments, color balance, and selective color adjustment controls. To round out the package, an included camera version IT-8 reference chart can be used to create a custom color management profile for your digital camera. It should be noted, however, that the usefulness of camera profiling is limited to situations like studio portrait and product photography that involves a consistent lighting source. In short, SilverFast DCPro correctly assumes a raw camera file content is essentially the same as the raw data generated by a scanner.

Using SilverFast DCPro
The raw camera files I used with SilverFast DCPro were from a number of different shooting sessions over the last few months, and were made most recently with a Canon EOS 10D, and previously a Canon EOS D60, as well as an Olympus E-20N. Some of these files have been converted and processed by other software, including the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in, to result in color corrected TIFF files I used for comparison.

Although the SilverFast DCPro I installed is the first release version, LaserSoft had not as yet received all of the data from Canon for the EOS 10D, so the conversion process of a few of the EOS 10D files I worked with did not produce results comparable to the majority of shots taken with the camera. As I completed my work for this report I learned the needed resources were received from Canon by LaserSoft for the EOS 10D and a revised version with the upgrade would be available in a couple of weeks, long before this report would be published. And as new cameras are introduced, support for them will also be added and made accessible by download from the LaserSoft website.

Similar To Film Scan Work
The actual experience of processing the camera files was like that of processing film scans. Although digital cameras today are quite sophisticated and autoexposure control places the image information quite consistently within the sensor's gamut, the subject's brightness range seldom fills the gamut exactly, and often not even closely. This necessitates expanding the image information to fill the gamut, and usually the midpoint also requires adjustment to affect a desirable overall brightness.

Frequently, some curve adjustment is also needed in shadows or a reduction of brightness in highlights is required to bring out detail. I also found that although the camera's auto white balance does get the image color temperature in the ballpark it frequently is too warm or cool. This makes the SilverFast White Balance adjustment slider a valuable tool.

Working with DCPro I was initially surprised to find that many of the image files I processed had a color cast. By moving the color cast slider control in the Histogram dialog from 0 percent to sometimes close to 100 percent, colors in the image would change from dull or muddy to bright as the cast was removed.

SilverFast's VLT screen provides a set of automatically generated thumbnails of raw camera files in a folder or on an attached drive. This makes selection and organization, as well as subsequent processing, just a double-click away. It is also a well-designed utility to create albums of processed camera files for future search and reference, as well as printed thumbnail pages. The browser-like access to both raw and processed files also provides easy, readable access to Exif raw camera file data.

White Balance Factors
In actuality, white balance only affects one dimension of the spectrum on a line between blue and a warm red. Light on a subject can be more complex and is also affected by illumination reflected from the subject's surroundings as well as elements in the atmosphere, like dust, smoke, and definitely smog in urban areas. Unlike film, digital camera sensors have sensitivity characteristics that do not match human vision, which can be compensated using the selective color adjustment tool in SilverFast. I found this a particular advantage with a number of flower images I had made, particularly with flowers that have hues and tints ranging from cool magentas and lavender to deep, cold purple. These flower colors often fluoresce and look brighter to the eye than captured by film or a digital camera sensor.

Although the three cameras I used to make the files I processed with SilverFast DCPro each produced what I consider very good image qualities when processed by other means, I found SilverFast allowed me to bring out much more of what I expected and wanted to see in the final image. This also extended to adding just the right amount of sharpening with SilverFast's very controllable, highly magnified, side by side thumbnail unsharp mask control window. In each case, once all of the adjustments were finalized and I clicked the Process button, the image as opened in Photoshop at full resolution seldom required even one tweak of further adjustment.

Evaluation And Recommendation
For anyone who has used LaserSoft's SilverFast Ai with a scanner and has learned how to use it with skill through experience, that knowledge is directly applicable to SilverFast DCPro. This alone provides a powerful rationale for choosing it as your digital camera access and raw file processing software. For others with established photographic experience, LaserSoft's SilverFast is the most photography friendly set of software tools you can use. It is quite comprehensive in the breadth and depth of its editing capabilities. From my so far limited experience with SilverFast DCPro, I expect it will become my software of choice for processing raw digital camera files. It is available at a special introductory price of $299.

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