LaserSoft's SilverFast 4

The LaserSoft SilverFast 4 software for the Nikon Super CoolScan 2000 includes many new features that make it easier to use and at the same time more professionally competent to produce highly refined, finely adjusted scans. The SilverFast scan control interface includes four fully free-floating and adjustable windows to accommodate every user, including multiple monitor setups.
Photos © 1998, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

I reported on the new Nikon Super CoolScan 2000 in the February issue with all of its exciting new features like ImageClean and Multiple Scan Sampling. My enthusiasm was dampened only slightly by my finding the Nikon software not quite equal to the rest of the package. In my conclusion I noted I'd be looking forward to LaserSoft offering a new version of SilverFast for the LS-2000 scanner. Since its release I've now had some time to work with LaserSoft's SilverFast 4 for the Nikon Super CoolScan 2000. This new software makes using the LS-2000 scanner a totally new experience beyond any imagined expectations.

New SilverFast Features. Laser-Soft, with this new version of SilverFast for the Nikon LS-2000, has convinced me that powerful, complete, and finely tunable tools for color correcting can be both easy to use manually and function automatically so even photographers new to computer image processing can obtain professional-level results without difficulty. First of all, one of the crucial factors in successful image adjustment for scanning (and for that matter color correcting with an image editor) is the sequential order of the steps taken to select and use the tools to adjust the different dimensions of image quality. LaserSoft has resolved this with their new ScanPilot, which makes the entire process easier by taking you from one step to the next in the correct order. ScanPilot is a vertically oriented free-floating window with hot icon buttons for each SilverFast tool; just click on one after the other from top to bottom and each processing step is done either automatically or the correct manual dialog appears ready for adjustment. In addition, like all of the SilverFast tools and processes, ScanPilot can be customized to suit differences in individual requirements and work flow. Right within the ScanPilot window there is a preference button that allows you to remove or add any of the SilverFast tools and processes, and then ScanPilot automatically places the button icon in the correct position in the sequence. You can, if you prefer, also check a preference to turn ScanPilot off if you are experienced and want to work on your own.

The new SilverFast 4 includes greater flexibility to orient and size the preview window ideally, as well as clearly configured manual tool dialogs that are easy to adjust like the new 12 level Selective Color Correction tool.

Probably the most significant improvement LaserSoft has made to SilverFast from my perspective, having many images to scan on color negative film, is that the conversion process is now fully automatic just by selecting "negative" in the Pos/Neg dialog in the SilverFast Control Panel. Then, when a prescan is made, the inversion and interpretation of the color negative image values to positive RGB/ CMYK is accomplished as part of the processing that presents the preview image on screen. You can then apply image adjustments in the same manner as you would scanning a positive slide, automatically or manually, and the final scan will result in image values just as you would expect from the adjusted appearance in the preview window.

One of the main reasons I have found LaserSoft's SilverFast software particularly advantageous is its tools give you the ability to adjust an image to a very fine degree before the final scan. This makes having to use an image editor like Photoshop to fine tune an image file after scanning unnecessary. Besides saving time and effort, it also avoids the possibility of losing image data by making post-scan adjustments. This ability of SilverFast is aided by the tools it provides, particularly in my estimation the Selective Color Correction, which has been made easier to use and more selective in this Version 4 for the Nikon LS-2000 scanner. In previous versions the color wheel (gamut) was divided into the six primary colors. Now you have the option of using a selection twice as fine with the color wheel divided 12 times, providing selectable intermediate colors like orange and purple. The selection of one of these 12 is made easier by six "diode" buttons below the number data graph, and by using the arrow sliders on top to obtain access to all 12 as six are only shown at a time. Then once a color band is selected, like orange, you can use the HSL bars with their up/down arrows to increase or decrease hue position, saturation, and brightness.

In previous versions of SilverFast removal of color castes could be accomplished by the automatic adjustment as well as by the use of manually selecting the white and black point in the preview image with the special arrows provided from the main tool bar icon buttons. Now that diagonally divided button, half white and half black, has an eyedropper in its middle. Using the eyedropper you can now select what should be a neutral gray in image preview and any color caste will be removed from the mid tones.

At any point in the process of manually or automatically adjusting the color values in the image preview to obtain a desired set of characteristics in the final scan, you can select from the tool buttons the "Expert Dialog," which displays a chart that allows the alteration and refinement of the adjustments by their numerical value. Going to the bar of buttons along the frame edge of the preview window, there is now a set, easy access way to control the preview presentation and the physical functioning of the scan you are about to make. In previous versions of SilverFast a set of arrows associated with the window in the Densitometer dialog provided a means to set the orientation of the image as it is to be output by the scan. Now using the "U turn" button, the whole preview window and the prescan displayed can be reoriented, even though slides and film frames must always be inserted long ways into the scanner. The next button below provides the ability to flip the image vertically or horizontally. Next the airplane icon button allows you to hide or display the ScanPilot window. There is a "sun" button that turns the automatic lamp brightness function on or off. What looks like an enlarger bellows is a button that allows selecting automatic focus, or manual selection of the focus point, as well as turning off the focus function. And of course LaserSoft did not neglect the two exclusive Nikon features ImageClean and Multiple Sampling, providing buttons to turn cleaning on or off, and to select one, four, or 16 samplings.

General Impressions From Using SilverFast With The Nikon LS-2000. As usual these days I fit working with the Nikon Super CoolScan 2000 and the new SilverFast 4 software into my ongoing scanning and archiving of my library of old images. Many of these 20 to 30-year-old slides and negatives have shifted in color, and also many of the films I used were not as good as what is available currently. In other words, my hopes and expectations are at current levels of imaging standards, and the images I'm scanning whether from less than perfect technique or whatever, demand sometimes a lot of help to make them look as good as if the photos were shot yesterday. The combination of the very fine physical performance of this new Nikon scanner and the easy yet precise adjustments that can be made with SilverFast meet that challenge, and with quick efficiency as well. Even frequently slowed somewhat by turning on ImageClean or Multiple Sampling, I got a lot of work done, and out of all of it the disappointments were very rare.

I also found there is little difference between using the automated functions provided by LaserSoft in SilverFast or by using it manually in the results obtained. I choose to work with it manually more largely because experience has told me that some of my images need the application of particular adjustments to correct for certain identifiable film characteristics, as well as unusual characteristics due to the lighting used in a particular studio. Some-times this meant cropping into the gamut on the highlight or shadow end more than usual, or just the opposite to provide some room to manipulate the characteristic curve more effectively. Most users however, particularly with fewer problems to deal with because their images aren't on old films, will be fully satisfied using SilverFast's automated adjustments. A part of the reason is that there are some very effective options to choose from in the Image Type dialog, including Standard, Landscape, Skin Tones, Gold Tones, Technic, Evening, Snow, Night, and three selections to remove color caste. These pre-defined automatic settings function very effectively. In addition, any one preset can be "tuned" to meet an altered set of criteria which might suit individual expectations better.

Although SilverFast is quite capable of meeting exacting professional expectations, even with difficult images to scan, it is also capable of providing professional-like results used in the easiest automated mode. In addition, anyone new to scanning can readily learn to use more and more of SilverFast's manual capabilities through trial and error as all of the controls are readily accessed and each dialog is designed with apparent, simple logic. And what isn't maybe obvious is fully explained in the comprehensive documentation provided with the software.
The Bottom Line. LaserSoft's SilverFast 4 for the Nikon Super CoolScan 2000 adds substantially to the total cost in the amount of $499. Make that $550 if you also want the color management module which supports creating custom ICC profiles from an IT-8 color reference image supplied. This CMS feature I was not able to try as only the Mac version had it available with the early version I tested, but the Windows 98 ICM 2.0 color management support is now available, also. From having worked with the Nikon Super CoolScan 2000 initially with just the native driver, and now with SilverFast 4, I would find a way to afford Silver-Fast 4 if I had or wanted to buy the Nikon scanner. The consistently better results I obtained due to more precise and more efficiently adjusted scans was proof enough for me. This Nikon scanner is really the best and SilverFast assures getting the best out of it. For more information you can contact LaserSoft International, Inc., at 6529 Gulfside Rd., Longboat Key, FL 34228; (941) 383-7496; fax: (941) 387-7574; e-mail: lasersoft@earth or visit their web site at: