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The unthinkable?: switching from Vuescan to Silverfast


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I'm considering the hitherto unthinkable: switching from Vuescan to Silverfast. I just want some opinions from users of Silverfast.

I've been pretty satisfied with Vuescan the last few years. But one scenario in particular exposes a problem I keep having trying to export totally flat, linear, color-negative scans: when the entire image is high-key (over-exposed or simply an image that's intentionally just one narrow section of the full tonal range), I find that pretty much nothing I do will give me a scan that is correctly flat and at the same time only fills the correct part of the histogram. Instead of this, the tones get redistributed across the entire range of the histogram - which gives a highly contrasty scan where the opposite is what I intended.
There may be workarounds - if you know how to fix this let me know - but my aim is to always simply export the flattest, linear, most neutral *batch* scan without needing to tweak output on a single-image basis. I find ColorPerfect, PhotoShop and Lightroom are all better at manipulating color and contrast etc than Vuescan, and I'd prefer to keep the scanning software out of the image-manipulation process, as far as possible.
This is where my experiments with the latest Silverfast demo come in: the output scans are all much flatter, and maybe more boring. But that's what I want!
They also sometimes seem to find slightly more color 'nuance' in things like masses of leaves in a forest of trees. This is a difficult thing to be sure about, as the color is influenced by the tonality.
Anyway, the extra bonuses are that the scans are much faster. They also have slightly sharper characteristics at 100% view - though they don't actually extract more detail than Vuescan at 4000dpi (so possibly just USM - if so, I'd love to know how to switch it off, as I don't want the software to do any pre-processing).
I'm still looking and comparing the two softwares, and I'm not sure yet, but there are definitely things that bother me about Silverfast:
- the price-gouging structure
- the censored support forum (and the often dismissive tone of the 'help')
- the crazily unintuitive and unhelpful (and downright ugly) interface - this gets in the way of everything. 
- the program often does something (like a prescan) when you simply close an interface element (like the frame-finder function)
- the lack of any in-depth documentation - apart from a third-party book that they sell(!!) you on their site
- the general feeling that the company don't give a **** about their users
I'd like to hear from people who use the software - especially with scanners like the Coolscan range - and are actually happy with it (or unhappy for specific reasons).
Edited by plasticman
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Hi Mani, this would be a dramatic prospect, indeed. But do you really find that it is difficult to recover a high-key/over-exposed C41 frame in post? I'm shooting all my C41 at two stops over and have no problems generally speaking.


Have you tried scanning as normal TIFF (not linear)? I find this gives much better results with the highlights on E6 films (which in a way is similar to the scenario you describe) and then post-process in Photoshop or Lightroom (and don't forget to try ACR; I am using this more and more these days for all three film types).


I'm curious - are you saying Silverfast scans faster with the 9000 than Vuescan? I would have thought the speed is very hardware-dependent (for instance, I see no difference between Vuescan and Nikon Scan).



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I downloaded a trial version. The program recognises my scanner (Nikon 9000, Firewire) but is unable to access and comes back with the message "no scanner". As far as support goes, I have had three emails, where the consensus is "we do not know, never had this". I still get messages to ask how I am doing with the trial, and if I want to upgrade. I stay with Vuescan, hope you get better experience.


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I haven’t made the change yet - the incredible price for the Coolscan9000 version of the software stops me from pulling the trigger until I’ve really exhausted all alternatives. 

Or rather, I’ve paid WAY more for software in the past, so it’s not really the price that’s the problem, but the entire philosophy of the company seems to be screwing their customers at every opportunity, ignoring complaints and problems, disregarding fundamental principles of UX (User Experience) and any semblance of intelligent user-interface development, and generally behaving as though we’re buying software in 1992 and not 2016.
The problem for me is that the results (when I finally work out how to get there, and after a LOT of crazy behavior from the application along the way) are at least a tiny bit better than Vuescan - and indeed Philip - the scans, even with multipass enabled, take a fraction of the time that Vuescan takes without multiple passes. I don’t know how to explain that. 
This is on the latest model MacBook Pro with 16GB of memory writing to an external SSD.
The most important thing for me is to *not* need to mess around with scans on an individual ad-hoc basis. I like to have my negatives, then a *totally neutral* digital version (a standard linear, non-messed around ‘negative’) which I keep untouched. The positive versions of the files can be messed around as I feel fit - in ColorPerfect or Ps or Lightroom etc - but I simply want scanning software to produce one version of the file that’s ‘untouched’ and unmediated. That’s all.
Edited by plasticman
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Incidentally, the Silverfast product line-up is also extremely confusing: what really is the difference between "Silverfast Ai Studio 8.8" and "Silverfast Archive Suite 8.8 (Ai Studio + HDR Studio)" ?


Maybe I should mail them to ask... but naturally they don't have an email address.

I can fill-in an online form (after clicking through a massive number of intermediate steps), but this requires an existing serial number...


Well at least if I buy their after-sales support package for €240 euros per year then "our experts will assist you immediately with words and deeds. A special phone number and an email address guarantee immediate help. For the equivalent of just 20,- a month you will also receive a time quota for remote support or online training on topics of your choice to the extent of 60 minutes in total."


Good grief.


I found this page, that helped more than the entire Silverfast website.

Edited by plasticman
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Sad not to get any input from people using Silverfast and satisfied with it. There must be someone who has a good word for the software?


Anyway I was doing some more quick tests when I got back from work tonight, and indeed there is a touch more detail visible in the scans than I could get from Vuescan. Nothing earth-shattering, and vastly overkill for my snapshots, but frustrating to know that such good results are wrapped in such a wretched application run by what appears to be a rather predatory company.


I actually wonder who is using the Silverfast? There are so few recent hits on Google, and those that exist are often of the "I hate Silverfast"-variety. There are virtually no blogs with helpful tips from professionals or enthusiasts using the software, and on Flickr what appears to be the 'official' Silverfast 8 group has one question (posted 2 years ago) with zero answers!


Is Silverfast the Quark of scanning software? Trying desperately to hang on by selling at inflated prices to a few corporate customers who haven't bothered to do a cost analysis of the alternatives?


I'm fascinated. But judging by the deathly quiet across the internet (and even relatively speaking in this thread) I may be the only person who's ever considered leaving Vuescan and crossing the barricades to join the opposition...

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I use Silverfast. I also own VueScan. I actually prefer the way Silverfast works.
What I truly enjoy is the film profiles (NegaFix) in Silverfast which saves me a loooot of time. NegaFix works a lot better for me than ColorPerfect in Photoshop.

I also use Auto-IT8 color profiling in Silverfast as the scanner included an IT8 target. Both these features ensures that I easily get great colors in my scans.


It's easy to get a "flat" scan in Silverfast. And it's also easy to get a processed scan in Silverfast.


On my scanner (Plustek OpticFilm 120) VueScan has some times caused the scanner to make weird noises, completely lock up, and all sorts of stuff that requires me to unplug the power to the scanner and restart the computer to get things working again. This has never happened in Silverfast. This leads me to believe that VueScans hardware driver routines aren't properly tested with every scanner (it has happened with several versions of VueScan, not just one).


Overall, after learning to use Silverfast, and learning to use all it's advanced features to it's potential, I could never go back to VueScan.


Everyone loves complaining about the complexity of Silverfast, yet they use Photoshop like it's no problem. Honestly, both Photoshop and Lightroom are far more complex than Silverfast is. But yet, the people complaining seem to do just fine in LR and PS. I guess they just like complaining about stuff, or maybe they just don't want to learn anything new, or struggle dealing with change.

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Many years ago when first getting into film scanning Silverfast seemed like a miracle, but a hard to understand miracle. Then I bought a Minolta Multi Pro that came with bundled Minolta software aimed at it's professional scanner, and that was also a miracle, but an easy to understand miracle. The wonder at being able to scan negatives had started to wear off by then, and I began looking long and hard at where the blocks and barriers were to making good scans ready for Photoshop. I soon started to use Vuescan not because it was initially any easier to understand (in some ways it isn't because it's interface is designed to cover all scanners) but because when you'd found the bits you need to use there were no barriers to overcome, it simply always seemed to do a good scan. And all I'm looking for is like many other people a flat boring scan which has all the information possible with none edited out by the scanner software.


The only thing that comes close to a glitch with Vuescan is the same issue indergaard has in that it sometimes (but not always) needs two attempts to load the drivers when starting a scanning session with the Plustek 120. Given the length of a scanning session for me this isn't a major problem. In fact I wouldn't care if it took six goes to load the drivers if it meant I didn't have to use Silverfast. 




Edited by 250swb
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Everyone loves complaining about the complexity of Silverfast... I guess they just like complaining about stuff, or maybe they just don't want to learn anything new, or struggle dealing with change.


Well I asked for positive input about Silverfast, and you gave me a very spirited defense of the program. But I have to say I don't feel you're being quite fair to the critics. 
These days I work at a tech startup producing software as a service. The development landscape is constantly evolving at an enormous speed, so I definitely don't mind 'learning anything new' or 'dealing with change'. But that doesn't alter the fact that Silverfast breaks almost all rules of good and intuitive interface design: 
- it randomly scatters buttons and functions across multiple areas of the screen; 
- it gives these buttons inscrutable, non-descriptive designs (in distracting, garish hyper-saturated colors); 
- on smaller screens, some of the essential buttons are hidden behind areas of the interface that need to be scrolled into view to be used;
- the buttons are given proprietary and unclear acronyms to 'describe' what they do (patient mouse-hovering is needed to get more information about what the acronyms mean);
- non-standard interface choices abound: for instance, in some parts of the interface, clicking on a tab acts as a 'switch' between different alternatives. The application gives no feedback when these actions are performed (so if you click on a tab to see what it contains, you make a settings choice - even if you only clicked on the tab to confirm that you didn't want that option);
- where the interface gives visual feedback, it often does not accurately reflect what the application is actually going to do. An example is the positioning of the scans in a batch. I wanted to test whether Silverfast could handle some 6x6 scans from my Arax that overlap each other. The multiple frames window allows each thumbnail to be carefully positioned to allow for this, and then when added to the Job Manager the thumbnails still show themselves containing each entire 6x6 frame. But when the batch scan is complete, none of these careful settings have been applied (rendering three totally useless scans). Looking carefully at the Silverfast site, there may be other ways to do this, but they're not entirely clear;
- the application will often begin an action without positive user action. For instance, closing an interface window (like the multiple frame-finder), will begin a multiple scan. The user gets no feedback about what's actually happening - ie: whether the app is performing a preparatory action (like a prescan), or whether it's begun the actual scan (which may be a twenty minute process);
- the application often overrides carefully slected settings when making multiple scans. For instance, I want a 4000dpi 48bit scan without negafix, but with what the application calls 'ME' (multiple exposure). If I carefully set this and add multiple jobs to the Job Manager, I can be surprised to find that subsequent jobs after the first one have reverted to 300dpi 24bit with negafix and without 'ME';
- there is no decent manual (apart from ridiculously selling a third-party book to fill the gap);
Naturally, with persistence I will learn workarounds for these issues, or even realize that I'm doing some things wrong. The learning curve would be easier if the last item above wasn't the case: if ever an application needed a decent manual, this is it. I guess the company is too dependent on its price-gouging 'support' packages (sold to dim-witted corporations I suspect) to ever make a decent manual for their obtuse program.
Having said all this, it's quite possible that i might swallow my frank disgust at the despicable marketing decisions the company has made, the grotesque user interface, and anti-patterns of usability, and actually pay the extortionate amount of money they want (calculated on the supposed quality of my scanner, rather than any special features in their application), simply because the results, when I've finally managed to make a scan against all odds, are better and faster than those from Vuescan.
I'd love to take a subset of the functions from this bloated behemoth (48 or 64 bit, highest resolution, multiple exposure batch scanning), re-make the interface to make it simply understood, and release it at a flat and sane price (not necessarily 'cheap' but not shamelessly gouging as their current pricing is) for all and any supported scanner. I'd also implement an uncensored support forum. And I wouldn't charge people the full cost of an already ridiculously inflated price to upgrade the program when it hasn't worked with new operating systems, or when it finally caught up with modern, 64bit OSes.
Edited by plasticman
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Incidentally, I guess I'm angry because it hurts that the film landscape is preyed upon by so many of these predatory companies. I see used Coolscans being advertised on eBay and Amazon for double what I paid for mine new. Other companies produce a DSLR copy stand and want $2,5k for it. Silverfast will charge you €340 for a licence for your Coolscan 9000, but if you add a Coolscan 5000, then you have to pay them €340 again. If you need to upgrade the software (possibly because of some random update to your computer OS) they will often charge you the full price for each and every one of your unnecessarily locked copies.


I seriously wish I had this specific expertise and the time to implement it: I'd love to produce uncluttered scanning software with integrity and the best possible results. Not like this dinosaur dependent on corporate gullibilty and bundling deals to keep its greedy corpse afloat.

Edited by plasticman
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I'll start by saying that I agree with almost everything in Plasticman's criticism of Silverfast.


I had Vuescan but then paid the exorbitant cost for Silverfast for my Coolscan 5000.


Despite the initial cost it has significantly simplified my workflow:

Batch-scan all negatives (4000dpi , 64Bit-RAW HDRi (colour) or 48Bit-RAW HDRi (B&W)

Output to Silverfast HDR8 for archiving/processing.

Files are then processed (minimally) at my leisure as tiffs for archiving/ final processing as usual in LR or PS.  


The HDRi scans are 'exact' unmodified files of the original negative including the IR channel.  Information is retained to allow processing through Silverfast at any time in the future (well as long as I have the program) as if the HDR file is the original negative in the scanner, in particular it retains an IR file for processing for scratch and dust removal off the digital file. I find this system very efficient.


But the Silverfast interface leaves much to be desired and the charges based on the perceived value/quality of the scanner is outrageous. Thank god I'm not using an old Heidelberg scanner!

Edited by MarkP
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The fact that I'm an engineer might be my advantage. I find the Silverfast UI just fine, but then again, I work with a lot of really horrible UI's, and a lot of command-line work as well (which I actually prefer to most UI's) so that might be the reason that I don't find Silverfast as horrible to work with.


I also have to say that my scanner shipped with a Silverfast 8.5 Ai Studio license and a Silverfast Auto-IT8 color profiling target. I didn't pay anything for the software itself (directly at least, it's baked into the price of the scanner). I would probably not pay up to €300 for a scanning software nowadays, regardless of the type of scanner. It's not worth that much. And especially if I had several scanners - having to purchase a license and even an upgrade license for each and every scanner separately is just outrageous!

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This discussion has piqued my interest in Silverfast for two reasons. The first is that I would be very interested in seeing examples of how much better it performs (like 100% crops). I'm always looking to improve my scanning and post-processing workflow. Given the cost of Silverfast (and I use two scanners, the 9000 and the V ED Coolscans so it would be double the price I guess), the improvements would need to be quite considerable.


The other reason is that I am these days wet scanning a lot of my 120 film and unfortunately Vuescan sometimes freezes with my Image Mechanics tray. This requires tiresome and time-consuming restarts of Vuescan and/or the scanner. Related to this I find that Vuescan has major problems finding the frames on 120 film which results in several previews and time-consumption. If these things would be fixed by using Silverfast I'd probably be open to switching even though I do find the price exceptionally high for me as a happy amateur.

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The main problem that I had with Silverfast were loosing connection to my Coolscan 5000. This "connection" problem disappeared with changing to Vuescan. Silverfast claimed it was a hardware problem.


The other main issue was that they tried to rip me off a second time when there software became incompatible with the then current iOS. There upgrade prices are ridiculous especially when you consider the initial price of the software. It is almost like buying it again. 

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This discussion has piqued my interest in Silverfast ...

...though I do find the price exceptionally high for me as a happy amateur.




The improvements over Vuescan as I see them:


- Silverfast seems to produce a flatter linear scan that doesn't clip at either end. Even when opened in Colorperfect it's very flat and boring - which is exactly what I want. Vuescan seems to me to introduce a curve even to the supposed flat linear scans;

- Silverfast is much faster. I gave up doing multi-exposure with Vuescan long ago, both because it became INTOLERABLY slow on the 9000, but also I was afraid of the wear that might be involved on the machine: the scanner always seemed to be laboring so much more. Multiexposure in Silverfast seems to take about as long as single scan on Vuescan. Haven't strictly timed these impressions yet;

- the scans have the TINIEST bit more visible detail. This is things like a tiny amount of fabric detail in a woven dress - barely visible only at 100%. When I look at the entire image on-screen, I feel like the added texture maybe helps the image. This is almost certainly my imagination.


When I have time over the weekend I will try to post some comparison crops. You will need your spectacles to see the difference.


The downsides:


- I haven't been able to do a successful batch scan so far. With persistence I think I might get there sometime over the next few weeks;

- all of the reasons I stated in the posts above - plus doubtless more rants to come;


If I needed to buy the software separately for two scanners (almost €700!!!!) I would almost definitely NOT do it, no matter how many times Vuescan froze on me. Not so much the amount, but the principle would bug me far too much for a marginal improvement. 

The scariest thing is that the company has charged users the full price for upgrades - somewhere (typically I don't recall where) I read one user ranting about how they'd been forced to pay multiple full-price upgrades when Lasersoft finally managed to build a 64bit version of the app for modern OSes (several years after the competition). So even if you budget for a one-off expense, it may come back to bite you very hard in the future.


PS: Just an aside - there's been occasional talk about financial trouble at the company - though all just rumor as I understand it. Considering the Quark-like nature of their business this wouldn't surprise me though. So maybe the whole edifice may collapse any time. That wouldn't necessarily be a concern if it weren't for the insistent way their software 'phones home'. I'd be concerned that when the servers are no longer there to answer, the software will be 'bricked'.

Edited by plasticman
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I should re-title this thread 'NOT switching...'

I did a few more comparison tests this morning. The more I looked at the Silverfast scans, the more it seemed to me that they had simply ramped analog gain - there was definitely less blocking in the shadows, but the highlights were nearer to blowing out, and the sharpness of the grain was accentuated.

And then sometimes the Silverfast scan showed a touch more detail somewhere, and sometimes the Vuescan image held tiny details where they'd apparently disappeared in the Sf scan. There's no point even posting examples: it would just lead to sideline discussions about 'image quality' or scanning technique or (most probably) exposure mistakes.

So increasing analog gain evenly across all three channels in the Vuescan scan gets as close to the Silverfast scan as I need to. With the added convenience of a (relatively) understandable interface, and familiar workflow.

Sorry for all the noise and ranting in this thread. Still very sad at the desert of innovation that fills the whole scanning landscape. If I had  expertise in this area I'd definitely have a shot at developing a scanning solution aimed squarely at photographers. If nothing else, Ed Hamrick has said that he generates sales of $3 million per year, so it's surprising there's not more healthy competition in this field.

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"Sorry for all the noise and ranting in this thread."


I meant to write 'all MY noise and ranting'. Apologies if anyone mistakenly took my comment to mean anything else


One very last thing, I forgot to write one advantage that Silverfast definitely has over Vuescan: write times are at least double the speed over Vuescan, and this includes 2 passes for the multi-exposure setting, against just a single pass for Vuescan. So if speed is an important enough factor, then Sf is far ahead

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  • 7 months later...

I don't know if this will help.  I found a couple Youtube videos showing how to use...

Silverfast with the Epson V700/V750 scanner 




Silverfast 8 Scans to Nikon 9000



There's more, but I don't know if it will help if your looking for something very particular. 



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