capsule review

SilverFast SE

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder SilverFast SE

Every scanner comes with software that allows the scanner to communicate with your computer. With it, you can scan your photos and documents, save them on your hard drive, e-mail or print them, and otherwise use them in your digital workflow. So, why should you consider spending money to replace your scanner's own software with SilverFast SE? Because it may make the difference between okay scans and great ones.

A basic fact of digital photography--whether the capture device is a scanner or a camera--is that pre-capture edits produce a better-quality picture than post-capture edits. In simple terms, when you edit your photo after it has been defined (by the scanner, by your camera or by your RAW conversion software, such as Phase One's Capture One), you literally destroy image-defining pixels. On the other hand, making edit decisions about the photo before it is defined--before the pixels are created--keeps the pixels' data intact.

So, when you're scanning pictures that mean a lot to you, it makes sense to use scanning software that gives you control over how the picture will be defined. SilverFast software has long been recognized for its excellent tools for controlling exposure, color, and dynamic range.

SilverFast installs as a stand-alone and as a Photoshop-compatible plug-in. You have several simple, predefined settings--such as for skin tones, landscape and such--but the power of this program rests in its advanced edit capabilities. Exposure tools include brightness, contrast, and saturation sliders; a histogram; a gamma curve; and white point/black point. You can even create 48-bit high dynamic range images. Color can be fine-tuned using a color wheel or selective color adjustment. SilverFast has tools for color restoration of old, faded pictures and the ability to use the color channels in the histogram and gamma curve for fine adjustments.

Don't know what all those terms mean or how to use the complicated-looking tools? Don't worry. The QuickTime movie tutorials, which are accessible from within dialogs, are a big help. Once you start using SilverFast SE, the immediate feedback from your visual results will help you understand better than any tutorial. Just try the tools; you may get hooked by their versatility and the power they give you for superior image quality.

SilverFast engineers its software to specific scanners, so to download, you need to state the exact scanner model you are using. The size of the file will also vary depending on the scanner. System requirements and operating system compatibility issues are generally a factor of the scanner itself, rather than of SilverFast.

SilverFast SE is the junior sibling of several other scanning and digital camera products, including SilverFast SE Plus, SilverFast AI and SilverFast AI Studio, which provide even more tools for control over your scanning. The latter two are professional versions with some of the most powerful pre-scan edit tools around, plus optional calibration targets for assuring that the colors your scanner produces are accurate. SE Plus costs about $89, and the two AI products range in price from $99 to $499, depending on the scanner and whether or not you purchase a calibration target. Check the vendor's feature comparison chart to see which one best suits your needs.

No question about it, SilverFast SE is not for everyone. If you just want a quick scan of your photo, whatever software came with your device will probably work fine for your needs. But if image quality is a high priority for you, check out the trial download of SilverFast SE.

Note: This link takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the version of the software appropriate to your scanner.

--Sally Wiener Grotta & Daniel Grotta

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder SilverFast SE

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