Product Review: SilverFast Archive Suite 8 (and 8.5)

Product Review: SilverFast Archive Suite 8 (and 8.5)
Review by Lindsay Hodge, Writer and Photographer

Ever since the advent of digital photography, folks have been trying to figure out what to do with their negatives and slides. Are you going to throw your negatives away just because you can’t develop them? Letting them sit in a shoebox in the back of your closet, never to be used again, is just as disappointing an end.

If you are anything like me, you have stacks and stacks of negatives that are waiting to be archived digitally. Most photographers do, but hardly anyone has the time to do it. Not to mention museums and historical societies inherit collections that would shame even the most prolific photographer.

Many of us have come up with ways to scan, or re-photograph our negatives, slides and old prints. However, most of these solutions are time consuming, can be costly, and often have lower quality results.

Most scanners leave artifacts and dust in your image. Using Photoshop to remove these flaws is time consuming. In addition, many scanners will scan and optimize in one step. While that might seem nice at first, the fact is that you usually end up with low-quality images.

Using a high quality digital camera to re-photograph images might seem to be a great alternative. It certainly used to be my favorite way to archive images. But again, it takes a long time, each image has to be processed individually, and Photoshop doesn’t erase the dust or scratches for me.

Enter SilverFast’s Archive Suite 8.5. It can solve all these problems and more.

If you happen to have one metric ton of images to archive, then this two-part software was designed with you in mind. This highly functional, time-saving, lossless workflow will definitely blow your mind.

LaserSoft Imaging has been in the business of creating and managing high quality images for more than 30 years. With clients like The John Paul Getty Foundation, The Metropolitan Museum, Penn State and Yale Universities, The University of Arts Philadelphia, Georgia Tech Research Institute, and even NASA, you know they are doing something right!

One of the best features of SilverFast’s Archive Suite is you process your images in two steps. In the first step, you preserve your original image by creating a non-destructive file in the Ai Studio. In step two you optimize those files using HDR Studio’s image editing tools. The interface, workflow, and tools are identical in both programs, which makes it easy to use these programs together.

I don’t have a compatible scanner so I was unable to review the scanner specific tools or the Ai Studio in depth, but after watching the videos provided on the SilverFast website I was able to see the advantage it would be to have these tools.

I was, however, able to review the HDR Studio and I am really pleased with what I saw.

Step 1: Scan your images with SilverFast’s Ai Studio and a supported scanner.

In short, the Ai Studio works with your supported scanner to provide you with the highest quality image possible.

With Ai Studio you can use the Automatic Frame Finder feature and the JobManager to process multiple images from one scan into individual files!

Ai Studio then takes those scans and turns them into an HDRi RAW file. This file format is pretty much what it sounds like; HDR for High Dynamic Range; “i” for infrared; and RAW, the kind of loss-less, non-destructive file that you would expect from any high-end DSLR. This file contains more than your typical RGB image data. That infrared I just mentioned refers to a special infrared layer or channel, which really comes in handy when you are cleaning up your images in HDR Studio.

Step 2: Process your images with SilverFast’s HDR Studio.

One of the first things I noticed about this software was the plethora of acronyms used. Don’t let those intimidate you! A quick mouse-over will tell you just what they mean.

What I like about this software is that the tools are meant to be used in a certain order. You go from left to right and top to bottom, just like you would reading! Each tool comes up as you use it in a dialog box on the left-hand side of the screen where you can adjust the tool settings.

Each tool menu has your typical adjustment settings, plus you can treat them a little like you would layers in Photoshop. In the top right-hand corner of each menu you’ll see a check mark, an “x” and a flying window. The check mark allows you to hide or show (they say “activate” or “deactivate”) the tool. The “x” deletes the layer, or tool settings. The flying window pops that menu out, and you can move it around the screen so you can work with that tool more easily. In fact many of the tools are very similar to what you would find when processing RAW images in Photoshop.

My two favorite tools are ones that you definitely don’t find in Photoshop: JobManager and SRD/iSRD.

JobManager is the batch processing part of the software that allows you to transfer your tool settings from one frame to a set of selected frames, or to the entire batch. All you need to do is process the first image, then select which options you want to transfer to which of your other images in JobManager, hit play, and sit back while the computer works.

This would be one of those handy times when having an iPhone would be advantageous. SilverFast’s new iPhone app, JobMonitor works in tandem with JobManager. The app let’s you preview the files, and notifies you when your batch is complete.

JobManager is going to be your biggest time saver, second only to SRD/iSRD.

The SRD/iSRD is really the pièce de résistance of this software. When I saw what this little tool could do, I was sold on the rest of it. This is the dust/scratch/artifact detection AND correction tool. It does it all in one easy step and there is plenty of control over the functionality of the tool!

Just to be clear, SRD is what you would use on any files that are NOT the HDRi RAW format that you create in the Ai Studio. I tried this feature out on some scans I took with my little office flatbed scanner, and I used some photographs of old scratched prints. It worked great! I was able to adjust the level of detection the size and the color of the artifacts, and the software just found them and fixed them. You will automatically be prompted to use iSRD if you are using and HDRi RAW file.

Even though both features worked great, I definitely noticed a difference between the SRD and the iSRD. That infrared channel gives you the advantage for sure. The iSRD was able to detect more smaller artifacts, and correct larger more impressive flaws with ease. The SRD didn’t completely correct some of the larger flaws on a file that didn’t have an infrared channel. I promise that you will be amazed with how many flaws this software can detect and correct.

My Conclusions

This software is highly functional. It’s not too difficult to learn. The company offers plenty of tutorials and even offers a class to help you learn how to use the software to it’s fullest potential. SilverFast Archive Suite is guaranteed to save time and I can absolutely get behind the lossless, non-destructive, high quality images it can produce.

My only beef with the product is the price. The Archive Suite SE 8.5 (entry level) costs USD $299.00*, and the professional suite, HDR Studio 8.5 (with all the bells and whistles) is USD $499.00*. At this price point, and with the features this software offers it is definitely aimed at the professional archivist, and only the most enthusiastic of hobbyists. While it seems a little steep, I do feel like the product is definitely worth it.

All in all, I love this software. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has photographs, negatives and slides to archive, especially if you have large quantities to process.

*Prices are as of May 23, 2015 and may have changed since. Please click the banner for current pricing.