The Scanning Drama

Montecute House, Somerset

I had a couple of days off work, a week or so back, so I had a day out at Montecute House in Somerset. Nice steak pasties!! Of course I took along one of my film cameras, this time loaded with a roll of Portra 160. A good day out was enjoyed!

My film scanner has been getting worse for ages and slowly developing faults, that at first, meant a little more effort in photoshop, then it got to the point of no return, I dumped it! It was old and didn’t owe me anything – especially since starting this blog it’s work load has increased! It was time for a replacement. After a bit of research I purchased a Plustek 8100. Then began the (completely un-necessary) drama.

I am a photographer, my main hobby is photography. I do not have a PHD in computing, nor do I want one! I un-packed the box, I’m one of those people who keeps the box and everything that comes with it, the loft is full of them! I set it up, loaded the driver supplied, and off I didn’t go! After an hour of google etc I determined that my computer is 64 bit, but runs on Windows 32 bit (Why? What’s the point of that?). So I loaded the other driver – nothing. I went to the website and installed that driver, nothing, so I loaded the fourth, the 64 bit from their website, finally the PC could see the scanner. So Just to recap an hour of computing, to deduce that I have a 64bit PC running 32 bit windows, but uses a 64 bit driver! Really??

The software supplied is Silverfast 8, (also 64 bit in case you are wondering!) I tried a “quickscan”, a button located on the front of the scanner and it produced a reasonable image, thumbnail size. Who would want such a small file eludes me but there it is. I entered the software, and tried a full size scan. Terrible, really awful. I tinkered with controls that looked familiar to me from photoshop, but it’s littered with controls, USM, AAC, SRD, SCC, GCC, ACR, and so on. After another hour I had 3 poor scans, and gave it up as a bad job.

Not one to be beaten I did some web research, written by humans who try to use this stuff, first thing was to “re-set” the software. I set a sensible quality, and made a scan, on auto, with the Portra 160 setting.

Test 1

Much better than the first attempt but as this is Portra 160 on the Portra 160 setting, a little disappointing. I ventured into the GCC (global colour correction!), and set in a correction I thought about right, and made another scan.

Test 2

Better again and getting there. Too light so I tied the densitometry, and histogram. From what I can see there is no-where near enough range for this and this scan is made on the setting at the darkest possible! No doubt there is further control somewhere in there but I resorted to photoshop at this point.

Not perfect, but better.

My point to all of this, is that the ONLY thing this does, is scan film. It can’t be aimed at anyone other than a film user! Why doesn’t it have controls that are understandable? I appreciate that we all have different levels of knowledge, that’s fair enough, I’m not even arguing that it should be made “simple” for a lowest common denominator, or that we shouldn’t want/be prepared to learn something, but while us “film” users all understand aperture, light/dark, colour, even with photoshop most of us would understand “levels”, why the babble? Finally I’ve got a half decent scan, and of course I shall proceed to develop my knowledge. I’m pleased with the scanner so far, the last scan above is OK. I pity anyone who attempts to use one who has less knowledge than me. I came a whiskers away from sending it back as unusable!

7 thoughts on “The Scanning Drama

  1. When I got my Plustek 8100 last year, I just started up my existing version of VueScan and it interfaced immediately with the Plustek with no faffing about. I never bothered with the drivers bundled with the scanner,

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    1. Hi Jim, that seems the way forward, the scanner as far as I can tell is a good scanner and produces good results, I think the software will too eventually, it’s just such an unfriendly user experience it detracts from the scanner – if I were Plustek I’d look elsewhere for a software partner! I’ll get there!! Cheers Andy

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  2. Since I started developing film last month, I’ve been using one of those inexpensive Kodak Scanza. Yeah, it’s not pro quality, but I wasn’t expecting that for $100. But it’s a standalone scanner using an SD card, so I don’t have to worry about software–scan, then pop the SD card in my laptop, do some light editing in photoshop, voila.

    Someday I’ll get a better scanner. But reading stuff like this scares me a bit.

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    1. Hello! For film this is what I did, but after a while I got odd colours, even from the same neg, later I got un-even lighting across the image – that was the last straw! I actually was chatting to someone only the other day who had the same issues, so perhaps this is how that go? It was time for me to up-date. I don’t want to put anyone off, the scanner itself seems great, and produces good quality. 10 out of 10, especially for value. The software that is supplied with it, is another story, I’d give that 5 out of 10, as it does not appear to have enough “range of control” – or at least that I’ve found so far, and that is because the “user friendliness / common sense” of the software, I’d give minus 5 to, on that front, it’s awful! Far too many three letter acronyms, USM,GCC etc etc.. I’ll get there, it just seems needlessly complicated to me! – Cheers and happy cycling! Andy

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  3. The Plustek 8100 itself is a great scanner and produces loads of detail. The tricky part is, as always, the software and getting to know how to get the best from it. I only use the bundled Silverfast for B&W stuff as I’ve got a setup that I like there (the only thing I change is to look at the different “Negafix” profiles to see which makes for the bast result – often the dedicated profile is not the one that I use for the film in question (e.g. I might use the Delta 400 profile when scanning HP5+).

    I use Vuescan for scanning slides and colour negatives – the latter I scan as linear RAW files and convert in Negative Lab Pro (although that’s just the latest in a long line of methods I’ve tried). With colour scans I think the best you can hope for is something that *looks* right and, most importantly, you’re happy with. And even then, just when you thing you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll see someone else’s scans and wonder “why do mine not look like that?”. 🙂

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    1. Hello! I’m slowly getting to grips with it, and yes I agree the scanner seems great – it’s the software supplied with it, especially the unfriendly user interface with it, that I rage at! I think it’s an age thing in my case… (I had a rage at a parking meter today 🙂 ). Both you and Jim over at “Down the Road” use Vuescan, I think I’ll give Silverfast 8 a bit longer and see how I get on with it, but then might lookout for Vuescan. Cheers and best wishes Andy

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      1. I found that, even with Vuescan, I still had difficulty getting results from colour negatives that I liked. There is undoubtedly an element of me not knowing what I’m doing involved, but I’ve definitely had better results when just scanning the photos to linear files (so, still a negative when the scan is viewed) and then inverting them. I used a free Photoshop pluging called Grain2Pixel which gave pretty good results, but Negative Lab Pro is a lot more customiseable – albeit for a price. You can use Silverfast to create linear files as well, it’s just that I already had a copy of Vuescan by this time anyway. 🙂

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