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In search of the perfect scanning system

In search of the perfect scanning system

As time marches on, the topic of film restoration rises when it comes to preserving cinema history. It’s an aspect that the average movie-goer may not take note of as much, thinking little of what goes into a declaration of a film being digitally restored.

The simplified version of it may seem to most as though you place an aged film into the computer and the magic happens to clean it up for an impressive display. What goes into making that magic is where the wonders scanning systems come into play, playing a critical role in the film restoration process.

As far as scanning systems go, there are three key players in this arena: VueScan, SilverFast, and ArriScan.

VueScan was developed by Hamrick Software and has been around since 1998 as a scanning program that works with a host of operating systems and over 6,000 different scanners. VueScan systems and hardware have been used by such companies as Disney, Hallmark, and NASA.

Due to its integration with Photoshop, the scanning software has often drawn direct comparison to Epson for its similar level of professional and commercial grade scanning services. The program can be used for free in some instances for a trial period but will leave watermarks until paid for.

SilverFast, developed by LaserSoft Imaging, has been around a lot longer as an imaging software that came about in 1995. The software has improved over the years to be a bolder application capable of handling HDRI and performing multi-exposure techniques. SilverFast has won numerous awards and offers plenty of help and tutorials to guide you through the process.

ArriScan has been a fairly new process but has risen from the ranks to become one of the top scanning restoration tools on the market. With its components of a Wet Gate system and high-speed microscanning systems, it is one of the more advanced systems of film restorations on the market, revered around the world. ArriScan rentals are made available in Hungary.

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So what sets them apart from one another?

For starters, VueScan handles grain rather well. When correcting for grain, the amount of softened detail within VueScan is visibly robust and creates a greater sense of clarity. SilverFast, however, tends to bring about more banding artifacts than it should when attempting to remove grain.

Where SilverFast is perhaps best suited is when it comes to dust reduction. This is an even more concerning level of correction considering that most aspects of color and grain can more or less be handled in post-production editing software, ranging from the likes of Photoshop to advanced functions within video editors of Premiere or Final Cut Pro. While some dust issues of older prints can be tweaked with such software, it’s beneficial to have the scanning application fix these issues during the scanning process.

SilverFast has a built-in bit of dust correction software that can help clean up those elderly strips of film. However, since this aspect of image restoration is not as robustly defined, the software tends to do more dicing up of the footage than it does polishing.

For a better experience, relying on the hardware for dust correction will grant better results. VueScan is capable of removing dust as well but SilverFast does a superior job at getting as much dust out of the frame as possible.

ArriScan, on the other hand, has a few extra features when it comes to cleaning up images, thanks to its Wet Gate system that uses liquid to conceal dust and scratches in film. This is a more complex process, however, so it’s not exactly as out-of-the-box as VueScan or SilverFast.

Of course, if you’re scanning film, chances are there’s going to be a few passes you’ll have to scan in to make sure you get just the right level of exposure. This is an especially important aspect if you’re dealing in footage with high dynamic range (HDR).

Multiple passes can be completed with all three applications, though VueScan is a bit of a standout considering it can render up to 16 repeated scans that will reduce noise and keep exposure levels consistent.

You should be aware, however, that the more repeated scans you have per frame, the longer the scan can take. This aspect of the software will also be the biggest benefit to those who don’t have a scanner as adept at the process of scanning in HDR images.

In most cases, however, VueScan’s multipass rendering will only make a few minor improvements and multi-sampling still leaves some grain that becomes all the more noticeable. There’s certainly an improvement to be had in the contrast and shadows but it’s so minute that it may not be worth the extra rendering times. Take note of the loss in sharpness as well with each scan.

ArriScan is not only capable of handling such multi-sampling and multipass scanning with ease but can handle just about any film. Most scanning hardware under this brand is capable of handling 16mm and 35mm film with extra range and stability in ensuring the picture is transferred as clearly as possible.

Another aspect to consider is support for Raw capture. Scanning in film as raw files can vastly improve quality by rendering the output as a DNG or TIFF file, containing far more information for making color adjustments with bit ranges of 48-bit RGB or 64-bit RGBi. Both VueScan and SilverFast are capable of this function but, again, it will slow down render times.

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ArriScan, however, has proven to be one of the speedier of scanning processes. The high-speed microscanning can deliver fast results and at optimal quality, going as high as 6K image quality. The hardware has also been built to last so that the heavy investment is well worth the hefty price tag and that you’ll more than likely be relying on rentals.

Ultimately, the differences between the three programs is somewhat minor in terms of the technicalities but should be taken note of for restoration teams that want to require either more detail or faster load times.

VueScan is certainly more cost-effective considering how much bang you’ll get for your money and how versatile the program itself can be, working with a wide range of equipment. If time is a factor and money is no object, then ArriScan is pretty much the only choice when it comes to high-quality restorations.

SilverFast is perhaps better suited as a mid-tier program for those just jumping into the restoration process, considering the wealth of resources and scope of functions it offers.

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