SilverFast vs Epson Scan

by May 5, 2021Photography Blog

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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SilverFast vs Epson Scan

Given you’re reading this article I’m going to assume you own an Epson scanner and are wondering which software to use; SilverFast or Epson Scan. In SilverFast vs Epson Scan, I’ll be putting both to the test from a user perspective. I’ll be using the packages with my Epson V700 scanner to scan slide, B&W, and colour negatives, all shot with a Hasselblad XPan. As well as checking the quality of the scans, I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the usability of each. After all, what good is great scanning performance if you can never achieve it because the software is too difficult to use?

I’m testing with the latest version of the Epson Scan 2 software on a Mac running Big Sur and this with SilverFast v9 also on the Mac. There are various versions of SilverFast available, each with different levels of features. I have the SilverFast Ai Studio which provides access to the most features, but you can achieve pretty much the same results with the basic SE version.

Let’s start with the Epson Scan software.

The Epson Scan Interface

The Epson Scan interface is quite simple and when first loaded only shows a dialog with scanner settings. Click the Preview button at the bottom of the frame and the scanner makes a full scan across its surface.

Epson Scan 2 Interface

In this screenshot you can see a single film strip with three panoramic slides. Above this are three empty slots in the Epson negative holder. To select a slide for scanning you can click and drag out a rectangle shape around it with your mouse. It’s possible to select multiple slides for scanning in this way.

Having selected a frame to scan you can zoom in to check the image and perhaps adjust the edges of the frame. When you do this the scanner will make another preview scan but this time only of the selected frame. When you are done you can click the icon at the left of the preview area to return to a full view. The only frustration I found with this is that each time I want to zoom into a preview, the scanner would repeat the preview scan rather than retaining the preview in memory.

Epson Scan Scanner Settings

After selecting the slide or slides to scan, you can set individual settings for each frame using the settings on the left of the interface.

Epson Scan Main Settings

The default interface is quite basic but shows everything you need to perform a reasonable scan. Unfortunately, it doesn’t show everything a photographer might want to use when making high quality scans.

At the top of the interface, you can select the scanner you want to use and below this is a “Scan Settings” dropdown. This contains a list of presets which you can select from to configure the software. By default, you will find Photograph, Magazine, Newspaper and Document but these only seem to relate to reflective scanning rather than film scanning. But once you’ve configured the Epson Scan software for scanning your slides or negatives you can save the settings as a new preset. This makes setting up the software a second time much quicker and easier.

In the screenshot above you can see that I have the software set to scan in the “Photo Mode” rather than “Document Mode”. The other options are then set to scan “Colour Positive Film” using the “Transparency Unit”. I’ve also set the quality to high and the data to 48-bit for the best results. The resolution is set to 2400dpi which will produce a reasonable sized test image when converted to 300dpi. Alternatively, you can specify the output size of the image at the bottom of the preview area by ticking the “Output Image” option. The software then calculates and sets the scanning resolution.

Epson Scan Output Image size

Epson Scan Advanced Settings

As I mentioned above, the Main Settings are unlikely to provide everything an experienced photographer needs when scanning. When you switch to the Advanced Settings you have access to additional controls which you can set separately for each frame being scanned.

Epson Scan Advanced Settings

Here you can see the Advanced Settings on the left where you can set the Brightness, Contrast and Saturation. Below this you can set features like sharpening, colour restoration and dust removal. There is also a Detailed Adjustments button which opens a further dialog when you click it. The Detailed Adjustments dialog provides fine control over the colours and tones in the image but not as much as you will find in a true photo editing package.

Epson Scan Other Settings

The other settings that you might want to access control Colour Management. You will find these in the “Main Settings” tab where you can click the “Color Management” button to open the dialog.

Epson Scan Colour Management

Here you can select different colour management options but the most useful is probably being able  to set a profile for the scanner (Source) and Target profile for the image that’s produced.

Overall, the controls in Epson Scan should cover almost everything you might want to do when scanning film. It’s also very quick to learn and use, and it’s easy to navigate the different features. Where it may suffer is in the limited adjustment control so you may find yourself doing additional work in a photo editor after scanning.

Let’s now compare SilverFast.

SilverFast Ai Interface

Before we look at the SilverFast Ai Studio interface it’s worth mentioning that this is the most advanced version of SilverFast. If you don’t scan much or don’t require a high degree of control, the SilverFast Se or SE Plus versions of the software may be more than sufficient. I personally use SilverFast SE Plus with my Minolta film scanner and the results are excellent.

You can learn more about the different SilverFast versions on this page of the company’s website (https://www.silverfast.com/scanner-software/).

As with the Epson Scan software, SilverFast 9 has everything you can image you will need when scanning and gives access to every feature of your scanner. The downside is that the interface can feel overwhelming at first, especially if you don’t have a lot of scanning experience and are using the advanced version of the software.

Silverfast Interface

Here you can see an initial preview scan of the same test strip of images used with Epson Scan.

The scanner settings are in area 1 of the interface on the left. Here you can set the name, format, and location of the file the scanner will create. You can also use this to set the resolution and size of the image. Then below this are a series of tools you can use to control the colours and tones in the scanned image.

Along the top of the interface in area 2 are icons to access the main features of the tools in area 1. I personally like to think of this as a checklist although there is a better tool for this which we will discuss below. Finally in area 3 there are other common tools and filters that you may want to use. Which icons you can see will depend on your version of the software. For example, scanning Multiple Exposures isn’t supported by all versions of the SilverFast software.

SilverFast Workflow Pilot

As you can image, choosing between these features can be quite daunting, and it can be easy to miss something important or make a mistake. The SilverFast solution is something called the Workflow Pilot. This will guide you, step by step through the scanning process, to help you achieve the best results with the software.

SilverFast Workflow Pilot

After activating the pilot, it guides you through the steps to scan the first image in your batch. You then apply the same settings to scan the other images or perhaps alter some of the steps. This is quite a time saver if you have a lot of scans to make and it helps prevent easy mistakes.

In terms of features and flexibility, SilverFast is significantly more flexible than Epson Scan but it’s not necessarily easier to use. That said, by relying on the Workflow Pilot, the system helps you to overcome the complexity and assures good results. If you are finding the Epson Scan software limiting or even time consuming, SilverFast may well be a better alternative for you.

Now let’s look at the image quality produced by each.

Scanning Performance

In comparing the performance of SilverFast and Epson Scan I’ve made several scans of images shot using a Hasselblad Xpan film camera. The images were captured using:

  1. Fuji Velvia (original ISO50 slide film).
  2. Kodak Ektar 400 colour negative.
  3. Kodak TMax 400 black and white negative.

All frames were scanned at 2400dpi to produce similar sized images for comparison.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan for Slide

In the screenshot below you can see two scans of the Fuji Velvia slide in Photoshop.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan with Velvia 01

In terms of overall colour and tone the lower image is far superior with the shadows in the top image appearing dark and blocked up. You can also see dust on the top image in the sky just above the mountain which is missing from the lower image. Despite being too dark and saturated, the colours in the top image match those of the lower image and both are quite accurate. As this image was shot on slide film, I was able to check the accuracy against the slide viewed on a lightbox.

Now let’s compare the area of the image where the house is, at 100% magnification.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan with Velvia 02

Here you can see additional shadow detail around the trees in the lower image. This comparison is possibly a little unfair as SilverFast has a Multiple Exposure setting where Epson Scan doesn’t. Most noticeable though is how sharp the lower image is in comparison to the upper image. To me, the lower image which was scanned using SilverFast is the clear winner.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan for Colour Negative

For this second test, the negative setting was used in both packages, and the auto colour feature applied to remove the films orange negative mask. Both scans used software sharpening set at medium, and both had the dust removal feature turned on. Here is a comparison of the two images in Photoshop.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan with Kodak Ektar 01

The colours in the top image appear extremely accurate and natural. Compare this to the colours in the lower image where the colours have a pinkish tint to them. The tonal range in the top image is also much more what I would expect where the shadows in the lower image are too light.

When we zoom in to the same area of the image at 100% magnification, we see the following.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan with Kodak Ektar 02

This time the difference in sharpness isn’t as obvious as with he slides film, but the top image is clearly sharper. When I inspected both images at 100%, I also noticed small marks on the lower image which could be dust or emulsion damage that aren’t in the top image. The top image was scanned using SilverFast whilst the bottom image was made with Epson Scan.

Something else that I noticed that may be worth mentioning is that I tried to correct the colour in the scan made using Epson Scan. Whilst I was able to improve the image, I couldn’t entirely correct the colour across the frame. A colour cast seemed to remain at either end of the slide.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan for B&W Negative

When it comes to the B&W scans, I again relied on the automated features of both SilverFast and Epson Scan to correct the scan. I also disabled the dust removal and infrared scanning in both given this is a traditional silver black and white film and probably wouldn’t work properly. Here are the two side by side.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan with Kodak TMax 01

Overall, both are acceptable, but I do prefer the top image. I should also point out that the bottom image didn’t scan well initially using the automatic settings and I had to adjust the tonal controls manually.

Comparing a section of the images at 100% magnification.

SilverFast vs Epson Scan with Kodak TMax 02

This shows the detail in the top image is superior although it may be difficult to see in screenshots. Not only is it sharper and more detailed but the tones are better. As with the other comparisons, SilverFast appears to win out.

Summary of SilverFast vs Epson Scan

At this point you may be thinking SilverFast is a clear winner. The colour accuracy is better, the tonal range is better, it has more features, and the scans are sharper and more detailed. If those things are important to you then yes SilverFast is the clear winner and best choice. Just be prepared to invest a little time learning how to use the software well. Despite the excellent Workflow Pilot feature, you will still need to take care and even experiment a bit with settings.

Epson Scan on the other hand is much easier to use but more limited. It does have some useful features like being able to correct the tonal range of an image and it seems better at scanning black and white negative than it does colour negative or slide. Despite this, it can’t match SilverFast for quality and performance. The only area where it wins out is on price. SilverFast can be quite expensive depending on the version you purchase where the Epson Scan software is free.

My personal choice in the SilverFast vs Epson Scan debate is that I would (and have) purchased SilverFast. The difference in the quality of the results when scanning any film with SilverFast is noticeable. It also seems to be quicker to use and provides more control. Overall, it saves time and produce superior results. If you’re going to invest your time scanning film, you may as well do it right and produce the best results that you can.

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