Silverfast or VueScan for Nikon CoolScan 9000 ED - ICE/Image Cleanup

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by andersonbooper, Jan 8, 2020.

  1. Hello!

    I am brand new to archiving film and will be scanning a collection of approx. late 1970s transparency slides for a book project. I have a Nikon Super CoolScan 9000 ED on a PowerMac G5 running 10.4. (Note: I would need to use Silverfast 6, as this is the last version that supports PowerMac/10.4).

    I have found many resources comparing VueScan to Silverfast, but between wading through opinions and trying to figure out which features need prioritizing, my brain is about to liquify out of my ears. The priority is capturing as much crisp information from these older transparencies as possible and saving time with a good built-in color correction/dust and scratch removal, as I will be scanning a large collection and won't have the time to do major edits in PS.

    I have used VueScan for scanning works on paper and it works great, but I don't mind spending the extra money on Silverfast 6 if the software will save appreciable time and/or produce superior scans/image correction. Could someone please help this newbie out?

    Note: I have played with the stock Nikon Scan 4, but the scans aren't yielding a lot of crisp information, and using unsharp mask just seems like putting a band aid over a potentially bigger issue (not great scans). I know this is a powerhouse of a scanner, so I'm wondering if this is user error...

    Thank you!
  2. Using a film scanner to its full performance is a black art that (unfortunately) cannot be learned overnight or even within a couple months. It takes quite awhile to balance your result preferences vs your typical film source images vs your specific scanner's quirks vs a particular scanner software suite vs a workflow/time usage plan thats realistic for you to maintain.

    Nikon CoolScan 9000 + Mac G5 running 10.4 should be a good hardware combo, although I've known more than a few photographers and graphic artists who had ongoing issues with the rather peculiar G5.

    Before proceeding further: the Coolscan units are notorious for developing a film of haze on their scanning mirrors. These are oldish units now: between internal outgassing and their vulnerability to dust intake, some can seem to give poor results because they need to be cleaned. Nikonscan at the very least should produce a crisp scan unless your 120/220 film is very warped and you can't quite get the manual focus depth of field to cover the field curvature. This is very common when trying to scan medium format with the glassless tray: if you don't have one of the optional Nikon glass trays for medium format, it can be much harder to obtain crisp scans. I'd recommend verifying your scanner for proper basic operation by downloading a free trial version of Vuescan, and then use it to scan a less taxing source like a 35mm Ektachrome or Velvia transparency in the CoolScan slide tray. If those test scans are crisp, and you don't have the glass MF tray, get one and it should help. If those scans are still soft, the problem isn't Nikonscan but a hardware fault (clean the mirror- see tutorial at Cleaning the mirror in Nikon Super Coolscan LS-8000 ED and LS-9000 ED).

    Re choosing the "best" scanner software: its often very subjective. The closest I've seen to a consensus on the CoolScans is that every (non-pro) owner tries to "improve" on Nikon's own software by trying other premium options like SilverFast, but in the end most of them cycle back around to NikonScan. There are certain aspects of the Nikon hardware performance (including ICE if that is a big priority for you) that are best exploited by Nikon's own software, funky as it can be at times.

    After Nikon ceased updating NikonScan for newer operating systems some years ago, VueScan became the default choice for many non-professional owners (partly because the price is reasonable, and partly because VueScan is constantly updated for compatibility with new computers). Vuescan is very very good, but has a bit of Jekyll & Hyde to it (in one sense its very easy to use, in another its interface can be ridiculously obtuse when it comes to features that are far more obvious or intuitive in NikonScan). As with all these software options, some users who prioritize certain workflow elements over others find Vuescan impedes them more than Nikonscan or Silverfast, and vice versa. If you parse the threads here and at other scanner-related forums, you'll find a 50/50 split of owners who stick with VueScan vs those who went back to NikonScan after the "hack" to make it work with the latest operating systems became more widely known.

    Silverfast is a whole 'nother ballgame. It was and remains the professional standard, with capabilities unmatched by any other scanner software. But the learning curve can be steep just for basic operation, and getting it to better NikonScan results can be even steeper. Elements of its interface can be incredibly obtuse: some settings that should be sticky aren't, the documentation is no help, you have to search the web for workarounds from other users. Unless you received a "free" reduced-feature version bundled with your scanner that is compatible with your Mac system, it is also very expensive to purchase and very expensive to upgrade. Unlike Vuescan or Nikonscan, the Silverfast license is for one computer/scanner: if anything significant changes in your setup, the software becomes a pricey brick. To get the most from Silverfast, one usually needs to go all-out with super-calibrated monitors and more extensive profiling.

    If you don't plan to go completely bonkers in pursuit of utter perfection, Nikonscan is probably the best compromise, esp if you're running an older computer as host. Vuescan is preferred by those who run multiple scanners of different brands, and want a single point of reference to operate them. It is also the only reasonable option for those who want to run less common scanners like older Polaroids and Minoltas with modern computers. Silverfast is for the pro and pre-press market, more for the person who earns a living by scanning (tho of course many advanced enthusiasts use it as well).

    FWIW, an important point to bear in mind is the history and context of "non-pro" (under $4000 new retail) film scanners. When these were most popular between 1999-2006, almost all of them came with truly dreadful proprietary software. Buggy as it can sometimes be, Nikonscan was the only one of these that wasn't terrible and could credibly compete with pro suites like Silverfast. So most who bought a Nkon scanner used (and still use) Nikonscan. Other brands of that era like Polaroid, ArtixSscan, Minolta, and Benq offered upgrade bundles with a crippled version of Siverfast, or you heard about Vuescan and opted for that. Or if you were pro, you just bought the full Silverfast. But NikonScan was usually the most direct path to a good result with CoolScans.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2020
  3. All that Orsetto said

    Plus some more ...

    Your slides are 40+ years old, what condition are they in and what brand ? Kodachrome and Ektachrome of that age should have kept fairly well and will scan ok but if they've been in hot humid conditions the scans may not be too good

    Try Basic Vuescan first to test the quality of the scanned images. Basic Vuescan optimizes all the quality corrections including dust removal automatically and the results will tell you if you need to resort to the Professional version or not for manual control of corrections for color etc, but that will add time to do the scans
  4. NikonScan uses more of the features in Coolscan scanners than any other software. In particular, NikonScan makes easy work of batch scanning, so you can set parameters and crop individual frames in thumbnail mode, then go off to have a life for the time it takes to make the final scans. The problem is that neither the scanners nor NikonScan have been made in a very long time. It was never ported to Windows 7. Nor did NikonScan allow use of scanning profiles. That task was left to Photoshop (assign then convert). There are hacks to use NikonScan in newer operating systems, but they haven't worked for me. For a long time I kept a computer running Windows 2000, just for scanning.

    Silverfast does everything else well, including profiles and ICE. It does batch scanning, but in an obtuse fashion requiring a lot of hand work. Silverfast also has a long list of semi-profiles for negative film, customized to many brands and emulsions. Slides are easy to scan, but negative film offers no frame of reference for color, making scanning a "season to taste" proposition. In addition to being kept current, Silverfast presents the same interface, with minor variations, for each scanner. It is licensed only to a particular make and model, which adds to the cost.

    On the plus side, Silverfast comes with the HDR version, which separates the scanning process from image processing. I find it the most accurate and reliable way to process negative "scans" made with a digital camera.

    Profiles apply only to slides, not negative film. You can make a profile for negative film, but it applies only to a particular emulsion, lighting situation, and exposure, and always requires fine tuning. It's not worth the effort.
  5. And HOW!

    I've got excellent service from VueScan, but I also have found that Nikon's own software works excellently on the old machine that I have 'serving' the scanner.
  6. I scanned a lot of slides in the early 2000 using a Konica/Minolta Dimage Scan Elite 5400 with Silverfast software. Next time I will use a service that my brother used extensively and highly recommended. Good luck!

    Best Photo Scanning Price, 8mm to DVD Price
  7. I would second Orsetto on making sure the mirror is clean. If you've only tried NikonScan so far, a dirty mirror might be responsible for the less than stellar scans.

    Also Kodachrome and Digital ICE (scratch removal) don't often get along. So if your slides are Kodachrome you'll probably get better results with ICE turned off.

    NikonScan is what I settled on after playing with VueScan for awhile, but I don't ask it to do very much. I crop, I set the curves (white and black points), and turn on ICE if the film is compatible. I always use 4000 ppi and have it "4x overscan" scan in fine mode. Fine mode may not be necessary with the 9000 and 4x is probably overkill but it's what I do. Then finally I have it set to save images as tiffs not jpgs. If the slides seem really faded or color shifted, it might be worth turning ROC on. I virtually never use it.

    Any other kind of processing an image might need (white balance, exposure, etc) I perform using modern image editing software. I know you'd rather avoid using photoshop or something like it to individually improve the scans. In my experience though, you will get better results. That doesn't mean you have to use photoshop on every scan. Pick the ones you're going to use for your book first, then cleanup those.

    Like you I use an old G5 for scanning. I utilize folder actions to automatically copy the scans to a newer Mac and import them into the "scans" folder in my photo library. It works pretty slick. I suppose you could even have it text or send an email notification when the scans are done but I haven't gone that far yet.

    One thing I didn't like about VueScan is that it didn't take advantage of the thumbnail functionality of the scanner. Instead you had to wait for previews. Thumbnails in NikonScan show up pretty fast. Then I preview the frames I want, make the minor adjustments for each one, then batch scan them.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2020
  8. A very sincere thank you for these great responses! I'm going to move forward with Silverfast and hit the ground running on these scans early next week. Please send good thoughts my way- I feel like a teddy bear getting ready to tame a dragon! :)

    Much gratitude,


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