Price When Reviewed: 55 . 55
Pros: Offers standalone versions of the clever Digital ICE technology. Reduces noise and film grain, while preserving detail.
Cons: Doesn’t work fully with mono.
Over the past three years, more film scanners have appeared with Digital ICE. Now it’s started to appear on some of the pricier desktop flatbeds, as tested in last month’s Digit.
Digital ICE is based on proprietary hardware and software developed by Applied Science Fiction of Texas, and is licensed to scanner manufacturers and digital photolabs. Last year, Kodak took over the company and renamed it Kodak Austin Development Centre.
Most of Kodak’s software can be purchased separately as Photoshop plug-ins, which will work with electronic images from any source. Digital ICE (Image Correction & Enhancement) is the only component that can’t be bought, because it’s an advanced dust and scratch removal system that has to be built into the scanner hardware itself. Other aspects of the technology are available as plug-ins, and Kodak has now introduced some new ‘professional’ variations, plus an ‘Airbrush’ variation.
A real GEM
Digital GEM Pro stands for Grain Enhancement & Management – with some film types, a digital scanner can produce an optical interference that amplifies noise to give a mottled effect that looks like film grain. At high resolutions, scanners will also reproduce real grain in coarser films. GEM removes or reduces both effects without blurring or losing detail.
GEM Pro uses two algorithms, one for grain suppression and the other to reduce noise, and it can handle 8- or 16-bit images. There’s a pull-down menu to select between the two algorithms. The grain suppression is tuned to preserve detail while the noise suppression is more aggressive and works on everything. Sliders let you adjust the compromise between preserving detail and killing the noise or grain – a before/after toggle lets you preview the results. There’s also a sharpening control that goes some way to counter the slight blurring effects.
GEM Airbrush Professional does pretty well the same thing except it tries to reduce mottling or noise on large areas of subtle tones (especially faces) while preserving detail such as hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. You can preview a high contrast mask that shows which detail is affected. Unlike GEM Pro there’s no sharpening slider.
Both the GEM plug-ins work well with real grain and scanner noise, though they still struggle a bit with the multi-colour shadow noise from digital cameras when set to a high sensitivity (ISO) level.
None of the Kodak filters work with greyscale image files. However, you can scan in mono and convert the greyscale file to RGB in Photoshop, after which GEM Pro will work, if not perfectly.
Kodak’s other new plug-ins include the £57 ROC Pro, (Restoration of Colour), which makes a good attempt at reviving the colour of old and faded scanned film or prints. It’s great if your only original is about 30 years old. The Pro version can handle 16-bit images and adds brightness and contrast controls.
Another pair of plug-ins, Digital SHO (£30) and SHO Pro (£57), can be used to balance overall tones, in particular brightening too-dark shadows and reviving detail. SHO is already part of the Digital ICE4 set bundled with the Nikon CoolScan V and 5000 ED scanners. The Pro version adds a few more controls and also attempt to extract detail from highlights. This plug-in works well, though users of the current Photoshop CS don’t really need them as its new Shadow/Highlight adjustment menu does the same thing.