Digital ICE – Applied Science Fiction
When we first started to scan slides and negatives I was shocked at how dirty all those old images were. It was standard to find them not just covered in dust but seriously scratched too. It was clear (forgive the pun) that clients would be unhappy if we just scanned what we were sent. Of course we tried dust blowers – manual and compressed air – along with various anti-static cloths and brushes. They all helped but when you’re dealing with an original about the size of a large postage stamp it’s pretty hard to see what needs to be removed. When scanned that virtually invisible bit of dust looks the size of a tree.
Could there be a software solution? We tried all sorts of programs (we’re going back 16 years or more) and although they promised much in practice they delivered little. Sadly it took a long time to realise that with brushing, squirting and coding there was no magic bullet to the problem of ancient film material. That is, until I came across Kodak and a company in Austin, Texas. Applied Science Fiction. What a brilliant name, and an even more brilliant set of products.
Their technology was being built into scanners. Best of all in Digital ICE was Dust & Scratch Removal, a feature which used an additional scan based on infra red light to locate and then remove dust and scratches from slides and negatives. This was the headline act, supporting features were an ability to restore colour and rescue exposure issues. All automatic, all being built into scanners. I quickly got access to a Nikon scanner with the Digital ICE logo and gave it our prized set of sandpaper attacked negs to see what it could do. Amazing. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We decided to invest in four Nikon scanners each with ICE for 35mm material, and upgraded our Epson flatbed to one with Digital ICE that we could use on other formats.
Well, here I am all these years later and I guess we all pretty much take Digital ICE for granted. We apply it as standard to all the material we scan (apart from black & white and Kodachrome). It saves hours and hours in Photoshop. It’s just a no-brainer. But it’s hard to recall that sense of excitement at what seemed like magic. I was pleased to stumble upon this video on YouTube of someone who’s come to this much later. His video captures how I felt, and explains what it does pretty well.
Take a look. I don’t go along with all he says, from nearly 20 years of experience I think there’s no case for not using this. Yes, it does extend scanning times by a factor of two but it reduces the number of clients who’ll come back at you to complain their scans look poor. And we’ll all spend less to staring at Photoshop, Capture One or Affinity trying to remove all those pesky scratches and flecks of dust.
As the video says, dust and scratch removal is fantastic and unmatched by anything that’s become available since. The other elements of the package are rarely used, at least by us. It’s seldom necessary to boost faded colours as much as the Kodak system does (far too harsh) and software these days does a better job. But for dust removal, yes, it’s pretty magic.