If you are an iconographer, epigrapher or archaeologist, it helps to have HIGH resolution digital scans of 35mm and medium format transparencies

Nowadays we all use digital cameras, but when I was photographing Classic Maya art from 1960’s-1970’s-1980’s-to circa 1995, there were no high-res digital cameras. So our long-range photography research projects in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize were with Leica, Nikon, and Hasselblad: 35mm and medium format.

Today in 2023 it is essential to scan the over 50,000 slides plus tons of B&W negatives to make these images available to cultural institutes, professors, and students doing their theses or PhD dissertation. Even more, showing what is in the national parks and museums of each country attracts people to travel to visit these locals in-person. I went to Palenque in 1961 (age 16 years old) because I saw a photo of the temples surrounded by rain forest. Growing up in Missouri I had never seen a jungle. So I took a 3rd class “chicken bus” and got to Palenque with my Leica. I then spent the following 30+ years photographing sculptures, altars, temples, pyramids, palaces, acropolises, ballcourts, vases, bowls, plates, incense burners, cache vessels, jade and other art in museums. Now we need to rescue these photographs with a scanning software that can bring back the original color of the decade when we did our photography. During initial scanning, we have learned that SilverFast is one of the best options for scanning software. We do not have the full spectrum of their software yet and in our Guatemala research office we do not yet have any. But as soon as our two scanning teams have a full set, we can write a review and evaluation of the SilverFast software. In the meantime we show here scans from introductory level of SilverFast.


This is the original scan (from medium format transparency film). This original was photographed with Zeiss lens (Made in Germany in those decades) on a Hasselblad ELX camera body. Scanned on Epson Perfection V850 Pro scanner. If you do not have SilverFast software, you will unlikely get this quality and for sure that this file size (368.6 MB). I lowered it to 72 MB by turning it into a JPEG. To allow this file on a website, its resolution has to be lowered even more. In the future we will do color balance to match the original color of the stela as you see it today. But I wanted to show the quality via high resolution that you can obtain if you have the right scanner and capable software.


Our decades of experience with flatbed scanners and scanning software

I really got into scanning when the Japanese government’s National Museum of Ethnology (MINPAKU), in a suburb of Osaka, Japan, asked if I could come to Japan for six months (Oct. 1995 through April 1996) as Visiting Research Professor to teach the curators and staff about scanners, scanner software, and associated aspects of transforming photo archives of 35mm slides (and other formats) into digital images so they could be used in the digital era that was gaining ground in the mid-1990’s. Jack Sulak flew to Japan to assist me getting started (since in 1995 he knew more about digital photography, scanning, software, Adobe Photoshop, of that era). Sulak also assisted our field work photography at Santa Rosa Xtampak in 1989.

When I got back to the Americas, I estimate that Umax was one of our first office scanners for slides and photos. The Umax scanners were the best mid-range quality, much better than other brands. From 1999-2005, FLAAR had its scanning, scanner, software and digital printer research, testing and evaluation facilities at the Digital Image Technology Center with rank of Visiting Professor at Universidad Francisco Marroquin. From 2001-2008 FLAAR had a simultaneous scanner, software, digital imaging research, evaluation, review and publication offices and staff at the College of Technology of BGSU in Ohio. I was Director, Large Format Digital Imaging Division (under the Center for Applied Technology, Bowling Green State University of Ohio, BGSU). So I flew back and forth between BGSU in Ohio and UFM in Guatemala. We had about 19 helpful staff in those years (today in 2023 FLAAR/FLAAR Mesoamerica has about 33 helpful members of our various research project teams).

Then we moved to Creo scanners which were totally professional and with significantly better resolution and all other aspects. We received two different models of these high-end Creo EverSmart scanners to evaluate in the recent past decade. Since we already had experience with other scanners we quickly recognized how much better the Creo technology was.

Creo scanners were so good the company was bought by Scitex and we call these Creo Scitex. Then Kodak bought this scanner line and like most other digital aspects of antiquated film-era Kodak, their scanner division sadly went down the drain.

We no longer use either of these two amazing Creo scanners because there is no current Mac operating system that can handle scanners of that past era. Plus the connecting cables don’t plug into today’s Mac. We would like to donate the two scanners to anyone who can cover the cost of packing-and-shipping. Both would need rudimentary repairs to function in today’s world of year 2023, but for scavenging their inside components to repair other Creo scanners would be worth acquiring these two.

FLAAR had a scanner test and review project for over a decade, but as we moved more into digital photography and wide-format inkjet printers we focused more on those digital technology aspects. Now, in year 2023, we are returning to testing and reviewing scanners and scanner software to help museums, archives, and photographers learn what scanner and what scanner software is best to scan 35mm slides and medium format transparencies. We will also be evaluating scanners for black-and-white photos and negatives.

Canon, HP and other companies also make flatbed scanners, but we prefer one made totally, exclusively and completely for scanning color transparencies. An office scanner/printer unit is not what will produce super high-quality scans.

We also will be scanning thousands of B&W negatives but are starting with 35mm and medium format color (before these color transparencies lose more of their color; Kodachrome 35mm color slides hold up well but Eastman Color was excellent example of “you get what you pay for” if you buy the cheapest film option the color fades quickly (fortunately with software improvements nowadays you can turn faded color transparencies back to near original color correctness). But often in the past I did not have funds for Kodachrome so I had to buy the cheaper Eastman Color.

Fujichrome was a popular brand for photographers because it had more heavily saturated colors. But to me these colors were exaggerated and fake; I preferred Kodachrome.


This is a scan from medium format film (110 size), probably a Kodak transparency film in past decades for our Hasselblad camera. We had the Hasselblad SWC wide angle model, plus two other Hasselblad 500C or ELX models (so we could have B&W film pre-loaded in one and color transparency film pre-loaded in the other).

I used tungsten Lowel lighting equipment in those past decades (today we use soft digital florescent lighting from Westcott). In the past we also used Dedolights (to get light into hidden areas). We had one to two vehicles to transport all the portable studio lighting, light stands, tripods, backdrops, etc. Plus an electric generator to power the lights. This was in the 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s. I travelled tens of thousands of kilometers, often each year, criss-crossing Mesoamerica to accomplish photographing Classic Maya pyramids, temples, palaces, acropolises and ball courts. I was at Bonampak as a student intern for INAH circa 1962-1963 to help them carry their equipment for several kilometers through the rain forest from the nearest landing field to Bonampak. No airstrip at Bonampak in that decade. Then in the 1990’s we had INAH permit and with 4x4 was able to get our project vehicle to Bonampak to accomplish the quality of photography you see here.

Nowadays, with digital cameras, you can get even more detail, but we are working to rescue our old film images from the past century.

The original scan of this part of the stela is 655 MEGAbytes. The largest normal file on the Internet is under 655 kilobytes! Sadly, we do not yet have funds to create a database to allow storing individual files this large (a scan of our 8x10” color transparencies is over 1 GB for a single image). But as soon as a helpful benefactor can provide funding we would like to build a data base so that professors in Mexico, students in Mexico, cultural institutes in Mexico can have these scans in their own databases. These images can also assist professors at universities around the world help students learn about bas-relief Maya sculptures.


With High-resolution photos you can see more details in a bas-relief stela sculpture

We have noticed that the two published line drawings of Bonampak Stela 1 are very helpful for general overview of the stela. But to provide the detail so you can focus and study on individual aspects it helps to have a super-high resolution digital scan, so you can zoom in to look at a small area. For example, I did not recognize that there were two profile/half-frontal Loincloth Apron Faces, one on each side of the bottom panel of Bonampak Stela 1 until I looked at scans of the FLAAR Photo Archive team.

I agree with Carl Callaway that the Loincloth Apron Face, as a loincloth decoration or as a celestial motif in the Sky Band, should not be called a Monkey nor classified, cataloged as God C. God C is a known supernatural, but primarily in the Codices. That said, every time I look at the profile/half-frontal Loincloth Apron Face here on Bonampak Stela 1, my memory cells distinguish slight monkey-face aspects.

We wish to test, evaluate, and write reports on the following scanner software

Camila Morales has decades of experience scanning with many brands and models of flatbed scanners so also has experience with lots of scanner software. But we would like to have the complete range of SilverFast (so more than comes with the scanner). We would like to have her review the complete range and then have our computer, scanner, digital imaging team in Guatemala separately review the same software. Here are the software names that we would like to review both in US and in Latin America:

  • SilverFast HDR Studio, Premium
  • SilverFast Ai Studio, Premium
  • SilverFast SRDx, Photoshop Plug-in
  • SilverFast Archive Suite
  • or if all that is in SilverFast All-in-One that might be the best solution

We also look forward to reading and learning from the new SilverFast 9 eBook by Karl-Heinz Zahorsky. I knew him and spoke with him in-person over a decade ago because already then I was impressed with the abilities of his SilverFast software.

To get high resolution, so you can see details in a Maya sculpture, it helps to have good flatbed scanner and excellent scanner software

The bottom panel of Bonampak Stela 1 has enough deities and symbolism to fuel an entire undergraduate thesis. The upper part of the stela, in addition to the Maya hieroglyphs, has a shield that could also be base of an entire seminar paper. But you would need scaffolding to photograph the upper 70% so when I visited Bonampak I dedicated my photography primarily to the bottom panel.


This is a scan (in B&W) of the base panel. This scan was done many years ago.

You can see how much better the SilverFast software on the Epson Perfection V850 Pro is by looking at the two close-ups above on this page.

Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, Bonampak Stela 1, lower panel, photographed so many decades ago can’t remember precise date, probably mid-1990’s.

We need to re-scan the original photo in color, erase the defect on the slide, and have SilverFast software available to make this image significantly higher resolution to assist iconographers, epigraphers and archaeologists.


First posted July 12, 2023 by Nicholas Hellmuth

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