Review: Nik Sofware Silver Efex Pro

Take your photos in color and then convert them to black and white. (October 27th, 2008)

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Product Manufacturer: Nik Software

Price: $199.95 US

The Good

  • Easy to use. Anyone can edit photos in minutes. Great control of contrast, brightness, and structure. 18 presets and the ability to create your own styles and save them. U Point tool allows pinpoint editing. Powerful engine changes photos at their base level instead of pasting filters over the existing data. Online resources include FAQs, tutorials, and more photo styles free with your registered software.

The Bad

  • Some features don’t work in both Aperture and Photoshop. If you want to work on tiny areas, you have to use the U Point tool multiple times. Expensive if you only want to convert a few photos. No undo command.

Whether you are a professional photographer, graphic designer, or a casual photo editor who likes to have fun, you can harness the unique and powerful look of black and white photography using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro. This plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or Aperture, plus any other application that supports the Adobe plug-in architecture, comes in a Web download from Nik Software's site or in a packaged CD.

The package includes an installer, a user's guide, and some sample images so you can jump right in. The learning curve may be a little steep for those of you new to black and white conversion software, but the learning time is well worth the effort. If the price makes you apprehensive, just download the convenient 15-day trial demo. Once you purchase Silver Efex Pro, you can download more than 30 additional free custom styles via the Web site.

Silve EFEX Pro screen

Install Screen

I installed Silver Efex Pro for Adobe Photoshop and in minutes I adjusted the brightness, contrast and structure of a photo of a delicious cheese plate. The Silver Efex Pro option appears in the Filter menu in Photoshop in a Nik Software folder. We tested the software with no problems in Photoshop CS2 and CS3. When you apply the filter, initially it applies a default black and white conversion that seems infinitely customizable.

Silve EFEX Pro screen

Initial Automatic Conversion (Photo ©Ilene Hoffman)

The easy to use software window includes multiple filter options on the left. Thumbnail images of a variety of preset styles appear, including Pinhole, Holga, Antique Solarization, Antique Plate I and II, Darken Contrast Vignette, Wet Rocks, Soft Skin, Infrared Film Soft and Normal, Tin Type, Cyanotype, Ambrotype, Soft Sepia, Dark Sepia, and many others. That probably seems like too many options if you're not familiar with manipulating your photos in black and white, but artists and photographers often want more detailed control when it comes to photo editing software and Silver Efex Pro delivers.

In addition to adjusting contrast, brightness, and structure, you can do many adjustments to your photos with only one click or using a slider control. The documentation suggests you use all the tools before you create a finished photo. Below I used that same cheese plate shot and manipulated it with different tools. You can see how wild and diverse the changes are, and I only used a few of the tools. I was never able to do this much with the existing Photoshop commands.

Tool Talk

In addition to the automated Style Browser on the left, Silver Efex Pro boasts more than 20, one-click settings, and the amazing U Point tool. The right side of the window contains the Enhancement Controls. A variety of slider controls let you apply small or major edits to the photo's tone, style, color filter, or even apply a particular film attribute. The best attribute is that it takes little time to apply a variety of edits. I use an Intel MacBook with a 2.2 GHz processor and the most complex changes I made took place in under seven seconds, but most took only one or two seconds.

Silve EFEX Pro screen

Controls with U Point Open

The U Point technology, as seen in the small graph in the screen shot above, gives you the ability to focus on a particular area of a photograph and adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation. It's cool that you can do this with pinpoint accuracy anywhere in the photo without having to carefully mask your subjects or painstakingly click exactly where you want to make an adjustment. The structure slider is cool too because it lets you change the look of a photo's fine detail with just a mouse click. According to Nik Software, this is done in the photograph itself instead of laying a screen or filter over the photo, so it looks more authentic than other plug-ins.

You can also save and apply the same changes on multiple photos. This is great for processing a whole shoot or if you're converting new photos for an old-time party or adding a unique look to an existing collection. Some features, like the Selective Tool and the Smart Filter Compatibility, only work with Adobe Photoshop. The ability to work on multiple photos is currently only available in the Apple Aperture version, but the software package includes all versions.

A Photographer's First Look

I started with a full-color food shot I took with a Sony DSC-W50. You can see the existing structure and detail, the shadows, and textures of each item on the board.

Jeff's Cheese photo

First, I simply clicked on the Soft Sepia setting. It delivered a nice change and a traditional black and white look.

Silver EFEX Pro screen

Next, I got adventurous and played with the contrast, brightness, and structure. You can see the grain of the board, the feeling of harsh light on the food and an almost washed-out texture to the photograph.

Silver EFEX Pro screen

The Big Picture

Ultimately, if you edit your photos and want more flexibility or control when it comes to converting color photos into black and white shots, this software is great. Portraits and sports photos often look more dramatic in black and white and this software can create just the style you want. It goes far beyond the capabilities of other editing software.

Requirements:

  • Mac OS 10.4 or later
  • G4, G5, Intel® CoreSolo, Intel Core Duo, Intel Core 2 Duo, or Intel Xeon® processor (Universal Binary compatible)
  • 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended)
  • Photoshop CS2, CS3 or CS4, Photoshop Elements 4.0 and 6.0, or Adobe Photoshop plug-in compatible application
  • Apple® Aperture (version 2.1 or later)

by Jeff Cutler with Ilene Hoffman


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