Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 review

 

Create Stunning Black and White Digital Photos

(You can now get 75% off of the original price of the ENTIRE NIK Collection from Google when you use Coupon code KENK)

While there are countless ways to create black and white digital photographs today, Nik software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 stands out as  my preferred method of creating Rich and beautiful black and white images in the digital darkroom.

I spent many years in real darkrooms back at the beginning of my career in photography. I think that having that background allows me to have a deeper appreciation of what is possible to do with digital images today on a computer. We are living in a golden age of photography where the possibilities for creating incredible images is near limitless.

While programs like Lightroom, Aperture, and Photoshop are quite capable of creating excellent black-and-white images, Silver Efex Pro 2 offers incredible diversity along with simplicity for the user. Anyone who is serious about black and white photography needs to try this excellent plug-in.

Luckily, there is a 15 day free trial of the software that allows you to test the full version with no limitations.

Intuitive Flexibility and Versatility

This software can be as intricate or as simple as you would like it to be, making it a solid choice for both amateur and professional photographers.

Some of my favourite features of the software are the possibility to emulate types of film, adding filters, total control of “film” grain, controlling image structure, one-click toning, and Nik’s U Point® Technology. While I’m using Silver Efex Pro 2 as a Photoshop plug-in, you can also use it as a stand alone product or in Lightroom and Aperture.

Let’s take a closer look.

Open up a colour image in Photoshop

The Silver Efex 2 workspace

The Silver Efex 2 workspace

The workspace is divided into 3 basic parts:

  1. The Presets
  2. The Image Preview
  3. The Adjustment Panel or Tools
While you get a somewhat passable result in the neutral, there is no one button solution to creating a striking black and white image. The quick and easy way is to test some of the presets. If you want a quick conversion then one of the dozens of presets may very well be all you need to use. If however, you are more like me, then starting with one of the presets is a good place to begin before fine tuning the image with the robust adjustment tools at your disposal.
Each preset contains adjustments in brightness, contrast, structure, tone, film grain, and more. The serious photographer can use some of these presets as a starting point but will want to edit and fine tune the image more specifically to his or her needs.
Silver Efex Pro 2 presets

Silver Efex Pro 2 presets with a split before & after preview screen

 Less is more

As with so many other image editing plug-ins (as well as in Photoshop itself) going to the extreme possibilities can lead to destructive results to your image. Knowing when to stop is one of the keys of producing high-quality digital photographs. The controls in Silver Efex Pro 2 are extremely in-depth yet simple enough to use.

Global Adjustments

 Global Adjustments

In this panel you control the typical brightness and contrast within the image. Two excellent features within this panel our dynamic brightness and soft contrast.

With the dynamic brightness slider Silver Efex Pro 2 does some of the thinking for you. The unique algorithms within the software assesses the different areas of your image and takes that information into consideration to give you a much smoother blending of overall brightness.

The soft contrast slider also will intelligently assess the overall contrast of your image and allow you to make subtle yet striking changes to the photograph you are working on. You really have to play with this slider in order to fully appreciate what you can do for you. It is a great addition to the plug-in.

Structure is one of my favorite parts of this software. Partly a sharpening tool, partly a depth tool; structure adds that extra bit of “oomph” to a photograph that takes it to the next level in terms of image detail.

Silver Efex Pro 2 control points

Silver Efex Pro 2 control points

Control Points

I love this feature. Control points allow you to selectively manipulate global adjustments in specific areas of your image. You can add as many control points as you wish to the image you are editing and control the size of each one individually. The top slider is the size slider which controls the area that you wish to adjust. The adjustment area is represented by the circle you see in the photo above. Dragging the slider left and right allows you to increase and decrease the size of each control. Below that slider are the enhancement sliders that give you full control over global adjustments in each individual control point.

With pinpoint precision you can adjust everything from brightness, contrast, structure, and even add color back to specific parts of your image. The selective adjustment control point tool is a very powerful feature yet amazingly easy to use.

Original Image

Filter Efects

Filters

Back when we were all still using film cameras, it was customary to use coloured filters on our lenses in order to achieve certain books to our black-and-white images. The same effects can now be achieved in Silver Efex Pro 2 with the colour filter palette. In fact you have far more control now than ever before since you can manipulate these filters from 0 to 200% intensity as well as select any color in the spectrum by using the hue slider to choose any colour you could possibly want.

Once again starting with the presets is a good starting point but certainly not a one-button solution. Carefully selecting hue and strength allows you to have incredible control over the colour filter tool. In the thumbnails above you will see how each filter reacts to a vividly colourful photograph at 100% intensity. Using the colour filters in conjunction with global adjustments, selective control points, film grain, and toning allow you to make stunning black-and-white or monochromatic images.

Silver Efex Pro 2 Grain Engine

Silver Efex Pro 2 Grain

Grain Engine

Like so many of the other features in Silver Efex Pro 2, the grain engine is extremely versatile and delivers near unlimited possibilities in terms of grain structure within your black and white images. When are used to shoot with film I was a big fan of high grain films from Kodak, Fuji, and Ilford. Today I gravitate much more towards high definition low grain images. There still is a place for grain in photography though, especially in black and white photographs. With precision control of the grain engine it has never been easier to create beautiful high grain black and white digital photos.

 

Silver Efex Pro 2 toning

Toning menu with drop-down presets

Toning

I’ve always been a big fan of sepia and selenium toning of black and white photographs but I sure never enjoyed the horrible chemical smells especially when working with sepia toners in a traditional darkroom. This is just one more reason why I love working on digital imaging which gives me far more versatility and is far better for the environment as well. Like the other tools in Silver Efex pro 2 the toning tools are quite extensive.

You can use any of the 24 different presets for toning your images or create your own unique tones and save those as presets as well.

Silver Efex Pro 2 toned image

Sepia Toned Image with Custom Vignetting

Vignettes and Burnt Edges 

Creating custom vignettes has never been easier. Using the vignette and burnt edges tool allows you to darken or lighten the edges of your photo with good accuracy. Once again you can start with one of several presets and fine tune the results quite nicely with the different adjustment sliders.

Silver Efex Pro 2 Image Borders

Image Border sample

Image Borders

This is one of the only parts of the software that I find lacking. Image borders are tricky and also very subjective in terms how people judge them. Is a border really necessary? I’d say that in 100% of commercial professional photography applications the answer would be no. They just risk looking tacky. While I do like the use of image borders in iPhone or Android photography, those are just fun and playful ways of sharing snapshots. If your professional images require a fancy border to make them good, then it’s not saying much about the images.

These borders are customizable to a degree . There are several standard presets that you can fine tune but you can’t save your favourites as custom presets. Even if I doubt that I’ll use this feature much, the borders are relatively well done and certainly fitting in style for use along with black and white photography. There is room for improvement here though.

Presets

Silver Efex Pro 2 allows you to use any of its already existing presets but you can also create your own. Once you achieve an overall look that you enjoy, clicking the “Add Preset” button at the bottom left of your screen will allow you to save and name your own custom presets. Now with one click you can re-create your favourite overall looks on any new image that you are working on.

Creating and naming your own custom presets by using the selective tools can be a great time saver for future projects.

Pros and Cons

If when you are reading this review you feel like I’m not finding anything wrong with the Silver Efex Pro 2, you’re close to being correct. While I don’t do a lot of black and white work anymore, when I do, this is my go to software.

On the plus side

  • Amazing Versatility
  • Speed
  • Ease-of-use and navigation
  • Pinpoint accuracy in adjusting select parts of your photograph with Nik’s “U point technology”
  • Excellent overall image presets and toning presets
  • Infinite possible end results
  • The intuitive history browser similar to Photoshop’s history pallet
  • Nik’s intelligent dynamic brightness, fine structure, and soft contrast sliders
  • Compatibility with Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture
  • Film Emulation with grain control

The down side

  • Image Borders don’t support transparency on PNG files
  • It isn’t possible to see the original colour file while Silver Efex Pro 2 is active*
*Editor’s note: You can see the original colour image as was pointed out to me by the Nik team. I find the solution to be complicated and would love to see a simple “See Original Image” button that would allow you to revert to the colour image you began with as a preview at any point during your editing.
Here is the solution as given to me from Nik Software:
How to see the original colour file

a. Go to the History browser.

b. Click Compare once, this will have the History State Selector show up (this may seem like an odd UI, but when we always displayed the history state selector in the single image view mode, everyone that tested the software got really confused since the control didn’t do anything. It’s always visible in the side-by-side and split-view modes).

c. Drag the History State Selector to Original Image

d. Press and hold the Compare button

Wrap up

Nik Software offers some excellent tools for digital photographers and Silver Efex Pro 2 to me is their flagship plug-in. Not only does it work well and offer high end results that top photographers around the world are using but it is a lot of fun to work with. I do not say that about most software I use for work.

I’ve been wanting to share my Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 review for a while now but I kew it would take some time to cover all the features properly. This is a powerful and robust piece of software aimed at professional photographers and proficient amateurs. If you’re looking to take your black and white photography to the next level, then this software is exactly what you are looking for. Try the full product with no limitations for 15 days to see if it’s right for you.

Explore, Learn, Grow

Nik Software also offers several ways to learn how to use their products more efficiently. They offer webinars hosted by top professional photographers, on demand video tutorials, and a blog full of valuable hints and tips. All of this material is available for free.

Silver Efex Pro 2

You can now get 75% off of the original price of the ENTIRE NIK Collection from Google when you use Coupon code KENK at checkout.

This means that you get the entire suite which includes:

Now priced at $126.65

All products come with a 15 day free trial