Revisiting And Old Image With Silver EfEx Pro
Considering my photographic roots and indeed the tuition I received from a mentor when I started in photography, it is with some shame and embarrassment that I admit, I’m pretty weak at B&W photography . Couple this with the fact I provide blogs on how to convert a colour image to monochrome and indeed I compare numerous different conversion techniques, I really shouldn’t struggle as much as I do. So with this in mind, over the last few days I’ve been playing around with the trial version of “Silver EfEx Pro 2” from Nik Software, which is a Photoshop plug-in that claims to be the “World’s Leading Black And White Software”. Here’s what I found so far…
Install & Price
The first thing that you have to notice about the tool, is it’s price at a whopping $199.95 a hefty price tag for “just” a plug-in. For that sort of money, one should be able to expect amazing results with no issues downloading, installing and indeed running the software. Certainly the download was fine (approx 30MB or so) and it installed with no issues either, automatically picking up my version of Photoshop (CS5 running on Windows7 x64) and installing into it. What I don’t particularly like is the floating “Nik Software” tool bar you’re greeted with when you start Photoshop I haven’t been able to figure out how to disable this? I’d rather it just stay hidden away in the filter menu until it’s called for.
I’ve only being playing around on the demo version for the last few days, but so far it has been very stable in that it hasn’t crashed or caused Photoshop or indeed the OS to hang – an unfortunate behaviour displayed by some Plug-In’s that I’ve used in the past. Reviews on the web have suggested that version 2.0 is slow, especially in comparison to the older 1.x version. Obviously I can’t comment on this aspect, but I would say that it can be sluggish (without going as far as slow). The screen update can lag behind the sliders, which is a tad annoying. Sometimes you’re left wondering did the slider have any effect or is the software still updating. This is on a machine with plenty of spare resources. It’s not drastically bad by any stretch, but if I was to mark the performance out of 10, it would probably be 6/10?
What It Does
First of all, like the “B&W Adjustments Layer” in Photoshop, the tool comes preset with a number of different initial conversions for you to choose from (if you wish). If not you can start from a “neutral” which is a very flat, very midtone conversion with little or no contras. From there, the technology really kicks in and unlike Photoshop it gives you access to the different tones in the image and allows you adjust those tones. For instance you can selectively brighter (or darken) shadow, mid tone or high light detail. Similarly you can adjust contrast again of either/or/and shadow, mid tone or high light detail. It has a feature called “structure” which is very similar to clarity, or local contrast enhancement which again can be selectively applied to one or all tones. This really does give a lot of control over the tonal content in the image – an all important aspect of B&W.
Once you’re happy with your global adjustments, you can then fine tune the contrast/brightness etc. in local areas in the image. With a similar concept to masks, SilverEfEx uses “control” points, which are basically circles, selecting an area with a feathered selection. You can control the width of the circle to be as big or as small as you want, but the feathering, which is quite large, is not user controllable. Each control point, allows you access to the basic contrast, brightness, structure, et. al. sliders which will effect the area within the feathered selection – which is pretty neat. However what I haven’t found is a feature to apply these effects linearly, rather than in a circle, so you could for instance treat a sky with one control point and the land or sea with another?
I’ve dug out an old image from 2005 when I had only started into photography to compare the results. To be fair, I’m better now at Photoshop than I was back then, so I’m sure even without Silver EfEx I’d get better results than I did back then (particularly sharpness ). The main differences are a different crop and some cloning of the burnt out areas due to the dappled light. After that I used Silver EfEx to convert to monochrome rather than the LAB method I would have used on the original.
What I Don’t Like
Most filters in Photoshop have a “memory” in that if you open the filter form again, it remembers your last settings. Unfortunately Silver EfEx doesn’t So if you have put a lot of time into control points, once the effect is applied there’s no way back… you need to start again if you made a mistake I think considering the work that could potentially go into creating a detailed B&W image, there really should be some way of saving the settings that you applied. Thankfully it does work with Smart Objects for those of you that use them, so this is one way around this problem.
I have to admit, I don’t like the price If it was 1/2 what it is, there wouldn’t even be a purchasing decision; the wallet would have been out and the credit card exercised already. But at $200, I still remain to be convinced. The fact that it’s a touch sluggish performance wise, and the fact you can’t choose a linear gradient/control point all work against it. Also, I don’t find it to be necessarily the most intuitive tool.
What I Like
The obvious answer is the results (so far). It’s still early days and the testing has been sporadic rather than methodical. I’ve also been working on old images rather than on new content. But so far so good. I’m not convinced the tool produces results I couldn’t achieve myself without it, but it does get me to that result MUCH quicker. Which is exactly what these sort of Plug-In’s are for. I have 9 days or so left on the trial license and a shoot tomorrow, so it may get another run out before I need to decide to buy or bin. Watch this space…