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Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 Review

by Theano Nikitas, April 2011


Black and white photography experiences a resurgence from time to time but in the past few years it has maintained its popularity among photographers thanks, in part, to the availability of increasingly capable and sophisticated conversion software. Creating monochrome images from color photos that rival Ansel Adams’ black and white images has never been easier.

This simple-to-use plug-in not only converts color images to monochrome, but is equipped with Nik’s U Point technology for targeted corrections. Preset black and white styles, black and white film emulations, and a broad range of adjustment options are part of its extensive feature set and, in Adobe Photoshop or Elements, effects can also be “brushed” on using a Selective Tool.

I never get tired of writing about Nik software, especially Silver Efex Pro. Just like the original version, it’s my go-to application for black and white conversion. The original Silver Efex Pro was impressive (read my review of Silver Efex Pro here) and, as expected, Nik has made it even better in version 2.0. Naturally, there are many similarities between the original and the new versions, so I suggest you read my review of Silver Efex Pro for a solid overview of the application. I’ll be concentrating on Silver Efex Pro 2’s new features in this review.

With Silver Efex Pro 2, Nik has made revisions and additions that address a couple of my version 1.0 complaints. New and expanded features have expanded the application’s functionality; there are also under-the-hood improvements like fresh algorithms and the ability to take advantage of multi-threaded, 64-bit GPU processing. I have to admit, though, that I hold Nik to pretty high standards and while I appreciate their efforts in version 2.0, I have suggestions for further improvements outlined in the body of this review

I tested the plug-in in Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended on a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro running OS X v. 10.6.6 with 4GB of RAM. Silver Efex Pro 2 is also compatible with several versions of Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture. See below for detailed compatibility information and system requirements.

Where to Buy

Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 is available from Photo.net’s partners. Their prices are fair and you help to support Photo.net.

What’s New?

The Browser and Presets

Silver Efex Pro 2’s Browser has undergone some major changes, including the way presets are organized and the introduction of a History Browser function. The enhanced browser is one of the stars of this upgrade. Of course, there’s still room for further improvement but

One of my complaints about the version 1.0’ browser was that the preset thumbnails were large and you had to scroll up and down a long list to find and choose a preset. Preset thumbnails are smaller and when a vertical photo is opened, there are two rows of preset thumbnails so it’s much easier to navigate the list. When a horizontal image is opened, there’s a single row of presets but the smaller thumbnail size helps speed up navigation as well, although to a lesser extent.

In addition to “All” and “Favorites,” presets have now been broken down into several other categories: Modern, Classic and Vintage. There’s also a separate Custom option, where presets that you create and save as well as presets you import from the Nik website are stored. Having several labeled categories makes it easier to find the type of preset you’re looking for.

If you’re stepping up from Silver Efex Pro version 1.o, unfortunately you can’t bring over any of the presets. I assume that may have something to do with the new algorithms but, in any case, Silver Efex Pro 2 comes with 38 presets, of which a handful are the same (or at least have the same names) as the 29 presets that came in the original Silver Efex Pro.

You can—and we suggest you do—download and import a zip file containing 42 presets (including those from version 1.0) from the Nik website. As Silver Efex Pro users upgrade and new photographers download Silver Efex Pro 2, we assume the number of available presets will increase as people start sharing presets they’ve developed on their own. (It’s really easy to create a custom preset—just make some adjustments, click the “Add Preset” button at the bottom of the browser, type in a name and click OK.")

Keep in mind that when you download and import presets from the Nik site (or when you make your own), they end up in the Custom category of the browser. Unfortunately, you can’t move them to any other category—not even the Favorites group. It would be nice, of course, to be able to create your own category titles and assign any presets of your choosing to one or more categories.

One of the frustrations of using the original Silver Efex Pro was that there was no way of knowing what preset or adjustments had been made to an image. But now with the new History Browser you can see a chronological list of all the edits you’ve done singe the image was opened. Better yet, using the Compare function (a new button at the top of the browser that replaces the Preview checkbox of version 1.0), you can evaluate what your image looked like at each step of editing vis-à-vis the final version. If you set the State Selector (the moveable bar used to move from one step to another) to Original, you can then compare your finished photo to the original, color image. If you click on one of the adjustments on the list, all the changes made after that step will be turned off (click it again, and the adjustments they’re turned on).

I think the History Browser is incredibly useful and a great improvement but I would love to see Nik take it to the next level. The ideal would be if we could click on an individual edit (or preset) listed in the History Browser and turn each off/on individually rather than just from a single point forward. I’m not a software engineer so I don’t know if that’s even possible but it certainly would make the History Browser even more valuable.

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About the Author

Theano Nikitas, a full-time freelance writer and photographer, has been writing about photography for the past 15 years. Her digital imaging reviews, features, “how to” articles and images have appeared in a wide variety of publications and on Websites including American Photo, CNET.com, DigitalCameraReview.com, Digital Photographer, First Glimpse, Imaging-Resource.com, macHOME, PCPhoto, PC How to Digital Photography Buyer’s Guide, Photo District News, PopPhoto.com, and Popular Science. Although she loves digital, Theano still has a darkroom and a fridge filled with film thanks to her long-time passion for alternative processes and toy cameras. More »


Original text and images ©2011 Theano Nikitas.

Article created April 2011

Readers' Comments


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M. Iqbal , May 21, 2011; 11:00 P.M.

This is amazing software given its capabilities and potentials, well reviewed in your piece. But I have one big complain about SE-2 or perhaps I am missing something.

(1) Take a situation, as in your example, that the third portrait (selective B&W and color) is the one, you liked and saved and closed the program.

Next time, you want to make some changes in 1 (say just to add border in the portrait, as SE provides that option). But when you open SE next time, it will start from scratch with the default (i.e your second portrait). Your all previous work is lost.

I did not find any option to start not with default, but rather with my previous saved work (1). And then, just add the border to selective B/W & color portrait.

I will appreciate your comment and suggestion. Thanks.

Theano Nikitas , May 25, 2011; 04:12 P.M.

You've made an interesting point. Unfortunately, I haven't (yet) found a way to retain the selective color portion of the image when opening it for a second time in SEP and I'm not sure that there is one.

However, if you're working on an image that you think you'll go back to (e.g., to add a border, etc.), save it as a custom preset before you exit SEP. Then, next time you bring that image into SEP, just click on the custom preset you created from that image to apply all the adjustments (except the selective color).

Hope this helps!

Tomek Gooseberry , May 30, 2011; 08:14 A.M.

There's an interesting thread Doing what Silver Efex does in Photoshop or Lightroom....
http://photo.net/digital-darkroom-forum/00YgWR
...you may want to check out.

M. Iqbal , May 31, 2011; 11:04 P.M.

Theano Nikitas: Great suggestion. In order to make further changes on the same photo in SE, open the original, then apply your custom preset.


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