Plug-in creates amazing black-and-white images
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Plug-in creates amazing black-and-white images

By Steve Baczewski

Nik Software ( recently released Silver Efex Pro 2 (US$199.95), updating their powerful black-and-white conversion software with impressive new features and special algorithms for finer tonal control and faster processing.

They’ve added new presets with image thumbnail previews, and now there’s a well-designed History Browser to let you compare your current image with previous states and possibly pick up from an earlier point. Emulation of classic film types has been expanded with more controls for increased accuracy.

The finishing section has been updated -- you can now add borders and endlessly adjust them until you’re content. New stylized print tones have been added, and along with Vignette and Burn Edges controls, you can effectively direct the viewer’s eye to any part of your image.

But the main refinement is a higher level of tonal control and quality. Photoshop and Lightroom have very good black-and-white conversion tools but not like Silver Efex Pro. The new algorithms target specific areas both globally and locally increasing tonal separation, giving your image more depth, and all with a remarkable ease and precision that’s truly user-friendly. The amazing U Point technology that allows you to create precision masks has been expanded with new sliders that now let you amplify black-and-white contrast or add color back into your image with the creative Selective Color slider.

Silver Efex Pro plugs into Photoshop, Lightroom, or Apple Aperture. The interface looks essentially the same. The large centered preview window can be configured to let you compare before and after views. On the left are 38 thumbnail presets of your image, which are now organized by styles: Vintage, Classic, Modern, etc.

These are excellent as a point of departure. You can also create and add your own presets or download new ones from Nik’s website, which also offers frequent webinars and teaching videos. Their Web support is exemplary.

On the right side of the image window are the goods -- an expanded, all-inclusive toolset for manipulating your grayscale images. Formerly Brightness, Contrast, and Structure (detail) were uniform controls that globally adjusted the image. This has been expanded, with subsliders that refine specific areas. Brightness can now be applied separately to highlights, midtones, and shadows, adjusting a specific tonal range with precision. The new Dynamic Brightness slider allows adjusting the overall brightness without loosing detail and blowing out the highlights and shadows.

Contrast has also been broken into finer increments with sliders that let you amplify and accentuate highlights (Amplify Whites) and shadows (Amplify Blacks) separately without clipping while preserving the midtones. The new Soft Contrast slider looks for specific tones and increases the contrast separation dynamically. The Structure sliders are all about bringing out texture and detail in an image by looking for fine lines and increasing the contrast. Now Silver Efex Pro’s Structure sliders let you separately control highlights, midtones, and shadows. And the new Fine Structure slider goes down to an even finer level to create texture without discernible artifacts. More than before, Silver Efex Pro milks an image for more tonal separation and dimensionality.

My only criticism of version 2 is that there’s a visual lag time when moving many of the tonal sliders. There’s a pause as you wait for the image in the preview window to catch up to your adjustment. Silver Efex Pro 2 is a beautifully designed, comprehensive start-to-finish, professional black-and-white laboratory with all the tools you need for global and local tonal adjustment -- download the trial version and see for yourself.

Rating: 9 out of 10

This review is brought to you courtesy of "Layers Magazine" ( .


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