Color Efex Pro 4

This is one of the older plug-ins in the suite and it feels like this is where least has changed – but while the filter effects are mostly familiar, there have been some important improvements, notably the ability to ‘stack’ filters in combination and save your favourite ‘recipes’ as new presets.

The screen layout takes the now-standard plug-in format, with a list of filter effects in a vertical panel on the left, and main window which displays the image you’re working on and manual adjustment tools on the right.

There are 55 filters in all, but you can thin down the list by clicking on one of the category buttons at the top: Landscape, Wedding, Architecture, Favourites, Nature, Portrait, Travel.

The filters themselves vary in usefulness, to say the least. I’ve never used the burnt landscape look of Indian Summer, the false colours of the Ink filter or the soft-focus Duplex effect amongst others.

But some are near-indispensible, such as the Graduated Filters, Contrast Colour Range (brilliant for bringing out colour in landscapes), Detail Extractor and Tonal Contrast.

Each filter has its own adjustment parameters, displayed in the panel on the right side of the screen, and – crucially – they all use Nik’s control point technology for localised adjustments. You click to add a control point and it adds its own mask, based on the colour values where you clicked, and which operates over an adjustable radius. You adjust the opacity of the control point with a slider to either remove the filter effect from an area or add it in.

Initially, these control points can feel a little crude and indiscriminate, but once you start moving them around, adjusting the parameters – and when you realise you can duplicate the group them – they become very powerful indeed. With just a few moments’s work you can can create subtly blended adjustments that have a very natural look and none of the harsh boundary transitions you so often get with regular selections.

These control points work especially well with the Graduated Filter effects, solving that age-old problem of tall buildings or mountains jutting up into the sky. You can add one or more ‘minus’ control points to remove the darkening effect from these objects and, if this takes away too much of the darkening effect from the sky around them, drop in a couple of ‘plus’ control points to restore it.

Color Efex Pro doesn’t just offer a list of filters and leave you to get on with it. It also offers a selection of presets for each – though it would be easy to overlook these. To the right of each filter’s name is a small button which reveals a handful of pre-configured ‘looks’ for that filter. These can save you a lot of time by showing you what’s possible and giving you a head start with the settings.

Color Efex Pro’s real power, though, likes in its filter stacking capabilities. If you find the Tonal Contrast filter has given your landscape the punch it needs but the sky is too dark, you can click the Add Filter button underneath to add a Graduated Filter effect – and you can keep adding filters until you’ve got the result you want.

After all that work, you might want to save that filter combination for use again in the future, in which case all you have to do is click the Save Recipe button. You can choose a name for your recipe and it’s then saved in the Recipes tab in the filters panel on the left of the screen.

Color Efex Pro does have limitations as well as strengths. You can save filter recipes, but all the edits you carry out on individual images are ‘destructive’ – you save out a regular JPEG or TIFF file with all your adjustments baked in, so you can’t go back later and tweak the settings.

That’s not so hard to live with though, and Color Efex Pro is another tool with a degree of depth and control that you may never fully explore.