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Silver Efex Pro 2

With Silver Efex Pro the Google Nik Collection definitely hits a high spot. This is back to the regular Nik effects tool setup, with a big selection of ready-to-go presets in a panel on the left, backed up by comprehensive manual adjustments on the right.

You don’t need to get your hands dirty with sliders and checkboxes if you don’t want to, but if you do then Silver Efex reveals its true power.

This is the black and white conversion plug-in against which all others should be judged. It aims to replicate the look, feel and depth of classic black and white films and darkroom techniques and, unlike so many of its rivals, it succeeds.

There are 38 preset in all – not a huge number, but covering a very wide range of styles – and these are also organised into categories including Modern, Classic and Vintage. These all use the image you’re working on to produce a live thumbnail preview, so there’s no need for any click-it-and-see trial and error.

Each of these presets is created with a specific combination of tools and setting, which you can see in the tools panel on the right. This means you can quickly select a preset that’s close to the final effect you’re looking for and then tweak a couple of the controls to apply the finishing touches. Once you’ve created an effect you think you might want to use again in the future, you can save it as a new, custom preset.

A trawl through the manual tools reveals the depth of control you have over your images. There is a Brightness slider, for example, but below that there are subsidiary sliders for Highlights, Midtones and Dynamic Brightness, which applies an adaptive adjustment to produce a low-key or high-key effect without tonal compression or lowered contrast.

Talking of contrast, you get a regular global contrast slider, but you can also Amplify Whites, Amplify Blacks and apply a more diffuse Soft Contrast effect.

This depth carries on all the way through the toolset. You can add definition and ‘punch’ with a Structure slider, you can apply black and white ‘contrast’ filters by clicking a button or adjusting the hue and strength precisely, and you can simulate a wide range of traditional black and white films, with optional control over the spectral response, grain (and grain characteristics) and tone curve.

And you can finish off with toning effects, edge burning, vignettes and borders.

No black and white image is complete without a little dodging and burning, of course, and for this you’ve got the control points you’ll find throughout the Nik Collection. Here you can use them to darken or lighten specific areas, increase or reduce the contrast, boost the structure and even apply selective colourisation, re-introducing a hint of colour into your monochromatic images.

It’s not just the range of tools that makes this a great black and white plug-in, it’s also their effectiveness at recreating the drama, depth and boldness of classic black and white photography.

There aren’t many plug-ins out there which are truly great, but this is one of them.