For fans of black and white photography, Silver Efex Pro is just superb. It recreates the depth, intensity and ’soul’ of black and white in a way few other tools approach, and its controls are geared firmly towards creative photographic processes and visualisation rather than pixels and technicalities.
What is Silver Efex Pro?
Silver Efex Pro is a dedicated black and white photography plug-in that’s one of the key creative tools in the Nik Collection. Regarded by many as the best black and white tool on the market, even years after its introduction.
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 many of its rivals, it succeeds.
How it works
Silver Efex Pro uses the regular Nik Collection screen 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.
There are now nearly 50 presets in all, counting the new “En Vogue” presets added in the DxO Nik Collection 2. It’s not a huge number, but they cover a very wide range of styles – and these presets are also organised into categories including Modern, Classic and Vintage. The presets panel uses 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, which also has the effect of brightening shadows and darkening light tones – which can be helpful for high-contrast scenes.
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.
Is it any good?
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.
One thing worth pointing out, though, is that it’s not the only black and white tool in the Nik Collection. Analog Efex Pro has some great black and white tools which are geared more towards camera and lens effects and more antique/distressed looks, while Color Efex Pro has a great Old Photo filter for recreating the look of early prints.
There aren’t many plug-ins out there which are truly great, but this is one of them. You can’t get it on its own, only as part of of the DxO Nik Collection, which you can download from the DxO website.