Thursday, August 14, 2008

Software Review: Adobe Photoshop Plug-in - Silver Efex Pro From Nik Software

Silver Efex Pro is the latest addition to Nik's collection of digital photographic filters and effects for Adobe Photoshop. This is a brand new product that is aimed at creating dynamic black and white images by offering the traditional tools of the darkroom while including the flexibility and precision of digital photography.

Not only is Silver Efex Pro a black and white converter, it contains Nik's premier U Point technology that gives you pinpoint control over what you want to do. No longer are you limited to working with global changes and masking to accomplish your goals. Rather, now you can precisely control specific areas of your image with a couple of clicks of your mouse.

What do you need to run Silver Efex Pro? System requirements are Windows 2000 Pro or better, Mac OS 10.4 or better, 512 MB, and Photoshop 7 through CS3 on Windows, CS2 and CS3 on Mac, Photoshop Elements 2.0 or better on Windows, 4.0 and 6.0 on Mac, or any image editing software program that accepts Adobe Photoshop Plug-ins.

Nik Silver Efex ProBasically, the Silver Efex Pro workflow works like this. Launch Photoshop, open an image, and open Silver Efex Pro from the filter menu, which will open the Silver Efex interface. By default, the Style Browser with sample thumbnails of your image will appear on the left hand side of the interface. On the right side are the enhancement controls.

Once you select the style from the left that most closely represents what you want to accomplish, you can use the enhancement control options on the right to make global adjustments to the image. These include controls to adjust the brightness and contrast, and structure sliders.

Next you can use the U Point Control Points to selectively control where each filter is applied to the images. This allows you to control the effect without having to use selections and/or masking. By placing Control Points on an image, you can control brightness, contrast, and structure to fine tune certain areas of your images independently of the rest of the photo.

The next set of controls are the Color Filters. These work much in the same way that traditional color filters work when used with panchromatic black and white films; objects of the color of the filter are lightened while objects the opposite of the filter's colors are darkened.

Then you have the film type selection. Here you get 18 different film types based on the most popular black and white films. These include ISOs from 32 to 3200 and film types from manufacturers like Agfa, Ilford, Kodak, and Fuji. For each you can control grain, sensitivity, and tone curve.

Finally, you have the Stylizing section which gives you control adding tints, tones, as well as allowing you to dodge and burn the image. Here you can add a classic vignette, burn the edges, or perform an unending set of task by using the collection of stylizing tools, or creating your own new looks.

If you are using Adobe Photoshop, you also have the ability to use a powerful selective tool. This gives you access to Silver Efex Pro and allows you to brush filter effects into your image using any brush available in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Layers and masks are created allowing you to apply enhancements to precise areas of your image.

While it is easy to like the preset styles, what makes this so strong a feature is the ability to modify and add styles to your collection so that when you get something that you like, you can use it again and again. You can also export the styles as individual styles such that you can share amongst friends as well. You can even fine tune a style and use the update feature. If you have Dfine 2.0, Viveza, or Color Efex Pro 3.0, the installer will update the existing Selective tool which lets you access all of these plug-ins from the same Selective tool.

Nik Silver Efex ProI think that Sliver Efex Pro is another great addition to the photographer's tool box. I love the ease of use and the flexibility that this plug-in gives me. What would take a lot of work traditionally in Photoshop is accomplished in a fraction of the time. Want to see more? Check out the series of lesson videos that Nik has put together. Better yet get the 15-day free trial and play with it yourself.

At $199.95, Silver Efex Pro will pay for itself many times over, but from now until September 15, 2008, every copy of Nik Silver Efex Pro sold in North America will include a free sample pack of Gekko Fine Art Collection inkjet papers from Pictorico. This includes two sheets each of 4 paper types: Award winning Gekko Green (Glossy), Gekko Blue (Luster), Gekko Red (Cotton), and Gekko Black (Matte). If you want to do black and white and do it with spectacular results then I highly recommend Silver Efex Pro from Nik Software.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Software Review - Adobe Photoshop Plug-in - Dfine 2.0 From Nik Software

Written by T. Michael Testi

Dfine 2.0 is the long awaited update to Dfine 1.0; the Noise Reduction product from Nik Software that is redefining noise reduction for Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. That leads to the question "What is Noise?" Noise is the unwanted imperfections created by digital cameras as they try to capture the digital image. The amount of noise that is generated is determined by the quality and type of image sensor that created the image.

Dfine is a plug-in to Adobe Photoshop and other image editing applications; ones that support Photoshop Plug-ins, that can help you reduce noise in your images. Its goal is to reduce noise while still maintaining the detail and sharpness and therefore improving the quality of every image. Dfine will help fix problems due to fast or high ISO speeds as well as low light levels. It even works on JPEG artifacts.

So what is new with Dfine 2.0? Well first we have U Point® Technology; a dynamic and flexible technology that provides photographers a new way for editing digital images with out layers, masks or selections. It does this by using algorithms which consider relationships between color and light. It was first featured in Nikon's Capture NX Software. This allows you to reduce noise only where needed by using U Point Control Points
Image courtesy Nik SoftwareThere is also Selective Functionality. This can be done three ways. As said before, it can be done by using control points. It can also be done by using Color Ranges; this is done by selecting to reduce noise within individual color ranges and is generally best done when working in a batch process. Lastly there is the Selective Tool. By using the brush tool in Photoshop or Elements, you can manage layers and layer masks.

Dfine has added a brand new reduction engine that provides noise reduction while retaining a great deal of detail. This can reduce the need to purchase camera profiles and it fine-tunes images by using automatic camera profiling.

Finally there is an updated interface. This will allow you to resize and in general, more easily incorporate Dfine into your workflow. You can see from the image below the redefined interface.

Image courtesy Nik SoftwareThe program is very easy to use. Effectively you measure the noise and choose your method of reduction; whole, color range, or control points. You can then preview the image's detail before and after noise reduction with a variety of methods. Once you are happy with the reduction, click OK and your changes will be applied

I like Dfine 2.0's simplicity and ease of use. It takes a complicated process and brings it into your workflow without impeding it. If you want to see more you can watch some of the lesson videos or you can get a 15-day free trial. If you are already sold on Dfine, you can purchase it new for $99 USD and $69.95 USD for the upgrade from version 1.0.


Software Review - Adobe Photoshop Plug-in Color Efex Pro 3.0 From Nik Software

Written by T. Michael Testi

Color Efex Pro 3.0 is the latest update to Nik's collection of digital photographic filters and effects for Adobe Photoshop. Version 3 has been updated for speed, a new interface, and something called U Point technology.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 contains four different types of enhancements; traditional filters, color correction, retouching and creative enhancements. It contains 52 filters that contain over 250 unique effects, and with the fact that you can combine them, it makes the possibilities limitless.

System requirements are Windows 2000 or better, Mac OS 10.4 or better, 256 MB RAM (512 MB Recommended), and Photoshop CS2, CS3, Photoshop Elements 4.0, or any image editing software program that accepts Adobe Photoshop Plug-ins.

Image Courtesy Nik SoftwareBasically, the Color Efex Pro 3.0 workflow goes like this. Launch Photoshop, open an image, and open Color Efex Pro from the filter menu which will open the interface. By default, the filter list will appear on the left hand side of the interface. This is an alphabetical list of the available filters. They are categorized by topics such as portrait, landscapes, etc. Since there are three versions of Color Efex Pro the number of filters may vary. The standard edition contains 15 Filters, the Select Edition contains 35 filters, and the Complete Edition contains 52 filters. You can check out which filters are available from the Nik Website

Once you select your filter, you are given options to make adjustments to the filter. Then you can use the U Point Control Points to selectively control where each filter is applied to the images. This allows you to control the effect without having to use selections and/or masking. By placing Control Points on an image, you can control color, tone, and light on your image. These might be sky, skin, clothing etc.

Essentially you take this Control Point and drop it on the image. You can then adjust the area and the opacity of the image. You have a 0% control point that begins at no opacity and has not filter effect, and you have full opacity which fully enables the filter. You can then see what the effects of the Control Points from the modes pull down menu.
After setting your values and Control Points, you can then preview the image either side by side or in a split view mode. Once you are happy with the effects, you can then press the OK button and the effects will be applied to your image.

Another new feature is the interface which now features a much larger preview than before. To many people, this alone would be worth the price of upgrade over version 2. Color Efex Pro 3.0 now can use the full screen of your monitor.

The new Selective tool automates the creation of layers and layer masks within Adobe Photoshop. You can pinpoint your filter by simply brushing on the filter effects to your image. Color Efex Pro 3.0 handles the layer masks behind the scenes. It is also great for Wacom Pen Tablet use as well. This effect is only available in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.

Image Courtesy T. Michael Testi

I think that Color Efex Pro 3.0 is a great addition to the photographer's tool box. The new filters, which include Bleach Bypass, Cross Balance, Film Effects, Film Grain, Glamour Glow, Low Key, High Key, Polaroid Transfer and Tonal Contrast, along with the enlarged preview, and the Selective tool are well worth the upgrade.

As advertised Color Efex Pro is very fast and very easy to use. Because of the U Control Point and Selective tools, you don't have to be an expert at using layers and layer masks; granted you won't have as much control as you would if you did, but this is so much faster. The biggest downside to Color Efex Pro is that it will take time to learn what works and what doesn’t. Color Efex Pro is highly recommended.