Color Efex Pro 5 verdict
Color Efex Pro 5 has been modernized and streamlined as part of the Nik Collection 5 update, and when I thought it could hardly be any better – well it’s even better. Color Efex Pro 5 is a big collection of photographic and digital filters which can be used individually or in combination for an almost limitless range of effects. Color Efex Pro 5 replaces the old and somewhat dated interface, adds more controllable control points and DxO’s ClearView contrast enhancement. It was brilliant before, and it’s even more brilliant now.
Color Efex Pro is one of the older plug-ins in the DxO Nik Collection and until Nik Collection 5 it was the plug-in where least had changed. It did look a little old fashioned. And yet Color Efex Pro is a remarkable set of filters and tools that never stops surprising you.
I promise you, the longer you spend with it, the more impressed you will be. If you use them on their own, the filter effects vary from essential through interesting to so esoteric you might never use them, but when you start using control point adjustments and stacking multiple filters, you discover what this plug-in is truly capable of.
The Color Efex Pro screen layout takes the now-standard plug-in format, with a list of filter effects in a vertical panel on the left, a main window which displays the image you’re working on in the middle and manual adjustment tools on the right.
What’s new in Nik Collection 5 (and Color Efex Pro 5) is the way that all this is presented. Color Efex Pro’s filters are still in the left sidebar, but those being used for the current effect are highlighted by a vertical orange bar.
The filters themselves vary in usefulness, to be fair. 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 others might.
But some filters are near-indispensible, such as the Graduated Filters, Contrast Colour Range (brilliant for bringing out colour in landscapes), Detail Extractor and Tonal Contrast filters.
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 can also find this in DxO PhotoLab, launched after DxO acquired the Nik Collection and its technologies). 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 then 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 selections in other photo editing software.
In addition, the control point adjustments used throughout these filters for limiting the effects to specific areas or objects have now been improved with Luminance and Chrominance sliders to make the masking more selective.
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, you can 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 Preset button. These presets can now include control point adjustments, and while you’re likely to want to move the control points around for different photos, this could still save you a lot of time.
Another new feature in Color Efex Pro 5 is the ClearView control previously found in DxO PhotoLab. This can give flat-looking images real ‘pop’ in the same way as Lightroom’s Dehaze filter, but without Lightroom’s oversaturated look (if you push it too far) or increased noise levels.
Color Efex Pro 5 is normally a ‘destructive’ filter, so that one you’ve made your changes you can’t go back. It’s worth pointing out, however, that DxO does offer a non-destructive TIFF workflow too. It offers ‘multipage’ TIFF files which are twice the size, but include both the original image, the edited image and the processing steps used to create it. It means that your Color Efex Pro edits can be non-destructive. You can go back and change them later.
Color Efex Pro is a bit of an unsung hero in the Nik Collection suite. It might seem like a generic and perhaps old fashioned photo effects tool, but it’s a lot more than that. The updates in Color Efex Pro 5 are a big step forward in usability and presentation, but this program was already at the top of its game.
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