Is the New NIK Silver Efex Pro 3 Really Worth the Upgrade?

As a long-time user of Silver Efex, I wanted to answer the question for myself: is the update to the Nik Silver Efex Pro plugin alone worth the upgrade? So, I downloaded the latest version of the Nik plugin suite from the DxO website and gave it a test drive. Here are my initial impressions.

Interface

Honestly, there is not a lot new in the interface. Just a few relatively minor things to mention here.

There is a sleeker look to the design in this version of Silver Efex. It just feels like more refined software. The menus were easier to collapse, and sliding out of the way is done the same way as Lightroom, making it more automatic for me. 

Personally, I really like having the loupe and the zone system overlay controls at the top instead of down at the bottom. It just makes more sense to me since it’s something that I reference a lot when fine-tuning the tonal contrast in an image.

I also liked the way that the compare menu was made larger and moved to the middle of the top. It is more prominent and easy to access. And being able to click and hold on the compare button to switch between the two instead of accessing that with another button is a nice little addition.

One quibble. Even though I am only reviewing Silver Efex Pro 3 here, it’s worth noting that the interface of this plugin does not always match some of NIK’s other offerings. More consistency here would be welcome.

I personally would also love it if resetting each slider was done with a double-click on the name of it. Probably more conditioning from Adobe on my part, but I think it’s just an easy way to zero something out fast.

History Menu

Even though it’s not new, I feel that it’s worth noting here. I like the way that items in the history menu are grouped under categories. It makes it much easier to see what’s been done and to go back and find a particular point in time. I like this way of organizing, and it seems that it could be refined further. It does not differentiate between types of actions very well. For example, looking back at the history, I couldn't tell the difference between adjusting the midtone brightness or adjusting the midtone structure. More refinement here would really make this feature even more useful.

Features

Some new features and more easily accessed features is where the new version has more to offer.

Presets

There are more presets than before. It's also much easier to create new ones and apply them to another image that is opened in NIK. For my landscape work, I tend to customize each image individually and don't tend to use a lot of presets, other than possible starting points from which I will refine the image. This feature could be very useful, however, for wedding or fashion shooters, where keeping a consistent look between multiple images is important.

On my wish list for the next version would be the ability to see a preview of the effect of the preset rendered on the full image before I actually apply it, instead of just the small thumbnails under the menu. This happens in the previews when choosing the film types, so I wonder why it is different in presets.

Worth noting here is a new feature of the whole NIK Collection, wherein you have the ability to apply Meta-Presets from the Photoshop interface with the Nik plugins. This applies effects from two different NIK plugins at once for a potentially more unique look. It’s a nice feature but offers no preview at all as to what the final image will look like, so it seems like it is a feature that needs some further refinement.

DxO has also made it possible for Lightroom users to copy and paste Nik processing settings between images without reopening a plug-in or to quickly recall the last-used settings if you forgot to save them as a preset and want to tweak them further — both Important upgrades.

Control Points

Control points have been one of the most powerful and popular features of the NIK software lineup for some time now. And this latest version offers some welcome new functionality.

Most prominent among these is the ability to add or subtract from the control point via new Luminance and Chrominance sliders. This allows the user to refine the control points to a much greater degree and probably even reduces the number of control points you will need to make to get the selection you want.

You now can also rename control points and as in the past, group related control points together under a single heading, making it easier to keep track of them.

Most of the controls are now located on the right side menu instead of in the control point itself on the image. All you adjust on the image is the size of the control point. I like this. Having the controls on the control point itself was less user-friendly for this particular user.

Film Looks

This is one that I will also admit is less important to me. I studied photography and received my degree in the film era, but I don’t find myself interested in adding a simulation of that look to my landscape work. I prefer the modern digital look as opposed to a simulation of film. If this is something important to you, there have been 39 black and white film grain types added from the DxO FilmPack so that you can add most any type of film look that you want. And the reproductions are pretty believable.

Clearview Slider

This function is similar to the Dehaze slider in Lightroom. It is useful for increasing contrast and clarity, particularly in hazy images. I have read other reviews touting this new feature, but on the image I experimented with, at any rate, I found it way too easy to take the look over the top. These types of controls are really just adjusting contrast in the image. I’ve found that a careful application of curves and tone sliders can do the exact same thing for the most part.

Non-Destructive Edits

One thing that I did love in the new version is the improved Lightroom integration when saving non-destructive edits to a TIFF file and reopening them. I personally will use this a lot, as I have a Lightroom-based workflow. This ability has been there for a while, but it was just more obscure. Now, it is straightforward and easy to add to my workflow.

When you first open the image in Silver Efex from LR, this dialog box comes up.

If you select non-destructive edits, the next time you open from Lightroom directly into NIK with a right-click, choose the original and viola, there it is with all of the edits. This makes it so much easier.

Conclusions

Pros

  • Sleek new interface
  • More film types
  • Loop and tone feedback moved to the top
  • Greater ability to refine and organize control points.
  • Better integration with Lightroom

Cons

  • Preview of presets still limited to the small thumbnail
  • Meta-Presets needs refinement
  • Inconsistent UI between this and NIK’s other plugins

So yes, overall I would say that the new version is worth an upgrade, with some caveats. If you are not interested in film looks, or in using control points, then you may want to think twice, especially if you are not using the whole suite of plugins from the Adobe workflow. But If you do also use Viveza, the price of an upgrade gives you an updated version of that as well, so is well worth it. For me, the ease with which I can save and access non-destructive edits makes it well worth the upgrade price.

Suggestions for DxO

  • Reset adjustment sliders to zero with a double click, just like Lightroom and Camera Raw.
  • Allow full-screen previews for the presets. The software already does this in film looks, so why not add that functionality to preset previews as well?
  • Standardize the NIK Collections look and feel of the UI to make it more consistent.
  • Meta-Presets should have the ability to preview instead of just a description of what the preset does.

A fully functional one-month trial version of Nik Collection 4 is available here.

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7 Comments

Joe Petolino's picture

Note the the "free trial" isn't exactly free if you're already using an old version of Nik and want to keep using it. Once you've installed the trial, you can't go back to using the old version unless you still have the old installer:

Casey Chinn's picture

True. Thanks for bringing that up.

Terry Waggoner's picture

Well, that helped me make up my mind......now if I can just get DxO to stop sending me a link to upgrade every time I open it up.

Terry Waggoner's picture

...

MARTIN SAUER's picture

It would be nice to know if the new version is compatible with the Apple M1-chip computers. I've had trouble getting NIK to work since updating to a M1 Mac Mini. DxO didn't seem to express much interest in fixing that. That's important information for those of us going with the M1 Macs.

Vik Vallentino's picture

I’m wondering if they finally have fixed the old issue of crashing/freezing photoshop after exiting the filter?

Casey Chinn's picture

I had no crashes at all.