Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 Review

April 1, 2011 | Matt Grayson | Software Reviews | |


Silver Efex Pro from Nik software is a dedicated black and white plug-in for use in Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Costing around 199 Euro, the main new features of version 2 include an intuitive history browser, structure and fine structure, soft contrast, GPU processing, dynamic brightness, neutral image borders, specially developed algorithms, black and white amplification and selective colour. All these are on top of the existing features found in the original version, which we reviewed back in 2008. Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 costs $199.95 / 199.95 Euros, or $99.95 / 99.95 Euros to upgrade from version one.

We were suffering from a bad broadband connection when we downloaded and installed Silver Efex Pro 2, so we can't give a fair appraisal of download times. But if it runs as quickly as other Nik software programs we've downloaded, you should be up and running in less than 10 minutes.

To enable Silver Efex Pro 2, you have to load an image into your editing suite. For the purposes of this test, we used Adobe Photoshop CS4. Once the picture is loaded, go to the Filter tab, select Nik software from the bottom and choose Silver Efex Pro from the list. After launching, the picture you selected will appear in a separate window within the program. It will already be converted to one of the black and white modes in Silver Efex.

Nik Silver Efex ProLaunch Silver Efex

The main window is split into three parts. On the left are the black and white filters which can be shown all at the same time or divided into three preset sections and one custom.  Alternatively, selecting the All option will display every filter available which is much easier to browse, albeit longer. The great thing about these preset modes is that they're all so different that you will more than likely find an option in there to suit any kind of picture that you've taken.

Nik Silver Efex ProMain Window

However, if you find yourself at a loss or if you want to make some tweaks, the right side of the window allows you to do just that. There are five tabs to choose from and once you've clicked on one of the effects and the main picture in the middle of the window has changed, you can then start to move sliders on the right to make your own adjustments. If you want to start from scratch, pattern 000 (neutral) has all the settings at zero so you can make changes as you wish.

There are three main sliders for brightness, contrast and structure. The structure slider gives an effect similar to the clarity adjustment that is found in Adobe Raw. Two of the new features in Silver Efex Pro 2 are dynamic brightness and soft contrast. The two sliders here for brightness and contrast use those new features. Both features analyse the tonal qualities of the picture and adjust their settings according to the results. That means that with the brightness, unless you move it right up to 100%, you're less likely to get burn out in highlights but you can still gain detail in shadowy areas. Like-wise with soft contrast, it doesn't simply shove a load of contrast on the picture, it applies it delicately, adding different amounts to different parts of the picture to make sure it remains sympathetic with the result you're trying to achieve.

Entry Tags

software, program, film, effects, filters, black and white, nik software, Photoshop, plug-in, Lightroom, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 Review, Aperture, black & white, Silver Efex Pro 2

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#1 Marshall

Matt: I agree on every count…especially the speed. Silver EFex Pro 2 CRAWLS. My machine has an i7 processor and 12GB of RAM. On larger files you can go for lunch while Silver EFex 2 works. Forget being “efficient”. I love the new features but I hate the slow speed. All said, I would have stayed with Version 1 on that point alone.
Come on NIK pick up the pace.

3:34 pm - Friday, April 1, 2011

#2 Low Budget Dave

This seems like a tool for people who have a much better eye than I do, or a lot more money to spend.  When I look at two grayscale images with different settings, they both look pretty good to me.  Am I unaware of what looks good, or is this a program aimed at professionals only?  If so, are there cheaper tools that would fit the other 99% of us?

If I find a set of effects that I really like, can I apply them to a series of images?  If it can do some really fancy stuff, like find the eyes so I don’t have to, then it might be worth the cash.  If I still have to find the eyes myself to add color back, then there are definitely free ways to do that.

4:15 pm - Friday, April 1, 2011

#3 Ashley Beolens

As a keen user of photoshop and someone who is happy to make any tweaks to monochrome by using it’s built in tools, is it really justifiable to spend 200 Euros on this piece of software?

10:33 pm - Friday, April 1, 2011

#4 Jon S

@Ashley Beolens

In my opinion it’s absolutely justifiable! I had the same view as you until I tried the demo of version 1 (and then I had to buy it).

Firstly, this tool WILL allow you to produce better results. After a dozen or so great B&W photos that you’re really proud of, it’s easily paid for itself.

Secondly, I find it encourages me to experiment with B&W more. I’ve had some great results with images that I would have left as colour were it not for being able to just launch the plug-in, and make a few clicks to get a result that are 95% of the way there.

Then there’s the U-Point technology that works extremely well and is a massive time saver.

Before encountering the Nik tools (which started with Silver Efex), I spent huge amounts of time on Photoshop (since version 2.5.1) and Lightroom. Now I use Lightroom simply to get the global exposure settings right and then as a launch pad for Nik tools. Photoshop is largely relegated to performing correction of defects with spot healing, and cloning out of elements in the image I don’t want.

Sure the Nik Complete Collection cost me quite a lot of money, but it enables me to get the best out of far more of my shots than I was ever able to before and in most cases I’m able to get superior results that my (I think pretty advanced) Photoshop skills would ever have been able to produce.

I consider the suite to be as important an investment for me as my favorite lenses. In fact if I had to give up my beloved Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L or my Nik tools, I’m pretty certain I’d let go of the former.

4:12 am - Saturday, April 2, 2011

#5 Ashley Beolens

Many thanks, I’ll take a look at the 15 day trial :)

4:07 pm - Saturday, April 2, 2011

#6 Michelle

I agree with the review for the most part as I have used it before and really would recommended. I am not the best at photo editing but after playing with it for a few hours I had most of the basics of the plugin down.

9:01 pm - Sunday, April 3, 2011

#7 falsafay

SEF 2 is great (but slowere than v.1). However, I found a major flaw (or perhaps, I couldn’t find the right menue.) Once I make the necessary changes (tone/exposure etc) in SEF/Save it/ close the program/ go back to PS.

Now suppose, I want to make further changes in SEF (for example, add a border). Second time, when SEF opens, automatically photo is converted into “Neutral or default.” All my previous work is lost, you have to start from scratch. This is beyond me.

Other can also try. For example, just make few changes in SEF. Once saved and closed, try again to add a few more features, for example, add a border. I am afraid, you would lose all your previous work & would have to start from scratch in SEF. Please let me know. Thanks.

10:02 pm - Monday, April 4, 2011

#8 MIchael

@Jon S

Have your run these as Lightroom plugins, or only within Photoshop?

6:43 pm - Friday, June 3, 2011

#9 Jon S

I used to only launch them from Lightroom, but then I didn’t like that every time I opened an image it created a new TIFF. I have lots of disk space, but still it seemed very inefficient. Sometimes I’d end up with half a dozen intermediate TIFFs (after running DFine, Viveza more than once, different Color Efex tools and Silver Efex).

Now I make basic adjustments in Lightroom (exposure, lens corrections, etc.) and then edit the photo in Photoshop. From there I run the Nik tools (and others), which builds up each edit as a new layer. I then save back in to Lightroom. This also means I can do touch ups in Photoshop at the same time.

7:12 pm - Friday, June 3, 2011

#10 Fredy Ross

Saw that this software had a summersale so thought I would try it. when I went to pay the $99 I couldn’t. Seems it is more than double the price in Europe,Israel or Australia. I guess I have to stop being lazy and use photoshop cs5.

6:14 pm - Tuesday, June 28, 2011

#11 Jon S

@Fredy Ross: It’s not just a lazyman’s (or woman’s) version of creating black and white images in Photoshop. You will NOT get the same quality of results in Photoshop.

If I can stretch an analogy a little, it’s a little bit like saying that you can do everything in MS Paint, so you don’t need Photoshop.

6:58 pm - Tuesday, June 28, 2011

#12 KJ

I truly don’t understand why this software is used.  It offers nothing more than Photoshop and gives you less control.  Learn how to properly use PS and the results will pay off.

10:43 pm - Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#13 Larry Lourcey

Thanks for the review.  I’ve been meaning to check out the latest version.  Bummer to hear it runs SLOWER than v1.  The latest version of Topaz seems to do the same for me.


12:39 am - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#14 Jon S

@KJ, have you tried out the software? Based on your comment I assume that either you have not, or that you did not spend sufficient time to familiarize yourself with the tool and its features.

It would be very difficult to replicate the results of Silver Efex in Photoshop. Yes, you could get close, but it would take many, many hours (and lots of manual masking). Even then, you won’t have access to the excellent grain emulation of Silver Efex.

Also, in Photoshop you have to decide on the look you want and then focus on achieving that look. Silver Efex is fast enough that you can explore a number of different treatments before setting on the one you feel works best for the image.

Maybe YOU can look at a color photo and immediate visualize the black and white looks that works best, but I can’t. After a few mins with Silver Efex, I’ve usually determined what works for me and then can move forward with the precise editing to achieve that vision.

I used to do B&W conversion in Photoshop and I had a similar attitude to you. “Why spend all that money for something I can already do?”. Now I can admit how wrong I was.

At the very least, Silver Efex is a huge time saver, and in all likelihood it’ll get better end results that you’ll be able to achieve manually in Photoshop.

1:58 am - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#15 Chris

I’m sorry people report Silver Efex Pro 2 as being very slow. I have no idea what would be going on there.

I love SE Pro 2. On my MacBook Pro (2GHz quad core i7, 4Gb RAM) SE Pro 2 is very fast. I use RAW files from my EOS 1Ds and scanned 4800 dpi 16bit 35mm film and sometimes 6x6 format 120 film. No problems to report on speed, I work SE Pro 2 hard as well, using it from Photoshop Extended 5.5, Lightroom and Aperture.

I don’t think the problem lies with SE Pro 2, perhaps with your various systems.

2:22 pm - Friday, December 16, 2011

#16 Hans

If software runs slow on various systems the software might be the problem. On my win7x64/Corei7_920/12Gb it is painfully slow too. Even scrolling through the example previews is slow and it even remains slow if you go back and forth, which would seem avoidable at least by caching cq by prefetching the previews before you scroll.

1:22 pm - Thursday, January 19, 2012

#17 Simon

Has anyone solved the problem with SE pro 2 running slow?  I have been using it for several months without problems, then my hard drive crashed. I put it back on my new hard drive on the same computer and now it crawls along even with 900 pixel wide images. Everything is slow, it takes forever to load images and even scrolling through the menu is slow.

I have a quad processor, 4GB ram, 1Tb of hard drive space free, windows 7.

I can’t understand why it did run fine and now on a fresh hard drive is running slow.

3:32 pm - Friday, January 20, 2012

#18 Bill

Windows 7 64 bit, 8Gig Ram, 500Gig Scratch Drive.

11:38 pm - Saturday, January 21, 2012

#19 Simon

I figured out why SE pro 2 was running painfully slow on my PC after changing my hard drive. I didn’t have the correct driver for my graphics card, changing the driver solved all my problems and SE pro 2 is now working great.

Try this if you are having problems with SE running slow.

11:58 pm - Saturday, January 21, 2012

#20 dlwimages

Are there other programs that are more reasonably priced and that come close to SE pro 2? I hear B/W Styler is quite good and it is much cheaper. Anything else?

5:17 pm - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

#21 Martin Kay

Like others here I question whether its worth the price, especially if you are already using Lightroom4. Apart from the very nice borders you can get it doesn’t do much more than Lightroom4 and as someone else mentioned there is always Photoshop.
I do think its a convenience though, no doubt.

11:58 am - Sunday, June 3, 2012

#22 Jon S

Martin Kay, it’s understandable to question whether it’s worth it, but why don’t you download the demo (15 day trial, I think) and play with it yourself?

To me there is no question whether it’s worth it. I have Lightroom, Photoshop and many years experience with both. Silver Efex Pro delivers superior results, with greater control, in a fraction of the time.

6:01 pm - Sunday, June 3, 2012

#23 Martin Kay

Jon S, I have already downloaded the 15 day trial- hence my question. Many features are already existent in Lightroom. I’d be paying over £100 for am app that gives me a selection of fancy borders. Maybe a better purchase would be the complete set of apps currently on offer at about £200 ish. But compared to the functionality of Lightroom these Nik plugins are expensive especially for someone who has also used Photoshop for years- since 1.7 in fact. However for any reasonably capable PS user whats really on sale here is convenience. I’m not sure if I really need all these plugins- the full advertised price on UK Amazon is over £500.

8:13 pm - Sunday, June 3, 2012

#24 Martin Kay

The many presets available in this plugin mostly need many adjustments and the skilled and experienced judgement of a discerning user- so the idea that many may have that any inexperienced user can just click a few buttons and out pops a masterpiece is erroneous. Assuming most digital photographers are using some sort of RAW processor and a version of PS it leaves very little you need that aren’t available in these Adobe products except as I said previously a set of fancy borders.
I’m not saying I don’t like Silv Efex, but the price is too steep.

8:20 pm - Sunday, June 3, 2012

#25 Martin Kay

Well I just purchased the whole set of plugins as that was far better value than just getting Silv Effex

8:55 pm - Sunday, June 3, 2012

#26 btywhacky

Having tried the 15 day trial I am hooked but for the life of me cannot fine a uk retailer.

It is very expensive but brilliant - can anyone point me in the direction of a reputable uk dealer especially with the shifting exchange rate -

9:53 am - Sunday, March 10, 2013

#27 sohbet

pensive but brilliant - can anyone point me in the direction of a reputable uk dealer especially with the shifting exchange

12:26 am - Wednesday, April 10, 2013

#28 dlwimages

After Google purchased Nik, they made a special offer of $150. for the entire Nik Package. I’m not sure how long its available or whether it still is. The programs used to be too much for my pocketbook, but at this price, I jumped at the opportunity and feel it was well worth the wait.

12:45 am - Wednesday, April 10, 2013

#29 dlwimages

After Google purchased Nik software they made a great offer, selling the entire Nik package for less than Silver Efex Pro 2 used to be alone. It was worth the wait.

12:46 am - Wednesday, April 10, 2013

#30 sohbet

Google purchased Nik software they made a great offer, selling the entire Nik package for less than Silver Efex Pro 2 used to be alone. It was worth the wait.

7:34 pm - Monday, May 27, 2013

#31 CHAT

turkish chat blog’s!

7:35 pm - Monday, May 27, 2013

#32 sohbet

7:37 pm - Monday, May 27, 2013

#33 sohbet

After Google purchased Nik, they made a special offer of $150. for the entire Nik Package. I’m not sure how long its available or whether it still is. The programs used to be too much for my pocketbook, but at this price, I jumped at the opportunity and feel it was well worth the wait.

7:38 pm - Monday, May 27, 2013

#34 escortimren

I had used it in my digiLab…It looked quite handy and also its design is good. But its speed is too low. It sucks. Its previous version was better than this. I have 8 gb ram and i7 processor.

11:17 am - Wednesday, April 9, 2014

#35 iyi geceler sözleri

thank you, nice blog.

8:10 pm - Friday, October 3, 2014

#36 sohbet

turkish chat blog’s!

8:19 pm - Friday, October 3, 2014

#37 sohbet

turkish chat

8:20 pm - Friday, October 3, 2014

#38 ağır sözler

En ağır sözler

11:49 am - Sunday, October 5, 2014

#39 bizim mekan

ut brilliant - can anyone point me in the direction of a reputable uk dealer especially with the sh

12:17 am - Thursday, November 27, 2014

#40 avcılar samsung servisi

Gümüş Efex Pro 2 etkinleştirmek için, düzenleme paketi içine bir resim yüklemek zorunda.Benim idealim…

10:09 pm - Saturday, January 10, 2015

#41 hollanda sohbet

It’s nice to see that some people still understand how to write a quality post. It is extremely helpful for me. Thanks.

7:19 am - Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#42 Beylikdüzü Demirdöküm

siyah ve beyaz efecktelere dönüştürebilme özelliğiyle çok başarılı

10:41 am - Sunday, March 29, 2015