Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Review

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This week I’m back to photography. A good friend and reader recently turned me on to Nik Software that has a series of excellent photography software products. In particular, their Color Efex Pro plug-in for Aperture and Photoshop.

I know I’m supposed to be objective as a reviewer but I just have to say this plug in rocks. Have you ever seen those photoshop svants that can take a picture and then work their black magic on it. I’ve always admired it but at a certain level accepted that I’m about as likely to learn how to do that as I am to build a fission reactor in my attic.

This is where Color Efex Pro steps it up. It installs as a plug in for Aperture or Photoshop and it has a pile of digital filters that enhance your photos with the touch of a button. I’m not just talking black and white here. This is 52 filters with over 250 effects that make your photos look professional.
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Pro Contrast Filter

These filters include several traditional filter effects such as polarization and color gradients. Since I don’t shoot with anything but a UV filter, this allows me to experiment on my shots.
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Sunshine Filter

That is just the beginning though. There are also a host of filters that just make your photos look better or more interesting. There is one that softens your skin. Solarizer gives you an incredible contrast for portraits. One darkens the edges and lightens the center. Another takes your modern fancy image and magically turns it into an antiqued old photograph. Are you taking glamour shots? One click sets you up. Need extra light, the sunshine filter allows you to add it in with a large degree of granularity. You can turn day to night with the midnight filter or get that hazy James Dean look with the Monday Morning filter. I’ve spent hours playing with these filters and could ramble on. In the plug-in it even organizes the filters in convenient tabs such as portrait, landscape and traditional.
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Bleach Bypass

Applying these filters in Aperture is easy as selecting the image, activating the plug-in and clicking on your filter of choice.

Nik Software explains the benefit is that you can do your edits faster. I think they are missing the point. Color Efex Pro allows you to do edits that are completely unreachable to us mere mortals. It is like having your own little photoshop genius in your pocket.
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Glamour Glow

The Color Efex Pro filters do come at a price. There are three versions that range from $100 (with 15 filters) to $300 (with 52 filters). I know for the “point and shoot” crowd that is probably more than their camera cost but if you are an SLR owner and serious about dramatically increasing your digital enhancement skills, this one is worth a serious look. You can see samples of all the filters and download a trial at Nik’s website found at NikSoftware.com. Check it out.

You can listen to this review on Surfbits Episode 176.

Looking at the Aperture/Noise Ninja Marriage

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So I have this running battle with my flash. Specifically, I cringe every time I use it (particularly indoors). I'm just never happy with indoor flash shots. Anyway, as a result, I am reckless with my ISO often cranking it up 800 and even 1600 to avoid using the flash. The problem is at 1600 ISO, the Rebel can get pretty noisy.

As a result, I've been thinking about buying Noise Ninja to give me a hand cleaning up some of these photos but with the release of Aperture 2.1 it now appears the Noise Ninja developers are going to release an Aperture version as early as May. Needless to say I'm going to wait and see how this all shakes out. Noise removal seems to make more sense to me in Aperture than Photoshop so I'm crossing my fingers.

Aperture 2.1 Gets Burn and Dodge

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Today Apple released Aperture 2.1 with enhanced plug-in architecture including a new burn and dodge tool. Those happen to be two of my most often used tools in photoshop. With the version 2.0 features and now the addition of plug-ins, Aperture is quickly becoming the only tool I need to process photographs except for those instances where I either want to do something exotic, or completely screwed up the image capture.

This is, apparently, just the beginning. Apple's site lists several developers that are already working on Aperture plug-ins including:

* Nik Software’s Viveza plug-in, powered by U Point technology, which provides a powerful, precise and easy way for photographers to selectively control and adjust color and light in their digital images;

* PictureCode’s Noise Ninja plug-in that delivers advanced high ISO noise analysis and reduction;

* Digital Film Tools’ Power Stroke plug-in that features a simple, stroke-based interface to quickly mask and intuitively perform targeted adjustments;

* The Tiffen Company's Dfx plug-in that provides an expansive suite of creative filters and effects;
dvGarage’s dpMatte plug-in, which is a high performance chroma key tool for creating seamless composites, and the HDRtoner plug-in that enables the selection of multiple photos to create a single high dynamic range (HDR) image; and

* Image Trends’ plug-ins that include Fisheye-Hemi to quickly and effortlessly correct fisheye lens distortion, ShineOff which automatically removes shine from faces and PearlyWhites that automatically whitens and brightens teeth.

They all sound good to me but I'm particularly interested in noise reduction since I'm not a fan of the flash often recklessly crank up the ISO.

You can get all the details at the Aperture Website.

Data Recovered!

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I woke up this morning with an inbox full of ideas for recovering my photos that I posted I had lost yesterday. Thank you all for the advice. I actually downloaded a data recovery program this morning and when I went to access the card found the photos were still there. I told Aperture to delete them yesterday and I had just assumed it did. I guess Aperture was acting funny on several levels.

Either way, everything is back and being backed up as I write this. The best part of these hijinx however was the excellent emails and offers of help in my inbox this morning. Thank you all!

Even Geeky Mac Guys Can Screw Up Backups

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So today was Palm Sunday and my daughter sang in the church choir. It was a sunny day here in Orange County and I got some great photos not only of my daughter but also some of the gardens. So I was merrily cropping, tweaking, and rating while doing about seven other things on my MacBook Pro and managed to grind Aperture to a grinding halt.

I don't know how I did it. I don't know if it was Aperture or me, but the whole process cratered. I restarted and my Aperture library was completely torched. I could see pictures but not move them or use them. Moreover, the newest ones were garbled beyond all recognition. To add insult to injury, I had already wiped the memory card. After monkeying with it for an hour I finally surrendered and reloaded the last night's version of the Aperture library (Thank you TimeCapsule) and everything is right but this morning's pictures are gone. Don't you just hate that feeling when you realize you've lost irreplaceable data? You'll just have to trust me that they were fantastic pictures. In fact, now that they are gone I am already remembering them as much better than they actually were.

Anyway, I have to admit this is the first time in years that I lost something I hadn't backed up. Just goes to show you can never be too careful on these things. For now on, the memory card does not get erased until the RAW photos are in two places. Live and learn.

Aperture 2.0 Initial Impressions


I spent a good part of my weekend getting comfortable with Aperture 2.0. I've been using Aperture for about a year. I'd like to say my choice of Aperture was the result of long testing and analysis between Adobe Lightroom and Aperture but in the end it came down to a very good deal when CompUSA was going out of business and the knowledge that an Apple product would inherently integrate better with OS X (which it does).

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I really didn't have much problem with version 1.5 and found it quite useful. That being said, 2.0 is a significant improvement.

Library Organization

Aperture has always been good for organizing your library. I really like that they put some of iPhoto's innovations in to the new version. Particularly image scrubbing and .mac web galleries. I have roughly 8,000 photos in my library and it is very easy to find and work with all of them using Aperture.

Image Correction

Not only is the user interface easier to grok, there are some new tools that are fantastic. I particularly like the sliders for recovery (blown out highlights) and black point (too dark darks). Likewise the new vibrancy slider is a really nice tool for giving an image pop without screwing too much else up. Another tool I'm starting to experiment with but a little intimidated by is the dropper on the Color menu which allows me to adjust a specific skin tone.

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So does Aperture replace Photoshop? No. However, if you do a decent job at the time of image capture, Aperture will be all you need for alot (if not most) of your images. All of the pictures in this article were only corrected in Aperture.

I'll write more on Aperture once I get a bit deeper. For the time being, if you are considering Aperture, I recommend you go watch Apple's very good tutorials right here. Any other Aperture jockeys out there? If so write in or comment.

Aperture Wonkiness


I've excepted my Aperture library from TimeMachine and over the weekend I was making sure to back up my Aperture library to a few places. In the process I managed to duplicate my image folder by a factor of four. Yep. It went from 8,000 images to 32,000 images. When I looked in the folder I saw things like this.

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Dave running with scissors (1)
Dave running with scissors (2)
Dave running with scissors (3)

I'm pretty certain this was my own doing and not Apertures but it left me with a trick problem of how to get rid of all those extra copies. I certainly wasn't going to do it by hand for 8,000 photos. I started thinking about some fancy Automator or Applescript action but then I remembered that Aperture has an "Move Master" command. I ran it putting the masters in a new location. That essentially rebuilt the 8,000 photo folder making it possible for me to simply delete the bloated folder.