Tuesday, March 4, 2008

REVIEW: Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete (Archive)

ATTENTION See my review of Color Efex Pro 4 – the best plug-in on the planet!

NOTE: A 15% discount on Nik Software for readers of this blog by entering the code rmartinsen when you order online or call to place an order. This offer excludes 3rd party software, bundles and upgrades.

A couple weeks ago I downloaded a fully functional demo of Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete. I learned about this product from a respected pro portrait photographer who swore by it. I also discovered that Nikon Users use a similar light-weight version of this product called Capture NX which is heavily used by pro Nikon photographers.

You can visit the web site for info about the product, but it basically consists of a Standard (15 filters for $99.95), Select (35 filters for $159.95) & Complete Edition (All 52 filters which includes the ones you really want for a whopping $299.95). You can view the list of filters and samples, but I found the most helpful ones to be the bi-color filter (which I used on my strobist glass shot below), the neutral density filter (which saved my a$$ on a shot the other day), the dynamic skin softener (which isn't intuitive, but works well once you figure it out), Glamour Glow, and finally the Pro Contrast filter. [UPDATED - As time has gone on, I've found many other filters like the stylizers, reflector, and film effects to be very useful as well. ] The others are very good with some being super cool, but those are the ones I saw myself using most frequently during my 15 day free trial.

I love the way this software works and the filters are excellent, but I'm having a hard time justifying paying $300 for 52 filters. It isn't the best value for what you get, but what it does it does well. Here's a shot that was done using the color stylizer (versus the photo stylizer for the first girl photo in this article) with an eyedropper place on the swimsuit color.:

REVIEW (Updated July 25, 2009)

Features: 4/5 - not enough filters for a 5, but the ones it has are outstanding and only a few are pretty useless. It has some nice black and white filters as well, but Silver Efex Pro is a much better choice.

Functionality: 3.5/5 - The UI is probably an improvement over previous versions, but could still use some improvement. As I get used to the U-Point system I realize why this is the best solution out there right now, BUT there's some stupidity in the UI controls (zoom comes to mind) that is rather frustrating. The performance can be slow at times as well.

Price: 4/5 – A very good for what you get in the Complete version compared to other products on the market. The dynamic skin softener, reflector, graduated neutral density filter and polarizer filter will make you want to own this product and pay for themselves quickly in time saved. It's like buying expensive chocolate - it's not worth it, but you enjoy it so much you do it anyway. I paid my own hard cash for this and after using the demo, you'll likely submit and do the same.

Recommendation: If you have the money, get it - you won't regret it. A group discount is now available for readers of this blog on the Discount Coupon Code page.

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Bjorn said...

it would be nice if you could show a few samples of what the filters actually do. like an before & after.

Ron Martinsen said...

The best samples are here under the learn tab, but I've also put some up of a few of my favorite filters in an article I wrote here. I would encourage you to download the free trial version and play with it. It works well and it was enough to convince me that I can't live without it! :-)


Kevin said...

Ron - The Shell Station shots you've modified with Color Efex Pro 3.0 are really cool looking - strikingly nice work!

Still, I can't tell whether you've come around in your opinion and think that the product is worth the $$ or not. In the end you bought it, so I assume that you tried the other products (e.g. Phototools) and ultimately decided in favor of CEP 3.0?

My fav filters these days are Bleach Bypass, Darken/Lighten Center, and Tonal Contrast (which is also good for smoothing skin).

BTW, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on what a "non-mediocre" implementation of the U Point technology might look like. "Click and move some sliders" has worked well for me personally, but YMMV.

Cheers, Kevin

PS: full disclosure, I work for Nik Software (though not on the engineering team)

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for stopping by to comment.

More descriptive labels as to what the U-Point controls do is helpful but even more importantly when I'm changing the values I want to see more visual feedback as to what is being impacted. Granted, I understand the controls a little better now than when I did when I wrote this blog so its less of an issue for me now, but a good example of quirkiness is the Polarizer. When I change the angle I want to see something obnoxious on the UI that shows me what is being impacted OR the portion of the UI that isn't being impacted should be dimmed to indicate it is not affected by the change. The U-Point concept is good, but it is tricky to determine exactly what is happening especially when things are subtle. ACR/Lightroom addresses some of this by allowing you to do an ALT while dragging things like the Sharpness settings to get a mask view of what is happening. Perhaps U-Point just needs better labels and ALT support to dim out what isn't impacted and something like direction arrow for things like the Polarizer angle.

Kevin said...

Hi Ron - as you know, when you roll over a Control Point slider, the letter representing what that slider does changes to be a descriptive label (e.g. "contrast"). That was an improvement over earlier U Point implementations (in Capture NX 1.0). True enough that the controls are a bit tiny, so hopefully that's helpful to some.

To your other point about seeing the area that the Control Point is affecting - when you move the size slider and press the CTRL key, it changes the preview window to show a live view of the mask being created. Is that partly what you're looking for? Fair enough point on the Polarizer "angle" - hmmm... will pass that along.

Cheers, KLR

Ron Martinsen said...

"press the CTRL key, it changes the preview window to show a live view of the mask being created.
Is that partly what you're looking for?"

I am not seeing that behavior on my Windows system using Color Efex 3.0. Perhaps that would help some, but something closer to what I mentioned might be more helpful.