Nik Collection, Analog EFEX Pro 2

I’ll bet you expected an update on the Ricoh GR given I actually used it over the weekend. It’s coming but truth is I actually didn’t get to make many pictures with it or the rest of my cameras this weekend. I’d say I have about two or three hours behind the wheel at this point. Not really enough time or diversity to say a whole lot, probably more time than most reviewers spend actually using the camera but then again I am not nearly as skilled as them at rendering a definitive set of positive opinions that quickly.

Moving on — The Nik collection. As I am sure many others felt, I had a mountain of concern when Google swallowed Nik. I’m not a heavy user of their suite of products but I enjoy Silver EFEX Pro 2 immensely. For anything I consider final work I use it exclusively. It’s the only fake grain that I find remotely similar to real film. Lightyears ahead of Lightroom. As for the other products, meh… They are nice but I don’t use them. I don’t need a ton of precision for local adjustments that I rarely do, I don’t really like a lot of effects beyond something a little more like a film look for black and white so for the most part they just lay around my hard drive collecting virtual dust.

Much to my surprise, Google seems to be a superlative steward of Nik so far. Fast updates, some new features, a brand new version of Analog EFEX Pro, much lower prices for the entire suite. What’s not to like? Well, there’s that desktop version of Snapseed going away thing in the beginning but I never used it anyway. Why bother when you have the full Nik Suite so cheap.

That brings us to Analog EFEX Pro, specifically the TWO version that somehow auto-magically found it’s way to my junk pile of software I never use. I probably hit some “yea, go ahead and update the stuff button” at some point I don’t recall. I just noticed it sitting there the other day. I gave it a whirl. Guess what… It’s actually fairly cool. Like most Nik products, the included presets are mostly way over the top which can be off-putting but if you explore the RAW tools and capabilities included they are very nice. I played around with it yesterday for about an hour and it gave me a ton of ideas.

I am certainly not going to use Analog EFEX for everything I shoot. There are a few projects I’ve been working on and have in mind where it’s capabilities, overall quality of effect, and great grain engine have given me some treatment ideas that will find their way into the final images. Rather than run through everything it can do I’ll just post a few random images that I made as test exposures while hosting an on-camera speedlight workshop over the weekend. I’ll also share some thoughts on where I’d like to see a few features grow to be more useful.

Oooops, went a bit overboard with the double exposure thing. Interesting and super quick tool to generate some ideas for specific treatments down the road. I couldn’t help myself. Here’s a few things I would love to see to make Analog EFEX a real production tool sooner rather than later:

  • The frames in general are not as hokey as most that I’ve seen but really could use a couple of tweaks and some of that Nik innovation other tools have. Specifically they need a “vary” button like the frames in Silver EFEX Pro. Especially the frames that are designed to look like film boarders. They might actually be useful if they looked different for images within the same body of work. There are like three variations for each but they don’t look like the same film stock or even the same camera. Would be crazy good if the frame numbers varied and actually duplicated the edge lettering of a few popular color and BW film. Same goes for the obvious but incorrect Type 55 frames. Why are they “color”?
  • Light leaks are sort of variable by moving them around but really need the ability to flip them around, etc. Maybe a vary button on those rather than what looks like a static texture.
  • Would love the ability to have some sort of “builder” that allowed you design your own light leaks, film types, and frames. With that sort of thing I could live in this tool for a few projects.

It’s a fun tool to play with. Some of the included toolbox items like double exposure, bokeh, the motion blur stuff, etc are suitable for real production use while others that could be great suffer flaws that render them mostly toys. The added number two to the end of Analog EFEX Pro left me hoping that all of the tools would get that special Nik sauce they apparently haven’t. At least not yet. I’m hoping that Nik might be the first one that provides film edge treatments that are actually useful for the rare occasion I may want to use them. Alien Skin Exposure 6 (which I also own) at least allows you to import your own edge treatments, too bad I cannot seem to find a way to make it look “real”.

All of these plug-ins suffer from some fatal flaws that force me to maintain photoshop as a tool for final output. It’s almost like they conspire with each other to screw up one area or another then all conspire with Adobe not to do things completely “right”. Why can’t anyone figure out that edge treatments need to keep the aspect ratio of the input image — in other words they all put the frame inside the input aspect ratio like so…

Which makes “film frames” importing feature as shown above pretty much useless. Hmmm, that’s an odd roll of TX that has some really strange aspect ratio inside the frame… In contrast here’s what it should look like…

The input image 3:2-ness inside the frame not the frame itself conformed inside the 3:2 input image. As if I am going to do all the math and extend the canvas size prior to sending something into one of these plug-ins. Just FYI, the first image is Exposure 6’s interpretation of Kodak TRI-X w/ no adjustments. In comparison the second image was composted in Photoshop CS6 and sent to Nik Silver EFEX Pro 2 to show it’s particular out-of-the-box Kodak TRI-X rendition. The hamstringing of each goes on and on. What the F… Exposure 6 has no local adjustments, no freaking dodge/burn at all? How useless is that for a plug-in that manipulates contrast in a big way. There’s a timesaver I need to guess at local adjustments before sending it in. Oh, and the film grain to image input size calculation based on rendering intent, Exposure 6 has that as well as pretty good grain simulation now. Silver EFEX Pro is roll your own grain based on input file size and what you want the “feel to be”. I guess that’s way better than no local adjustments in a black and white film/darkroom tool.

It goes on and on. This is way over my 1,000 word limit and really didn’t start out as a rant. At the moment the only tool that comes close to “perfect” for it’s intent seems to be Silver EFEX Pro 2. The rest of them are sort of piecemeal with a lot of the features and tools really not up to producing output in any reasonable way that I would be satisfied with as a final print. Yep they can do a good job here and there but if you really had an intent to use some of the features for anything serious it would just look cheesy or take far more trouble than it’s worth.

RB

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