Category Archives: Reviews

Software Review: Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2

Silver Efex Pro 2 is the newest monochrome conversion tool from Nik Software (click to enlarge).

I’ve been an advocate of Nik Software’s original black & white conversion plug-in, Silver Efex Pro (SEP), since it was released a few years ago. Recently, Nik Software released a major revision, Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2). In this review, I’ll take a look at what’s new in SEP2 and compare its features to the original version of SEP.

Monochrome made easy

Many people ask me if they “need” Silver Efex Pro to get the best monochrome image conversions. Of course need is a relative term, but Silver Efex Pro offers users some distinct advantages over other black and white conversion tools. The fundamental strengths of SEP (and SEP2) have always been:

  • Conversion Quality
  • Tool set and effects options
  • Local Adjustments using RGB color data
  • Workflow options

Silver Efex Pro 2 refines and improves many of these features from the original Silver Efex Pro plug-in.  I’ll examine these features in more detail after the jump. Continue reading Software Review: Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2

Evaluating the Nikon 200-400mm VR with distant subjects

I’ve had my zoom Nikkor 200-400mm f/4 AFS G VR lens for about five years, and it’s my absolute go-to wildlife lens unless I’m after very small birds (at which point the 600mm is more useful). A common criticism of this lens is that it is sharp on near (less than 100ft) subjects, but soft with distant subjects. Unfortunately, telephoto lens performance on distant subjects can be marred by more variables than one can easily isolate. I recently had a chance to test my lens in the field to see if I could make any definitive conclusions about its performance. Continue reading Evaluating the Nikon 200-400mm VR with distant subjects

Choosing a RAW converter– My Karma ran over your Dogma

Which image is better? (Click to enlarge)

It seems like no matter what you do or where you go, you can never escape the incessant drone of “my product is better” posts out in cyberspace. Name a photo product, and you’ll find fanboys (and girls) trumpeting the merits of their particular choice in gear, software, whatever. We live in a world where product diversity and competition is fierce, but one thing is completely evident to me: when it comes to RAW processing software, you really can’t go wrong with most of the popular choices out there right now.

The one thing that has started to irk me, though, is the beating of drums from people who claim Product A is superior to Product B based on no provable fact. Case in point: Nikon’s Capture NX. In 2005, I compared all the major RAW converters from a Nikon user’s perspective as part of a multi-part segment for The Image Doctors podcast. At that time, we were able to discern clear rendering quality differences between Capture NX and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Ah, but times have changed.

Since 2005, ACR has evolved better demosaic algorithms, new features, and camera profile settings that give you results that are at least as good, in my opinion, as what you can do with Capture NX2. The same is true for Aperture, Capture One, and other RAW processors. While there is no doubt that Nikon’s engineers understand the NEF format best, the argument that CNX2 somehow produces a superior conversion to everything else has gotten pretty weak over time. When I look at NEFs I’ve converted with Capture NX2 using standard settings and compare them to ACR conversions with similar settings, I don’t see anything between the two resulting images that would indicate that one is somehow “superior” to the other. What I see are two slightly different images, but neither one is “better” or “worse” in terms of detail, artifacts, or other obvious quality issues.

So what does that mean for you, the photographer, who is trying to filter through all the chatter and pick a RAW processing tool? Remove the subjective component of “conversion quality” from the discussion and instead look at features and workflow. Continue reading Choosing a RAW converter– My Karma ran over your Dogma

My Favorite Photo Bag

When you find a good bag, it goes with you everywhere.

Any pro or photo enthusiast knows that there is no such thing as the perfect camera bag. Photographers are to camera bags as Imelda Marcos was to shoes; we have a closet full of ’em. And not unlike designer shoes, camera bags are not exactly budget items. Many good bags retail for upwards of $200.

When it comes to camera bags, you have to consider the compromises, because every bag will be a compromise at some level. I started off wanting a bag that would hold everything I owned– sort of a combination storage and transport system. The problem with the really large bags that can hold everything is that you invariably fill them with everything. Travel through airports and in the field becomes an exercise in back and shoulder fatigue. When fatigue sets in, you stop taking pictures. Any camera bag that makes you want to stop photographing is a bad bag! Continue reading My Favorite Photo Bag

Black & White: Silver Efex Pro vs. Capture NX 2

Did I use Silver Efex Pro or Capture NX 2 to convert this image to b&w? Does it matter?

Since the release of Black & White with Capture NX 2, I’ve been peppered with questions as to which application is better for black and white digital images. If you are familiar with my other reviews, you’ll know that the answer is rarely “black & white.” That being said, I’ll try to quickly take a look at the major differences in black and white digital conversion with these two applications.

First off, I should point out that Silver Efex Pro (and the upcoming SEP 2.0) are not available as native plug-ins to Nikon’s Capture NX 2. Capture NX 2 users, however, can set the Lightroom version of SEP as their “Open With” application and send it TIFF files directly from CNX2. With that out of the way, there are two things to consider when using any image editor, with or without plug-ins: Tools/Features and Workflow implications. Continue reading Black & White: Silver Efex Pro vs. Capture NX 2