Anything Photoshop or Photography

Digital Lady Syd’s Review of Nik Color Efex Pro 4!

Anyone who has followed my site knows that I am a big fan of Photoshop plug-ins. I remember wanting a copy of this plug-in’s first version. NIK is still one of the best companies making Photoshop plug-ins and this new upgrade does not disappoint! Here is a link to their product site.

The new program now allows you to stack filter effects – in CEP 3.0 you had to exit out of the plug-in and come back in to apply a different one. Now, instead of saving individual presets for each filter, you save recipes which contain the settings of each of the stacked filters. For example, this image contains the following filter effects:  Detail Extractor (one of the new filters and why the details in the leaves are sharp), Foliage, and Vignette Blur. I still used my border from OnOne PhotoFrames  though.


The image above of Metal Chris at on The Mall in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, was first processed in Photomatix Pro 4 using five shots to form this HDR image. Then the final tone-mapped image was processed with Color Efex Pro 4 using a new stack of these filters: Darken/Lighten Center, Brilliance/Warmth, Tonal Contrast, and Image Borders. Finally I sharpened the image using the Photoshop’s High Pass Filter at 9.1 Radius.


In this Orlando Building image an HDR feel was actually created by the stacked plug-in effects: the Detail Extractor (I really like this new effect!), Brilliance/Warmth, Vignette: Lens, and Bi-Color User Defined filter effects. I first used Photoshop’s Lens Correction to straighten the buildings before processing. Afterwards, the image was sharpened using the High Pass Filter with the sky painted out so no sharpening occurred on the clouds which were looking overprocessed. The original of this image is shown below to show you what a change these filters can make to an image.

See my Tidbits Blog “NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – First Try!” for another example of this new plug-in.

What I Like

  1. The ease of use of the plug-in. It always comes up quick and it is easy to see what the original vs. the filter looks like. Now there is a new History section where you can go back to a previous state of filter application. Be aware that, just like in Photoshop, once you exit out of the plug-in, the History states disappear even when applying the plug-in as a Smart Object.
  2. There are several new filters that are totally terrific! Many of the older filters have also been updated. Here is a link showing all the filters in the plug-in that can be sorted to show the new and updated filters.
  3. Love the fact the filter effects can be stacked and saved to be reapplied on another image as a Recipe.
  4. Most of the effects have an opacity slider so you can tone them down a bit if they appear too strong.
  5. The Control Points are fabulous as always. Place a Plus Control Point to add the filter effect to a specific area and a Minus Control Point to remove the effect from a certain area. The points have the ability to not remove the effect from radically different adjacent regions so your image always looks right. The opacity for these control points can also be set and several points may be added to an image. Very quick to adjust. CEP 4 lets you copy all the set Control Points from one filter to another one – this has been a real time saver for me!
  6. Canned presets are now viewable with suggested settings to get a good starting place for each effect.
  7. The ability to drag the effects into a different order gives some very different looks.

What I Don’t Like

  1. The biggest issue I have is that you have lost the ability to set a preset for each individual effect. Instead you have to save it as a recipe. Unfortunately you do not have the ability to stack several recipes – if you change to a different recipe, you lose all the filter effects you had set before. The work around is to stack all your favorite filters with your favorite individual filter settings into one large recipe, then selectively delete effects you do not want to apply to the image you are working on. I contacted NIK Technical support regarding this issue and this was their response “Unfortunately, no, there is no way to bring your Color Efex Pro 3.0 presets into Color Efex Pro 4.  I do see what you are saying about having a preset for an individual filter in addition to the recipes.  It would improve and expand workflow capabilities, so I will put in that recommendation to our development team!” This is a big problem in my mind. A large number of Recipes will have to be generated to cover all the presets and scenarios for all your images.
  2. It is very easy to forget to click the “Add Filter” button. If you go to another effect, you immediately lose all the currently stacked filters and their settings – there is no warning note. I have lost my settings several times by forgetting to do this. (I have watched several videos where the instructor has done the same thing!) The work-around is to remember to click on the History section to restore it immediately.
  3. When you save a recipe, you do not retain the Control Points you have set. It would be nice if you had this option so you can reapply the settings to a similar image since you now can apply them to several effects at the same time. The partial work-around for this is to make your layer a Smart Object before going into the NIK Color Efex Pro plug-in, then you do not have to save the recipe or the control points – just apply the filters. This is only good for the current image. (To see what settings and points were applied, just double click on the Color Efex Pro 4 line, and they can be adjusted.)
  4. Need to remember to Save Recipe if you plan on using these same filters on another image. Here is a partial work-around. If image is converted to a Smart Object before applying the plug-in, you can access the settings and control points from image by going back into the filter later (see 3 above). Now you have the opportunity to save the filter stack as a Recipe (without the control points) that can be reused on other images. I am already starting to build up a huge amount of Recipes so this could get to be a real problem after processing images for several weeks.
  5. The new Image Borders filter is nice but still not up to the OnOne PhotoFrames level. Still a nice edition for quick processing and I give them kudos for trying to make it easy.
  6. It is not a cheap plug-in but then again, it offers lots of options.

Final Thoughts

Well, if NIK could fix a few of the problems I mentioned above, Color Efex Pro 4 may be the best plug-in ever made. Their effects are top-notch and they have added 7 new and very good filters to this version. (See my Tidbits Blog “The New Film Efex-Vintage Filter From NIK CEP 4” for information on just this one new filter.) They also updated several of their other filters although I have not had much time to play with all of them. The Brilliance/Warmth filter has a new slider called Perceptual Saturation that is fabulous. This was always a favorite effect of mine to begin with and now it is even better! I will be exploring some of the new filter effects in my Tidbits Blog in the next few weeks as I believe they deserve more attention than just a passing look.

Try downloading the Trial Version and see what you think. I believe you will be as impressed as I am…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd’s Related Blog:
Use NIK Color Efex Pro 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2 Together to Create Fabulous Landscapes!

17 responses

  1. Pingback: » NIK Color Efex Pro 4 – First Try! Digital Lady Syd's Tidbits Blog

  2. Anne W.

    Hi Syd,
    Just found your blog and thanks for that thoughtful and thorough review!

    I have not used this software. Do you own Lightroom? Would this be a duplication in any way with that software?

    Willing to buy it but only if I can do a lot of new types of editing.

    Liked your visuals and the fact you mentioned what filters you used and how images were fine-tuned!


    10/01/2011 at 1:18 pm

    • Anne, Thanks for the comment. Many of the effects in NIK Color Efex Pro can be done in Photoshop, not as easily in Lightroom, although there are some pretty nice presets for Lightroom that do emulate some of these filters. The problem is that you cannot stack the effects inside Lightroom – it would entail bringing several iterations of the image into Photoshop with different presets applied, then stacking them as layers, and finally using a layer mask to blend them. The thing I like about NIK is that you can easily adjust the different effects and see the results instantly. I always try to remind myself that Photoshop is the program these plug-in companies are using to make their effects – therefore there is usually a way to get the same result. They are just basically writing a code or action to create what would take a long time for me to create in Photoshop. And because NIK has given you so many choices, you can try different combinations you probably would not have thought of doing with just Photoshop or Lightroom, and get some really terrific results. I would download the trial – it works with both Photoshop and Lightroom, and see what you think. I will say I am glad I got the upgrade…..Digital Lady Syd

      10/01/2011 at 1:59 pm

  3. Pingback: » The New Film Efex-Vintage Filter From NIK CEP 4 Digital Lady Syd's Tidbits Blog

  4. Jan

    Perfect review, I like it and I do agree with you …

    10/03/2011 at 6:44 pm

  5. Great, detailed review with visual examples. Plug-ins like this one continue to make it easier to use some of the more appealing features of HDR, without actually having to shoot HDR. 🙂

    Your floral photo, above is color-drenched and beautiful!

    Great job, Lady Syd.

    10/10/2011 at 3:40 am

    • Thanks for the comment Wendy. I agree, my HDR shots are not always the best and it helps to have some other options for the look.

      10/10/2011 at 9:21 am

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