Nik Color Efex Pro is one of my favorite Photoshop plugins with its incredibly awesome filters. A few months back I received an invite to participate in the Nik Color Efex Pro 4 Beta which is an exciting new major update that was recently publicly launched. I tested out all of my favorite filters and greatly enjoyed the new ability to ‘stack’ filters within Color Efex Pro 4 which is quickly becoming a huge time savor especially when adding the new ‘recipe’ feature to save my favorite filter stack combinations. There are already a ton of great tutorials and overviews of the exciting new plugin suite so I’m going to focus my attention on this review regarding my hands down favorite filter in the plugin suite called Tonal Contrast. I couldn’t wait to evaluate and compare the Tonal Contrast filter in version 4 vs 3. To my surprise, I quickly noticed Tonal Contrast 4 vs 3 results were vastly different. I was pretty much able to duplicate results between version 4 and 3 for just about all of my other favorite filters (Polarization, Pro Contrast, White Neutralizer, Brilliance / Warmth, Glamour Glow, Darken / Lighten Center) except for Tonal Contrast. I know results vary greatly between images but I was finding my results were becoming a pattern not an exception among all of the images I tested. Tonal Contrast in version 3 was consistently coming out with a more ‘edgy’ / ‘grunge’ look compared to the ‘softer’ and ‘darker’ results in version 4.
Here is one of my examples. I selected this image because it has lots of contrast between the white barn and the surrounding landscape and tons of potential detail in the barn and moody clouds.
As you can hopefully see, there is a huge different between the two images. Now lets take a closer look with a 100% crop.
The 100% crop really tells the story. Tonal Contrast 3 resulted in far more sharpening but it also created a bunch of unwanted halos. Tonal Contrast 4 wasn’t as ‘edgy’ but overall it was a much cleaner result. On flip side, I really didn’t like the ‘darker’ results of Tonal Contrast 4. The primary reason I use this filter is to pop detail which just wasn’t happening the way I wanted / expected it to work based on my version 3 experience. Then I discovered the missing trick!
Setting the ‘Contrast Type’ to ‘Fine’ resulted in exactly what I was seeking with nice detail pop without the undesired darker shadows or halos and almost no noise. W@@T! Now I truly was getting the best of both worlds in Tonal Contrast 4 – a cleaner image with the right amount of ‘edgy’ feel without all of the halo and noise side effects.
In summary, I give Nik Color Efex Pro 4 two towering thumbs up!! I greatly enjoyed version 3 but version 4 takes this plugin suite space bound with limitless possibilities that are not just fun but also a huge value added time savor!! If you were a fan of Tonal Contrast in version 3, I highly recommend checking out version 4 but make sure to play with the ‘Contrast Type’ options.
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