DxO Nik Collection 4 verdict
Nik Collection 4 is the latest version of an evergreen plug-in suite that’s as fresh, varied and exciting now as when it was first launched a decade ago. Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro are standout tools even today and the new Perspective Efex plug-in is a major bonus. In this version, DxO has carried out a major redesign on Silver Efex Pro and Viveza and built in some productivity improvements too. But while the new versions of these plug-ins are a step forward, but it does leave them looking a little out of step with the rest.
- Optional non-destructive workflow
- Clever workflow integrations
- Huge array of superb effects
- Not cheap but still great value
- Non-destructive TIFF files are large
- Dfine and Sharpener Pro are less useful today
- Only Silver Efex Pro and Viveza get the new look
What is the Nik Collection?
The DxO Nik Collection consists of eight different plug-ins which are bundled together as a suite. The eight tools in the Nik Collection are Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, HDR Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, Dfine and the most recent plug-in, Perspective Efex.
• See also: Best image editing software – what to look for, how to choose.
Actually, although they’re usually described and used as plug-ins – in other words, launched from a ‘host’ program like Photoshop or Lightroom Classic, they can also be launched as standalone programs, so they can also be used with programs like Capture One, which work with external editors rather than plug-ins.
• Analog Efex Pro 2 is the only tool introduced by Google during its ownership of the Nik Collection, but it’s rather exceptional. It doesn’t just simulate old analog films, grain, borders, bokeh, dust and scratches, it also simulates old, cheap cameras, motion blur, double exposures and even multiple tiled images. If it was sold on its own, Analog Efex Pro would be impressive enough, so to get it as just one part of this whole suite is even more remarkable.
• Color Efex Pro 4 is a collection of more than 50 individual filters, each with its own adjustments and many with the clever Nik Control Point selective adjustment tools. What’s more you can combine these filters any way you like to create processing ‘Recipes’. Individually these filters are useful; collectively, their scope and potential for creative image effects is huge.
• Silver Efex Pro 3 is a celebrated black and white plug in that goes beyond the usual channel mixing, tone adjustments and grain effects to embrace the jargon, techniques and styles of classic darkroom photography. This is one of two plug-ins to receive a substantial upgrade in Nik Collection 4 – see below.
• HDR Efex Pro 2 is an HDR tool that can merge bracketed exposures or tone map single images. Until the arrival of Aurora HDR, this was arguably the most comprehensible and effective HDR software on the market, and it’s still pretty good even now.
Sharpener Pro 3 and Dfine 2 are perhaps less useful these days. It’s likely that whatever host program you use will have better sharpening and noise reduction tools than these old-timers, but they may still prove useful.
• Viveza 3 is interesting and the other plug-in to get an upgrade in Nik Collection 4. It’s limited in a way because it’s based mainly around control point adjustments and does not offer any creative effects beyond that. But even though your host software will have local adjustments of its own, Viveza’s way of working is still very fast, intuitive and, well, different.
• Perspective Efex is a new tool introduced with DxO Nik Collection 3. This seems familiar. It has some of the DNA of DxO ViewPoint, the perspective correction tool built to work alongside (and within) DxO PhotoLab, and the little-known DxO Perspective Mac application.
Perspective Efex offers automatic and manual perspective correction, plus volumetric distortion correction, where wide-angle lenses elongate objects near the edge of the frame. Most host applications will have perspective correction tools of their own, but not volumetric correction. Perspective Efex also adds tilt-shift lens effects.
If you’re using the Nik Collection from within PhotoLab and you already have DxO ViewPoint, you already have all the tools in Perspective Efex, but if you don’t have ViewPoint, Perspective Efex can fill that gap. It does not currently support DxO’s new non-destructive multipage TIFF workflow, however, so ViewPoint does remain better integrated with PhotoLab.
How does Nik Collection 4 work?
The Nik Collection 4 plug-ins are designed to be launched from within a ‘host’ application like Photoshop or Lightroom and can also be launched directly from DxO PhotoLab. Interestingly, they can also be launched as standalone programs.
I did have issues with the new versions of Silver Efex Pro and Viveza, however, when they launched in plug-in mode even when double-clicked directly. The only way to make them launch properly is to make sure any ‘host’ program like Lightroom is not running. Hopefully this will be fixed in a future update.
The Nik plug-ins are typical of ‘destructive’ filters that return an edited, processed image to the ‘host’ program. Normally with traditional filters like these you can’t go back later to change your mind about the settings… except that you can, because DxO has figured out some rather clever adaptations and workflow workarounds.
For a start, it introduced a new optional ‘multipage TIFF’ file format in Nik Collection 3. It’s like a regular TIFF but saves two versions of the image – the original and the edited version – together with the editing instructions to make the new image. When you reload the TIFF to re-edit it in any of the Nik plug-ins, the plug-in loads the original file and your original processing instructions. You can then change the processing to create a new processed version which is passed back to the host application.
You can still opt to work on regular TIFFs or even JPEGs and use regular ‘destructive’ processing, or you can use this new multipage TIFF format to create re-editable effects. (Be aware that this does not apply to the new Perspective Efex plug in, however.)
This works in Lightroom Classic CC to offer the first ever non-destructive plug-in workflow for Lightroom. It works with DxO PhotoLab as the host application too, or any program which uses external editors and lets you specify the file type.
There is a downside to the TIFF multipage format. In effect, you’re saving a two-layer TIFF file – so a 16-bit image can weigh in at well over 100MB. That’s not too much of a problem if you have plenty of desktop storage, but if you’re using the Nik Collection with Lightroom CC via Photoshop, the files are a bit big for Creative Cloud storage, if only because they take a long time to upload.
Not everyone will need this non-destructive TIFF option. You can create presets in the Nik Collection plug-ins that can apply saved settings with a single click and you can then modify them quickly and easily. Old-style ‘destructive’ editing can still be the quickest, simplest and most effective approach if you know what you want and don’t need to keep experimenting.
In Photoshop you get a Nik Selective Tool palette for launching whichever Nik plug-in you want. Here, you don’t necessarily need the new TIFF format to get non-destructive editing – you can simply convert your image to a Smart Object to get non-destructive editing – but you can do this with any filter in Photoshop.
What’s especially clever about the Photoshop Nik Selective panel is that it can now store your favorite presets or the last edit you carried out with any of the plug-ins – and you can apply that effect from within Photoshop, without having to launch the plug-in window.
What’s new in Nik Collection 4
The major changes in Nik Collection 4 are to the Silver Efex Pro and Viveza plug-ins. Both get a new interface were the Control Point tools are moved to the sidebar, both get Luminance and Chrominance sliders for perfecting Control Point masks, and both can now save Control Points with presets. You’ll probably have to move the Control Point(s) around with different images, but you at least won’t have to make them from scratch. You can name Control Points now, too, which will help remind you what they do.
There are other changes to the Nik Collection workflow for Adobe users. The Photoshop Selective Tool panel now has 10 new Meta Presets, which can combine adjustments in two or more Nik plug-ins without launching the plug-in interface. You can’t add your own, so this feature will depend on future support from DxO.
It’s now possible to re-apply the last edit made in Lightroom, not just in Photoshop, and a new automated add-on for Lightroom makes it possible to copy and past Nik plug-in settings to multiple images at the same time without having to launch the plug-in interfaces.
Are the results good?
Apart from the addition of Perspective Efex in Nik Collection 3 and the new-look Silver Efex Pro and Viveza plug-ins in Nik Collection 4, the Nik suite is essentially unchanged. That’s hardly an issue, because these plug-ins are already at the very top of their game.
Perspective Efex brings a whole lot of new features that the Nik Collection hasn’t had before. If you’re using it with a host program it’s likely this program will already have some perspective correction tools, but Perspective Efex also has volumetric distortion correction a nice-looking tilt-shift effect.
Analog Efex Pro offers the same old-camera effects you’ll find in other programs and then adds whole new ones of its own. Its presets are terrific, and offer a huge range of looks, but the permutations available with the manual tools are practically limitless.
Color Efex Pro is similar but different. It concentrates mostly on more traditional photographic filters. Some are more useful than others, but collectively they offer huge range and scope – particularly since you can use them in combination, each with its own highly controllable selective adjustments.
HDR Efex Pro is an extremely effective and straightforward HDR tool that’s second only to Aurora HDR and, as part of the DxO Nik Collection, a whole lot cheaper.
Sharpener Pro and Dfine however, haven’t really stood the test of time and might well prove to have limited value for anyone with a RAW workflow
In short, not all of the Nik plug-ins are equally useful, but the best ones are so spectacularly good that they easily carry the rest.
If you have never tried the Nik Collection then you really should. You can download a free 30-day trial to help you make your mind up. If you already have the Nik Collection 3 and it’s working fine for you, then Nik Collection 4 only becomes important if you really want the new features in Silver Efex Pro 3 and Viveza 3, or the enhanced Photoshop and Lightroom workflow features.
If you’ve never used the Nik Collection at all, then it’s definitely worth downloading the trial version to try it out. The standout tools are Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro, and between them they offer a spectacular set of inspiring and creative presets and powerful effects and adjustment tools that can quickly take your photography in whole new directions.
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