DxO Nik Collection 5 verdict
You could argue that only a modest amount has changed here from Nik Collection 4, but I would offer a counter-argument, that it’s so good there’s little left to improve. To my mind, the Nik Collection is creatively and functionally so far ahead of anything else, that there’s almost no case to answer. If your photography needs an injection of inspiration, style, or creativity, this is where you’ll find it. If you already have Nik Collection 4 and don’t want to upgrade, you’re not missing too much. But if you don’t, you should just buy it – or at least download the trial.
+ Huge array of effects, tools and inspiration
+ Improvements to Color Efex Pro
+ And to Analog Efex
+ Non-destructive TIFF editing
+ Real value for money, given its scope
+ Includes PhotoLab 5 Essential edition
– No benefit from PhotoLab 5 if you have it already
– Not a massive upgrade from last time
– Non-destructive TIFFs are big
DxO Nik Collection 5 is the latest evolution of one the photo editing world’s longest running and best respected plug-in suites. There are eight plug-ins in total, and while some are designed for image correction, others are for creative effects.
Nik Collection 5 costs $149/£135 for new users and $79/£69 for those upgrading from a previous version. However, this time it includes DxO PhotoLab 5 Essential edition, which sells for £129 on its own, so for anyone who doesn’t already have PhotoLab, that’s a terrific deal.
Let’s take a look at the eight Nik Collection plug-ins in turn.
Analog Efex Pro 3, updated in this latest version, can create all manner of classic film looks but goes further with antique and lo-fi camera effects too, such as multiple exposures, movement blur and more. There is some crossover with DxO’s FilmPack 6 software, but that’s more for technical film simulations – Analog Efex Pro 3’s effects are a lot more varied.
Color Efex Pro 5, also updated in Nik Collection 5, is like a filter suite on its own, offering a range of more traditional photographic effects like levels and curves, graduated filters, soft focus, old photo looks, image toning and coloring amongst around 50 different filters – and these can be combined for practically limitless variations.
Silver Efex Pro 3, updated and modernized in the previous version, is one of the best known (and best) creative black and white tools you can get.
Viveza 3, also updated last time around, is a little more limited than the other creative plug-is, and focused mainly on color dodging and burning using DxO’s unique auto-masking control point adjustments, as found across the suite.
HDR Efex Pro 2, which hasn’t been updated for a while, but is still one of the best HDR tools around. I’d probably put Skylum’s Aurora HDR slightly ahead (or may the HDR Merge Luminar Neo extension which I guess is replacing it), but HDR Efex Pro can still produce some very good HDR merges of its own, and some nice HDR presets too.
Perspective Efex is one of the newest plug-ins and added by DxO after it took over the Nik Collection. It leverages DxO’s lens and perspective correction tech for fixing common geometry and distortion problems – though you can probably do this just as well in Lightroom.
Sharpener Pro operates in two modes, offering ‘capture sharpening’ for soft-looking images – though your regular software will probably do this just as effectively – and ‘output sharpening’ tools for optimum results with different display or print sizes. Output sharpening is a bit of a lost art and well worth a look.
Dfine 2, finally, is a noise reduction tool. It can be effective, but these days the best noise reduction tools work directly on RAW files – in a way, plug-ins like Dfine 2 are getting to images too late, when they’ve already been processed.
Now I have described all these tools as plug-ins, but they also work as standalone programs, so that you can launch them directly and also use them as external editors for programs like Capture One.
What’s new in Nik Collection 5
There’s another key thing to know about Nik Collection 5. With this version, DxO is bundling the basic ‘Essential’ edition of DxO PhotoLab 5, which would normally sell for £129 (UK money) on its own. Normally I’d recommend the Elite edition, which is £199, but the Essential edition is still a good stepping stone – especially since it’s free!
Of course, if you already have PhotoLab 5, then getting the Essential edition with the Nik Collection is hardly an inducement, but there are other new features that might tempt you.
In Nik Collection 5, DxO has updated and ‘modernized’ two key creative tools in the suite – Analog Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro. Both get the refreshed interface design brought to Silver Efex Pro and Viveza in the last update, and they also benefit from DxO’s new and improved control point masking tools.
These can now be renamed, so you can see which control points are doing which job. They now have Luminance and Chrominance sliders to allow more precise masking, and they can be saved as part of custom presets. It’s likely you’ll still need to move control points image by image, but at least now you can save custom control point adjustments as part of your presets.
There are also 29 new “faithfully reproduced” color film grain simulations, and Color Efex pro gets DxO’s effective ClearView contrast-enhancing technology, previously found only in DxO PhotoLab.
Finally, although the Perspective Efex plug-in doesn’t get any new functionality, it does get correction profiles for 4,300 new camera and lens combinations.
Interface and usability
The Nik Collection plug-ins follow a similar layout, with filters and presets in the left sidebar and manual adjustment panels on the right. You can zoom and and zoom out and display both a histogram and a loupe.
The creative plug-ins – Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, HDR Efex Pro in particular – are like mini-editors in their own right, with a great deal of depth and control, but still quite easy to navigate. However, part of DxO’s modernization process has been to move the control point sliders into the main sidebar, which I feel is a bit of a backwards step. It makes the sidebars busier and separates adjustments from their control points on the image.
DxO has invented some clever workflow tricks. For a start, you can create ‘non-destructive’ TIFF images which contain the original image, the edited version and the processing steps used to create it. This means you can go back later and change your settings – though the downside is that it creates TIFFs twice as large, and if you’re working with 16-bit TIFFs, they’re plenty large enough already.
There’s also another degree of sophistication if you’re starting in Photoshop. Nik Collection 5 installs a Nik Collection Selective Tool palette which offers direct access to each plug-in, and a set of special Meta Presets (not user-configurable, sadly) to apply effects that use more than one Nik plug-in.
DxO has done a pretty remarkable job of modernizing the workflow for its plug-ins, introducing a non-destructive editing option where technically it should not have been possible, integrating it rather well with Photoshop and also making the Nik Collection available as a set of standalone tools and external editors for programs which don’t support plug-ins. Bravo.
Quality of results
Where do I start? I think Analog Efex Pro is spectacular at creating old camera, film and darkroom looks, and that it’s better at this than anything else, including DxO FilmPack 6 (sorry, DxO). Silver Efex Pro is superb at evocative black and white treatments, Color Efex Pro’s filters are great but the possibilities from combining them are extraordinary, and while HDR Efex Pro hasn’t been updated for a while, it’s still one of the best HDR tools around.
Viveza is good, though I can’t get quite so excited about it, and Perspective Efex applies some great corrections, though much of the time your host app can do that anyway. Dfine and Sharpener Pro are effective enough but feel as if their time has passed.
Frankly, though, I think Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro and HDR Efex Pro on their own easily justify the cost of the Nik Collection. You could sell each one on its own, and I think it’s to DxO’s credit that it hasn’t tried to do that. I’m thinking of ON1 and its ‘Pro’ plug-ins here, and Skylum’s expensive-sounding plans for its new ‘Extensions’ to Luminar Neo.
For me, the Nik Collection plug-ins are so clearly the best – and the best value – that it would take something special from someone else to change my mind.
I can’t honestly say I think Nik Collection 5 is perfect. There are still some things that grate with me – I’m not a huge fan of the new, ‘better’ interface in Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro and Viveza, for example. But that’s just a niggle in the face of a creative suite that is, in my opinion, out on its own.
There’s a lot of chatter in image-editing right now about AI image enhancements. Well, I say forget about all that. If you’re a creative photographer, you’ll want to use your own mind not some neural network built from popularity algorithms. And if ever there was food for creative minds, it’s here.
DxO software downloads and pricing*
DxO PhotoLab 5 Elite: regular price $219/£199
DxO ViewPoint 3: regular price $79/£69
DxO FilmPack 6 Elite: regular price $139/£129
DxO PureRAW: regular price $129/£115
DxO Nik Collection 5: regular price $149/£135
• 30 day trials are available for each product and bundle deals are available.
*Check for the latest offers at the DxO store