DxO Nik Collection 6 verdict
Nik Collection 6 is the latest version of one of the photographic world’s best-known and best-loved plug-in suites. The updates in this version are modest but useful, and that’s not really a criticism because it’s hard to see how the Nik Collection could be made much better. Its corrective tools, like Dfine and Sharpener are probably past their use-by date, but the creative plugins, including Analog Efex, Color Efex, HDR Efex, Silver Efex and Viveza are not just powerful but incredible sources of inspiration too.
- Huge range of creative tools and presets
- Terrific source of inspiration
- Silver Efex is the best black and white tool of all
- Analog Efex offers unique camera, lens and film effects
- Optional non-destructive TIFF workflow
- New features may not tempt you into upgrading
- Non-destructive TIFF files are large
- Dfine and Sharpener less useful today
The Nik Collection is a suite of eight plug-ins for Lightroom, Photoshop and DxO PhotoLab 7, but they also work as standalone applications, so they can work perfectly well alongside other ‘host’ programs like Capture One.
Here’s a list of the plug-ins and what they do:
- Analog Efex: An analog camera and film simulation tool that can add multiple exposures, movement blur, borders and frames, dust, scratches and textures, light leaks and more. It’s perfect for fans of distressed retro imagery.
- Color Efex: A collection of more than 50 photographic filter effects which can be used individually or in combination to produce a vast array of image styles effects and presets.
- Dfine: A powerful noise reduction tool with customisable noise profiles and local noise controls – though not as effective as the latest AI-driven de-noising tools.
- HDR Efex: Can be used as a standalone program for merging and tone mapping exposure brackets, or as a plug-in for create a wide range of HDR effects and looks from within Lightroom.
- Perspective: This is similar to DxO’s ViewPoint software for correcting perspective, volume distortion and other lens issues.
- Sharpener: A set of two plug-ins, Presharpener for ‘capture’ sharpening to fix slight image softness and ‘output’ sharpening optimised for specific printers and display sizes.
- Silver Efex: A superb black and white plug-in that manages to capture the depth, richness and tonal subtlety of black and white images, and comes with powerful tonal adjustments and local adjustment tools.
- Viveza: Designed for precise color adjustments leveraging the power of DxO’s control point local adjustments and powerful global color adjustments too.
Nik Collection 6 new features
If you already own an earlier version of the Nik Collection, you might be wondering whether it’s worth upgrading. Here’s what’s new in Nik Collection 6:
- Nik Sharpener and HDR Efex have had an interface overhaul to bring them in line with the rest of the suite, so that all the Nik plug-ins now have pretty much the same look and feel.
- Local adjustments get a major upgrade, with a new Control Line tool (like a graduated filter with an eyedropper – useful!), new color selectivity sliders for controlling mask precision and new diffuse and invert options for masks/local adjustments. It’s now possible to rename local adjustments, and to save them with presets.
- If you’re working within Photoshop (the Nik Collection gets its own palette), you get better Smart Object integration and the ability to recall your last 15 edits.
- Nik Perspective gets the new ReShape tool seen in DxO ViewPoint 4
- Color Efex gets a new Hue/Saturation/Lightness filter.
DxO says there are lots of other changes under the hood. The list above is probably enough to tempt users of older versions to upgrade – especially the improvements to local adjustments – though the results you can achieve are largely the same.
Nik Collection 6 usability and workflow
There are two ways to use the Nik Collection plug-ins. One is to launch them from within Photoshop or Lightroom Classic, or from DxO PhotoLab, via its dedicated button. The other is to use them as standalone applications by launching them directly. This capability makes them easy to use from programs that don’t support plug-ins, like Capture One, but do support any number of external editors.
When you launch the Nik plug-ins from Lightroom or Capture One, these programs will prompt you to choose a file format for the new file first. JPEG files are smallest and most efficient, but TIFFs are more resilient for stronger adjustments, and 16-bit TIFFs are the best of all.
If you do use the TIFF format, the Nik plug-ins offer you the option to work with ‘non-destructive’ TIFFs. This is a clever workaround that lets you backtrack on your adjustments later. The only downside with these non-destructive TIFFs is that they are twice the size of the regular sort – and they are plenty big enough already.
Photoshop offers a different workflow. First, if you convert your image layer to a smart object, you don’t have to worry about non-destructive editing because that’s built into the smart object workflow. Second, Photoshop gets its own Nik Collection palette where you can choose the plug-in you want directly, apply specific or recent presets straight from the palette and try out a limited but interesting range of ‘meta presets’ which combine different Nik filters.
The Nik creative plug-ins – Analog Efex, Color Efex, HDR Efex, Silver Efex and Viveza all follow the same straightforward interface design. The left sidebar displays preset effects arranged into categories and you can apply these with a single click.
When you do that, the right sidebar displays the filters, tools and settings used, and you can modify these at will to change the effect. You can also create your own effects manually from scratch, and save your own presets too.
Once you understand the concept of the control point and control line adjustments, these are straightforward too. In effect, they create their own masks, based on where you place the control point or the eyedropper tool for control lines. They are very different to regular masking tools but, once mastered, they are fast, intuitive and very effective.
Nik Collection 6 results
It’s an old cliché that you’re only limited by your imagination, but with the Nik Collection you’re not even limited by that, because the number, variety and sheer invention of the preset effects will give you fresh ideas for ways to treat your image that you may never have thought of on your own.
Analog Efex deserves special mention for its multiple-exposure effects, many kinds of motion blur, light leaks, textures and more – and for the way its presets combine them to open your eyes to new possibilities.
Color Efex offers more conventional tools but with the opportunity to combine them in unconventional ways. If you thought Lightroom presets cover most of the things you want to do, then you should take a look at Color Efex Pro.
HDR Efex is perhaps not the best merging and tone mapping tool on the market (Affinity Photo 2 is really good at this), but it’s quick, simple and effective and has some very striking HDR presets – and with your own manual adjustments, you can create more natural HDR results too.
Silver Efex has an extraordinary ability to add depth and subtlety to black and white images and a wide selection of extremely good presets. It can do in seconds what it can take a good deal of manual work to do in other software, then go way further with its tonal shifts and local adjustments. It has some great toning/split toning tools too.
Viveza is very good for selective color adjustments, though you may be thinking you could do similar things in Lightroom or Capture One, and while Perspective does offer interesting options you won’t find elsewhere, including volume distortion correction and local mesh warps, you’ll probably carry out lens and perspective corrections in your regular software rather than here.
Dfine is all right in an old-fashioned kind of way, but it can’t match the noise reduction and detail retention of today’s AI denoising tools like those in DxO PhotoLab or PureRAW 3. Sharpener’s ‘capture’ sharpening is easily duplicated in regular software, and while its ‘output’ sharpening is very good at optimizing printed output, it might just be a little too technical for a time-poor modern audience.
So it’s fairly faint praise for Perspective, Viveza, Dfine and Sharpener, then, but these plug-ins are still all right and worth having and, frankly, Analog Efex, Color Efex, HDR Efex and Silver Efex are so fantastically good that they easily carry the whole suite.
Nik Collection 6 verdict
A lot of photographers will get by quite happily without plug-ins because programs like Lightroom and Capture One now have very good built-in editing tools and can achieve a wide range of effects and ‘looks’.
But not as wide as these. The Nik Collection plug-ins go way beyond anything possible in regular photo editors, and they do it with a kind of one-click simplicity that encourages experimentation and exploration of visual styles.
With regular photo editors you have to know what you want and how to get it. With the Nik Collection, your eyes are opened to effects you never even thought of, and they are made easier to achieve than you probably ever imagined.
DxO store and trial versions*
DxO PhotoLab 7 Elite: $229/£209
DxO ViewPoint 4: $99/£89
DxO FilmPack 7: $139/£129
DxO PureRAW 3: $129/£115
DxO Nik Collection 6: $149/£135
• 30 day trials are available for each product