The new non-destructive workflow in the DxO Nik Collection 3 is one of this version’s biggest selling points, and it’s been achieved with a suite of plug-ins that have never had this capability before. How has it been done, and how does it integrate with your workflow?
I’ll take a look at how this works in Lightroom, but it will work in any program that can launch the Nik plug-ins as external apps and even if you open an edited image directly in the plug-in itself (they do also run as standalone applications).
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The Nik Collection 3 non-destructive workflow
This is how to create non-destructive edits in the Nik Collection from Lightroom
- Lightroom file settings – choose TIFF
You launch the Nik Collection plug-ins in the usual way from Lightroom, by right-clicking an image and choosing the plug in you want from the Edit in menu. The crucial part comes next. Lightroom will prompt you to choose a file format. For non-destructive editing it has to be a TIFF file. A 16-bit TIFF will often give better results with very heavy image manipulation, but an 8-bit file will be half the size. This could be significant because the Nik non-destructive workflow uses double-layer TIFF files twice as large as regular tiffs. See the notes at the end for a technical explanation.
- Make your edits and save using ‘Save and edit later’
So I’ve made some adjustments to my photo in Color Efex Pro using three different filters. It’s quite a complicated combined effect I might want to revisit later. Now I need to save it back to Lightroom, but I need to check the Save and edit later box. This produces the special DxO non-destructive TIFF file.
- How to re-edit your image from Lightroom
My edited TIFF file is saved back to Lightroom as expected. If I want to re-edit this in Color Efex Pro, I need to do something slightly different. This time, in the Edit Photo panel, I choose Edit Original. Normally, you would use Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments, but to get access to the new non-destructive editing capability, you need to open the TIFF file that Color Efex Pro created, not a Lightroom copy.
- You can open the file from anywhere, not just Lightroom
The key thing about the Nik Collection 3 non-destructive edits is that they are stored in the TIFF files, not in the host application. I don’t have to re-open that image from Lightroom. I can open it from any application, or even open it directly in Color Efex Pro (the Nik plug ins also work as standalone applications). So I can simpy drag my new TIFF file on to the Color Efex Pro application icon.
- Re-editing your image
So here’s my image re-opened in Color Efex Pro. All the adjustments I made the first time around are still ‘live’ and I can change, remove or add to them at will. For example, I’ve decided this landscape shot would work better with a frame, so I’ve added one. And if I decide it’s the wrong frame, I can change that later too. Anyone who has used the Nik Collection already will know that this was never possible before and represents something of a workflow breakthrough for the Nik Collection.
How DxO Nik Collection 3 non-destructive editing works
Most non-destructive editing software uses processing ‘instructions’ to change the appearance of an image but not its actual pixels – not until it’s exported as a processed JPEG or TIFF file. This limits the effects that are possible but it’s very space-efficient because it doesn’t create any new image files until you need them.
This was not possible with the Nik Collection plug ins because they are old-school ‘destructive’ filters whose complex and effects and controls cannot be recreated as simple processing instructions.
DxO’s solution is ingenious. It uses a special ‘multipage’ TIFF format to store the original image, the processed image and the instructions used to create it. There is an upside and a downside.
The upside is that you can now return to your Nik Collection edits and re-edit them at any time. This is something that would previously have seemed impossible, but DxO’s solution makes it possible.
The downside is that it relies on double-size TIFF files twice the size of regular TIFFs, because they include two image layers not one. A 16-bit TIFF from a 24-megapixel photo will be around 120MB and one from a 36-megapixel camera will be over 200MB. I haven’t tried it on an image from a 50MP Hasselblad X1D or 100MP Fujifilm GFX100, but I’m expecting the worst.
So it’s a trade-off. The new Nik multipage TIFF format makes something possible that was not possible before, but it does mean big file sizes. But desktop storage is cheap these days (not cloud storage, alas), so it may not be an issue.
Note: Photoshop’s Smart Object feature can do this already, with any filter plug-in. HOWEVER, Smart Objects are locked into the Photoshop file format, whereas DxO’s multipage TIFFs are software independent. All you need is the relevant Nik plug in; the host application is irrelevant.