DXO’s Nik Collection just keeps getting better. Geoff Harris reveals some of the key improvements in the latest major upgrade, version 3
Considering the future of the Nik Collection was in doubt only three years ago, this well-loved software suite has come along way since it was acquired by DXO from Google (never a particularly good fit). There has been a steady stream of updates over the last six months and now there’s another major upgrade in the shape of version 3.
To recap, the Nik collection consists of SilverEfex Pro, for black and white conversion; AnalogEfex Pro for adding vintage/analogue film effects; ColorEfex Pro, for tweaking colours and adding creative filters; Dfine, for reducing noise; HDREfex Pro, for HDR effects; Sharpener Pro, for, er, sharpening; Viveza, for fine tuning colour and tone; and the new Perspective Efex, for correcting converging verticals, making other geometric corrections and adding miniature or fish-eye effects. That’s a lot of software for a great price.
With dozens of quality presets and filters, you are spoiled for choice
Accessing the Nik Collection
While the collection works fine as a standalone package, to get the best results, it is best to use it as a set of plug-ins for your main image editor, such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, or as part of DXO’s PhotoLab 3. I mainly use it as a plug-in when working on raw files in Lightroom Classic, and you simply right click on an image to access the collection’s programs.
A key improvement in version 3 is the ability to make non-destructive edits in Lightroom Classic, via the TIFF Multipage fill format. In other words the original image is left unchanged, and you do this by ticking the ‘Save and edit later’ box in the bottom right corner of the screen (Multiple TIFF files are quite large, however). A new box, called the Nik Selective Tool, now appears in Photoshop too.
Working with Multiple TIFF files enables non-destructive edits in Lightroom
Highlights of the collection
Here’s a quick guide to some of the best bits of the new version of the Nik Collection.
SilverEfex Pro remains the gold standard for black and white conversion and editing, with a huge range of tools and some really powerful filters. Use control points with extra ‘structure’ to bring out bags of texture and detail.
Analog with attitude
AnalogEfex Pro is great for adding old-school effects. The interface takes some getting used to, but you can also add double exposure effects, create triptychs and much more. The options are almost endless.
ColorEfex Pro, along with the other constituent programs, also gives swift access to the new En Vogue presets. We particularly like Blue Monday, which is a quick and effective way to add mood and atmosphere.
Using Perspective Efex, you can easily replicate the effects of tit and shift or toy lenses. Specifying the area to remain in focus takes a bit of getting used but there are lots of options, and Perspective Efex is a superb addition to the Nik Collection.
The Dfine noise reduction tool might get overlooked if you use Photoshop or Lightroom to reduce noise, but it’s well worth trying, with lots of options. The Loupe tool is not the most intuitive but you get used to it.
A matter of perspective
One of the key changes to version 3 is the new Perspective Efex. It’s a powerful and generally intuitive way to straighten horizons, while also fixing converging verticals, where the straight edges of buildings and other shapes lean in, barrel and pincushion distortion and volume deformation caused by using wide-angle lens (a common niggle for landscape photographers).
The auto fix generally works well, or you can fine-tune the corrections manually. Somewhat buried in the interface are tools for creating fisheye effects or ‘Miniatures,’ which goes a good job of replicating the look of a tilt and shift lens. There are a lot more perspective-correction tools than you get with Lightroom, and it’s way easier to use than Photoshop, thanks to the handy before and after screen.
As well as the ease of use, wide range of tools and non-destructive editing for Lightroom users, Nik Collection 3 has an impressive range of presets and filters. The En Vogue collection is particularly worth trying (it was also available on previous versions but now feels part of a more coherent role). As with all presets and filters, while you can use them as a one-click edit, it’s best to fine-tune the look, and there a wide range of global and local adjustment tools at hand.
The control point system is great for adding ‘structure’ to specific parts of a black and white image in SilverEfex Pro for example. For Photoshop users, you can apply the effects globally, or paint a particular effect on your image by selecting the Brush option. As the effect is applied as a layer in Photoshop, you can make further tweaks, to opacity, for example, as required.
For a lot of readers, the main attraction of the Nik Collection is SilverEfex Pro, which is one of the best ways of converting and editing black and white images on the market. You have a huge choice of options and controls, but Nik has also managed to make it very easy to use. Indeed, the software looks very straightforward on first glance, so make sure you spend some time exploring all the tools, particular the local adjustments via Control Points, or the finishing touches, such as vignetting or edge burning. Don’t miss some of the other great programs in the collection, either.
AnalogEfex Pro has obvious appeal to fans of the vintage analogue look, but ColorEfex Pro is well worth trying out too. The En Vogue presets work well here, particularly Blue Monday, and you can also do quality mono conversions without having to open Silver Efex Pro. Another program that tends to be skipped over is Viveza, which is a good way to get used to the powerful control point system for making local adjustments. HDR effects are a matter of taste, but if you are fan of this look, HDREfex Pro is a powerful tool, and even sceptics will be impressed by the detail you can bring out if you use it subtly.
The Dfine noise reduction tool is also worth a try. The interface is not particularly intuitive, and many Adobe users will have their own routines for reducing noise in Lightroom or Photoshop, but it’s certainly good to have.
Buying and using the Nik Collection
You can currently buy the Nik Collection at a discounted price for both new versions and upgrades. You no longer get DXO’s PhotoLab Essential, but this won’t be too much of a worry for most users. You can also get the collection as part of the standalone image editor DXO PhotoLab 3 Elite. Full details on the website.
Intel Core i5 or higher
4 GB of RAM (8 GB recommended)
4 GB or more of available hard-disk space
macOS 10.13 (High Sierra), 10.14 (Mojave), 10.15 (Catalina)
* Intel Core 2 or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 or higher (Intel Core i5 or higher recommended)
* 4 GB of RAM (8 GB recommended)
* 4 GB or more of available hard-disk space
* Microsoft Windows® 8.1 (64 bits), or Microsoft Windows 10 (64 bits and still supported by Microsoft)
* Microsoft Surface not supported