Nik Collection 2 Review

Color Efex Pro 4

Nik Collection is a group of 7 plug-in software packages for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and DxO PhotoLab (formerly DxO Optics Pro). These packages include Silver Efex Pro, Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Dfine, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro and Viveza. They allow a range of effects to be applied quickly and easily to images. As a result, the software became very popular with photographers and designers. Silver Efex Pro was especially popular thanks to its ability to replicate black and white darkroom effects.

DxO now bundles DxO PhotoLab 2.3 Essential Edition with Nik Collection 2. DxO PhotoLab 2.3  is DxO’s own raw editing software package which draws on the company’s scientific analysis of images from specific camera and lens combinations. It enables automatic corrections of optical problems as well as allowing global and local adjustments to be made to images. This move was by request from many Nik Collection users who want avoid being tied into Adobe’s subscription models.

DxO PhotoLab 2.3 Essential Edition retails for £99 while the Elite Edition costs £159. Both editions have an extensive collection of features such as the new Photolibrary for managing images, high-quality demonising of raw and Jpeg files, optical correction and DxO’s excellent Smart Lighting. However, the Elite edition offers a bit more such as DxO Clearview Plus to help deal with haze, Anti Moire tool, Colour rendering profiles, multiple exports and customisable palettes.

About Nik Collection

Nik Collection was originally launched by Nik Software. In September 2012, Google acquired Nik Software. At the time this was largely thought to be to enable Google to get hold of Snapseed, an excellent (and popular) mobile image editing app. 

Nik Collection continued to be popular, possibly helped by the fact that in early 2016, Google made it free to download. However, in Spring 2017 when Google confirmed that it wouldn’t develop the software any further, the nails were made ready for Nik Collection’s coffin.

Then in October 2017, there was a ray of sunlight. DxO, the developer of the widely respected optical correction software now called PhotoLab, announced that it had bought Nik Collection from Google. Hurrah! 

DxO’s developers have worked on Nik Collection to iron out all the bugs that had plagued the software since its period of neglect. And now they’ve started to make improvements.

Nik Collection Plugins

The Nik Collection comprises the following Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom plug-ins:

Silver Efex Pro: for converting images to black and white, this is inspired by traditional darkroom techniques.
Analog Efex Pro: simulates the look of traditional film, cameras and lenses.
Color Efex Pro:  a collection of colour correction and creative effect filters, plus retouching controls.
Dfine: noise reduction software.
HDR Efex Pro: High Dynamic Range (HDR) software.
Sharpener Pro: image sharpening with the ability to apply localised or global sharpening.
Viveza: local adjustment of colour and tone. 

The latest version, Nik Collection 2 adds 42 ‘En Vogue’ Recipes, or effects that can be applied to images. These can be used as one-click adjustments or you can tweak their settings to tailor the effect to your image.

These ‘En Vogue’ presets take the original set of 156 to 198. They have been added to the four colour and monochrome processing packages.  Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro and Analog Efex Pro each get 10 new presets while HDR Efex Pro gets 12 new HDR presets.

Nik Collection review: Silver Efex Pro 2

A colour image that has been converted to black and white using Silver Efex Pro 2 in Nik Collection 2018 by DXO

Nik Collection Review

I’ve been a fan of the Nik Collection for a long time. I especially like Silver Efex Pro 2 for making black and white conversions, but HDR Efex Pro, Dfine and Sharpener Pro have all proved very useful over the years.

Like many photographers, however, I stopped using Nik Collection at one point because of compatibility issues. Happily, that’s all been sorted now.

Nik Collection by DxO now has all its most recent functionality. It’s also compatible with all 64-bit Windows and Mac platforms, as well as with Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, Photoshop CC 2019, and Photoshop Elements.

After using the various software packages, I can confirm that they work as they should. The installation of Nik Collection is straightforward and I’ve not had any crashes.

How to use Nik Collection

Once you’ve installed Nik Collection, a box is visible when you open an image in Adobe Photoshop. All you need to do is click on the plug-in you want to use. If you’ve closed the box, you can access the plug-ins via Filter > Nik Collection. In Lightroom, access the Nik Collection packages via Photo > Edit in. Meanwhile, in DxO PhotoLab, the button to access Nik Collection is in the bottom right corner of the screen, next to ‘Export ot Disk’.

Once you’ve opened one of the plugins, the basic editing options are arranged on the left of the screen. You can see the whole list of Filters, or click on one of the groups (Landscape, Wedding etc) to see a more restricted range. The new En Vogue presets are located in the Recipes section. You can also see the presets you’ve used in the past by clicking on History.  Just click on a preset see its impact applied to a preview of your image. 

Nik Collection Review

There may also be sub-options to chose between – also on the left of the screen. The refinement and local adjustment controls are located on the right of the screen with the preview in the middle.

Nik Collection Review

One of the great things about Nik Collection is that the effects can be applied globally, or you can select the Brush option to paint the effect on your image. If you make a mistake as you paint in the effect, you can click on the Erase option to brush it out and start again.

Nik Collection Review

The effect is also applied as a layer so you can reduce the opacity if you wish. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to take a look at each of the plugins in turn. Lets’ kick-off with the most widely known, Silver Efex Pro.

Silver Efex Pro 2.0 Review

Silver Efex Pro 2.0 is the black and white conversion plugin in Nik Collection. As soon as you open it, the image preview switches to monochrome.

On the left of the screen, there’s a column of presets available for selection. These are grouped to help you find the ones you like, but selecting the ‘All’ option lets you browse all 38 available by default.

Beneath the preset previews, there are icons to access custom and imported presets as well as the ones you’ve used previously. That’s helpful because it saves you having to browse all the options if there’s just one or two that you use most of the time. Just click on the preset that you like the look of to apply it to your image.

Nik Collection Review Silver Efex Pro Review

How to create a Custom Preset Silver Efex

Creating a custom preset in Silver Efex is easy, just do the following:

  1. Edit the image until you get the look that you want.
  2. Click on the + in the Custom bar in the left column.
  3. Enter a relevant name in the box that appears and hit OK.

Adjusting an image in Silver Efex Pro 2.0

The adjustment tools are arranged in the column to the right of the image preview. These are arranged in groups called Global Adjustments, Selective Adjustments, Colour Filter, Film Types and Finishing Adjustments. Click on the triangle to the left of the group name to expand and collapse the stack to reveal or hide the controls.

Global Adjustments

Under Global Adjustments, you’ll find the brightness and contrast controls. These allow you to adjust the highlights, midtones and shadows separately, as well as the overall brightness.

Selective Adjustments

The Selective Adjustments use Nik’s U-Point Technology to adjust targeted areas of the image. After selecting a control point by clicking on the tool in the column on the right, click on the part of the image that you want to adjust. This adds a point with four controls coming off it. If you click on the arrow at the bottom, you’ll reveal another four controls.

Nik Collection Review Silver Efex Pro Review

These are sliding controls. Just click on one to reveal the full scale and adjust as necessary. The top control governs the size of the area affected. You can also add other control points to limit the impact of the first control point.

Helpfully, you can duplicate control points to apply the same adjustment to different areas of the image. In addition, there’s a mask that you can use to reveal which areas are influenced by each control point.

Colour Filter

The Colour Filters don’t apply a colour to your image, they work like a traditional glass filter in black and white film photography. They adjust the brightness and contrast of the image according to the colours it’s made up from. A filter brightens its own colour but darkens the opposite colour. Selecting the red or orange filter, for example, darkens a blue sky.

You can target specific colours for brightening or darkening by tweaking the hue slider to find the precise colour filter you want to work with.

Nik Collection Review Silver Efex Pro Review

Film Types

There’s a list of 18 different films to choose from in the drop-down box in Film Types. Just scroll through them to find the one you want and apply it to your image. If you want, then use the Grain, Sensitivity and Levels and Curves controls to get exactly the look you want.

The Sensitivity allows you to adjust the ‘films’ response to individual colours. Sliding the control to the right brightens areas of that colour.

Nik Collection Review Silver Efex Pro Review

Finishing Adjustments

All the toning, vignetting and edge effect controls are located in the Finishing Adjustments section. You can select from a range of traditional toning effects to apply and then adjust it to your satisfaction.

Nik Collection Review Silver Efex Pro Review

As well as the strength of the toning, you can change the silver hue and tone (strength) as well as the paper hue and tone.

Applying the Adjustment

Silver Efex Pro 2.0 offers two ways to apply the effect you’ve created. The first applies the effect just as you see it. It’s what you get if you hit ‘OK’. Helpfully, the effect is applied as a layer so you can adjust the opacity and paint it in or out if you like.

If you select ‘Brush’ instead of ‘OK’, Silver Efex Pro creates a mask over your image as it returns to the standard Photoshop panel.

The Nik Collection panel now shows buttons to allow you to select ‘Paint’, ‘Erase’, ‘Fill’ or ‘Clear’. Simply use the Photoshop Brush controls to paint in or erase the effect on your image.

Tapping ‘Fill’ paints in the whole effect, while ‘Clear’ removes it all. Once you’re happy, just tap ‘Apply’.

Nik Collection Review Silver Efex Pro Review

Silver Efex Pro 2.0 Verdict

Silver Efex Pro 2.0 affords a fantastic level controls over a monochrome conversion. Its strength is the ease with which it allows complex adjustments to be made.

I tend to use the Film Types as the starting point and then adjust the image until it looks as I want it to. I then create a Custom Preset so I can apply it to other images. As the effect is applied as a layer, you have an extra level of control.

If I’m working in Adobe Photoshop, I’d rather use Photoshop’s or Adobe Camera Raw’s controls to make local adjustments before opening Silver Efex. However, Nik’s U-Point technology is simple and easy to use.

Interestingly, DxO has done lots of research into film emulsions to enable it to replicate the appearance of a traditional film with its FilmPack software. As well as reproducing the sharpness and contrast characteristics, DxO FilmPack can mimic the distribution, size and shape of the grain. It does it so well that Sebastiao Salgado is said to use FilmPack for his images.

It’s going to be interesting to see how DxO proceeds with FilmPack and Silver Efex Pro 2.0. My money is on Silver Efex Pro getting the benefit of DxO’s in-depth understanding of monochrome film.

Analog Efex Pro 2.0 Review

Nik Collection Analog Efex Pro 2.0 works in a very similar way to Silver Efex Pro. The big difference is that rather than applying the look of well-known film emulsions, there are some ‘classic camera’ effects. The aim is to produce an image that looks like it has been captured with an old camera. You can even as scratches and dust marks if you want.

The starting point is the is to pick from a series of thumbnails on the left of the screen to apply a preset treatment to your image. At first glance, you’ll only see 9 presets, however, tap the arrow in the top left of the screen where it says ‘Classic Camera’ and a lot more are revealed. There’s a lot to choose from!

Nik Collection review: Analog Efex Pro Review

Alongside the list of cameras available for selection, there’s a list of effects that can be applied. Actually, some of these effects are probably best described as faults – Lens Distortion, Light Leaks, Dirt and Scratches etc. Selecting one applies a basic treatment to your image, but you can tailor and refine it using the controls on the left of the screen.

Try the Effects

There are some great effects available and there’s a good level of control. Bokeh, for example, allows you to position a target over the area that you want to be sharp. You can also specify the size of the graduation between the sharp and blurred areas.

Each effect reveals a different set of controls. Some, like the Basic Adjustments and Dirt & Scratches, for example, allow you to use Control Points to restrict the effect to a particular area. The parameters available under these Control Points varies depending upon the effect. It’s all very logical.

Nik Collection review: Analog Efex Pro Review

The fun part is that if you select ‘Camera Kit’ under ‘Build a Camera’ you can apply a series of effects and create a treatment to apply to other images in the future. If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, you can really lose yourself in the creative process.

And of course, just like Silver Efex, Analog Efex applies its effects as a layer. This can be painted in if you select the Brush option or applied globally if you hit ‘OK’.

Analog Efex Pro 2.0 Verdict

Analog Efex Pro 2.0 may not be the main reason why you invest in Nik Collection, but it’s addictive. It also produces some interesting, effective results. If you want to recreate the look of an old camera, you’ll find it can produce some realistic-looking results. It’s also perfect for giving your images a different, creative appearance.

Color Efex Pro 4 Review

Color Efex Pro has 10 new effects available under the En Vogue banner. These are listed in the recipes section in the column on the left of the screen. As with the other effects, there’s a preview of the effect and you just need to click on the one you like the look of to apply it to your image. I like the Blue Monday effect, but I think Contrast in B&W works better for this scene.

Once the Recipe has been applied, you can adjust the settings using the controls in the column on the right of the screen. Clicking on the arrow next to the control type, for example, B/W Conversion, Dark Contrast and Tonal Contrasts with Contrast in B&W, reveals the controls. As usual, these are mostly sliding controls with the option to type in specific numbers if you like.

Adding a Filter effect

If you click on the Add Filter button on the right, or the Filter Library menu in the left column, the filter list is revealed ready for selection. I decided to apply a sepia effect using the Colorise filter. Initially, this applied a greenish tint, but it’s easy to change it by clicking on the coloured box in the Color section of the controls on the right. This brings up a box with three sliding controls (Red, Green and Blue). It’s just a case of adjusting the sliders until you get a colour you like – or you can type in a specific Hex colour code if you know what you want. Unfortunately, the image preview at the centre of the screen doesn’t change colour as you make your adjustments. You can only see the final effect after you’ve closed the box by clicking on the red close button in the left top corner of the control panel. If you want to tweak the hue, you have to reopen the control panel to access the controls then close it again.

Once that’s done, you can adjust the Strength of the colour – I knocked it back to 7% for my image. You can also add control points to adjust the opacity of the filter across different points of the image.

Color Efex Pro 4 Verdict

Color Efex Pro 4 works in a very similar way to Silver Efex Pro, but primarily for creating colour images. It’s very easy to use and while there will always be personal preferences, the new Recipes and other presets deliver good results. I especially like the warming and cooling effect of Blue Monday, but as usual, it’s a case of finding which settings work best for your images. Happily the presets preview renders quickly and you can soon find the one you want to work with. 

There are few quirks, such as the Colorise adjustment not offering a preview, but on the whole, the software performs well and seems stable.

Dfine 2.0 Review

Dfine is Nik Collection’s noise reduction plugin. Its strength comes in part from the level of control but mostly from the ease with which you can vary the level of noise reduction that’s applied across an image.  That’s helpful because areas with lots of detail often only need a light treatment. Meanwhile, areas of uniform tone can take (or demand) a heavier-handed approach.

With the image below, which was shot at ISO 102,400, the bricks need less noise reduction applying than the car and the lighter door.

Nik Collection Review Dfine Review

Local Adjustments

Like the other plugins in Nik Collection, you can add Control Points to apply different levels of noise reduction to different parts of the image. As usual, just select the Control Point option (with the Reduce tab selected) and then use the sliders to control the level of contrast and colour noise.

Nik Collection Review Dfine Review

However, I find it faster and easier to apply a blanket treatment and then paint it onto the image.

When the Measure tab is selected, the drop-down box next to Method can be set to Manual or Automatic. The Automatic option can work well. It bases the level of noise reduction that’s required on its assessment of four areas of the image. It usually looks at the highlights, shadows and mid-tones.

The selected areas are highlighted on the image. If you like, you can drag these selection boxes to the areas you consider the most important. If you do this, the Method drop-down option switches to Manual. You can also resize the boxes if necessary.

Once you’re happy, click on Measure. Dfine will then measure the noise and apply a noise reduction algorithm. This can be tweaked using the sliding controls and Control Points found in the Reduce section.

Move the cursor around the image to see a before and after comparison in the Loupe window.

Once you’ve found the level of noise reduction that you want, you have the option to click OK to apply it, or select Brush to paint it in. I like to use the Brush as it creates a mask and you can quickly switch between painting in the effect or erasing it.

Helpfully, you can also Photoshop’s brush opacity control at the top of the image to apply the effect more subtly.

Nik Collection Review Dfine Review

Dfine 2.0 Verdict

There are probably fewer occasions when you’ll use Dfine than some of the other plugins in Nik Collection, but it’s very handy for low-light photography. Although you can take complete control if you want, the automatic setting often works well.

I find the Loupe frustrating because you can’t keep an area selected while you adjust the treatment. You can still build up a picture of the degree of noise reduction that’s required globally, but it’s harder to assess the Control Points.

Consequently, I find it easier and quicker to apply a blanket treatment selectively using Photoshop’s Brush opacity to control the strength.

Nik Collection Verdict

At £125 for 7 plugins and Dxo PhotoLab, Nik Collection 2 offers exceptional value for money. It’s also capable of producing excellent results that are really only limited by your imagination. 

It’s also very easy to use. But more than that, it’s fun to use it. The trickiest part is deciding which of the plugins to use. It would be nice for a future edition if each software package could be treated as a suite of presets and controls for one plugin. This would mean you can preview the impact of different recipes and filters in Silver Efex Pro, for example, and then switch seamlessly to Color Efex Pro to see what its presets can offer. That sounds like a simple request, but I’m sure it’s very involved to carry out. However, it’s clear that DxO is committed to evolving Nik Collection and is taking onboard users requests, so you never know.

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