What is Nik Collection 3?
Nik Collection 3 is a group of 8 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, Viveza and Perspective Efex. Perspective Efex, which was introduced with Nik Collection 3, enables geometric corrections.
Together the plugins allow a range of effects to be applied quickly and easily to images.
Silver Efex Pro, which is used to convert images to monochrome and replicate the look of different film emulsions is the most widely recognised and frequently used of the software within Nik Collection.
Nik Collection was originally launched by Nik Software but in September 2012 it was acquired by Google. 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!
Nik Collection 3 can also be bought in a bundle with DxO PhotoLab 3 Elite Edition for £294 (discounted to £171.49 until the end of June 2020). DxO PhotoLab 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 3 Elite Edition retails for £112 while the Essential Edition costs £59. 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.
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.
Perspective Efex: Geometric correction software with distortion correction, horizon straightening and volumetric distortion correction.
The latest version, Nik Collection 3 has around 200 ‘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.
What’s new in Nik Collection 3?
The new features in Nik Collection 3 can be summarised as follows:
- New access palette to reach the plugin from within Photoshop
- Easy access to presets and last edits
- Non-destructive workflow for Adobe Lightroom Classic
- Perspective Efex for geometric corrections
We connected via Zoom with photographer and videographer, PhotoJoseph who has been using Nik Collection from its earliest days to run through the new features introduced by Nik Collection 3. In the video below, PhotoJoseph shows the new features in action:
Nik Collection 3 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, I stopped using Nik Collection at one point because of compatibility issues. Happily, thanks to DxO, that’s all been sorted now.
Nik Collection 3 by DxO is 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 3 is straightforward and I’ve not had any crashes.
Non-Destructive Workflow for Adobe Lightroom Classic
Thanks to the availability of the Tiff Multipage file format, it’s now possible to make non-destructive image editing in Adobe Lightroom Classic. To do this, simply put a tick in the ‘Save and edit later’ box in the bottom right corner of the screen.
Then when you click on ‘Save’ the software will combine the input image with the Nik Collection 3 editing parameters and the output image in one file that can be re-edited.
How to use Nik Collection 3
Once you’ve installed Nik Collection 3, a box is visible when you open an image in Adobe Photoshop. This box, aka the Nik Selective tool, has been updated for Nik Collection 3. As well as looking much more modern and giving fast access to each plugin, it enables you to apply your favourite presets and last edits.
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 to 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.
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.
One of the great things about using Nik Collection with Photoshop 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.
The effect is also applied as a layer in Photoshop so you can reduce the opacity if you wish.
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 the available options.
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.
How to create a Custom Preset Silver Efex
Creating a custom preset in Silver Efex is easy, just do the following:
- Edit the image until you get the look that you want.
- Click on the + in the Custom bar in the left column.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
When used with Photoshop, 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’.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Perspective Efex Review
Perspective Efex draws on DxO’s Viewpoint 3 software for its engine and controls. It enables correction of barrel and pincushion type distortion, volume deformation resulting from using wide-angle lenses and perspective distortion. It also enables wonky horizons to be straightened, and there’s a Miniature effect to replicate the impact of using a tilt and shift lens.
Making distortion corrections often necessitates some cropping and Perspective Efex can do this automatically to avoid blank areas in the image. Alternatively, there’s a cropping tool with user-selectable aspect ratio options.
DxO has a database of measurements made from a huge range of camera and lens combinations. These measurements enable the company’s engineers to apply corrections to images to address optical imperfections like barrel and cushion distortion.
In order to make automatic distortion corrections, Perspective Efex needs to have the correct module for the camera and lens combination used to capture an image. The software automatically detects what was used and prompts you to download the module. If there’s no data available, you can use the slider controls to make the adjustments by eye.
Even if you think there’s no distortion, you often see a little correction being made as you hit the ‘Auto’ button.
Volume deformation is something you may see at the edges of images shot on wide-angle lenses. It makes people and objects towards the edge of the frame look unusually wide and horizontally stretched while those in the middle look natural.
In most instances, clicking on the Horizontal/Vertical correction button delivers a good result, but there’s also a Diagonal correction option that’s useful. In addition, there are sliding controls to adjust the level of correction to help you get a natural-looking result.
These tools are very useful for anyone who needs to use a wide lens to photograph a group of people. They could be a big help for wedding photographers.
The controls in this section enable you to correct some of the issues resulting from not shooting objects from a perpendicular angle. It’s very useful for architectural photography or cityscapes.
Again, there is an ‘Auto’ button that can do all the work for you but if there’s strong perspective distortion the end result is unlikely to be what you want. There are sliding controls to reduce or increase the correction in four different directions.
Perspective Efex makes the corrections by locating lines that it calculates should be vertical or horizontal and making them level. It can do a brilliant job, but there’s also a collection of tools that enable you to target the lines for correction.
These are very easy to use. After clicking on the option you want (the difference is the number of anchor points) a series of lines with anchor points appear on your image. You just need to click on each anchor point in turn to drag the lines to where they need to be. Helpfully, the area under the anchor point magnifies when it’s selected, that makes it easier to get the perfect alignment.
By default, Perspective Efex crops the image to exclude any blank areas appearing as a result of the correction, but you can turn-off the auto-crop option to see what’s happening and identify the best final aspect ratio for the image.
It’s impressive what the Perspective Efex Perspective tools can achieve.
Again, Perspective Efex can correct a wonky horizon automatically and you can adjust the result using a sliding control. It’s also possible to position anchor points along a vertical or horizontal line to make it straight.
By default Perspective Efex crops images to the original aspect ratio to exclude any blank areas that appear as a result of the corrections. However, this can be deactivated and Crop tool can be used as a regular crop tool complete with a selection of selectable aspect ratios. You can also set a custom aspect ratio to use if you like.
Whereas the other tools in Perspective Efex correct problems, the tools in this section enable you to replicate the appearance of shooting with a tilt and shift lens to make the scene look miniaturised by applying blur to the fore and background.
As usual, this enables you to position lines that define the boundary of the sharp and blurred areas. There’s also control over the degree of blur and the shape of the blur.
What is unusual, however, is that the boundary lines don’t have to be parallel. By unticking the ‘Symmetrical position’ box you gain the ability to rotate them independently.
It’s a fun tool to play around with but I’ve never really found a need or real-world use for them.
Nik Collection Verdict
At £125 for 8 plugins, Nik Collection 3 offers exceptional value for money. It’s also capable of producing excellent results that are really only limited by your imagination.
It’s 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.
Nik Collection integrates very well into Photoshop and Lightroom Classic. The U-point technology is useful for making selective/local adjustments,
Perspective Efex is a great addition to the package, enabling easy correction of common problems like converging verticals, volume deformation when using wide-angle lenses and wonky horizons. The automatic corrections make life easy, but the controls are there if you need to tweak them.
It would be nice for a future edition of Nik Collection 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.