The Nik brand may not be household name like Adobe is, but photographers working in the digital darkroom have likely heard of it, if not used the company’s software. It’s been around a long time—I’ve personally been using it for a decade—and has changed ownership (and pricing) a few times over the years. It’s now owned by DxO, a brand that has developed its own image editing software, benchmark testing methodology, and even dabbled in hardware with the DxO One camera. DxO has updated Nik’s marquee product and has continued to update it—the current edition is the Nik Collection 3 by DxO ($149). It adds a new app, Perspective Efex, along with a form of nondestructive editing, and continues support for 64-bit operating systems.
What’s in the Suite?
If you’re used to workflow applications like Lightroom Classic and Capture One Pro, you’ll be a little surprised by how the Nik Collection is delivered. It’s not one big piece of software, but rather a suite of distinct plug-ins, which work with a workflow application as a host.
For most photographers, that’s Lightroom or Capture One, for which the Nik Collection works fine as an external editor. If you don’t subscribe to Adobe or have a Capture One License, DxO includes the scaled-back Essential edition of its Raw conversion suite, DxO PhotoLab. It omits some of the more advanced features found in the Elite edition the company sells at retail, but is a serviceable workflow application for customers who don’t currently use one.
The real bones of the Collection are the standalone plug-in applications. You get Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Dfine, HDR Efex Pro, Perspective Efex, Silver Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, and Viveza. Each application is geared to a very specific purpose, and we’ll break them down one by one. The toolkit offers a mix of artistic filter effects and tools to accomplish more technical tasks, like noise reduction and sharpening.
The following image, and others in this review, were processed using the Nik Collection.
All of the applications have been updated for compatibility with 64-bit operating systems. On my laptop, macOS doesn’t yell at me about potential issues with future operating systems when launching the software, as it did with the 32-bit edition released by Google.
DxO outlines the full system requirements here. They aren’t strenuous, so if you have a workstation that’s capable of processing digital image files, you should be set. There’s a trial download available too, in case you’re concerned your system isn’t powerful enough, or you just want to give the software a test drive.
Aside from the new app, Perspective Efex, the big addition here is a nondestructive editing workflow. It allows you to go back and make changes to an image, even after you saved it, but you’ll still need to process Raw images first in Lightroom or another editor.
Other updates are modest—there are new presets available for some apps, new film stock emulations for Silver Efex and Color Efex, and other minor changes throughout.
Nondestructive Edits, With Caveats
Including Photo Lab allows DxO to advertise the Nik Collection as having Raw support, but the really compelling applications don’t work with Raw. You’ll need to round-trip rendered files from your host application to the plug-in, and for the best quality that means rendering a 16-bit TIFF for editing.
The process is pretty simple—all of the DxO apps are listed as external editors from the develop module in Lightroom, although I did have to manually add HDR Efex Pro to the list myself. But it’s not as simple as just making adjustments within the nondestructive confines of your workflow application.
To edit images at the best quality, you’ll need to export a 16-bit TIFF file from Lightroom, a format that’s much bigger in size than Raw formats. If you want to take advantage of the nondestructive features offered by Nik, the TIFF includes two versions of the image—the original and the edited version.
To give you an idea on the storage requirements, a 60MP Raw image from the Sony a7R IV is about 60MB in size; the same file as a TIFF is about 360MB, a figure that doubles to 720MB when nondestructive edits are enabled. There’s a benefit here—you can work on a single image across multiple editing sessions, delivering a bit more creative freedom.
There’s a limitation, though. The edits don’t carry over from one application to another. As an example, I applied a Vintage Camera look to the photo above in Analog Efex. With the nondestructive edits enabled, I was able to go back and make changes after the fact with ease. But once I loaded the same file into Color Efex Pro and added a Bleach Bypass effect, I lost the ability to undo edits made in Analog Efex. So the edits are nondestructive, but only for the most recent application you’ve used.
I tested DxO with both Lightroom Classic and Capture One 12, but spent the most time with it along with Lightroom. From here on out, I’ll talk about using the software with Adobe, but mechanics aside, the experience is similar with Photo Lab or Capture One as your launcher.
Of course, the software can’t load a Raw format image, so your original files remain untouched. Overall, the process is just a little more cumbersome than working with an image directly in Lightroom. Is the hassle worth it? It may be, if you fall in love with what the software does.
The Creative Side
If you’re thinking about buying the Nik Collection, it’s probably for one of the creative applications. You get Analog Efex for unique toy camera, motion, and other filters; Color Efex has a number of filter looks, both color and black-and-white; Silver Efex is able to mimic the look and feel of many classic emulsions, including Kodak Tri-X and Ilford Delta; and Perspective Efex is a new addition that can make technical adjustments to correct geometry, and also provide an artistic miniature effect.
Analog Efex Pro
Analog Efex Pro is a virtual Swiss Army knife of film and motion effects, which can be used to build presets, called Cameras in the app. There are a number of preset options, broken down into categories like Motion, Toy Camera, and Wet Plate.
It’s easy to browse through these galleries and apply different looks to your photos with a single click, and you can then customize aspects to suit your liking. If you’re adding a grainy, dusty look with Classic Camera 7, it’s easy to switch to a more extreme scratched look by selecting a different swatch from the Dust and Lint panel.
But I find myself not liking the Dust and Lint options for this image. I think I’d rather add texture with a Photo Plate, a digital tool that mimics the look of 19th century wet plate photography. A quick trip to the Camera Kit allows you to enable the Photo Plate option. You can see the end results above.
It’s not all grain and faded film looks. Analog Efex also has has some interesting motion blur options, with drag-and-drop control over the locus and direction of the blur via Nik’s U Point system. There are multi-lens filters for Andy Warhol-style split images, simulated light leaks and lens distortion, film strip frames, double exposure options, and basic tone, curve, and level adjustments.
Analog Efex Pro
When you’re happy with your image, it’s a matter of hitting Save to commit the changes to the hard drive. Once you’ve done this, you can’t go back—you’ll need to open up a fresh copy of the picture to step through any changes. You can, however, save your own Presets, if you find that you have a specific look you like (this is true for all of the creative applications in the Nik Collection, not just Analog Efex).
Color Efex Pro
If you’re a fan of filters, Color Efex Pro will make you happy. It offers up a laundry list of options, ranging from emulation of some color film types (similar to what Silver Efex does for black-and-white stocks) and processes—think cross-processing and bleach bypass—to the more extreme filters that blur the lines between photography and fine art, like the solarization effect shown below.
Color Efex Pro
The filter list is extensive, and the software allows you to stack as many filters onto one image as you want. It’s easy to toggle the effects of any with a simple checkbox, so you can play with combinations and save your own presets, called Recipes.
Some of the functions, like adding a graduated neutral density filter, grain, or split-tone effects, are almost certainly included in your Raw converter. It’s the ability to stack the filters together that gives some appeal to Color Efex Pro.
Likewise, if you just want to give images a film-like look, there are dozens of preset packs available for Lightroom and Capture One. For a little bit more money than the Nik Collection, RNI All Films 5 gives you tons of film looks that can be applied with a single click from within your workflow application—no round-tripping required.
Color Efex offers some film looks that you won’t find in RNI, though. Lomo Redscale is new to this version, for one, simulating the look of color film loaded in reverse. Other new stocks include Fujifilm Instax, FP100C, and Provia 400X, and old favorites like Kodachrome, Portra, and Superia are still included.
But you may find the Recipes you can create to be worth it. DxO includes twenty of its own, which can give you a starting point with your images. I took one called Lavender and added a Bi-Color effect, some film grain, and simulated the look of C41 film developed in E6 chemicals. The finished image, above, is one that I wouldn’t be able to make with Lightroom alone.
HDR Efex Pro
Both Capture One and Lightroom can merge multiple shots together to net one with more dynamic range. The technique, High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging, can be used to blend multiple exposures together for scenes with extreme shifts.
HDR Efex Pro
There may be shots where you’re not happy with simple Raw processing to expand dynamic range. That’s where HDR Efex Pro comes into play. It has a number of presets to help get you started, as well as slider adjustments to control the intensity of the effect.
HDR images can look unnatural if processed too aggressively, and while HDR Efex Pro certainly gives you the tools to craft photos with very high sharpening and localized contrast, the built-in presets trend toward more realistic looks.
With modern image sensors, you don’t always need multiple exposures to make HDR images. Take a look at the unprocessed Raw image shot with the Fujifilm GFX100S, a tough scene with the rising sun pointing directly into the lens, and a lot of detail in shadow.
I sent the 16-bit TIFF, created by Lightroom from Raw, into HDR Efex Pro and was able to cycle through many different starter looks for the finished shot. A single click pulls in highlights and opens up shadows. I started with the Tinted Structure look for the finished shot.
For most images, I’m typically happy with Lightroom’s ability to eke the right amount of dynamic range from a photo. But there are times when you want more than Lightroom can manage with slider adjustments alone, even if you haven’t made multiple exposures. Of course, HDR fans are used to taking multiple shots with varying levels of brightness.
If that’s you, a round trip to HDR Efex Pro may be in order. It’s not an everyday tool—for me, at least—but it is a beneficial one.
Silver Efex Pro
Nik’s black-and-white conversion app, Silver Efex Pro, is what has kept me interested in the Collection. When I have the pleasure of using the software along with Raw images from a dedicated black-and-white camera like the Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) or Phase One Achromatic, the output is as close to film photography as you’ll get from a digital sensor.
Silver Efex Pro
And it does a great job giving a film look to color images as well. You can convert based on a neutral color response, and apply the same look as a physical glass filter to any photo. There are also a number of film stocks to emulate based on Agfa, Fujifilm, Ilford, and Kodak black-and-white films. All your favorites are there—Tri-X, Delta, HP5, Acros, and P3200, among others. Close to a dozen have been added for this release, including a couple Polaroid looks, Fuji Neopan, and Ilford Pan.
In addition to different color responses, the software emulates the unique grain pattern of each film. The structure slider adjusts the intensity—increasing it emulates the grain you’ll get when push processing, and you can control contrast as well. Localized adjustments, using Nik’s U-Point system, are also available. You can choose spots to dodge and burn, bringing classic darkroom techniques to your desktop.
As with color looks, there are black-and-white presets available for Lightroom. While I’m typically happy with what they bring to the table for color work, I’ve yet to find any that match Silver Efex for monochrome conversions. Adobe only includes a basic grain adjustment slider, which doesn’t come close to what Silver Efex does.
Capture One’s black-and-white toolset is a little bit stronger than Adobe’s, with a number of different styles for its grain. It’s an application I use occasionally, but if it was my main Raw converter, I think I’d still opt for Silver Efex for monochrome work.
New to this version is Perspective Efex, an app with two big functions. On the technical side, it offers single-click correction for lens and perspective distortion.
It comes in handy for shots like the one above, where the camera was angled up to get the tops of buildings in frame. The off-kilter perspective creates a keystone distortion effect. With a single click, Perspective Efex straightens the lines, but it does crop the photo a bit to do get there. You can opt to keep the original aspect ratio, or set a corp manually—for this one, I went with a 5:4 ratio instead of the original 3:2.
The application works well, though its main function may already be covered by your Raw converter. Lightroom corrects the same photo with its Upright tool, without the need to send the photo to another application.
Creatives photographers will find another use for Perspective Efex—the miniature effect. It’s used to simulate the look you get from using a tilt-shift lens.
Lenses of this type move their optics so they’re not parallel to the image sensor. Applying the look to wide, high shots of cityscapes make them look a lot like a diorama shot with a traditional macro lens.
Perspective Efex makes it a simple matter to add this effect to any shot. I took an image I made during a helicopter flight around the Las Vegas strip and loaded it in the software. By default Miniature Effect is applied in a straight line across the center of the image, but it’s a simple matter to reposition it.
You can also control the intensity of the blur effect and reposition it, or simulate the blur effects of various aperture shapes. You can make any change symmetrically—applying the same adjustment to both defocused areas of the image—or work independently. Results show up on the screen immediately, giving you a bit of freedom to fine-tune the effect to your liking.
The Technical Side
The Nik Collection also includes some tools that are geared for technical, rather than artistic, work. You get Dfine for noise reduction, Sharpener Pro to enhance detail, and Viveza for color manipulation.
These functions aren’t exclusive to Nik. Lightroom and Capture One both offer all of these functions, without the need to render out a TIF to edit in Nik. The technical applications are not the reason to buy the Nik Collection.
A Step in the Right Direction
Photographers use a multitude of tools to make images. A camera and lens are the very basic necessities. But pros, artists, and serious enthusiasts take the time to capture images in Raw format and process them using all sorts of software tools.
A Raw processing application is going to be the backbone of your workflow. DxO Photo Lab Essential is included, but it’s not the most popular option. You’re much more likely to use Lightroom, Capture One, or recent upstart Skylum Luminar, and all of the Nik apps work fine with these.
I’m happy to see that DxO has kept the Nik Collection alive. I’ve been clinging to the free version Google released a few years back, stashing the installer on various drives and laptops, lest I ever lose track of it and access to my beloved Silver Efex Pro. Yes, now it costs a bit of cash, but $150 isn’t exorbitant, especially if you’re already paying Adobe’s monthly Creative Cloud fees. DxO offers a 30-day trial as well, so you can give the software a try before you spend your money.
We’re happy to see some level of nondestructive editing added to this version. It’s not quite as convenient as Raw processing, and using it will eat up some space on your scratch drive, but you may find it worthwhile to have the option to go back and make edits to an image. It’s a little limited in that it doesn’t translate from one app in the suite to another.
Perspective Efex is an inoffensive addition—I’m not sure who was asking for the functionality, but it works, and the miniature effect can come in handy. I’m more excited to see a level of nondestructive editing and new film simulations added to Color and Silver Efex. They make the strongest entries in the suite better. With Silver Efex especially, you won’t get closer to the look of film while still enjoying the convenience of digital capture.