The Nik Collection by DxO has seen some improvements in recent years, James Abbott takes a look at the latest version to see if it offers enough new features to be a worthy upgrade
The Nik Collection 4 by DxO is the latest version of the unwaveringly popular plug-in suite for Photoshop and Lightroom Classic. This is one of the most comprehensive plug-in suites ever created, and with frequent updates, it’s easy to see why the Nik Collection is once again growing in functionality and indeed popularity.
Nik Collection 4 includes eight individual plug-ins covering a range of popular editing tasks and provides easy-to-achieve effects: Define 2 is used for noise reduction; Viveza 3 is for adjusting colour and tonality; Perspective Efex can be used to adjust lens and perspective distortion; HDR Efex Pro 2 allows you to create HDR images from bracketed and single shots; Analog Efex Pro 2 offers classic film and camera effects; Color Efex Pro 4 provides colour filters and other creative effects; Silver Efex Pro 3 offers powerful control over black & white conversions; while Sharpener Pro 3 is for sharpening images.
Photographer-designed Viveza 3 presets
Viveza features ten new native presets designed by professional photographers and are mostly one-click corrective or quick fix effects, although there are presets for sharpening eyes and softening skin in portraits. When you consider the number of presets that are available in other plug-ins within the collection, ten is an extremely small number so it would be most welcome to see more presets added in future updates.
The presets can be used as a starting point for adjusting effects manually or you can begin with the default Neutral preset that leaves the image untouched for full manual editing. You can also create your own custom presets and import presets made by other people, so there’s plenty of room to customise Viveza to your requirements.
New user interface for Silver Efex and Viveza
The user interfaces of Viveza and Silver Efex have been completely redesigned with a new look that’s more in keeping with other DxO software and provides a much clearer and more modern interface to work with. Surprisingly though, all the other plug-ins within the collection still use the old Nik Collection interface which is looking quite dated these days, except for Perspective Efex that looks nothing like either.
So there’s a real lack of consistency when moving from one plug-in to the next. It’s likely that the rest of the Nik Collection will be redesigned over time, but it’s a shame that all the plug-ins weren’t updated at the same time for a seamless look and inclusive feel rather than creating the feeling you’re using unrelated plug-ins.
An improved workflow
The workflow between Nik Collection and Lightroom Classic has been improved with the Last Edit function in Photoshop now also available in Lightroom. Then there’s the new Smart Copy & Paste feature that’s been incorporated into Lightroom’s Export dialogue so you can apply Nik Collection effects to other images.
If working with a TIFF file you can enjoy non-destructive editing with this feature, although it’s always best to edit a copy of the original TIFF because the Nik Collection will flatten any Layers you have in place already.
It would be better if the effect was added to a new merged Layer at the top of the stack like in Photoshop when a plug-in effect is applied, but it’s understandable why this isn’t possible in Lightroom. The whole process could be made to be more intuitive, but with time you do get used to how it works.
ClearView technology available in Silver Efex
Another new feature in Silver Efex is ClearView technology from DxO PhotoLab. This control removes haze and accentuates edges, details and transitions to improve clarity in images, and it certainly works well within Silver Efex.In the image to the left, the left section is the Neutral black & white preset with no adjustments made and the right side of the image shows how ClearView set to 75 out of 100 affects the image.
This shot was taken on a misty morning so there’s a distinct lack of clarity that has been effectively fixed with natural-looking results. This, of course, means that you can only use ClearView with black & white images, so it’s curious that the control wasn’t also included in Viveza for use with colour images.
Meta-presets for instant results
Meta-presets are a new type of filter that combines the effects from different plug-ins to achieve a one-click result. Meta-presets are accessed via the Nik Selective Tool that integrates almost seamlessly with the Photoshop interface when set to the default dark grey.
There are ten presets in total, which isn’t many, and whether or not they’re to your taste is another matter.
What would perhaps be a great option on DxO’s part would be to create more Meta-presets that users can download and install directly from the DxO website so they can choose the effects they’re most likely to use. One major drawback is that there’s no visual preview of effects, just a crude description when you hover the mouse pointer over the question mark next to Meta-preset names, so you have to run the Meta-presets to see what they are, and they’re quite slow to be applied.
39 new and film-style grains in Silver Efex
As you’ll have noticed as you’ve read through the new features listed here, it’s Silver Efex that has seen the most improvements in this version of the Nik Collection. This is not surprising considering that it’s arguably the most popular plug-in in the collection.
Within Silver Efex, there are now 39 realistic film-style grains that mimic the grain patterns of popular black & white films for an authentic analogue look.
These, like most other presets, can be used exclusively or used as a starting point for further manual editing. The results are much better than applying grain in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, and even the higher ISO film simulations help to give black & white images a sense of depth you generally don’t get with digital images.
The image used here was Ilford Delta 3200 and the grain is much more subtle than you’d get with real film so increasing grain size would be necessary for an even more authentic result.
Improvements to U Point technology
Localised adjustments have long been a part of the Nik Collection, and the mask-free U Point technology that powers these easy-to-use Control Points for localised adjustments have seen a welcome upgrade in Nik Collection 4. The Control Points now feature fewer controls within the point itself, with controls for adjustments now housed on the main control panel on the right.
Plus, the name of Control Points can be changed to make selecting the correct point easier. Other new features within this area include a Colour Tolerance setting that provides saturation control over specific tonal ranges so you can select colours to work with as well as the tolerance to allow similar hues to be included in adjustments. More control is always a good thing and these upgrades to Control Points certainly achieve that end.
Nik Collection 4 by DxO remains the best Photoshop and Lightroom plug-in suite available by a long shot, but while there have been many welcome improvements in this and previous versions of the software, there’s now a serious lack of consistency in terms of functionality and the user interface used in the individual plug-ins – five of the plug-ins are in serious need of being updated.
That said, if you intend to purchase Nik Collection 4 then you certainly won’t be disappointed if it’s a first-time purchase. However, for those running Nik Collection 3 there may not be quite enough new features to make the upgrade worthwhile so it could well be worth waiting for the next update to see what’s included.
Nik Collection 4 costs £133 for the full version or £69 to upgrade so it’s well priced considering what’s included in the collection. The plug-in suite is also available with a fully functional 30-day free trial period, so whether you’re buying for the first time or considering an upgrade, you can test out the latest version before committing.