Google Nik’s collection of image editing plug-ins was extremely popular for two compelling reasons. One, it was very good and even more importantly, it was free.
All good things come to an end, though – DXO bought the collection from Google and now offers the Nik Collection 2018 by DXO. The free collection is still available from DXO but it will not be supported, so if you have any issues you’re not going to get much help from DXO.
Of course, the 2018 version will be supported and you won’t be surprised that this comes at a price: £59.
Like a great many photographers I have been using the free Nik plug-ins for a while now, so I know I won’t be alone in asking the inevitable question: ‘I am happy with the free version, so do I need to spend £59?’
Before trying to answer that question it is worth introducing the Nik Collection 2018 by DXO to those who do not have any history with these imaging plug-ins.
The collection, available for Mac and Windows, supports Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Elements, and comprises seven plug-ins: Analog Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Dfine 2, HDR Efex Pro 2, Sharpener Pro 3, Silver Efex Pro 2 and Viveza 2. See the caption below for a little more detail on what the key ones offer.
DXO has worked on the collection to make it more stable, so while the interfaces are very similar what’s going on behind the scenes is different. In my test, I didn’t get any crashes or hanging so that is a good sign.
The 2018 version is fully compatible with the latest Windows and Mac operating systems and it supports Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Having installed the 2018 version, my old free ones were overridden so I couldn’t make a direct comparison, but according to the DXO website individual plug-ins have gained extra features. So, for example, Analog Efex Pro 2 has gained six new camera settings and the ability to use control points, using U Point technology.
Control points is a big thing and I use them all the time in Silver Efex Pro 2. They let you adjust areas of the image very easily without the need for layers or selection masks.
You can place control points on any part of the image and adjust their size, effect and strength. If you need to lighten an individual’s face in a group portrait you can, and if you want to lighten several faces at the same time, this can be done by grouping control points together. Enlarging a control means you can adjust a bigger area.
The control point feature is a very powerful and effective tool and available in most of the suite, although what can be controlled obviously varies. Taking Silver Efex as an example, there are seven parameters that can be controlled as well as size: brightness, contrast, structure, amplify whites, amplify blacks, fine structure and selective colourisation. In Raw Sharpener, all you get is size and opacity control.
I enjoyed using this suite and found it full of potential, both creatively and in terms of control. Being able to very precisely control my monochrome conversions in Silver Efex Pro 2 was a high point, and being able to reduce digital noise hugely and automatically on high ISO shots using Dfine was another.
Well, is it worth spending £59 for the Nik Collection 2018 by DXO? In a word, yes, regardless of whether it is new to you or you are currently using the free version. In pure money terms, the collection costs less than £9 per plug-in – a large glass of wine in a London pub can cost more, and the plug-ins will last longer. If there is a downside it’s that you can’t cherry pick individual plug-ins because you may not want them and you have to buy the whole suite. That said, the collection offers photographers great creative potential, and that is impossible to put a value on.
Pros: Value, capable of great results, U-point technology, you make your own custom filters
Cons: Not available individually
Adobe Lightroom (3 through to 6/Classic), Elements (12 on Mac/13 on Windows through to 2018, apart from HDR Efex) and Photoshop (CS5 through to CC2018); Windows 7 (64-bit) with Service Pack 1, Windows 8.1, Windows 10; Mac OS X 10.12, 10.13
As featured in Issue 59