DxO Nik Collection 2 review

DxO adds new presets, image browsing and raw processing to its legendary plug-ins suite

DxO Nik Collection 2

Our Verdict

DxO has given the Nik Collection a major boost, but only by bolting on its own DxO PhotoLab Essential image browsing, raw processing, lens correction and photo-editing program. This has pushed up the price, and the plug-ins themselves simply get a selection of new presets. So it’s more of a repackaging than an update… but a smart move too, and one that makes the Nik Collection a powerful and creative standalone photo-editing solution, not just the brilliant set of plug-ins it was already.

For

  • Now with photo management tools
  • Excellent raw processing
  • New “En Vogue” presets

Against

  • More expensive than previously
  • No option to get the plug-ins alone

The Nik Collection is a set of seven plug-ins originally developed by Nik Software and sold individually, then bought by Google and sold as a single suite, then discontinued and given away free, and finally rescued by DxO and relaunched as a commercial package.

During all that time, the plug-ins have hardly changed at all. Google added the Analog Efex Pro plug-in during its time as owner, and DxO has updated the software to be compatible with the latest Mac and Windows operating systems since it took it over, but otherwise the Nik plug-ins look much the same as they did when they were launched.

For most software that would be a bad thing, but the Nik Collection plug-ins have a ‘timeless’ look about them and don’t seem to date at all. In fact, they still rate as amongst the best photo-editing software applications you can get. They also include some of the best creative tools and presets available to photographers.

The Nik Collection 2 doesn’t change that. The only change made to the plug-ins themselves is the addition of 42 new “En Vogue” presets spread across the four main creative plug-ins in the suite. The really big change is separate. 

DxO says user requests highlighted raw image processing and no more dependence on Adobe subscription software (Photoshop and Lightroom) as ‘host’ software for its plug-ins. Its solution has been bold, some might say obvious, but also rather clever.

DxO has added its own DxO PhotoLab Essential 2.3 to the Nik Collection. PhotoLab offers photo browsing, powerful raw processing, DxO’s excellent automatic lens corrections and local adjustments – plus buttons for launching any of the Nik plug-ins directly.

You don’t need a ‘host’ program like Photoshop or Lightroom any more, because the Nik Collection now has its own built in – and a rather good one, at that.

DxO Nik Collection 2

You no longer need a 'host' program like Photoshop or Lightroom to launch the Nik Collection plug-ins, as they now come with DxO PhotoLab Essential.

DxO PhotoLab Essential

PhotoLab Essential is a really good photo editor in its own right. Its image organising is relatively basic and best used for just browsing folder and thumbnails, and it’s pretty slow to start up – using one of the latest laptops for photo editing with SSD drives rather than hard drives will help – but once its running it’s very good indeed. 

PhotoLab applies lens corrections automatically for over 40,000 camera and lens combinations, even correcting edge softness in lower-quality lens. It also has just about the best raw processing engine on the market, with superb sharpness and noise control – though you need to but the Elite version to get DxO’s stunning PRIME noise reduction.

PhotoLab Essential has powerful (and actually quite complex) image adjustment tools, and also offers local adjustments via gradient masks, radial masks, a manual brush tool and the clever control point adjustments also found in the Nik Collection plug-ins – more on this shortly.

It’s not just a handy ‘host’ program for the plug-ins, but a great standalone program in its own right. You can use the plug-ins for specialised creative effects, but you might find PhotoLab alone does much of what you need for everyday adjustments.

DxO Nik Collection 2: PhotoLab Essential

The addition of PhotoLab Essential makes the DxO Nik Collection 2 a self-contained photo-editing solution, with browsing, raw processing and local adjustments thrown in.

The Nik plug-ins

There are seven plug-ins in the collection, but they are not all creative tools and not all equally useful, to be fair.

Analog Efex Pro is one of the most spectacular. It recreates the look of old and vintage analog cameras, not just with different ‘film’ types, grain, fade effects and light leaks, but with glass plate effects, lens distortions a blurring, multiple exposures, bokeh effects and more. There are lots of programs on the market that replicated analog film looks, but every time you come back to Analog Efex Pro you’re reminded of its scope, power and sheer invention compared to the rest.

DxO Nik Collection 2: Analog Efex Pro

Analog Efex Pro is the only plug-in added during Google's ownership. It offers an amazing array of analog film and camera simulation tools, and has ten new "En Vogue" presets.

DxO Nik Collection 2: Silver Efex Pro

Silver Efex Pro is dedicated to black and white photography. Like other Nik plug-ins, it comes with a range of preset film and darkroom effects, built with manual adjustment tools displayed on the right of the screen.

Silver Efex Pro enjoys a similar reputation for black and white photography, which is about so much more than just the absence of color. It recaptures the depth, intensity and subtlety of black and white films and darkroom processes in a way that other programs and plug-ins struggle to match.

DxO Nik Collection 2: Color Efex Pro

Color Efex Pro offers dozens of photographic filter effects which can be combined in an almost endless array of different permutations, or 'Recipes'.

Color Efex Pro is equally powerful, but perhaps comes across as a bit of a jack of all trades that’s overshadowed by the other plug-ins. On the surface, it’s just a large collection of photo filters and effects, some of which are a lot more useful than others. But the magic happens when you combine these filters as ‘recipes’, using Nik Software’s control point technology to remove or add different filter effects in different parts of your images. Color Efex Pro’s potential is not as immediately obvious as that of the other key plug-ins, but actually runs just as deep, or deeper.

DxO Nik Collection 2: HDR Efex Pro

HDR Efex Pro is effective both at merging bracketed exposures or applying tonemapping and HDR effects to single images – the high quality 16-bit TIFF files generated by DxO PhotoLab from raw files are a great starting point.

HDR Efex Pro is good too. It can merge a series of bracketed exposures or create a tone mapped HDR image from a single photo, and it has a wide selection of preset HDR effects to choose from. Skylum’s Aurora HDR is better still, but costs almost as much as the entire Nik Collection, so for occasional HDR experimenters, HDR Efex Pro is more than adequate.

These are the Big Four creative plug-ins in the Nik Collection, and this is where you’ll find the 42 new “En Vogue” presets, joining the large collection of one-click effects already built in.

From this high point, the remaining three plug-ins take a bit of a downturn. Viveza is really a showcase for Nik’s control point adjustments and this is all it does – you can think of it as like a dodging and burning tool, but for color images rather than black and white.

DxO Nik Collection 2: Viveza

Viveza's appeal is more limited in that it's designed solely to leverage the Nik Collections control point adjustment technology, but it can still be really effective. Here, we've used it to give the distant background in this cathedral a cool, dark tone to contrast with the lamps in the foreground.

The last two, Dfine and Sharpener Pro, feel increasingly irrelevant in the modern age. Dfine is a noise reduction tool that works well enough, but most photographers will concentrate on applying noise reduction at the raw processing stage, not on already-processed images. And while Sharpener Pro can be useful for optimising images for specific print sizes and printing devices, its ‘capture sharpening’ options are no more effective than the sharpening tools in any image editor – including DxO PhotoLab.

Quality of results

The Nik Collection plug-ins may have been around for a long time, but their preset effects, their tools and controls, and the sense of excitement and discovery they create, are as fresh as ever. Have you ever felt jaded and bored by the effects in your current photo editing software? You won’t here – once you start dabbling in the four main Nik Collection plug-ins, the minutes and then the hours just fly by.

Image 1 of 5

Analog Efex Pro

Here are sample images we made for this review with the Nik Collection plug-ins.

Image 2 of 5

Silver Efex Pro

Here are sample images we made for this review with the Nik Collection plug-ins.

Image 3 of 5

Color Efex Pro

Here are sample images we made for this review with the Nik Collection plug-ins.

Image 4 of 5

HDR Efex Pro

Here are sample images we made for this review with the Nik Collection plug-ins.

Image 5 of 5

Viveza

Here are sample images we made for this review with the Nik Collection plug-ins.

There are a couple of snags. Thanks to the inclusion of DxO Essential, the Nik Collection now costs more than it did before, at £125/$149 (reduced to £86.99/$99.99 until June 30 2019). If you didn’t have the old version, this one is easy to recommend as it’s still great value compared to what it used to cost to buy these two products separately. If you already have DxO PhotoLab, though, it effectively means buying it again if you want the Nik Collection. You also have to have PhotoLab even if you intend using the Nik Collection with Photoshop or Lightroom. And if you already have the DxO Nik Collection, there’s no real incentive to upgrade at all.

For new buyers, the DxO Nik Collection 2 is a great deal. For existing DxO customers, it’s a bit more complicated.

DxO Nik Collection 2

Verdict

The addition of PhotoLab Essential to the Nik Collection is a good deal for new users looking for an independent standalone solution, but not so much for those who just want the plug-ins. 

The addition of 42 new presets, meanwhile, hardly constitutes much of an upgrade to the plug-ins themselves, whose actual tools and features are unchanged.

There’s another snag. DxO PhotoLab does not support Fujifilm X-Trans raw files – Fujifilm camera owners can still use the Nik Collection, but they’ll have to find a ‘host’ program other than PhotoLab.

But despite all these caveats, the Nik Collection 2 is such an important, powerful, wide-ranging and inspiring suite of creative tools that we would still recommend it unreservedly. DxO’s bundling and pricing strategy might put you off, but the software itself rises above all that. The fact is, if you’re starting to get bored with photography and photo editing processes in general, the Nik Collection will make you excited all over again.

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