The Nik Collection 3 is now a set of eight plug-ins. Six were 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, most of 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.
DxO added En Vogue presets and new film looks in the previous version, but it's DxO Nik Collection 3 that has had the biggest update, with a whole new plug-in to take the number up to eight. The rest, however, look very much as they always did.
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.
It looks like bundling DxO PhotoLab with Nik Collection 2 was a short-lived experiment that added value to the software but led to complicated upgrade routes and frustration for existing DxO PhotoLab users who weren't offered any price reduction despite having a key part of the software already.
PhotoLab no longer comes with the Nik Collection 3. The price hasn't changed, but there is a new plug-in to make up for that and the purchase options are now a lot simpler than they were before. Besides, the potential audience for the Nik Collection includes Lightroom users, Photoshop users and others besides, who probably didn't need or want PhotoLab Essential.
There are now eight plug-ins in the collection, though 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 replicate 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.
Analog Efex Pro
Silver Efex Pro
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.
Color Efex Pro
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.
HDR Efex Pro
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 introduced in version 2.
From this high point, the next 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.
The next 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.
Perspective Efex is the all-new plug-in for the Nik Collection 3, though DxO fans may notice some elements carried over from DxO ViewPoint, the standalone companion to DxO PhotoLab, and the short-lived DxO Perspective app for Mac.
It's very quick, simple and powerful to use. It can apply lens corrections automatically (but only if it gets an unedited image from the host program), it can correct perspective both automatically (it did a good job in our tests) and manually and it can correct the volumetric distortion than wide-angle lenses introduce at the edges of the frame. And then it goes further still with a neat tilt-shift 'miniature' tool.
The Nik Collection plug-ins, like plug-ins generally, are 'destructive'. When you save an image, you're saving a processed version with your changes applied permanently and with no going back. So how has DxO made non-destructive editing possible?
It's done with by using the little known 'multipage' TIFF format. You don't have to do anything different with your host software, but if you click the small 'Save and edit later' checkbox circled here in the bottom right corner, the plug-in will save a multi-page TIFF containing the original image, the processed image and the processing instructions you applied. If you then re-open the same TIFF in the same plug-in, you'll be able to see and change any or all of the settings and re-save it.
Our understanding is that the host software treats the multipage TIFF like any other. There is a downside – these TIFFs are double the size of the regular sort, so this will work better with desktop storage than cloud-based storage.
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.
Here are some of the sample images we created for this review.
There may be people out there who are upset by the fact that you now have to pay for the DxO Nik Collection, when previously (for a time) the Google version was free. But let's not forget that the original Nik Collection (as published by Nik Software) originally cost hundreds of dollars, and that when Google took it over it initially charged more than DxO does now.
Indeed, the DxO Nik Collection is cheaper in DxO's hands than it's ever been as a commercial package before.
The addition of 42 new presets in the Nik Collection 2 might have seemed a pretty small upgrade to many users, which is why perhaps DxO sugared the pill by including PhotoLab Essential.
But DxO Nik Collection 3 is a bigger and more important upgrade that shows DxO is committed to driving its development forward.
The fact is, the Nik Collection is such an important, powerful, wide-ranging and inspiring suite of creative tools that we can recommend it unreservedly. 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.