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Review of DxO Nik Collection 3

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Nik Collection 3 review

DxO Nik plugins updated and expanded

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A review of Nik Collection 3 by DxO.

The Image editing plugins are updated and expanded to fit more varied workflow choices and software. without losing the original Nik functionality.

Keith looks at the changes to what have been staples of his image editing workflow since the original Nik plugins. There are links to Keith’s detailed Nik reviews and discussion of new functionality…

Nik-Collection

There is a free demo of the Nik software available.

But if you have an old version READ THIS first.

The updated Nik plugins

DxO have produced a new updated version of the venerable Nik plugin collection. Added to the mix is Perspective Efex, which I’ve covered in more detail its own review. Just in case you’re wondering, it’s DxO Viewpoint – which happens to be one of my favorites anyway – now it’s in the Nik collection, I suspect a lot more people will discover its use.

The plugins have been updated and now work more easily with Affinity Photo and Lightroom.

IMPORTANT NOTE If you’re installing the plugins and already have NIK installed please do read the warning I’ve added at the end of this article

I’ve short notes on some of the plugins, and links to my more comprehensive reviews elsewhere on the site. If you’re a Nik fan then they all work just as well as before!

The review has a lot of large images – click to open in a new window.

The install

The installer finds all relevant folders for many apps, although I had to manually specify the folder I’m using for plugins with Affinity Photo.

installer

New features

The software has several new feature that will be of interest to some users, in particular the non-destructive editing integration with Lightroom.

I’ll just quote DxO’s press info on this, since it doesn’t fit in any of my own workflows for my work.

“To better meet the needs of Adobe Lightroom Classic users, the Nik Collection 3 By DxO now offers a new workflow that lets photographers freely edit their files within the same plugin. This technology is based on the use of the TIFF MULTIPAGE file format, which combines the input image, the saved Nik Collection 3 By DxO editing parameters, and the output file all in the same file. The Nik Collection 3 By DxO is the first suite of creative photo plugins to introduce a non-destructive workflow to Adobe Lightroom Classic, resulting in unparalleled versatility.”

The Nik Selective palette has been updated offering quick access to plugins and any presets you might use regularly.

Perspective Efex- an addition to the collection. Offers perspective correction with and without lens correction data. It also does a fairly good ‘faux’ miniature world effect, if you’ve not got a proper tilt/shift lens.
See my review for more details

The plugins

I’ll start with a quick look at the ones I use most often. Remember that the basic functionality hasn’t changed. I’m pleased by this and that the changes are in underlying code have been made to make them more widely usable, not ‘different’.

color-efex-pro-4

Color Efex Pro 4

Color efex has a lot of filters in it. There are a few I use a lot with my architectural work, mainly dealing with unwanted colour casts and the relative detail/lightness in shadow areas.

I know of photographers put off by thinking it’s yet another artsy ‘effects’ filter.  The blurb doesn’t help…

“With 55 creative filters and 20 recipes, Color Efex Pro adds color and ambiance to your photos. Each filter contains up to six variations so you can create an effect that is truly unique. Every effect can be customized with a number of presets, offering a nearly endless source of inspiration.”

Look deeper and filters like the Pro Contrast one I’ll show here emphasise my view that just because the promo materials show all the dials pushed to 11 doesn’t mean you have to.

I’ve more examples in my main Color Efex Pro 4 review but I’ll use this shot of a building taken with a short enough exposure to retain the colour in the bright sunny sky near the person.

matitoli woods

The software can be set to remember previous choices, so I don’t normally get the presets ‘recipes’ appearing

recipe-monday

I’ll admit to completely ignoring most presets, but they are good for just getting a good feel for the various filters. You can see the filters used and their settings.

Note that I said ‘filters’ – you can stack them.

Think of the filters as layers. Add this to the non-destructive editing option for Lightroom and it opens up a lot of editing possibilities.

I’m working in split view here mainly to show changes, but you don’t have to have the screen set like this.

The Pro Contrast filter

Applying the Pro Contrast filter brightens up the darker parts of the image. It has a colour cast correction setting that sometimes is of help and a contrast setting I personally find too harsh. It’s the Dynamic Contrast setting I use the most.

dynamic-contrast

However I don’t really want the top part of the building lightened so much.

Adding  a control point allows me to decide where and by how much the filter is applied. I could use a negative control point to selectively reduce application. Which is best depends on the image.

use-control-point

The precise position of the control point affects just how the adjustment is applied. This depends on the colour at the control point. It’s shown in this animation, showing how just a small movement can change things.

control-point-sensitivity

The complex masking that’s going on is one of the key strengths of the Nik plugins and is one of the reasons I still use them.

Here’s Color Efex Pro 4 doing its stuff to an image in Affinity Photo.

cep4-in-affinity

silver-efex-pro-2Silver Efex Pro

Another plugin which is widely regarded as one of the best ways of converting colour images to black and white.

Once again, see my previous reviews for a lot more detail.

I’ve also used it for luminosity blending for colour photos on dull days. It can have issues with halos, which I’ve looked at in a previous article, but in general it gives a great way of exploring the tonality of your B&W images.

I’ll start with this view of a calm North Sea on a changeable March day in Suffolk.

north sea, from Felixstowe

As ever, there is the selection of more ‘creative’ options.

sfx-old-print

There are however a lot more in Silver Efex pro that are helpful when it comes to exploring all the different adjustments.

sfx-stronger-preset

A slightly less intense version.

sfx2-preset

Just with altering a few sliders to balance the histogram at the lower right.

modest-adjustment-histogram

A control point adjustment lets me alter the contrast in this bright bit of cloud without blowing out any highlights.

With photos of clouds like this I’ll try to avoid blowing highlights in the original photo and in subsequent processing. There is a lot of detail in some cloud highlights. This may be burnt out when i decide how I want a print to look, but then it’s my decision as to how much ‘paper white’ is in the image.

fine-tune-with-control-point

Just to show, here’s the same unaltered control point moved into the sky.

same-control-point

Here’s a processed version of the image. I’ve not tried to do everything in the plugin and would look again at overall tonality when I decided what paper I was going to use for the print. It also needs selective sharpening for print,

north-sea-cloud

Note that I say ‘selective’ rather than ‘print sharpening’. It generally needs no sharpening whatsoever in those clear areas of sky. This matter a lot more if I’m making a big print, where noise in the image is likely to be more visible.

sharpener-pro-3Nik Sharpener Pro 3

Sharpener Pro has been one of my go-to tools for sharpening images for many years. Two main uses are for web images and for print.

The plugin has two versions, one for sharpening out of the camera images and one for output sharpening.

Once again see my earlier reviews for more details concerning the how and why you would use it.

Sharpening has seen changes in my workflow over the years. Whilst I may use other software for resizing and detail extraction, it’s generally Nik Sharpener that gets a call just before printing.

Here, I’m using the ‘Display’ mode for a web image.

display-sharpening

This is the version of the image as resized directly to 740 pixel width (standard in my articles).

north-sea-cloud-740

Here’s a version with default screen sharpening.

north-sea-cloud-sharpened

 

I’d likely back down the amount slider a touch here. Auto settings are generally fine, but sometimes I still see a bit of an image that’s just a bit over-cooked for my personal taste.

In printing I’ll usually have the sharpened version as a layer, and brush in where I want sharpening. you can do this masking within Sharpener Pro, so it’s available to people who want to print from Lightroom too. For larger prints, control over where and where not to apply sharpening (even at the print stage) is a powerful creative tool.

viveza-2Viveza 2

Viveza is a tool I’ll often choose where I want to locally change the tonality and contrast in an image.

Whilst it has the standard brightness/contrast/saturation controls, it also has a local contrast adjustment called structure.

This is quite well behaved and when combined with the masking/selection options you get with control points, capable of subtle control.

The selection for a control point can be based on colour too.

As before, see my more detailed reviews for many more examples of its utility.

A quick example from when I was testing old Mamiya 645 lenses with a tilt/shift adapter. This shot has the plane of focus running almost vertically through the scene.

I’ve opened up in split view, just to make the effect a little clearer.

apply-control-point

I’m adding contrast and structure to the town in the distance (Southwold).

A quick view of the mask for the effect shows where it’s being applied.

Adding a second control point shows the extension of areas of influence.

Note that you can group control points to refine where adjustments are applied and make it easier to synchronize them.

add-second-control-point

In many ways, the simplicity of Viveza with its lack of gaudy recipes hides (from some) a very powerful editing tool.

analog-efex-pro-2Analog Efex Pro 2

One of the Nik tools that’s rather less of a regular for myself.

It’s a set of adjustments that aim to give you the look of old film processes and cameras.

As Dxo says:

“Get the photo you’re looking for, even if you don’t own the equipment. Let effects inspired by traditional cameras bring you back to the vintage age of photo development. Choose from 10 different Tool Combinations to easily apply their effects, or use the Camera Kit to mix and match your favorite analog features.”

I gave up film in 2003 from a commercial point of view and generally have no lingering attachments. Personally I prefer the film effects found in DxO FilmPack,

Here it is at work on one of my older cameras…

camera-presets

As before I’ve opened it up in side by side mode, with some preset adjustments at the side.

The various adjustments change with the preset chosen, so are a great way to explore and experiment – even the more extreme ones are worth a look.

basic-controls

As well as basic adjustments, there are lots of effects such as dust and scratches. A single slider moves these from white marks to black marks with other scaling and intensity adjustments too.

dirt-and-scratches

Vignetting is applied in different styles.

vignette-control

There are also lots of ‘film types’.   The best was I found to look at these was to experiment on a few images and get a feel for what they do. Once again a look at some of the presets helped this.

film-variations

A B&W film and some grain gives a suitable B&W look.

film-type

The resulting image [Click to enlarge]

mpp-bw

The camera is one I adapted for attaching to a DSLR a while ago

dfine-2Dfine 2

Dfine 2 reduces noise in images. It works well, but in the years since its first appearance cameras and other approaches to noise reduction have moved on.

It analyses the image to build up a noise profile, which is used to reduce noise levels.

Where Dfine 2 is still useful to me is that the noise reduction can be localised using control points. Sometimes, noise is only an issue in parts of an image and turning up normal noise reduction can affect the whole image.

Whilst I can use layer and masking approaches in Photoshop, using Dfine 2 gives more control in applications such as Lightroom or DxO PhotoLab.

For more details see my earlier review of the software.

HDR-Efex-Pro-2HDR Efex Pro 2

HDR (high dynamic range) image creation. I’ve used this software for several years where I need to capture scenes with large variations in light levels.

I have a strong dislike of the gaudy high contrast/high saturation images that re often associated with HDR.

Fortunately, as with many techniques, you don’t need to run everything at eye-aching settings. I’ve looked at it in some detail in the past.

Obviously you need multiple images to get the real benefit of the software.

However, it can do all kinds of things to individual images.

HDR-Efex-Pro-2

However, it is capable of readily producing images that don’t give you a headache…

I’ve long found it particularly useful for night time photography of floodlit buildings.

St Mary de Castro spire

Here’s another example from a single RAW shot taken with the Panasonic S1R, deliberately exposed for the outside. It shows just how much you can push the shadows with some modern sensors. I’ve opened the (single) RAW file into HDR Efex Pro 2 directly from Adobe bridge.

dark view

The shot was taken during my tests of the S1R for my review, so is definitely darker than I’d normally take for such a shot, but I’m pleased to see how much the HDR look can be turned down.

hdr-efex pro 2

Yes – there are lots of truly awful looking versions in the presets.

However, take time exploring the details of their settings and you can find really useful adjustments in there…

perspective-efexPerspective Efex

This plugin is an addition to the Nik Collection.

It happens to be one I know very well though since it is none other than my old friend DxO Viewpoint, now moved into the collection.

Since it’s new for Nik, I’ve covered it in a bit more detail in a separate review with links to my previous reviews of it working standalone and with DxO Optics Pro/PhotoLab

It has two significant uses for me.

One is the adjustment of wide angle shots including people to get rid of the stretched faces in the corners look.

Secondly, I use it for correcting/straightening photos either not taken with a shift lens, or minor adjustments when I’ve been using one hand held.

It also lets you apply selective focus effects to mimic the look of the ‘model world’ shots you can take with a strongly tilted lens. However I have a range of tilt/shift lenses to do it ‘for real’ – see my recent article about this and why it’s just a small part of what the lenses let you do.

Using the plugins – Selective Tool

Whilst I’m using Photoshop, I have access to a panel that gives a lot of shortcuts to using the plugins more efficiently. I can access ‘recipes’ and quickly re-apply any plugin.

selective-tool

Whoops – it seems that an install error caused the old Selective Tool to load in Photoshop CS6.

This is the new colour version. I suspect this is due to some of the initial install problems I experienced – see the notes at the foot of the review.

selective mk2

The tool can be used to access previous settings/recipes

last-edit

I’d also note the settings, where I’ve ensured that the results of the plugin are returned on a new layer. This allows for additional masking.  With SIlver Efex Pro on colour images I use it to adjust the blending mode to luminance.

new-layer

I suppose it’s useful if you do lots of work using the plugins.

Personally I dislike it sitting there on my desktop as the only dark element on the screen with its bright colours. There is fortunately, a tickbox to stop it appearing on startup.

 

Updating classics

I’m really pleased to see DxO not making major changes to the look and feel of the Nik plugins. There is a reason they are popular, and this update just makes them available to a wider audience.

Ignore many of the tawdry examples of their use you’ll see and they are capable of very refined use. Sorry, did I say tawdry there? I meant bright vibrant examples of creativity… obviously YMMV ;-)

I’d hope that most times I use them no-one will know. Definitely worth a try if you’re finding the image editing capabilities of Lightroom a little stultifying…

Installation care

If you’re just intending to try the demo version and have a working older version, then you may wish to take note of this, just in case you want to go back to your working older version…

The installer should detect old Nik Collection installs and remove them.

By default, the Nik 3 installation process overwrites any previous version of the software. However, your license info is not removed, which means you could download your older software from your DxO customer account and use it without having to re-enter its license (which is also available via your account).

The user can choose to install the software in a different folder, so you will have access to:

  • Standalones of the installed version
  • Standalones of version N-1
  • The plugins of version N will be installed for Photoshop and Lightroom but those of version N-1 will be overwritten

So, if you want to keep the old plugins, you’ll need to manually rename the DxO folder in your plugins folder.

Problems?

During my testing, on first install (Mac, PS CS6) the installer did not remove old software and the new software fell over when used. This was cured by manually running the Nik3 uninstaller, Running my old Nik2 installer and then running V3 again. This time it correctly spotted V2 and uninstalled it, before installing V3.

A second problem occurred with the Selective tool, where the old version persisted. I almost never use it, so I’m afraid I didn’t notice. A second uninstall and reinstall fixed this.

It’s now working fine on CS5 (64 bit) CS6 DxO PhotoLab and Affinity Photo – I’m afraid I don’t ever use Lightroom, so I can’t comment there.

I mention this since I know a lot of people use older software and versions of the Nik plugins. If you’re using the older versions make sure you back up your working Nik plugins before any updates.

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6 Comments
  • Keith | Nov 16, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    The only thing I’ve heard is to make sure you use the uninstaller to completely remove the DxO stuff and then do installs.

  • Oliver Bonser | Nov 15, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    Hello Keith,

    Thank you for a very interesting article. I’ve been using DxO for many years now and have always kept it up to date and have just carried out the paid update to version 4 elite.

    I’ve hit a problem since the update that Color Efex Pro 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2 in my old free version of Nik Collection no longer work instead giving an error message reporting a crash. I’ve tried downloading DxO’s free version but that does not resolve the issue. This issue has never arisen before even since the original Optics Pro. I’ve been in touch with DxO Customer support and they say they can’t help as they don’t support the free version.

    I hope I’m not being cynical but it crosses my mind that if some careless person at DxO involved in preparing the Pro 4 update inadvertently made a coding error that corrupted the free Nik Collection an awful lot of people like myself would now be faced with having to pay DxO £125 to be able to use it again. An awful lot of useful revenue.

    I’m not contacting you seeking a solution to this but to ask if other friends, contacts and colleagues are coming across the same issue?

    I came across this of course too late at the end of your posting …

    “I mention this since I know a lot of people use older software and versions of the Nik plugins. If you’re using the older versions make sure you back up your working Nik plugins before any updates.”

    If only I’d known.

    Kind regards,

    Oliver

  • Keith | Jun 6, 2020 at 12:26 am

    Thanks for mentioning this – I checked and for some reason my Photoshop install was still loading the old version, but starting the new plugins. The new ‘All Colour’ version was fired up by closing and re-opening from the Photoshop Automate menu. My suspicion is that the wrong version appearing was caused by the issues I first had in installing over assorted old versions. It took another uninstall/install to get things working.

    I’ve added a screenshot of the new dark version and updated the review. It’s different, but is seemingly fixed in the Nik dark interface style which isn’t my preference (mainly from a usability point of view). I also don’t want bright splashes of colour on my screen sometimes when editing. Fortunately it can be deactivated.

    That said I’ve never really found the ‘selective tool’ suited my ways of working – I can’t see any real change here. Obviously YMMV

  • David Mantripp | Jun 5, 2020 at 9:56 pm

    Thank you very much for the review Keith. I am puzzled by one thing though – I thought that the Selective Tool has been redesigned, but from your screenshot is seems to be just the same as it always has been?

  • Keith | Jun 5, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for the note – that’s not a combination I was able to test

  • Roger Norton | Jun 5, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks for the review. Nik 3 runs well in Lightroom but some plug-ins (e.g. silver Effects cause Photoshop 2020 to crash. I am using OS-X 10.14.3 (Mojave).

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