Photography

Review: DxO NIK Collection 2

NIK Collection 2 review

DxO recently released a brand new version of NIK Collection. NIK Collection 2 now includes Analog Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Dfine 2, HDR Efex Pro 2, Sharpener Pro 3 Output and Sharpener Pro 3 Raw Presharpening, Silver Efex Pro 2 and Viveza 2. DxO created over 40 new presets, includes U Point local adjustment RAW editing capabilities and adds support for HiDPI displays — which is interesting for Windows users only.

Knowing DxO Labs’ expertise from their other apps – Photolab 2, ViewPoint 3 and FilmLab 5 – I was very interested in what the company was going to do with the NIK Collection.

The wait was for a new version that would really show us what DxO plans to do with the software. Version 2 makes that very clear. DxO is picking up where Google messed up this fine software.

I tried NIK Collection 2 with the DxO Photolab 2 host app and it works smoothly. The integration is brilliant, the interface to open the plug-in you need is well done and the plug-ins themselves are crisp, modern and user-friendly.

DxO has included 40 new “En Vogue” styles, including Blue Monday and Clarity Bump as well as a whole set of B&W settings — most of these are nice, but if you’re even a little bit creative you’ll want to create your own looks.

I started with Analog Efex Pro 2, a plug-in that wasn’t in the Collection when I last saw it. This plug-in lets you alter your image, based on characteristics of other cameras. Analog Efex contains a few film plate cameras, a video camera, point-and-shoot thingy and more, and you can create your own camera modules. It’s a great way to evoke a time when photographers were juggling with dangerous chemicals, but it’s just as easy to change your DSLR image into one that looks like it’s been shot with a compact camera.

When you buy NIK Collection, you’ll get DxO Photolab 2.3 Essential Edition so you don’t need to have a host installed on your system like Lightroom or Photoshop. In addition, using DxO Photolab 2.3 has an added benefit, which is that you can apply U Point local adjustments directly to RAW images without sacrificing the non-destructive qualities of the app. This is not the whole NIK Collection, though. It’s actually the same functionality you’ll also get from running Photolab 2 Elite. It simply means that you can, for example, increase the contrast of just one area and leave the rest of the RAW image alone. That opens up possibilities that would require you to create brushed masks in other apps. You can create brushed or gradient masks if you want, but it’s much easier and faster to just use a U Point to create the mask and later remove the spilled over areas with the brush.

In those cases where you want to work with one of the modules of the whole NIK Collection, you can’t directly work with RAW images but need to create a JPEG or TIFF version first.

When you launch from within Photolab, a dialogue window pops open with buttons for each module. Once you select your desired one, the software will create that converted file for you first, then launch the module and open the image to apply your creative edits.

When you’ve done and save your image in the NIK module, you’re returned to Photolab and the TIF or JPEG image – the file format is your choice per preference setting – is changed in Photolab’s thumbnail list with an orange camera and read-only icon next to it.

This approach does come with a disadvantage: if you want to process your image using multiple modules, Photolab creates a new TIFF/JPEG for each new edit. That’s probably done because you can then back-track your steps, but it does add to the clutter of the filmstrip or image browser. There are bright orange icons that designate clearly the thumbnail represents a NIK-edited version of your RAW image, but unless you’ve used SilverEfex or the HDR module, it’s not really clear which NIK module belongs to which of those images.

In addition, the generated TIFF file is not tied to the NIK module you’ve used, i.e. if you select it after saving your NIK edit and then re-select it in the browser, there’s no way that NIK is going to open the correct module and let you change what you’ve already done – you can, however, edit the image with the same module again… only to create another new TIFF file, etc.

A brief overview of NIK Collection 2

Conclusion

In the past days, I’ve read some nasty comments on forums wit people who used the NIK Collection when it was in Google’s hands. They were criticising DxO Labs for charging an upgrade price for the software. I’m not going to comment on that. Instead, I have reviewed the NIK Collection after a long period of ‘absence’ and from that perspective I think the price for the upgrade is right, especially so as you get a good RAW editor with it.

The addition of the NIK Collection to DxO flagship RAW editor makes its offering more interesting to a larger group of photographers, especially those who like to boost their images with visual enhancements or creative elements without having to delve deep into masking, painting, etc.

Except for the potentially almost endless generation of NIK edited TIFFs or JPEGs, I found the NIK Collection 2 a great addition to DxO’s already excellent portfolio of products.