Critically acclaimed photo editing collection NIk has recently been made free to download. I had been keeping my eye on it for a while but it never appeared to offer much that I couldn’t do already in Photoshop and Lightroom. Especially since Google has bought it out they haven’t done much with it besides cut the price. Now that it costs nothing to try, I can give it a spin and see if I’ve been missing out on anything. Time to see if the suite lives up to expectations.
It’s a pretty extensive suite of software so I won’t be explaining how to use any of it. If you’d like to learn how there are plenty of tutorials online, including from Nik’s own YouTube page. I would start off with this video.
One thing I want to note, but won’t go too in depth with, are control points. They the most interesting and useful part of the Nik Collection. They allow you to pick out and edit specific parts of the image very easily. For example, you can select just the sky to change it’s color, or the highlights of an object to bring down the exposure. I want to bring it up early because I mention them a few times. It’s hard to get good results out of Nik without using control points anyways.
Nik recommends using their software in a certain order. First you start with Dfine for noise reduction, then use any of their color editing applications, and finish up with Sharpener Pro. And this workflow makes sense. Any sort of color or contrast adjustments you make can affect the noise in the image and make it harder for the program to remove. The same goes for sharpening. Denoising works by selectively blurring pixels. If you use it after you sharpen an image you are going to remove much of the sharpening you’ve done.
Dfine does most of it’s job automatically. It reduces noise based on various information including your camera model and the actual texture of the image in order to retain the most amount of detail possible. Out of the box it seems to work only marginally better than Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw’s noise reduction. However it’s strength lies in the ability to selectively reduce noise. In areas of focus you may want to use less noise reduction in order to save whatever detail you can. And in areas out of focus, bokeh for example, you can take a heavy handed approach to noise reduction in order to get smoother tones.
Viveza seems like it works much like Lightroom does. You can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and structure. Structure appears to work similar to Adobe’s clarity slider in Lightroom and ACR in that it adjusts local contrast. Slightly different algorithm though. In the example below I used it to bring out the clouds from the sky more prominently.
Overall I’m underwhelmed with this one. It’s probably nice for beginners as it’s a bit more intuitive to work with, but it doesn’t do anything more than what you can do in Lightroom. Just another step in the workflow that needlessly eats up time.
HDR Efex Pro
This is Nik’s program to create and edit High Dynamic Range images. The photo merge dialogue window doesn’t work much differently than Photoshop’s other than it has additional options to remove chromatic aberration and to make it a smart object. Removing chromatic aberration is easy and works well. I do want to make mention of their remove ghosting option though, because on first trials it works much better than Adobe’s function. I tested it on a scene I shot at the beach with reeds swaying in the wind and it failed to create any of the wonky rainbow colors that Photoshop sometimes produces from it’s ghost removal. Overall it does a better job at retaining detail.
Editing capabilities are all right. They tend to lean more into the realm of cheezy, overdone HDR by default. I’m sure you can take a subtle approach to editing HDRs with it, but it requires more work to do so than with Lightroom’s HDR toning. In the end I might use this one solely for creating HDRs and import them into Lightroom for editing.
Analog Efex Pro
The best way to describe this is Instagram filters on crack. As it’s name implies, Analog Efex Pro’s primary focus is to recreate analog and vintage film effects. It has many presets built in from black and white cameras to wet plate. And as with Nik’s other programs, you can extensively edit these presets to your liking. There are options for bokeh, light leeks, dirt and scratches, and more. Everything you need to create the next big hit on Instagram. (Five years ago)
It does what it does well, but I’m not a huge fan. The results are neat but very niche and I can’t see myself ever needing to use it. Not really my style.
Color Efex Pro
Instagram on crack V.2! Okay, so I’m not too creative when it comes to naming. Color Efex works more like how you apply filters in Instagram but has the capability to combine filters or add them selectively to a section of the image. There are filters that adjust color, focus, contrast. Filters that add fog, texture, graduated filters. Filters that convert your image to a style of unique film techniques like infrared or solarizaiton. It’s an extremely extensive collection of filters and the way’s you can combine them are limitless.
Of the bunch the two that struck me are white neutralization and dynamic skin softener. White neutralization does a good job of finding the tones that are closest to white already and making them even more white. Around Pensacola it will work well I believe for making our already white beaches completely white. And I’m sure wedding photographers will love it for easily whitening gowns. Skin softener is pretty nifty and does a good job of softening skin quickly without heading into uncanny valley. Not something I’d use if I have time to do detailed skin retouching, but it should do in a pinch.
Silver Efex Pro
I’ve always heard that Silver Efex is the best way to go about editing black and white photos. I thought the admiration was exaggerated, but upon first look it doesn’t appear that way. It does produce slick black and white photos that are hard to reproduce in Photoshop alone. Not quite sure how Silver Efex pulls it off creating such nice black and white images, but it does.
Silver Efex offers a darkroom-esque editing platform. There are presets but they’re more akin to actual film processing techniques than Instagram filters in how they work. I’m not much of one for black and white, I like having my color, but if I ever do need to make something monotone Silver Efex will be my go-to. I’m impressed with it’s capabilities.
This is a tricky one to show examples of, as the effects are subtle, so I’ll be forgoing images in this section. Like Dfine, there isn’t much to say about this one as most of the work is done for you automatically. You re-size the image to the final size, tell Sharpener what medium the output will be (screen or print) and the program will do the rest. You can adjust the amount of sharpening but it’s pretty hands-off. The results are fantastic from what I can tell so far. I’ve yet to make any actual prints but the sharpening output for screens are great. It needs more testing, but I think Sharpener Pro has better sharpening than Photoshop and especially Lightroom.
All-in-all it’s a sweet collection of programs. I’m not a huge fan of the Instagram like ones, although they do a good job for what they are. Definitely have their uses. My favorites though have to be Dfine, Silver Efex, and Sharpener. Sharpener will probably get the most use from me as I try to shoot for low noise in the first place and I don’t do a whole lot of black and white.
My main gripe with the collection is the difficulty to incorporate them into a regular workflow, especially when you need something speedy. They’re great for one-off images or projects where I have time to really polish and shine, but for your every day stuff where you need to churn out several images there isn’t any time to push them through Nik’s software.