The Nik brand may not be household name like Adobe is, but photographers working in the digital darkroom have likely heard of it, if not used the company’s software. It’s been around a long time—I’ve personally been using it for a decade—and has changed ownership (and pricing) a few times over the years. It’s now owned by DxO, a brand that has developed its own image editing software, benchmark testing methodology, and even dabbled in hardware with the DxO One camera.
If you’re used to workflow applications like Lightroom Classic and Capture One Pro, you’ll be a little surprised by how the Nik Collection is delivered. It’s not one big piece of software, but rather a suite of distinct plug-ins, which work with a workflow application as a host.
For most photographers, that’s Lightroom or Capture One, for which the Nik Collection works fine as an external editor. If you don’t subscribe to Adobe or have a Capture One License, DxO includes the scaled-back Essential edition of its Raw conversion suite, DxO PhotoLab. It omits some of the more advanced features found in the Elite edition the company sells at retail, but is a serviceable workflow application for customers who don’t currently use one.
The real bones of the Collection are the standalone plug-in applications. You get Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Dfine, HDR Efex Pro, Perspective Efex, Silver Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, and Viveza. Each application is geared to a very specific purpose, and we’ll break them down one by one. The toolkit offers a mix of artistic filter effects and tools to accomplish more technical tasks, like noise reduction and sharpening.
Including Photo Lab allows DxO to advertise the Nik Collection as having Raw support, but the really compelling applications don’t work with Raw. You’ll need to round-trip rendered files from your host application to the plug-in, and for the best quality that means rendering a 16-bit TIFF for editing.
The process is pretty simple—all of the DxO apps are listed as external editors from the develop module in Lightroom, although I did have to manually add HDR Efex Pro to the list myself. But it’s not as simple as just making adjustments within the nondestructive confines of your workflow application.
To edit images at the best quality, you’ll need to export a 16-bit TIFF file from Lightroom, a format that’s much bigger in size than Raw formats. If you want to take advantage of the nondestructive features offered by Nik, the TIFF includes two versions of the image—the original and the edited version.
To give you an idea on the storage requirements, a 60MP Raw image from the Sony a7R IV is about 60MB in size; the same file as a TIFF is about 360MB, a figure that doubles to 720MB when nondestructive edits are enabled. There’s a benefit here—you can work on a single image across multiple editing sessions, delivering a bit more creative freedom.
There’s a limitation, though. The edits don’t carry over from one application to another. As an example, I applied a Vintage Camera look to the photo above in Analog Efex. With the nondestructive edits enabled, I was able to go back and make changes after the fact with ease. But once I loaded the same file into Color Efex Pro and added a Bleach Bypass effect, I lost the ability to undo edits made in Analog Efex. So the edits are nondestructive, but only for the most recent application you’ve used.
I tested DxO with both Lightroom Classic and Capture One 12, but spent the most time with it along with Lightroom. From here on out, I’ll talk about using the software with Adobe, but mechanics aside, the experience is similar with Photo Lab or Capture One as your launcher.
Of course, the software can’t load a Raw format image, so your original files remain untouched. Overall, the process is just a little more cumbersome than working with an image directly in Lightroom. Is the hassle worth it? It may be, if you fall in love with what the software does.
Photographers use a multitude of tools to make images. A camera and lens are the very basic necessities. But pros, artists, and serious enthusiasts take the time to capture images in Raw format and process them using all sorts of software tools. A Raw processing application is going to be the backbone of your workflow. DxO Photo Lab Essential is included, but it’s not the most popular option. You’re much more likely to use Lightroom, Capture One, or recent upstart Skylum Luminar, and all of the Nik apps work fine with these.
We’re happy to see some level of nondestructive editing added to this version. It’s not quite as convenient as Raw processing, and using it will eat up some space on your scratch drive, but you may find it worthwhile to have the option to go back and make edits to an image. It’s a little limited in that it doesn’t translate from one app in the suite to another.
Perspective Efex is an inoffensive addition—I’m not sure who was asking for the functionality, but it works, and the miniature effect can come in handy. I’m more excited to see a level of nondestructive editing and new film simulations added to Color and Silver Efex. They make the strongest entries in the suite better. With Silver Efex especially, you won’t get closer to the look of film while still enjoying the convenience of digital capture.