What’s new and is it worth the upgrade?
DxO’s new Nik Collection 4 comes with several new features and upgrades, but still retains the familiar workflow and film simulations that fans are looking for. The subtle changes provide an easy transition for longtime users and will undoubtedly attract newly interested photographers as well.
Although Nik Collection has changed hands several times – from Snapseed to Google to most recently DxO, which released Nik Collection 3 in 2020 with the new Perspective Efex and non-destructive Lightroom Editing that includes a larger TIFF file that can be re-examined – the software has not had a drastic overhaul that would change for short time users and fans. That does remain the case here in the latest update launched in early June, Nik Collection 4.
It comes with well-known plug-ins – such as Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro – in addition to Viveza, which allows manual editing similar to what you would expect from a development module with fewer features in Lightroom . It also includes Dfine for noise reduction, HDR Efex Pro, Perspective Efex and Sharpener Pro, as well as several improvements and changes to the user interface.
Overall usability and design
Long-time Nik users will find that the software still retains its familiar core and is easily recognizable. For newcomers, it is important to note that Nik has never been a tool for bulk editing, nor does it offer top performance in speed. Instead, it is more suited to individual edits, although the “Last Edit” feature speeds up editing multiple images.
Nik Collection 4 works well in conjunction with Lightroom and Photoshop, noted David Crewe of PetaPixel when it was announced, but it can also be a great stand-alone editing tool. However, users will have to switch between plug-ins if, for example, they want to first work on correcting perspective in Perspective Efex or sharpen the RAW file in Sharpener Pro, followed by image adjustments in one of the other plug-ins. This is not the best workflow because it takes time to switch between the two or three plug-ins. On the other hand, it does keep the plug-ins lean by not automatically including features you don’t necessarily need. The knife cuts both ways.
Because Nik features over 250 presets throughout the collection, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the different creative directions you can take. However, because the plug-ins are divided into eight different ways, this can make it easier for inexperienced users to work their way through the collection and get used to the different looks that can be created in each. So while it may not be as tightly integrated as some would like, it does have its advantages.
The user interface for all plug-ins is similar and provides continuity, although with the latest update some sections in the right-hand pane are sometimes difficult to navigate because Nik Collection 4 opts for a dark minimalist design, which comes with small icons that are hard to see or find.
Color, Analog, and Silver Efex Pro
Where the Nik Collection always excels as a unique tool is the large number of presets, film simulations and filters that cover both color and monochrome images and can be found in the three core plug-ins: Color, Analog and Silver Efex Pro. Each of them brings something different and you will find yourself drawn to certain filters or sections of each plug-in that suit your editing style.
Color Efex Pro
Color Efex Pro, which aims to offer a variety of filters for different types of photography, from architecture to weddings to nature, is in my opinion the weakest of the trio, especially when it comes to usability.
All three plug-ins offer a library of filters, but Color Efex is the only one that doesn’t leave them in the main filter library, which can make the editing process take longer than it should.
Instead, users must click a small icon next to each filter’s name to reveal several other filters within that category that do have previews, and keep going back and forth until you settle for the last one. It’s tedious, time-consuming, and cluttered. In addition, there are so many filters that you can’t see the forest for the trees. A few, however, are very good to use.
With such a large number of filters available, it seems that Color Efex is trying to be a plug-in that does everything. Many of the filters are not suitable for certain applications so you have to be very careful where you use them, I found myself searching through the long list but struggling to find one that fits, even with all the adjustments available within each filter.
The plug-in also has “Recipes” – a section under “Filter Library” – which contains 35 additional presets of which a sample can be viewed. This makes editing immediately easier and each individual recipe can be further modified. For example the recipe “Blue Monday” below, allows you to customize the type of tone used, as well as the cross-processing which provides additional creative options.
Overall, I would not consider Color Efex Pro in any way an advanced tool for portrait editing. I think it is more suited to landscape, street or still life work. But even then, the time it takes to go through each filter section to find an appropriate filter is not worth the effort it requires of you. Anyway, you make it easier on yourself by saving all your favorite settings as recipes so you can find your own style and most used settings over time.
It is likely that a regular user will forgo this plug-in and go straight to Viveza for manual editing or Analog or Silver Efex Pro for film simulations and presets, unless they can locate several favorites in Color Efex Pro early on. At first glance, it may seem that Color Efex Pro has a lot to offer, but after spending some time editing, you’ll quickly see its limitations.
Before and after Blue Monday
By moving the bar you can see how the photo is before and after editing in Blue Monday
Analog Efex Pro
This plug-in is primarily aimed at film simulations and offers a good choice of both color and black and white filters, as well as a choice of frames, bokeh, double exposure, dirt and scratches. It also gives “photo plate” options for a look similar to damaged film and wet plate and can quickly turn a digital photo into an interesting work of art.
You can choose a ready-made preset or build your own “camera kit” by mixing and matching all available features. Similarly, within each preset – the same as in Color Efex Pro – you can adjust settings such as filter strength, film type, basic adjustments and more.
In this release, Analog Efex Pro’s user interface remains largely unchanged, as do the filters themselves, with the exception of the newly added “En Vogue” section, which contains 10 new presets. For black and white photography, you have the choice of nine more traditional monochrome presets in the “Black and White” section or the more artistic presets found under the “Wet Plate” section.
So far, after using Nik Collection and its older versions for about ten years, I still haven’t exhausted the options of Analog Efex Pro. While the presets have not changed largely over time, I have found them to be a good fit for portraits, street photography, still life, landscape, and even good enough for an exhibition where this plug-in was used exclusively for editing the final prints.
While some presets may initially seem too strong for some applications, it is possible to keep it to a minimum or just start from scratch if that is preferred, especially when combined with Photoshop or Affinity Photo for more precision. The build-your-own option should not be underestimated, as it gives almost as much control as manual editing.
For beginners or those who don’t want to spend as much time manually editing in Photoshop, this plug-in can provide a good foundation for achieving unique looks with many customization options. Manually replicating film and wet plate can be difficult, but this particular plug-in does it with ease.
While it is by far the most useful plug-in, especially since it offers good color and black and white options all-in-one, I am saddened to see that the light spots still lack a good level of customization. The “Control Points” offer more choices for adjusting them, but you still can’t flip, rotate or resize them, unlike Adobe Photoshop or Affinity Photo.
These lighting effects can be adjusted to look subtle and visually appealing – unlike the ones I’ve tested with other editing programs – so it’s a shame that DxO hasn’t expanded the options in this upgrade.
Silver Efex Pro
Aimed at black-and-white enthusiasts, Silver Efex Pro has gained a sleeker user interface and a new ClearView tool, which removes haze and improves local contrast in a more subtle way than the Dehaze tool in Adobe Lightroom. The preset options range from high-key to high-contrast, somber and grainy looks, which make the plug-in useful for different types of work, whether it’s rugged street photography or softer portrait work.
Same as Analog Efex Pro, all presets show a preview on the left, while in-depth adjustment tools are on the right. The selection of these tools will likely cover most aspects of creating a good black and white image; even let-through and hold-back can be replaced to some extent by using the control points that add selective adjustments.
The plug-in still offers a good choice of toning options, as shown in the example below, which is useful for those who do not want to use additional editing software for this purpose. They offer a choice between warmer and cooler tones and can be added to any of the monochrome presets. It’s easy to go overboard at times, but Silver Efex Pro offers plenty of options to adjust balance, hue and more to achieve a refined look.
Toning options are now placed in a compact drop-down list, and while I understand DxO’s choice to opt for a cleaner look, previous versions classified all tones, making it easier to visually evaluate which option to go for.
Nevertheless, Silver Efex Pro remains as strong a post-processing plugin for black and white work as it was before, and even with the changes of the new user interface, it delivers wonderful results. Whether you opt for a quick preset with hardly any changes or want to dive deep into perfecting the final image, it works well for both. One good improvement that is in both Silver Efex and Viveza is the greatly improved color selection of control points.
In fact, both Analog and Silver Efex Pro are capable of producing powerful monochrome images and both should be considered for this type of photography. The more time spent editing with the two plug-ins, the easier it becomes to decide which one to start with for each specific image.
There are many options in Nik Collection 4 and not all of them are worthwhile. Trying to use the entire collection just because it’s there or because you think you should is overkill. So much may have been included to make buyers feel like they are getting more value for their money, but I think the value of the really great parts of the collection is already worth the price of admission.
Even if you rarely touch much of the collection, the ones you’ll use are reliable and won’t waste your time getting you to that desired finished photo. at the same time, the option to use more is always there. This collection and its earlier versions have proven themselves over the years – even though editing trends can change over time – and this one is no exception.
Are there any alternatives?
To date, I have not come across any plug-ins that offer so many quality presets to work with. Nik Collection 4 is not a replacement for the industry-standard Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop or Affinity Photo, nor was it ever intended to be – it works as an enhancement for all photo editing programs, as well as a collection of standalone suites that give you post-processing, sharpening, noise reduction and perspective adjustments, there is no other collection like it.
Many of the in-depth features can also be left untouched by beginners, making it suitable for newcomers, while professionals can use the seamless integration of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop workflow.
All new features at a glance
In the video below you get a list of all the new features in Color Efex 4
See more in this article about NIK Collection 3
Should you buy it?
Yes. Even if you don’t plan to use everything the collection offers, for the one-time purchase price of €149, Nik Collection 4 is worth it.