Many of us remember the debut of NIK Tools in 1995. They were a powerful set of plugins for Photoshop that did color adjustments, created lovely black and white images, and could sharpen images and lower noise in them. Just about every photographer I knew snapped them up at $500.
Then, a mini-disaster struck. Google bought them out in September 2012, dropped the price to $150, and true to predictions, Google lost interest in them, offered them for free, but there was no support, and pretty soon, changes in Photoshop made them not as compatible as they were. Google did retain another fine NIK app, Snapseed, which is still being used on iOS and Android platforms.
Finally, DxO bought them from Google in late 2017 and put some effort into making them work again.
Now, DxO has updated the tools again, renaming them the NIK Collection 2, lowered the price to $99 and extended what the tools can do, along with adding their own application, PhotoLab 2, that can host the plugins without needing any Adobe products.
Here's what's new:
The NIK Collection has added 42 new “En Vogue” presets to its original set of 156: 10 new recipes for Color Efex Pro, 10 new black and white presets to Silver Efex Pro, 12 new HDR presets to HDR Efex Pro, and 10 new tool combinations to Analog Efex Pro.
The “En Vogue” series was created in collaboration with Dan Hughes, a highly respected lecturer of photography at Rochester Institute of Technology and a former instructor with Nik Software. “I was honored to be a part of the expansion of the Nik Collection by DxO,” he said. “The plugin suite has helped promote the art of photography, and the addition of new effects has significantly increased its potential by offering all photographers new creative opportunities.”
The Nik Collection 2 now supports high-resolution monitors (HiDPI) with Windows. The graphic elements of the Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, HDR Efex Pro, and Analog Efex Pro plugin interface have been improved to increase readability when viewed through high-resolution monitors — just like with the Mac OS version.
Many photographers are moving away from the Adobe workflow, and NIK tools has taken that into account. The Nik Collection 2 now comes with DxO PhotoLab 2 Essential Edition, DxO’s advanced and multiple award-winning photo editing software. The software has been adapted to offer users direct access to the plugins from their workspace via a dedicated button and drop-down menu. After the image is edited in DxO PhotoLab 2, it can be quickly converted and sent to one of the Nik Collection plugins, where the photo can be further altered and enhanced with creative effects.
One of DxO's real core pieces of knowledge is in dealing with optical aberrations. To build on that, DxO PhotoLab 2 Essential Edition users can now apply advanced corrections to treat optical defects, specifically a lack of sharpness, vignetting, chromatic aberrations, and distortion.
Using the New NIK Tools
DxO was nice enough to provide me a review copy, and it immediately brought back pleasant memories of using NIK tools from the 1990s. The GUI is essentially the same, and my favorite feature, U Point selections, which make it really easy to select portions of an image for editing or masking are still there. It now works on raw files.
As before, the NIK Tools suite offers a variety of plugins and recipes, which are essentially presets for complex looks. In general, I prefer to create my own looks, and there are a myriad of controls to do that, and you can save your work under any name you like so you can use it again. I found the sharpening tools of very high quality, along with the NIK noise reduction tool.
NIK tools was one of the first plugins to handle HDR photos. I found the NIK approach not quite up to the levels of controls in specialty apps like Aurora, but HDR Efex Pro still does a fine job with a wide variety of presets.
Silver Efex Pro can deliver you stunning black and white effects, and I think it's still a leader, even better with 10 new presets.
I've also spent some time with the DxO PhotoLab 2 raw editor, which hosts all the new plugins.
The software has been adapted to offer users direct access to the NIK plugins from their workspace via a dedicated button and drop-down menu. After the image is edited in DxO PhotoLab 2, it can be quickly converted and sent to one of the Nik Collection plugins, where the photo can be further altered and enhanced with creative effects.
The Nik Collection 2 is now available for download on the DxO website for $99.99 instead of the old price of $149 and $59.99 instead of $79 for the upgrade from the first DxO collection until June 30, 2019.
What I Liked
- Pricing is very reasonable for the range of tools.
- The U Point technology is still a leader at image selection and masking.
- Noise reduction and sharpening tools alone are worth the total price.
- Ability to access the NIK Tools from PhotoLab 2 instead of Adobe products.
What Could Be Better
- HDR Efex Pro doesn't seem to have evolved much over the years.
- PhotoLab 2 offers the ability to run the NIK Tools suite without using any Adobe platform, but PhotoLab 2 does not support using any other Photoshop plugins. That will be disappointing to our readers who are hoping to move away from the Adobe subscription model.
- PhotoLab 2 workflow is not really similar to Adobe's. For example, once you have loaded an image, then edited it with one of the NIK plugins, you'll never return to the PhotoLab editor. You can only export the image. It will feel a bit strange to users familiar with Photoshop plugins that make their edits and then return you to Photoshop.
I think DxO has done a fine job of updating the NIK tools. At just less than a hundred dollars, they have offered a good value for some best-in-class plugins.
I had high hopes that DxO would allow photographers the option of getting away from an Adobe workflow, and while PhotoLab 2 is a fine raw editor, it can't host other Photoshop third party plugins. I think DxO missed an opportunity here. Still, PhotoLab 2 is unmatched it its ability to resolve lens issues, and it has other similar controls you would find in other raw image editors. Even if you are mostly all Adobe in your workflow, the Nik Tools Collection 2 is a fine addition to your software bag of tricks.