DXO Updates Nik Collection – an honest review
DXO Updates Nik Collection.
This is the latest release from DXO and many reviews have just echoed DXO’s sales release. This review is different.
Update – 23/7/2021. I am happy to report that DXO have issued an update to Viveza that fixes the problem with the Structure tool…
Disclaimer: I am an affiliate for DXO, Topaz Labs and Exposure software. That means I receive commission if you click a link on my site to them and also make a purchase. Reviews by affiliates may be biased, in order to win a sale. Hopefully, my reviews tell it as it is…
Back in 2019, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post entitled Is This The End For Photo Software Companies? where I argued that software houses not offering subscriptions were under pressure to release ‘new’ versions of their software annually, in order to keep the money flowing in. But it’s hard to keep adding additional features to mature products…
Since that post, Topaz have (controversially) switched their most popular products to a perpetual license but you have to pay to receive updates after a year. Skylum has re-released Luminar as Luminar AI and added very little to it, if truth be told.
I praised DXO’s last Photo Lab release, because it contained a decent set of extra features. They have now released the latest update to the NIK Collection – a suite of excellent tools for image enhancement, noise removal, sharpening, HDR and perspective correction.
Since acquiring NIK in 2017, DXO have released various upgrades that fixed bugs and improved compatibility with tools such as Affinity Photo. Last year, they added Perspective Efex to the package. This addition adds the functionality of DXO Viewpoint to Nik. It’s useful if you don’t own DXO Viewpoint but redundant if you do.
DXO Updates Nik Collection to Version 4
When DXO released this, the fanboy (aka affiliate) blogs all praised it unconditionally, often repeating (verbatim) DXO’s announcement. I waited. I didn’t understand why certain things were being praised as improvements and I wanted to test the new release before reporting on it to you.
What this release offers
DXO have concentrated on two of the Nik Collection modules: Viveza and Silver Efex. That interested me, as Viveza is the reason I’ve owned Nik since its release. It offers the easiest way to selectively improve photos. Or it used to. I’m far from convinced that the latest enhancements really improves the product. Some actually worsen it.
Be aware that if you own a previous version of Nik, installing V4 will replace it. Make sure you have an old installer if you decide to back out.
Nik Viveza – Changes
The UI has had a complete revamp. Some things are definitely better – it offers a full screen display. Some are cosmetic – a modern interface. And some make me wonder if anyone at DXO actually uses the product, as they make the product harder to use. First, here are the differences in the old and new interfaces:
Viveza – Old Interface
(I have added the stars)
The only thing wrong with the interface was it is not resizable. You cannot make it full screen. But everything else was fine. Top right is the ‘control point’ tool. This is used to add selection points to your image, and these work magically. Here is what the control point above has selected:
The control points create an intelligent mask, enabling selective editing of the image. You can add as many control points as you like and group multiple points. Using this ‘U-Point’ technology is so easy and you can create sophisticated editing masks with it.
With the old version of Viveza, clicking a control point brought up a mini-menu, making it dead easy to adjust the image:
To make a change, just grab the slider from this menu and drag it. Easy. I also could make the adjustments from the panel on the right-hand side:
This panel obeyed a simple rule: if a control point was selected, it adjusted the control point’s settings. If no control point was selected (by clicking on the image), it adjusted the entire image. So easy.
DXO NIK 4 Viveza – New Interface
Cosmetically, this looks a lot nicer. You can go full screen. You can add and use presets. No arguments here; these are useful features.
But look more closely… Where has the control point tool gone??? I had to hunt for it, only to find I had to scroll the right-hand panel to the bottom to find it:
I’ve added a star to the panel to show where the tool now lives. The tiny icons underneath the Control Points list now control grouping and ungrouping. Notice they no longer have text telling you what they do, although they display a ‘tip’ if you hover the mouse over them…
Questions: Why move the most important tool in Viveza to the bottom of this panel??? Why make it ‘hidden’ – not visible until you scroll the panel???
I can’t understand this. I’m as experienced user of Viveza as you’ll find, and it confused me. What would a new user make of it? Users of the trial version may never find it and that will cost DXO money…
But it gets worse…
Notice the control point on the screen. Where have the options gone? The control point no longer displays adjustment sliders. So, I did the obvious thing. I adjusted the sliders in the panel on the right. But they adjusted the entire image. Duh???
Then I noticed the scroll bar on the right of this panel had grown and, if I scrolled it further down, a duplicate set of options appears – using these only affects the selected control points or groups…
In use, this proved to be horrible. First, I often selected the wrong set of options in the panel and adjusted the entire image by accident. Ugh. Second, what was so easy – click a control point and adjust its settings, now is so difficult. It is really inconvenient to have to select a control point and then move the mouse over to the right, find the correct adjustment settings and make the change.
What was once so easy is now clumsy and error prone. What were they thinking???
But it gets worse…
One of the most powerful and unique features of Viveza was its Structure tool. This tool uniquely emphasised areas in the image. Its look was unmatched by anything else, and I loved the effect it had. Overused, it looked bad. But with some restraint it produced significant results. Not any longer…
Shortly before releasing Nik Collection 4, DXO issued an update to version 3 which replaced the Structure tool with something very different. As far as I can recall, this was sneaked in silently. I don’t remember it being announced, and I hadn’t used the updated version prior to installing Nik Collection 4. Thankfully, I had an old installer for Nik 3 and could reinstall the previous version to make sure I wasn’t imagining things.
Look at the difference. Here’s a comparison of the old and new Structure tools. Nik 3’s setting is at 50% but Nik 4 is at 100%. Click the image to see it full sized:
Nik 4 has added noise and very little structure. Nik 3 has added much more structure and much less noise.
The change to the Structure tool is so detrimental that I’ve raised it as a bug with DXO. They are yet to respond. I hope they fix this, otherwise one of Viveza’s unique selling points will be gone and I’ll be using it a lot less.
Add: 23/7/2021: DXO have issued an update that has fixed the structure tool…
Nik Vizeza Improvements
There are some definite improvements with this update. The full-screen mode is very useful. The ability to create and save presets has value. You can also adjust the mask that each control point creates by adjusting the Luminance and Chrominance sliders. That’s good.
They’ve added a ‘Save as…’ option to the standalone version, which is another definite plus.
Nik Viveza Summary
- Full-screen editing
- Ability to adjust control point mask
- White balance adjustment
- Save As… functionality
- Usability issues
- Control points don’t display adjustment sliders
- Much too easy to adjust the image globally by accident
- The Structure tool no longer works (Note: this is now fixed)
Silver Efex Pro
The interface has been revamped, although not quite as radically as Viveza’s. Nik 3’s Silver Efex Pro already had a resizable interface with the ability to hide the adjustment panels to achieve full screen view. The new interface looks more modern and the settings have had cosmetic changes, but nothing that makes that much of a difference. Except:
The Control Points no longer offer adjustment sliders and now have a new set of adjustments on the right-hand panel.
So, it seems this is going to be the future for Nik – and it really affects the usability. With Silver Efex, some controls on the adjustment panel are global and some are now for the selected control point or group of control points. There was an elegance to the old control point adjustment interface, which is now replaced by a cumbersome and convoluted mess.
I really hope they fix this.
Silver Efex Pro – new feature (there’s only one)
DXO Photo Lab features Clearview Plus – a unique tool that cuts out haze and enhances a photo. It now appears in Silver Efex Pro and it is highly effective:
I have only changed the Clearview setting for this image – the effects are obvious and dramatic.
Nik Silver Efex Pro is a fully featured black-and-white photo editing tool that has everything you would expect. It has a comprehensive set of presets and you can add your own. It emulates many film stocks and is, notwithstanding my comments above, very easy to use and effective in its results.
DXO Updates Nik Collection – But Should You Update?
This is not a simple question to answer. I like the full screen editing in Viveza and the addition of Clear View to Silver Efex. I absolutely hate the change to the Control Points and the clunky method of making adjustments. I do not understand why DXO market these as usability improvements. They are anything but improvements.
The crippling of the Viveza Structure tool for me is a real downer. If they don’t fix that ((23/7/2021) thankfully, they have), then I’ll be sticking with the old version, for Viveza at least. There is a way to have both Nik version 3 and Nik version 4 on the same PC if you use the standalone apps rather than the plugins. Prior to installing V4, you need to rename the V3 installation folder. If you have linked any tools to the standalone Nik apps, such as Exposure X6 or Digital Photo Guardian, you’ll need to adjust them. But it works…
Should I buy Nik?
If you’ve not used Nik before then I’d suggest trying out the trial and seeing what it can do for you. It faces stiff competition from Topaz Labs, whose sharpening and noise removal tools are far superior, and Aurora HDR, which is the best HDR tool I have used. Now that the Structure tool has been fixed, I remain of the opinion that Viveza alone is worth the price.