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DxO Nik Collection Review

by | Feb 23, 2024 | DXO, Photo Software Reviews | 0 comments

DxO Nik Collection – Introduction

DxO and Skylum (producers of Luminar NEO) have different approaches to photo editing. DxO is about control and quality. Luminar is about creativity and maximising the use of AI. Both yield successful results.

DxO Photo Lab is a brilliant RAW photo processor that also offers post-processing options. But it offers fewer, and less creative options, than Luminar. For that reason, I use both on most of my images. But DxO has a trick up their sleeve. In 2017 they purchased the Nik Collection – a suite of photo editing tools that offers both creative control and ease of use, which is such a rare combination.

Nik was in a state of stagnation when DxO purchased it. Google had acquired it in 2012 and had done little with it. It still worked well, but the interface was clunky and its plugins didn’t work with Affinity Photo.

After seven years of ownership, DxO has finally completed the mammoth task of updating and enhancing the Nik Collection. They have added their own Perspective Correction module and revamped the existing tools. As with all software development, the improvements have been incremental and not always successful. Last time I reviewed it, I complained about their treatment of U-Point technology, where their ‘simplifications’ had made it harder to use. But now, with the Nik Collection V6 available, how is it looking? In a word – BRILLIANT.

After purchasing my upgrade to V6, I played with it and something happened that is rare – it both thrilled me in what it did and how it did it.

This review summarises the eight tools offered by Nik and then dives deeper into some of them.

Quick recommendation

It’s £135 well spent. Very well spent. If you’ve not tried it, I would check out the free trial.

DxO’s licensing policy is excellent – you own the software forever, with a year of free updates. Renewing the license costs 50%, which is a decent discount, with no punishment for delaying upgrading. I skipped version five, but still received the full discount when upgrading to version six.

DxO Nik Collection Overview

Nik Color Efex

Enhance your photos with the most extensive collection of filters available for adjusting colour, tone, and contrast to achieve breathtaking and creative effects.

Nik Silver Efex

Become proficient in black and white photography with an extensive array of tools inspired by traditional darkrooms, coupled with a sleek user interface designed for crafting exceptional monochrome photographs.

Nik Analog Efex

Experience the classic era of film photography. Emulate the distinct styles that were once the hallmark of iconic cameras, lenses, and the famous film types of past decades.

Nik Viveza

Sculpt and refine colours, adjust tonal values boldly, and infuse your images with energy.

Nik Dfine

Eliminate digital noise without sacrificing any fine details in your images.

Nik Sharpener

Completely redesigned, Nik Sharpener brings out the crispness in your photos with an ideal balance of sharpening, tailored to the areas that need it most.

Nik HDR Efex

Nik HDR Efex delivers high dynamic range photos that are both vibrant and lifelike. DxO have rewritten this from the original Nik version.

Create impressive photographs by skillfully merging and harmonizing your images with a simple series of clicks.

Nik Perspective

Correct lens distortions and adjust geometrical imperfections effortlessly with just one click. Or use the extensive range of tools to manually correct distortions, even in just part of the image.

I now will go into the details.

Nik Viveza

This is the reason I purchased Nik when they released it so many years ago. The control offered by the U-Point controls and the range of adjustments make this a must-have. I would say that this alone is worth the price of the DxO Nik collection.

Here is how it works.

After you open an image in Viveza, whether by running the application standalone or as a plugin in Photoshop, Lightroom, or Affinity Photo, Viveza displays this screen:

The interface is straightforward, with the expected image display and comparison options, enabling you to zoom in and out and see the effects of your changes.

The panel on the left has some presets. I’m not a big fan of presets, but there’s no harm in having them. After selecting one, the adjustment panel on the right shows its settings and you can tweak the effects.

The top section of the adjustment panel contains global adjustments that affect the entire image. One of my favourites is the Warmth adjustment. We landscape photographers just love warm photos! Here is the image warmed up by 57%, with the comparison tool showing the changes in the right half of the image.

The tree looks good, but the sky is too warm. That’s the problem with global adjustments. I need to select the tree. Imagine doing that by hand! But now the U-Point magic comes in.

Scroll the right panel to the bottom and the Selective Adjustments section appears. I have highlighted the innocuous-looking Control Point tool and I still think DxO should make it far more prominent. This is where the real power lies.

I click the Control Point tool and then click on the tree and enlarge the control point until it covers the tree. The control point is bit bigger than the tree. It doesn’t matter. I then click the Show Mask option and the image displays a black and white mask.

Selection Mask

The whiter the area the more the adjustment is applied. Black areas are not adjusted. Now I warm up the tree but adjusting just the area governed by the control point.

This looks good, but the sky is still warmed up. To fix that, I drop another control point on the sky and enlarge it to cover the entire sky. While the sky remains unchanged, the tree continues to be warmed up. Magic! Now I darken the sky and increase its structure to give it a pleasing appearance.

Viveza Only Warms selected areas

 

The sky looks good, and the change did not affect the tree. Now I drop a control point on the wall to stop it being warmed up and another on the house to darken it a little. Here is the final result:

Selective adjustments with DxO Nik Collection Viveza

 The power doesn’t end here. You can group several control points together to ensure they are all adjusted together. The resulting image has a darker sky, a warmer tree, the house looking less bright but the rest of the scene is unaffected.

I know of no way to do this as quickly, whilst retaining full control. With AI tools you get good results, but the AI decides what looks ‘best’. It often does a great job, but you might not get much of a say in the result. With Viveza you get ease of use with complete creative control.

Nik DFine

My changes introduced noise into the sky. Nik Dfine is DxO Nik’s noise removing tool. I am going to compare this with Topaz Photo AI, which I rate as the best post production noise removal tool. Let’s see how they compare. Here is the DFine interface:

Nik DFine Interface

The interface is very similar to Viveza’s. The software prompts you to select noisy areas and click ‘Measure.’ DFine then detects the noise and suggests adjustments. Looking at the before and after comparison, I can see the noise reduction, if applied globally, reduces the detail in the mountain side.

Global noise reduction - lost details

Therefore, I use the two Control Points to select the sky and others to protect the rest of the image. Using the comparison view I can see the noise in the sky is gone but the detail in the mountain is unaffected.

Here are some comparisons:

I also processed the image in Topaz Photo AI. Although it has automatic and manual selections for sharpening, noise reduction is global. It has affected, in my view, areas that didn’t need noise reduction.

It did no great harm, but I prefer DFine for selective noise reduction. I wasn’t expecting to, but that’s what happens when you test tools.

Global Noise Reduction

Removing noise in a featureless subject such as the sky is one thing, but how will DFine do with a sterner test, with noise all over an image? This time I’ll use my favourite ‘models’ – Peter Rabbit and Friends, to put Nik DFine to the test and compare with Topaz Photo AI.

I shot this image at ISO 6400 with an APS-C camera. The noise is terrible, as this 100% view shows:

The challenge is that this contains ‘Colour Noise’ as well as Contrast Noise. Colour Noise is hard to remove without affecting the correct colours in the image. Early versions of Topaz DeNoise AI used to struggle with reds in the image, sometimes smearing them.

I processed it in Topaz Photo AI, where it selected the ‘Extreme’ noise profile and a high noise reduction setting of 92. I set the ‘Recover Original Detail’ setting to 50, otherwise the noise reduction was too strong and it did a brilliant job. It no longer struggles with the reds!

DxO Nik DFine struggled with this image. Trying to globally adjust the noise was impossible. Removing all the noise required aggressively setting the Color Noise slider, resulting in a washed-out image. Once again, the Control Point technology proved invaluable. I created two selections: 1) the wall and 2) the teddies and the bed. I pushed the noise reduction to the limit for the wall, but held back on the rest. The results show that Topaz Photo AI is superior to DFine, but it’s closer than I expected.

On images with low-to-moderate noise, DFine will do the job. But Topaz Photo AI remains the class leader in post processing noise. DxO Photo Lab 7 is the best RAW noise reduction tool, although only when the noise is terrible. Photo Lab 7 and Photo AI are equal for RAW noise reduction in ‘ordinary’ scenes, and Luminar NEO is also very good. We have a variety of choices available.

I will now use DFine for noise reduction in photos where noise only needs to be removed from specific areas in the image. When a tool causes me to adjust my workflow then it is effective!

Nik Sharpener

I rely on DxO Photo Lab to perform RAW Development Sharpening, as it sharpens images in a tailored manner for the camera + lens combination I am using. Nothing else does that. After I have processed the image and especially after resizing, I need to add more sharpening. My tool of choice is Topaz Photo AI. I trust it to do it automatically. Pixel peepers sometimes complain that small areas in an image aren’t sharpened ‘right.’ Of course, sharpening is somewhat subjective and pixel peeping is expecting perfection. That’s an impossible standard – in fact it’s the lowest of all standards. If the image looks good when viewed ‘normally’ on screen or as a print then I am happy.

But how will DxO Nik Collection Sharpener do in comparison?

Nik Sharpener comes in two flavours: Nik Presharpener and Nik Sharpener Output. Presharpener is used for initial RAW sharpening and Sharpener Output for final image sharpening. Today, I am looking just at the Output sharpening. The Presharpener is best used as a plugin to your favourite RAW developer. The standalone version cannot open RAW files. The plugin receives the image from your RAW converter and sends them back sharpened. If you use DxO Photo Lab, with a supported camera + lens you won’t need this as DxO Photo Lab is unsurpassed at RAW sharpening. If you’re not using DxO Photo Lab then you should be.

After opening Nik Sharpener with the tree image I already worked on, the app presents this screen:

Nik Sharpener Interface

The options on the right are comprehensive. It offers different sharpening options depending on the output target. The two most common are Display and Inkjet. DxO points out that different viewing mediums require different sharpening settings. If this level of control is important to you, then Nik offers it. Topaz Photo AI does not offer this fine-grained approach. Of course, you can adjust its suggested settings, but whether you could tell by looking at your screen which one works best for printing is another matter. Nik scores a point here for offering to do it for you.

DxO Nik Collection Sharpener has professional outputs too, with Continuous Tone being the option to select for CMYK printing at a professional print shop. The print options go so far as to allow you to set the expected viewing distance for the print. The level of control is incredible.

Additionally, control point technology is available. I can choose what to sharpen and by how much. For this image, I will use the Display settings and use control points to get Nik to only sharpen the tree. To do this, I created three groups of control points: one for the tree, one for the sky, and one for everything else. It took 10 minutes to do this. I used Nik’s ability to show masks to ensure that the control points were doing what I wanted. I could not imagine trying to make this sort of selection by hand.

Nik Sharpener Selections

I then sharpened the tree by adjusting the sharpening, structure, local contrast and focus sliders until it looked good to me. Sharpening is subjective. Your preferences may differ, but Nik lets you choose.

Using Nik’s comparison slider, I confirmed that I only sharpened the tree.

In comparison, Topaz Photo AI let me select the tree using its Object Selection brush. The mask is good, but it is not as accurate as Nik’s right away. I refined it as best I could, but I couldn’t get the very tips of the tree’s branches included in the mask without also selecting the entire mountain. Photo AI helpfully shows what the mask would be when I hover the mouse over a location, so I didn’t have to keep undoing steps, but the mask above is the best mask I could achieve.

Topaz Photo AI Selections

I then processed the image and below are comparisons:

Nik vs Topaz Nik vs Topaz Nik vs Topaz

There’s not much in it. The photo was already sharp and neither Nik nor Topaz have done too much. Both Nik and Topaz discreetly sharpened it.

Sharpening an entire image

What about when the entire image needs sharpening? I selected this image:

Rannerdale Valley

My usual workflow is to do post processing noise reduction and output sharpening as the last steps and I use Topaz Photo AI for this. Here, the trade-off between control and convenience is felt. Topaz accomplishes these steps with minimal intervention and no fuss. DxO Nik Collection DFine and Photo Sharpener always require manual intervention and that’s fine for one or two images. But I find it unpalatable for hundreds of images.

In any case, here are the results for just sharpening the image in both Nik and Topaz:

Nik Sharpener has sharpened more than Topaz Photo AI, although I can make Photo AI do more if I want to. Nik has also introduced more noise, whereas Photo AI has controlled it better.

In my assessment, Nik Sharpener is excellent. As with DFine, if I want to make a complex selection and only process that, then Nik is the best choice. But Topaz Photo AI remains my usual choice when I have a large batch of images to process or no special needs to address. Its quality is fabulous and its ability to batch process an extensive set of images, reliably selecting good processing options, is irreplaceable.

DxO Nik Collection Color Effex

This is Nik’s colour adjustment tool. I’m going to adjust this image:

Nik Color Effex Test Image

On the left hand panel is a set of filters and presets. The right-hand panel contains DxO’s brilliant ClearView tool that cuts through haze and benefits any image.

The workflow in Color Effex is simple: Select an option. Adjust it. Repeat until done.

Control points are not available in Color Effex. It applies each filter and preset to the entire image.

Color Effex is pure art – there are no right or wrong way to use it. It’s just fun to play with. Here are a few things I achieved with it:

DxO Nik Collection Color Effex in action

There are so many settings. The results are great.

Nik Perspective

One of my photography hates is converging verticals. Instagram is packed with images of building where the uprights are NOT upright. The Leaning Tower of Pisa excepted, most building should have vertical uprights. To get the verticals upright (and the horizon level) means holding the camera properly. Otherwise you end up with abominations like this:

The Leaning Tower of Reigate

Sometimes, however, the building just won’t fit into the picture without tilting the camera backwards and maybe you just can’t step back. Or, you make a great image and then find you hadn’t got the technique right. DxO Nik Perspective (and the DxO Viewpoint tool) let you rescue images like this.

After one click in Nik Perspective the image looks like this:

Leaning no Longer

So much better!

This image is just the tip of the iceberg. DxO Nik Collection Perspective corrects more complex errors, including the dreaded volume deformation. This is needed when you’ve used a wide angled lens  to photo a group of people. Those on the edges look somewhat ‘wider’ than they should. Nik corrects this so easily.

The new Reshape Tool. Click on the tool and a special grid appears over your photo. You can now make controlled changes to the shape of your image. 

Nik Perspective Reshape

This is the most powerful perspective correction tool I know of. However, it is the same as DxO Viewpoint. DxO Viewpoint integrates seamlessly into Photo Lab 7, making it more convenient for Photo Lab users. But if you’re thinking of getting both, I would purchase the Nik Collection as it does everything Viewpoint does.

Nik HDR Efex

Finally, a quick look at Nik’s HDR processing. I usually use Skylum’s Aurora, which is now part of Luminar NEO. Previously, I didn’t like Nik’s HDR but DxO have now rewritten it so it’s time for another look.

Here’s a set of three images – one taken at the exposure suggested by the camera, one two stops darker, and one two stops lighter. I entered these into HDR Efex and clicked Create HDR.

HDR Images for Nik HDR Effex to process

Here’s the initial HDR image created by Nik Collection HDR Effex:

DxO Nik Collection HDR Effex Initial Result

On the left is the presets panel. On the right is the adjustments panel. The challenge with HDR is to achieve a natural-looking result. There are no rights and wrongs. Achieving anything worthwhile requires trial and error.

The adjustments panel is impressively comprehensive and has that magic icon at the bottom – the Control Point tool. This means that I can create my HDR by customising the result, adjusting the image according to its needs and my tastes, without limitation.

For this image I created one set of control points for the sky, another for Yewbarrow, the mountain in the middle ground, and one for the foreground. I then adjusted them to achieve this result.

HDR Effex Final Result

Nik HDR Effex is a good HDR tool. I rate it as good as Luminar, but with a very different approach. For comparison, there is the same set of images given the Luminar Neo HDR treatment.

Conclusion

The DxO Nik Collection is a superb suite of image adjustment tools, covering every aspect of image post processing, apart from resizing. The standout feature is the control point selection tool. Making selections in images has never been easier. Combined with the quality of the adjustments on offer, this suite of tools is a must have for serious image editing.

Try out the DXO Nik Collection free trial

Click here to try out the DxO Nik Collection

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