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Review: Nik Collection

Nik Software offers a complete suite of tools for every step of your workflow. Everything from noise reduction to output sharpening with endless creative possibilities in between. I decided to write this review for 2 reasons. One, like everyone else, I am trying to balance the pursuit of my passion with the demands of everyday life. Buying the NIK toolset was like buying time. They offer very effective and efficient tools to easily enhance your images. The second reason I decided to write this review is that I can say, without a doubt, my photographs improved after purchasing the NIK Complete Collection. Not only did my photographs improve, my vision expanded because of the creative possibilities that became available to me.

Coupon Code: LIGHTASMAGIC

Kevin, over at Nik software, was kind enough to provide the readers of LightAsMagic.com a 15% discount coupon code. If you decide to purchase their toolset use the coupon code LIGHTASMAGIC and receive a 15% discount on all Nik products.

As opposed to getting down to the nitty gritty of all the various sliders, brushes, etc. , I thought I would give you an overview of how I use the tools in my complete workflow. Here is a quick outline of my workflow.

I start with a single image out of Aperture, or an HDR image generated by Photomatix. I then open it up in Photoshop, where I begin to do all my edits using the Nik plugins. Here is the order I usually apply them.

Dfine 2.0 (noise reduction)
Viveza 2 (selective light/contrast adjustments)
Color Efex Pro 3.0 (unleash my creativity)
Silver Efex Pro (unleash my creativity in black and white)
Viveza 2 (finishing touches with selective light/contrast adjustments)
Sharpener Pro 3.0 (Super easy sharpening for your desired output)

A couple things worth noting…

  • The filters are not a standalone tool-set, they are plugins hosted by either Photoshop, Aperture, Lightroom, or Photoshop elements. Check their website for compatibility.
  • All filters can be applied globally, or you can selectively brush on the effect.
  • Many of the filters have the ability to selectively apply/remove the effect via control points.
  • Filters can be combined in an infinite number of combinations (probably a bit of an exaggeration, I would have to crunch the numbers) .
  • To see these filters in action, check out the videos they star in.
  • Click on any of the images below to see a full screen version.
  • In some of the examples, I got pretty extreme with the effect so you could easily see what it was doing. You don’t have to get as radical as I did, you can apply them in a very subtle way as well.

Dfine 2.0: Dfine 2.0 is Nik’s noise reduction utility. I usually run it early on in my workflow. It offers you the ability to apply either a ‘2 click’ automatic profile, or you can manually measure areas of your image and create your own profile. In this image you can see the little boxes where I was manually telling Dfine 2.0 to measure noise in my image.

Nik Dfine 2.0 (Click For Full Screen)

Viveza 2: Viveza 2 provides a very efficient way to selectively make adjustments to brightness, contrast, structure, saturation, and the color channels. I use it early on to fine tune trouble areas of my image. In this screenshot, I added a quick control point, used a slider to define the area of the effect, then used the brightness slider to bring out the details in the foreground rocks. A couple quick clicks and my image was ready for the next step in my creative workflow.

Viveza 2 (Click for full screen)

Color Efex Pro 3.0: Color Efex Pro 3.0 is where the magic really start to happen. It offers a complete suite of filters you can use to realize all your creative ideas. Here are a few examples of my favorite filters.

For a complete list of filters included in the Color Efex Pro 3.0 suite, visit their website here.

Graduated Neutral Density – This is a winner in my book. When you are traveling light, you don’t always have the room to carry a filter set with you. Don’t worry, you can configure this ND filter however you like. You can control the orientation, the edge density, the stops, etc….oh yeah, you can selectively brush on the effect. This filter has saved me more than once when I am out on a mountain bike ride or trail run.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 - Graduated Neutral Density (Click for full screen)

Tonal Contrast – Another ‘goto’ filter for me. The Tontal Contrast filter allows you to control mico-contrasts within the highlight, midtone, and shadow regions of you image. It is a great tool for textures and bringing out the character in old buildings. I have to constantly remind myself not to go crazy with it….but I love it, and it’s my picture, why can’t I boost all the sliders to 100%? It looks so cool.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 - Tonal Contrast

Tonal Contrast is also a great tool for giving a little extra pop to your landscapes. Here I bumped up the midtone and shadow contrast along with the saturation.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 - Tonal Contrast

Pro Contrast – The Pro Contrast filter is a quick all in one way of correcting a color cast and improving your images’s contrast.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 - Pro Contrast

Brilliance Warmth – This is a great way of giving your photos a subtle kick in the pants. You can boost the vibrancy as well as change the temperature of your image with two simple sliders. I really gave this image a nudge so you could see the full effect.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 - Brilliance Warmth

Soft Focus – The Soft Focus filter is a great tool for portraits. It will quickly smooth skin tones and give your subjects that soft glowing quality.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 - Soft Focus

Color Stylizer – The Color Stylizer is cool on its own, but you can combine it with any of the other filters to create some very compelling images.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 - Color Stylizer

Old Photo – Feather your hair, pop the collar on your shirt, and retake that senior photo.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 - Old Photo

Bleach Bypass – I believe the folks at NIK intend the Bleach Bypass filter as a portrait effect, but I use it quite a bit on my urbanscapes. You can see it in action in a couple of my processing videos. You can find them here.

Color EFX Pro 3.0 - Glamour Glow

Color Efex Pro 3.0 -Bleach Bypass

Silver Efex Pro: Silver Efex Pro is the ultimate tool for the Black and White photographer. By itself, it offers you all the tools you need to realize you creative vision. Out of the box it provides a bunch of presets you can use to quickly start to bringing your vision to life. You can then fine tune it using contrast and structure controls, films types, grain size and quantity, tonal stylings, vignette , edge burning, etc. Silver Efex Pro offers both the efficiency of quality presets and the tools to fine tune every aspect of your processing.

In this image, I used the High Contrast Yellow Filter and selected a silver toning.

Silver Efex Pro - High Contrast Yellow Filter

As I mentioned earlier, Silver Efex pro is a complete B&W conversion tool. In this image I selected a neutral preset, boosted the contrast a bit, and added a slight S curve. I then added a control point to TheDuke’s eye and brightened up a bit to recover some detail in it. Finally, I applied a vingette to the image to the image to draw the viewers eye to a very annoyed (and patient) dog.

Silver Efex - Total Image Control



One of my favorite Silver Efex Pro presets in the High Structure preset. It is seems to be a blend of B&W conversion with a touch of Tonal Contrast added. Here I applied the preset and then used a control point to brighten the foreground a bit. All of that in one tool.

Sliver Efex Pro - High Structure Preset

Sharpener Pro 3.0: Sharpener Pro 3.0 is the last step of the workflow. Here you can select your desired output (Display, InkJet, Continuos Tone, etc…) and click apply. There are several other parameters you can control if you want to fine tune it, but I have been pretty happy with the defaults.

Sharpener

Conclusions

  • If you have photoshop, the Ultimate Collection is worth the extra money. It allows you to do all your edits within Photoshop without having to bounce back and forth between Photoshop and Aperture or Lightroom depending on what you are using.
  • If you could only get one suite, and you were interested in color photography, I would get the Color Efex Pro 3.0 suite. It has a very capable Black and White conversion tool plus all the other cool filters.
  • If you could only get one suite, and you are strictly a Black and White photographer, get Silver Efex Pro. It is awesome!
  • Beware, buying a single suite will eventually lead to buying the remaining tools. That being said, get the Complete/Ultimate package to begin with.

Use the coupon code LIGHTASMAGIC to receive 15% off of any Nik product.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for you willingness to share your experience with all of us through this website. Makes me want to take more pictures.

    Regarding the NIK software and your workflow, I notice that you leave out NIK’s HDR Efex Pro in your workflow and choose to bring in an HDR processed photo from Photomatix instead before using the NIK software. Why? I’m not familiar with the benefits or drawbacks of one vs. the other.

    Also, Currently I’m playing with B&W and the Silver Efex Pro looks tempting. You imply though that you use it “by itself”. Is that true or do you insert it into your workflow as well?

    Thx again!

    • Howdy Ryan! No sweat, I am glad the info I share can help you out. Better yet, I am glad it is moving you to make more images. That is great to hear!

      I have been meaning to update my Nik review to include HDR Efex Pro. As it stands right now, I am using Photomatix for about 75% of my HDR images and Nik HDR Efex Pro for the other 25%. That might be changing with the 1.1 release coming out soon. As I become more comfortable with it, the more I will be using it because it is super slick. It just fits right into my a very streamlined workflow. For me, the benefits of Photomatix over Nik is speed and familiarity. After Nik releases 1.1, speed won’t be much of an issue. Note that I am running a 32bit environment. Friends of mine running 64 bit don’t seem to have any speed issues.

      As for Silver Efex Pro. I have been meaning to do a complete review of it. It does warrant a review of its own because it is so much more powerful than the Color Efex Pro B&W conversion filter. It really is the best B&W conversion program on the market. However, it is important to note that Silver Efex pro doesn’t include a noise reduction or sharpening tool. That being said, I still use Define 2.0 or Topaz DeNoise 5 to reduce noise in my images before I process them in Silver Efex Pro. I then use photoshop or Nik Sharpener to sharpen my images after the B&W conversion.

      I hope that helps. If you need any clarification, just let me know.

      Keep the images up!

  2. Hey Thanks Justin. This completely answers my question. I’ll look for the HDR 1.1 update as well cause I just recently purchased the complete NIK collection as plug-ins for Aperture 3 on my MacBook Pro. Very impressed. More so on how powerful it is but how easy and simple it remains to be to use. I’m sure I’ll have more questions but here are two that popped up:

    I noticed that when I hit save…say from Silver Efex Pro, it save’s it off (I believe as a TIFF file). However when I go back into Silver Efex Pro to make adjustments again it resets (specifically all the changes I made previously and all my U-points are all gone). I guess I was hoping I could go back and play with it some more if I didn’t like something further on down through my workflow. I can still play but I can’t quantify what my changes were previously.

    Also…I’m using the 64 bit updates from NIK with my Mac OS and it’s not terribly slow…enough for me to still have fun. However, I could use a bit more speed. If I were to upgrade my MacBook Pro to up my experience with Aperture and the NIK applications, what should I shoot for? More RAM, processor, video card? Maybe I already know the answer….all of them. If I had to pick though, what should I focus on?

    • Good deal, glad you are digging them! I just used some Silver Effects Pro tonight.

      Yeah, I wish the Nik filters worked like an adjustment layer in Photoshop where you could adjust them after you had saved it off. I don’t believe you can. Maybe in the future? As for boosting your machine…yep, doing it all would be just fine. However, if you had to choose one, I always believe the more RAM the better!

  3. Hi Justin,

    I use both LR 4 & PS CS 5 & recently I purchased the Nik Software package which works for both. (Google offers it at a great price these days)
    Do you prefer using Nik with LR or PS and perhaps a bit of an explanation why. Thanks.

    • Very cool…they are great products. Great question! If an image doesn’t require any complex masking or clean up, then I just operate out of LR4. However, if my image does require me to go to Photoshop to do those things that LR can’t, I will use Nik within that editing session in PS. Hope that helps! Have a great one…

      Justin

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Note: If you are an email subscriber, you will need to visit the site. Also, if you are interested in the plugins I used to process this image you can find them here: http://www.niksoftware.com and use the coupon code LIGHTASMAGIC to receive 15% any of their products. For my overview of their entire suite click here. [...]

  2. [...] For more information on some of my favorite Nik filters, and how they fit into my work-flow, click here. [...]

  3. [...] If you are not familiar with the Nik tools, feel free to read my overview of it here. [...]

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