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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Is the Upgrade to Nik Efex II worthwhile?

The Nik collection has a fairly storied history to date. It began when Nikon decided to let go the Nik team and their proprietary software based on what they called ‘u-points’. The u-point technology underpinned Nikon’s RAW developer, Capture NX2. This was a fantastic - albeit slow - RAW developer that could arguably get the best results of any programme from Nikon RAW files. As an independent software developer Nik brought out the Nik collection, also based on their u-point technology. The full collection cost a whopping US$500, but you could also buy each of the independent apps for about $99 (if memory serves me correctly). In particular, their Color Efex, Silver Efex, HDR Efex and Viveza were quickly recognised as some of the best plugin apps in the industry. Then in 2012 Google bought Nik and effectively killed off Capture NX2 as Nikon lost their stake in Nik. Google also drove the price for the full collection down to $150, then to $99, and finally offered it for free!

The French company DxO, creators of their own editing software applications PhotoLab, ViewPoint and FilmPack, bought Nik from Google in 2017, continuing to offer it for free until they brought out a supposedly bug-free version of the collection in 2018. Under DxO the Nik Collection once again has a price tag of $99. Ostensibly the DxO version of the collection fixed some of the glitches that had started to appear as Windows and Apple updated their operating systems. Unfortunately, the supposed fixes didn’t actually materialise for many users (I was one of them…the new version didn’t stop the regular crashes that occurred when jumping between Photoshop and the plugins - rather this was corrected when Adobe updated Photoshop). So, the conclusion in 2018 was essentially that the DxO update wasn’t really worth the money; just keep on using the old free version. Of course if you wanted to use the software and didn’t have a copy of the Google version of the collection then you would have to fork out to pay for the DxO version.

Enter 2019 and DxO launched a supposedly all-new Nik Collection 2. The hype is that there are over 40 new presets, an added RAW developer based on PhotoLab, better support for 4K monitors and some behind the scenes tweaking courtesy of DxO Labs expertise in correcting optical defects via software.

What Do You Actually Get?

Not much it turns out, at least if you are looking for something new. The new presets can be found in each of the different plugins called ‘en vogue’ under the ‘Recipes’ tab (on the left below the Filter Library). If you are a heavy preset user, you might find them useful. At first glance they are more refined than the original presets that came with the Nik Collection (which are still available with this version incidentally). They seem to be drawing a lot from the PhotoLab presets in terms of style, which isn’t a bad thing as these are quite good. If you do a lot of batch editing, like with events or weddings, then the presets can be useful. Personally I tend to not use presets, so the addition of 40 more things that I am not going to use isn’t really an argument that is going to sway me into purchasing the updated Nik Collection. 

More important to some users is the improved working with 4K monitors. I couldn’t really test this to be honest, but also didn’t hear that much about the problem to start with. On a recent workshop to Iceland I saw users of the original Nik Collection quite happily using the software on brand new Macbook Pros which are kitted out with 4K screens. The code required to make the panels and writing slightly larger and more easily read on a 4K and higher screen surely shouldn’t require being paid for (assuming that the user has a paid for copy of the original DxO Nik Collection). This is something that should come as a bug fix. Not a paid-for upgrade!

I strongly suspect that the PhotoLab 2 Essentials has been added purely to give users of the Nik Collection a taste of the PhotoLab experience and potentially divert sales towards the full version of PhotoLab. In this vein, this was my first experience with PhotoLab, and I have to say that I was impressed. The detail, colour control and localised editing available with PhotoLab is excellent. In fact it’s reminiscent of Nikon’s Capture NX2 thanks to the inclusion of Nik’s u-point editing controls. There is an incredible amount of control available to the user. To the point in fact that previous purchasers of PhotoLab might feel a little hard done by that it is now added to the Nik Collection ostensibly as a free option.

You do lose out on some of what the full version of PhotoLabs has to offer though. To wit the ability to create custom camera profiles, a presets editor, and access to DxO’s de-noise, moire and DxO ClearView filters. As an editor billed as an ‘Essentials’ version, it’s pretty comprehensive then. Unfortunately the extremely clever DxO ViewPoint plugin for correcting verticals is not available in either version of the PhotoLabs, meaning you have to purchase this in addition to either collection (as a point of comparison, Lightroom has a truly fantastic and easy to use ‘Transform’ panel, Photoshop obviously has extensive transform filters and Capture One Pro has an excellent and also easy to use ‘Keystone’ tool).


If you happen to like and use the Nik Collection, the upgrade might be worth it to you. I say might as there are plenty of users of the original - and free - Google Nik Collection that continue to use the plugins without experiencing any major issues. If support is important for you, then the paid for upgrade is worthwhile (my only experience with DxO support was to do with the activation of the installation, and this was handled quickly, so I can only hope that future technical assistance will continue as promptly).

To be honest DxO didn’t need to change anything really to what is actually a very good product to start with. I personally use Silver Efex and ColorEfex a lot. These are polishing tools for me that have fundamentally sped up my client workflow. So it’s good that they haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel. What would have been nice is maybe some improved filters, or new filters for that matter. Adding additional ways to mask a filter would have been a real change for instance. PhotoLab allows masking with u-point, brushes and gradients. Why on earth not add that to the Nik Collection?

A compelling reason to upgrade could be the inclusion of the PhotoLab Essentials. It really is a good editor and does produce a good TIF file from RAW (at least with the NEF files that I tested). The thing is that I get the same quality of file from the Capture One programme that I already use (and have seen others get as good results from Adobe Camera RAW). If you are wanting to dump Adobe entirely, this is an option, but you lose out on the Parametric Image Editor (PIEware - the basis behind catalogue libraries and editing) that Lightroom is known for. Out of interest, PhotoLab doesn’t necessarily sync any better with the Nik Collection than other editors. It took 17 seconds to launch an image into Color Efex Pro from PhotoLab on my ageing 2012 Macbook Pro (16Gb RAM with a solid state hard drive). The same image took 14 seconds when launched from Capture One Pro 12.

Unfortunately if you already own the Nik Collection (even the free version) there doesn’t seem to be that much reason to pay for the upgrade. It isn’t so much a bitter taste that is left in my mouth after shelling out for the upgrade, as a sense of disappointment. The cynic in me thinks of this as a half-baked ‘upgrade’ to bring in some needed cashflow. Maybe that’s exactly what it is. If you want to continue seeing the Nik Collection supported, and perhaps updated (for real) in the future, then pay for the upgrade. Think of it more as a donation of continued support than as a necessary and welcome upgrade; then you might feel a little happier about making a payment for Nik Collection 2. 

If you want to purchase or upgrade an existing Nik Collection you can head over to the DxO website on this link: https://www.dxo.com (click the login button to upgrade). At least until the end of this month the upgrade fee is US$59 as opposed to the usual $99. Infuriatingly, the brightsparks at DxO seem to think that the US dollar is equivalent to the Euro (news alert: it is NOT), so you can potentially save yourself a little money of you register to pay in dollars instead of Euros (I did this when I bought the original DxO version, so am not entirely clear on how to do this, but know that once done, it seems to stick -  a fellow photographer decided not to upgrade as a respond to DxO wanting to charge him €59 instead of $59). 

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