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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.

Monday, June 7, 2021

A Review of the New Nik Collection 4 - lack lustre update, or must have app collection?

Last week, with very limited fanfare, DXO launched their now annual update to the Nik Collection of plugins and standalone image filters. This ostensibly brings the suite of applications to version 4. Although in a bizarre naming twist, only two of the apps are actually at version 3, with most of them still at version 2, and some still at version 1. The last properly major update was in 2019, and I wrote about it in this article. Version Three came out in 2020 and was essentially some bug fixes and the inclusion of a miniature filter and the start of a theoretically non-destructive workflow. The new version is essentially a reboot of two of the Nik Collections apps: Silver Efex and Viveza.

I Don’t have time to read, give me the summary

Underwhelming update that actually breaks a bunch of things that worked if you have a non-PhotoShop centric workflow. Reasonable update to the UI of two apps (Viveza and Silver Efex) at the expense of a performance slowdown on said apps, plus a few more presets (not many and not applicable if you aren’t using the Nik Collection for its presets.

Buy if you want to stay current and up to date, or want to take advantage of the one month introductory special, but make sure you have the old Nik Collection 3 install files as you may find yourself reverting to that until the bugs are sorted out.

If you don’t already own the previous version of the Collection, the introductory price is worth it just for Silver Efex and one or two of the Color Efex filters. I may be disappointed with the update, but the Nik Collection remains a staple in my commercial and personal image workflow.

An image from Kolmanskop in Namibia edited in Silver Efex 3 from the new Nik Collection 4

The Review

I am not going to dive too deep into the new Collection as there are already several reviews on the internet (along with multiple ‘announcements’ which essentially copy each other word for word), of which the DPReview one is really comprehensive enough to be honest, and I would literally just be reiterating what it has to say (also PhotoJoseph.com's video is the best deep dive into the software that I could find - ). Instead, I’ll focus on any issues, or advantages that I came across while trying out this new version of the Collection.

As background, I have been using Nik Efex filters since their inception - even before thy were a standalone company (that have now been acquired by DxO) - when it was baked into Nikon’s proprietary Capture NX editing software.

Bad News out of the way first

Straight out of the gate, my very first use of the new collection managed to crash Photoshop. I opened an image into Color Efex 4, applied a filter and the Color Efex app along with Photoshop both crashed completely. I restarted PhotoShop and it worked the second time around. However, as soon as I applied more than one u-point and tried to save, the same crash occurred. This is an old bug that was sorted out with the last update, so to me if felt a little like we’re regressing. It’s also not necessarily consistent, sometimes working, sometimes not. It’ll take me a little while to isolate what triggers the crash, but the point is that it ends up feeling like you are paying for a beta version of the software rather than the finished product.

The glitches continued unfortunately. If I tried to hit the ‘brush’ option on finishing work with the filters, it would load up into Photoshop as a separate layer with a filled in mask in place. Of course all the layers were locked up, and I couldn’t do anything apart from paint onto the mask. I couldn’t delete layers, duplicate layers, merge layers or even add a new empty layer. The only way to resolve this was to close the image and reopen it again, then suddenly everything worked as normal once more (to be absolutely honest, the old brush feature was really a waste of time anyway as all it did was automatically build a black filled mask onto the new layer within PhotoShop - which any user can do by simply holding the Alt/Opt button and clicking on the ‘Create New Layer Mask’ icon).

And the glitches continued. My workshop centres around Capture One Pro as opposed to Lightroom. In the past it was very simple to roundtrip back and forth with the Nik apps. Simply select and image, opt to ‘Edit in Nik … (whatever app you selected)’ and a new Tif file would open up in the selected app. When you finished and hit save, the Tif file would be back in place next to the original RAW file along with the Nik edits applied. Better yet, with the use of Nik’s non-destructive editing, I could open that file back into the Nik app, and continue editing where I had left off.

That continues to work in everything except the two newly redeveloped apps: Nik Viveza 3 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 3. I can edit to my heart’s content in either of these, but when I hit Apply or Save, the app closes and nothing has actually happened to my file. It’s as if it was never edited in the first place. The only workaround was to open it first in PhotoShop and then edit in Viveza or Silver Efex. Thankfully this didn’t happen with the other apps in the collection which have essentially been left unchanged since version 3. UPDATE - It does work, after opening and closing Capture One several times, and shutting the computer down, the round tripping suddenly started working. So it does work, just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work immediately. Shut down your computer completely after install, and it will probably work.

Another gotcha moment where you feel like you are using a beta version of the software is when you try to use fairly standard shortcut keys like Cmd + / Cmd - or Cmd 0 to zoom in, out or to 100% view. In the older apps like Color Efex these work as normal. Not so with Silver Efex 3 and Viveza 3. Hit those buttons and nothing happens. You have to use the onscreen buttons at the top of the stage view instead. Like I say, it ends up feeling like a beta version, not the finished product.  

Finally, if you are a heavy user of Viveza and you are on an older computer, Viveza 2 runs faster than Viveza 3 (I had a similar experience comparing Silver Efex 2 to the new version). That can be a little disappointing admittedly. None of the other apps seem to be affected by this speed change, so it appears that it’s only for the two new reboots of Viveza and Silver Efex.

The Good News

Viveza and Silver Efex, overlooked in the last 2020 update have now received some love. They have both had a complete revamp of the UI (User Interface) so that they look more modern and are supposedly more in line with the rest of the DXO offerings. One of the biggest changes is that the Viveza u-points no longer have all the controls attached to the actual u-point. Now the controls stay locked in the panel on the right hand side of the screen. I’m sure some people will feel more comfortable with this, but users familiar with the u-point interface since 1999 might see this as a step backward to be honest. Still, each to one’s own taste I suppose. 



Under the hood there does seem to be some refinement and the Silver Efex app in particular, it still turns out truly excellent black and white renderings of the input images. It does this with a fairly easy and intuitive update to the UI that will make sense too most photographers familiar with slider controls. For photographers yearning for that film like look to their digital images, Silver Efex also adds a plethora (39 I think) new film grains to its library of adjustments.

Added bonus for dedicated Lightroom users is that the Nik Collection now blends even more seamlessly into the Adobe workflow. You can now copy and paste Nik settings between images in Lightroom. That’s really cool, and has the potential to vastly speed up Lightroom Workflows (just as an example if you are wedding photographer and want to adjust one image using Color Efex Pro and have those edits copied to a bunch of other images, you can now do this with a relatively straight forward procedure). Admittedly, it took me a while to figure out how this is done as there is very little literature on the internet on how to do this, but it does work, albeit slowly.

To copy settings from one image to others open an image into any of the Nik apps as usual. When you save the image it will land back in your Gallery view. Now right-click on this saved image and select Export>Nik Collection - Copy and Apply Parameters. A pop up Box opens where you can select which app settings to copy to clipboard. Once copied, you can select the images  


Little things add up to some frustration using the new collection. I was disappointed that older, supposedly stable apps within the collection are now slightly buggy, while the shiny new revamps of Viveza 3 and Silver Efex 3 feel decidedly unfinished. There is still a lot to like with the Nik Collection as a whole, but if you are already a dedicated user of the Nik Efex apps, you are likely to be underwhelmed for the most part. If you are currently happy with version 3 of the collection there isn't all that much to force an upgrade (as it is, the free Google version from 4 years ago still works, making the transition to the DXO owned and supposedly bug free, but not, versions a non-necessity for many).

If you are completely new to the Nik Collection, then I firmly recommend it, bugs and all. If only for the Silver Efex App, the collection is worth the introductory price of US$79. It’s not such an easy sell if you already own the previous version of the Nik Collection. You could take a risk and purchase the upgrade in the hopes that the bugs will be solved in the nearish future, or just to stay current with the latest software. As it is, I have found that even if DXO are sluggish in fixing their own apps, Adobe and Phase One have made their software work with the apps in successive updates. Once the round tripping problem resolved itself, the choice became a little harder for me. I use Nik Color Efex and Silver Efex extensively. The other apps, including Viveza might as well not exist for me as there are better tools within Photoshop in my opinion (although I have to give Dfine 2 a thumbs up as it is extremely easy to use and produces very clean results from noisy files, so does get used occasionally when I have an image that needs rescuing). 

As suggested in the above summary at the beginning of the post; if you don't already own Nik Efex, buy it at the introductory price. It really is worth it. If you already own the third version of the Collection, the only compelling reason to upgrade would be for Lightroom Users who want to copy and paste Nik settings across images. The US$59 upgrade is worth it for LR users in my opinion. If you are a C1Pro User though, maybe stick with the previous Collection and see if DXO throws you some love in next year's round of updates.

The current version and it's introductory price are available on the DXO site.

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