The Nik Collection is a set of photo editing plugins that have been trusted by photographers for more than a decade. Those who have used their tools since the beginning might remember it being acquired (and made free) by Google in 2012, then later to be discontinued until DxO acquired it in 2017.
While it’s no longer free, DxO has put a lot of effort into building and improving the eight photo editing plugins. Version 3 and 4 have been a favorite amongst many photographers for years but what about Nik Collection 5? Is it worth purchasing? Is it worth upgrading to?
In this Nik Collection 5 review, we will take a closer look at what the collection has to offer and whether or not it should be part of your post-processing workflow.
Note: A 30-day free trial version is available and allows you to properly test all the tools before making a final decision.
What is Nik Collection 5?
Now, I realize that not everyone is familiar with DxO or the Nik Collection. So let’s first take a quick look at what this software actually is.
The Nik Collection consists of eight photo editing tools that can be used as plugins through Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Elements, DxO PhotoLab, Serif Affinity, or as standalone editing tools.
Every tool has its own unique purpose and you’ll quickly find which fit into your workflow and which don’t.
Both beginning and advanced photographers will find the different plugins useful. The collection includes everything from basic one-click filters to advanced adjustments and precise masking techniques. All are built with the same advanced technology.
The full list of plug-ins found in the Nik Collection 5 is:
- Analog Efex Pro
- Color Efex Pro
- HDR Efex Pro
- Perspective Efex
- Silver Efex Pro
- Sharpener Pro
We will take a closer look at each of these plugins later in this Nik Collection review and in their own separate articles.
What are the Requirements to Use the Nik Collection 5?
The Nik Collection plugins should work without a problem on the majority of modern computers and laptops. However, it’s good to know that the better the computer is, the better speed they will perform at. Some users have found certain tools to work somewhat slowly and this might be the case for older computers.
For those that are interested, here are the setup requirements provided by DxO to run the Nik Collection tools in 2022.
|Microsoft Windows||Apple macOS|
|Processor (CPU): Intel Core 2 or higher (Intel Core i7 4th generation or higher, or AMD Ryzen recommended)|
RAM: 8 GB (16 GB recommended)
Graphics Card (GPU): from NVIDIA GeForce 8 Series, ATI Radeon HD2000 Series, and Intel HD Graphics 2000 Series. Recommended: NVIDIA GTX 1060, AMD Radeon RX 5500 or higher with the latest drivers. If no compatible card is available, GPU acceleration will be disabled and the processor (CPU) will be used.
Disk space: 4 GB or more available on the hard drive.
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 version 1809 (64-bit) and above, Microsoft Windows 11 (64-bit)
|Processor (CPU): Intel Core i5 or higher (Intel Core i7 4th generation or higher, or Apple Silicon recommended)|
RAM: 8 GB (16 GB recommended)
Recommended graphics card (GPU): Apple Silicon or AMD Radeon Pro 580X or higher for Intel Macs. If no compatible card is available, GPU acceleration will be disabled and the processor (CPU) will be used.
Disk space: 4 GB or more available on the hard drive.
Operating System: macOS 10.15.7 Catalina minimum, macOS 11 Big Sur, macOS 12 Monterey.
When using the Nik Collection tools you have the option to either use them as standalone photo editors or as a plugin on one of the following software:
- Adobe Photoshop 2021 to 2022
- Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021 to 2022 (except HDR Efex Pro which is not compatible with Photoshop Elements)
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC 2021 through Classic CC 2022
- DxO PhotoLab 4 and later versions
- Serif Affinity 1.8 and later versions (apart from Perspective Efex which is not compatible with Affinity)
Don’t have any of the software above? No worries. All eight tools work just as well on their own. In fact, it’s the exact same tool that is used. The only benefit of using it as a plugin is that it becomes part of your already existing workflow.
For example, you might find that one or two adjustments in Nik Color Efex Pro compliment adjustments you’re already making in Adobe Photoshop. More on that later.
Note: You can activate Nik Collection 5 on up to three (3) computers
How to Install Nik Collection
Start by purchasing or downloading the free 30-day trial from the Nik Collection website. Note that you are not limited in any way when using the trial version. It is the full version and you have access to all the tools right away.
I strongly recommend taking advantage of the free trial if you haven’t used the software before. It’s a great way to get a better insight into how the tools work and if it is something you’ll find beneficial for your post-processing workflow.
Once you’ve downloaded the software, locate the installation file and double-click on it to begin. From here, simply follow the on-screen instructions. After a few quick clicks, the Nik Collection tools are installed and ready to be used both as plug-ins and standalone editors.
How to Use the Nik Collection
No Nik Collection review is complete without looking at the things that actually matter. In this case, that’s the eight editing tools the collection consists of.
It’s these eight tools that are the meat of the collection. Personally, I find some more useful than others. Some have a crucial role in my post-processing workflow while others have rarely been opened. I’m sure this will be the case for most. As with anything, it takes time to develop your own workflow. What works for some, might not work for others.
Below I’ll go through the main purposes of each plugin and share some thoughts about its importance, particularly for landscape photographers:
Analog Efex Pro 3
With Analog Efex Pro you can simulate vintage cameras and shooting techniques to give your images a nostalgic old-school feel. It contains an abundance of filters that instantly make your image look like it was shot on specific cameras but you also have the option to manually apply adjustments to create your own looks.
This can be a fun plug-in to play around with though I don’t believe it’s the go-to photo editor for most photographers. Its purpose is mainly to create a vintage look. Yes, you can use some of the adjustments for “non-vintage” processing too, but there are other plugins that are better served for that purpose.
Color Efex Pro 5
Most landscape photographers find Color Efex Pro to be the number one reason for using the Nik Collection. This has been a trusted plugin since the very beginning of Nik and it’s here that you find the most powerful tools for processing your color photos.
The tool includes an extensive library of filters that are used to instantly apply creative effects and looks. As with other tools in the collection, you’ll find several presets that are easily applied to your images. However, it’s the powerful creative filters that are the main draw for most photographers.
As of writing, there are 55 filters that can be applied to your photos. Each is customizable (often consisting of multiple sliders and/or options) and you can add as many filters as you want. Control Points are used to create advanced masks that allow you to apply the adjustments to specific places only.
Those that have used Color Efex Pro in older versions will notice that the interface has been re-designed in Nik Collection 5. It took me some clicking around but I find it easier to use than previous versions. The overall feel is a lot better which makes the experience smoother.
Besides the interface upgrade, version 5 also comes with an improved U Point technology that makes it possible to base Control Points on the brightness and color of surrounding pixels (Control Points are what’s used to create masks in the Nik Collection)
Color Efex Pro is itself a reason enough to get the Nik Collection. This is a trusted tool in many photographers’ processing workflows and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
It’s easy to look at Dfine as the simplest of the eight plugins as it only serves one single purpose but the underlying technology is far from simple. This tool is designed to remove digital noise (color and contrast noise) and it does so very well.
Noise reduction is often a scary topic as there are a lot of confusing terminologies but Dfine is as straightforward as it gets. They have removed all the clutter and made what by many is referred to as the best noise reduction software out there.
There are two noise reduction methods to choose between: Automatic and Manual. While I’m often skeptical of automatic modes, I’ve found this one to do a great job for the majority of images.
HDR Efex Pro 2
In HDR Efex Pro you can create an HDR image from one or more images. A single-file HDR is created by mainly extracting details from shadows and recovering them in the highlights, while a multiple-image HDR is created by merging images of different exposures into one well-balanced file.
Personally, the outputs give me a Photomatix vibe. Those who’ve been around for a while know that this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
The filters often give a grungy look to the image and there are many elements that I find ruin the image instead of improving it. I know this is a matter of taste but there are certain things that just look… bad.
That being said, it is possible to use the sliders to adjust and improve the output. Sometimes it doesn’t take more than some corrections to the contrast and color before it looks better.
HDR Efex Pro is good for those who want a quick and easy way to create HDR images but I believe there are much better methods for those who are slightly more advanced in their Photoshop skills (such as manually blending images using Luminosity Masks)
Dealing with geometric problems such as perspective and volume distortion is perhaps more common amongst architectural photographers than landscape photographers but it’s an issue that we all face at some point. It’s this exact problem that Perspective Efex is here to fix.
In addition to distortion correction, you can use this tool to correct vignetting and chromatic aberration.
At first glance, this may look like a quite difficult tool to use but it’s really not as bad as it may seem. It comes with a huge library of modules for specific lenses and cameras, meaning you can make optical corrections with just a single click. This means that you can easily fix common distortion issues related to your gear.
Sharpener Pro 3
Sharpening is a crucial part of a photographer’s post-processing workflow. In fact, there are two types of sharpening that should be done: input – and output sharpening. This is exactly what you can do in Sharpener Pro 3.
Sharpener Pro consists of two separate modules: RAW Presharpener (for preliminary sharpening) and Output Sharpener (for output sharpening)
The RAW Presharpener is used for sharpening your RAW files. Many photographers (myself included) use Adobe Lightroom’s Details Tab for this exact purpose but, after some testing, I find the RAW Presharpner to do just as good of a job. If not slightly better. It’s also got fewer sliders to worry about, making it ideal for those who find too many options confusing.
The Output Sharpener should be used when you’re done processing an image. This module is slightly more advanced and you’ll find three tools: Output Sharpening, Creative Sharpening, and Selective Sharpening. I won’t go too much into each of them now but shortly put, they are used to 1) choose the output media 2) enhance the result and 3) selectively apply the sharpening.
I find that both the modules do an excellent job and I haven’t found much to complain about. Sharpening is something that you should always be careful with as pulling too much in the sliders will lead to artifacts. That is also the case in Sharpener Pro; too aggressive sharpening will result in unwanted artifacts.
There are many great tools for sharpening out there (take a look at The Best Web Sharpeners for Photoshop here) but I believe that Sharpener Pro is amongst the better options currently available. Especially if you’re looking at using the Nik Collection as a standalone software.
Silver Efex Pro 3
Just as Color Efex Pro, the Silver Efex Pro tool has been a favorite of photographers for more than a decade. This plugin is for many the go-to for anything related to Black & White photography.
As of writing this, the tool consists of 64 ready-to-go presets. Simply scroll through the list, find one you like, and click to apply it. That’s how easy it can be. However, for those that like more control, there’s a series of adjustment sliders that can be used to achieve exactly the look you want.
Silver Efex Pro is one of the most known tools in the Nik Collection and it’s not without a reason that Black & White photographers view it as an essential part of their workflow.
Note: Make sure to check out our course “Black & White Photography: A Complete Guide for Nature Photographers” to learn how to create compelling B&W images. There you’ll also learn how to get the best results out of Silver Efex Pro.
Viveza is the final of the eight tools found in Nik Collection 5. Its purpose is to adjust the saturation, contrast, and luminosity of the photo. Also here you can use Control Points to apply the adjustments to only specific parts of the image.
Those that use Nik Collection 5 as a standalone tool might find Viveza useful when working on colors and tonality but I find photo editors such as Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW and Luminar 4 (or DxO’s own PhotoLab Essentials) to do a better job. There you have better control and more adjustments to choose between.
As a standalone tool, Viveza does what it promises. Perhaps I just need some convincing.
How to Use Nik Collection 5 in Photoshop
Most photographers will use the Nik Collection as a plugin for either Photoshop, Lightroom, or Affinity. It’s a great standalone tool as well but most choose to use it to complement adjustments made in other photo editors. Luckily, it’s a seamless experience to use the Nik Collection 5 tools as a Photoshop plugin.
You can open an image from Photoshop and to a Nik plugin at any stage of your workflow. For example, you can apply various adjustment layers in Photoshop, open the image in Color Efex Pro 3 to apply a filter, go back to Photoshop for a few more adjustments, move to Sharpener Pro 3: Output Sharpener, and then back to Photoshop to save the file.
All of that can be done without having to save the file, locating it in your folders, opening it in a plugin, saving it again, etc. Everything takes place directly within Photoshop (the same goes for Lightroom and Affinity too).
During the installation process, you were asked which Host Applications you wanted to use the Nik Collection with. After the installation is complete, the tools will automatically appear in these. In Photoshop, you can find the tools under Filter -> Nik Collection. From here, you can choose the one you want to use.
Make sure to create a Stamp Visible Layer before opening a tool. Otherwise, it’s not going to work. Consider converting it to a Smart Object as well if you want the possibility of going back into it to make adjustments later on.
Now you are ready to open the Nik Collection tool you want to use. When you are finished applying the filters, click Done and the effect will be visible on your layer in Photoshop.
How to Use Nik Collection 5 in Lightroom
Using the Nik Collection in Lightroom works more or less the same way as in Photoshop. Again it’s a seamless experience where the image “magically” moves between Lightroom and the chosen plugin.
Also here you can use multiple plugins for the same photo. For example, you can start by using the RAW Presharpener, then apply all your basic adjustments in Lightroom, open it in Silver Efex Pro to convert it to Black & White, and end by exporting it from Lightroom.
To open the Nik Collection plugins in Lightroom you need to:
- Right-click on the image and hover over Edit In
- Select the Nik Collection plugin from the dropdown list
- Choose one of the “What to Edit” options (Edit a Copy With Lightroom Adjustments, Edit a Copy, Edit Original)
- Apply the adjustments as desired
- Click Done and wait for the image to re-open in Lightroom
The main difference between using the Nik Collection as a Lightroom plugin and a Photoshop plugin is that you don’t need to create a Smart Object (this isn’t possible in Lightroom anyways) As long as you are editing a TIFF file, you can re-open the plugins at any time to make changes to the settings you’ve applied.
What this means is that if you’ve used Silver Efex Pro but later feel that you applied too much Structure, you can go back into the tool again and all the settings are still there. Then you can simply reduce the amount of Structure, click done, and the image is updated in Lightroom.
It’s rather convenient…
How to Install and Use Nik Collection 5 in Affinity
Serif Affinity is the only non-Adobe or DxO photo editor that the Nik Collection works with. To no surprise, it works just as seamlessly with Affinity as the two previous examples we’ve looked at. Also here you can hop back and forth between the tools while everything is being updated in your main photo editor.
The installation process is a little more complicated, though. Unfortunately, the Nik Collection plugins aren’t automatically installed in Affinity. Instead, you’ll have to follow a few manual steps:
- Launch the Nik Collection Installer and follow the instructions
- In step 8 you come to the Compatible Host Applications, click + to create a new folder to store the Nik Collection plugins and click on Open
- You’ll now see a new host in the list called Adobe Photoshop Custom1. This folder contains all the Nik Collection plugins.
- Complete the rest of the installer process and click Finish.
- Launch Affinity Photo and follow the next steps to import the plugins
- Go to Affinity Photo -> Preferences (Mac) or Edit -> Preferences (Windows). Click on the Photoshop Modules icon in the window that opens
- Click Add in the Search Folder section on the right
- In the dialog window, locate and select the “DxO” folder you created during installation and press OK
- In the Plugin Support folder on the right, select Authorize Global, then Authorize, without selecting anything.
- Check the Allow Unknown Plugins to be used box found on the left section under Detected Plugins
- Click Close and select Restart in the next dialog window
Follow the steps above and you should now find all the Nik Collection plugins by going to Filters -> Plugins -> Nik Collection. Hopefully, installing the Nik Collection to Affinity Photo will be easier in the future. But, for now, this is the only way.
Once you’ve successfully installed the plugins, you can use them just as explained for both Lightroom and Photoshop. What I like about Affinity is that they’ve got a quite active forum where you can ask questions about anything related to the photo editors and plugins.
My Experience with the Nik Collection
I first installed the Nik Collection onto my computer back in 2012. All the photographers I was looking up to were always talking about how great it was as a Photoshop plugin, so I saved up the bucks to try it myself. While I found it a bit overwhelming at first (as with any new software), it didn’t take long until it was an integral part of my post-processing workflow.
Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro were the only two plugins I used at the time. Quite honestly, I couldn’t tell you if there were any other tools in the collection, they weren’t of interest to me. Sometime later, I was struggling with noise in an image and after doing a lot of manual work in Photoshop, I decided to see if Dfine could do a better job.
While I still mainly use Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, and Dfine, I have realized the potential of several of the other plugins as well. They might not fit in my workflow (except for the Sharpener Pro which I’m really growing on) but for standalone users, they will be important.
There are still some minor bugs and issues that need to be solved but overall the Nik Collection plugins have come a long way since I first started using them. Many of the filters and adjustments are still there but their performance, interface, and speed can barely be compared with what it once was.
For me, the Nik Collection (particularly the plugins just mentioned) is irreplaceable. I view it as a necessity and a crucial part of my Photoshop workflow.
Is the Nik Collection Worth the Price Tag?
The Nik Collection plugins have been an integral part of my workflow for a decade but is it the right choice for you? Is it worth the price tag? The answer is yes. Most photographers will find at least one of the plugins useful.
If you purchase the Nik Collection 5 you also get a free download of DxO Photolab Essential, a powerful RAW editor developed by DxO. This is a big bonus for those who will use the Nik Collection plugins as standalone products.
Keep in mind that you get full access in the free 30-day trial period. Take advantage of this offer if you’re still unsure if it’s a good fit for you.
Should you upgrade if you own Nik Collection 4?
Nik Collection 3 or 4 users can upgrade to version 5 at the discounted price of $79. The new version comes with good improvements to the U-Point technology, a beautiful new interface, and updates to several of the plugins. But I don’t believe that these updates are big enough to upgrade from version 4. This is especially the case if you mainly use Color Efex Pro.
Users of version 3 will find the updated version significantly better, and in that case, I do believe the upgrade is worth the money.
Personally, I upgraded from version 4 to version 5. I can’t say that I regret the decision as I do find the updates to be quite good but I also don’t feel I’d miss out if I chose to stay with the previous.
The Nik Collection by DxO has been a favorite amongst photographers for more than a decade and it’s not without a reason. You most likely won’t end up using all eight plugins but it won’t take long for you to find a handful of them integral for your post-processing.
Most of the filters can be replicated in Photoshop but let’s be honest. It’s a lot easier to use an adjustable preset than it is to go through dozens of complicated steps making the effect manually.
I sincerely believe that the majority of photographers who edit their photos will find certain plugins from the Nik Collection useful. After years of using it, I have nothing but good words to say. This seems to be the case amongst other users as well.
At the end of the day, can we really say no to something that will speed up your workflow, result in great effects, and is fully customizable?
The Nik Collection is available to purchase on the DxO website for $149 (one-time payment). Version 3 and 4 users can upgrade for $79. If you’re still unsure, download their free 30-day trial and get full access to all the plugins.
Are you a Nik Collection user or do you have any questions? Don’t hesitate to drop them in a comment below!
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