Nik Collection: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Enhance Your Photos With the Nik Collection of Image Editors

Nik Collection of Image Editing Apps
Color Efex Pro 4 one of the apps included with Nik Collection. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

My choice this week for Tom’s Mac Software Pick is a bit unusual, although not in the actual software, which is a wonderful collection of photo editing tools that any photographer would find useful. What's unusual is that I made the pick knowing that the Nik Collection will probably never be updated again, and will likely disappear within a year.

So, why did I make this choice? The Nik Collection is a well-regarded series of seven image manipulation apps that can be used standalone, or as plug-ins for various image editing apps.

The collection originally sold for $500, when the apps were part of Nik Software. After Google acquired Nik, the price for the Nik Collection dropped to $150, a relative bargain.

Now Google has announced that the Nik Collection will be available for free, an even better bargain, although this probably means that Google is abandoning the apps, and won't be providing any updates in the future.

Still, the Nik Collection is a pretty awesome set of filters and effects that every photographer should have in his or her bag of tricks.

Pro

  • Collection of seven standalone or plug-in photo apps.
  • Works with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Aperture.
  • Can make selective adjustments without the need for complex masks.
  • Large collection of preset adjustments available.

Con

  • Although not officially discontinued, I don't expect to see any updates.

The Nik Collection is a bundle of seven photo manipulation apps:

  • HDR Efex Pro 2: Create HDR images from one or more images.
  • Silver Efex Pro 2: Create black-and-white conversions from color sources.
  • Sharpener Pro 3: Apply selective sharpening to an image.
  • Color Efex Pro 4: Perform color adjustments.
  • Viveza 2: Adjust white balance, contrast, and brightness.
  • Dfine 2: Use selective noise reduction.
  • Analog Efex 2: Apply film-based characteristics to digital images.

Each app can be used independently of the others; each can also be used as a standalone app, which allows you to open, edit, and save an image directly, or as a plug-in that works with Photoshop CS5 and later, Photoshop Elements 9 and later (HDR Efex does not work with Elements), Lightroom 3 and later, and Aperture 3.1.

Nik Collection Installation

The Nik Collection downloads as a disk image (.dmg) file. Double-clicking the .dmg file expands and mounts the image on the desktop. Once the image is open, you'll find the Nik Collection installer, as well as an uninstaller.

Before you launch the installer, make sure any photo editing app you plan to use with the Nik Collection isn't running. During the installation process, you'll be asked which supported photo editing apps you would like to have the Nik Collection installed in. You don’t have to choose any of the listed apps if all you want is the standalone version of the Nik Collection. If you do select one or more photo apps to host the Nik Collection, the installer will still create a folder within your /Applications folder for the Nik Collection standalone apps.

Using the Nik Collection

I installed the Nik Collection as a plug-in for Photoshop CS5, and also as a suite of standalone apps.

When you're using the collection as plug-ins, it shows up as a floating tool palette, as well as an entry in the Filters menu. Selecting any of the plug-ins from either the tool palette or the Filters menu will launch the standalone app with the currently open image.

Once you complete the edits in the Nik app, the app closes, and the image is updated in the host app.

Using the Nik Collection as standalone apps didn't sacrifice any features; in fact, I found them more inviting to use as standalone apps, because it allowed me to concentrate on a workflow using just the Nik Collection.

Nik Collection Workflow

Everyone will develop their own workflow, but I was a bit surprised when, after trying out the various apps in the Nik Collection, my workflow almost matched one of the suggested workflows from Google.

In my case, I'm working with color images, and not performing any black-and-white/monochrome manipulation. I’m also not making use of HDR, or trying to recreate the look of film on my digital images. This makes my workflow very basic, and it ended up consisting of the following:

Using Sharpener Pro 2’s Raw Presharpener on my camera RAW images.

Using Dfine 2 to apply noise reduction.

Using Viveza 2 to adjust white balance, brightness, and contrast.

Using Color Efex Pro 4 for adjusting color and applying filters beyond those already used.

Depending on the image, I may return to Sharpener Pro 3 to use its output sharpening feature.

Selective Adjustment

All of the Nik Collection apps make use of selective adjustments, the ability to create control points to quickly select precise areas where an app's effects will take place. This approach is quicker and much easier than creating masks to hide or reveal areas on an image.

Control points are placed on the section of an image on which you wish to have an adjustment effect. Control points look at the characteristics of the area where they are placed, and create a selection based on color, hue, and brightness of items near the Control point. You can place multiple Control points to help in creating one or more selections.

Once the Control points are set, any effect you apply will only affect the selected areas. As an example, I can selectively apply noise reduction such that only the area of an image that needs it is affected. Likewise, I can sharpen only a small area of an image, leaving the rest of the photo unaffected.

Help Files

Nik Collection help files are all currently available from Google’s Nik support site, and can be accessed by selecting the Help button within each Nik app. Each app includes an overview, tour, and specific details about using it. I highly recommend going through each app's help files now, while they're available. You even want to save the help files for future reference, in case Google completely abandons the Nik apps in the future.

Last Word on the Nik Collection

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I was torn about bringing this collection to the attention of my readers because the apps will likely not see future updates, and could be completely abandoned sometime in the future.

However, with Google giving the apps away for free, and the apps working very well, I think it would be a shame not to let everyone known about the Nik Collection, and how it can add advanced image editing features usually reserved only for pros.

So, go ahead and give the Nik Collection a try. There's no real downside, except that you may end up liking these apps so much, you'll be sad if they won't work with some future version of OS X.

The Nik Collection is free.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.