DxO Nik Collection 4 review: Viveza and Silver Efex rebooted: Digital Photography Review

Every year around the start of June, French software company DxO releases a new version of Nik Collection, a suite of eight image processing tools that can be used either as standalone apps or plug-ins for third-party software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic. And 2021 is no different, with Nik Collection 4 now making its debut.

The Nik Collection first appeared over a decade ago, and some of its component plug-ins can be traced back as far as late 1999, when the first version of Nik Color Efex was released.

Initially developed by Nik Software and later purchased by Google, the Nik Collection was acquired by DxO in late 2017. Since then, the French software company has been steadily adding new features and some its own algorithms to the Nik Collection toolbox.

Available immediately, Nik Collection 4 is priced at $149 for new customers, with upgrades available to existing customers for $79. You can save some money if you order soon, though – through June 30, 2021, DxO is offering discounted pricing of $99.99 for new customers, and $59.99 for upgrades.

Correcting the color of an overexposed reflector lens using grouped control points in Viveza 3. The image is split vertically for comparison against the original, unedited image.

What’s new and included in Nik Collection 4?

With the introduction of Perspective Efex in the previous release, the Nik Collection has a total of eight plug-ins. Silver Efex Pro 3 and Viveza 3 are both updated with modernized UI’s and some new tools; suite-wide, ‘U-Point’ controls are more versatile (more on this later) and ‘Meta presets’ in the selective tool allow for multiple plug-ins to run sequentially with one click.

In full, the list of plug-ins is as follows:

  • Analog Efex Pro 2 – replicates the look of images shot using analog film cameras
  • Color Efex Pro 4 – a wide range of color image presets in architecture, film, nature, portrait, travel and wedding categories
  • Dfine 2 – reduces noise levels in high-sensitivity and/or small-sensor images
  • HDR Efex Pro 2 – combines multiple identically-framed images for higher dynamic range, or simulates an HDR look from a single image
  • Sharpener Pro 3 – pre-sharpens raw data and applies secondary sharpening immediately prior to output
  • Silver Efex Pro 3 (updated) – converts images to black and white, with a healthy selection of presets, haze reduction, color filtering, film simulation and more
  • Viveza 3 (updated) – tools for adjusting color, light and tonality, along with a small number of presets
  • Perspective Efex – corrects for lens and perspective-based distortions, and allows for a tilt/shift-like miniature effect plus cropping

Last year’s iteration of the suite, Nik Collection 3, debuted a new Perspective Efex tool, improved the Selective Tool menu from which plug-ins can be launched, and added support for non-destructive multipage TIFF editing in Lightroom Classic. This year, it’s Silver Efex Pro and Viveza which have received most of the love, with major version increments and a brand-new user interface for both.

DxO has also made it possible for Lightroom Classic users to copy and paste Nik processing settings between images without reopening a plug-in, or to quickly recall the last-used settings if you forgot to save them as a preset and want to tweak them further. And a new Meta Presets function has been added to the Selective Tool which can combine the actions of multiple plug-ins in a single click.

The Nik Collection by DxO Selective Tool serves as a launcher for all of the individual plug-ins in the suite. The Meta-presets section is a new addition which allows multiple plug-ins to run sequentially with a single click.

A modern UI for some tools, but others still feel dated

The most obvious change from Nik Collection 3 is in the Silver Efex Pro 3 and Viveza 3 plug-ins, both of which sport an updated UI. The change is significant for both apps, as neither had been visually tweaked in more than a decade, but it’s most noticeable for Viveza, which until now couldn’t even be resized to fit your screen.

The Viveza and Silver Efex Pro plug-ins both sport shiny new, modernized user interfaces. The new Silver Efex Pro 3 and the prior version 2 can compared above.

Unfortunately, while these two plug-ins now look much better, some others still feel very dated, and there are inconsistencies even among the more recently-updated plug-ins. Dfine 2 and Sharpener Pro 3 still have a geriatric, non-resizable UI like that just replaced in Viveza 3, while Perspective Efex’s various sliders, buttons and controls seem to have been lifted straight from DxO ViewPoint 3, and don’t visually match any of the other plug-ins in the suite.

The Nik Collection’s tools come in several vintages with radically differing interfaces. The Dfine 2 (shown above) and Sharpener Pro 3 plug-ins have the oldest UI, and can’t even be resized to fit your screen.

Analog Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4 and HDR Efex Pro 2, meanwhile, sit somewhere between the rest, with a resizable UI but a noticeably different aesthetic to Silver Efex Pro, Viveza and especially Perspective Efex. As a result the overall suite feels less coherent than it should be, and is something we’d like to see DxO address.

U-Point gives more control with less clutter

DxO has also updated the popular U-Point technology underlying both Silver Efex Pro and Viveza, simultaneously making it more powerful and easily-targeted, and yet also less visually cluttered.

Previously, U-Point’s array of control sliders appeared adjacent to the control point over your image when it was selected. Now, almost all of them are instead located in the right-hand adjustment panel, and only the control point area is adjusted directly on the image itself. (You can either drag a slider or the outer periphery of the selection circle.)

Selecting the sky with three U-Point control points. Note that the control points have been grouped together, the group renamed, and that all but one of the control point’s sliders now sit in the right-hand control panel rather than atop the image as in older Nik Collection versions.

You can now also tune the luminance and chrominance values for each control point, making it easier to adjust its coverage area appropriately, and likely reducing the number of control points you’ll need to use in the first place. Alternatively, you can zero out both of these new sliders, and get a graduated radial filter around a given control point, instead.

If you find yourself needing to use a significant number of control points, you can now individually rename them so they’re easier to keep tabs on. You can also still group them, just as in the past. And helpfully, the control points and their locations can now be saved in your presets.

Even more new features for Silver Efex and Viveza

As well as their overhauled UI and U-Point tech, Silver Efex and Viveza have both received some other new features. For Viveza, there are ten new preset looks to choose from, and you can also save and share your own presets. And Silver Efex now boasts both the haze-busting ClearView slider from DxO PhotoLab, as well as the ability to add one of 39 B&W film grain types from DxO FilmPack.

Better integration with Lightroom Classic

DxO has also improved Nik Collection 4’s integration with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic. You can now access a new Copy and Apply Parameters dialog as an export preset, and from there you can copy and paste settings for each plug-in between images without needing to reopen the plug-in itself.

And for the Dfine, Viveza, Silver Efex and Sharpener plug-ins, you can also recall the last edits made after reopening the plug-in, making it simple to recover your settings if you want to further adjust them or save them as a preset.

Nik Collection now better integrates with Lightroom Classic, allowing you to copy settings between images and quickly restore your last-used settings.

Meta-Presets combine plug-ins, but with limitations

Speaking of presets, there’s one more change of note in this regard, and it can be found in the floating Selective Tool panel from which the individual plug-ins can be launched. As well as the eight existing plug-ins, it now includes an additional option: Meta-presets.

As the name would suggest, these are presets which combine the results from multiple plug-ins in one click, making them extremely quick and easy to apply. The downside is that other than a brief text description which comes up if you click the question mark icon next to the Meta-preset name, you have no way to preview results of the preset. Nor can you alter it, or make your own presets to match your workflow.

Preview performance remains a weak spot

In most other respects, Nik Collection 4 is similar to the previous version. The Analog Efex, Color Efex, HDR Efex and Perspective Efex plug-ins are all functionally identical to their predecessors.

A handful of Nik Collection 4’s Meta-presets, clockwise from top left: Adoxical, Dry Plate, False-color Infrared and Expired Film.

And that’s true of performance, too. Like its predecessor, Nik Collection 4’s previews tend to lag behind your adjustments by a good second or so. We’d like to see DxO work on that in a future release, as not only does greater performance mean less time spent editing, it also helps to make it easier and more intuitive to fine-tune the adjustments you’re making.

Final thoughts

What we like What we don’t
  • Updated UI in Silver Efex and Viveza bring them to a modern standard
  • Incredibly wide range of possible adjustments and tons of presets
  • Improved Lightroom integration is always nice to see
  • Inconsistent user interface among the separate plug-ins
  • Not the most responsive experience
  • No option to purchase individual plug-ins

The Nik Collection has long been a fan favorite that can deliver impressive results, and not just in the hands of experienced photographers, but thanks to a wide selection of presets, less experienced ones as well. It still suffers from a fairly inconsistent UI that varies widely from app to app, but the individual apps themselves are reasonably intuitive to use, if perhaps not quite as fast as we’d like.

That said, it’s encouraging to be getting regular yearly updates from DxO, and we’re hopeful that further UI and performance enhancements are on the way.

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