This may appear to be an expensive plug-in for Photoshop users, but the Nik Complete Collection is a phenomenal package of easy to use tools.
We’re not going to suggest that £549 is an amount that many people will consider reasonable for a package of plug-in software – you can buy a DSLR for less! But, the Nik Complete Collection is worth every penny, as it contains six quite incredible tools that will change the way you get creative with your pictures.
This software is designed to be installed with either Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom or Apple Aperture software. The plug-in elements work within the software to provide an enhanced set of tools that in most cases remove the complex fiddling around with settings, and allows you to quite simply apply some very dramatic effects. The best thing about the various tools is that you can see a real-time example of what the effect will do to your picture and then alter the level of effects to suit your images. There’s so much you can do, it’s almost endless.
Silver Efex Pro 2
Black & white images are quite easy to create in manipulation software, but it can be difficult and time-consuming to get true darkroom effects unless you really know your stuff. This is where the Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in comes into its own, as it is designed to provide quick but stylish monochrome conversions.
As soon as you select the plug-in your image loads into a new screen. Down the left-hand side of this screen your image will appear with all of the pre-sets on offer automatically applied. There is also an opportunity for you to create your own custom settings. You can simply skip through the pre-sets to find the one you like and then use the panel on the right to fine-tune the effect. There’s a mix of contrast, colour tones and even creative vintage borders in the mix. You can alter the screen to display your ‘before’ and ‘after’ effects via either a split screen or a dual image display, while the new U Point technology allows you to add a control point and then enhance a specific area of the image. This clever tool can be used in a multitude of ways and it’s impressively accurate.
Colour Efex Pro 3
We’re big fans of digital filters and the Colour Efex Pro 3.0 plug-in is one of, if not the, best we have ever used. It’s so easy to use and has a quite unbelievable amount of filters on offer. As soon as you open up an image with the software plug-in you are presented with a long list of filters down the side of the screen. Its an impressively long list, but it gets even more astounding when you discover the sheer number of variations you can apply with each individual filter. As with the other elements of the Nik Complete Collection, the Color Efex can be fine-tuned to suit your desires, and there’s the U Point technology for controlling specific areas of manipulation. Having preview thumbnails is really useful here, because you can flick through so many different filters and instantly see what an effect will do to your own picture, rather than some pre-loaded example. We found ourselves trying all sorts of different filters on so many different images – it became a bit addictive. The examples above show just a very small selection of what is possible, as there are so many filters that it's simply impossible to show them all here.
HDR Efex Pro
Let’s get one thing straight. HDR images are great but the time needed to make them can be off-putting – who else has thought they just don’t have the time to shoot all the required multiple images and then join them all together? It is a really cool effect though, so anything that makes it very easy is always going to get us interested.
The HDR Efex plug-in gives you the option to merge multiple images in the traditional way, but you can also create images from a single file using Tone Mapping. This rather clever and intuitive technology does a really fantastic job of delivering a quality HDR image from a single file. This means you can apply the effect to any image – and it’s a simple one-click application! This plug-in also boasts the impressive U Point technology.
One of the biggest challenges with digital images is cleaning up contrast and colour noise found in images – especially at higher sensitivity settings. The Dfine 2.0 plug-in is designed to help reduce digital noise in your images, while also protecting the image detail that is often lost with most noise reducing software. Once again, Nik has introduced the U Point technology to this application so you can target noise in specific areas of an image. This is very useful as it helps to ensure that you don’t just lay a blanket filter over the entire image. Noise often appears in certain areas more than others, so the U Point technology comes into its own. Of all the plug-ins in the Complete Package, we found this to be the least intuitive, but it is still a good piece of software to use. On the image we tried out (right) it delivered a vast improvement, but there was still some loss of detail, which we guess is always going to be the case with noise reduction.
If there is one element of this plug-in package that really demonstrates the strength of the Nik U Point technology, it’s the Viveza 2 plug-in. This enhancement tool saves so much time and hassle, thanks to some very clever tools. Viveza 2 allows you to enhance specific colour tones, without having to apply selections or layer masks. You simply set the control point, and then you can use Viveza 2 to alter any part of the image within your selected area that has the same colour tone. You can set multiple control points and then link them if needed. It is so easy to use this software and the results are instantaneous. With our example image (right) we set the control point on the blue part of the sky so we could adjust the sky tone. Using the drop-down U Point controls, we moved the sliders to change the colour tone of the sky. The remainder of the image is unchanged, and the software hasn’t left a halo around the building (a common problem when this type of edit is used). Very impressive stuff!
Sharpener Pro 3
With the Sharpener Pro 3.0 plug-in you have the option to apply the enhancement to RAW or output images. This is, once again, a very intuitive tool that features the U Point technology for selective sharpening control. The tools are easy to use, and with the split screen facility you can monitor the results of what you have changed. Vary the degree of sharpening using four control sliders or the U Point controls for selective work.
We can’t think of a plug-in software package that has impressed us this much for a long time. As a plug-in option for any Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture user they don’t get a great deal better than the Nik Complete Collection. The comprehensive selection of creative tools makes a really wide variety of enhancements possible. The best bit for me was just how easy and intuitive it is to use. There were some effects in here that could take a seasoned enhancement pro a few hours to achieve without the plug-in, but with it you’re looking at mere seconds. Yes, it’s an expensive package, but if you’re a part-time or aspiring pro then it’s cash well spent, as it’ll save you both time and make you money. What more could you ask for from a piece of plug-in enhancement software?
- Street price: Discontinued (Google Nik Collection available to download for free as of June 2016)
- Visit: www.google.com/nikcollection
This review was first published in the August 2011 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.