[box type=”info”] UPDATE 2016 – NIK Software is now free!![/box]
There has been a lot of talk about Google buying the industry gem that is NIK Software. If you are not familiar with NIK these are the people who make great plugins for programs like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture. These plugins span a wide range of artistic styles and will nicely fit into your style, I am sure, as well.
I don’t put too much into the debates about NIKON or CANON, Google+ or Facebook. My main concern here is “do these plugins actually work or are they just putting crap over-top of my photos?” and “Will they make my post processing easier?” Suffice to say that these plugins do in fact work well, especially inside of Lightroom 4 and they do make my editing a lot easier.
Why Did I Write This Review?
I am not getting paid for these. It would be nice but the fact of the matter is that I am not. I am writing this and the other reviews because I truly love this product. NIK Software doesn’t even know that I exist. However, the thing is that their products have greatly improved my workflow and I feel that my images have improved as well. That is the main reason for this post at at the time of this review their entire collection is $149!
HDR Efex Pro 2
One of my nightly rituals was to come back from shooting, make some coffee and spend the rest of the evening editing my shots. It was a great way to save money on a Friday night. One of the things that took up the most time was using photomatix to tonemap and then importing into photoshop or lightroom. It wasn’t a big deal but, especially with the switch to lightroom 4, it took up a lot more time.
HDR Efex Pro 2 runs right from lightroom and for that matter all of the other programs that it is “plugged in” to (get it? I made a joke there, LOL). So that means that it is not a standalone program like many iterations of photomatix. What this means is that you can edit and have your shot added right back into your collection without having to leave the program. I love this because I have folders full of unprocessed HDR shots. I like having everything in one place.
Silver Efex Pro
If there was one program that I have heard about so much and have been in awe of what was produced by using it, it is Silver Efex Pro. This allows you to create some stunning black and white shots using their awesome and simple pluggin. What I like about this software is that it gives you are range of different options to choose from and you can see the difference that each effect makes and then go from there.
As I experimented more I really started liking the interface. So far my workflow starts with cycling through the presets and adapting them to meet the idea that I have for the image. the presets offer a wide range of styles and with the introduction of the “structure” slider, they go well beyond the simple “lighter or darker” type presets that a lot of black and white converters have.
Sharpener Pro 3
When I switched from photoshop to lightroom, one of my chief complaints was the sharpening tool. I wanted my shots razor sharp but without making the photo look like crap (I think that we want this right?). I tried different presets what got something in the ball park but with Sharpener Pro 3 I got the control that I was looking for. I could choose to sharpen certain areas that I wanted to focus on and it was easy to figure out.
If you are looking for selective sharpening, this is the plugin for you. While a universal sharp is always helpful, one of the features that I always look for is the ability to sharpen certain areas. Using lightroom you have a basic sharpening slider within the brush menu but using the control points gives you much better control over the sharpening.
Color Efex Pro 4
When I recently shot a wedding I was looking for something to really make the photos pop. This plugin did the trick so well. Also when shooting with a 32GB card, you don’t realize how many shots you are getting and when you realize that you have a ton of great shots, this plugin makes editing really fast. The “visual presets” did everything so well as they were a great starting point for my editing process. The 55 filters work so well and helped add a lot more drama to the photos.
I have never been a fan of the “instagram” style filters as they always seemed to take something away from the shot rather than adding to it. However, the organization of these filters including categories like “wedding” and “portrait” offer a better selection and organization. While not every filter is a winner, they are great starting points with tons of customization options. Likewise you can save the “recipes” for further use. Not to mention stacking the filters for more creative shots.
Another one of my concerns about switching to lightroom was that I had loved the noiseware pro that I have for photoshop. While now using a Canon 7D, noise is not so much of a problem, it is still there. Dfine 2 was the answer that I was looking for. With it’s ease of use and use of control points, it made it an amazing plugin that I am slowly depending on for my photographic work.
The profiling and analyzing that Dfine does is great. Another plug for the control points is that a lot of the noise in my shots comes from colour noise that may not be in all areas. I typically always shoot at a low ISO but because I shoot and process for HDR, you get a lot of noise from that process. Having the option of using control points to reduce noise in the areas that look the worst and keeping detail where the noise reduction process may affect the detail is a great option to have.
Getting into more technical aspects of photography, you are going to need a system that allows for individual edits. While lightroom has the brush feature, it falls short at times and this is where Viveza steps up. Their “u-point” or control points work intelligently. At first I thought is was kind of hard work a circle but after studying from their extensive learning center, I found that they actually detect edges and confirm to the areas rather than being “just a circle”
The beauty of this is that you have all of your editing features right where you want it. Think of a landscape of different layers and tones. You want the trees to stand out and be sharp but a universal edit would take away something from the sky. Then you want the sky to be cooler and with a tonal change, it would make the green of the trees look a bit off. With Viveza you get all of that control and that is where the magic of this program shows up.
The bottom line is that these plugins do work. With the power and the variety that the NIK Collection provides is more than enough to improve your photography. They are simple to use and their site provides a great library of learning materials for you to take them to the next level. Also with the current low price and the numerous coupon codes about you are getting an extremely great deal. If you search around you can get the entire bundle for around $126 or something like that. So head to their website and try them for free and let me know what you think.