It's been a couple of years now since last we looked at the venerable Nik Collection. With a new version having launched recently that overhauls some of its component plugins, now seems like a great time to revisit the popular plugin pack to see what it can do and what's changed since our last review.

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There's no single user interface for Nik Collection 6's eight component plug-ins, but most share a similar feel and two of the remaining outliers – HDR Efex and Sharpener – will soon be overhauled at no extra cost.

If you're not already familiar with the Nik Collection, its roots can be traced all the way back to the mid-1990s debut of Nik Software's Sharpener and Color Efex tools for Photoshop. Over the intervening 28 years, ownership of the plugin suite has changed hands twice – first to Google and then DxO – and a raft more features have joined the mix.

In all, the Nik Collection now consists of eight photography-oriented tools, each of which can be run either standalone or as a plugin within applications including Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Affinity Photo, the last of which is detected and configured by the installer.

The suite is packed with easy-to-use presets, but also gives a huge scope for manual tweaking to get the results you're after. It's available both for Windows and macOS machines, and for Mac now includes near-total compatibility with Apple silicon hardware. (Free upgrades available later this summer will bring that compatibility up to 100%.)

Key features

  • A comprehensive toolkit for honing your color, black and white or HDR imagery
  • Available for both Windows and macOS including Apple silicon support
  • Works standalone or as a plugin for apps like Photoshop, Lightroom or Affinity Photo
  • Includes both local and global adjustments
  • Countless manual controls and plenty of presets to get you started
  • Perpetual license means there's no ongoing subscription cost

Available immediately, Nik Collection 6 is priced at $149. If you already own either version 4 or 5, you can upgrade for the reduced price of $79.

European pricing is set at €149 for new customers or €79 for upgrades, while UK customers will pay £135 to buy the suite or £69 to upgrade from prior versions.

A fully-featured 30-day demo of Nik Collection 6 is available on the DxO website in exchange for your email address.

Nik Collection 6 in a nutshell

Obviously, we don't have room in this review to look at every single feature in a suite of this size, Instead, we're aiming to give a quick sense of what can be achieved with the individual apps, as well as a more in-depth rundown of recently-added features and how they change the editing experience.

The results of Analog Efex's Autochrome 2 preset in action. Click here for the full-sized original, and here for the reprocessed version.

The component plugins of Nik Collection 6 are Analog Efex, Color Efex, HDR Efex, Silver Efex, Dfine, Perspective, Sharpener and Viveza. The four Efex tools allow you to recreate the look of film photos, control color, tone and contrast, and create high dynamic range or monochrome imagery. The remainder let you tame noise, correct perspective issues, sharpen images both after Raw conversion or prior to output, and change the overall tonality/feel of your shots.

So what's new in the Nik Collection since the last major version? There's big news to be found in a couple of main areas: the controls for localized editing and the overall user interface.

Control lines make much lighter work of large selections

On the local editing front, the most significant change is a new control lines tool. This supplements the existing control point technology dubbed U Point, which features in many of the suite's plugins. It can be found in Analog Efex, Color Efex, Silver Efex, Dfine and Viveza.

Nik Collection 6's control lines complement the earlier U Point control points very nicely. With just a few clicks, we've targeted our adjustment at the blue sky but not the foreground blue sign.

U Point selections first debuted in the Nik-authored Nikon Capture NX way back in 2006, so this is the first major overhaul of Nik Collection's selection capabilities in a very long time. And as the name might suggest, control lines add the ability to make linear gradient selections.

Much like control points, Control Lines are applied based on the color characteristics of a specific point on an image. But since there's no 'center' for that selection to be based on as there would be in the middle of a U Point circle, you must instead select your desired point within the control line's area using an eyedropper tool.

You can also change the orientation of the control line and its roll-off characteristics, with two lines on the image indicating the point at which the filter effect starts to be applied, and the point at which beyond which it's fully applied.

Here we see the quick Control Line adjustment above targeting only the blue sky, as compared to the original image. Click here for the full-sized original, and here for the reprocessed version.

Additionally, you can now change the roll-off of U Point selections using a slider DxO has dubbed "diffusion". And both control point and control line selections can also be inverted such that your chosen color characteristics are protected from the filter, instead of being selected for its application.

Together, all of these changes make it a whole lot easier to make selections, especially large, complex ones. Where you might have needed several control points to select each individual cloud in a sky for filtering, for example, you can likely now get away with just a single control line instead.

New HSL tool is handy, but could use more targetability

Another new selection tool making its arrival in Color Efex 6 is an HSL tool. Here, you select one or more color ranges from a total of eight, or a ninth which controls all colors throughout the image. You can then change the hue, saturation and lightness of the selected color ranges one at a time by dragging the corresponding sliders.

Using the HSL tool to radically change colors is attention-grabbing, but only works well with ideal images like this one. Click here for the full-sized original, and here for the reprocessed version.

The most eye-catching way to use this tool – and the way DxO itself demonstrates it – is to use it to completely change the color of an object. That's not where we see its biggest strength lying, though, and the reason for that is an issue of targetability.

With only eight hue ranges to choose from and no way to narrow them or to refine them other than selecting multiple ranges or to limit them to a certain area of the image, it can frequently be difficult to use the HSL tool to change the color of an object without unintentionally affecting the hue of other parts of the scene.

Original image HSL tool alone HSL tool plus layers edit
Since the HSL tool only functions globally and with quite coarse ranges, there's no way to finely target your edits at a particular hue. Here, the red shirt is too close in color to the flesh tones to change the shirt color without resorting to manual editing using Photoshop's layers.

Sure, it's still possible if you apply the HSL tool as a Photoshop plugin on a duplicate layer and then erase its effect from parts of the image you want to remain unchanged. But that's more work than it needs to be. Where this HSL tool is handier, though, is in its ability to subtly tweak the hue, saturation and lightness for certain color ranges, perhaps to boost the saturation of green foliage, darken and saturate blue skies or pull back the saturation on an overly-warm skin tone, for example.

For our money, that should be its primary use. And as a secondary benefit, it can occasionally be used to change an object's color with just a couple of clicks, so long as that object's color is already quite different to the rest of the scene.

More targeted perspective control with Reshape

Another feature that's new to Nik Collection 6 can be found in Nik Perspective, which has now gained the ReShape tool that made its debut in DxO ViewPoint last year. We looked at it briefly in our DxO PhotoLab 6 review and it functions pretty much exactly the same here, so we'll keep our analysis brief.

Nik Perspective's new ReShape tool is handy when lens or perspective-based corrections wouldn't suffice. Here, the wide-angle distortion couldn't otherwise have been fixed without cropping the image in. Click here for the full-sized original, and here for the reprocessed version.

That brevity doesn't mean that ReShape isn't useful, though. On the contrary, it can really be quite handy for dealing with annoying perspective issues that can't easily be resolved with a global lens or perspective correction. If you don't already own DxO ViewPoint, it's well worth having as part of the updated Nik Collection.

Just as in ViewPoint, the ReShape tool in Nik Perspective lets you split the image into a grid of anywhere from 4x4 to 32x32 points, and then adjust the positions of those points individually or in groups. As you do so, the underlying image is warped appropriately, making it fairly easy to tweak one part of your image that stands out as being misshapen or crooked while leaving the rest of the scene unaffected.

New UI for Dfine but it still prioritizes speed over quality

The remainder of the changes in Nik Collection 6 are largely on the user interface front, and most notably in denoising plugin Nik Dfine. Dfine's user interface has now been overhauled to fit better alongside most of the other plugins in the suite.


UI Overhaul: Compared to the previous Dfine 2 (top), the new version in Nik Collection 6 (bottom) looks much more modern. It's also now referred to as just Dfine without a version number.

Note though that the underlying algorithms appear to be much the same as before, which is to say that Dfine isn't going to challenge the likes of Adobe Denoise or DxO's own DeepPRIME XD algorithms when it comes to denoising quality. But then it also isn't going to require the processing power and CPU time that those techniques require, as it's multiple orders of magnitude faster than both.

Thanks to its updated UI, Dfine can now be resized to fit your screen, unlike in its old form. It also now shares the same zoom and comparison tools as used in all but a handful of the other plugins in Nik Collection 6. (And two more of these, Nik Sharpener and HDR Efex, are also slated to receive free UI overhauls in the next few months, at which point only Nik Perspective will stand out for an inconsistent interface.)

Camera Raw, hand tweaked Nik Dfine, hand tweaked Adobe Denoise, defaults

The end result of these changes is a more consistent interface across all of the suite's tools which will make it easier to switch back and forth between them. And we have to say, we'll be glad to finally put the very dated UI of Sharpener and HDR Efex behind us as they didn't play well with modern, high-DPI screens. But please, DxO, work to make Nik Perspective more similar to the other tools in the suite as well!

A miscellany of other useful UI tweaks

As for the rest of the updates in Nik Collection 6, they're all much smaller but no less useful for it. You can now search for presets by typing in part of their name in Analog Efex, Color Efex, Silver Efex and Viveza.

All four tools also allow you to recall your 15 most recent past edits by browsing a list of thumbnails for quick reapplication. They also let you save your control point / control line-based adjustments in presets, and rename the individual adjustments so you can more quickly remember what your changes were as you're tweaking them.

The results of HDR Efex's Bright preset plus a tweak to the Graduated Neutral Density tool's Upper Tonality slider. Click here for the full-sized original, and here for the reprocessed version.

The quartet also now include a handy 'Convert to Smart Object' checkbox that will save you having to exit the plugin and perform the conversion should you forget to do so in the first place.

Conclusion

As we wrap up this review, we've found a lot to like in Nik Collection 6, even if there are several features like the user interface overhauls for HDR Efex and Sharpener plus the remainder of Apple silicon support still to come.

While we find ourselves a bit surprised that DxO didn't wait to ship the update until all was ready, by choosing not to do so it has delivered a fair few worthwhile changes immediately, with more improvements on the way. For what it's worth, early release software that evolves post-purchase is becoming par for the course across the tech industry.

The results of Viveza's Tonal Adjustment preset in action. Click here for the full-sized original, and here for the reprocessed version.

It's certainly good news that the remainder of these updates will be arriving free of charge in the next few months, even if you'll have to wait to get the entirety of what you're paying for. And the new control lines tool plus the ability to adjust control point roll-off and invert your local adjustment selections are definitely tools worth having.

We also appreciate the new HSL tool for Color Efex, even if it feels like better selectability would make it significantly more powerful. And the ReShape tool that Perspective Efex inherits from DxO ViewPoint is pretty handy, too.

The results of Silver Efex's Moody Blues preset in action. Click here for the full-sized original, and here for the reprocessed version.

It's also great to see the overall user interface experience finally becoming more cohesive again. For the last couple of releases, the variation between modern and relatively archaic UI paradigms between the suite's app has made it feel inconsistent in use, and that era should soon be (almost) at a close.

We do hope that DxO revisits the UI for Nik Perspective, which will remain the sole outlier through Nik Collection 6's lifespan, though. But be that as it may, there's a lot to like here. If you're running on an earlier release this would seem a great time to upgrade, and if you're in the market for a comprehensive toolkit with which to tweak your photos from Adobe or Affinity's apps, Nik Collection 6 is well worth a look.

What we like What we don't
  • Loads of scope for manually tweaking your photos
  • Plenty of presets to help get results quickly
  • Control lines and control points are a great way to target your local adjustments
  • User interface continues to improve for most plugins in the suite
  • Works standalone if you prefer
  • Available for Windows and macOS alike
  • No subscription fees
  • Color Efex's HSL tool needs better targetability to really shine
  • Dfine noise reduction algorithms feel a bit last-gen
  • Nik Perspective UI differs from other plugins
  • Scope of update feels a bit smaller than it is with some UI updates and full Apple silicon support still to come