Pro Photo

Hands-on: Nik Collection 2 with DxO’s PhotoLab 2.3 ESSENTIAL photo editor

The launch of a new version of Nik Collection by DxO Labs is a wise marketing decision, as it includes DxO’s RAW photo editor PhotoLab, which is a surprisingly capable editing tool.

PhotoLab

Back from the dead in 2018, Nik Collection is now available in version 2, with a complete photo editor added. Even if you just want the plugins, try the editor, PhotoLab 2.3 ESSENTIAL, and be surprised.

Nik Software  started, in 1995, the adventure that would become a series of plugins praised by photographers everywhere. A decade later, with Nikon investment, a move that explains the birth of Capture NX, a stand-alone photo editing program developed by Nik Software and Nikon, the company transformed into a software research and development company, the name behind a product that has its name engraved in the history of digital photography: Nik Collection, both popular for its effects and the $500 price tag.

Google acquired Nik Software in 2012, reintroduced the Nik Collection, dropped the price to $150 but did nothing tp update the app. Four years later, in 2016, Google announced the software would be distributed free and one year later, despite earlier promises, it announced it had no plans to update the Nik Collection. Six months later, in October 2017, DxO Labs acquired the software. Aware of the potential of the apps and the technology behind, DxO reintroduced Nik Collection in 2018, bringing it back from the dead, in true Phoenix style. Photographers applauded!

Buy the plugins, receive a free photo editor

This year the company introduces Nik Collection 2, with a series of new features, mentioned in a previous article published here at ProVideo Coalition. The suite of plugins for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, and Elements – and other photo editors that work with Adobe compatible plugins – is a classic among photographers. It its most recent version, it also opens a window into a new experience: a RAW photo editor that will, no doubt, surprise you. For as little as $99.99, if you acquire the Nik Collection 2 until June 30, 2019, you get a full version of DxO’s PhotoLab 2.3 ESSENTIAL.

PhotoLab 2.3 ESSENTIAL is the entry level app from DxO in terms of RAW photo editing, and while it does miss some features, it is more than enough for many users and may entice others to change their workflow and maybe acquire the PhotoLab 2.3 ELITE version. I believe that’s a key reason behind DXO’s decision to include its RAW photo editor with this version of Nik Collection. While many will, no doubt, want the plugins, to integrate them in their workflows, the presence of a complete photo editor that works seamlessly with the Nik Collection may be the starting point for some photographers, who may appreciate the app.

The magic U Point technology

It makes even more sense when one knows that since DxO acquired the Nik Collection the company integrated the key technology from Nik Software, U Point local adjustment technology, in DxO’s PhotoLab. In fact, one of the assets of the photo editor is exactly the presence of that technology, praised by photographers everywhere for the ease of use.  There is more, though, as DxO PhotoLab 2 lets users apply U Point local adjustment technology to RAW files within a newly designed workflow. This is an asset that places the photo editor in a good place in terms of the competition: in fact, from a Library module that works rather well to the editing section, including everything from the Nik Collection effects to the export module, the most recent version of DxO PhotoLab 2 ESSENTIAL is a viable solution giving photographers all they need for a logic workflow.

PhotoLab

Although being familiar with the Nik Collection, I don’t remember having tried DxO’s photo editor, so I took the opportunity to explore it with the launch of the bundle. Despite some differences, the interface follows the conventions of most software of this type, so you’re soon able to find your way around, even withouth reading a manual. There will always be some differences and even surprises – for example, I could not find a Clone tool and apparently there is none – but believe me when I say you’ll soon understand how it all works.

A basic library module is included

Even if you do not pay much attention to DxOMark tests of lenses and sensors, which since 2018 is a separate company, the truth is that DxOLabs has analyzed more than 42,000 combinations of cameras and lenses, and that is reflected in the software. DxO PhotoLab 2 includes a unique library of optical corrections that can perfectly match your camera and lens combinations, and once it is fed with images, the program starts to suggest you download the data for different lenses and cameras used to capture your images.

DxO PhotoLab 2 has a PhotoLibrary, introduced in version 2.1, which offers a image and data management system that lets users search for, select, sort, and display images, and uses your existing folder structure to view images, not requiring the creation of a catalog. It’s another step showing the goal of DxO: to offer a complete image-production workflow, able to compete with popular solutions as Lightroom or Capture One, and the many other apps available today.

An intuitive workflow

Bundling the Nik Collection 2 with the DxO PhotoLab 2 ESSENTIAL is a key strategy for 2019, I believe. DxO states on its website that  “although Nik Collection 2 plugins play nicely with software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, DxO’s PhotoLab Essential is the ideal package for launching Nik plugins within its superb and intuitive workflow. And it’s now FREE with Nik Collection 2.”

The corrections imported earlier by the program will be in full use when you open images captured with the lens/camera pair the corrections are created for. You’ll see it happen immediately when one image is opened. If you feel they do not work for a specific image you can deactivate the automatic function. DxO PhotoLab 2 also automatically applies DxO Smart Lighting, as well as noise reduction. It will give you good results in most cases, but if you want to have complete control over your images, these and other features can also be deactivated.

PhotoLab

Local adjustments with U Point

U Point technology will be, for the most part, the surprise and special feature of DxO PhotoLab 2, as the technology is not available in any other software. The technology, inherited from Nik Software, allows users to control a series of parameters in three different areas: Light, Colour, and Detail. It’s a workflow that is more difficult to explain than to use, but one good definition of it is: layers without the trouble. In fact, U Point technology allows control of selected areas, for local adjustment, in a way that makes it easy to understand and use by anyone.

The brief exploration of DxO PhotoLab 2 ESSENTIAL confirms that the app is a solution that photographers should consider, even more so as it offers, besides a series of effects included in the photo editor, access to the whole Nik Collection 2 package, now enhanced, as mentioned in a previous article. While it may be lacking options needed by some users, as more editing tools (I want a Clone tool, and a panorama), and better library features, besides not being compatible with Fujifilm cameras, it’s a well rounded package that will treat your RAWs well.


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Journalist, writer and photographer since 1979, both print and online, with a vast experience in the fields of photography, software, hardware, web, aviation, History, video games, technology, having published content in almost all Portuguese newspapers…

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