11 April 2016

Nik Collection by Google: “Today we’re making the Nik Collection available to everyone, for free”

Photo enthusiasts all over the world use the Nik Collection to get the best out of their images every day. As we continue to focus our long-term investments in building incredible photo editing tools for mobile, including Google Photos and Snapseed, we’ve decided to make the Nik Collection desktop suite available for free, so that now anyone can use it.

Nik Collection

Over the years I’ve consistently heard good things about this photo editing suite, so after hearing the news I immediately installed it to try it out. I was mostly interested in the noise reduction module (Dfine), as my camera doesn’t handle low light and high ISO that well. Unfortunately it was soon clear that the usefulness of Nik Collection was highly overrated… Let me explain why:

First of all it took me a while to figure out how to launch the newly installed plugins from inside Lightroom. I didn’t know how plugins are supposed to work, but I expected at least some options to integrate seamlessly with Lightroom’s interface, for example by creating a new section in the right sidebar of the Develop module. Instead it turns out you need to open a copy of the file in the respective Nik app – which is less than ideal… The whole promise of Lightroom (and what I like most about it) is having a single place to organize and edit photos while keeping originals intact and editing steps transparent. This goes completely against that: you need to plan ahead when you want to apply noise reduction, because every time you do that you are forced to create a new copy; over time you’re very likely to forget which file version is the ‘final’ one. Even with a moderate library this can mess up organization big time, not to mention the extra copies will quickly eat up storage space on the hard drive.

Having said that, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the quality of the noise reduction either. The one good thing is automation: with only a couple of clicks you get a cleaner image. Well, at least in cases with low to moderate noise; high-noise areas are processed so aggressively that details are all but gone and the result looks ugly and undefined. With a little more work (simply cranking up the noise reduction slider) you can get similar effects in Lightroom, without the inconvenience mentioned above.

Noise reduction using Dfine from Nik
Noise reduction using Dfine

Also, the user interface is simply atrocious: with its customized sliders and buttons, Nik software looks like it was designed two decades ago and never revisited since. Another moment of anger and despair came as I zoomed in to the max and promptly discovered the toolbar doesn’t include a zoom-out button! In all my years of using PC software I have never seen an application offering a zoom-in, but no zoom-out button! After 10 to 15 minutes of frantically clicking around and searching online (the help center wasn’t at all helpful) I remembered the keyboard shortcuts used by browsers to zoom in and out and with relief saw that Ctrl+0 does reset zoom here…

So, to conclude, I won’t be using Nik Collection in my photo editing workflow. The current state of the software, the fact that the last video on their YouTube channel was published more than a year and a half ago, all suggest the suite is effectively abandoned and Google needed a way to dispose of it without angering potential Photos customers too much.

Update: and, sure enough, one year later Google has officially ended support for the Nik Suite.

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