Google Nik Collection review

sharpener-pro

Sharpener Pro 3

Sharpener Pro is not an effects tool, but an image enhancement tool in the save vein as Dfine. Just as Dfine aims to bring a bit of control and precision to noise reduction, Sharpener Pro does the same for image sharpening.

And it does it by splitting sharpening into two steps – into two plug-ins, as a matter of fact – a RAW Presharpener and an Output sharpener.

This is an important distinction often overlooked by photographers trying to make their pictures look as sharp as possible, because you need to sharpen images in different ways at different times. There’s ‘capture’ sharpening’, which you use to overcome any lens softness, slight blur or other weaknesses in the original picture, and then there’s ‘output sharpening’ which needs to be matched carefully to your picture’s intended use.

The RAW Presharpener covers capture sharpening and creative sharpening. It’s good at sharpening up the slight softness you see with all digital camera images at a pixel level, but it doesn’t have the radius, amount and threshold sliders of a regular Unsharp Mask tool, so it’s no good for trying to disguise more serious blur from focus errors or camera shake.

The controls are at least simple. The Adaptive Sharpening slider effectively controls the strength of the sharpening effect, while the Sharpen Areas/Sharpen Edges slider sets the balance between edge sharpening and texture sharpening.

If all of this produces too much noise you can try clicking the High ISO radio button below.

You can control which areas are sharpened or protected using control points – you use a ‘plus’ (+) point to confine the sharpening to a specific area, leaving the rest of the image unaffected, and you use a ‘minus’ (-) point to remove sharpening from a specific area but leave it applied to the rest.

It has the potential to be a neat and effective way of creating differential sharpness, but the RAW Presharpener sharpening is too subtle and limited for it to be useful. If you want a clearly visible ‘bokeh’ effect or more obvious creative blur, you’re going to use a tool like Analog Efex Pro instead.

The Output Sharpener is interesting because it matches the sharpening to the size of the image and the display or medium it will be displayed on. This is important, because the sharpening settings needed for display on a computer monitor are very different to those needed for an A4-sized print – and different again for a billboard poster.

This is because sharpening is an carefully-balanced optical illusion. It exaggerates the contrast around object edges to make them appear sharper, but at the same time this creates artefacts and edge halos which – you hope – are small enough not to be noticed. The ‘sweet spot’ for sharpening settings is different for every output device and print size.

So the Output Sharpener deserves some credit for addressing this directly with drop-down menus for the output device, paper type, viewing distance and printer resolution.

Once you’ve got that right, you have sliders for Output Sharpening Strength, Structure, Local Contrast and Focus (whatever that is). These are part of a Creative Sharpening panel, which is a tad odd since most photographers would apply creative sharpening before the output stage.

The Output Sharpener is the strongest of the two tools by some margin, but even here you may prefer to use the sharpening tools in your host application instead. Besides, if you’re producing images for publication, you need to leave the sharpenings to the designer because you won’t know what size the image is being printed at or the particular foibles/requirements of the printer.

8 thoughts on “Google Nik Collection review

  1. Hello Rod

    I downloaded the Nik Collection several months ago and have use as a stand alone product (Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro) not as a plugin. What are the downsides to this? Image quality? Read a couple times online that you can use as stand alone but no detail beyond this as to advantages / disadvantages.

    Photography a hobby for me since 2005 using Canon / Olympus products. My enjoyment / challenge comes from playing with the camera in the field but can’t say the same for post processing (1 of the 2 reasons why I haven’t invested in Lightroom or any other editing program). I fine post processing does help and generally my adjustments are minor ….for exposure, contrast, etc. I shoot RAW and use Canons DPP and GIMP / Nik collection for the Olympus micro 4/3. Lately using the snapseed app for ipad and enjoy this product very much.

    So what am I missing out on by using the Nik Collection as a stand alone?

    Came across your site a few days ago and very informative. My interest is in macro / close up, black & white photography (starting to read up on this), some landscape and down the road i want to try long exposure photography.

    Blaine

    1. Hi Blaine,

      The Nik Collection tools do seem to work fine as standalone programs. I find it easier to launch them from a ‘host’ app like Lightroom, but I don’t think it’s essential.

    2. Like many others since I updated to Photoshop CC 2018 my Nik software crashes after trying to apply the effect. I saw one post stating that the fix will be mid 2018??? I have been using Nik since it came out and use it professionally. I really can’t wait that long. Any help???

      1. Are you running it in MAC or Windows? Some time back, I found I had to abandon Windows for my photo-processing, because it kept freezing & crashing the software

  2. Rod,
    I found your excellent site while looking for a solution to my NIK software problem. My setup: PSCS6, MAC OS X 10.6.8 and NIK complete collection purchased in 2013. I generally launch the HDR Efex Pro plugin from Bridge “tools”. After merging the images I say “SAVE” and the saved image opens in PSCS6 in tiff format. This worked perfectly until a few months ago. Now when I say “save” it shuts down my PSCS6 and quits. I cannot download the NIK package again since it requires minimum OS X10.7.5. Unfortunately I cannot upgrade to that version because my 24 inch HP Designjet 130NR printer and some other equipment will not work on OS X 10.7.5. The current version of HDR Efex Pro is 2.2.20.456×64 (v1.2.8)

    1. What is the version number of the currently available HDR Efex Pro available for free download from Google?
    2. How do you set up the NIK software as a Standalone application? Now they are Photoshop plugins.
    3. MY PSCS6 works OK except when I use NIK so I think it is problem with a corrupted NIK application. What do you think?

    Any guidance and information is appreciated. Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Ajit,

      The current version of HDR Efex Pro is 2.2.24, so it sounds as if the version you have is relatively recent. The Nik Collection had an auto-update feature, so it’s possible your version was upgraded without you being aware of it and has become incompatible with your system. That’s only a guess.

      Have you tried simply double-clicking the HDR Efex Pro app icon? It will run as a standalone app on my system, but if it doesn’t work on yours it could be another sign that your version is too new for OS X10.7.5.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know how to roll back Nik Collection plug-ins to an earlier version, sorry.

      1. Rod,
        Thanks for your prompt reply. I did some more digging around and followed up your suggestion to see if clicking on the NIK HDR icon will work. When I originally installed NIK it was as a plugin to Photoshop. Now the plugin does not work. But if I convert the RAW files to tiff then the Standalone works! The Standalone does not work with RAW files. I think the reason my version is 2.2.20 and not 2.2.24 is because my OS X is 10.6.8 and not 10.7.5 so it appears that Google did not update my software to an incompatible OS.

        Thanks again for your help.

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