Friday, March 25, 2016

Big News: Google's Nik Software Collection Is Now 100% Free!

This is big: Google just reduced the price of their Nik photo editing software bundle from $150 to $0! Yes, you read that right--it's now 100% free. Unbelievable!

What is Nik? It's a series of seven photo post-processing programs that can be used as Photoshop plugins or as stand-alone software (which is how I'm using them). The programs are Silver Efex, Color Efex, Analog Efex, HDR Efex, Sharpener, Dfine, and Viveza.

Nik software works like a number of other Photoshop plugins in that it has a bunch of presets that can be customized by using sliders (apply less or apply more). This makes what might be complex and time-consuming editing actions quick and simple. It's fast and easy to get the look that you want. Other similar software options are made by DxO, VSCO and Alien Skin (which is my personal favorite).

Four years ago the Nik software bundle was $500. Google purchased Nik in the summer of 2012 and reduced the price to $150. Yesterday Google made the software completely free! Those who recently purchased Nik will apparently soon be receiving a full refund.

Since it doesn't cost anything, there is no reason not to download this software. It's pretty good stuff, and some of the tools are nothing short of fantastic. You have zero to lose, and at the worst you'll find that you don't like it and you simply uninstall it. However, I think most people will find it to be at least a somewhat helpful set of photo editing tools.

Let's take a look at four of the seven programs in the Nik Collection.

Silver Efex Pro 2

Silver Efex is a black-and-white conversion software. It has some good controls and does a fine job of quickly making nice-looking images. Unlike some other similar programs, Silver Efex doesn't try to mimic any specific black-and-white film, but attempts to capture the "feel" of black-and-white film in general. It's does an effective job of this.

What I like about this software is that results are achieved without investing a lot of time or effort. The number of presets available aren't overwhelming and the controls to customize images are simple and logical. It lacks some things that you might want (such as layers), but if you are using it as a plugin (and not stand-alone) that is not big deal.

Below are a couple of before and after examples.

Wave Crash - Cambria, California
Wave Crash Monochrome - Cambria, California
El Capitan & Merced River At Valley View - Yosemite National Park, California
El Capitan & Merced River Monochrome - Yosemite National Park, California
Color Efex Pro 4

You might think that Color Efex would work basically the same way as Silver Efex, but you'd be wrong. Instead of picking one preset and then customizing it, you pick multiple presets and stack them onto each other. I can see the graduated neutral density filter as being particularly useful.

While this program is fairly straightforward, intuitive and well designed, it took a little playing around to figure out how it all works. It's not quite as simple and fast as the black-and-white software, but it still a good time-saving tool with useful features.

Below is an example of what you can do with this software.

Red Chairs - Cambria, California
Red Chairs (Color Efex Version) - Cambria, California

Analog Efex Pro 2

The next software is Analog Efex, which has presets that look like classic film. Like Silver Efex, it's not designed to replicate any specific film, but the "feel" of old films. It's controls are simple and straightforward and you can produce a finished image quickly.

I like the simplicity of the software, but, at the same time, I wish that it had a few more features and controls. I don't see this as a program that one would use frequently; however, occasionally it might be just what a photo needs to look right.

Below is an image post-processed using Analog Efex.

Tire Pile - Mojave, California
Tire Pile (Analog Efex Version) - Mojave, California

HDR Efex Pro 2

I'm not a fan of HDR photography, but it is popular, so you may find HDR Efex an appealing program. You can merge bracketed photographs into one image, or using one photograph you can make a faux HDR image.

Like Silver Efex and Analog Efex, HDR Efex is simple and quick. It's about speed. You can post-process a photograph fast. It might not have every tool that you can wish for, but it's quite effective with what it does do.

Below is an example of a faux HDR image created with this software. 

Cambria Sunset - Cambria, California
Cambria Sunset HDR - Cambria, California

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