Since Google purchased the Nik Collection software, photographers and digital artists everywhere were raising concerns that it would be “killed off”. Now those concerns are real, as Google has announced there will be no further updates. Whilst the software still functions and is free, nobody can predict the future or what difficulties this might bring. Many photographers and Nik users are now actively looking for a Nik Collection alternative they can switch to. This article explores a few of these as well as considering do you even need a direct replacement for the Nik Collection.
This is the message you now see on the Nik Collection website.
The Nik Collection is Wide
Before searching for an alternative to the Nik Collection, it’s worth spending a moment to consider the tools. The collection offers a wide range of tools and different people will have different needs. You need only browse the internet and discussion forum arguments to realise this.
Here then is a list of the tools in the Nik Collection and their purpose. If you’re looking for an alternative it’s worth taking a moment to consider which you find Essential, Useful or May need in the future (but don’t currently use).
Find Your Essential Nik Tools
|Analog Efex Pro||Analog film, camera and lens simulation. Special effects.||Yes|
|Color Efex Pro||Creative effects filters for retouching and special effects.||Yes|
|Silver Efex Pro||Black and white conversion and darkroom special effects.||Yes|
|Viveza||Control tonality and colour in images.||Yes|
|HDR Efex Pro||Merging multiple exposures into a single image with increased dynamic range.||Yes|
|Sharpener Pro||Image sharpening to bring out fine details.||Yes|
|Dfine||Reduce and remove image noise.||Yes|
The example assessment here reflects my own personal use of the tools. It’s likely your needs will be different to mine so be sure to do this exercise yourself.
Consider Your Ratings
Now you understand which of the tools are the most important to you, it’s worth considering why. For example, what is it about this tool that makes it “Essential” in your work. Let me give you an example.
I rated Nik Viveza as essential because of the speed improvement it affords my workflow. I’m perfectly capable of achieving the same results using Adobe Photoshop. It would though take me much more time to create the selections and make the adjustments. That’s time I can’t invest in running my business so ultimately it costs me money.
As with the previous assessment of collection, it’s likely your reasons for rating the Nik tools will differ to mine. Spend a few minutes considering your ratings and the reason for each. Make a note of these as it will help you when you come to evaluate alternatives.
Understand Your Rating
|Product||Purpose / Reason||Essential||Useful||May Need|
|Analog Efex Pro||Analog film, camera and lens simulation. Special effects. |
Seldom need to use special effects. May be useful for website graphics.
|Color Efex Pro||Creative effects filters for retouching and special effects. |
Some of the filters provide useful adjustments to correct colour and contrast that are difficult to reproduce. Pro Contrast and Skylight Filter are main examples.
|Silver Efex Pro||Black and white conversion and darkroom special effects. |
Difficult and time consuming to reproduce the adjustments and variety of effects.
|Viveza||Control tonality and colour in images. |
Time consuming to reproduce the adjustment using other tools.
|HDR Efex Pro||Merging multiple exposures into a single image with increased dynamic range. |
Tend not to need HDR often as use traditional filters and some of my cameras have large dynamic range.
|Sharpener Pro||Image sharpening to bring out fine details. |
Lightroom and Photoshop sharpening are very good but can be time consuming. This tool equals or exceeds the quality in much less time.
|Dfine||Reduce and remove image noise. |
Tend to shoot most images at low ISO and get exposure right in camera. This minimises noise. Lightroom noise reduction is usually good enough.
Again, you can see some of my reasons in the table above.
What do you Mean an Alternative?
We now have a good understanding of why we rate the various tools in the Nik Collection the way we do. It’s time therefore to talk about what we mean by an alternative.
Scanning some of the discussions about alternatives to the Nik Collection, you start to notice a pattern. Most people are looking for a replacement plug-in or enhancement for Lightroom or Photoshop. If someone tells them they can achieve the same results in one of these “core tools” they seem to reject the idea. Take a moment to consider what YOU CONSIDER to be an alternative.
Personally, I can achieve virtually the same results using Lightroom and Photoshop as I can with the Nik Collection. I don’t though consider these as a replacement for the Nik Collection. I have two main reasons for this:
- They don’t provide me with the same speed of editing as I have with the Nik Collection.
- I must spend more time thinking about how to achieve an effect or adjustment than when using the Nik Collection. The Nik tools allow me to focus on the appearance of the image and largely forget about the technicalities of how to create the effect. Image editing therefore becomes more intuitive.
As you can see, I’m getting a couple of benefits that mean Lightroom and Photoshop on their own just don’t cut it for me.
Think about the benefits you’re getting from these tools. Are they sufficient to justify spending money on additional software and investing the time to learn this? Could it be that you’re better investing your time in learning to use Lightroom and Photoshop?
Lightroom & Photoshop
As mentioned, you can replicate pretty much everything the Nik Collection does in Lightroom and Photoshop providing you know how. It’s just that it takes longer and has a much steeper learning curve. You also need both applications as some adjustments might not be possible in Lightroom alone. Typically, these will tend to be special effects such as adding textures to simulate film scratches or creating film edges.
Here is a quick assessment against each of the Nik Collection tools and whether they could be replaced by Lightroom or Photoshop.
Replacing Nik with Adobe Tools
|Analog Efex Pro||Many of the effects achieved can be replicated in Lightroom but some such as texture overlays, will require Photoshop.||Partially||Yes|
|Color Efex Pro||Many of the effects achieved can be replicated in Lightroom but some such as texture overlays, will require Photoshop.||Partially||Yes|
|Silver Efex Pro||Most of the adjustments can be achieved in Lightroom but some effects will need to be performed in Photoshop.||Partially||Yes|
|Viveza||Although all adjustments could be achieved in both Lightroom and Photoshop, this will require a good knowledge of both.||Yes||Yes|
|HDR Efex Pro||Lightroom recently introduced HDR blending whilst this has been a feature of Photoshop for probably 10 years. The effect in Lightroom is easy but quite limited where the effects in Photoshop will require more experience. The Tone Mapping options and other configuration in HDR Efex can’t be fully matched.||Partially||Partially|
|Sharpener Pro||Both Lightroom and Photoshop provide good sharpening tools although you need more technical knowledge with Photoshop. Neither is as easy to use as Sharpener Pro.||Yes||Yes|
|Dfine||Lightroom has very effective Noise Reduction that gives good results. Whilst Photoshop has some noise reduction, good results are more difficult to achieve without a lot of technical knowledge. Neither is perhaps as flexible as Dfine.||Yes||Partially|
In the assessment above, you can consider the capabilities of ACR (Adobe Camera RAW – provided with Photoshop) to match closely those of Lightroom. As you can see, there is a lot that can be achieved with these two packages, but it takes knowledge and experience. I have seen some discussions mention replacing the Nik Collection tools with Lightroom and ACR presets.
This is very unlikely for two reasons:
- Presets do not introduce new functionality, they just apply settings to the tools that are already there. The limitations of the packages still exist.
- Some of the features/effects require quite a lot of technical skill to reproduce. You won’t achieve high quality results using presets where this is the case.
Photoshop Actions may provide some alternatives as these can be used to automate some of the more technical aspects of editing. For example, you can automate the creation of a luminosity mask to target certain tones.
One reason that many people chose to use the Nik Collection is that the tools remove the need to learn Photoshop (or Lightroom) in depth. I even have a few book that might help you:
If you don’t want to invest the effort or find learning software to be “not your thing”, investing in additional tools may well be worth the expense. Assuming you decide you want to use additional software, the next section of this article looks at a few alternatives.
Plug-ins are additional pieces of software that can be run from within tools such as Photoshop and Lightroom. These provide you with well thought out interfaces (usually) and sometimes features that don’t exist in the host application (Lightroom, Photoshop etc.). They are intended to enhance the use of the host application, making it easier and quicker to work with. More recently, some of the packages have begun to develop into stand-alone applications that don’t require a host application. Let’s look at a few that I have found to be very good.
Alien Skin Exposure
Alien Skin is the software house and Exposure is the package. Now at version Exposure X2, this software has developed beyond the original film simulations to provide a comprehensive set of editing tools. More recent versions allow the conversion of RAW files to images. The latest version even provides support for layers which greatly simplifies your workflow.
I have personally been a user of the Exposure software since version 6 (although I have yet to upgrade to Exposure X2). The interface is very well thought out although I find the latest version with support for Layers a little confusing. All versions make good use of Presets and it comes with a huge number of film stock presets. If you like to simulate film, this software should be high on your list as its one of the best if not the best.
It’s a very effective piece of software and includes features that aren’t found in the Nik Collection. One example of this is the Infrared simulation (halation effect) which I haven’t seen elsewhere. The film grain effect is also exceptional and provides an amazing degree of control.
This is still my go to software for processing my Infrared photography because it allows me to process digital images so that they look like film.
A trial version of the software can be downloaded from the Alien Skin website https://www.alienskin.com/.
The Photo Wiz collection of Plug ins is available from The Plugin Site. These are perhaps the most similar tools in approach to the Nik Collection. Unlike the Exposure software above, you will need to invest in several different packages.
Currently the packages on sale are:
- ColorWasher – Colour, contrast exposure and saturation correction.
- LightMachine – Shadow/highlight, virtual lighting and colour based editing.
- ContrastMaster – Contrast enhancement, dramatic looks, photorealistic and HDR like effects.
- BWStyler – B&W conversion, traditional B&W effects and B&W enhancement.
- ColorStyler – Color and photo effects.
- FocalBlade – Screen and Print Sharpening.
- NoiseControl – Noise removal and painting like effects.
The ColorWasher software together with LightMachine provide capabilities like that of Nik Viveza and to some degree Nik Color Efex Pro.
ContrastMaster produces effects like the Tone Mapping in HDR Efex but also the contrast adjustments available in Nik Color Efex Pro. It does though go well beyond anything I have seen in any other software. It’s worth investigating this package even if you don’t intent to switch from your current software.
BWStyler is a direct replacement for Nik Silver Efex Pro. It isn’t quite as flexible BUT it does provide some features not seen in the Nik software. Its film simulations are exceptional and the results appear extremely close to film. If your familiar with a traditional darkroom you will probably love the results from this software.
ColorStyler provides many of the adjustments in the Nik Color Efex software although you might need to use the package in combination with some of the others.
FocalBlade is the sharpening tool that would match Nik Sharpener Pro. The results from FocalBlade are the best I have seen from any application.
NoiseControl is the equivalent of the Nik Dfine.
The results from these tools are very good but you may find the learning curve steep. The interface isn’t as intuitive as the Nik Collection although for most of the products you can switch the level of expertise which limits or expands the visible features.
I personally have all the packages except for NoiseControl. All will produce very good results and can be purchased for Windows and Mac computers. They are also available as stand-alone applications or as plug-ins for Photoshop. If you want to use these tools with Lightroom you will need the stand-alone version of the software. The plug-in version will work with other editing tools such as Elements, Paint Shop Pro, and many more.
The PhotoWiz collection of tools can be found on The Plugin Site website at http://www.thepluginsite.com/products/photowiz/. Whilst your there, it’s well worth looking at some of the other products offered by this company, especially if you’re an Elements user.
On 1 Photo RAW
Perhaps the fullest featured replacement for the Nik Collection. This software has blurred the lines between Lightroom and to a lesser extent Photoshop. It includes a Browser tool to help you locate images as well as a Develop module for RAW conversion. It also makes use of the preset concept, shipping with quite a few presets but then provides more on a regular basis as loyalty bonus to its users.
The software is very well thought out and incredibly flexible. In addition to the presets which provide some good ideas and an initial starting point, there is a wide range of filters you can use. Each filter provides a significant degree of customisation and is added as a layer. Each of these layers has a layer mask attached allowing you to further target the adjustment. The results you can achieve with this software are excellent and range from special effects through to very natural adjustments. The only feature it doesn’t currently provide is HDR.
Although it may be difficult to see at such small resolution, the enhancements you can apply in the software range from special effects to subtle, natural improvement. Take this scene shot on a Sony RX10.
The initial image above is natural and well-focussed with lots of fine detail. Following enhancement in On 1 Photo RAW the image below now appears crisper, better defined and with improved colours. It also continues to have a very natural feel but now has a depth to it.
With perhaps the most comprehensive range of tools on offer and impressive editing results, this would be a good choice as a Nik Collection alternative. It isn’t though without its flaws. A few areas that personally annoy me are:
- I have found in the past that the software crashes a lot when new versions are released. It’s almost as though it’s been rushed out before its ready. As further minor releases are made it seems to become more stable.
- It’s quite demanding in terms of processing power and can be quite slow as a result.
- The company has a habit of making regular new major releases which you need to pay for. Over the past few years there has been a major release each year. The differences between the versions are often quite minor it seems. In addition, they tend to sell the upgrade well in advance of it being available. This year I think I ended up paying for the upgrade three months before it was shipped.
Despite these points, it’s a brilliant piece of software and well worth looking at as an alternative to the Nik Collection. If you haven’t seen the latest version I would encourage you to download the free trial from the website
There is even a free version of On 1 Effects 10.5 (the previous version of the software) which has some of the filters removed. Despite this, it’s still a very useful piece of software.
Of the various alternatives to Nik discussed here, Topaz Labs probably has the widest range of products. They are well known in photography circles and I personally have been using their products for probably 10+ years.
With such a wide range of products it can be difficult to know where to start. Here is a list of replacements for specific Nik Collection tools:
- Adjust provides general adjustment options for images and can achieve results similar to Nik Viveza and Nik Color Efex Pro.
- B&W Effects is a very powerful B&W converter that would replace Nik Silver Efex Pro.
- Texture Effects is often thought of as being used to blend textures with images but it can do so much more. It’s a very powerful application and can replace the Nik Analog Efex tool. I cover this entire application in detail in my book From Photography to Art with Topaz Texture Effects which also features a 15% discount code.
- InFocus as the name suggests would replace Nik Sharpener Pro. I also know some photographers who use Topaz Detail to sharpen their images.
- Although the name Topaz Detail suggests this application is all about sharpening, it also provides some nice enhancement tools that can adjust images in a similar way to Nik Viveza. I included details of how to do this in my book Topaz Detail for Landscape Photographers.
- Topaz DeNoise is similar to Nik Dfine except that it’s on steroids. This is one of the most powerful noise removal applications I have seen but it does take a little bit of effort to master. It’s well worth the effort though.
- The Topaz Clarity and ReStyle applications cover the same area as Nik Color Efex Pro.
In addition to the above, Topaz has several other products which might be useful, especially to those more interested in digital art. These include Clean, DeJPEG, Glow, Impression, Lens Effects, ReMask, Simplify and Star Effects.
The only thing that’s missing from this list is an HDR tool. But whilst Topaz don’t provide a means to blend images together, they can produce results that are like Tone Mapping effects with HDR. In fact, you sometimes need to work hard to prevent this look creeping in to your work. This is perhaps the main downside to some of the products. The look can be distinctive but it’s not to everyone’s taste.
Another great feature of the Topaz toolset is that they come with lifetime updates included. Each time an update is released, you get to download this for free. This includes major revisions. With this long list of useful tools, you would be wise to download the trial versions from their website.
The latest Topaz product may just be a bit of a game changer though. Topaz Studio is a new interface which provides and groups various adjustment filters. It’s stand-alone so removes the need for Photoshop. Best of all, it’s FREE.
There is a nice set of adjustment filters with which you can achieve a lot. You can then add further filters as you need them. These can be purchased either individually or as a complete set. It’s well worth downloading and exploring the free version of the software.
To summarise the Nik Collection Alternatives discussed in this article, the following table may help. It makes a high-level assessment of whether the features in the alternative packages could be used to replace the effects achieved with the Nik Collection tools.
|Product||Alien Skin Exposure||Photo Wiz||On 1 Photo RAW||Topaz|
|Analog Efex Pro||Yes||Partially||Yes||Yes|
|Color Efex Pro||Mostly||Mostly||Mostly||Yes|
|Silver Efex Pro||Mostly||Yes||Partially||Yes|
|HDR Efex Pro||No||No||No||No|
Based on my own needs, budget and abilities, any of these options would make a good Nik Collection alternative. I suspect having used all of these I would gravitate towards the Alien Skin or On 1 products because I feel they offer the best combination of speed and image quality. That said, it’s a pretty close-run thing across all the products.
One aspect that wasn’t covered in this review is the quality of the resulting image file. When you edit an image using the Nik Collection tools, it’s quite easy to emphasise noise in an image. Some of the tools, for example Silver Efex Pro are a little worse for this than others and strong adjustments will give rise to unwanted artefacts. This is perhaps the area in which the Nik Collection is now showing its age.
In comparison, all the packages here appear to be better at achieving/maintaining high levels of image quality. All are fairly close in this respect but I have personally found the Exposure and On 1 Photo RAW allow stronger editing effects to be applied whilst maintaining the highest levels of image quality. This is my view having used the software across a wide range of images, from various cameras, shot in different lighting conditions.
If one thing is clear though, you will need to investigate the options and work out which tools are going to suite your needs best. Don’t expect to follow someone else’s recommendations. It’s likely they will have different priorities to you.
Please Share This Article
A lot of photographers are concerned by the demise of the Nik Collection. If you know people who are worried and wonder what alternatives there might be, please share this article. I would also welcome any other suggestions that I could investigate and share in the future.