I continue to be impressed with parts of the NIK™ suite of software. In the beginning, I was prepared to find that it was a gimmick for “lightweight” users and not for Photoshop Purists. I have acknowledged the error of my ways (and my own narrow-mindedness) in a couple of recent blog posts on Viveza and Color Efex.
I continue to be impressed with parts of the NIK™ suite of software
I fell in love with the power of Viveza 2, and its ability to achieve the color and “look” enhancement that I have not been able to consistently duplicate with Photoshop and “conventional” methods such as selections, masks, etc. I have used Color Efex Pro to a lesser extent, but still, really like the simple power of its digital graduated neutral density filter (GND). While I have occasionally used the other filters in Color Efex, I could have been perfectly satisfied to have had it as an option in Viveza and skip the whole download and install of Color Efex. But now that the tool is there, I do find myself using it more than I might have thought.
For my limited HDR needs, I’ll stick to Photomatix for now
I have not tried SilverEfex, and probably won’t in the near future. For whatever reason, the whole B&W think just hasn’t tweaked my interest. I tried the HDR Efex and after playing around a bit, uninstalled it. I find its effect to be too blunt and “in your face.” It might “just be me,” but I am not a fan of the “cartoon-like” imagery that many “HDR” affcionados tend to showcase. My HDR usage has been more of a sophisticated blending tool, to try to get the dynamic range my eye could see that technology cannot yet attain in a single image capture. For my limited HDR needs, I’ll stick to Photomatix (for now).
When I first downloaded Viveza 2, I also downloaded Pixel Genius’ Photokit Sharpener, which was recommended by my pro friend, mentor, talented photographer and post-processing guru, James Moore. His take was that the Photokit software was ever so slightly better. I have no doubt that Jim knows of what he says. I have seen his work (and you should, too). But I have come to find a comfort in the U-point technology which all of the NIK software has in common. The more I use it and the more familiar I get with it and its effect, the better I like it. I especially like the degree of localized control you have with it. So I thought it was worthwhile to try the NIK sharpening software, Sharpener Pro. And as I have used it, studied it, and learned its nuances, I have become a believer.
I have come to find a comfort in the localized control offered by U-point technology
Pixel Genius’s Photokit uses the algorithms, masks and processes that Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe and company have explained in their Real World Sharpening Book and their white papers. These guys were (and those of them remaining—sadly, the world lost Bruce Fraser to cancer a year or two back—a great loss for his friend and family, and for the digital photographic community) still are, the gurus of sharpening. And with the choice of either a white or black mask always present, it is possible to brush the effects of the sharpening in and out very effectively and to control the opacity of the mask.
Having said that, I think the NIK software “control points” (using U-point technology) give me more control, especially with localized work. I have them both on my computer and will continue to use both, as I think may be most appropriate. But I can see that the workflow and consistency of method will probably continue to steer me to NIK’s estimable software programs.
I have done a fair amount of low light shooting. In fact the biggest factor that pushed me toward the so-called “full frame” technology offered by Nikon’s FX sized sensors was image quality, and low noise performance was clearly a selling point. Because of the really good low light rendering ability of these Nikon sensors (and even my D200 DX sensor was pretty darn good), and the in-camera noise reduction, the issue of noise was not something that seemed to be a problem for me.
Workflow and consistency of method will probably continue to steer me to NIK’s estimable software programs
But when I carried only my compact, Canon G-12 with its small sensor during my Caribbean cruise in 2012, I saw first-hand, the loss of image quality when noise becomes a problem. A combination of factors, including low light and very high ISO on a small sensor (that is admittedly getting a bit long in the tooth), make for seriously damaging noise conditions. The images here, of the Norwegian Cruise Lines “Allure of the Seas” taken from the deck of our own Ruby Princess (Princess Cruise Lines) in the early morning twilight at Ft. Lauderdale’s Port Everglades Cruise Port, couldn’t better illustrate the disastrous effect of noise on an image. All three images are from the same canon proprietary raw file. In every case, I left it at the native resolution of the G12, with no capture sharpening and no cropping. In each image, I made some basic ACR adjustments to set white and black points, squelch the highlights a bit and ad mid-ton contrast and saturation with the clarity and vibrance sliders. Once in Photoshop I boosted the saturation a bit in NIK ColorEfex Pro. I used NIK Sharpener Pro to do some localized sharpening on all 3 images.
The first image posted here is straight from the camera, with only the adjustments noted above. There were no ACR adjustments for color or contrast noise and no ACR sharpening. As you can see, it is just plain “ugly.” In the second image, I used the localized adjustment brush and added a generous amount of noise reduction in ACR (note that noise reduction generally softens the areas it is applied too; hence the adjustment brush to try to keep those areas that didn’t really need noise reduction sharp). You can see the effect of the raw converter’s noise reduction (and on a less disastrously noisy image, I have found that it is actually quite good). But it is still very visibly noisy. This is an image in which, in particular, the color (chrominance) noise is simply unacceptable.
In the last image, again, zero noise reduction was made in ACR. Instead, I put it into NIK Dfine and really cranked up the global noise reduction (I am still learning how to use the software to apply localized adjustments, but this is an image that is just—overall—noisy). I am impressed. While I am not suggesting this is an image under any circumstances that is acceptable in image quality as a photographic image (it may have some “artsy” potential, using some of the painting filters in Photoshop—but not as a photographic quality image), I was surprised at how “acceptable” this result is. While it is an extreme example, it demonstrates to me the value of having Dfine as part of my post processing toolbox and learning it use it subtly to increase the end result of post image processing.
A significant concern is whether new owner, Google will continue the quality and detail established by the NIK software company
I have one significant concern about NIK’s future—whether its new owner will continue the quality and detail that the NIK team established. As most are aware, software and internet giant, Google purchased NIK software sometime in 2012. When I first downloaded Viveza2, I have a couple of email exchanges with the NIK software folks. They could not have been more responsive, courteous or helpful. Not so, Google! It kind of dismays me, as I have been a Google “groupie” for some time, using iGoogle as my primary homepage (until in 2012, they unceremoniously announced they would be discontinuing it some time this year), Chrome as my main internet browser, a first adopter of Google+ (seemingly to me, a bust), and making Google my primary search engine. I communicated with them recently and got an auto responder message telling me they were “pretty busy” and responses would be 1-2 business days. That was a week ago. No other response–whatsoever. Are you trying to tell me something, Google? 🙂
The NIK software does lack a bit for documentation. There are two print books and an eBook out. I reviewed the original print book a while back. It was written by a former NIK employee and seems to be the best of the 3 for “getting under the hood.” I’ll review the newest offering by John Batdorf in an upcoming blog and compare the 3. But in terms of its implementation, I think NIK originally hit a solid base hit. While I would not find use for the entire suite of software, my own toolbox will continue to include, Viveza, Sharpener Pro (both of which will get regular and consistent use) and Dfine and Color Efex Pro.
Filed under: EQUIPMENT REVIEWS, PHOTOGRAPHY | Tagged: Andy Richards, Caribbean, color, ColorEFex, dFine, HDR, high ISO, Light, LightCentric Photography, low light photography, NIK, noise, noise reduction, PHOTOGRAPHY, Photokit Sharpener, Pixel Genius, Princess Cruises, Sharpener Pro, U-point, Viveza |