Nik Software Review

Try the Nik Collection for Free!

In March of 2013 Google announced that all Nik Software plug-ins would be bundled together into the Nik Collection for just $149! The bundle includes HDR Efex Pro 2, Color Efex Pro 4, Silver Efex Pro 2, Viveza 2, Sharpener Pro 3 and Dfine 2.

Note: Google has discontinued all discount coupon codes for Nik Software.

Nik Software Review

All the Nik software is good and fun to use. The “fun to use” is perhaps a strange thing to say in a review, but many of you already know that my reviews are often atypical. I tend to be short and sweet in these reviews, just quickly giving my opinions and providing examples of a few of the options that I use. And, frankly, I think editing photos is quite fun, so it’s always nice to have post-processing software that makes me smile.

Another aspect of my reviews is they are chock full of huge screen shots.  I learn by example, and maybe you do too?  This selection of shots should give you a pretty good idea of the range of the software.

Now, there are SEVERAL products in the Nik Software suite. This review will describe four of them. I will spend more time on some than others. Here are the ones I will discuss, in order of the time I will spend on them:

  • Color Efex Pro - A very cool package that comes with tons of effects. You can even do HDR-like effects with one of them.
  • Silver Efex Pro - For incredible and easy B&W conversion. Think B&W conversion sounds boring? It isn’t with this thing…
  • Sharpener Pro - Some very nice algorithms for making your photos pop
  • Viveza  2 - Slick software for doing localized control of things like contrast and saturation.
  • Complete Collection – Note I am not reviewing this specifically, but this is a package you can get from Nik Software that includes all of the above products together as one.

Nik Color Efex Pro

Color Efex Pro is probably the coolest of all the Nik Software products and the one I use the most.  In short, it opens up a new dialog that is filled with a wide variety of filters.  The filters do SO many different things, that it would be silly to list them all out here.  So, instead, I’ll just briefly discuss a few of them.

Below, I have a variety of screenshots of some of the effects.  Essentially, what you will easily see is that there are a ton of filters down the lefthand side.  The filter is immediately applied and then there are many sub-options on the right.  The sub-options give each of the filters a much more granular level of control.

Because each filter on the left is unique, the sub-options on the right are even more unique.  Each effect on its own has a million possible outcomes based on your sliders on the right.  There is a pretty good example of this in the “Old Photo” screenie below.

Now, it is said that too many choices can paralyze people.  I think this can be true.  BUT, if you go into a tool like this with an open mind, and freely surf around some options, I think you will really come away impressed with some of the creative things that will happen to your images. Like anything else, the more you practice, the more you can begin to have a bit of volition in your efforts.

One great feature of all the Nik products is that it duplicates the layer for you. Often times, the “effect” may be overdone and you will want to dial it back, or mask with the original image. This allows you to do that.

So, what effects do I use most? I hate to list them out here because the list is going to be a bit skewed to where I have the most familiarity, but maybe that is okay. For one, I like “Tonal Contrast” a lot. It does something very similar to HDR, in which it manipulates contrast and light levels on a very small scale. It has it’s own set of sliders as well that enable you to effect how “punchy” the HDR effect is.

I have attached a few images of Nik Color Efex Pro “Tonal Contrast” below:

Other filters that I use on occasion are “Film Effect”, “Colorize”, “Glamour Glow”, and, “Indian Summer”. I’ve actually tried all of them… and there are many cool ones. So don’t neglect those just because I haven’t given them any screenshot love…

Color Efex Before
This is the before shot.  It is an Argentine artist in her studio.  It was shot at 70mm at f2.4.

Color Efex Pro 3.0- Tonal Contrast
The Tonal Contrast options for this shot made it a bit over-baked, but it does show off what it can do.  I dialed it down for the final product.

Color Efex Pro 3.0-4
Sub options for Tonal Contrast

Color Efex Pro 3.0-2
This is a zoom-in of the Loupe for the wall texture.
You can see how the microcontrast has really made it pop.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 Glamor Glow
This is the “Glamor Glow” video.  I don’t really ever use it… it is kinda that “mall shot” effect.

Photoshop brilliance before
The Original Shot right outta the camera (50mm f1.4)

Color Efex Pro 3.0 Brilliance Warmth
After Brilliance/Warmth filter with the slider slid towards the warmth side

Color Efex Pro 3.0 -HK  Tonal Contrast
Tonal Contrast is one of my favorite and can create an HDR-like effect

Indian Summer
The Indian Summer filter gives your photo a warm glow

Color Efex Pro 3.0 bleach bypass
The Bleach Bypass filter gives quite a dramatic effect.  It’s not very natural, but cool nonetheless.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 film effects
Film Effects can add a nice grain and texture.  You can see that I selected some Kodak film that people probably learn about in film school.

Colorize
The colorize option can give the photo a nice sheen while still maintaining elements of the original color.

Crypt before
Here is the “before” shot of a strange area full of crypts in Buenos Aires

Sunshine Filter
The sunshine filter gives a strong but interesting effect

Old Photo
Here is an after version with the “Old Photo” filter turned on

Old Photo colors
Old Photo has a ton of sub-options on the right

Color Efex Pro 3.0 Tonal Contrast
Last, I’ll show another example of what is possible with “Tonal Contrast”.  This is a huge solar-tracking sculpture.


Nik Silver Efex Pro

Wow this thing is cool. Those of you that are regular readers to the blog know that I don’t do a lot of Black & White photography. I have nothing at all against it… I see things in a very vibrant and alive way, and I’ve spent a long time perfecting a technique that helps bring this to photographic reality. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good B&W pick. Often times, the default B&W conversion in Photoshop can just be… well, boring. And predictable. Sometimes I take something and convert it to B&W and then look at it and think, “Yeah, well, that’s how I kinda thought it would look”.

So, I reluctantly tried Silver Efex Pro, because I expected it to be a slightly improved version of what Photoshop can do — but I was wrong! This is very fun to use and you can get a wide variety of looks. Frankly, I really like the Holga and Pinhole settings on the left, and then tweaking it further on the right. There are many many wonderful options here that can really make a B&W image “alive” and pop off a page.

By the way, I have similar information up on the Silver Efex Pro Review.

Below, I have put several screenshots of the things I have done with the product, so you can begin to get an idea.

Silver Efex Pro - High Structure
Silver Efex Pro enables you to make a choice on the left to give you a basic look, then you can really make it unique on the right.

Silver Efex Pro - antique Plate 2
The Antique Photo treatment sounds like a gimmick.  But it came out fairly amazing, don’t ya think?

Silver Efex Pro - center the vignette
The Holga and Pinhole treatments are two of my favorites.


Silver Efex Pro 3
Silver Efex’s B&W options can enable some cool results

Silver Efex Pro 2
When it comes to Vignette, the “Stylizing” dropdown has a ton of very easy-to-use options


Nik Sharpener Pro

I have also tried Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0. It is a fine product. It does exactly what it advertises. I find the sharpening to be a grade better than what is in Photoshop by default.

I am always surprised when I use this software! I usually shoot on a rock-steady tripod. This gives my camera incredible sharpness. I zoom into 100% in Photoshop and it looks great to me! And THEN I run Sharpener Pro and I am shocked. It has a little loupe where you can compare the “before and after”… and then I look at what I thought was sharp before and suddenly it looks blurry in comparison.

I have posted a few shots below for you.


Sharpener Pro 3.0 - postThe Output sharpener brought great details.  Check the Loupe on the right (before left / after right)

Sharpener Pro 3.0 - zoom 100
The Raw Presharpener ads some nice details and pop.  Before is on the left and the after is on the right.

Viveza 2

Viveza is a very interesting and useful filter.

It is also strange! I don’t know who came up with the GUI for this thing, but it is, frankly, weird but cool. Let’s just say it is “cool” after you get the hang of it. I spend a lot of time with various UIs, so I figured it out pretty easily, although I am sure it would be confusing to a lot people.

The best way to explain Viveza 2 is that it lets you change one part of a photo without changing another part. These localized changes can be subtle or extreme, based on your preferences.

I find that sometimes, especially with my HDR work, that some areas can become oversaturated. Viveza 2 allows me to go in and desaturate one area while leaving the other bits saturated. This is a pretty handy fix.

It’s not just Saturation — I should not use that as an example I suppose, because there are so many things you can change. Contrast, Warmth, Shadows, Structure, and more are easy to control.

Viveza 2 Review

The Viveza 2 UI is the usual Nik look. Sleek. Black. German.

Control Points

Nik has this interesting UI way of interacting with your image called “Control Points”. These are little “Dots” (for lack of a better word) that you drop on the part of your photo that you want to mess with. When you click on that “dot”, a local tree of options explodes outward. It’s very cool. The top control allows you to adjust the “radius” of the working area. The other nodes of the tree allow you to change saturation, contrast, brightness, structure, and all those sorts of things. You can see a lot more by zooming in on the screenshots.

Viveza 2 Review

Dropping control points to fix parts of the image is a simple matter of clicking that control points button in the upper right, and then clicking inside the photo anywhere.

A Replacement for Masking

I find that “Masking” in Photoshop is one of the hardest things to teach people. I understand why, because I remember my struggles in understanding it in the beginning. Well, these control points really allow you to accomplish the whole thing without masks. In my experience, dropping a control point down is a lot easier than doing a mask.

Viveza 2 Review

You can see that in this area in the river, I have dropped a control point to reduce the saturation. It can also be changed on the right in the sidebar.

The Sweet Structure Slider

There are many sliders to control – but don’t forget to play with the “Structure” slider! It’s the secret gem in here! Sliding that thing around can really help add detail and “pop” to part of the photo. In the example screenshot, you can see I added a lot of structure detail and pop to the middle of Notre Dame.

Note that you don’t just have to add “Structure” to structures. So maybe this was a bad example! But, you can apply it to the eye of a model, the texture of a couch, or the leaf of a flower. That “pop” in an area of a photo is a very nice effect!

Viveza 2 Review

I have made a few changes on this control point, but my favorite is that "Structure" slider.

If you end up wanting to buy, see my Nik Coupon page for the latest codes to save some money…

Any questions about the nature of these reviews? Visit my Ethics Statement. It’s all quite simple!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/sammers05/ Samantha

    Never heard of this…it looks like mostly stuff one could do in Photoshop with the right skills, but here it seems much easier! I plan to download some of the free trials after I get back from my trip to Europe next week and playing around with it! I love tonal contrast, looks a lot like Topaz Adjust, and I like some of those vintage effects too.

  • david

    i have been using Nik EFX pro for about a year. What i like is you can use any filter selectively for just part of a photo. for instance, glamour glow can be used for the background only of a portrait. it will lighten the lights and darken the darks slightly. since it blurs to some extent at 100% effect (you can choose 1-100% level by the way), you can leave a specific subject in the photo crystal sharp and blur with the glow any other parts. like you said, a million options. i also like effects after processing HDR with photomatix. so these filters can be used with any photo any time. great software. thanks for the review. i picked up a few pointers.

  • Luisa

    Yes Samantha, that’s what I was thinking too.
    Trey, maybe it’s not very PC to ask, but which one would you advise between Nik Software and Topaz Adjust? Considering the things that both can do, of course.

  • http://bbluesman.com Mark Forman

    Luisa-Topaz and NIK have a little bit of overlap but I think are mostly different. Topaz and Lucis Art are also different for HDR treatments. I like Lucis better for portrait HDR and Topaz for non-portrait but will probably process Lucis stuff more with NIK than Topaz stuff. Curious to see what Trent and others have to say.

  • http://ajkphotography.com Alan

    I have used NIK software for quite a while and love it. Your right about total contrast. Their new interface with lightroom works great also. I have used NIK and Lucis together at times and also Topaz and NIK together for some extra local punch. As always, great tutorial.

  • http://www.vaxxine.com/wtester Wayne

    Trey … first of all it is Viveza, not Vivenza.

    I have been using the Nik bundle in Aperture for about 6 months and love it. This is also a cheaper way to buy it as compared to the stand alone product.

    I still have much to learn, but as you say the product is so much fun, the learning will be a time of enjoyment.

    I also have Topaz and agree they handle things differently — when I know both of them better I’m sure I will use them a lot. Topaz also has great support.

  • http://www.danleitch.com dan leitch

    you so have to post that solar tracking sculpture photo! its such a cool shot!
    where is it by the way?

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Stuck In Customs

    Thanks for the comments.

    Luisa — I can’t really suggest one over the other because they are all so different, you know? If you can only afford one and you want to just what Topaz can do, then I guess that is your best option. If you want to do a BUNCH of different things, then Nik looks good! :)

    Wayne – thanks! Let me fix that…!

    Dan – That is in Argentina

  • http://www.bobmcclenahan.com BobMac

    I really love the Nik plugins. I have a bunch of others but only really ever use the Niks. Tonal contrast is my fave.

    One thing I would have mentioned that I use a lot and that’s how you can select/deselect certain parts of the image to apply the filter. For example, you can apply the tonal contrast to an image then deselect the filter for the person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Beem/1182106007 William Beem

    Nice review of Nik’s filters. I bought the Complete Collection about a year ago (along with OnOne Software’s PhotoTools Suite) and I’m still learning new combinations of effects to create different styles.

    I primarily use Viveza to selectively brighten or darken areas of my image, since I’ve found that’s an excellent way to give some dimension to my subject. The ColorEFX filters are my mainstay. Tonal Contrast is really great for making colors pop, but I think it can be overdone a bit. Pro Contrast does a good job of eliminating color casts, though other filters can do the same thing. I also tend to use Darken/Lighten Center quite a bit for a subtle way of moving the eye toward my subject.

    SilverEFX is just fascinating. There are some interesting presets to get you started, but I’ve found that I enjoy working with the various color filters and sliders to get my best results for a duotone image.

    I’m amazed what I can do with DFine to reduce noise. A lot of the images from my old D200 that I put aside are suddenly useful after running DFine. I still need and use Photoshop for other issues, but it’s much nicer to use these tools for quick and stunning results where they apply.

  • http://www.simplegestures.org carl

    if you had to make a choice between NIK complete collection which includes Dfine 2.0, Viveza, Color Efex Pro 3.0, Silver Efex Pro, and Sharpener Pro 3.0. for $245

    or

    Photomatix Pro Plus for Aperture for $101

    which would you choose? I’m just getting into HDR, love it, but not all I want to do. I do a lot of portrait and sports stuff, so leaning towards the NIK package. Advice?

  • http://www.c6cowboy.com Jeffrey K. Edwards

    Trey – great timing on the review. For those of us that use lightroom or apeture, they currently have the complete plugin bundle on sale for a smoking 299.00. I believe one could also add your coupon for a further discount w/o difficulty.

    This is a pre-purchase price. However, they have released Color Efx, Silver Efx, Viveza and Sharpner already.

    I have used both stand alone versions and now the lightroom plugins extensively. There is no better set of plugins availble, especially at this price. Almost all my postprocessing involves at least one of the Nik products now. It has cut down my use of Photoshop dramatically, in fact, can’t remember the last time I used it – several months at least.

    Check my blog for examples of most of the products being used, although I don’t always mention which plugin utilized.

  • http://mirmilant.wordpress.com Antonio

    Thanks for this – really cool! And also, many thanks for the coupon – I think I will be using it!!

    I use Lightroom for all my photo work but I have slowly been becoming more demanding of what I want to do. I do not have Photoshop and do not want to pay $700. The Nik collection is a great alternative and it is now coming out with LR plugins. I have been trying out SliverEfex Pro – it is so good! I am also interested in the Sharpening as I’m a bit disappointed with how LR handles this. However, I notice that you didn’t review the noise reduction programme, Define. Any particular reason?

    BobMac – can you explain what you mean by “you can apply the tonal contrast to an image then deselect the filter for the person”. This sounds like masking? Is that right? Did I miss something?

  • http://www.kelliephoto.com Vern

    Don’t forget one of the best features of using the NIK filters — you can selectively PAINT in any of the controls/features with your pen/tablet — the addition of being able to also use the Photoshop filters in Lightroom as well is a nice extra bonus to the workflow. Bravo to NIK for making that decision!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Asyraf-Ahmad/1025008181 Asyraf Ahmad

    Hello Trey…thanks for the review on Nik Software. I’ve already put my hands on Color Efex Pro 3.0 and no doubt it is a good tool. I really love using tonal contrast and film effect. I would like to buy SilverEfex Pro after this.

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  • Luisa

    better late than never: thanks to Trey and everybody for advice! I guess my problem is not so much which one to get as which one to spend time with – I have an old computer and sometime things take a lot of time… (should be getting a new one, I now)

  • http://www.southardphoto.net Steve Southard

    Trey, great review. Been using NIK (complete collection) for over a year and it has really improved my workflow. For the benefit of others, I think the Contrast Pro does the best job of color correction of any technique/add-in I’ve ever seen or paid for. It has a permanent place in my workflow and has saved me countless hours.

  • http://www.koolbergen.nl patrick

    okay like you’re site just into HDR
    but i like the reviews you make
    very clear with nice sample’s
    so i will be back on you’re site
    i give it to all my friends that like takeing picture’s

    so sorry for the poor english but i am from holland

    so i have to look up some off the phrase’s you make
    they are sometimes difficult but i manage
    patrick

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marianne-Wedell-Wedellsborg/1315316915 Marianne Wedell-Wedellsborg

    Not much I can add. I’ve used this wonderful software for over a year and love every one of the features. Did you know that NIK now has a great collection of video tutorials on their site? Check them out, and thanks, Trey, for the review.

  • Lenny

    I have Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro. They are both great and I use them all of the time. But I don’t understand the purpose of Viveza. It seems to me that you can do localized adjustments with either Color Efex Pro or Silver Efex Pro. What does Viveza do that they can’t do ?

  • http://jacklarson.aminus3.com Jack Larson

    I have used the entire suite and find them to be the most user friendly plug-ins on the market. Color Efex, Silver Efex, Define and now the new Viveza 2 have become almost indispensable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robyn-Gallant/1335993968 Robyn Gallant

    Just thought I would let everyone know that the Stuck in Customs 15% discount netted me $100 off the total price of the Complete pkg. I did not expect that (only expected $49.99 per my calculations) but my total was only $199.99 for all 5 software. Maybe it was a glitch or maybe its for the holidays – don’t know, but pleasant surprise. Thought I would let you know in case you were looking to get more for a good price on this great software. Thanks Trey.

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  • http://louisdallaraphotoblog.com Louis Dallara

    Nice review of Nik software which really love, you had great illustrations.

  • Logan

    sooo… is there any good reason to pay an extra 300 dollars for the photoshop collection if I have lightroom? i see that i can use a brush and do some things with layers. is that really useful (an additional 300 kind of useful)?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Darlene--Hildebrandt/759855656 Darlene ? Hildebrandt

    what am I missing here? you use a lot of extra software and plug-ins that seem really very similar to me. I don’t get how Topaz and Lucis are that different. I also don’t get how you can’t just use presets or tools within LR to make these effects that Nik is doing here.

    I do have PS CS3, LR 2.0, and Photomatix Pro. I’m considering Topaz but if you add all that stuff up it’s a staggering amount on software on top of the basics (PS and/or LR).

    Photomatix $119 for pro stand alone bundle
    Nik complete package $599
    onOne full package $599
    Lucis Pro $599
    Topaz bundle $179
    Noiseware Pro $69
    ————————-
    total $2164!!!

    even with 10% off that’s just why of $2000. That’s a lot to spend on software and you have to upgrade that every year?! I don’t think so. I personally will stick with PS, LR, Photomatix – and maybe noiseware and Topaz.

    what about NIK’s noise reduction plugin? I’ve heard good things about it too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Darlene--Hildebrandt/759855656 Darlene ? Hildebrandt

    I mean “just SHY” of $2000

  • Gordon Lilley

    Trey, that “strange area” in Buenos Aires full of crypts is called the cemetery. Have you not heard of them?

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  • Logan

    Trey,
    Does the new selection tool in PS CS5 negate the usefullness of Viveza 2? The only thing tat I see that viveza can handle that I can’t find in photoshop is the structure adjustment. Maybe that will keep Viveza alive.

    -Logan

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Stuck In Customs

    Thanks all.

    Logan – the new selection tool in CS5 looks really amazing and simple. I can’t imagine that Viveza is that much better? I’ll need to compare the two side-by-side.

  • Logan

    Sounds great. I’ll keep an eye on your site, as always. Thanks!

  • http://www.catspawphotos.com Leah

    Now that the NIK bundle is available for both Photoshop as well as Lightroom, which version do you recommend? the cost jump for CS4/5 is HUGE, although I’m ‘told’ that being able to use masks and the such makes it more powerful. However, i do most of my edits in LR right now and the LR bundle (waiting for LR3 and their upgraded bundle first….) is definitely more appealing.

    Thoughts?

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Stuck In Customs

    I use the Photoshop ones – just because so much of my workflow is in PS it just makes sense there.

  • Just Joe

    New at this NIK thing – I use CS3 for all of my post processing. Does anyone have a suggested workflow that incorporates CS3 and Nik software? Do I even need CS3?

    Thanks for any help on this. .

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  • http://flickr.com/photos/newnmpr0ved Daniel

    Its just too bad the NIK tools arent compatible with CS5

  • http://sharpartonline.com Janice Sharp

    I’m blown away by all that you and everyone above have said. Completely engrossed for the past hour. All of this will help – I’m very much a beginner – and eager to see if if I can come remotely close to any of these images in standard. I have frequently taken shots in different exposures, but reading your article was a bit like a bold out of the blue. So that’s why I did it! Thanks for the tutorial and the coupons.

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  • Sarkar

    How does Topaz Adjust compare to Nik Sharpener? If one buys the full Nik bundle, it is required to invest in Topaz Adjust?

  • http://www.wix.com/xpiecemealx/mat-design Mat Design

    Ive been using all of these for about 1.5 years now. They are totally worth it. Almost every one of my photos go through the NIK software. Its THAT useful. I have used tonal contrast quite a bit, but its easy to mess up a great shot with it. Prints look terrible if you aren’t careful with the tool.
    Please visit my website!

  • Roy

    Does NIK & Topez, Viveza work with photoshop or can they work as a separate software.Are all of these programs plugins to Photoshope.

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  • Ian

    Hi,

    I just saw that Nik HDR Efex Pro is coming out in October and I was wondering if you were gonna do a review of it.
    I think it’d be interesting to see what you think of it, since you already do HDR photography and that you already tested/used other software and techniques. Also, HDR Efex Pro presents itself as a more integral and complete solution (meaning that you do all the work in one software instead of doing part of it in one, then going back to photoshop and so on) So it’d be interesting to know how it measures up to your actual workflow.

  • Chris

    Hi,
    I’ve seen you appearing in the promotional video of the new Nik HDR Efex software but can’t find a single word of it on your website (as of Sep 30th). Whilst I can understand that there’s an NDA in place before the official release for reviews, I would have expected at least the mentioning of it – given the status of this site within the HDR world ;-)

  • http://rvest@wordpress.com Bob

    Thanks for the coupon Trey it saved me $45.00 on Color Efex Pro

  • Joseph

    Meaningful review, I think not. He’s tryying to sell you something – “coupon included” da. He maybe good, but first know where the money comes from. It’s called, reality. I would want to see a comparison to say Photomatix. What we want from you is the good the bad and the ugly of this new software from Nik. The real question is are you up to the challenge? Good luck – :o

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  • D Ben

    12-31-2010
    Please add the date to each comment, both in the future and for the preveious ones.

    E.g., “Daniel 39. Its just too bad the NIK tools arent compatible with CS5″ (sic).

    I just purchased the Nik Complete Collection, and everything in it runs on my 64-bit system with CS5. Looking at Daniel’s comment is confusing without the accompanying date.

  • D Ben

    12-31-2010
    I enjoy hearing your discussion with Leo Laporte. Everyone should check out his site: techguyslab.com. Caution: Ensure the “s” in “labs” is included, as otherwise you’ll go to another site.

    Trey–Please consider an “All-In-One” review for Nik, OnOne with its new HDR program vs. PS5 and Photomatrix Pro. Hopefully, the review would include specific reasons for using (or not) one section of Nik over OnOne.

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