The Long and Winding Nik Collection Saga
The Nik Collection plug-ins have been a popular choice of digital photographers for years. But ever since Google purchased the company in 2012, loyal users have been subjected to a rollercoaster of hope and dread over the future of their beloved Nik. Last year, we learned that DxO acquired the Nik Collection assets from Google and would resume development. But that news was so last year.
By way of putting recent developments into context, allow me to briefly recap how we got here. Nik has truly been on a long and winding journey. Starting back in the mid-1990's, Nik Software (back then known as Nik Multimedia) made sophisticated plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop. The effects possible with Nik plug-ins were at least in part targeted to digital photographers making the move to the world of software. As time went on, they broadened their line to include tools for sharpening, black and white conversion, and so forth. While each of these could be purchased separately, they were also sold as a bundle known as the Nik Collection. Things were looking up as Nik appeared to be taking a fairly traditional upward trajectory of a successful company.
A number of competitors released plug-ins that attempted give Nik a run for their money, and Nik occasionally did have to take a back seat to other companies in the news. But as they came went, Nik persisted, and seemingly prospered. The first truly newsworthy development was when Nikon partnered with Nik to produce a new generation of software for Nikon. As a longtime Nikon user, I was thrilled given that Nikon themselves have always been a horrible software company. They make great digital cameras and such. But the weak link in Nikon's digital darkroom offerings have always been in terms of software. In fairness, Nikon software has always been capable of excellent results, but it was also always a pain to use. My only consolation had long been that Canon isn't that much better at software development, so everyone was more or less in the same boat. But at least at first, this new Nikon / Nik partnership seemed promising.
The first version of Nikon Capture NX to feature technology licensed from Nik Software debuted in September 2006. It took a bit of getting used to but worked pretty well once you did. My dilemma at the time was that I was already heavily committed to a Photoshop-centric workflow, a workflow that made use of plug-ins from Nik Software. By 2014, Nikon and Nik had parted ways. That was the end of Nik proprietary technology in Nikon software.
Two years before this, Nik Software was purchased by Google. Rumor has it that all Google really wanted was Nik's Snapseed, a competitor to Instagram. Long story short, the whole reason why Google wanted Snapseed turned out to be a bust, and for a while at least it seemed that one of the casualties would be the range of professional software known as the Nik Collection. Yes, that Nik Collection. Google seemed to stop development, but no one was really sure if it was dead or just slowed down. Then came the day Google offered the entire Nik Collection as a free download. And lest anyone still have doubts that the future of Nik looked bleak, Google later made it official last year by announcing that they were ceasing development of the Nik Collection.
But to qualify as a long and winding road, we need a few more surprise twists in the plot, and surprise twists did we get.
Late last year, it was announced that DxO, longtime makers of the DxO Optics Pro raw conversion software, had acquired the Nik Collection from Google and would be resuming development. I've had a love/hate relationship with DxO software for years now. It can produce impressive results but was hard to justify when compared to what each new generation of Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom could do. But more to the theme of this article, DxO software had a notoriously quirky user interface and was hard to use. If I didn't know better, I'd think that Nikon and DxO must have learned to build user interfaces from the same mail-order software design school they learned about from an ad on the back of a match book. If you can draw a picture of Tippy the Turtle, you may qualify to be a software interface designer. Or something like that.
Anyway, Nik had reasonably intuitive (and proprietary) user interface concept known generally as "control points." While their partnership lasted, it made Capture NX a good deal better than the pre-NX Nikon Capture that preceded it, and a lot better than the Capture NX-D that came after. I was curious to see what the Nik acquisition would do to the usability of DxO Optics Pro (recently renamed to DxO PhotoLab).
Then just last week, we learned that DxO Labs (based in France) was in receivership and that the company was bankrupt. That surely would complicate both the future of any new DxO PhotoLab development as well as the future of the beloved Nik Collection. Nik had recently launched their DxO One camera attachment for Apple iPhone that sounded great on paper. I remember being jealous that us Android users were being left out (DxO did announce in December they were planning an Android version some time during 2018). But the product has received mixed reviews since it debuted, and sales have been underwhelming. I have no way of knowing whether DxO One had any bearing on the bankruptcy, but the conclusion does seem plausible.
But wait! There's more.
It turns out, this bankruptcy thing may not be as much as it initially sounded like it would be. Perhaps its just my American projection overlaid atop French jurisprudence, but according to the company "We are very confident that this procedure, which should not last for more than a few more weeks, will not affect our customers in any way." They go on to announce that they will be releasing a new version of the Nik Collection in June as well as an update to DxO PhotoLab. Lest there be any confusion, the new version apparently "will include improved local correction features," and Nik control points are all about local correction features. So, things may indeed be looking up for Nik (and DxO) after all.
See, I did say it was a long and winding road.
By the way, if you're not a fan of Adobe's subscription licensing model for the Creative Cloud and are looking around for an alternative to Lightroom, you might want to check out DxO PhotoLab. I've heard it referred to as a Lightroom killer. I'm not sure that's true just yet, but the company clearly is aiming for that target. That same DxO announcement slyly mentions that "this release will also be an opportunity for us to reiterate our commitment to the "perpetual license" model (as opposed to a subscription model) that allows our customers to update their products according to their needs, rather than in a constrained manner." Take that, Adobe.