R.I.P. Nik Collection

Okay people, calm down for a minute and put the knives down.  I have no inside knowledge, I don't own a Google Magic Decoder Ring and I'm not part of some secret squirrel cabal.  I do have over thirty years experience in software and that experience makes me wonder if we've seen the last of innovation in the Nik Collection.

I first bought into Nik long before Google bought the company.  I paid well over $500 for the complete suite.  When Google acquired the company, the word was that they really wanted the smartphone correction and editing software Snapseed.  I have no idea if this is or was true.  Shortly after completing the purchase, Google stopped the work on the desktop application and let it expire.  I used to use Snapseed on both the phone and the desktop for quick work, but as happens, I've been wooed away by other tools.

The Nik Collection is a different thing.  I own licenses for most of the editing tools in the photographic space.  When push comes to shove, I still tended to think of Nik first, although that has changed a lot in the last year as other providers pushed the envelope and really looked at innovation.

Google is a business.  A business with shareholders and their revenue source is information about their users.  They are straight up about that in every license agreement and terms of service.  That no one appears to read those documents is hardly Google's fault.  They make money by leveraging your choices, your work, where you go, what you search for, what you look at and what you do.  Out of all of those things, the one least likely to generate a lot of ongoing revenue is learning how customers use a single set of tools to edit their photos.  Let's face facts, most images on the web today come off smartphones.  If they get edited at all, it might be as part of an app like Instagram.  I don't do a lot of creative photography with a smartphone, but I carry one all the time and when I do make an image that I think is worth keeping, I will edit it, and I might even share it in my small circle.  My serious work is done on a digital camera, and everything I shoot is in RAW and all RAW images need editing.

When Google acquired Nik, there was not the scope and breadth of capability in editors that there is today.  There was not the sheer number of photo tools.  Popular tools such as Lightroom didn't have the functionality and while Photoshop could literally do anything, the learning curve was steeper and back then more expensive than many photographers would stomach.

It's 2016 and the world has changed.  You can get a much richer Lightroom and Photoshop today for $10 a month (USD).  There are now very inexpensive tools that do what Nik has done, and to be plain spoken, the alternatives have gotten a lot more attention from their makers than Google has done for Nik.

In fact, some of the folks released by Google at the time of acquisition went off and started a new company called Macphun.  The initial products were kind of squeaky but as of today, I will say as a user that the Macphun offerings are excellent.  The look and feel is different from Nik in that they use the more common place mask concept rather than the innovative at the time Control Point technology that Nik uses.  Macphun isn't the only player.  The old Perfect Photo Suite, now renamed ON1 also offers much of what Nik did, and adds a more robust portrait tool, layers, masks and the best resizing application on the planet.   There's more competition for Nik, and less client loyalty because the alternatives may in fact be richer, and the price point continues to drop.  

Google is a business.  A very smart business.  They continually demonstrate the willingness to drop things that aren't working or profitable.  Unlike many businesses, they do have the wherewithal to try things, and because their revenue model is not based on software sales, are willing to put their innovation out to the public at little to no cost.  But, when something doesn't work, or reaches the end of its marketable life, Google is incredibly straight up in killing off the dead wood.

This, dear reader, is where I think Nik is.  There have been negligible updates in the last couple of years.  The last major update was Analog FX Pro, yet another tool to make your digital images look sort of like your foggy reminscence of film.  Meh.  Google can release the Nik Collection for free and it costs them nothing to do so.  In the scope and scale of Google, whatever revenue that the company was getting from Nik sales had to be negligible.  There's no embedded support cost, because, hey it's Google, and Google has never been about end user support.  Their software is built to not require support, and the company is not built to deliver support.  Nik is the black sheep in the space because it used to benefit from very good support.  I'm not slagging Google.  They are very honest about their deliverables.  If you expect something else, you aren't paying attention to what Google is telling you.

So I think that Nik is dead.  You'll be able to use it as long as you want and your operating system will work with it.  It's good software, so unless Microsoft or Apple do something incredibly stupid in a future operating system that breaks standardized file access, the Nik Collection should work fine for some time to come.  I don't expect ANY further updates or patches from Google for the Nik Collection, and I don't think that you should either.

Nik may be dead, but it's still usable.  It's the same product as it was a week before the announcement.  There are plenty of decent modules in the Nik Collection, some still leaders in their space.  Dfine still manages noise better than Lightroom does natively.  Macphun's Noiseless Pro is excellent but as the name implies it, and all Macphun products, are Mac only.  If you use Windows and want killer adaptive noise reduction better than what is built into LR or PS, Dfine is the tool to use.  For input sharpening, Sharpener Pro kills.  It also still delivers the best possible device specific output sharpening.  Folks loving black and white still fawn over the capability of Silver Efex Pro.  It really is that good.  I certainly advocate Tonality Pro from Macphun as an alternate, it is that good, but again for cross-platform Silver Efex Pro is the gold standard.  I'm not a fan of overcooked HDR.  If you are, Photomatix Pro owns that space, but if you want an option that is cross-platform and can do everything from over the top to not obviously HDR, HDR Efex Pro is absolutely awesome.  Personally, today, I prefer Aurora HDR Pro from Macphun, but I use Macs and can use the tool.  For everyone else, at the low low price of free, there is nothing better than HDR Efex Pro.  All the crappy $10 and $20 HDR apps on the Apple App Store, the Microsoft Store and the Google Play Store just collectively stroked out.  Color Efex Pro (currently at v4) has been incredibly successful and is still a common tool found in photo contest entry images.  People love it so much that there continues to be a grey web distribution of the older Color Efex Pro 3 because of the affection some users have for looks that were dropped in the move to V4.  I personally don't care for Analog FX Pro, but those that like that old filmic pseudo look enjoy it and now, you really won't find anything better for the price.  I left the part of the suite that I used most of all when I first got involved and that's Viveza.  If any part of the Nik Collection got a serious case of parental avoidance, it's Viveza.  Which is tragic because if you want to subtly manipulate tone, and colour simply and quickly, Viveza is a wonderful tool.  Use has fallen off with the huge steps in adjustment brushes that Adobe has made in Lightroom in the last couple of years, but when I look at images on the wall in my home from a few years back, I know that all of them made a round trip through Viveza.

Am I sad about Nik going free?  Yes, because I feel in my gut that it means that the game is over.  I've expected Nik to fall off the boat for some time, there just haven't been any updates of significance for too long for it to be a continuing product.  Will I stop using the Nik Collection today?  I will continue to use it when I need it because it works, but I have no hope for a future for it and over time as other tools, such as those from Macphun, deliver more than what Nik does, I will move on.  Google understands this too.  They've made Nik free for everyone to use, and that gives people time to migrate to something else if needs be.  I don't use Windows for any of my creative pursuits, so I don't care that the Macphun stuff is Mac only.  Windows users have less choice available to them.  That's too bad, but it is a what's so.  Nik is still available to Windows users, in fact I downloaded a copy for a Windows 10 virtual machine just for fun today.  I just don't expect it to have a future.

I don't blame Google at all.  I use a minimal number of Google services as it is, because I do read the terms and conditions and would NEVER put any of my work into Google Photos.  My choice.  You should do whatever you please.  I understand Google's business and respect that unlike other social oriented services, Google tells you straight up in their terms and conditions of what they will and will not do and what you agree to when you consume their services.  All this said, R.I.P. Nik Collection.  It's been a blast, and while I, like many others, will continue to feed on your body, I will miss seeing you grow in the future.

And who knows.  I could be completely wrong.