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Since I just found out about Google’s acquisition of Nik Software I figured I’d write a quick comparison of the that and the tool I have been using up to now, Topaz Labs. I found out about Topaz Labs at MacWorld 2011 and was pretty impressed by what it could do. Granted, using it feels like using Instagram, but it seemed like a quick and easy solution to reimagine some of my photos. While each has a multitude of applications, I will be comparing their flagship products, the Color Efex Pro on Nik and Topaz Adjust. Note I am using an older version of Nik’s Color Efex Pro (3 instead of 4), so I some things may have changed in the newer version. Nik Software has been in business since 1995, whereas Topaz Labs has a much shorter history, having been founded in 2005.
This is the view from the Topaz Labs UI
This is the view from the Nik Software UI - it runs a bit off the screen and can’t be made any smaller on my 1280×800 Macbook Pro display
Color Efex will set you back about $80 at minimum, while Topaz Adjust alone is $50. Color Efex boasts 55 filters, while Adjust has twice as many “presets” - we’ll find out that quantity doesn’t always bring quality, however. Color Efex categorizes its filters into “Portrait”, “Landscape”, “Stylizing”, “Traditional”, and “All” while Adjust bins them into “Classic Collection”, “Vibrant Collection”, “HDR Collection”, “Film Collection”, and some more. You certainly do end up twiddling around with more of them in Adjust. On the right side of both applications you get to make minor adjustments to the effect and its strength.
Both Topaz Labs and Nik Software act as Photoshop plugins that let you apply effects as filters straight from Photoshop. Both launch relatively quickly, though Nik Software appears slightly faster because it doesn’t launch a new application.
Adjust directly modifies any image by making changes to the existing layer, while Color Efex adds a new layer - this is a huge plus, because you apply filters without losing direct access to the original image. The layer will also have the name of the effect applied, which is neat.
The layer on top says Color Efex Pro was applied with a Contrast Color Range effect
If we compare photos from a fairly new post-processor’s point of view (mine) and not that of a professional trying to sell you their product, some things become fairly evident. Click on each image to see them in full size.
We’ll start with this original shot of the Shasta Lake in California. The shot isn’t terrible, but there’s potential for something interesting to come of it, especially with the floating toilet in the foreground.
Topaz Lab’s “Spicify” effect is pretty neat in that it draws out some of the colors more deeply and accentuates the edges. The lake surface’s ripples are fantastic. This is done at the cost of the blue sky, however, where the top left part is almost unacceptably grainy.
Contrast Color Range using Nik is certainly a lot more subtle, while still pulling out some of the vibrant colors in the scene. With some additional cropping and coloring, this photo is presentable.
At the end of the day, if I had to choose one suite to use, it would be Nik Software, simply because the effort to post-process photos is not worth compromising precious pixels. Nik Software’s renderings are more faithful to the original view (and as a result a little more subtle). You can also invest in their HDR Efex suite if you want to dabble in that area.
Topaz will certainly deliver impressive results for the price and their presets are really well-tuned for the lazy post-processor. They also do include several neat HDR effects in Adjust which you’ll have to otherwise shell extra money with Nik Software to do. Ultimately, neither one will disappear from my toolbox, but for now, I’m going to start my post-processing with Nik as a rule of thumb.