Comparison of Photo Editing using PhotoLab 2 vs. Adobe Bridge/ACR

I posted an in-depth comparison of PhotoLab 2 and Adobe Bridge/Adobe Camera Raw:


Hi David - Thanks for pointing us to your article … Most interesting !

One point, tho - You say: [Suppose you now want to apply filters in Nik Color Efex Pro. PL2 has a nice button that will take you there. But there’s a detour! First, PL2 exports its edited raw file to a TIFF file—which bakes in the PL2 edits so that they are now destructive (i.e., no longer editable). Similarly, any changes applied in any of the Nik Collection tools get baked in immediately.]

This is not necessarily so - -

  • As you point out earlier, the PL corrections/edits are stored in a sidecar/.dop file - - So, you can always come back and re-do any of the corrections you applied within PL - and then Export again to, say, Nik Color Efex Pro and re-do your corrections therein.

  • AND, within Color Efex Pro you can save all your corrections INCLUDING those made via U-points to a Nik file - - so that you can come back at anytime and re-apply the same corrections from within the Nik tool.

  • This enables a completely non-destructive approach - from PL thru to Nik (and back again to either of the intermediate points).

To demonstrate, here’s my workflow;

  • Initial processing in PL (complete with automatic lens corrections applied by PL’s Optics Module for the unique body+lens combo used) - - with tweaking using PL’s Local Adjustments (U-points, etc)

  • All the corrections applied within PL are saved to a sidecar/.dop file - - So, if I later re-open the same RAW file then all its related corrections will be re-applied.

  • If the image needs a bit more work then I Export to Color Efex Pro (CEP) via an intermediate TIFF

  • When I’ve completed my work within CEP I go to the Custom Recipes panel and I hold down the Shift-key while clicking “Update this recipe with the current settings” - - This saves all corrections you’ve applied within CEP and by holding down the Shift-key all Control-point details are saved too.

  • Then I click to Export this recipe to a Nik file

  • The end result is that I have;
    – ImageName.XXX … the original RAW file
    – ImageName.dop … all PL’s corrections - including Local Adjustments
    – … all CEP’s correcttions - including U-point details

  • I can, therefore, restart at any point in my correcting process. For example, if I just want to re-do some of the CEP corrections then I can;
    – Open the image in PL (all PL corrections will be applied from the sidecar file)
    – Export to CEP from PL (via 16-bit TIFF is best)
    – Import the related Nik sidecar/.np file (containing corrections with U-point info) - and apply them to the image exported from PL
    – At this point I’m at the same stage as the last edit I made previously in CEP
    – Apply some refinements and repeat the steps described above.

I hope that helps …

Regards, John M


John M. Thank you.
This is very crucial information in my opinion to many photographers.
This is the first time I’ve come across this non-destructive workflow explained.
This should be a marketing bullet point or at least part of the basic walkthrough for new users to DXO/NIK.
I may be over-stating it, but this info should be a sticky at least as an introduction to using a non-destructive workflow with PL/NIK.
Apologies if this is stated elsewhere, but I’ve not noticed any marketing that spells it out like your post.
Again, Thank you for sharing this.

1 Like

John M.
…I do have a question…
Is it possible to keep the non-destructive workflow when using more than one of the NIK tools?
Say CEP, Viveza & another module?
Is DXO/NIK non-destructive workflow limited somehow?

Thanks again

Hi John-M,

Thanks for your input. This is important information that could affect the decision of which product is preferred. I have to say, though, that it’s pretty obscure and, personally, I don’t think I’m persuaded.

I walked part of the way through your process on my PC and I think I understand it. It does sound to me like it is possible to implement a completely non-destructive workflow with PL2 & Nik but that it’s a manual process. First, once you’ve completed your initial edits you have to manually create a recipe in Nik and save it. Then you have to export the recipe to a separate file. Then you can save the TIFF file with the embedded Nik edits.

To then do further editing non-destructively you have to abandon your TIFF file and pick up with the previously edited raw file (and its associated .DOP sidecar file). This step assumes that the PL2 raw file settings have not been changed after the session with Nik Color Efex Pro.

Then, you have to manually import the previously saved recipe (.NP file) and apply it. At this point, you’re back where you were the last time you edited this file. You can make further edits non-destructively but will then have to manually update the recipe and export it again. And now you have two versions of the fully edited file (TIFF). In some cases, that could be a good thing but in other cases could lead to extra unwanted files.

If I understand all this correctly it sounds like there’s a lot of manual work including the need to remember which .NP file is associated with each photo. And after you’ve been through the process once you have to be careful not to make any further changes with PL2. Otherwise, you won’t get back to the same point as you previously were when you get back into CEP. (Maybe a virtual copy could help? But then that would be another file to manage.)

It sounds to me like this could be a workable procedure for a special file that you’re printing, for example. But for regular day-to-day editing it feels too laborious and error-prone to me.

But thanks again for the info. I know a little more now about Nik and may be able to use the knowledge in other ways!

I’d like to update my blog post with this info. May I have your permission to quote you?



I’ve tested this only with CEP, Dave ('cos that’s the only Nik tool that I regularly use)… You can easily test the Click+ShiftKey method with the other tools too, tho … Let us know what you find.


Yes, there is one “sorta-manual” step, David … When you’ve completed your work in Color Efex Pro (CEP) you do need to save the settings (unlike the equivalent in PL, where it saves the sidecar/.dop file for you automatically … assuming you have the appropriate options set in Preferences);

  • Doing so only involves two mouse clicks, tho
    – one with Shift-key held down at the same time - - to save the settings (WITH Control-Points) internally within CEP
    – and another click to export these settings (WITH Control-Points) to an external sidecar/.np file
  • See my original response, above, to see the details of this step - with examples.

Note: I have raised a request for DxO to enhance the Nik Collection to automate this process (as it is for PhotoLab/PL)

I don’t see this as “abandoning” the TIFF file - you are re-creating it (automatically), with all the corrections stored in the sidecar/.dop file … and, doing so is the natural by-product of the means by which a PL user would invoke a new CEP session.

No, that’s not so - - In fact, often the very reason that one needs to re-apply the CEP settings is that one has made some changes within PL (such as applying Prime Noise reduction, etc, etc) - and then, of course, it’s necessary to re-do the work done in CEP (which is now stored in the CEP sidecar/.np file).

The only change (in PL) that one should not do is change the crop dimensions - as that will upset CEP’s Control-point co-ordinates).

Yes, exactly - - and I’m not saying this is the ideal way of working (see my request, as mentioned above) … but, for the time being, it’s not a complicated process at all.

You don’t necessarily have to end up with two versions (tho that may be your choice) … I simply overwrite the previous version.

Yes, there are some manual steps involved - but they’re not at all complicated (IMnsHO !)

I don’t have any problem determining which sidecar/.np file is associated with each image - 'cos I use a naming convention, similar to that used by PL. Here’s a real example from my environment;

Using these 3 files, I have a fully non-destructive set of PL & CEP corrections.

  • The file with .ARW extension is the RAW file (from my Sony a7m3, in this example)
  • The file ending with .ARW.dop is the PL sidecar file
  • The file ending with is the CEP sidecar file

Certainly, you are most welcome - that’s why I have taken care to respond to your points & comments.

I ask only that you provide a link to this post - so that your readers can fully appreciate our discussion … I’d also appreciate some more votes for my request to DxO.

Regards, John M

I’m not a software developer but how hard would it be to make an automated sidecar for any Nik plugin? Could DxO build this like they did with PL?

Hmm, I don’t follow. Suppose I originally set exposure in PL2 to +0.50 and then apply a Color Efex Pro filter. That exposure adjustment is now baked into the TIFF file. And suppose I later come back and reset the exposure to 0 to make another version of the photo for some other purpose. Now, that 0 exposure is stored in the .DOP file. And let us further suppose I later return to the first image and I want to edit the TIFF file which contains the original +0.50 exposure adjustment. The problem I see is that that +0.50 adjustment is gone. PL2 is now showing the image at 0.00 exposure, right? Same thing with any other PL2 edits that have taken place since I created the TIFF with the CEP filter. Now, when I overwrite that TIFF file it will have the new 0 value instead of the original +0.50 value. Please let me know if I’m missing something here.

Hi JohnM,
Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed reply. I think we have some philosophical differences about the way image editing software should work and what feels easy & natural to the user. Those differences are perfectly valid and if it works for you, that’s great.

At the same time, I still do see a couple of things which constitute stumbling blocks for me. First is the issue of changing settings in a PL2 .DOP file which can then affect the way you edit a TIFF file with Color Efex Pro a second time. I addressed that issue in a separate reply just now.

Then there’s the issue for which you have submitted an enhancement request. If DxO does implement your suggested change that would remove for me the second stumbling block. But, for now, having to use a naming convention to keep track of sidecar files feels like extra, unnecessary work.

I think the fundamental difference I have is that I like the idea of having all of an image’s edits encapsulated in a single file. That’s what I get by creating a Photoshop SmartObject and then applying Adobe Camera Raw adjustments followed by Color Efex Pro: a PSD file with all the edits in a single place. And then there’s the question posed by 1dave of what to do if you want multiple Nik effects. Suppose I want to apply both CEP and Dfine to an image. Is that reasonably doable in a non-destructive way with just the DxO tools? With the Photoshop SmartObject approach it’s entirely doable, again all in a single file.


Yes, that’s a fair comment & summary, David … It is working well for me, and I don’t have any difficulty with any of the steps involved.

Also, just to be clear, I’m not trying to “sell” this as the ideal solution to non-destructive editing with PL & Nik Tools - it would/will be a much better solution if/when DxO automates handling of the Nik sidecar/.np file (as it already does for the PhotoLab sidecar/.dop file) - - In the meanwhile, tho, the method I outline above is an effective workaround (for me, at least).

OK - I’ll address that point separately.

I’m approaching this from the perspective of a PhotoLab user (where there’s an automatically created sidecar/.dop file with same main-name as the image to which it relates) - so, this is a very natural approach for me to take.

Yes, it would be ideal if all edits were encapsulated in a single file - but I don’t believe (tho, I’m not a PS user, so it’s quite possible that I’m not understanding some key point here) that’s what you are achieving with a PSD file, when one of your steps involves any of the Nik tools.

That is … say you export from PS to CEP to apply some filters, etc, therein - - then you have the result returned to PS, and you encapsulate all the various layers of edits (including the CEP layer) within a PSD file. The contents of the PSD file relating to the CEP layer will contain only the end result of your work in CEP - and not the individual steps you applied within CEP.

Therefore, I don’t understand how that makes the PSD result any better at all (other than that its limited content is encapsulated within one file) … Am I missing something ?

Once you’re involving multiple Nik tools then I agree that my workaround does involve a bit more work (see my disclaimer in my response to your first point, above), but … I do not believe that is solved by using a Photoshop SmartObject approach … because the PSD file will not contain any of the individual steps applied within any of the Nik collection tools.

I’m delighted that you’re considering all these issues and questions, David - - I believe we’re agreed that the Nik Collection is an excellent tool-set … Hopefully this discussion will help others to make better use of it.

Regards, John M

I think we may be at cross-purposes here (?) - - I don’t see any of this as a problem at all … If I make any changes within PL (including any of those you mention above) then I can happily export them to CEP - then re-apply the CEP corrections (from its sidecar/.np file) and then continue editing within CEP.
I do exactly that now.


Yes, indeed all the edits can be encapsulated in a Photoshop .PSD file in a fully non-destructive way. This is enabled by creating a Photoshop SmartObject and then doing all edits on that object. Here’s an example of what that looks like in Photoshop’s layer palette:

See the three filters being applied at the bottom? Each one of those is completely live and available for re-editing. I can double-click on any one of these and get right back to where I was the last time I was working in that filter. All the settings are shown just as they previously were and I can adjust any setting just as I could the first time.

A Photoshop image like this does not have the settings cast in stone the way they are when editing with PhotoLab 2 and Color Efex Pro, for example. None of the .PSD settings is ever final unless you print the image or export to JPEG, etc.

Finally, like you, I’m not trying to sell the Adobe workflow as the be-all and end-all. I find several flaws in that workflow as I detailed in my post on this subject. But I do highly value the ability to implement a fully non-destructive workflow. That’s the main reason I don’t use Lightroom—I’ve never found a way for it to have a truly non-destructive workflow (at least, not without extra manual operations and management of intermediate files).

Hello again, David.

I’m not sure we’re on the same page here(?) - My understanding is that the layers are encapsulated, but the actual edits, filters, etc and Control points you applied within, say, Color Efex Pro are not. So, if you decided you needed to tweak any of the work “within” the CEP layer then you would need to re-create all your previous CEP work from memory … Is that not so ?

Alternatively, if you have saved the Nik sidecar/.np file you can import those details, reapply the CEP work automatically and proceed to tweak as required.

Otherwise, tho, I reckon we are at one on our final points.

Regards, John M (holidaying in FNQ, Australia)

So, you’re near Cairns? We went there, too, on our way to the Great Barrier Reef. Saw some alligators. Hope you’re having fun!

To try and clarify… the layers are encapsulated inside the .PSD file along with all the settings for each layer (filter). But the changes are not made permanently to any layer nor to the overall file. Each time you reopen a layer it automatically reopens that filter software; e.g., Color Efex Pro. All the previous settings are the same as they were but the sliders and control points, etc. are still live and changeable.

There’s a delay of a few seconds (or more) every time you change a filter’s settings because each filter has to regenerate its output and then send it down the pipeline to the next filter—which also has to regenerate its settings. And so forth. That delay is a bit of a drawback but the flexibility of being able to change any filter at any time is generally worth it to me. (The delay is when you’re done editing the layer, not after each and every settings change.)

Another difference from PhotoLab 2: With a SmartObject the Adobe Camera Raw settings are also encapsulated within the .PSD file and any further changes to the original raw file in ACR have no effect on the .PSD file. And vice-versa. This is the point I was trying to make earlier about the possibly of using different Camera Raw settings for different renditions of a photo. With the SmartObject approach that can be done.

Yes, we’re in Cairns right now … our eldest daughter lives here. Winter up here is much warmer (daytime temps in low to mid 20 degrees C) than it is where we’re from … Melbourne, in the south.

Ok, it seems my understanding of Adobe smart objects needs some updating.

Regards John M