Photo above extracted via Nikon Capture NX2.2.2
Photo above extracted via Adobe Photoshop CS4.
Look at this, 2 photos in one blog post – you lucky people!
So, why the 2 photos? Because I’m still exploring the new camera I bought recently, a Nikon D300s, after my 4 year old, crusty D2x karked it last month. For better or worse, I lashed out, did the deed (and it wasn’t dirt cheap), and bought a new camera before heading over to Katmai National Park to photograph grizzly bears. I won’t make this a review of the camera, but a commentary on software, and nikon (and Adobe) company policy.
The 2 images above are both presentations of the same file, named _SEP3502.NEF, from my D300s. I opened one in Adobe Photoshop CS4, the most current version of photoshop, made no adjustments (other than converting the color profile to sRGB for the web), and resized and saved the file as a jpeg. The other, I opened in my trial version of Nikon Capture NX2, the RAW converter software from Nikon. I wish I’d saved them a little smaller, so they could be viewed side-by-side here. The difference in color and tones, exposure and overall quality of the files is remarkable. In fact, I’m gunna do it anyway; here’s 2 crops side by side for ya, simply because I care:
<== Adobe CS4 on the left, and on the right, Nikon Capture NX2 ==>
No adjustments, no levels or curves or saturation adjustments, just a little USM on the final jpeg for the web (plus, of course, some pretty badass light, and the coolest bear in all of Katmai NP). To my eye, on my calibrated monitor, there’s not a single thing in the frame on the left that looks as good as it does in the image on the right. The exposure is a touch hot (often up to half a stop), the white balance is off, the image has a red/magenta color cast, the detail isn’t all there, the contrast is less .. it’s not even close. The NX2 rendition is notably, and critically, superior in every way, and this has held true of every image I’ve looked at (and I shot a helluva lot in 2 weeks at Katmai National Park). That’s why I made the remark in yesterday’s post about how differently the bear looked in that post to a previous post. The difference is Nikon Capture NX2 renders the image correctly.
After being terribly disappointed with how CS4 presented the images, I downloaded the Nikon software and gave it a whirl – and after a couple of days of back and forth with what passes for Nikon Customer Support, finally got the the software from them to work. For those interested, regardless of what it says on Nikon’s website, and what the customer service folks might initially tell you, Capture NX2.2.2 does work with Mac OS 10.5.8 .. their (Nikon’s) website (currently) indicates 10.5.7 is the latest compatibility – big fat, WRONG. So once I finally got the program to work, I now have to make a decision whether to spend the $180.00 to pay for a copy, or let my trial run out (I have 44 days left). My thoughts so far.
i) NX2 renders the images from the D300s wonderfully well, to me. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the file. On occasion, I’d go so far as to it’s gorgeous.
i) after spending $200.00 to upgrade photoshop to CS4 (I believe the only photoshop version to open D300s files RAW files), I don’t want to have to pay another $180 just to see the files presented as they were actually recorded.
ii) NX2 seems, just as did my last Nikon RAW converter, Capture 4.0, super slow.
iii) Nikon Customer Service sucks nuts.
iv) I already bought Nikon Capture 4.0 before, and Nikon don’t offer NX2 as an upgrade, so I have to pay full price. Capture 4.0 is no longer supported and does not work with the newer camera bodies at all.
The first gripe relates to Nikon’s proprietary software codes. I’m not much of a tech guy, so my jargon may be incorrect in the following. Techie-folks, don’t laugh (well, OK, feel free to laugh, but don’t sneer). My understanding is that Nikon won’t release the encoding algorithms, etc, that they use to create their RAW files. As a consequence, 3rd party software (if Adobe Photoshop can be called 3rd party software for a photographer) must do their best to guess and backwards extrapolate how to read and calculate the settings, etc, in the file. This, I suppose, explains the difference in quality between the CS4 rendering and the Nx2 presentation. If Nikon want to protect their codes and development, then fine, I’m OK with that, but, IMO, they then ought be obligated to provide a RAW converter free of charge to those people who purchase their camera bodies. Charging another $200.00 to effectively open a file from their camera is totally bogus, lame, and unethical. In my opinion, of course.
The 2nd gripe is self-explanatory. The software is simply clunky, and slow. Like, stupidly slow. Nikon ViewNX is pretty nifty, and a nice file browser, though it’s a little bit slow .. but opening and dealing with the file in Capture NX2 is way too slow. Admittedly, I’m using a 5 year old G5 iMac, 1.8GHz processor, with 2GB of ram. A newer faster computer with more ram would be beneficial, I’m sure, but I’m comparing NX2 to other software running on this same computer, so my gripe still stands. I understand maybe it’s a quality issue, but I think this argument is a copout .. way too slow. Everything about it is slow; opening the program is slow, opening a file is slow, viewing full screen is slow, making an adjustment is slow, hell, even closing a file is slow. Way too slow.
The 3rd gripe deals with 2 elements, the first maybe needs some explaining.
a) Nikon USA have a policy of strict adherence to the rule that if you want service from their support department, you MUST buy a Nikon USA model camera/software/lens/shoehorn/whatever. Lame, but arguably fair enough. They won’t provide service if you buy a camera that was imported and sold ‘unofficially’ through the ‘grey’ market. Lame, pathetic, and bullsh**, but that’s their call to make. So I buy a USA model camera (I even buy locally, supporting the Alaska dealer, Stewart’s photo, here in Anchorage). I download the software from the nikonusa website. The url is, reasonably enough, http://www dot nikonusa dot com. Now I have an issue and I deal with a Customer Service rep (we’ll call her, “V”, who is based in the Dominican Republic, in the Carribean. I’ve got no issue with “V”, or with the Dominican Republic here at all. I do, however, have an issue with Nikon USA demanding to only support USA model cameras (though all Nikon cameras are made in Japan, some get plastered with little USA stickers, some with UK stickers, etc, etc) and yet providing support from some other place in the world because labor and capital infrastructure is cheaper there. What’s good for them ought be good for me; if they can ‘buy’ their support overseas because it’s cheaper and then hand that over to me as ‘service’, they should have no issue with me buying an imported camera for the same reason, and handing it over to them to fix it.
b) I won’t rehash the entire thread of conversations I had with their support, but Customer Support needs to be, in my opinion, helping the customer. Honestly, I could’ve done a better job myself, and I had no idea what the problem was. I’ve dealt with Apple tech support a bit lately, dealing with some issues upgrading to Leopard (OS 10.5), and the difference between the 2 services is indefinable. Apple have been awesome, and Nikon, as I mentioned earlier, blow. Hard!
The forth grip is simple. Very lame. Nikon NX and NX2 are simply newer versions of Capture 4.0, and to not offer them as upgrades from 4.0 or earlier is lame. Ridiculously lame.
Now, onto Adobe:
Dear Mr Adobe – If you can’t render a file even remotely close to the Nikon rendition, then don’t tell me that your software works; don’t sell me what you ain’t got. I don’t have the time right now to go through each and every file I want to process, and spend countless hours simply trying to bring the file up to how I shot it, using Adobe software. If we’re discussing some obscure, small, specialized piece of equipment, sure, some latitude is reasonable. But Adobe Photoshop is the standard photographer software, by a yard and a half. If rendering a photo from a brand new Nikon camera is beyond Adobe, then you ought price and market your software accordingly. Don’t tell me it does this and that when what you mean is “If the user is willing to spend the time and effort, the user MIGHT be able to figure out the correct white balance that the photo was taken at, etc, etc” Adobe employs mathematicians, believe it or not, who are far more clever than I, and it ought be THEIR job to get the math right. My job is not to calculate white balance and extrapolate complex calculations; my job is to wade up the river and photograph bears.
Here’s the finished file (the teeniest of curves and saturation adjustment):