Nikon Capture NX2 and Adobe CS4.

A grizzly bear walking towards the camera, Katmai national park, Alaska.

Photo above extracted via Nikon Capture NX2.2.2

A boat brown bear walks towards the camera, Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Photo above extracted via Adobe Photoshop CS4.

Hey Folks,

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:

side by side comparisons

<==  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.

Thumbs up:

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.

That’s it.

Gripes:

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):

A large adult male grizzly bear, Ursus arctos, walks along the edge of Brooks River, Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Cheers

Carl

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19 thoughts on “Nikon Capture NX2 and Adobe CS4.

  1. Ron Niebrugge

    Wow, I feel your frustration. I can’t believe they don’t provide Nikon Capture with the camera, especially if they aren’t going to work with Adobe. That is almost like buying a car without a steering wheel. “O, you want to change directions, that’s $200 extra”. Pretty ironic you pay extra for USA support from overseas. Customer service is becoming a thing of the past.

    Great bear photo!

  2. Carl D Post author

    Hey Ron,

    Yeah, it’s totally lame … paying for a RAW converter. Imagine buying a computer with no Operating System. Here’s a short postscript too; upon a little curiosity and some further investigations, I’ve come to see the drastic difference between Adobe Photoshop (well, technically, it’s ACR, the RAW file converter) and Nikon Capture NX2 is similarly pronounced with files from my older D2x camera as well .. not as drastically, for sure, but Adobe definitely fall short. The NX2 renditions are clearer, crisper, punchier and generally better in every way. The improved contrast even seems to render the files sharper; images that I thought were a tad soft appear reasonably sharp in NX2. It looks like I might need to go back and re-convert all my old digital files, using NX2.

    Cheers

    Carl

  3. Pete Zwiers

    Gee Carl, tell us what you really think! 🙂

    I’m another that finds it amazing that Nikon doesn’t provide a RAW converter free of charge! I still use Canon’s basic RAW converter (ZoomBrower EX – I actually like it a lot, very simple) that comes with the camera for making conversion to TIF files, and then use the old, basic PS Elements 3.0 (which came free with my 20D purchase back in 2004) for further colour balancing, cropping & sharpening. I keep telling myself I should get CS4 and make it a winter project to learn it properly – but I spend enough time in front of a computer at work, and have better things to do. So, I’m a software hippie I suppose – old school is good enough!

    These photos have me drooling BTW! Very cool stuff.

    – Pete

  4. Drew Fulton

    Carl,

    I feel your pain. I’m a Nikon shooter as well (D3/D2X) and currently using CS4 as well. I used to process my files all through Nikon Capture 4 and then occasionally with NX. I agree, I much prefer the files out of Capture but I got so incredibly frustrated with the software that I totally gave up. I don’t own NX2 and somewhere I think I have a second copy of Capture NX1 (bought one and one came with a camera). I can’t seem to lay my hands on the CD at the moment but shoot me an email if you want it… It’s never been installed. Anyway, I switched to CS3 then CS4 simply for a easier workflow. I’ve eventually grown used to CS3/4 and now I like it. It’s been a long time since I have run capture and my life has gotten easier. I haven’t done it yet but I am going to look into the DNG profiling at some point to see if that helps get to a better starting point. I always feel like Adobe over exposes the frames… Hopefully Lightroom 3 development will help and result in a new version of CAmera Raw for us CS4 users. Apparently thats one of the top things they are focusing on in LR3.

  5. Mark

    Mental note – do not be lured into the frivolous eye candy, photographer gouging software – even though Carl can’t stop gushing about it. Not gunna do it – no way, no how.

  6. Paul Beiser

    Have you guys heard of Camera Profiles and presets for Lightroom/Camera Raw? You can get virtually the SAME look as the Nikon

  7. Carl D Post author

    Hey Folks,

    * Pete Zwiers – Yeah, I think I could have done well to stay with my previous version of CS2, and spent the $$$ on Capture NX2 .. software updates is a scam, IMO.

    * Drew Fulton – I kept hearing that NX and then NX2 was faster and smoother to run than Capture, but it hasn’t been the case for me .. if so, only marginally. Adobe definitely present an over-exposed image compared to the histograms on my camera and those the Nikon software present – I read E.J. mention the coming improvements via Lightroom, which I hope resolve the issue – but it’s been a long time coming.

    * Mark Graf – uhhm .. yeah, ‘gushing’ describes it .. yup. 🙂

    * Paul Beiser – I’ve heard of the Camera profiles, but not tried them. I only just upgraded to CS4. But, that kind of misses the point of much of the post. Do Adobe provide those profiles? Describe ‘virtually the same look’?

    Thanks.

    Cheers

    Car;

  8. Sai C

    Hey Carl,

    Its been a while since i’ve been here, but man, WOW…you finally bit the bullet and upgraded!!! I upgraded earlier this year to a D300 as well and boy I’m really pleased with the upgrade..I don’t know if its because its a D300 or because I got the camera from none other than John Shaw, that the pictures appear much better!! Or perhaps I have managed to learn a wee bit about photography to take better pics, lol…Anyway, congratulations on the upgrade!

    You hit the nail on the head with your frustration with RAW converters and Nikon’s CS. I made the switch from Adobe to Capture NX2 a year ago. I am with you on the fact that a NEF processing engine should be free with the camera. I used Adobe initially, of course, due to its bloated features and then a little bit of Lightroom (they should’ve named it Darkroom!!!) but the results were nowhere comparable to what you could get right out of NX2.

    All said and done, NX2 with its slow, idiosyncratic interface needs a complete overhaul, but when it comes to producing consistent results, Nikon hit a home run leaving Adobe in the dust.

    Regarding the speed however, I haven’t faced a lot of issues, both on my PC and my Mac. I edit my images one at a time; not a fan of batch processing. If you prefer to batch process your images, IMHO, there’s nothing comparable to Bibble, which is my second favorite RAW converter behind NX2.

    I am right now thinking about trying DCRAW, a Linux version of a RAW converter developed by David Coffin. I’m sure there are Mac and Windows distributions of this software out there and i’m planning on downloading these and working with them to see what type of results I get. It might take me a while, but i’ll eventually get there :~)..Once I get DCRAW working, and depending on how the results turn out to be, it *might* be time to bid adieu to other RAW converters.

    And last but not least, your images and write up about the bears are just beautiful and fascinating. Looking forward to seeing and reading more about these cute creatures…I definitely won’t call them “cute” if I was staring at them in the face :~)..And those cub twins, especially the one sticking its tongue out, are so endearing!!! Nice capture of bear behavior..

    Cheers!
    Sai

  9. Carl D Post author

    Hey Sai,

    Thanks for the detailed reply, and some more info on things – always helps. A couple of points:

    * I didn’t really intend the D300s as an ‘upgrade’, though I knew it would be. It was more a replacement for my broken down D2x .. which died on the previous trip I made. It’s at Nikon as we speak. I’ll write a little about the cameras after I’ve shot some more with the D300s.

    * I’ve heard about Bibble, but never tried it. Just what I need, another pice of software. 🙂

    * It’ll be interesting to hear more about DCRAW – I’m not familiar with it. Hopefully SOMEONE will produce something that does the relatively simple job I need.

    * Thanks for the notes about the bear photos and writeups. Bears are SO cool, whether I’m hiking in the high mountains and run into a ‘backcountry’ bear, or a bear in a place like Katmai that probably sees more people during the summer than I do. I’ll try to post a few more.

    Thanks again.

    Cheers

    Carl

  10. Michael

    Thanks for the observations Carl.

    It took me over a year to actually use the software that came from my particular digital manufacturer. Surely, I thought to myself, nothing can compare to ADOBE.

    Adobe CS2, which I paid a lot of money for because I wanted to do things “right” from the beginning, very nearly caused me to give up photography altogether with its bizarre, just butt ugly, renditions of my photos.

    What a revelation it was to use the manufacturer’s program, which sucks in many other ways, and finally start seeing the photos I actually took appearing on the screen whether RAW or JPEG.

    Lately, I’ve been using GIMP and DCRAW and find myself very pleased with the initial results.

  11. Per Frejvall

    Folks,

    I may have this wrong, but I remember reading that Nikon licenses its raw converter as a module to 3rd party software developers. Adobe and Nikon could not agree on the terms, and I beleive the issue was that Adobe wanted the details (or possibly the full spec of the format) while Nikon delivers a “black box” functional module. If Adobe would have accepted to just have the image totally extracted from the raw format this would not have been an issue, but they insisted on wanting to “improve” on Nikons own software to decode the image.

    Again, this may be propaganda or lies, but knowing how Adobe does business it sounds pretty accurate to me.

    /per

  12. Glenn

    When I first tried NX2 with my new Nikon D5000 I found it a little confusing to do, even with the tutorial videos at Nikon. However (with no manual), I have been able to obtain great results with Capture NX2. I shoot mostly in Jpeg. Several things I like
    1. Being able to add a little more color into photos to add more ALIVE character to it. I took photos on a beautiful trail in November and with a lot of the leaves fallen already, the photos were a little too gray…even though accurate. I was able to throw a little more red/yellow with just one click the leaves and trees had a more pleasant look to them while still looking natural.
    2. Once you get to know where things are, the basic improvements can be done very quickly.
    3. It is over $100 less than Lightroom. I am not interested in spending 1/2 an hour on a photo with some in depth software program. NX2 does all I need in a rather quick time.

    What I don’t like is some of the work flow with this graphs I don’t understand or can read, then moving sliders on the graph to change them. Get I need to read up on them-

    I do have a newer Mac and it works rather quickly and I have had no bug issues which is very important to me….stable software programs. I am still on my trial time, but I think I will pull the trigger when it’s over and buy NX2.

  13. Staylorist

    View NX is Nikon’s free RAW converter (even has some editing). Capture NX2 is the fancy image editing software, thus the extra expense. Capture runs pretty slow I must admit, but I find working with it is much faster than Photoshop.

    I just wanted to chime in that Nikon does offer a free RAW converter for their camera files that has basic editing and printing features.

  14. Ron, Easthampton Ma.

    Hi Carl,

    What did you do to get NX2 to read NEF’s from you d300s on your MAC. I have been trying for a few days. Have the latest trial version 2.2.2 and I can not get it to open NEF’s. Just wondering if you had to jump though some hoops. I am running Snow Lep. on a Mac Book Pro 15″. I have NX1 on a windows box and it works fine. I installed NX1 on the mac and it also could not read the NEF, but it could read JPEG’s. NX2 will not read anything……. Strange as it might seem but Lightroom has no issues with the NEF’s…… What is with NIKON ?

  15. Carl D Post author

    Hey Ron,

    I had some problems. Make sure you have the latest version of NX2. I downloaded from the Nikon site, then had to redownload again to upgrade to the latest version – so that could be the issue. What looked like it was version 2.2.2 was actually 2.0, and I then had to go back and download the upgrade. I’m pretty sure once I did that it worked – I’m running Leopard on a G5 iMac. NX1 won’t read the D300s NEF at all, I believe. Are you saying it worked on Windows for D300s files?

    Keep me posted, and good luck,

    Cheers

    Carl

  16. Ron, Easthampton Ma.

    Hi Carl,

    Yep did all that but NX2 2.2.2 will not open any files NEF or JPEG. 2.2.0 will open JPEG but not NEF. One would think that Nikon would get this right for the mac users as most pros or semi-pros are mac users…. I will be using Lightroom as a frontend to PS for now, there is a difference as you noted so I really want to use NX2….. I have noticed that I am not the only one with this problem. I have not tried the d300s NEF on NX1 on my windows machine. I know it opens my D80 NEF’s just fine. I will try that tonight.

  17. Al Rogers

    Hi Carl,
    I recently added a Nikon D300s as a backup to my D300. I also have Capture NX2 (Upgrade) installed on a Windows XP PC and two Windows Vista laptops. After downloading the photo-shoot material I attempted to open the RAW images with NX2. No luck. I reinstalled the Nikon 300s software and Capture NX2. Still no luck opening the RAW Images. The D300S including an option to install a RAW reader using the internet. After installing the program NX2 still does not open Raw images for editing.

    What I don’t understand and can’t figure out is why the D300 would allow for it but the new D300S will not.

    Like you I have noticed a huge difference in picture quality when using NX2 (D300) compared to CS4. White balance seems to be on the bright side with CS4.

    I primarily photograph automobiles for magazine print in JPEG Fine and Raw. The RAW images are not used much but its nice to have them available for book and magazine editors or art directors.

    Do you or any of the people here know if purchasing and installing the full version of Capture NX2 could fix the issue? As I mentioned earlier I have installed the upgrade.

    Your results are stunning.

    Al Rogers
    Freeze Frame Image

  18. Will

    Thanks for this post, until now I thought I was the only one who thought this! I always process my raw files through Capture NX2, it does a fantastic job. I’ve tested every other raw converter and none come close. So many people shoot NEFs and run them through ACR and never see how great their Nikon files can really look.

    Two more things- if you use Nikon software to process your NEF files the chromatic aberration is automatically removed – worth the price of admission right there! And Nikon does have a FREE raw converter called View NX2, it is very fast and quite a robust piece of software. I put it second to Photo Mechanic speed wise but it also allows some editing. And while I’m at it… Nikon Transfer is great ingest software as well!

    I would like it if Capture NX2 was faster but it isn’t so bad, and I am only processing a few selects at a time.

    Cheers,

    Will

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