Nikon Capture NX: First Thoughts
Nikon wants every user of their digital cameras to feel that Nikon Capture is the best tool to use for converting their raw images. Regular readers here know that I have mixed feelings about how successful they have been at providing a program to live up to that aim. It is in this context that I wanted to present a few first thoughts on their recent announcement of the new version, dubbed Capture NX.
I do think Nikon Capture is a good program mind you, but it is not without its problems. It is somewhat a hodge-podge of tools, many overlapping in functionality and lacking any clear focus on workflow. Users who persevere with learning it can definitely get good results, but others who try end up being nothing but frustrated. Capture is notorious for having performance problems on certain hardware configurations and bugs on most all systems. The bugs do get fixed with subsequent versions, but version upgrades have themselves not always been a painless process.
Nor is Nikon Capture without its competition. From the early days when Bibble and Qimage came on the scene to today when we have Adobe Camera Raw, Raw Shooter Essentials, DxO Optics Raw, PhaseOne Capture One and others. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses as well as its fans and detractors. The bottom line though is that Nikon shooters have choices, and choice is good. If Nikon wants our software business they have to provide a tool that beats the competition. Nikon's unique position may have put them on the ground floor of the NEF converter business, but they no longer inherently dominate it.
So it is within this framework that I eagerly read this week's announcement of Nikon Capture NX.
Developed jointly with Nik Software, Capture NX looks like it will feature a number of new innovative features such as the novel U PointTM technology Control Points and selection tools. All these new features though make me wonder precisely what Nikon intends Capture to be. Is it a raw file converter, or is it, as their announcement seems to say, more full blown "digital image editing software?" The title of the announcement is "Capture NX: Advancing full-scale digital image processing and editing." It devotes much more space to how Capture NX "for the first time, ... makes image processing of JPEG and TIFF files created by other cameras elegant and easy enough for any photographer to implement" and how it's remarkable tools let you adjust your image "without the complications required by other photo editing software."
I mean, the Flash demo of Control Points on Nikon's site is indeed cool, but I really doubt it will be enough to get Canon users to buy Nikon Capture. Nor will it be enough to cause most Photoshop users to abandon Adobe.
Capture clearly started out as a NEF converter. In later versions it became somewhat of a NEF converter that also had a growing number of general purpose image editing tools. With Capture NX though, Nikon seems to be marketing the program more as an application that does general image editing and can also convert NEF files. Indeed, reading the announcement, it can be hard to tell precisely which features are designed for NEF conversion and which will work on any file. One of the most prominent references to raw conversion is that "some Capture NX functions apply to NEF files only." It does say that changes made to NEF files are saved as part of the Edit List inside the file rather than actually altering pixels in real time. But it also seems to say you can save a JPEG or TIFF embedded in a NEF wrapper, somewhat casting NEF as a general purpose image format. But this doesn't turn them into raw files. They remain RGB data in a color space rather than true linear, mosaiced raw data. Even the chart of which functions are compatible with which file formats lumps raw files in with the more encompassing "Nikon D-SLR images," leaving what clarifying details there are to footnotes. Almost no space in the entire announcement is devoted to any advances in image quality, detail, noise reduction or other features I want in a raw converter.
From the announcement, it does seem as if they have added some long requested features including improved batch processing and true color management. Retained are familiar features such as D-Lighting, Image Dust Off, de-fishing of images shot on the 10.5mm fisheye lens, and color aberration control. Notably missing from the announcement is any mention of either Nikon Capture Camera Control or the ability to download custom tone curves.
Also notably missing from the announcement is any mention of support for standards such as DNG and XMP.
As for the name, Nikon says that "'NX' is derived from 'nexus' and 'next stage of digital photography'." I think it more likely that it is derived from "Nikon" and "Nik," the two companies responsible for creating the new version. But who am I to argue.
Personally, I don't want Nikon trying to compete with Photoshop. I want them trying to make a raw converter that delivers the highest quality images possible from an original raw capture. Maybe Capture NX does, but if so, Nikon devotes little space to telling me about it. Capture NX is scheduled for delivery during Spring 2006. I guess that means we won't have too long to wait to find out just how good it is at converting raw files even if Nikon is too modest to talk much about it now. I hope that's the case.
Price is uncertain as is any upgrade discount for current Capture users. The German Nikon site lists the retail price as 149€ so you can guess it will be similar in US dollars. Nikon also just announced a new version of Nikon View called Nikon View Pro which should be in the range of 49€. Looks like it will no longer be a free download.
I like Nikon. I also like Nik Software. I'm not so sure I like where they seem jointly to be trying to take their raw converter. Excuse me: I mean their "photo editing software."
Update 03/05/2006 - I wanted to note that if you are looking for a way to optimize your digital images that lets you avoid Photoshop, Capture NX may actually be a great option. Capture NX won't do everything Photoshop does, but if it's enough for your needs, Nikon may have announced just the thing to meet your needs. Me though, I'm a Photoshop guy.
Update 04/18/2006 - Nikon has today announced the delay of Capture NX until July 2006. The anticipated Nikon View Pro is also being delayed with a release date "to be announced later." Nikon says these delays are due to a "slight delay in their development schedule." Sounds like we have to wait just a bit longer to find out what Capture NX is really all about.
Update 06/11/2006 - On June 1, Nikon announced Camera Control Pro, confirming rumors that the upcoming Capture NX will not include the camera control functionality incorporated in current versions of Capture.
Update 07/03/2006 - Nikon apologizes to purchasers of the new Nikon D2Xs for their delay in releasing Capture NX. It seems that nothing but PictureProject is currently capable of reading D2Xs NEF files. Rumors are that the trial version of Capture NX is coming any day now though.
Update 07/09/2006 - Nikon released the 30-day trial version of Capture NX this past Friday. Now that I've had a chance to actually try it, you can find out what I think about it here.
Update 03/20/2007 - Nikon has announced that they are cancelling Nikon View Pro, citing market conditions. They state that they are "currently developing a new generation of image management and browsing software for download from [their] website, and plan to begin offering this before the end of 2007." OK, we get to wait a bit longer it seems, and it will have a new name. Interesting.
Update 12/28/2007 - Nikon ViewNX, the replacement to Nikon View, is out now as a free download. It works as a basic image viewer, but I'm not overly impressed. Still, at least they decided not to charge for it.