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Nikon Tries Software Again with Nikon NX Studio

I love Nikon cameras and lenses but have been less favorably disposed to their attempts at software. But this time, they seem to have done it right with the release of Nikon NX Studio. Mostly.

By way of background, I've been shooting Nikon since the 1980s, back before software entered the mainstream, and definitely before Nikon's first forays into digital. I did have a Commodore-64 personal computer that worked for games and basic word processing. But photography back then was created and processed on film. The worlds of photography and software didn't intersect for me until I began scanning slides, first with a cheap flatbed scanner and then with my first of several generations of Nikon CoolScan slide scanners. As good as Nikon scanners were, the Nikon Scan software they distributed with them was bad. It was slow, crashed often, and even when it didn't, it was cumbersome and kludgy.

At the beginning of the digital era, Nikon again stepped up with great hardware and failed miserably on the software front. The original Nikon Capture was slow, crashed often, and, dare I say, downright kludgy. If you remember those days, no doubt you will agree. It was, well, bad. Even though Adobe Camera Raw's first version for Photoshop cost $99, many of us switched immediately. Nikon Capture began its slow decline into oblivion.

Years later, Nik Software teamed up with Nikon to release the brand new Capture NX. According to the press releases at the time, the company said "NX" stood for ‘nexus' and for ‘next stage of digital photography.' The program introduced the revolutionary control point interface that simplified the process of making selective edits. And by delegating the software development to Nik, users were spared the burden of another Nikon-written mess. I liked Capture NX but always wondered what its future would be, given that they were but a niche player in a Lightroom-dominated marketplace.
Eventually, Nik Software got bought by Google in 2012, and Nik and Nikon went their separate ways. Nik taking took their proprietary control point technology with them on the way out the door, and so we all moved back to Lightroom.

For years now, Nikon has tried to find a path forward with software. The idea was always to leverage their intimate knowledge of the Nikon NEF raw format to produce better results than their competitors and build a competitive advantage. But they could never quite pull it off. And it is this checkered backstory that brings us to this week's announcement of Capture NX Studio. Imagine my surprise to find that this time, they may just have done it. Or at least it's their best effort yet.

First off, Capture NX Studio is free. Nikon just wants to get it into people's hands. If you're a Nikon shooter looking to get out from under your Creative Cloud subscription, this may be your ticket, depending on your needs. And even if you love Lightroom pricing, feel free to pick up a copy of NX Studio anyway because, did I mention, it's free.

It runs on all current versions of both Windows and Mac OS. As expected, you will need current hardware as well to support video playback at 4K resolution.

The user interface is much improved from earlier Nikon offerings. Most controls are readily accessible and consistently designed. The program follows standard design patterns for your operating system instead of forcing users to deal with quirky keyboard shortcuts as did earlier Capture versions.

Missing from the last few Capture versions, the LCH (Lightness, Chroma, and Hue) control has made a comeback. This was always one of my favorites for tweaking the appearance and mood of an image.

The image browser is more on a par with Adobe Bridge than Lightroom but should be sufficient for all but power users.

NX Studio has good support for keywording, including both XMP and IPTC standards. You can automatically add keywords based on GPS data via Wikipedia lookup.

Previous versions of Nikon Capture saved changes directly into NEF files, a practice that gave some users cause for concern. Thankfully, NX Studio now offers users the choice to use sidecar files instead. Personally, I like to set my original raw NEF files to read-only as a precaution, so I welcome this.

There's a movie editor built-in that supports simple trimming and combining clips, adding background music. You're unlikely to create a Hollywood masterpiece with NX Studio, but it makes quick work of slideshows and family get-togethers.

Since it comes from Nikon, it will honor the choices you make in-camera for white balance, D-Lighting, and other settings that most raw converters ignore. Depending on your workflow, this could save you considerable time.

For still image formats, you can edit JPEG and TIFF in addition to Nikon NEF raw files.

Especially for the price, you can't beat Capture NX Studio. It's not perfect, but it's the best I've seen from Nikon in some time. Here's to hoping Nikon is serious about software again and can build on this foundation. You can find out more about NX Studio on Nikon's website here.

Date posted: March 7, 2021


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Raw to Cooked with the Nikon Capture Editor
Nikon Capture NX: First Thoughts
Nikon Capture NX: Hands On and Second Thoughts
Capture NX-D and the Future of Raw Conversion: Nikon and Nik Part Ways

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