Is Capture NX-D Good Enough?

(commentary)

nxd.jpg

Now that Capture NX-D is an official 1.0.0 product and Capture NX2 is no longer supported, many users are in a quandary. Many are also misevaluating the situation. 

First, let’s deal with the existing Capture NX2 users: that product is now officially in the "not supported" realm. If you’ve been using it—particularly if you’ve been using the U-points and other features that didn’t make it to NX-D—then you should have already created a viable boot drive with it installed or virtualized a drive with it installed. 

On Macs, it’s easy enough to do the former: buy a portable drive and use SuperDuper or similar product to clone your boot drive that has Capture NX2 installed before you move on to Yosemite. Alternatively, you can use one of the many virtualization products, but they often impose performance penalties and/or resource penalties. My workflow will be simple: if I need the old Capture I’ll boot with the dedicated Mavericks drive and work from there. Since my other data/work drives would always also be mounted when I do this, it’s easy enough to move finished files over to my production system, then reboot.

If you never used the unique features of Capture NX2, then you don’t really have much to worry about other than learning yet another new UI (third in Capture’s history). 

While we’ve all lamented Nikon’s change here—and let me repeat myself: Nikon did this shift very, very poorly—the operant question now is whether or not you want to install Capture NX-D and use it for anything.

My answer might surprise you: yes, you do.

Many Capture users were actually using it as a replacement for ACR. Why? Because Adobe’s conversions of NEF images aren’t optimal. Nikon’s not only match what the camera’s JPEG engine does, but they’re arguably better than Adobe’s unless you want to create your own custom profiles and spend lots of time tweaking.  

What we really lost with Capture NX2 was the ability to do something more than a conversion. The U-points and the one plug-in gave users the ability to do quite a bit of pixel editing in Capture NX2. Whether this returns in some form—brushes, for instance—in Capture NX-D is unknown, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. However, Lightroom has brushes and the Google Nik Collection has U-points if you really need them; so you’ll just be doing your selective editing with something other than Capture NX2 in the future.

That NX-D is now free is a nice point that can’t be argued with. But we may also be getting what we paid for ;~). Historically, Capture has been full of bugs, a bit on the crash prone side, and slow to update after OS updates. It’s also supported about as poorly as software can be supported (try getting a crash or install issue resolved by Nikon support).  Now that Nikon isn’t getting revenue from it, I can’t imagine those things will get better, but the code base has been changed, so maybe we’re operating from a better place now. Hard to tell until we all bang on NX-D with lots of stress tests and go through a complete OS update.

Still, it’s worth downloading and installing, I think. No one’s ever complained about the actual raw conversions that Capture produces, and as far as I can tell, Nikon has done the same thing as before with the new NX-D version: install the JPEG rendering engine that’s in EXPEED as a callable routine underneath the software UI. In other words, we’re still dealing with the same basic black box that does the interpretation of raw data. It’s just that a different UI is living on top of it. 

So, for a bit of pain in learning the nuances of how to control the new software, we get the same old excellent conversions. Whether we got more stability and speed in the process is still a bit on the unknown side, but it’s hard to imagine Nikon going further backwards on that, as they were already half out the door. Basically what I see so far is: the original Capture conversion engine dressed in new clothing. 

Of course, Nikon seems confused, as usual. Why do we still need Nikon ViewNX2? Oh, right, because Nikon Transfer is built into it (but not into NX-D!). I expect ViewNX2 to go away. At least if Nikon is rational. 

What Nikon should have done at this point given they’re switching horses is this:

  • Develop NX-D. (Done)
  • Force email registration to collect lists of all users. (Remaining to be done)
  • Add plug-in capabilities to NX-D. (Remaining to be done)
  • Add Nikon Transfer abilities to NX-D. (Remaining to be done)
  • Add Nikon Camera Control Pro plug-in to NX-D. (Remaining to be done)
  • Market the plug-ins to those email addresses they collect (Remaining to be done)


That would have been the bare minimum I would have insisted on if I ran Nikon’s software group. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have allowed the whole Nik/Capture problem to happen in the first place, nor the dueling Nikon Transfer versions, nor a lot of other stuff that happened. 

All of which makes me wonder. Nikon has proven they’re not a software company. They seem hell bent to prove they’re not really a lens maker lately (at least not anything other than for consumer lenses and a few updates). They haven’t managed to update two seminal cameras, and a third one got a marginal update, so they don’t seem to be a photographer’s camera company any more. They couldn’t make Nikon 1 stick in the market, so they don’t seem to be an innovator of useful things.

So what kind of a company are they? Confused, as I noted. I blame this on management, not engineering. We’ll see what the recent management changes produce. But right now the sum of the parts is less than the sum of the parts, and that’s especially true in the software offerings.  


Update: After installing the 1.0.0 version and trying a few things, there still seems to be a problem with large folders of images that have non-Nikon images in them. I can hang Capture NX-D pretty much at will:

nxdhang.jpg


But there was one very interesting surprise in NX-D: take a close look at this:

pconnxd.jpg

Capture NX-D has recognized an image I took using one of my UniWB settings and decided that the Picture Control was UNI Flat! What? The camera used was a D3x, and the actual picture control set was Neutral. The WB used in the shot (shown at top) was a custom Uni file that wasn’t quite 1,1,1 in the coefficients (within 1%, though). What this tells me is that someone at Nikon still knows what UniWB is, and that they may actually be using it in testing of gear. Remember, UniWB was originally supported by the first version of Capture: you could create a custom white balance file with the original Capture that had color coefficients of 1,1,1 and export that to the camera. 

So please Nikon, let us create UniWB in Capture again and use it in our cameras. 

Another interesting thing is the new Picture Control editor. When you launch it you get this dialog:

pcedit.jpg

At first this seems a bit of a mess (it is: Nikon is once again deep into their modalism, and why they can’t create a system that can ignore unknown “tags” I don’t know; the rest of the world has been doing that for decades). 

But a couple of interesting points are implied here: first, the D2XMODE picture controls are present, and it appears that you can create them and ship them off to all EXPEED-based cameras now. Before, we couldn’t do that with some cameras. Updated: unfortunately, while you can create a DX2MODE control and put it on a card, it appears that we still have only a subset of cameras that support them; cameras that don’t support them but run EXPEED simply won’t load the file if it is a D2XMODE picture control. Second, you really only have to use NP2 if you want to work with the Flat picture control or the Clarity slider. Unfortunately, the only camera that understands that is the D810, though that is going to change with time. 

Further Update: Capture NX-D complains when external browsers by presenting the following message: “The document FILENAME could not be opened. Capture NX-D cannot open files in the “Nikon raw image” format! I’ve verified that Capture NX-D can indeed open the files in questions directly, just not from another product that launches NX-D. Big bummer for workflow.

© Thom Hogan 2015 / All Rights Reserved bythom.com  @bythom #bythom