The Embedded Adjustments Problem

(commentary) Updated

I’m getting a ton of mail from folk who’ve been using Capture NX2 for a long time who are panicking. As well they should, given Nikon’s NX-D changes.

First, let me describe the problem.

In previous versions of Capture, when you altered something Capture would create a second data repository within your NEF. In essence, the NEF would then consist of your original image data and your altered image data. Capture also allowed you work with scans taken with a Coolscan that were saved as a special kind of NEF, and it allowed you to create a pseudo NEF from TIFF and JPEG files, as well. In all those instances, the original data lived in one place in the file, the alterations and new preview image elsewhere. 

The alternative to this arrangement is sidecars (adjustments saved as a database of changes in a separate, but related/linked file). 

I’ve never been a big fan of the Capture arrangement. Even when it first appeared, it flew a bit in the face of what most of us then understood about original data versus metadata and how those should be optimally handled. Generally you don’t want to alter an original file, it should stay original. The chances that a corruption in your alteration data that renders an entire file unusable are bigger. The whole notion behind Lightroom and Aperture, for example, is that the original files are kept intact somewhere and that what you do with them and all the information you change relating to them is stored in a separate database that also links to the original file. 

From pretty much the beginning, I recommended that Nikon users only work on copies of their original NEF files. That’s a workflow that I described at the turn of the century and still believe in. But…if you didn’t create a copy and worked on the original in Capture, the changes you made changed the file. 

The problem now is that all those changes that many photographers, including quite a few pros, made using Capture, just aren’t recognized by Capture NX-D. Some people contacting me are talking about thousands of images in their active files that they’ve edited with Capture NX. That Capture NX-D won’t recognize those changes is not perfectly true, though. As long as the changes were only to the Camera Settings panel, there’s hope that they are picked up by NX-D. I say hope, because I can’t verify that: the NX-D beta keeps crashing on my system. 

But if you used the U-point technology in Capture NX2 or any of the added tools beyond the basic Camera Settings, things won’t be so pretty. Nikon says that they’ll try to recognize previously set U-points (though the current version does not), but you won’t be able to change them in NX-D. So the best possible case for the future is that the changes in your NEF files made with Capture will be recognized, but not changeable. Which, of course, mostly defeats the whole purpose of non-destructive editing. In essence, Capture is going from being a non-destructive converter/editor to becoming a destructive converter for those that were using NX2. That’s not a trivial change.

So what can you do? 

Unfortunately, there are only three answers, none of them perfect:

  1. Go through and save all your NX2-edited files as 16-bit TIFF copies. All your previous changes will be there in the best quality file you can create that other software products can then later maintain. But you lose access to all your non-destructive edits.
  2. Buy a new machine and dedicate it as a permanent Capture NX2 machine. Load only the last version of Capture NX2 on it, make sure the OS has all the current patches, then forever take it off-line once you’ve verified that it is stable. Never install new software on it, never change the software on it. Use the machine only as a Capture NX2 editor.
  3. Create a Virtual Machine on your computer with an OS and Capture NX2 installed in it (e.g. Parallels on a Macintosh). This is temporarily better than #2 and eventually worse than #2. That’s because at some point you may have to update the virtual machine software on your computer for an OS update, and you never know whether that will break Capture when you do that. Capture has been insanely sensitive to even small OS changes along the way, so I suspect it will be sensitive to VM changes, too.

Yeah, those options suck. 

But here’s another problem: Capture NX needs to check in with its license server in Japan when you install it. Nikon hasn’t said how long they’ll keep that license server up, but I suspect it won’t stay up for long after Capture NX2 goes off the market. Note: after writing the previous section, a number of people have indicated to me that their installer doesn’t check in with the license server, particularly Windows versions. It’s possible that Nikon made changes to some recent versions. 

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