Hands on with Nikon Capture NX 2

Aug 4, 2008
Theano Nikitas

Software upgrades don’t always generate a lot of buzz but after spending some time with Nikon Capture NX 2, it’s easy to see why the latest iteration of Nikon’s image editing/RAW processing application is worth more than a few words. In fact, the improvements made in NX 2—and an expanded use of Nikon’s U Point technology—strongly support the theory that this software is not just for Nikon shooters. Granted, NX 2’s RAW processing capabilities are NEF-specific but NX 2’s capabilities go far beyond RAW.

Before venturing into new features, it’s important to note that the GUI has been redesigned. At first glance, you may not see the differences between the NX and NX 2 user interface but they’re there. And once you start using the program, you’ll notice how NX 2 provides more flexibility and efficiency than the earlier version. Dual monitor support and the option to customize and save various workspaces add to the program’s usability. NX 2 is also better integrated with Nikon View NX, although I found that I was just as happy using the software’s improved Browser to locate and review images, especially since it was easy to apply labels and ratings to files straight from the Browser. NX users can easily transfer labels created in NX 1.x to NX 2, so there’s a smooth transition between the two versions.

Also new for NX 2 is a Favorites Folders for quick access to your most-often used folders. Depending on how you work, this option can certainly help streamline the task of organizing and finding images.

The Edit List has also been revamped and is much more usable and offers a more logical (and intuitive) flow. In NX 2 the Edit List not only offers improved functionality with its layout and ease of use but there are a few new options as well. New for NX 2 is a Quick Fix section where you can easily tweak the image with curves and/or levels. New to the Edit List is Highlight Protection and Shadow Protection, both of which seem to work relatively well. Of course, there are multiple other adjustment options including contrast, brightness, saturation and noise reduction and many others that are easily accessed via the new Edit List.

In addition to a redesign, NX 2 offers an increase in speed. Overall, the program is faster but it hasn’t gone from compact car to Formula One performance. But, in most cases, I noticed a difference on a MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM. It was still a little sluggish on a two year old PC running Windows XP Professional with 1.5GB RAM.

But, for me, the most exciting changes are the addition of two new tools: Selection Control Points and the Auto Retouch Brush.

Even more evident in NX 2 than in its predecessor, is the value of Nik Software’s U Point technology (and proof that one of the best things Nikon ever did for Capture was invest in Nik Software). NX 1 utilized U Point for its Color Control Points, a quick but effective method of applying localized color adjustments. With NX 2, U Point technology is now being utilized to take the pain out of complex selections and masks via the new Selection Control Points. Once the selection masks are created, you can simply click one or more adjustments and have them applied to the selected areas. Selection Control Points are as effective and efficient to use as the Color Control Points and do a good job in expanding NX 2’s appeal.

The Auto Retouch Brush is surprisingly effective at removing blemishes, wrinkles and assorted other unwanted elements (including large objects) from an image. Naturally, you can go a little overboard with the brush, resulting in a muddy mess instead of a clean sampling but as long as you keep the brush size relatively small and paint selectively, this tool does a really good job.

Although Nikon Capture NX 2 continues to be a more than capable RAW processor, batch processing large numbers of NEF files isn’t one of the program’s strong suits—especially when it comes to speed. But that’s really its only shortfall and, of course, only applies to those who need to tweak and process huge batches of RAW images.

I have to confess that until Nik’s U Point came onto the scene with NX, I wasn’t a big fan nor user of Capture. But now, with dual U Point tools (Color Control Points and Selection Control Points), along with the Auto Retouch Brush, Capture NX 2 is playing a more important role in my image editing. It also seems that Nikon is, in some ways, democratizing Capture so that a broader section of the photography community (i.e., enthusiasts and prosumers) will find it appealing. That doesn’t mean that NX 2 is any less valuable to professionals; it may mean, however, that a larger audience may help influence the future of Capture. Only time will tell whether or not that’s a good thing for professional photographers but, in any case, Nikon Capture NX 2 is an important step up for photographers working in JPEG, TIFF or NEFs.

PROS: Ease and accuracy of color adjustment and selections with Nik software’s U Point technology; improved user interface; effective Auto Retouch Brush

CONS: Speed improvements should be increased, learning curve (intuitive only after you learn what each tool can do), batch processing of large numbers of NEF files can be a little clunky and slow

BOTTOM LINE: Nikon Capture NX 2 is a worthy addition to any workflow and its implementation of U Point technology, and its associated time-saving gains, makes the investment in NX 2 seem like a bargain.

More information on Nikonusa.com
$179.95 full version; $109.95 for upgrade

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