|UPDATE (10-08-14): You're likely here because Photoshop will not open your RAW files. Don't worry. Free Nikon Capture NX-D has arrived. Click here for a brief review.|
|UPDATE (14-06-14): Phase One has updated its Capture One software from v.6 to v.7. Both the Pro and Express versions are available for a 60-day trial, here.
You can find my original review of the program below, or by clicking here
|UPDATE (21-05-14): Raw Therapee has published the 4.1 stable version, available for free download here. One of its strong points is that it runs on a myriad of platforms, not only Mac and WIN in both 32- and 64-bits, but also on a large number of different Linux builds.
The program currently supports the following Nikon cameras:
D1, D2 and D3 series, D4, D40(X), D50, D60, D70(S), D80, D90, D100, D200, D300(S), D700, D600 series, D800(E), D3000, D5000 and D7000 series, Df, and the large mayority of RAW capable Coolpix cameras. For more information, click here, for my original review of the program, here
RAW converters are very much a personal thing. I - for one - have abandoned Nikon Capture not because it was not capable, but because it made my workflow more complicated.
On top of that, my version (4.4.2) wouldn't open D40 RAW's and neither did Photoshop CS1.
When confronted with the choice which of the two to upgrade, the decision was very simple, really...
Similarly, other users will probably prefer Capture and just stick with it for all their NEF converting, even if it is slow, expensive and – like Photoshop ACR – stops supporting new Nikon cameras after a while.
However, there are a couple of programs out there that keep you from giving your money away to Adobe and Nikon, leaving it where it belongs: in your pocket.
I have seen many different users plugging many different RAW converters out there, and the three I'll discuss next below come up often.
I also list them here because I have worked with them at some time or another and know they will not let you down.
My advice is to keep looking and trying until you find the one that best fits your workflow. If that turns out to be a freebie, so much the better.
Read on for my list after the break.
1 - Convert your RAW files to DNG
DNG files (Digital Negative) can be opened in any version of Photoshop or Lightroom since CS1 / ACR v.2.4 and later.
Adobe keeps the DNG converter up to date, just slightly behind Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), adding new cameras as they come out.
BUT - unlike ACR - this tool is stand-alone and does NOT require updating Photoshop (or Lightroom, Bridge, Elements, et all).
If you are in the habit of creating a new folder for every shooting session, you can take full advantage of the batch capabilities of the DNG converter, since it is configured to handle folders rather than separate files.
I used to use it to convert my D40 RAW's for processing in CS1 and it worked like a charm. I still upgraded to CS3 later – expecting the mayor improvements which were not to be, and are still absent in CS4. Thus, for any unsupported future camera, I will probably go the same DNG route again, but permanently.
The only mayor set-back of this method is that you will need more disk space to keep both your NEF and DNG files safe; on average a Nikon D200 RAW coverted to DNG file weighs in at about 65% of the original, while a D40 DNG is actually slightly heavier than the original RAW.
However, hard disks are a lot cheaper than any subsequent Photoshop / Lightroom upgrades, and you may also choose to simply backup your original RAW's to DVD, and only keep the DNG files on the system.
Alternatively, the DNG converter also offers the option to embed the original RAW in the DNG file for later extraction, the resulting DNG being about 50% larger than the original RAW file for the D200, but almost twice as heavy as the original D40 RAW.
Thus, your mileage may vary depending on your camera.
A 15,6 Mb. D200 NEF converts on average into a 22 Mb. DNG plus embedded NEF, although I have seen some images turn into DNG's as large as 28 Mb..
D40 RAW files weigh in at around 5 - 5,5 Mb. and turn into roughly 10 Mb. DNG with the NEF embedded.
The great advantage of the DNG route is that these files open in ACR, giving you al the tweaking options of your current (legacy) ACR plug-in as long as your camera is supported in the latest DNG converter.
The latest combinations of PS/ACR are:
• Photoshop CS1 + ACR 2.4
• Photoshop CS2 + ACR 3.7
• Photoshop CS3 + ACR 4.6
• Photoshop CS4 + ACR 5.4
• Photoshop CS5 + ACR 6.6
• Photoshop CS6 + ACR 7.4
• Photoshop CC + ACR 8.1
For more information on how the DNG converter works, I suggest you read this article.
2 - Phase One Capture One, Capture One PRO v.4.8.1 (30 DAY TRIAL)
Although not free – this program costs between € 99 for the basic and € 339 for the extended PRO version – Phase One is a renown manufacturer of medium format digital backs, and their experience shows through in their software.
Although Capture One does not yet include the D5000, support for new cameras in their legacy software is flawless.
Currently supported Nikon's (C1 v.3 and better) are: D3(x), D2X(s), D2H(s), D2, D1X, D1H, D700, D300, D200, D100, D90, D80, D70, D60, D50 and D40(x).
Phase One offers a FREE upgrade to the latest version to all v.3 PRO owners, something Adobe wouldn't even dream about doing...
C1 also supports "tethered" (remotely controlled) shooting from and writing to a computer. This feature is not supported in Photoshop (not even in CS4) and - in the case of Nikon - comes at an additional price with Camera Control Pro ($ 180).
In the last Capture One version I tried out (v.3) the user interface was a bit cumbersome, while Phase One also supposes at least a basic understanding of the digital darkroom.
However, image turnout is extremely good, and if you are the owner of a professional or semi professional digital camera, you would definitely want to try out this software, especially if you do not yet own Photoshop or Lightroom, which go for $ 699 and $ 299 in their full versions and for $ 299 and $ 99 in their upgrade versions, respectively.
This is considerably more expensive than the Capture One software, especially if you can live with the – very capable – basic version.
Click here for supported cameras in Capture One (all versions). To get there, you'll need to click "What's New" and then "To see a list of all supported cameras" at the bottom of the page.
3 - RAW Therapee (current version: v.2.4.1 - FREE!)
Although RAW Therapee does not yet support some of the very latest camera models (like the D300S) it is a very capable RAW converter built on the renown DCRAW engine, which also supports DNG.
I have not tested this program lately and my experience with it goes a while back. Still, there are many users on the web who swear by it, and I was very impressed while using it, except from finding it a bit complicated at the time.
I will give it another run one of these days, but for the moment I can only say that this is a very capable RAW converter that will cost you nothing, zip, zilch, zero...
Nonetheless, if you like the program, you might want to consider donating a couple of bucks to the cause. These guys do a great job.
Click here for supported cameras (v.2.4.1).
UPDATE (03-09-09): Raw Therapee has released the 2.4.1 stable version, available for download here.
The program currenly supports the following Nikon cameras:
D1, D1H, D1X, D2H, D2Hs, D2X, D2Xs, D3, D3X, D40, D40X, D50, D60, D70, D70s, D80, D90, D100, D200, D300, D700, D3000, D5000, E2100, E3700, E5400, E8400, E8700, E8800 and Coolpix P6000
For a complete compatibility overview of Nikon Cameras, Adobe Camera RAW and DNG, take a look at my Nikon/ACR/DNG compatibility chart.
How the DNG Converter makes your RAW files compatible with any version of ACR
Adobe Creative Cloud or CC. Cash Cows for Creative Criminals
Which is the best RAW converter: Camera RAW, Nikon View, Capture or Phase One Capture One?
New Nikon camera? Photoshop or Camera RAW Trouble? Check out Nikon View NX!
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