Adobe Camera RAW vs Nikon Capture NX2

I’ve been using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) ever since I started shooting RAW with my D40 in mid-2007.  I’ve always been pretty happy with the results, particularly after bouncing into Photoshop CS3 and doing some additional adjustments such as some changes in LAB mode but recently I’ve been wondering what other software is available for manipulating the NEFs that come off of the D300.  Without too much effort I found a ton of sites talking about how Capture NX2 from Nikon is the best editor for NEFs hands down.  Nikon even has a 60-day free trial of the software so I decided to give it a shot.

I’ve spent a few hours each night for the past few days experimenting with NX2 and found myself seriously disappointed with the software each time.  The problem isn’t the quality of the output.  After seeing the results of the various adjustments such as white balance, noise reduction, Active D-Lighting, and a ton of other features I dare not question the capabilities of the software.  It really is great at adjusting NEFs.  Where it really gets me is that it extends my workflow, it results in more used disk space, and it’s REALLY SLOW!

With few exceptions I always load the processed NEFs into Photoshop so at a minimum I can add a copyright watermark and a border treatment.  In order for me to fit NX2 into my workflow I’d need to do the processing in NX2, save the image as a TIFF, and open the TIFF in Photoshop, do the appropriate processing, save the PSD, and then export the JPEG that will end up on flickr or a CD/DVD.  With my current workflow I just open ACR via Adobe Bridge, do my processing, let ACR generate a 5-10K xmp sidecar file, and proceed into Photoshop.  Generally speaking, the results with this process are (IMHO) fantastic and I don’t have a 70+MB TIFF sitting along side a 90+MB PSD.  Granted I could delete the TIFF when I’m done with it but that would be adding yet another step into the process.  The real deal breaker for me though is how insanely slow NX2 really is!

I’ve seen some posts that discuss how NX2’s UI is a bit cumbersome.  I really didn’t think the UI was the problem.  After a bit of poking around I found most of the basic adjustments to be fairly intuitive.  The UI wasn’t what slowed me down.  What really slowed me down was how long it took NX2 to complete ANY operation.  Changing white balance?  Wait a few minutes.  Setting the black point?  Wait a few minutes.  Zooming in?  Wait a few minutes.  Applying noise reduction?  Go watch TV.

Maybe the slowness of this application would be more tolerable to me if I wasn’t already used to the speed of ACR.  I’ll admit that my laptop is a few years old but these same adjustments in ACR are nearly instantaneous!  I obviously don’t know what’s going on under the hood of these two apps but if Adobe’s generic RAW editor can be as good as it is I would think that Nikon could create a specialized NEF editor that would be much better.

My experience this past week with Capture NX2 has left me thinking that Nikon needs to release the full details of the NEF format, get out of the desktop software market, and let the companies like Adobe that have proven their ability handle making the desktop utilities.  It was bad enough when I opened the box for my D300 and pulled out the software suite CD.  I paid $1700 for a D300 and all Nikon is going to give me are View NX and Kodak EasyShare?  How am I supposed to do anything with 14-bit NEFs with those???  And then they want $180 for software that would eat more of my time and storage space?  W…T…F???

In the mean time, I think I’m going to download the trial version of Adobe Lightroom 2.0.  I’ve seen demos for Lightroom 1 and have liked everything I’ve seen.  I’m thinking it could streamline my workflow a bit.  That, and I hate Bridge too…but that’s another topic for another time.