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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.

T-Bird Tail Light

Today was another good day for my photography.  One of my photos won the June 2008 Assignment: Indiana contest!  The topic for June was Vintage Vehicles and I snapped a shot of the tail light of a 1956 Ford Thunderbird while Esther and I were at the 1st annual Carmel Artomobilia event in Carmel’s Arts and Design District.

Thanks to everyone that voted for this shot in June.  I’m looking forward to the July contest.

T-Bird Tail Light

This shot was taken at f/8 for 1/160.  Only the usual color adjustments were applied in Photoshop.

Streaks in the Sky

For the first time in a long time I tried my hand at capturing some lightning.  I’ve tried very unsuccessfully in the past to get a lightning shot that I could be proud of but tonight was another story.

We had yet another not so insignificant storm pass through the area tonight.  At first I tried shooting through one of the west windows in our sunroom but by the time I got my camera set up most of the lightning had moved to the other side of the house.  I moved my gear to an east facing dining room window but the screen and trees were causing other troubles.  I was about to put everything away when I decided to move into the garage (also east facing).

At first I wasn’t having much luck.  I had been trying to limit my scope to one of the houses across the street (and the sky above it obviously) since I had been seeing a fair amount of activity in that general direction.  After several unsuccessful attempts I changed my approach and zoomed back out to 18mm and widened my field to nearly the entire cul-de-sac.  Immediately after repositioning and opening the shutter I was presented with a perfect flash that I knew was right across the top third of my frame.  I left the shutter open for a few more seconds before closing it.  When the review came up I took one look at it and said to myself “this is the shot I’ve been waiting for,” packed up my gear, and headed inside satisfied that I FINALLY got the lightning shot I’ve wanted since I got my D40.

Streaks in the Sky

For anyone interested in the technical information about this shot, this was taken at f/8 for 23. seconds.

And The Winner Is…

I entered four photos into the novice division of the September 2007 Photo Venture Camera Club competition. My two on-topic (self-portrait) entries didn’t fare too well since the judge didn’t like the inclusion of the camera in the shot but I swept the off-topic color category. Here are my winning entries:

Leafscape – Second Place

Leafscape

Bored Dog – First Place

Bored Dog

Great Purchase

So now that I’ve taken on photography as a hobby I’ve found myself spending money on all sorts of things. I love my camera (a Nikon D40), lens (a Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens), Photoshop CS3 (particularly the RAW editor), and my flickr account but I have to say that one of my favorite purchases so far was the Wacom Graphire4 6″x8″ tablet!

I have been eyeing the Wacom tablets for quite some time but until getting into photography and having software that would actually benefit from the pen I could never justify the purchase. Now that I have Photoshop justifying the purchase was easy. All I can say now is that I’m glad I bought the tablet and honestly wish I had done so sooner.

Using the pen interface instead of the mouse just feels right. Sure, it took a little getting used to but the adjustment time was minimal. I’ve only had the tablet for a day and I already find myself using it more effectively than a mouse. Everything just seems easier and more natural with the pen.

I’ve noticed that I don’t just get the benefit from using applications like Photoshop but all applications. Choosing cells in Excel is easier, scrolling web pages or Word documents is easier. Dragging files and folders seems more natural. In general, work just seems easier with the pen.

After having used the pen and tablet interface I’d recommend it to anyone.

I’m Back!

After a long time away I’ve decided to use Blogger again. I’m in the process of revamping my main site to be focused on my photography and am going to move much of the blog content I had there over to blogger.

Moving forward, I’ll use this space to post new technical resources and journal some of my explorations of photography. Hopefully I can get myself to be a little more consistent with posting since I don’t have to do anything to maintain this site!

I think it will take a little time to get re-adjusted to using Blogger again. It has been over two years since my last post here. I can’t believe I remembered my password!

InformationWeek Article

For those that read InformationWeek, you know that articles regarding the auto industry appear regularly. In this week’s issue, five auto industry executives are profiled including International Truck & Engine’s VP of IT. I was suprised when he used my group (Supply Chain) for one of his examples.

The article can be found at http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=160401450&pgno=3.

Kudos

This post is a bit off topic from the usual technical nature of this site but all too often those that deserve praise for a job well done go unnoticed.

This past weekend my wife, in-laws, and I were travelling on a Sunday afternoon road-trip between Crawfordsville, Indiana and Greencastle, Indiana. As we returned to Crawfordsville around 4:00 PM, we were caught off-guard as a Crawfordsville Police officer drove south on US 231 and pointed and indicated to the motorists heading northbound to pull over and stay off the road. Within a minute after the officer passed, a green SUV passed at an extremely high speed and was being pursued by several Indiana State Police squad cars.

After the chase passed, we continued travelling toward Crawfordsville and witnessed another Crawfordsville trooper pulling in some spike strips. Not too far ahead, the police had the SUV stopped and surrounded.

The coordinated effort between the Crawfordsville and Indiana State Police was able to stop the vehicle and prevent anyone from being injured during the chase.

According to the linked article the driver was travelling at speeds of up to 110 mph. At that speed, these agencies had approximately six minutes to coordinate and execute a plan for stopping the driver before she reached Crawfordsville!

As a traveller in the vicinity of this pursuit I must commend all of the departments that were involved. It was their training and quick thinking that prevented anyone from being injured this Easter Sunday.

On behalf of my family, I sincerely thank all of the officers involved for their service.

Oracle, DB2, and ASP.NET

In my ASP.NET applications, I typically use SQL Server 2000 but lately I have had the need to connect to Oracle and DB2. The Oracle and DB2 providers do not work with ASP.NET out of the box so I thought I’d share some of my experiences along with best practices for resolving the issues. Documentation for resolving these issues seems to be lacking, particularly in the area of DB2.

As you may know, ASP.NET applications execute in the user context of the ASPNET account on the server computer. By default, this account does not have access to the installation folders of the two providers. This lack of permissions will cause an ASP.NET application attempting to utilize either provider to incorrectly report that the corresponding provider has not been installed.

General Issues
Table 1: Default Folders
Client Folder
Oracle C:\Orant\
DB2 C:\Program Files\IBM\SQLLIB

One solution to this is to make the ASPNET account a member of the server Administrators group. This approach should be avoided. Instead, grant the ASPNET account Read & Execute permission on the folder where the provider is installed. These permissions should be inherited to lower levels of the directory structure. Refer to Table 1 for the standard installation paths for the two providers. Note that your installation may vary depending on the version installed on your server.

The DB2 Installer does simplify this process a bit. A group named DB2USERS is created during installation and the appropriate permissions have been granted to the group. To give the ASPNET account the appropriate access to the folder, add it to the DB2USERS group. This will require restarting IIS which can be easily accomplished by running IISRESET from the run dialog box.

Oracle Specific Issues

This issue seems to be specific to the Oracle 8i client and the MDAC (Microsoft ODBC driver and the Microsoft Oracle Provider) and is addressed in http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;264012. Essentially, a useless error message is displayed:

SQL State: “NA000
Native error code: 0
Driver Message: [Microsoft][ODBC Driver for Oracle][Oracle]
Do you need any suggestions to avoid the error?”

What is causing this is that some registry entries are incorrect or missing. Follow the instructions in the KB article linked above to solve the problem. Of course, the obligatory warning about incorrect modification of the registry can cause the computer to cease functioning applies.

DB2 Specific Issues

In trying to resolve the connectivity issue with DB2, a DB2 DBA suggested examining the registry to verify that the entries in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ODBC\ODBC.INI and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ODBC\ODBCINST.INT for DB2Connect refer to the appropriate folder. The DBA said that the issue seems to be limited to systems where the client software was upgraded from version 7 to version 8.

My server did not fall into this category and the registry entries were referencing the correct path but I thought I should include it for completeness.

Summary

Whenever a new database connectivity provider is installed and needs to be used by ASP.NET, permissions on the installation folder should be checked to ensure that the ASPNET account can access the files. For security reasons, never set the ASPNET account as a member of the Administrators group although doing so would typically solve the problem.

If the new provider still doesn’t work through ASP.NET, determine if connections to the database server can be made using the provided software (SQL+ for example) and query Google for your symptoms. As a personal preference, I typically check Google Groups before trying standard Google.