Capture NX 2.2 Review

By Jason Odell | April 2, 2009 8:41 PM | Permalink | Comments ( 2) | TrackBacks ( 0)

Yesterday, Nikon released an update to Capture NX2-- version 2.2. I installed this version on my computer and checked out its new features, as well as Nikon's claims for speed improvement.


Let's start with what's new.
New Features in Capture NX 2.2
  • NRW support for Coolpix P6000 RAW files
  • Automatic lens distortion correction
  • Axial CA removal tool
  • Speed improvements up to 50% (Nikon's claim)

NRW File Support
Starting at the top, NRW support is a welcome addition to Capture NX, as it allows Coolpix P6000 users another RAW conversion option.  Moreover, this support now extends to the Mac platform, something Nikon conspicuously left out of the original NRW spec.  Since I don't have a P6000 (I'm not sure if I'll get one), I will only state that it is nice to see that this file is supported in Nikon's "flagship" RAW converter.

The two new adjustment tools are found in the Develop section of Capture NX2's Edit List under Camera & Lens Corrections:

Camera-lens-menu.jpg

Automatic distortion correction
This new feature is quite nice, in that it uses lens data to help correct barrel and pincushion distortion in your images.  You can only use this control on RAW images-- it won't appear if you open a JPEG image.  What's nice about this control is that it is totally automated; you don't need to fiddle around with any sliders.  In my tests, this control is enabled for both Nikkor and non-Nikkor lenses, although I'm not sure if the distortion algorithms differ when Nikkor lenses are used.

Here's an image taken with my 24-70mm Nikkor lens, with the grids enabled in Capture NX2 to help illustrate the lens distortion.  Notice that the horizon bends upwards just ever so slightly at either edge of the image (Click the image for a larger view).

Distortion-off.jpg

When auto distortion correction is enabled, here's the result:
Distortion-on.jpg
As you can see, the horizon is pretty much completely straight; a nice job for an automatic tool, IMO.

Axial CA Correction
Capture NX has always done a nice job of automatic CA removal, but that tool has been limited to something called "lateral" CA.  This is the typical "purple fringing" you will often see at the edges of the frame, especially in backlit conditions with wide lenses.  There is another form of CA, however, called "Axial" CA.  This is chromatic aberration generated along the lens axis, and it often shows up when you use older internal focusing telephoto lenses.  Axial CA is manifested by red or purple color fringing beyond the focal plane of the lens, and it can be difficult to correct.  I found Capture NX 2.2's Axial CA removal slider to work exceptionally well, and you can use it on JPEGs, not just NEFs.

Here is an image shot with my 85mm f/1.4 Nikkor.  Notice the color fringing in the out of focus areas:
axial-ca-off.jpg

Now, I've enabled Axial CA removal and moved the slider to the maximum position (100):
axial-ca-on.jpg

My conclusion: Although I haven't exactly been plagued by images that suffered from extreme axial CA, the new tool works very well and is totally simple to use.  This new tool is a welcome addition to my digital toolbox.

Speed Improvements
The issue of speed and Capture NX is controversial at best. NX has never been a speed demon, but it runs competently on my Macs at home.  Nikon claimed improved batch performance, so I ran some quantitative tests of my own prior to updating my software.

Test Platform:
Apple Mac Pro quad-core 3.0 GHz Xeon processors
Mac OS 10.5.6
8GB RAM

Test files
10 D3 NEFs, 14-bit, lossless NEF compression

Test routines:
1) Save 10 NEFs as 16-bit TIFFs, LZW compression, no changes applied to the files
2) Save 10 NEFs as JPEGs, maximum quality, no changes to the files
3) Apply changes to Picture Control, WB, and add USM step and save as NEFs

Results:
I timed each batch operation in NX 2.1.1 and NX 2.2.  The results are shown in the following graph:
NX2-2_graph.jpg
Shorter bars are better.  What you can see from the illustration is that NX 2.2 does not export TIFFs (in a batch job) any faster than NX 2.1.1.  JPEG exports were about 12% faster, and NEF saves with changes to the files (as you might expect in a batch operation) were 33% faster in the newer version of the software.  This is good news for those of us who need to make sweeping changes to image WB across a shoot, but these times are still nowhere near as fast as applications that do not render JPEG previews into the NEFs (like ACR or Aperture).  However, any speed improvement is a welcome one in my book.

Qualitatively, I will say that Capture NX 2.2 seems to open and render NEFs much quicker than version 2.1.1.  Images that were saved with caching enabled open almost instantly on my system.

Conclusions
Capture NX 2.2 offers some nice enhancements and a moderate speed improvement on my Mac Pro system, and normally I would recommend updating immediately.  However, some users have experienced issues after upgrading to Capture NX 2.2 that caused their application to stop working.  I have not seen these issues on my machine.  While I normally recommend Nikon software updates, I would suggest waiting for a couple of days to see if Nikon issues a fix or some other statement regarding apparent bugs in the release version of NX 2.2.

Update 4/6/09:  It seems as though there was an issue with the Dutch and German localizations of NX 2.2 for Windows from Nikon Europe.  English versions and Mac versions are unaffected.

More Capture NX Resources:
The Photographer's Guide to Capture NX 2 (ebook)
Capture NX2 Instructional Video series

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2 Comments

In your review re. Automatic distortion correction, you state "You can only use this control on RAW images-- it won't appear if you open a JPEG image ... In my tests, this control is enabled for both Nikkor and non-Nikkor lenses". On my computer, it doesn't show up for NEFs, regardless of lens type, but does appear for "some" jpgs. I've been trying different images in different formats, and I can't figure out when the feature will be available and when it won't .. it's so confusing, it makes the feature worthless??? I don't like the regular Distortion Control adjustment anyway so maybe I'm not missing much. If you'd like to see a jpg that 'activates' the Auto Control, or a NEF that doesn't, let me know .. I'd be curious to see if you have the same results .. ?

Ron

I am working on figuring out which 3rd-party lenses are not supported. It looks a little more complicated than just lens issues. For example, D100 NEFs do not apparently support this feature, even with D or G-type Nikkors.

When I know more, I'll post here.

-Jason

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