Nikon Capture NX or Adobe Lightroom

So there’s no shortage of photo organizing and editing software available these days, and the choices can make your head hurt just trying to read about them and test them out.  I’ve tried my share of them, too.  I’ve tried using one package for organizing and one for editing, I’ve tried all-in-one packages, etc.  The only real answer I’ve found so far, is there’s no perfect answer.

However, I can tell you there are better answers than others.  Photoshop Elements + Photoshop CS was the solution that I used for a long time, and honestly – it was the best solution for organizing.  Nothing beats Photoshop Elements’ organizing features.  I tried several others for organizing – packages that specialize in just that and claim to be pro-quality digital asset management packages.  Well – they were very full featured, but didn’t have all the convenience features of Elements (Stacking, Version Sets, etc.), and in the end were just annoying to use because of the constant clean-up or additional workflow steps after making edits to images.

If you’re just shooting jpegs with your digital camera – I’d actually say Elements is the perfect tool for you, and everything you’d need.  But what self-respecting technology geek shoots in JPEG?!  You have to shoot in RAW, so you have the most absolute control possible over the picture.  And there enters the problem.  Dealing with primarily raw images doesn’t just take up more space, but presents some headaches to your workflow if the tools aren’t geared toward raw files.  Understanding this headache, Apple, Adobe and even Nikon have released some software to try and make this raw workflow easy for us.

I don’t have a Mac – so unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to see what Apple’s Aperture would do.  I currently use Adobe’s Lightroom for my photo workflow, but thanks to my new Nikon D300 coming with a full copy of Nikon Capture NX, I’ve had a chance to try that now too.

Well… On the nice side, Capture NX has the best color rendition versus anything else if you’re shooting Nikon raw.  There’s some pretty nifty capability of the ‘U-Point’ technology to do some very complex, yet very easy image-wide or localized changes to color, saturation, exposure, etc.  In these two respects, it beats Lightroom hands down.

Lightroom’s (actually Adobe’s raw plug-in across all their products) is just not as good as Nikon’s conversion for color.  It just isn’t.  However – bear in mind that you can tweak colors, saturation, etc. in Lightroom – and so far, I feel I can get just as good results in the end – albeit this is requiring a couple more steps versus Capture NX.  Also, Lightroom just doesn’t have localized image modification (beyond the standard red-eye and heal/clone tools).  There’s no provision for localized exposure (dodge/burn) or color manipulation.  I’m sure that’s what Photoshop is for, right? (And an extra $600+!)

So am I switching from Lightroom? Heck no.  Am I going to go to a two-stage workflow with both Capture NX and Lightroom?  Heck no.  Why not?  Well, while Capture NX is kinda cool, it totally drops the ball on the following:

  • Image Management – Horrible with Nikon’s View NX and Capture NX.  It is.  I mean, maybe there’s some people out there who will try and make a case that it’s possible – but even so, it’s just not easy, intuitive or full featured for image organization and management.
  • Speed – Dear God, this is the deal breaker.  I’ve got a pretty swank laptop (Dell XPS m1710) – and while it’s no quad core desktop beast, it’s no slouch.  Lightroom runs like a dream (and yes, I have thousands of images in the catalog – most all raw or tiff).  I can quickly organize, make tweaks and be heading off to print or export a JPEG in what appears to be the same amount of time required to open Capture NX and change a raw conversion setting.  Capture NX absolutely CRAWLS.  No happiness there.
  • Interface – Lightroom = intuitive and friendly, Capture NX = not intuitive and a veritable click-fest.  Granted, this is a completely subjective topic, but it’s like swimming through seas of menus and submenus in Capture NX, whereas the single develop module in Lightroom captures just about everything in one easy interface.  The click-fest in Capture NX is also exacerbated by the frigging s…..l….o….w speed.

So… Is there a perfect all in one solution out there?  Well – that’s the easy question to answer:  NO.  Are some better than others?  By all means, Yes.  Capture NX has some cool features, Lightroom isn’t perfect and Aperture doesn’t run on a #@*! PC… so in the end, I suggest you do what everyone else is doing and keeping trying them out and see what you find useful – but so far, I’d recommend you start with Lightroom.

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  • By Dave, September 2, 2008 @ 10:31 am

    Agree about the bad conversion color using Lightroom.

    I tried using Lightroom to export RAW-to-JPEG for photos taken on my D300 without any tweaking. What I noticed is that the exported images are not as sharp and contrast as the JPEGs taken directly on the D300. However, when I exporting RAW-to-JPEG using Capture NX, the quality of the output is slightly better than JPEGs taken directly from the D300.

    Do you think that its some settings that we might have configured wrongly on Lightroom? I like using Lightroom for organizing my photos, but just wasn’t quite happy with the output quality.

  • By epotter, September 5, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

    @Dave: Not sure if it’s any specific Lightroom settings that we may have changed or not – I just upgraded to Lightroom 2.0, and haven’t really changed any options.

    I think it’s most likely associated with the Adobe Camera Raw portion, which while OK, isn’t quite as perfect as Nikon’s RAW conversion. Since the RAW file is just that – raw information from the sensor, one would think you’d be able to get identical results with any raw conversion software. Obviously, there’s defaults in each, and Nikon’s default values (which I’m sure it customizes based on the metadata like camera model, lens model, exposure mode, etc.) is just plain better at coming out without any tweaking.

    That said, I’m in the same boat. I like Lightroom for the organization, image management, speed and printing ease – but it does require doing more rework (i.e. export as a jpeg, or print, then go back in and make some more tweaks to the develop settings to correct anything you don’t like in the output).

    I haven’t dedicated time to trying out Capture NX2 yet, but I’m hoping it’s been made to run a lot faster – and have some more image management capabilities.

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