Today, 20th June 2008 Capture NX2, becomes available, we take a look at what it can do for us.
For those who haven't discovered the advantages yet, I had better start with an explanation of what it is and why we like it, before looking at the new version.
Digital photography is a two stage process, capture the image and edit it, there is no point having a really good DSLR and lenses if you can't edit the material you shoot. Just about every image can be improved by editing and in many cases we now shoot bearing in mind what we are going to do in editing to complete the job. You need ideally to be able to do this quickly and easily, and feel confident that you can edit every photograph if you wish to. This means we need editing software that's efficient, quick and has a lot of capability.
Capture NX came out about 18 months ago, and was a major step forward in editing, semi intelligent operations that cut down the work required and allowed far better editing far simpler.
It scores highly on ease of use and speed of editing, as well as allowing you to get really good pictures out reliably. It can be learnt and have running productively in a day (Camera Images, one day, 1 to 1, CNX course), and is not expensive. Most with D300's, D3 and some who bought D200's between certain dates were given it.
The breakthrough was the colour control points, you can just place these on the image and it uses a number of types of information to work out the area that you are referring to, although you can if you wish look to see what it's selected and make the selection more or less sensitive. When you have a load of colour control points they all communicate together so each owning specific areas, but you can gang together a group and operate them as one. Once having selected the area in this way you can make it lighter or darker, change the saturation, colours and far more.
You can also select areas before or after you perform an edit that the edit operations relate to, and swap tools to one to another. For example you can use a paint brush to cover an item, and then switch the paint to a focused area, making the item sharper.
This all scores in terms of time and ease of use in that you don't need any layers, masks and the like and just about any image can be edited in minutes.
It works in Nikon RAW (NEF) format throughout and stores images including several versions of a photo in a single file that can be completely undone if required.
It has a number of other features like D-lighting, allowing you to underexpose and pull detail out of the shadows to avoid blown highlights, and a really nice black and white converter.
It's a full photo editor, but its not an art package, you can't add text, take something out of one image and add it to another or clone out items easily. It very much edits the picture that you have rather than creating a new one. You can't therefore do what you could with Photoshop, its of no use for creating diagrams, advertisements or doing major surgery to make people look thinner or the like.
Capture NX has batch processing capabilities allowing you to perform the same operation on many images when you want to, and can also spin out JPG's of a set size and do a lot of other routine tasks, it can even watch a directory and every time an image is put there it will automatically edit it for you. Batch operations are easy to do, and you have a number of options including performing the operation on one photo and copying the changes to a file, and this file is then used as the model to run on a batch of images.
Capture NX, has been our editing program of choice, although we also use Photoshop CS3, CS, and Elements 6. The main reason we like Capture NX so much is the speed it allows us to edit photographs. Take for example a typical weeks output for Photographers Resource, and we may have 20 more images to edit to include in this weeks pages being added, and as we store all our images as RAW unedited pictures they all can be improved by editing, some a little, some a bit more. We could do this with Photoshop and in an hour may get one or two done if we don't do too much to them, while with Capture NX we have them all edited. The reason its so much quicker is because it has several semi intelligent features, a good example of this is the colour control points you can just click on this tool, on an item perhaps a hedge, or wall and then pull a slider and you can lighten the selected item, or saturate it or do several other things to it, depending on the slider you choose, no tracing around outlines, no masks, no layers, just a couple of seconds and its done.
For Nikon users it also has a number of advantages as it uses the Nikon RAW format, and can even save several versions of a picture in a single raw file. Some other systems can read the RAW files as they come off the camera, for example Photoshop has a RAW converter front end that allows some changes to the RAW data before it's converted into a Photoshop file, but no other editor allows you to edit fully with the RAW files, save different versions in the RAW Nef file and at any time go back to the original. Its also fairly easy to learn to use, and within Camera Images we train people in a day to edit in Capture NX, often including people who have never done any editing before. Besides being a lot easier to use its also easier to teach as you decide what you want to do and do it, rather than having to think of a recipe to create the change.
Capture NX2 is a later and enhanced version, its quicker, has a new look, and has more semi intelligent tools doing even more for you, and will allow even simpler and quicker editing but with more facilities there is a bit more to learn.
The major differences are that it has two new tools, a selection control point and an auto retouch brush, and a new area at the top of the edit list labelled quick fix, which is in effect a new tool box made up mostly of things that you could do elsewhere, with a few new parts, but conveniently assembled to use non selectively on images, allowing some edits in seconds. Amongst these are sliders for highlight and shadow adjustment that allows quick and effective adjusts in shadowy areas and highlighted areas even recovering some blown areas. There is also a better application of the selective area tools, including the new selection control points, brush, graduation and more in that they are simpler to apply and the enhancements that you make can be linked, so a single selection of an area or subject can be used for a series of enhancements.
Selection control points are very similar to colour control points, intelligent, you can have a number of them and connect them together when you wish. They select an area or item much like colour control points do, but you can then apply any tool or enhancement to this area, plus if you want, further modify the selection with the brush, grad or other methods as before, but now also go on and link other enhancements. Let me explain a practical example, I have photo of a fox, I want to lighten the fox and sharpen it. Putting one or more connected selection points will identify the fox's shape perfectly, I can then lighten it, link a second operation and sharpen it, all in seconds. Colour control points also have a negative operation, so with the same images I could start a new step, and select the fox again, but this time using the negative Selection Control points, selecting all of the images except the fox, I can then dim, desaturate slightly and even, if I wanted, also apply a little blur to the background, all in a few more seconds.
The Auto Retouch Brush is magical. You simply select the area that needs enhancing and click on the dust spot or detail to be removed. Take for example a wall with chipped stone. I put the retouch brush over it and it removed the stone, but better than that it found another group of stones to clone in where all the mortar joints joined up perfectly. In most cases this is nearly beyond belief, but it can patch nearly anything. If you have tried to do some of these types of tasks with a clone brush you will know how long and difficult it is to make it look right, while this retouch brush does it. Its really good but not foolproof, you can make it produce mistakes if you try, and just occasionally it gets it wrong, but perhaps I need a bit more practice in using it to get the full benefits. It may also be a case of discovering magic and expecting miracles.
Like the new ViewNX that goes with it, it can work with two screens, so you can have the main parts of the program, and all its workings on one screen and the image you are editing can be full screen on the second monitor, you can swap monitors if you prefer them the other way around. You can of course operate all the features on a single screen as well. As we both use dual screen PC's as our main computers here, this is really useful to us. We have another article on the new ViewNX. This is often overshadowed by the magic with Capture NX, but is a very useful program also greatly improved . As this is a free program that you can download from the Nikon website, you can also get the latest version Nikon transfer (also free) at the same time.
The browser section of NX2 is very similar to the new version of ViewNX, including the way that labels and star ratings are applied and filtered. It would have been nice if these two had been fully integrated, but at least they have a common look and feel and work closely together.
Another new feature is workspaces, and it has four workspaces defined initially: Browser, Metadata, Multi-Purpose and Edit, with easy switching between workspaces for window composition. Workspaces can be saved with a palette layout and reopened later, creating more. Its novel and may speed up operations, but adds complication that perhaps we could have done without, but when I've used it for a few months I expect I'll wonder how I managed without it.
They have attempted to make its keywords and other standard data more compatible with others. In part this has been possible as the standards are getting more defined over time, so you'll find a variety of ratings and labels that use XMP and IPTC standards make it easy to tag and sort images, and provide a seamless transition with ViewNX, Windows Vista or Adobe Bridge.
The look and feel has changed a bit and some facilities have moved about, all are still there plus some new options in most areas. One of the most noticeable changes is that all the individual flip up adjustment screens that used to get in the way have been sensibly docked into the edit list, so you can scroll up through the choices taken and open up and close down steps or selections to see what you did and make adjustments. Also the selections for the tools now are always shown, unless you get rid of them, and there are more shortcuts.
It runs faster, and smoother, and has a symbol that now lets you know if its working. Over the last week I've spent a number of days trying out things, often discovering and experimenting with facilities not in the manual, and it hasn't crashed on me once, so is very stable. You can run both Capture NX and Capture NX2 on the same computer without any problem, which is sensible as with the 60 day trial available it gives you a chance to run both and discover the differences. We have found many more shortcuts and documented these in a three fold laminated sheet, while the CNX one had one side for windows and one for Macs, the new CNX2 version is two sided for each.
The fact that its bigger, has more tools and can do more in combination, does mean its going to be a bit more difficult to learn and unless someone has a lot of time to experiment with all the options, and has a good idea of what they are searching for, they will need training to get the full power of this version, while with the first version, it was beneficial, but not essential. In this version for example there is at least one major function, that is only accessible from a keyboard shortcut and its not on the appendices of keyboard shortcuts provided within the appendices of the manual and in the help system. We started with this appendices to build our shortcuts 3 fold, and only just over half of the shortcuts were included. Without training you could use it, you would get a lot of the benefits, and wouldn't know what else you could be doing, but was not able to.
On the negative side there is still no clone tool and no perspective adjustment, surprising as the press release quotes they had listened to customer comment, so I am still going to have to use Photoshop as well for some images, and no major improvement in performance has been made to the noise reduction tool, although with the latest cameras of course there is far less noise in images. I suppose they didn't want to give us everything in this version or we wouldn't be looking for the next version in perhaps 18 months time.
Compared with what we all have invested in our Nikon equipment, the cost of this is not great and does give us a lot of benefits, and definitely worth upgrading to, although I don't like the pricing method they use of changing the dollar sign to a pound sign and adding on vat, which makes it over twice the price here than in many places. By the time you take carriage into account there is probably not a lot to save by importing it unless of course several of you do it together, or you have a relation or contact in the USA who can buy an upgrade for you, after all, all you want is the activation code.
Capture NX was good, a major step forward, this NX2 is far better, faster, more stable, and really gives Nikon users the edge. I had thought that Nikon had realised that they should be providing this to all top end Nikon camera users, when they bundled Capture NX in with the D300 and D3. If you take the American prices rather than the silly inflated price here, then you see having taken off the dealers discount, they are not making much out of this, and they would in my view gain far more by providing it to everyone, getting more people using it, and taking a larger market share. They may not have noticed, but its obvious to those of us who teach Nikon users, that those who are happier with their results, and are editing fast and getting good results, buy more lenses and other equipment.
Availability and pricing
There is a free 60 day trial version available, so why not take a look.
Available as either full version or as an upgrade from Capture NX and both as a download, activation key or box with disk and manual.
Camera Images Training
CNX - day 1 to 1 on Capture NX
CNX2 - day 1 to 1 on Capture NX2
CNX2plus - an extra day, either for those who have mastered CNX 1, or started to edit having done the CNX2 day to look at the more advanced and combination features and resolve editing problems you have encountered. Ideally you should get some experience between either CNX or CNX2 before doing this day.
Short CNX2 - 3 hour upgrade from CNX1 to CNX2, or make another full day by combining this with some other topic.
Current position: We have this running well, we have looked at all options, and created a 3 fold shortcut laminated sheet, and are working on a revised book of notes. We are able to train people on this now. At the point this is written these courses are not on our website yet but can be booked.