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Capture NX implements color correction through its unique U-Point slider controls.
Nikon’s Capture NX is designed as a companion to any Nikon camera that creates NEF (Nikon Electronic Format) files, which is Nikon’s RAW image format. The $64,000 question: Is there any reason to use Capture NX if you’re already happy with Photoshop? Possibly, for its color-correction tools.
Capture NX was created with NEF files in mind, though it can open and process JPEG and TIFF files with the same tools and options. Unsurprisingly, you can’t process non-Nikon RAW files with Capture NX. The app’s editing abilities are focused on color correction and enhancement, with minimal retouching and compositing features. Pixel editing and retouching is still the forte of Photoshop.
Capture NX’s Browser window, which presents thumbnails of the NEF, JPEG, and TIFF files, is almost useless compared to a file management app such as Adobe Bridge. The Browser does let you change the size of the image thumbnails by holding the Command key and pressing + or – (plus or minus), a feature that’s not immediately obvious. Otherwise, the flexibility and power of Bridge are completely absent, and so is the light table functionality of Apple’s Aperture.
Once you open an NEF file, things get better, but performance of just about any file operation is rather lackluster. Using Nikon Capture NX on a G4 PowerBook was significantly slower than using comparable color-correction tools in Photoshop CS, CS2, or CS3. Capture NX is a Universal app, so Intel Macs should see better performance.
What Capture NX lacks in speed, it partially makes up for in its unique interface approach and nondestructive architecture. Color correction revolves around U-Point controls, generated when you click on the area of an image you want to change. When you choose a color-correction tool (color, neutral, black, white, and redeye points), a set of sliders appears where you clicked and creates a circular area of influence where the color correction does its mojo. Think of the circular area as the cousin of a Photoshop mask, and while it seems more limited, it’s actually quite intuitive and will appeal to photographers daunted by the relative complexity of advanced adjustment layers and their corresponding layer masks.
There are also global image-processing functions not tied to U-Points, including unsharp mask, noise reduction, color channel aberration, color balance, and D-Lighting (a Nikon innovation for adding fill lighting and other types of overall tonal changes that compensate for poor lighting conditions).
All of these image-editing tasks are nondestructive and displayed in the Edit List window. You can turn individual edit controls on and off, but if you want to reorder the edits in the list, you’re stuck with copy and paste - there’s no drag-and-drop repositioning. Some Photoshop-style transfer modes, such as Screen and Multiply, allow for further refinement of how edits are applied to the underlying image.
The bottom line. If you own a Nikon camera that creates NEF files, you may decide that $150 is a small price to pay for image enlightenment. That said, we think that Nikon should bundle this app for free with every $1,000-plus camera it sells.
REQUIREMENTS: G4 or faster or Intel processor, Mac OS 10.3.9 or later, 256MB RAM
Innovative color-correction tools. Nondestructive editing functionality. Free trial. Universal binary.
Slow performance. Weak browser. Only works with Nikon RAW files.