Nikon Capture 4.3 experiences?

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by cjfraser, Nov 19, 2005.

  1. Still a newbie, I've been experimenting with Capture 4.3 and ACR 3.2
    in processing D2X and D70s RAW files. I'm wondering whether my
    experiences match others'.

    1. In posts going way back, people have complained about how slow
    Capture is in processing NEFs. I find that even the new-and-improved
    Capture 4.3 is still much slower than ACR 3.2/PS-CS2, which in some
    operations seems two to three times faster. (I was inspired to write
    this post while experimenting with the D-Lighting function on a D2X
    NEF. S - l - o - w.) Comments?

    2. As far as I can tell, the ONLY thing that Capture 4.3 does better
    than ACR is that on many shots it renders colors and white balance
    more true to life straight out of the camera. I understand that as my
    mastery of ACR grows I should easily be able to set it up so that this
    advantage is neutralized. Correct? And is there anything else Capture
    4.3 does better?

    3. I like Capture's LCH function. Simple and effective. Of course, you
    can do all the same things in PS-CS2, and there you have the advantage
    of being able to use layers.

    4. Maybe it's just me, but I find Capture 4.3's white balance
    adjustment maddening. I have yet to successfully use the "set gray
    point" function even once -- many of my photos simply have nothing
    middle gray in them. The set white point tool in ACR 3.2 is much more
    convenient. Even worse, for "problem" white balance shots Capture 4.3
    sometimes can't give the proper white balance at all. I shot a series
    of photos with the D70s on Auto White Balance of an event in a room
    with very yellowish lighting. Capture 4.3 simply can't correct the
    white balance. On "Incandescent," its lowest limit is 2610K, and I
    need to be able to go down to about 2500K. On the other hand, ACR has
    no problem with this at all. Have others had similar experiences?

    All in all, I think I am slowly convincing myself to drop Capture 4
    entirely and just work in ACR/PS.

    Off-topic: Nikon is a great camera company, but (IMHO) I think they
    should give up on selling software and make Capture's raw processing
    code freely available to Adobe, Corel, and any other software firm who
    wants to design their own raw conversion plug-in. And stop bundling
    the insultingly useless Picture Project with prosumer and pro cameras.
    Instead, give people a coupon to buy something like PS Elements on
    line at a discount.

    Any chances of getting together a petition to persuade them?

  2. Some comments:

    1. Capture is slow. V4.3 may be a slight speed improvement, but its biggest asset is that it no longer aborts when using D-Lighting. I use D-Lighting for some things but it operates at negative warp speed -- unbelievable.

    2. I bought Capture precisely because it seems to render colors and WB better than ACR. If that really was the only thing it did better, I'd be pretty happy with it. I also think that Capture has something else going on that makes images look a little less 'digital,' it has more of a film aesthetic to me.

    Capture also gives you curves. Its Curves palette combines much of the functionality of Photoshop's curves and layers in a single control. There's the ability to load and save custom curves, which I use all of the time. Where are the curves in ACR?

    Finally, Capture reads any custom tone curves that you may elect to download to the camera and use (via Capture Camera Control). ACR ignores them. I have found them useful and use White Wedding nearly all of the time. [Speaking of tethered camera control, Capture does this much better than ACR, as ACR doesn't do this.]

    3. I like LCH too. It's a little like using curves in PS with luminance blending, plus a lot more. Additionally, and like curves, it's applied during raw processing and there's no histogram damage or banding (at least I have not seen these).

    4. Does ACR do a decent WB with no known neutral tones? I haven't found so. Your problem with auto-WB and low color temperature is another discussion. [The short answer is don't use auto-WB, especially under about 4000K and try and use a white balance aid, such as a gray card, WhiBal, or Expodisc.]

    OTOH, Capture does a dismal job of automatically calculating WB. I suppose that ACR does a better job, but neither are acceptable in my experience -- another argument for using a white balance tool.

    Most of the rest of Capture I don't use. The image dust-off has saved the day for me a couple of times, though.

    I've never used Picture Project but I like Nikon Viewer. It should be available as a free download.

    You need to use whatever tools work best for you. You may be able to get more out of Capture than you have been. If you prefer ACR, and you have not purchased Capture, save yourself $100. I hope that Nikon continues to develop and improve Capture. Nikon really should bundle it with their higher-end cameras.
  3. I used to hate capture until the latest upgrade. It is now pretty similar speed-wise to ACR opening D2X files on my computer. Capture does a much better job with white balance and exposure IMO. D-Lighting is almost instantaneaous on my computer. I have a P2.4 with 2GB ram. And I agree with the above comment that the results look more "film-like." My work flow now is to batch process the majority of my NEF's with D-lighting, tweak WB if necessary, save as JPEG's and then finish processing in PS to go to print, saving as PSD's.
  4. I don't think Capture 4.3 is much slower than ACR overall, but there is some difference in apparent speed due to differences in how preview screens are drawn. Capture also adds an extra step if your plan is to open the file in PS anyway. D-Lighting in high quality mode is the big stumbling block for Capture. If you use that, things get really slow.

    I assume that Capture and ACR use different de-mosaicing algorithms since there is a slight difference in appearance. I think CApture gives slightly better detail and tonality--a little more feeling of depth. For most images I prefer the look from Capture although it isn't really apparent except for large prints mad ewith best quality settings. As others have noted, the color is slightly better in Capture for most shots. The automatic CA correction in Capture is much more convenient than the manual lens correction features of ACR and the results seem quite good. The LCH feature is quite powerful.

    Auto WB performs about equally in both Capture and ACR, which is to say, not terribly well. If you want really accurate WB you need to either set a custom WB when shooting or be sure that you have a true neutral in the frame so you can correct the color by the numbers. Fortuantely, Nikon and Adobe have settled their dispute about WB encryption so at least the WB settings are properly read by ACR, although I think Adobe has a slightly different interpretation of color temperatures.

    Overall, when I need the best possible quality, I would pick Capture, although ACR does a fine job. For convenience, the tight integration of PS, Bridge and ACR gives the nod to Adobe. I use both, but I sure one could get consistently fine results using one or the other exclusively.
  5. "My work flow now is to batch process the majority of my NEF's with D-lighting, tweak WB if necessary, save as JPEG's and then finish processing in PS to go to print, saving as PSD's."

    Paul, you'll get better quality if you save as 16-bit TIFFs instead of JPEGs, especially if you are going to continue working the images.
  6. Thanks to everyone who commented. I am learning a lot here, and I appreciate it. I've been thinking about everyone's remarks carefully. In the meantime, here are a few more questions and observations of my own.

    First, does anyone know of a book or website with "how-to" information on Capture? I've looked at a few articles at Nikon's, but these are all written at about the level of an advertising brochure, not a "how-to" guide.

    Bob Johnson has a very useful page of information for new users at

    There is a bit of good information in Nikon's tech support forums. To find it, go to the sites below and do a search on "software" and "capture." If you page through the results, there are a few worthwhile items.

    One helpful bit of information is a table relating Capture's unsharp mask values to Photoshop's. Most people have probably guessed these values, but it's nice to be told:

    NC: 0-100%
    PS: 0-500%

    Halo Width / Radius
    NC: 0-100%
    PS: 0-20 pixels

    NC: 0-255
    PS: 0-255

    Another point is that in Capture, unsharp masking need not be saved for the last processing step, as in most other software, since it doesn't actually modify the data in the NEF. Again, if you know how Capture works, this is obvious but it's good to be reminded.

    I've continued comparing NC 4.3 and ACR 3.2. I've got two main results, one that everyone already knows, one perhaps less widely remarked. The familiar fact is that NC often gets the white balance and colors more or less right straight away, wheras ACR requires tweaking. Not always, though. Actually, I suspect NC is only more reliable if you got the shot about right in the camera. Since it gives you the as-shot data more faithfully, NC reflects what you already did right. ACR gets close, but is a bit off.

    For other shots, though, I continue to find NC's white balance setting inconvenient. I had a shot where the as-shot value needed to be tweaked just a bit -- less than 500K -- but I found it difficult to do so because of the limits built into the sliders. ACR 3.2 is slightly easier to tweak, and in the photos I've been practicing on, it is a bit better in auto-calculating the white balance in shots where the in-camera white balance isn't spot on.

    As several people have pointed out, though, neither program is genuinely good at auto white balance. So far, I think it's a wash between them for shots that aren't near-perfect in-camera. A few of my experiments with ACR tend to look too warm, but I think the problem is my eye, not the software tool.

    My second result is that, in my limited experimental sample, photos processed in NC are consistently noisier and less sharp than those done in ACR. This is interesting, since NC has a reputation for producing high-quality output. I've been processing three versions of each D2X NEF, one completely in NC, one in NC for white balance, exposure, shadows, and contrast and then transferred to ACR for fine tuning of contrast and sharpening, and one done completely in ACR. The latter two use identical sharpening techniques. Then I compare TIFFs and high-quality JPEGs for each of the three processes. Several of my test shots have been portraits of my cats, the handiest models. In a 100% crop of the eye, for instance, the shots processed completely in ACR have consistently been significantly sharper and less noisy. If I try to compensate for this by using a low level of noise reduction in NC, the result is an eye that looks digital and plasticky.

    I can see why some people like (are "d-lighted" with?) D-lighting. If you leave it on "faster" and set the sliders on a low amount (10-20), it is a quick and easy way to make a big improvement to your histogram. This is definitely a useful tool.

    OTOH, I don't think D-Lighting works well in recovering badly underexposed areas. (A page on a Nikon tech site says it does, but I haven't been able to repeat the results they illustrate.) I don't like the overall tonality it produces if you turn the settings up. And at anything other than a very low setting, D-lighting introduces lots of noise. The noise reduction function cannot remove this without turning the photo into something resembling a bad tissue-paper collage. So as far as I can see, both D-Lighting and NR can be used at only very low settings.

    Choosing "Better Quality" for D-lighting slows it to a crawl (negative warp speed, as Chris Leck said) but doesn't seem to produce much of a visual difference. And in the noise reduction function, if you click "Better Quality" and "Color Moire Reduction," you'd best go get a snack and a cup of coffee. Take your time enjoying them.

    I'm going to continue experimenting with NC. I've no doubt, as the other Chris suggested, that I haven't learned enough about it yet to get everything out of it I can. But so far I'm not really convinced that it outperforms ACR in any area except Nikon-specific functions, such as custom curves and tethered control. I think ACR 3.2 has curves or the equivalent. And ACR users can fall back on books like Bruce Fraser's, while nothing comparable seems available for Capture 4.3.

    I'd like to find NC essential, since I already paid for it. (I foolishly let the 30-day trial expire before really giving it a try.) But my comparisons with ACR seem to be pulling me the other way. I'm going to read Thom Hogan's D2X e-book and see what I can learn there.

    Much thanks again to everyone for the comments.

  7. Sorry, folks, the paragraph breaks in the above post are a bit messed up. And boy is it long. Apologies. Will control the verbosity next time.

  8. There's an extended discussion of Capture vs ACR in this forum:
  9. Follow-up: I switched to comparing landscape shots and think NC tends to do a better job than ACR of rendering life-like color in these with less or no tweaking. It definitely produces photos with more noise, though. To some extent, evaluating NC vs. ACR now reminds me of evaluating Velvia 50 vs. Ektachrome 64. Which to use? It depends. Both are great tools, either of which may have certain advantages in producing certain effects in certain kinds of shots. So I guess my advice to myself, as someone new to digital, is "learn both as well as you can."

  10. A final follow-up: I've found the "Tone Comp" function in NC's Advanced Raw palette especially useful and powerful. And it allows you to apply user-defined curves. It now seems to me that NC's color rendition is often quite lifelike, and its white balance, advanced raw, LCH, and Curves functions are tools really worth having. Also, they are generally quite convenient to use -- for instance, the "Auto" function for master lightness often gives a satisfactory result without any manual tweaking. Another great feature is that these palettes work like layers in PS -- you can apply or modify each of them separately at any time, even after saving and reopening your NEF. I expect to continue using NC regularly for these features.

    Another strength is the color aberration control.

    On the negative side, I think the performance of the d-lighting, unsharp mask, and noise reduction falls far below what you can easily do in Photoshop, which produces images that are sharper, less noisy, and have less obvious sharpening halos. I've removed these from the palettes I see when I start up NC. And if I'm going to transfer a photo to PS, I get better results by turning off the original in-camera sharpening in the Advanced Raw palette and doing the sharpening later in PS.

    YMMV, of course. I'm posting this just in case someone comes along later with the same sorts of questions about NC I had. And much thanks to everyone who commented earlier. These forums are a great place to learn.
  11. "On the negative side, I think the performance of the d-lighting, unsharp mask, and noise reduction falls far below what you can easily do in Photoshop, which produces images that are sharper, less noisy, and have less obvious sharpening halos. [...] And if I'm going to transfer a photo to PS, I get better results by turning off the original in-camera sharpening in the Advanced Raw palette and doing the sharpening later in PS."

    Agreed. As Capture seems to be more of a front-end tool, these three functions are expendable, IMO.

    When shooting and processing raw, sharpening should be off. Maybe the lowest level could be used as raw pre-sharpening, but I'm skeptical even of that. It definitely is the wrong point in the workflow for any significant sharpening.

    There are many PS plug-ins for noise reduction, too many to mention. It is a common topic. Capture's NR may be useful for those that have no NR plug-in. Before I had a plug-in, I preferred a manual LAB mode process to Capture's NR.

    Why would D-Lighting even be needed, at least as a standard tool? I occasionally use it, but PS's Shadow/Highlight is faster and far more more flexible. Still, it seems more like a band-aid for problem images (and we all have those).
  12. Hi Chris, thanks for coming back to this thread the other day.

    I've continued experimenting with NC 4.3 vs. ACR 3.2. The gist of my experience has been that for "problem" images with lots of noise, extreme dynamic range (shadow vs. highlight issues), or chromatic aberration, ACR is probably a better choice. (The chromatic aberration tool performed better by far on an image I was experimenting with.) For exposures that are pretty satisfactory to start with, NC 4 gives better color rendition, and at 100% the colors are smoother and more attractive. (In some of my images, even at low ISO, if you look closely, ACR's colors are a bit splotchy, and it's not noise.) I tend to get best results by keeping tone comp and saturation in NC set to "normal" and the hue adjusted to +3. White balance can be tricky with either program. In auto white balance, ACR tends to err on the side of being too warm, I think, while NC tends to be cooler. For me the choice of white balance is largely a creative decision anyway, so this isn't really a point for/against either. I do like having a white point selection eye-dropper in ACR and hope Nikon includes one in the future in addition to, or instead of, the gray point.

    I think NC's Advanced RAW, LCH, and curves tools may be quicker and more convenient to use than the corresponding tools in ACR/PS. (Once you put them all in Palette 1 and hide all the stuff you don't need, that is.)

    As you said, NC's strengths come out if you use it mainly or entirely as a front-end tool, making sure functions such as sharpening, noise reduction, and D-lighting are turned off. You're right, PS's shadow/highlight tools are MUCH better. (Downright amazing, in fact. I never cease to marvel at what PS can do.)
  13. Chris, I think that you are on the right track. You are asking for opinions and advice, then testing things out and thinking for yourself. It all boils down to what works for you. With your open mind, ability to ask for help, etc., you'll do fine. I'm looking forward to seeing some of your images (and I am not trying to put you on the spot).

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