Nikon Capture NX 2.3 Performance Review

Nikon has just announced the immediate release of Capture NX2 version 2.3. This is a major update to the software, as not only does it include numerous bug fixes, but it also offers native 64-bit processor support. It also offers native Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) support. I had the opportunity to run a series of performance benchmarks, and I’ll also address the new features and caveats of upgrading.

What’s new

  • 64-bit native support on Mac and Windows operating systems. This translates into massive speed improvements (see benchmarks, below).
  • Better support for Nikon 1-series cameras and the Nikon Coolpix P7100.
  • “Astro Noise Reduction” mode, intended to help reduce color artifacts in long-exposures of night skies.
  • Option to enable/disable full-resolution embedded JPEG previews in NEFs (speeds up batch jobs)
  • Fixed crashes when using very large screens and brush tools

See the full description of all new features and fixes at Nikon’s support page.

Performance Improvements

I benchmarked Capture NX2 2.3 against its predecessor, version 2.2.8, on my 6-core Mac Pro running Mac OS Lion and 24GB RAM. I also ran the same benchmarks running NX 2.3 in 32-bit mode on my Mac (more on this later).

I tested Capture NX 2.2.8 vs. 2.3 performing the following operations:

  • Batch 10 NEFs with simple RAW adjustments (JPEG previews on)
  • Batch 10 NEFs with simple RAW adjustments (JPEG previews disabled)
  • Export 10 edited NEFs to TIFFs
  • Export 10 edited NEFs to JPEG
  • Render a previously edited, uncached NEF image
  • Open 15 NEFs simultaneously

I chose these tests to examine:

  • Overall improvements to Capture NX2 in 64-bit mode
  • Speed differences with JPEG previews on/off
  • Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit mode
  • Memory usage when opening multiple files

Results

Overall speed

Across the board, Capture NX 2.3 is significantly faster than version 2.2.8. The best overall speed boost was in rendering previously saved, but uncached files. NX 2.3 rendered my file in 4 seconds, where 2.2.8 required over 30 seconds! That’s a speed boost of over 700%! TIFFs and JPEGs export three times faster compared to NX 2.2.8. That’s some major improvements. Loading 15 NEFs was a full 15 seconds faster in version 2.3. Click on any graph to view a larger version.

Capture NX 2.3 (64-bit mode) vs. 2.2.8 (relative performance; longer bars are better)
Absolute performance of Capture NX 2.3 (64-bit) vs. 2.2.8. Times are in seconds, shorter bars are faster.

Thumbnails vs. Full JPEG previews

Rendering embedded, full-resolution preview JPEGs does slow down NEF save times. You’ll get save times that are about 20% faster by disabling the preview JPEGs. However, keep in mind that if you don’t embed a preview JPEG, programs like Photo Mechanic will not have the ability to quickly preview your edited NEF. Seeing as how NEF batching is twice as fast in NX 2.3 compared to before, I usually leave the thumbnail option on.

32-bit vs. 64-bit Mode

On the Mac, you can run CNX 2.3 as a 32-bit application if you so choose. This is critical for users who want to run Nik’s Color Efex Pro 3.0 within CNX2, as it is a 32-bit application. I compared Capture NX 2.3 against itself in both modes, and found modest improvements when running in 64-bit mode. However, even in 32-bit mode, CNX 2.3 is significantly faster than version 2.2.8. The biggest difference, as you may expect, is in memory usage. In 32-bit mode, NX 2.3 can only access 1.37GB of RAM. In 64-bit mode, it used 3.42GB of memory to handle 15 NEFs opened simultaneously. If you like to open LOTS of files at the same time, this is a big help. Otherwise, the overall speed differences between 32-bit mode and 64-bit mode are fairly small. Clearly, Nikon has improved the overall code in the CNX2 engine to make it run much, much faster than before.

Performance differences between Capture NX 2.3 (32-bit) vs. 64-bit mode.
In 32-bit mode, Capture NX 2.3 is still significantly faster than CNX 2.2.8

Caveats for Color Efex Pro 3 users

Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3 software will run in Capture NX 2.3, but only as a 32-bit application. There are currently no plans by Nik to update CEP3 to a 64-bit application, so what should you do? Fortunately, there are some workarounds:

1) For best results, make sure you have already installed CEP3 for Capture NX2 using version 2.2.8, then run the Capture NX 2.3 updater. You will need to use CEP 3.003 (available for registered users by logging in to your account at www.niksoftware.com) because earlier versions are NOT COMPATIBLE with CNX 2.3.

2) Windows users: You will be asked during installation if you want to install the 32-bit version or the 64-bit version of CNX 2.3. This prompt should occur as long as CEP 3 was previously installed. Choose the 32-bit version if you wish to run CEP3 within Capture NX2. If you choose the 64-bit version, your plug-ins will not work.

3) Mac users: you can toggle between 32-bit and 64-bit modes after installing Capture NX 2.3. Right-click (or Ctrl-click) the Capture NX2 application icon and choose “Get Info.” Then check the “Open in 32-bit Mode” box and re-launch Capture NX2.

Mac users can toggle between 32-bit and 64-bit mode in the “Get Info” window for Capture NX 2.3

Conclusions

Capture NX2 version 2.3 is a much-needed overhaul to Nikon’s RAW conversion/editing software. It’s really fast, and I haven’t been able to crash it doing typical image editing. I am, however, disappointed that there are really no new features, and it’s too bad that we have to make compromises to run Color Efex Pro 3 (the only native plug-in for Capture NX2). However, this update absolutely breathes new life into my RAW converter of choice. It’s faster, more robust, and works far better than previous versions of Capture NX2. While this update is long overdue, I’m happy it’s here, and I will continue to use it for my fundamental image processing.

Learn how to use Capture NX2 with one of my eBooks or video tutorials

 

102 thoughts on “Nikon Capture NX 2.3 Performance Review”

  1. Jason;

    Thanks for the info, very helpful. First I had CNX2.8 installed. Can I still find CNX2.6 on line, and where can I find CEP 3.003 update. Thaks again as these two programs ahe a big key to my workflow.

    Dick

  2. Hello, Jason, and thanks for the review. I just yesterday found out about, and installed 2.3. The only thing that bugs me is the fact that when it opens, CNX2 takes up ALL the monitor real estate, with no apparent means of reducing the size of it. Are you experiencing this, or did I just forget it did the same thing in 2.2.8? Otherwise, I’m quite impressed with performance improvements.

    Happy Holidays to you and yours.

    Bruce

  3. Pingback: Nikon Capture NX 2.3 Performance Review by Jason Odell - Digital Photography Tips and Techniques
  4. Jason, thanks for the review. I have installed 2.3 on my Windows 7 system and so far like it with one exception. When I right click on a jpeg or tiff file and then click on “open with”, NX2 is no longer shown as an option. With a NEF file NX2 is shown as an option. To open a jpeg or tiff, I must first open NX2 and go to “file, open” and then navigate to the file. Any idea what is causing this problem?
    Thanks!
    Barry

  5. Great writeup Jason, thanks loads for the information and update. Question though – how does this fit in with what we have all hoped for, a totally new “NX3″?

    Thank you,

    Ernie Misner

  6. Most likely you need to reset the Windows default filetype associations so that it knows to open a NEF with CNX2 by default.

  7. I own Nik Color Efex Pro 3 Select [NOT Complete] for Capture NX2, and am trying to understand how to update to NX 2.3. I know that I need to use the 32-bit NX 2.3 application to maintain compatibility with CEP, and I understand that I am supposed to use version 3.003 of Color Efex Pro, but I can’t find a download of ver. 3.003 for Select version on Nik’s website (only 3.003 for Complete)? I can only find ver. 3.000 of Select, which I already have installed.

  8. Jason, thanks so much for doing this comparison. Downloaded the update, and been playing all day. Your results are echoed by mine. I am please at the performance. I was testing Aperture as an alternative, and while I will continue to use it am happy to continue using Capture NX2. I hope the tuning by NIK means that Nikon will invest in another version after they get through the recovery from the disasters of this year. Appreciate your blog, and advise.

  9. I cannot find ver. 3.003 for CEP “Select” anywhere on Nik’s website, only the ver. 3.000 that I already have installed? Have Jason or others found 3.003 for CEP “Select”?

  10. Not very likely Nik will come with new versions. Look at their website: http://www.niksoftware.com/cepnx/en/entry.php?

    In red you see the text “This product is not available anymore!”…

  11. Thank you for your review, I appreciate it. My experience with the 2.3.0 update in 32-bit mode has been positive. However, I cannot get it to open NEF’s, TIFF’s and JPEG’s in 64-bit mode — I get an error message: ” Cannot open file: Macintosh HD1…”. Nikon tech support is clueless; in spite of all the screen shots, file and image submissions I’ve made, they still don’t seem to understand the problem (a situation I’ve noticed since Nikon went offshore to save on tech support). Everything I’ve tried on my own — completely removing NX2 and related files from my system, reinstalling NX2 from the original disk, updating to 2.2.8, installing 2.3.0 have been to no avail. My unit is a Mac Pro running OSX 10.6.8 with 12 Gb memory. Jason, if you have any suggestions to offer, I would be most appreciative.

  12. I’ve heard that if you have older Adobe color profiles, they can mess up CNX2 (don’t ask me why).
    Scan your computer for the following: Photoshop4DefaultCMYK.icc and Photoshop5DefaultCMYK.icc
    They are likely in /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Color/Profiles (or an alias that points to said folder).

  13. Thank you for your response. I found these 2 files and deleted them, but to no avail. I installed ver. 2.3.0 on my MacBook Pro and it worked perfectly in 64-bit. I’m really baffled now. I’ll keep trying to working Nikon Support to figure this out.

  14. I have the same problem, waiting to hear back from Nikon, removing the older Adobe profiles does not help.

  15. I wonder if it is possible to install both the 32 bit and the 64 bit versions and run the 32 bit when I need CEP? Do you think that is possible?

  16. On Mac OS, you just toggle between modes as needed. On Windows, it might be possible to do a double-install, but I wouldn’t know how to do it.

  17. Bob Despres says:
    I found these 2 files and deleted them, but to no avail. I installed ver. 2.3.0 on my MacBook Pro and it worked perfectly in 64-bit. I’m really baffled now. I’ll keep trying to working Nikon Support to figure this out.

    Exactly the same problem. 64 bit runs well on Macbook Pro, only as 32 bit on year-old Mac Pro, both running 10.6.8. I have tried everything from deleting View NX2, uninstalling and reinstalling Capture NX2.30, etc. but to no avail.

    Will keep trying, but what a time waster…

    Thanks for a great review, Jason!

  18. I have the same exact issue as Bob D. Nikon Tech Support had me add a new Admin account- I just called it “Nikon,” and the software works properly in both 32- and 64-bit modes. They couldn’t explain why, nor could Apple. As a temporary fix, you may want to add another account.

  19. That does indeed work, thanks, Keith! However, that creates other problems (no email, no access to other programs, etc.). In the meantime, I’ll just get to know it Capture NX2 better and wait for a proper fix.

    Again, many thanks,
    Ernst

  20. Pingback: Nikon Capture NX Update | Barry and Cathy Beck - Blog
  21. Hi Jason, unfortunately Capture NX2 v2.3.0 has introduced two serious bugs: one in the JPEG encoder and the other in the processing of camera RAW data. The latter error makes my D700 NEFs look so totally different from the camera JPEGs that attempting to edit the NEFs is pointless.

    Nik Software has told me that I must deal Nikon; Nikon is not interested. If you are interested I’ll send you some examples.

    Kind regards,

    Pete

  22. Pete-
    I’m not sure what might be going on, but I’ve had absolutely no issues to speak of using CNX 2.3. My files look as I’d expect them to, and exporting JPEGs works fine.

    Nikon is responsible for Capture NX2 support. Nik Software is only a development partner of Nikon.

  23. “On Mac OS, you just toggle between modes as needed. On Windows, it might be possible to do a double-install, but I wouldn’t know how to do it.”

    Fantastic! Thanks! I have a MacBook Air and this works perfectly! I don’t use CEP a lot but this option allows me to continue using it when I do need it.

    Thanks again!

  24. Hi Jason

    I’ve just installed CNX2 v2.3 on my iMac (Mac OS X 10.7.2). No problems have been encountered and as you say it does run much quicker and so far has been stable. Because V 2.2.8 was slow I was being pressurised to change to Lightroom 3, however, may not need to do so – time will tell.

    Kind regards

    Martin

  25. Thanks, Jason – appreciate the review of NX 2.3. A bit of a bummer that CEP 3.003 does not work in 64-bit mode, but I’ll take the 64-bit NX2 over the 32-bit version any time for performance (PC). Besides, I typically use NX2 for raw conversions only, with the rest of my workflow on CS5 using the full Nik suite (plus any other plugins and native CS5 work that makes sense). I only use CEP3 in NX2 on occasion for a quick edit or to play around a bit. So I can live without CEP3 on NX2 till Nik updates it.
    Again, thanks for the review – very helpful.

  26. Jason,

    Thank you for this review.

    I find your information so helpful. I have your Capture NX2 Guide (First Edition 2008 – I don’t know whether you allow updates, if we’ve purchased the .pdf), and a whole package of your video tutorials, and an extended one on sharpening. I am just learning to extend my knowledge of the 7,682 features on my Nikon D700 (and covetous of the new D4).

    I had just developed a CNX2 workflow that incorporated Photo Mechanic, but did not require CS5 (which I do not own), or LR3 (which I did get at $99). I saw the discount you offered on the bundle of Nik Software that includes CEP4, Silver Efex Pro 2.0, and HDR Efex Pro, and couldn’t resist.

    Do you have any workflow tutorials that offer suggested variants, based on your main raw processing software? Perhaps it’s a more basic question than most of your readers, but I find the combinations of options, and intermediate steps to share them a bit overwhelming. I would appreciate your perspectives on ways to use the best of what Nik software has to offer, in fewer steps, for those of us who want to stick to one raw processing tool, or two, at the most.

    I’m working on a 17″ MacBook Pro, with a 2.3 Ghz Intel 7 chip, 500GB SSD HD, an external 26″ monitor, and Promise 12TB RAID. I also have the i1 Match colorimeter from X-rite, and discovered that it is not compatible with OS X Lion. X-rite has a beta version that they say works with Lion, but it does not support dual monitor configurations (which is not disclosed until the end of the load). The symptom I see after calibrating both with the puck (that gear was $179, a few months ago, just before it became obsolete), is that the dominant screen will render a NEF in CNX2.3 normally. The secondary monitor (my laptop, in this case) appears as if a heavy blue filter is layered over the image. I checked settings in CNX2, I calibrated both monitors 3x – no change. The image appears normally if viewed through Adobe Photo Shop Elements, Adobe Bridge, or Light Room 3 on the laptop – just not via CNX2. Any suggestions?

    Thank you!

  27. Jason – Thanks for the review. I enjoy your podcasts as well. I recently purchased my first Mac which is running Lion 10.7.2 and had been leary of installing CNX2 due to multiple known issues so am happy to see 2.3!
    I have Photoshop CS5.5 too, but in my opinion when it comes to photography there is no one program to rely on. CNX2 is simply better when it comes to NEF’s and I have finally accepted that multiple software programs are the way to go. Curious if you agree?

  28. hallo,
    thanks for these news, jason, let’s hope cep4 will be implemented on the new nx2.3 64bits platform.
    i am bored running photoshop just for cep4 instead of cep3 for nx2

    lets’ also hope they will change the following :
    - white balance one click instead of dragging rectangle and several clicks possible instead of start button
    - overlay of highlights and shadows instead of white and grey images
    - better auto-toning like lightroom with the position of the corresponding sliders so we see how automatic worked and if correction is too much we can, like lightroom, find the guilty slider and retune it

    best regards
    marc

  29. Hi Jason,
    Thanks for the informative review. I installed Capture NX2.3 and immediately noticed it’s improved speed on my Windows Vista 32 bit computer. I did however find one glitch. When I save the edited (master) .nef file, the saved .nef thumbnail file looks nothing like the original .nef thumbnail image. It almost looks like its zoomed in 400% on a small part of the image. If I double click on it, it opens up in CNX2.3 and all looks fine. When I ‘save as’, the image to a .jpg, its thumbnail image looks just like the original except for the edits. Any idea how I can correct this? I can’t have all my saved .nef master files unrecognizable. Thanks for your help, Dave

  30. Dave-
    Check your preferences and make sure that you’ve enabled full-size embedded previews. That’s a new option in NX 2.3.

  31. Jason,
    In CNX2.3>Preferences>General>I had ‘Thumbnail and Preview’ selected in the Embed Preview when saving NEF/NRW setting.. I then selected Thumbnail Only and that’s when Windows (Vista 32 bit) said that I needed to update my NEF Codec. I was directed to this Nikon link: http://nikonimglib.com/nefcodec/ . I downloaded the new codec and all works well. No more thumbnail that’s zoomed in 400%. I’m somewhat surprised that Nikon or Windows hadn’t noticed that when I did the original CNX2.3 download. Thanks for getting back to me. Dave

  32. Just a heads up that Nik Software has just released Color Effects Pro 3.0 for Capture NX2, Version 3.0.0.4. This is a 64-bit version of the software which integrates perfectly with Version 2.3.0 of Capture NX2.

  33. “appears as if a heavy blue filter is layered over the image”

    It happens the same to me on a Mac Mini Server with OS X 10.7.2, NX2 2.3.0.
    Tried with Photoshop CS5 and Niksoftware plugins and obtain the same blue “posterized” images of the nefs.

  34. Jason
    Thanks very much for your performance review of Capture NX2 v2.3.
    My question is have you heard any reports of 2.3 not running in 64 bit mode on Macs running Snow Leopard 10.6.8. 2.3 would crash and not open any files NEF,Tiff and Jpeg
    until I disabled 64 bit mode and opened it in 32 bit mode.

    Thanks
    John

  35. I have heard of some isolated incidents, but I’ve had no problem. There is a bug with JPEGs that have been saved from Photo Mechanic with stars/labels not opening in CNX2 64-bit mode. The workaround is to remove the Photo Mechanic specific end of file tags from metadata.

  36. Hi Jason, long time lurker of your site here (your NX2 ebook is how I learned NX2 a couple of years ago).

    I’m seeing that the default NX2 (v2.3) NEF conversion no longer matches the (embedded) JPG written by the camera. It is punchier with more contrast and different colors (slightly). I see one of your readers mentions it above, and I’ve seen it mentioned on several forums, but it usually gets written off as a color management issue, and I don’t think it is.

    Can you try a simple experiment? I’m curious to see if you can reproduce this. Take an out-of-camera NEF, and make a copy of it. Put the two NEFs in the same directory. Open the 2nd one with NX2 and tick the “quick fix” box, and then untick it. NX2 will allow you to save (will update embedded preview), even though you’ve made no “real” changes.

    Now compare the original unmodified out-of-camera NEF with the one just saved by NX2 (e.g. toggle between the full-screen versions of them n the PhotoMechanic browser, which is effectively comparing the OOC embedded JPG preview against the one created by NX2 on a NEF with *no* edits. I’m seeing major differences between them. I’m using D7000 NEFs if it matters.

    I’m pretty sure you can see the difference even between the full-screen preview of the OOC NEF and the initial rendering of it in the NX2 edit window.

    Can you reproduce this, using either approach?

    I’ve never had a discrepancy using this approach until v2.3. I think something has changed.

    I have not seen anyone formally address this issue. I’ve seen enough people mention it that I believe it is not a totally isolated thing, but I felt like if it were widespread more people would be talking about it. If you can reproduce it I would like to hear your thoughts on it.

    If it is true that NX2 default NEF conversion no longer matches the rendering of the camera’s JPG engine, then it takes away one of the main reasons I chose to use NX2 in the first place. I wanted my raw conversion starting point to simply match the OOC JPG, now I’m getting something else.

    Keep up the good work. I always learn something when I visit this site.

    -Chris

  37. Just one quick follow-up: What is even more disturbing is that it appears as if all my “developed” NEFs (edited with previous versions of NX2) now all look different if I open them and/or save in NX2 2.3. I can see a difference between the embedded JPG and what it looks like when I open the NEF in NX2. I also can demonstrate this by exporting a new JPG from an old developed NEF (without re-saving the NEF itself), then comparing the NEF and JPG. Not good.

  38. Chris-
    I’m not seeing that behavior at all. I tested out some images yesterday, and they look fine. Whatever differences there are are so minor that I can’t really tell.

  39. Hi Jason,

    OK thanks, I appreciate you trying. It means I may have a somewhat isolated incident which means it’s going to be even harder to fix.

    The differences I’m seeing are definitely not minor. I’m seeing boosted saturation and contrast. I’m glad I have always save off a “baked” JPG (and sometimes TIF) when done with my NX2 NEF edits, otherwise I would have effectively lost all my editing work. For example, the boosted contrast is messing up my old portrait shots.

    There were a couple of threads in the Capture NX flickr group that looked promising (folks having similar issues) but there was no conclusion far as I can tell.

    Frustrating that it seems to have been introduced with the 2.3 update, just when it started to get good (due to speed, etc..). Perhaps I’ve inadvertently changed a setting somewhere, I’ll dig around in the preferences and in the Picture Control Utility.

    -Chris

  40. Hi Jason, if you are interested in what I am seeing, I attempted to characterize it more clearly in a post I made to the Flickr Capture NX group. In that post, there is a link to a small set of files that I believe illustrates a defect in NX2, but I would be very happy to be proven wrong.

    http://goo.gl/TlLrP

  41. Further to my post on 4th Jan: thanks for sharing your findings and files, Chris. I’m having severe issues with version 2.3 and D700 NEFs. My night photography has been rendered useless by this version of NX2.

    To see the problems clearly, try ISO 3200, Active D-Lighting set to High, and examine the shadow areas: there are awful white dots of noise and the colours are completely wrong.

    Pete

  42. Pete-
    You shouldn’t even consider using Active D-Lighting for long exposures on NEFs. Your settings are a recipe for noise (ISO 3200, ADL, etc).

  43. Sorry, Jason, I should’ve elaborated my reply. I know what you are saying is correct. Rather than write a lengthy technical report, I gave a simple example that clearly shows the difference between the camera JPEG and this version of NX2, which was not present in previous versions.

    Active D-Lighting that is one of the features in this version that is not being handled correctly, noise reduction is another. Both issues are even worse for the D300s at much lower ISOs.

    If the scene dynamic range is moderate and the ISO is “reasonable” the colour and tone issues are apparent, as Chris has demonstrated. When one starts to push the D700/D3 series with wide dynamic range night scenes, this issue and the white noise dots become intolerable, which did not happen with previous version of NX2.

    Although I don’t have the facilities to conduct exacting tests, I’ve thought of a repeatable and meaningful procedure that will demonstrate the issues very clearly. However, it would take me dozens of hours to perform the tests and write a report. Been there, done that in 2009 with Nikon UK in an attempt to resolve a different issue with NX2. I was congratulated for my report, which was sent to Nikon Europe. Weeks later the email reply clearly showed that Nikon Europe was fully incapable of understanding what LCH mode means and how it works. Luckily, the problem has finally been fixed as of version 2.3.0.

    I made the frightful mistake of assuming that the version control feature that NX2 gives to my NEFs would enable me to accurately recreate JPEGs that I’ve had published. The latest version of NX2 has shown how foolish I have been.

    Pete

  44. I have seen some very minor differences between in-camera JPEG previews and rendered NEFs. I’ve seen incredibly small differences in contrast between embedded JPEGs from NX 2.2.x and 2.3… so small as to not be of any concern.

    What I haven’t tested (and I’m not sure if this would matter) is a comparison of a TIFF/JPEG rendered by NX 2.2.x and one rendered with the same settings in NX 2.3.

    I’ve looked at my D3s, D2x and D700 files, and don’t see anything alarming.

  45. Hi Jason,
    Another long time follower of your very helpful work. I also wanted to report I’m one of those having this strange problem in that CNX2 2.3.1 works fine on my MacBook pro in both 64 and 32 bit modes, but will not open any imaging files on my iMac unless I am in 32 bit mode, both running 10.6.8. (The same was true of 2.3.0.) Nikon support has not be helpful. Perhaps they’ll note the number of such reports here. Otherwise the program is much improved, as you say. Thanks.

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