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.
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.