Capture NX 2 takes aim at Adobe

Designed by professionals but easy enough to use for hobbyists, Nikon upgrades Capture NX and is clearly angling for photographers of all levels.

There are a lot of image editors out there, but few of them are designed with professional photographers in mind, and even fewer are designed by photographers themselves. Capture NX 2 for Windows and Mac is one of those rare editors designed by professionals but is easy enough for hobbyists to use, and Nikon has just given it a major overhaul.

Capture NX simplifies and enhances common photo editing tools in a customizable layout. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Available for purchase at $179.95 or upgrade at $109.95, the program introduces a revamped interface, closer integration with other Nikon programs such as View NX, and a battery of new tools that simplify and enhance the photo-editing work flow. This should make any photographer seriously consider making the jump for nearly every kind of edit.

Although Capture NX's improvements on the photographer's work flow are undeniably helpful, the most unique new tool in the program are Control Points. Based on proprietary Nikon technology called U Point, the control points allow the user to make selective changes instead of global ones. From sharpening to color changes, the points can affect image-wide edits, but their true power lies in the ability to narrow tweaks to a user-defined space.

There are several control point-based tools. The Black, Neutral, and White Control Point tools, which look like eyedroppers in front of circles on the toolbar, are used to manage color. By clicking on one and then clicking on the image, a small circle appears with sliders extending from it. Moving the sliders adjusts both the desired effect and the diameter of the circle that radiates from the control point. If you don't like the positioning of a point, but are happy with the effect, click and drag the point to a different location on the image.

The Selection Control Points eliminate the need for editors to manually mask off the part of the image they want to change. They function the same way as the color control points, except that they can be used to sharpen, reduce noise, adjust contrast, saturation, and more. Once a point has been created, the control panel that natively lives on the right of the editing window can be used to select the desired effect.

Control points and sliders make Capture NX's photo-editing workflow easy to manage. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Another excellent new tool is the Auto-Retouch brush, which does exactly what its name implies. What's impressive about this version of the popular tool, found in many programs, is that it can accomplish with one click what other programs take four or five. This may not sound like much initially, but when repeatedly removing dust or skin blemishes the saved time is noticeable.

Other improvements to the program include common hot keys and further compatibility with Nikon's View NX software, making batch edits and creating common settings a cinch. The Quick Fix menu also cuts out repetition by offering up a selection of standard changes ranging from curves to lens correction. The Quick Fix wouldn't be as useful as it is if it were inaccurate, but clearly a lot of work has gone into making the algorithms controlling the tool flexible and effective. The Soft Proof tool that lives at the bottom of the open image window makes accurate printing pain-free.

One of the subtle improvements of the program is the manner by which layers have been worked in. Called Steps here, they are woven seamlessly in the work flow, making control of previous changes as simple as unchecking a box. Most of the changes are made via sliders, controllable both from the image and from the Edit List, which is where the Adjustment Window lives.

However, the layout of the various components is malleable--users can hide, minimize, and drag windows around at will with no delay in processing time. This happens, in part, because Capture NX 2 is much smaller than Photoshop, which needs to appeal to designers as well as photographers. One drawback of Capture NX is that it's not capable of creating an image montage easily. However, since those are rarely high resolution images because they're made up of many smaller photos, it's not a glaring oversight.

Capture NX 2 combines multiple editing options into one manageable panel, cutting out extraneous mousing around. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Capture NX supports TIFF-16, TIFF-8, JPG, and Nikon's own proprietary NEF format. It does not support Canon's CR2 or other RAW configurations, which should decrease the appeal of the program to non-Nikon photographers. Images can be saved as TIFF, NEF, or JPG, metatag information can be kept or destroyed as the user sees fit, and changes saved to a NEF can be easily undone by unchecking the changes from the Edit List.

Overall, as a lifelong Photoshop user for my personal photo editing and printing needs, Capture NX 2 is nothing less than spectacular and should be considered by any photographer looking to enhance their work flow by cutting out tools that they never touch and emphasizing the ones they always need.

UPDATED: The relationship between Nikon, Inc., and Nik Software has been corrected. Although the Japanese division of Nikon does have an equity stake in Nik Software, Nik is an independent company. View NX and Capture NX are owned and published by Nikon, Inc. Also, Capture NX 2 and View NX do not support non-Nikon RAW formats, as previously reported.