Thursday, December 6, 2012

Integrating Apple's Aperture with Nikon's Capture NX 2

I've recently been trying to get my head around how to integrate Capture NX 2 with a decent Digital Asset Management system. In my opinion, Capture NX 2 is by far the best image processor for Nikon RAW images. However, it is by far also the worst DAM system I've met. It's basically just a folder based system. You can't perform any search or filters in sub-folders either, so you're really stuck in that regard.

I first tried to integrate it with Lightroom 4, but it wasn't up to the task. The biggest issue I have is that I really like to fiddle around with camera profiles in-camera while I'm taking pictures. I would occasionally switch between Standard, Landscape, Portrait and Monochrome settings. However, once I move these images to Lightroom - all that information is gone, because Adobe RAW can't read Nikon's settings and it immediately creates its own standard previews. Shooting RAW+JPEG isn't very helpful either, because the only setting you have in Lightroom is to show the two images as if it was a single image, and it seems that the RAW file takes the lead as the "original".

Aperture, on the other hand, has a very useful "Camera Previews" setting under preferences:

Once this option is enabled, Aperture will use the embedded Jpeg inside the Nikon D800 RAW file as the "master" image and would not process the RAW file automatically. Note that "Quick Preview" must be enabled for this to work:

My workflow, while a bit complicated, is explained below. I have an intermediate step where I process all the selected images in Capture NX 2 batch processing in order to achieve best sharpness. You can skip that part if you'd like to save time. The flow is as follows:

  1. Import all NEFs to Aperture, making sure that you copy the filesto the Aperture library. MAKE SURE QUICK PREVIEW IS TURNED ON. This way you're seeing the camera Jpeg previews and not Aperture reprocessing (which is frankly not that great).
  2. Tag, Rate, add keywords, add GPS data... organise your project.
  3. Mark all the images that require further processing in CaptureNX 2 with a keyword "Requires CaptureNX2" or something of that nature. I personally use the Purple flag (Cmd+6) as my special marking for that. Here's how my project albums appear:
  4. Once your'e done, choose "Metadata --> Write IPTC data to originals". This will write the ratings and tags right into the original RAW files, so no need to fiddle around with XMP sidecar files.
  5. Do whatever you want with the rejected images (delete them, export them to a backup folder, ignore them... just don't expect them to stay in the Aperture library, because we're going to delete all the images very soon).
  6. Export all your good images to a folder on the hard drive (I call mine "Drop Folder" on the desktop). These should include your selects and also the images requiring further editing in Capture NX 2. I'll have two folders: Drop Folder\Selects and Drop Folder\FurtherEdits
  7. Open Capture NX 2, and choose Batch-->Run Batch Process...
  8. This step is optional. In the Run Batch Process window, choose the Drop folder\Selects as source folder. For destination, choose "Use source folder". Select NEF | NRW as file format. Apply a settings file to the images. The settings files is sort of like a recipe for making changes to an image. I change all the default camera settings on my D800E to never perform any sharpening. All camera previews - Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Monochrome etc. - are all changed to Sharpening set to 0. That's because I prefer to process for sharpness in Capture NX 2. I will use an unsharp mask and a high pass filter in order to create an image with a more natural and higher quality sharpening. See this great post by Jason P. Odell for the recommended settings. Load the settings file with the unsharp mask and high pass filter, and click "Start". Go get a cup of coffee, this can take a white.                                        
  9. Repeat step #8, only this time select Jpeg as the output file format. You'll now have RAW+Jpeg pairs in the folder. Make sure that the quality is set to 100% under "Advanced".
  10. Repeat step #8 for the sub-folder Drop Folder\FurtherEdits. Once it is done, open the images one by one and make your corrections to the image. After all edits are saved as NEF, run step 9 on the FurtherEdits folder to have Jpegs as well.
  11. You now have two folders with the RAW files containing all the adjustments that you want to have, plus a Jpeg image next to each RAW file, with the same name as the RAW file. You also have all your ratings, metadata, keywords, and labels in the RAW files, so Aperture will have no problem reading them.
  12. Delete the previous project from Aperture, and also from the Aperture trash. Now, reimport the Drop Folder folder. In the import window, make sure "RAW+JPEG" is selected as "BOTH (Original as JPEG).
  13. Now your library is updated with correct, perfect previews. All your smart albums are automatically updated with all the previous ratings you provided. 
  14. Use the JPEGs for any computer-related work (Sharing on facebook, exporting for web, creating books in Aperture etc.)
  15. If you ever want to print something and you prefer the TIFF format for that, go to the backing NEF file (by exporting the original), open the NEF in Capture NX2 and print the image from there, or save the NEF as TIFF and print from Photoshop.

So there you have it. My rather sadistic workflow :). I really like the fact that my NEF files contain all the information within them for both image adjustments and ratings. Until Capture NX 3 is released with hopefully some decent DAM, I will continue using this method. 

I've been improving this method over time to simplify the round-trip. So, for example, if I go over my images again and see that a specific image requires more exposure, I will tag it as "Add Exposure". Other images will be tagged as "Make B&W", "Make Portraits" etc. Each of these keywords is a different smart album in the project. When I have enough images to work with, I would export them to a folder matching their keyword (like a "Make B&W" folder), and then delete them from Aperture. I will process them in Capture NX 2 to my liking and repeat the process as above, finally reimporting them to Aperture.

I hope you find this workflow useful. Please leave me some ideas for improvements in the comments. How do you integrate Capture NX 2 into your workflow?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Night Safari trip with the D800E

I took a night Safari ride with my wife yesterday. I took the D800E plus many lenses, but I ended up using only one: The 70-200mm VR II. The VR is so critical with this camera, especially at night time. I was able to get good shots at 1/5 of a second at 200mm. I can barely get myself to 1/200 second without VR. I think the benefits are far more that Nikon's 4 stops advantage claims. Ofcourse it would do much good with fast moving objects but for extreme scenarios such as this, it was wonderful.

Here's a youtube clip of video shot with this setup:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Video: D800E & Micro 200mm f/4

I did a short test shoot today with my D800E & Micro 200mm f/4.

Here's the result:

The video quality actually looks really bad on youtube, so I created a torrent file for those who want the original quality:

Some images (the first one was an attempt at focus stacking):

Friday, May 25, 2012

D800E RAW Processing: CaptureOne vs Lightroom

I've been playing around with Capture One lately (by Phase One). It seems like a very good RAW processor, WHEN it doesn't crash on you...

One thing I've noticed quite clearly is that it seems to be able to process D800E RAW files much better than Lightroom 4 or Aperture 3. I've decided to do some tests on the matter. The sample file here has been provided by Rob Galbraith at It's one of the best "D800 vs. D800E" articles I've came across, so I highly recommend you'll go there and read it. Rob used Nikon capture NX2 or PictureCode Photo Ninja for his conversions.

Here are a few samples of a 100% magnification comparison between the D800 and the D800E images, in Capture One followed by Lightroom 4. The E is always on the right side.


Bike - Capture One (Look at the rear tire and the bottom rear bumper - you can see textures that aren't there on the D800. Also, there appears to be some artifacts on the Lightroom processing of the number, while in CaptureOne it looks cleaner). 

Bike - Lightroom (Click here for original size)

Sidewalk - CaptureOne

 Sidewalk - Lightroom

Traffic Light - CaptureOne (Look at the top area of the black traffic light).

Traffic Light - Lightroom

 Wood - CaptureOne

 Wood - Lightroom

 Sign - CaptureOne (Notice that it appears to be processing the text considerably better than Lightroom, there are less artifacts and less red patterns on the text)

Sign - Lightroom

 Tree - Capture One

Tree - Lightroom

Road - CaptureOne (You can see particles that are just not there on the D800 or in the Lightroom images)

Road - Lightroom

Hats - CaptureOne (Although there is still some moire on the black hat, it doesn't look as bad as on the Lightroom processing)
 Hats - Lightroom
 Dirt - CaptureOne
 Dirt - Lightroom

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

DPReview publishes its D800/E final review

The web's most popular photography website,, published its D800/E review, giving it a gold star rating:

"The D800 combines swift operation and well-designed controls with outstanding image quality that is particularly impressive at high ISO settings. Expanded video capabilities hold appeal those who need to produce both stills and video while on assignment. The camera's 36MP sensor allows for class-leading resolution in a 35mm format camera...if you're prepared to hold your technique and equipment to the highest standards."

Read the full review here:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nikon D3200 Announced, a D800 "for the rest of us"?

Nikon has announced the release of the Nikon D3200 D-SLR. It is a 24mb, DX-crop size camera. The camera features a 1080/30p and 720/60p mode, plus a very interesting wireless module costing around 55$. This module allows you to control the camera from your smartphone.

You can read the press release here, see full details here, and view the sample images on this page.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Digitalrev: D800 vs. D4

My favorite camera reviews channel on youtube just posted a comparison between the Nikon D800 and the D4.

View to your heart's content!