Review: Nikon NX Studio answers our plea for a free, all-in-one editing app
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Review: Nikon NX Studio answers our plea for a free, all-in-one editing app

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Nikon NX Studio version 1.0.0’s user interface.

A few weeks ago, we published an article comparing Nikon’s free ViewNX-i and Capture NX-D utilities with their dominant payware alternative, Adobe Camera Raw, which also underlies the popular Adobe Lightroom Classic. In summary, I found both ViewNX-i and Capture NX-D to offer pretty decent image quality and good performance.

But one of my primary complaints with this duo was that neither app offered a complete feature set. ViewNX-i’s Raw processing capabilities were rather more limited in the interests of approachability, while Capture NX-D lacked features like support for geolocation, keywording, movies, slideshows and more. That left users having to switch back and forth between the pair for a full experience.

The newly released Nikon NX Studio definitively addresses this. It’s essentially a replacement for both applications, offering almost every feature of the pair in a single program. Capture NX-D and ViewNX-i will remain available for download, but are unlikely to be updated to add support for new cameras or compatibility with future operating system updates.

NX Studio replaces ViewNX-i if already installed, but can run alongside Capture NX-D, allowing you to try both in parallel should you want to. It comes bundled with a new version of Nikon Transfer 2 whose sole change is to add support for NX Studio itself. It also works with the same Message Center 2 and Picture Control Utility 2 apps as its predecessors.

It will support all Nikon DSLRs released since the D1 in 1999, as well as all of the company’s Z and 1-series mirrorless cameras, Coolpix compacts and KeyMission action cameras. (Although with that said, AVI-format movies from a couple of dozen Coolpix models released between 2009 and 2011 can’t be played back in the app.)

Key takeaways:

  • NX Studio comes with a modern, approachable UI
  • Keywording and GPS tagging are now supported
  • Allows for movie playback and light editing
  • Image quality and performance are broadly similar to predecessors; convenience in a single package is the reason to upgrade

A cleaner, friendlier, more modern user interface

The user interface is aesthetically similar to that of both earlier apps, but it’s now cleaner, friendlier and more standards compliant than before. Icons are monochromatic, with a bolder yellow accent color used to call attention to enabled options, rather than the more muted yellow of the Capture NX-D and ViewNX-i. And unlike both earlier apps, there are no drop shadows or gradient effects, giving NX Studio a cleaner, more modern look.

Alongside its predecessors, Capture NX-D (bottom left) and ViewNX-i (bottom right), Nikon NX Studio (top) has a cleaner, friendlier user interface that’s nevertheless familiar.

Compared to NX-D specifically, NX Studio is far more approachable. Adjustment panels are no longer hidden behind toggle buttons, expanding a new one no longer causes a previous one to vanish from the UI, and nor do conflicting variations of a single control appear in multiple places as in the earlier app. If you only use a subset of the controls on offer, you can also create a custom panel containing just those specific controls, which helps made them easier to find.

And unlike in Capture NX-D, Windows conventions are now properly followed, so you can tab or shift-tab to switch back and forth between fields when typing in values directly, saving some wrist strain in having to reach for your mouse or touchpad repeatedly. One slight shortcoming is that while keyboard shortcuts are supported – for example, the F key toggles full-screen mode – there’s no list of shortcuts to be found in the otherwise-excellent user manual, and nor are they listed in the app’s settings. We’ve sent a query over to Nikon about the keyboard shortcuts, and will update this article if and when we receive a response.

Few and minor drawbacks to the new interface

There are relatively few downsides to the new UI. You can no longer undock and float panels to place them wherever you like on the screen, nor can you dock them in different locations to their defaults, other than for the film strip. This defaults to a horizontal bar at the bottom of the screen, but can be switched to a vertical column at screen left instead

The navigation panel, folders and albums controls are all fixed at screen left, while the histogram, adjustments, EXIF information and keywording tools sit at the right of the screen. Both of these side panels can easily be resized, or hidden with a single click on their centrally-located arrow buttons. The film strip lacks a similar button to allow it to be hidden, but you can hide it by dragging downwards when resizing.

Keyword your images manually or based on location

Given that ViewNX-i had a rather abbreviated selection of editing controls, I’d wager most users will be migrating from Capture NX-D. In most respects, NX Studio’s editing controls are identical to that app, although it does add the Color Booster control from ViewNX-i alongside NX-D’s saturation tool, giving you access to other method.

NX Studio now includes support for XMP and IPTC keywording, including automatic address and Wikipedia data tagging based on geolocation info.

But what else do you gain by switching from NX-D? The most significant addition is probably the arrival of both XMP/IPTC keywording, allowing you to manually tag your images post-import, view existing tags and remove those which aren’t applicable.

If your images are geotagged, you can also add location-based tags semi-automatically, choosing from a list of app-selected location name suggestions, or even from place names suggested via Wikipedia. Confusingly, though, this functionality is available only when in map view, even though the ‘Set from location data’ button remains visible – albeit grayed out – in other views. I’d like to see Nikon correct that to be clickable regardless of your chosen view.

View your images and track logs on the map

Speaking of the map view, that’s another new addition, and it allows you to see geotagged images from your currently-selected folder or album on an interactive world map. You have a choice of map, satellite, hybrid or physical views provided by Google Maps.

The new Map view can pinpoint the location and capture direction of individual photos, show GPS track logs and automatically geotag your images from the tracks.

Each individual image shows up as a yellow pushpin on the map, with the currently selected image being shown in red. If your camera recorded a compass bearing at capture time, that direction is also indicated on its pushpin when selected as shown in the screenshot above left, but not otherwise.

If you have an NMEA or GPX track log recorded by the camera itself or a compatible device, these can be imported and shown as a red track line. And once imported, they can be used to approximately geotag selected images based on their capture time as compared to the times recorded in the track log.

Play movies and perform basic editing tasks

Another new addition is support for movies, both in terms of playback and basic editing. The editing functionality allows you to quickly trim the start and end of clips, or splice multiple files together.

You can also combine multiple movie clips and images to make a new file complete with titles, captions, and overlaid music. There are, however, only three transition effects, three still image durations (with optional motion effect), and three brief music samples provided. You can also add your own music in .WAV or .M4A formats, and process movie clips to remove autofocus noise.

You can now view and perform basic editing on movies in-app, but you’ll need a beefy processor and GPU if you want to do so with ultra high-def footage.

Unfortunately, you’ll need quite a beefy processor and GPU for smooth playback if you shoot in 4K, let alone editing. On my 2018 Dell XPS 15 9570 laptop running Windows 10 version 1909, I found 1080p clips from the Nikon Z5, for example, played smoothly but those at 4K resolution stuttered badly.

And that’s not down to the hardware, as VLC Media Player played them perfectly smoothly on the same computer, while Windows’ own Media Player and Photo apps only dropped a handful of frames.

Several smaller tweaks, too

Nikon NX Studio also includes a number of smaller tweaks compared to Capture NX-D. For one thing, you can now upload images and movies directly to Nikon’s Image Space service and YouTube, respectively. You can also view slideshows with optional, user-provided background music, and the new program adds support for more obscure file formats such as 3D Multi Picture Object files or voice notes recorded on older Coolpix cameras.

Support is included for uploading your creations to both Nikon Image Space and YouTube.

Really, I can only find a couple of omissions. As mentioned previously, you can no longer undock interface panels, nor can you change whether they appear in the left or right-side palettes. Other than that, I couldn’t find any other missing features this time around.

Image quality is indistinguishable from NX-D

Initially, I planned to compare Nikon NX Studio’s image quality to that of its predecessors and Adobe Camera Raw in detail. However, on testing the program I’ve found its results with identical settings to be visually indistinguishable from those of NX-D, even though precise file sizes do differ fractionally at the same compression level.

You can also play basic slideshows in-app, but there are only three transition types to choose from, and you’ll need to supply any background music yourself.

With that being the case, I’ll refer you to the second page of my earlier article, instead, for a more detailed analysis. NX Studio is capable of delivering good image quality with very pleasing color and impressive shadow recovery, but feel Adobe still has a slight edge when it comes to fine detail at low sensitivities, which increases at higher sensitivities thanks to significantly stronger noise reduction from Nikon.

The good news is that with no noticeable change in image quality, and with all the same controls on offer as in both predecessors, NX Studio will read and apply all the same tweaks as did either earlier application, meaning you can upgrade without fear of having to rework all of your adjustments.

Performance is similar to both predecessors

As for performance, which was already a strong point of Nikon’s software compared to that provided by most manufacturers, things are also pretty similar to before. Adobe still has a small but noticeable edge in the speed of final output processing, and a more substantial advantage in terms of preview performance.

NX Studio is a little faster than Capture NX-D, however. Using the same six comparison images as for my previous article, it took 28 seconds to complete the batch. That’s about two seconds faster than with NX-D, and two seconds slower than NX-i. By way of comparison, performance leader Adobe still holds the crown with a time of 19.5 seconds.

A few bugs, but that’s to be expected in a brand-new app

In my time with Nikon NX Studio, I’ve found it to be very stable, but that’s not to say it’s perfect, nor would I expect a brand-new app to be. I’ve run across a couple of bugs, although only one strikes me as particularly significant. (And both are related to issues I found with the previous apps, as well.)

Firstly, there’s still an issue with detecting dragging of the right-panel scroll bar, regardless of whether the program is running maximized or not. But where this only happened with my Dell Active Pen, it now also happens with both the touch screen and even when dragging with the mouse. Simply using the scroll wheel or a two-fingered touchpad swipe works around this, however.

The program also ignores Windows’ scaling settings entirely in mixed-resolution monitor setups when running on an ultra high-def screen. That makes it extremely difficult to use on a 4K display unless you either lower the resolution or disable your lower-res screen(s).

Image quality from NX Studio is broadly comparable to what you’d get from the Capture NX-D; check out how it compares with ACR here. Click or tap for the full-sized ACR version; here for CaptureNX-D version

The good news is that Nikon is aware of this problem and working on a fix. In the meantime, desktop users with mixed-resolution displays can work around it using a scaling setting built into NX Studio, but notebook users will find that they constantly have to change this setting – which also requires an app restart – every time they disconnect or reconnect a display of differing resolution.

NX Studio is a big step in the right direction

So what do I think of Nikon NX Studio? I have to say that it’s a big step in the right direction, giving photographers that Nikon cameras a powerful editing application where they can perform most of the edits they’d want to.

The most important thing here is that the new program provides basically everything of any significance from its two predecessors, allowing you to ditch one of them altogether. Its new interface is noticeably better and easier on the eye, and its performance and image quality are just as good as before.

I think this first iteration of NX Studio is a great replacement for Nikon’s earlier apps. If you’re using either ViewNX-i or Capture NX-D currently, I highly recommend you upgrade to the newer app, because I’m confident that you’ll agree.

What we like:

  • Available free with your Nikon camera
  • Includes almost every feature of Capture NX-D and ViewNX-i in a single app
  • Recognizes and retains edits made with Capture NX-D or ViewNX-i
  • Significantly friendlier interface than its predecessors, though with familiar controls
  • Realistic color with minimal effort
  • Impressive shadow recovery from Active D-Lighting and D-Lighting HS
  • Slightly faster than Capture NX-D, albeit still a fair bit slower than Adobe
  • A very generous editing feature-set

What we don’t:

  • No overall one-click auto control, although many individual controls have an auto setting
  • Noise reduction robs fine detail and, depending on your camera, there may not be much scope to fine-tune it
  • Interactions between controls can prove challenging
  • 4K video playback requires beefy hardware
  • Similar touch/pen issues to earlier apps, but they’re easily worked around

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