Talkin’ Nikon Capture NX 2.0 with Michael Rubin

Talkin’ Nikon Capture NX 2.0 with Michael Rubin

I’ve been a Nikon digital SLR shooter since the D1x in 2001, so I’m personally thrilled to have Nikon as a Shoot! The Day partner. If you haven’t already heard, they are providing D700s on-site for our Shoot! On Location winners, and they’re also providing a D300 kit for the winner of our Shoot! The Day content.

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Recently, Nikon introduced their newest RAW processing/management software, Nikon Capture NX 2.0, and I had a chance to chat it up with Michael Rubin, a senior manager at Nikon.

Hey Michael, I picked up a D3 the day it came out, and love it! How closely do the hardware engineers work with the software engineers when developing something like Nikon Capture NX 2.0?

As of recently, more closely than ever. Our firmware and software teams are basically united at this point. However there has always been a direct relationship of software and hardware. For me the most promising thing is seeing Active D-Lighting in our cameras; this idea came from our Capture 4 software (the predecessor to Capture NX, although the cameras and software use different libraries). The key people in software all came from a very strong hardware background.



What is Active-D Lighting?

I feel like there’s been a much greater emphasis on producing higher quality software than there had been in the past. I assume the transition to digital was as rocky for a company like Nikon as it was for every photographer.

I think it’s hard to quantify the ease or difficulty of the transition to digital since it’s been an ongoing process since the early 1980’s, at least for Nikon.

Just for a quick history lesson:  Nikon developed the NT-1000 transmitter in 1983 for use at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. This marked Nikon’s formal entry into electronic imaging. This transmitter allowed images to be sent to the wire services from film.

Later Nikon developed the QV-1000 Video Still Camera. The original LS-3500 and LS-3510 film scanners marked Nikon’s first heavy-duty imaging software as the 1980’s drew to a close. The 1990’s brought the E2~E3 Digital SLR models and the end of the decade saw the dominance of the COOLPIX compact digital cameras and the seminal release of the D1 Digital SLR.

In all of that time there was software and software development. Much of the team from the days of the E2 and film scanners are still involved in some form or another.

The biggest challenge we have always faced is making sure the final image produced by software is as color-accurate and pixel accurate as it was captured in the camera-and with the same or better image quality. We then had to balance that requirement with the photographer’s requirements and needs. We developed one of the earliest RAW processing programs, Nikon Capture (version 1) and it led to a series of RAW processors that later evolved, with the release of Nikon Capture 4, into an image editing program. At this point users wanted to have selective control of their images, thus Capture NX was born.

What are the main advantages of using a product like Capture NX over products like Photoshop or Lightroom?

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I think it’s a misunderstanding of where Capture NX 2 and Capture NX fit in the workflow. It’s not a black-and-white (no pun intended) advantage or disadvantage of one program over the other. I’m by no means a “Photoshop Expert” but I’ve been using the software since version 2. Photoshop does remarkable things and is an evolving piece of software as it stands now. Lightroom does some incredible image management and presentation.

We see Capture NX 2 as a very effective add-on to Lightroom or Photoshop. We even try to integrate with Adobe Bridge better with Capture NX 2.

What Capture NX does so well, and even more so, Capture NX 2 lets you edit your photographs using the best tools you have: your eyes. You can basically look at a sky and decide it needs enhancement and with just a few mouse clicks it’s improved. Need to add sharpening just to the eyes? A “plus” selection control point allows you to add an Unsharp Mask or High Pass filter right to the eyes without adding sharpness to any other part of the image. Plus the color accuracy and soft proofing are tops in my opinion and the RAW processing of the NEF file is superior to all other programs.

Thank you so much for automatically exploding the “Edit List” in version 2.0. That was probably my biggest complaint with 1.0!

You’re welcome. We did it just for you. I like it too to be honest.

I’ve heard people say that they can get better conversions from their old NEFs (e.g. from the D1x) using the newer software. How does this work?

Simple really: we constantly are learning new ways to process photographs and also the computing power is so far advanced from say the days of a D1x, that we can do much more in the computer than ever before. The chance to reprocess an image is where a RAW file comes in so handy.


Let’s talk about “Control Points.” This has to be one of the coolest features in the history of image editing. How did you conceive of this notion? What’s new with the control points in NX 2.0?

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I wish I could take some credit for them. Actually this is Nik Software‘s creation and genius. They showed this to us early on and we so believed in it that we eventually made an investment in Nik Software. Capture NX was the first software to have Control Points and Capture NX 2 is the first to offer Selection Control Points. Selection Control Points use the same methods to isolate like areas so you can apply almost any enhancement, from sharpening to a black and white conversion. That gives you the full control of your photographs.

U Point, the technology behind control points was conceived of by Nils Kokemohr, the founder and Chief Technical Officer at Nik Software. The main idea was to approach photographic elements and directly edit them without having to make a selection or even know how to make a selection. It’s analogous to using a grease pen and marking up a print for touch-up later. I’m sure anyone who’s worked in a wet darkroom has had to make actual masks to dodge/burn/vignette or do other work to an image. With a Control Point, click on the area and your mask is ready.

I’m a huge fan of the straighten tool too. Prior to this version, I’d have to pull the file into Photoshop, then use the ruler tool to measure the angle, then crop in on the photo.

Me too. It also works with vertical edges which helps me straighten my crooked doorways!

The addition of the auto-retouch feature is really eliminating the need to use other image editing programs altogether. Is streamlining the digital workflow the goal of the new product?

One of my mentors, now-retired from Nikon, Richard LoPinto, instilled in me, an almost, dare I say, hatred of the term workflow. We do enough work. Even when photography is our profession, or in my case, when my profession revolves around photography, I want to do the least amount as I have to on the computer. Computers are black holes of time. Anything we can do to minimize the time spent editing a photograph and allow more time to make a photograph, or spend time with family, that’s time well spent.

Whenever I teach a class on Nikon Software I first tell everyone I don’t want them using my software (I’m a bit possessive!) I make sure their cameras are set up correctly and they understand what settings will yield both the best results as well as allow them to make changes later if necessary.

I look at Capture NX and Capture NX 2 as the “heavy-lifters.” I use Nikon Transfer to download images from my camera or card reader and apply labels on the fly, then on to ViewNX to make my selections. Once I have culled my pool down to must-edits, I send those over to Capture NX 2 where I hope to be done with them. If I need to Watermark or add a drop shadow, I send it to Photoshop.

Tell me a little bit about the plug-in architecture. I noticed that Nik Software has a Color Efex Pro 3.0 plug-in for Capture NX 2.0. Since one can always revert to the original RAW settings, should we assume that you’ve effectively created layers akin to Photoshop?

Nik developed the plug-in architecture to allow both Color Efex Pro 2.0 (Nikon version) and Color Efex Pro 3.0 (Nikon version) to work seamlessly with Capture NX 2. 

All steps with the exception of the Base Adjustments (Capture NX version 1) or Develop Module (Capture NX 2) are applied after RAW processing. The beauty is, when an image is saved as a Nikon Electronic Format file (NEF), these are just instructions. You can start with a JPEG or TIFF file and save it as a NEF for non-destructive editing.

Whether these filters are applied globally to the whole image, or selectively using the Selection Control Points, Gradient Tools or Plus/Minus Brushes, the selection data is saved along with the filter settings as appended instructions.

Where other programs produce bloated files with basically multiple iterations of an image within this one file, Capture NX and Capture NX 2 create an appended instruction set and an updated preview JPEG image and thumbnail so any changes can be shown in most image browsers and operating systems. The space “penalty” is minimized this way. The other nice thing is you can have multiple versions of one image stored in that single file containing the original RAW (or JPEG or TIFF) data plus the original and new instructions. The file doesn’t become 2x the original size this way.

Of course, the biggest problem with RAWs is dealing with the large file sizes and speed. Does Capture NX take full advantage of multi-core processors? Do you foresee further speed optimizations in the future?

Capture NX 2 is not specifically optimized however it runs very well on multi-core processors. Most input/output (I/O) operations are controlled by the operating systems and if the operating system is speeding up drive access and memory management, Capture NX and Capture NX 2 will take advantage of the faster architecture. We are always looking to speed up operation, however, as policy, we never can discuss future product or updates.

You are a Columbia University history major who worked as a paralegal, and then in the photo industry. How did you arrive in the photo industry?

Well the paralegal job was a summer job in college so I could get a taste of law and decide if I wanted to go into law. Got a great taste, lots of money (for a college student) and decided it wasn’t for me.

I’ve been making pictures since I was 3 (my folks bought me an old Gimbel’s blue 120 film camera and then I used my mom’s old Brownies). I learned my way around the darkroom when I was 10 and I always was shooting and was somewhat serious in my teens.

In college I made my first electronic image: I scanned a color photo on an 8-bit grayscale scanner to an Apple Mac II and printed it in black and white on a LaserWriter NTX. I was bitten…

After college I worked for a very high-end audio and pro audio manufacturer primarily based on vacuum tubes and analog recordings in California. I ended up doing a bit of work for their short-lived record label and had to print a number of album covers in the dark room.

After a year in California (it didn’t take) I returned to New York where I did some computer consulting for 3 years which led me to what I thought was a temporary assignment at Olympus. Up until the Olympus gig, I worked in the summers at a wonderful summer camp I had attended in the 1980’s called Buck’s Rock located in New Milford, Connecticut. Interestingly enough, Seth Gitner and I met there as well as a number of other, now professional photographers. We lost touch until recently. Seth ran the photo shop (yes that was its name) and I spent any number of evenings printing.

What type of pictures do you like to take? And what’s in your camera bag?

I’d say sports is my favorite subject, especially the New York Mets and Islanders. I love live music. The downside to both subjects is you never have any idea what the score is or what songs are playing.

These days the majority of work encompasses shots of my almost 3 year old son, Gavin. I did an amazing shoot of his birthday party using a D700. All the other parents were quite impressed. Reminds me of the “What the Duck” cartoon where the assumption is made that a big camera makes a photographer good (you get the gist of it!)

I change cameras regularly. I love the D3 and D300, the D700 and the D80. I’m blessed that I can really try out all of our gear. My favorite lens for sports is either a 400 f/2.8 or 200 f/2. For music, a 50 f/1.4 and a 70-200 VR.

My wife carries around a COOLPIX S7c and that is actually the first camera I have actually owned in 20 years. I think I am buying her a D60 next.

The high ISO performance of the D3 and D700 have really allowed photos to be created that couldn’t have been otherwise. Where do you think the next mini-revolution will occur in photography?

I think software inside the cameras is next big thing. We’re already building it in and I also think there will be a trickle-up of features found in compact cameras making it into Digital SLR cameras. The lines are blurring but that’s why it’s been so much fun in my nearly 14 years in the industry.

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There are 2 comments for this article
  1. John at 2:03 pm

    Michael, I have used Capture NX 2 on an XP pro machine with 3.3gz quad core processor and 4gb of ram. I find the updating of images during processing while zoomed in on a d300 nef file, excruciatingly slow. No other processes are running. Is there a way to speed it up? Hurry with the multicore processor support. Thanks, John

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