Raw and Raw conversion

Supplied software

The D5200 comes with a software CD which contains:

  • Nikon ViewNX2 (Windows / Mac OS X) - An image browser / file editor featuring Raw to JPEG conversion with adjustment of exposure compensation, white balance, Picture Control, sharpening and tonal adjustments and basic movie editing.
      
  • Nikon Transfer (Windows / Mac OS X) - Automated transfer of images from camera or card reader.

Nikon's ViewNX2, while not as sophisticated as the company's Capture NX 2 (available separately at a list price of £160/$180) offers basic editing functions including the ability to crop and straighten images, and change white balance, exposure and Picture Control options in NEF files. More advanced tools include D-Lighting and highlight/shadow recovery sliders, plus lateral and axial chromatic aberration correction. Basic video editing functionality is also available. In a nice touch, many of these parameters can be built into presets using the Picture Control Utility, meaning that presets you find yourself regularly applying can be uploaded to the camera. Absent, unfortunately are any noise reduction options.

ViewNX2 also allows you to geotag photographs using Google Maps (automatically if you use the optional GP-1 GPS unit), and to rate and label images with stars or colors for ease of organization. You can even modify the names of the color tags so that they show up as 'Work,' 'Holiday,' 'Portraits' or whatever best suits your needs.

Although it lacks much of the functionality offered by Nikon's Capture NX 2, the bundled ViewNX2 software makes it easy to make basic adjustments to both Raw and JPEG files from the D7100. The thumbnail view does exactly what it says on the tin - it arranges all of the images in a particular folder as thumbnails, for easy navigation.
When adjusting Raw files, you can either apply an existing Picture Control preset (Standard, Vivid, etc.) or create and modify your own, which can be uploaded to the camera and applied to JPEG captures. ViewNX2 allows you to geotag your images by using Google Maps to find and record where you took your your photos. If you use Nikon's GP-1 external GPS unit with the D7100, geotagging is automatic.
Creating video projects is a simple matter of opening the new video editor program, and importing clips into a playlist. From here you can add transitions between clips, and audio files. When you're ready to export your video project you can name it and specify your desired output settings.

Raw file conversion

In the sections below we'll compare the same Raw file as processed by Nikon's supplied ViewNX 2, DxO Optics Pro 8 and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 7.4, alongside the associated in-camera JPEG file.

  • JPEG - Large/Fine, default settings
  • VNX - ViewNX 2.7.4, default settings
  • ACR - Adobe Camera Raw 7.4, at default settings using 'Adobe Standard' profile
  • DxO - DxO Optics Pro 8.1.5, default settings

Sharpness and Detail

As you'd expect, converting a Raw file offers the potential to bring out a more natural, pleasing rendition of ultra-fine detail in comparison to the sharpening applied by the camera's JPEG engine. Nikon View NX 2 output is only marginally more crisp than the in-camera JPEG whose color and contrast it very closely mimics.

Both ACR 7.4 and DxO Optics Pro 8.1.5 produce more natural, less processed-looking results. DxO Optics Pro renders fine details with more distinction than the other Raw converters in this example and offers a bit more contrast than ACR. Note that these differences could certainly be minimized with subtle adjustments to sharpening in ACR and ViewNX 2. And keep in mind that to actually see these 100% screen view differences would require viewing extremely large prints at very close distances.

Adobe Camera Raw 7.4 Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
DxO Optics Pro 8.1.5 Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
Nikon ViewNX 2.7.4 Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
JPEG out of camera, High quality setting, manual WB (all other settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

In our resolution chart comparison, the in-camera JPEG yields the least detail yet produces the most pronounced edge halos. Color moiré is visible in the JPEG and each Raw conversion, with Nikon's ViewNX 2 giving the most effective suppression. DxO Optics Pro takes a very aggressive approach to sharpening at its default setting, to the point of producing a slightly mottled effect in the black lettering. It also struggles with moiré as washed out streaks are visible. ACR strikes a reasonable balance between sharpness, avoidance of edge halos and a more organic-looking yet still prominent display of color moiré.

Adobe Camera RAW 7.4 DxO Optics Pro 8.1.5
ViewNX 2.7.4 JPEG Large/Fine

Real-world advantages

The examples below illustrate the kind of real-world advantages you can get from shooting in Raw mode. At low ISO sensitivity settings in daylight the D5200 gives a neutral white balance and generally pleasing contrast in 'straight from camera' JPEGs. Viewed at 100%, however, files can appear a bit soft at the default sharpening settings. With just a few adjustments in ACR, you can enhance edge contrast and of course tweak color balance as desired.

Camera JPEG - ISO 100 RAW + ACR 7.4 with white balance, exposure, contrast and sharpness adjusted to taste with auto CA correction applied.
100% crops

In the scene above, the default JPEG rendering is certainly passable, with CA kept well under control, but a slightly warmer color rendering along with higher contrast and a moderate sharpening adjustment can yield a richer looking file.

Camera JPEG - ISO 3200 AW + ACR 7.4 with white balance, exposure, sharpness and noise reduction adjusted to taste.
100% crops

Shooting in Raw mode also allows you to take control over white balance and noise reduction when shooting in low light scenes like the one above, captured at ISO 3200. Mixed-temperature lighting situations like this will almost always require a manual tweak to arrive at a more accurate result.

Here I've boosted exposure by almost one full stop, neutralized the overly yellow color cast and applied enough noise reduction to eliminate chroma noise. One characteristic of ACR's noise reduction, however, is a distinct loss in saturation, as you can see in the crops above. This Raw conversion does give you crisper details, but at the cost of luminance noise. We don't find this overly objectionable though. For starters, you really have to look at a pixel-level view to see this onscreen, or examine a large print at a very close distance. An even in those instances, the noise is uniform, mimicking the effect of film grain.

Raw files for download

The examples above are meant to provide general guidance on the possibilities with Raw conversions. Below we provide Raw files from the sample shots we've taken, so you can apply your preferred software and techniques in order to judge the capabilities of the D5200 for yourself.