The advantages of Camera Raw versus ViewNX-i are quite similar to those of Capture NX-D as listed on the previous page, so rather than recapping, let's take a look at how Nikon's two apps differ, instead.

Nikon Capture NX-D version 1.6.3's user interface.

What differs between Capture NX-D and ViewNX-i?

ViewNX-i has a more modal interface akin to that of, say, Adobe Lightroom, with separate tabs for image browsing, editing, a map view and a web tab giving access to Nikon Image Space or YouTube. Also lining the top of the screen are big, obvious buttons for things like importing or converting images, editing movies, printing or creating contact sheets and slideshows, and sending images by email or to web services.

Capture NX-D, by contrast, has a non-modal interface centered around image browsing and editing, first and foremost, and most of the buttons at the top of its interface are aimed at those tasks. There's no map view or web/email connectivity, nor support for movies at all, although if you need these things a ViewNX-i button will transfer you to that app.

But there's much more control over image editing in particular, albeit with a rather frustrating user interface which make for an unnecessarily steep learning curve. (We'll come back to that in a moment.)

Adobe Camera Raw version 12.4's user interface.

There are a lot of added controls you'll find in Capture NX-D that aren't offered by ViewNX-i. These include:

  • Active D-Lighting
  • Saturation replaces color booster
  • Noise reduction (varies by camera) plus edge/astro NR
  • Color moire reduction
  • Dust reduction (using dust-off photo)
  • Distortion and fisheye correction
  • Vignetting
  • RGB levels, curves and gamma
  • LCH (lightness, chrome, hue) levels, curves and gamma
  • Perspective control
  • Unsharp masking
  • Picture control editing
  • Local editing tools including retouch brush and color control points

More editing possibilities, but ACR's interface is far more pleasant to use

Click or tap for the full-sized ACR version; here for CaptureNX-D version

With so much more going on, it's not surprising that Capture NX-D's interface is more complex than ViewNX-i. In use, though, it's surprising just how disorganized and confusing it feels when compared to ACR.

Local and global adjustments have separate tabs in the right-hand panel, identified only by icons. The local adjustment tab is logical enough, but the tab for global adjustments is extremely cluttered and takes quite some figuring out.

Capture NX-D's interface is more complex. Individual sections in the scrollable panel above are called up by clicking on icons clustered in the top section, or in the menu bar spanning the top of the screen.

It's topped by five dropdowns for things like stored adjustments, exposure compensation, white balance and more. Alongside are icons which vary from straightforward to near-meaningless, above six more icons which lack dropdowns.

Clicking on any of these icons changes their color, and simultaneously calls up more sub-panels beneath. What's in these sub-panels can differ significantly from what's available through the dropdowns.

For example, the exposure compensation dropdown offers only a +/-1EV adjustment range plus an Active D-Lighting option. But click its icon and the newly-available sub-panel lets you access a much wider +/-5EV range and the full array of Active D-Lighting levels.

Capture NX-D's controls sometimes duplicate each other or have inconsistencies. For example, choose exposure compensation through its dropdown and you'll get a much narrower range than if you open the exposure compensation panel.

Even more confusingly, while most of these sub-panels can be opened at the same time, that's not always true. Only one from the adjustments, exposure compensation, white balance, picture control, tone and tone detail sub-panels can be opened at any given time. Opening another will close the previous one.

The result is that while you're acclimatizing yourself, you're constantly scrolling around looking for a control that you could swear was here just a moment ago.

Decent 4K and touch support, but pen control and keyboard shortcuts could be better

Click or tap for the full-sized ACR version; here for CaptureNX-D version

Thankfully, support for 4K displays and touch-screens are both decent, albeit with the same minor glitches when switching monitor resolutions as for ViewNX-i.

Pen support is rather hit-and-miss, though: It works well for some things like adjusting sliders or using the retouch brush. But it has a tendency to cause problems with scrollbars located near the right of the screen, so you won't want to use a pen to navigate that lengthy Edit panel.

And unlike ViewNX-i, Capture NX-D doesn't follow some of the usual Windows conventions for keyboard shortcuts. You can't quickly tab or shift-tab to navigate between sliders, for example, leaving you reaching for the mouse or touchpad more often than should be the case.

Also, sometimes moving a slider to its limit will cause the values of other related sliders to be reset, even if you never let go of the mouse button to apply your change. A minor annoyance, but a frustrating one if you're trying to fine-tune an adjustment near that limit.

Capture NX-D trails both ViewNX-i and ACR's performance, but only by a little

Click or tap for the full-sized ACR version; here for CaptureNX-D version

But enough of that clumsy UI; let's have some good news. Performance in Capture NX-D trails that in both ACR and NX-i, but only by a little bit, and it's still vastly better than some rivals.

Much like in NX-i, previews render in around a second or less after each adjustment, and with only a single pass required to see the final result. (And just as in ViewNX-i, there's no indicator to show when the preview is updating, sadly.)

Final processing takes perhaps 10-20% longer in NX-D than NX-i. All six images in this preview took Capture NX-D around 30 seconds to batch-process, as compared to 26 seconds for ViewNX-i, 19.5 seconds for ACR.

Capture NX-D recognizes your ViewNX-i edits, thankfully

Click or tap for the full-sized ACR version; here for CaptureNX-D version

Given that Nikon offers two editing apps and neither offers everything provided by the other, you'll likely be switching back and forth between apps quite a bit. Thankfully, Capture NX-D stores its adjustments in the same sidecar format as does ViewNX-i, and can also recognize edits made in that app.

What this means is that you can, should you wish, stick with the more approachable of the two programs for the bulk of your editing, switching to Capture NX-D only for the more challenging edits towards the end of your editing workflow.

For those controls which are shared by the two programs, things function pretty similarly, if not always identically. (I noticed some subtle variations in images processed by the pair, even if opened and converted in NX-D without any edits beyond those already made and stored in the sidecar created by NX-i.)

Even when "disabled", NX-D's noise reduction is stronger than ACR at default levels

Click or tap for the full-sized ACR version; here for CaptureNX-D version

As I said at the outset, noise reduction is beyond the scope of this comparison, and so I abstained from changing the defaults for the sample images included in this article.

Noise reduction in NX-D is still a little heavy-handed at default parameters.

With that said, I still played with it a fair bit and can report that, for the camera I chose at least, even when set to "Disabled", Nikon still applies far more noise reduction than does Adobe at its default level. (And ACR can be dialed back a long way beyond that point).

Noise reduction controls depend upon your chosen camera

Another point of potential confusion – especially if you're using multiple different camera models – is that the available noise reduction controls change depending upon which camera you're using, something I didn't realize until long after I'd selected images from the Nikon Z6 for my comparisons.

Capture NX-D's noise reduction controls vary by camera model, which explains the wasted space in the panel above. With a different camera, further controls might be placed there.

It turns out that some cameras – the Z6 included – allow only a four-step control over noise reduction including the kinda-sorta "off" position, with no option to fine-tune how noise is handled beyond that.

I could tell something was amiss, however, both from the fact there was a greyed-out method dropdown, and also from the good couple of inches of wasted space between the strength dropdown and edge/astro NR checkboxes.

Turning to the PDF manual – which thankfully was accessible from the Help menu – set me straight. (And incidentally, kudos to Nikon for making that manual easy to locate. Canon's DPP offers no help at all, and its manual a struggle to find. But I digress...).

If your camera supports it – and Nikon doesn't state which models do – that method dropdown will give you a choice of faster, better quality, or "better quality 2013" denoising algorithms. Selecting one of these will give you a 100-step intensity slider and 10-step sharpness slider, in theory allowing you to fine-tune your noise reduction much more than the software will allow you to with Z6 raw files.

Image quality is similar to NX-i, you just get more control

Click or tap for the full-sized ACR version; here for CaptureNX-D version

In terms of its image quality, I didn't see a significant difference between Capture NX-D and ViewNX-i, at least when using equivalent settings for the pair. Much as I found for ViewNX-i against ACR, I tended to prefer NX-D's color but ACR's handling of highlights and shadows.

ACR also had a slight edge in terms of image detail, offset somewhat by slightly stronger unsharp masking from Nikon. But once noise reduction factored into the equation – even if "disabled" – it tended to smear away the finest details, giving ACR a bigger edge.

I found the Capture NX-D curves tool, meanwhile, to be helpful in getting each photo closer to the desired result than I could with ViewNX-i. The LCH curves were also helpful for portraits, since Capture NX-D has no setting corresponding to the portrait/nature option on NX-i's color booster control. With LCH curves, I could target just the skin tones for reduced saturation without affecting the rest of the image.

Final thoughts on Capture NX-D and Nikon's software overall

Of the two applications, there's little question that Capture NX-D offers a much richer feature set for image editing, while ViewNX-i's features feel quite limited. If you've taken the time to read this article, NX-D is almost certainly the Nikon app you'll prefer for that task, even if its interface is a bit painful to use.

With that said, I find it a bit frustrating that Nikon expects users to deal with two different apps in the first place. I could see two apps making sense if they were an either/or proposition, with one simplified and handling more things automatically for beginners, and the other targeting advanced users, if both provided broadly similar non-editing features. As is, though, neither app feels terribly satisfying by itself, which is a shame.

It's frustrating that neither NX-D or NX-i have a full feature set, as both feel unsatisfying alone

And as we reach the end of this article, once again I find myself preferring Adobe Camera Raw overall. Its default color might not be as pleasing, but that can be tuned to your tastes. And as well as being a bit faster and its interface much friendlier, it offers both more scope for noise reduction and better holds onto fine details in more challenging images.

But if you can't afford the expense of a subscription, Capture NX-D still provides a lot of editing scope, and with pretty solid performance to boot.

Nikon Capture NX-D

Pros Cons
  • Available free with your camera
  • Excellent support for Nikon's cameras from launch day
  • Realistic color with minimal effort
  • Impressive shadow recovery from Active D-Lighting and D-Lighting HS
  • Decent performance, albeit still not as good as ACR or ViewNX-i
  • A very generous editing feature-set
  • Recognizes sidecar files from ViewNX-i
  • Only supports Nikon cameras
  • Overly complex, confusing interface
  • No overall one-click auto control, although many individual controls have an auto setting
  • Denoising robs fine detail and, depending on your camera, there may not be much scope to fine-tune it
  • Interactions between controls can prove challenging
  • Lacks many non-editing features of ViewNX-i
  • Pen support is a bit iffy

Adobe Camera Raw

Pros Cons
  • More modern user interface
  • Supports a vast range of cameras from many brands
  • Great performance and accurate real-time preview
  • Great image quality overall
  • Better noise reduction vs. detail tradeoff than Capture NX-D
  • Does a great job with highlights/shadows
  • Recurring subscription fee with no perpetual license option
  • Camera support can take a while to arrive
  • Less pleasing color than Nikon's software by default
  • Leaves significantly more noise in images by default