So this little rabbit hole has become a fascinating journey. In the course of exploring Capture One and quickly coming to prefer its raw processing over Lightroom, I wrote about how Lightroom could only ever be Adobe's best guess at interpreting Nikon's translation of sensor data into their raw format. A few days later it dawned on me that the same thing was probably true of Capture One as well. Unlike Lightroom, Capture One uses specific profiles tailored to different cameras for their raw conversion which definitely results in improved tonality and detail in the images but unless Capture One has specifically licensed Nikon NEF data, theirs too could only be yet another interpretation of the camera's transcription of the sensor's output.
Having briefly checked out Capture NX2 a few years ago and summarily rejected it for its awkward UI I was loathe to revisit this. However with the awareness of a fresh and more informed perspective honed by years of experience this was also going to be something I needed to do. A quick bit of browsing told me that Nikon's support for NX2 which was then a paid app had been discontinued and a now free Capture NX-D was the current flavor. The user forums also bemoaned the loss of a few interface handles such as (if I recall correctly) u-point selections technology, etc. So I moved on from my research to the experiment with a feeling of inevitability. But I was wrong... again. Dammit. :o|
A few hours of testing and and comparing images converted using all sorts of profiles and tweaked in various ways leads me to believe that the processing chasm between Capture One and Lightroom is mirrored once again when one compares NX-D to Capture One however this time it's Capture One that does not fare so well. Put succinctly Nikon's Capture NX-D conversions make Capture One's seem a bit tortured by comparison. There's additional detail again, and the highlights seem to be handled particularly well especially on skin. To come close to NX-D's vision, Capture One requires using the Linear Response curve and then tweaking the exposure contrast and saturation controls and then it gets close. But... No cigar.
And so... while I'm glad I have a new and deeper understanding of the capabilities of each of these bits of software which will inform and improve my existing workflow, all this does mean I'll have to make some new decisions and adopt new practices down the road. Part of the issue is that it's unfortunately not only all about image quality. I also have to maintain an efficient workflow in exporting and moving images to the web and back, backing up catalogs, and presenting viewing options to clients as well as recording their selections and choices and maintaining that information synched across whatever bits of software I decide to use. And so there will have to be compromises somewhere. And I hate compromises.
Each one of these bits of software has their own idiosynchrasies. Lightroom converts NEFs poorly but does a great job of handling a large catalog and it offers the use of dual screens, one to view the image with clients and the other to navigate and notate in. Plus it's just $10 a month with Photoshop. Capture One converts far (far) better than Lightroom but it crashes and freezes ...often. Occasionally this results in a corrupted catalog which may be irrecoverable. It also offers the use of dual screens as well as decent catalog management tools. But seriously...the freezing, the crashing, the corruption? What the heck man! That's not even cool. And in light of the fact there's an even better raw converter, these issues are pretty unacceptable. Plus Capture One is $300. And then finally there's Capture NX-D. It's hands down the best raw converter from the same guys (or a department thereof) that make my cameras and lenses. But it's single screen only and oh lord these guys desperately need to hire a UI Expert. Capture One controls are described (somewhat exaggeratedly) as complex by many (usually when compared to Lightroom) but wait till you get a load of the Capture NX-D interface. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like you're that guy in Fight Club except you come in towards the end where you're now aware that you're actually Tyler Durden and then you go back to the beginning of the movie and proceed to beat yourself up with full awareness of what you're doing. It's not fun.
Time permitting I might revisit this topic and bring along images and screen shots that show the journey but I started off the investigation expecting it to take only minutes not days and so my progress was not as carefully documented as it might have been had I intended to write about it in as much detail. So rather than spend another half day pulling together imagery I'll leave my thoughts here instead and you can take from them what you like. Better yet, take the above as a skeletal premise for yourself and run your own tests. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.