Many people have been frustrated by the lack of Nikon’s support for 64-bit Windows operating systems. Nikon Capture NX 2 works in 64bit Vista but it is not officially supported. Their NEF Codec doesn’t work on 64-bit OS so people who need the functionality have to use a commercial third party codec.

Axel Rietschin Software Developments, the company behind the FastPictureViewer software has release a codec pack that supports 19 raw image formats from more than 12 camera manufacturers, covering about 300 camera models. All formats and features are supported for both 32 and 64-bit editions of Windows. The package also ships with a Windows XP thumbnail provider, enabling thumbnail view support in Windows XP SP3 Explorer for all image formats handled by the codecs included in pack and any other existing WIC-enabled codecs. In addition, the codec pack also supports the TGA raster image format.

The FastPictureViewer WIC Codec Pack 1.10 (Build 016) was released on September 12, 2009 (that’s today!).  You can find out more about it here or download the codec pack directly.

I don’t have 64-bit Vista or Windows 7 so I tested only Vista 32-bit system. I don’t have other RAW image files except Nikon NEF raw photos to test. Overall, it seems to work fine except a few things:

  1. The thumbnail update is quite slow. I didn’t compare the performance between this codec and Nikon NEF Codec so I cannot say if it is slower than the Nikon NEF Codec or not.
  2. When opening images in Windows Live Photo Gallery or Windows Photo Gallery, the initial image looks fine when the “loading…” is displayed on screen. As soon as it finishes loading, the image darkens and saturation reduces. It appears that the first displayed image is the embedded JPEG in the NEF raw file, and the 2nd image is a rendered R photo from raw data. However the codec failed to render the NEF raw properly.
  3. The codec cannot render edited NEF file. The change made to the NEF file using Capture NX2 can only be shown for a short period of time when it is “loading”, the final image does not have the changes.

In spite of such limitations, the codec is worth trying for people who use 64-bit Vista or Windows 7. One good part of the deal is that it is completely free for non-commercial use.

Update [September 15, 2009]:

The developer of the RAW codec pack addressed some of the issues I mentioned above.

First, thanks for the post. I’ve read the points you mentioned, basically it boils down to the essence or raw decoding: it’s slow, and it’s subject to interpretation.

No two converters will give you the same results, and no 3rd party converter will exactly match Nikon own raw converter output, thus the discrepancy you see between the preview JPEG and the rendered raw image. There is no way around this, even Adobe has been struggling for years, and still is, to approximate out-of-camera JPEG renditions with its own converter in Photoshop and Lightroom. Also note that no application besides NX can interpret NX edits, it you open your edited NEF in any other raw editor you’ll be back to square one and start fresh from the raw data (and that program’s interpretation of what looks “right”).

“Failing to render properly” would mean getting a garbled image or a crash. I believe this is not the case so the codec actually works fine.

In the future I plan to add a configuration utility which will allow some level of tuning, for example an option that will force the codecs to always use the embedded JPEG and never try to render the raw data, this would solve your 3 points at once. Some way to control the full conversion might also be added, too, for example options regarding white balance, auto-brightness etc, but in any case those codecs will never exactly match Nikon’s output exactly, and you’ll never get the level of control that Capture NX provides. On the other hand, I believe that the codecs included in the pack are more than good enough for thumbnails and previewing, but you’ll certainly need to turn to other solutions for darkroom-grade processing.

What you observed is basically normal, output differences between converters are pretty common, and the “dull” look you got is pretty typical. As for the speed, I invite you to test and compare with the Nikon codec and see for yourself.

Thanks again and stay tuned, as you noted the pack has been released only today and it’s probably not my final word on the subject :-)

Cheers,

Axel

I agree completely with Axel’s comments above. The possibility of using only the embedded JPEG will make it very fast and very accurate since Nikon’s Capture NX2 embedded a good preview image that reflects the edits on the image.

Update [September 17, 2009]:

The latest version now ships with a configuration tool that let users force the NEF codec to use the embedded JPEG, this basically solves the speed and accuracy issues that were mentioned in the post.


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