In order to write a good Nikon NX Studio review, it’s important to step back to see who this program is for and how it fits into the image editing landscape.
In 2006, Nikon released a software tool called Capture NX, which was designed for its fledgling line of digital cameras. Over the years, Nikon slowly added new features, but Capture NX was never a serious competitor to Adobe Lightroom, Capture One, or other popular image editing and management software. That all changed in early 2021; Nikon retired Capture NX (and its companion, ViewNX) and replaced them with Nikon NX Studio.
But is Nikon’s software ready for prime time, and can it hold its own against a growing list of competitors? What exactly does NX Studio do and who is it for? The answers might surprise you.
Nikon NX Studio overview
In a very basic sense, Nikon NX Studio is like Lightroom – but designed specifically for Nikon shooters. It’s not really a fair comparison, though, because Nikon NX Studio isn’t supposed to be a replacement for Lightroom. The two have a lot of overlap, but when doing a one-to-one feature comparison, Nikon NX Studio comes up woefully short. However, NX Studio does have a workflow that appeals to a lot of photographers, as well as some advanced tools absent from Lightroom.
Nikon NX Studio is great for photographers who want to do more with their photos than what basic programs like Apple Photos can offer. It has tools for common edits such as white balance, brightness, color, noise reduction, cropping, and sharpness. Nikon NX Studio also goes one step beyond Lightroom by letting you perform basic edits on videos, such as trimming and stitching.
It also has one very important advantage over Lightroom and most other programs: It’s free, so you lose nothing by trying it out.
For enthusiasts and even professionals, there’s a lot to like about Nikon NX Studio as long as you keep your expectations in check and don’t mind some frustrating bugs and shortcomings. It’s not a full-featured digital asset management tool like Lightroom, though it does offer some basic file management and storage.
But where Nikon NX Studio really shines is in the sheer depth of its tools. The Lightness, Chroma, and Hue adjustments give you incredible control over editing colors, and the Color Point tool gives you fine-grained control that takes several steps to replicate in Lightroom.
Finally, Nikon NX Studio has a trick up its sleeve that no other image editor can match: it works with Nikon RAW files without needing to reverse-engineer the RAW algorithm or convert everything to DNG.
Nikon NX Studio pros
- The price is great. It’s a free program and should be updated by Nikon regularly for years to come.
- Lots of features that appeal to amateurs, hobbyists, and professionals
- Basic movie editing tools are simple and practical
- Everything takes place in a single interface without the need to switch between Library and Develop modules like in Lightroom
Nikon NX Studio cons
- Very basic import process compared to Lightroom: no keyword management, applying presets, or metadata adjustments
- Lacks Brush and Graduated adjustment tools, along with other editing options offered by competing programs
- Lack of a simple Undo feature
- Lots of bugs and glitches. Some would say this is expected with Version 1 of a program, but these issues happen more frequently than I would like
If you’re a Nikon shooter, you can’t go wrong with just downloading Nikon NX Studio to check it out. It’s free, and it won’t alter your current photos even if you use Lightroom, Luminar, or another program. You really have nothing to lose by trying it, and you might find that the results you get from your Nikon RAW files are much better than what you get in Lightroom. (Note that Nikon NX Studio only works with Nikon NEF RAW files. It will not load DNG files or RAW files from Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, and other manufacturers.)
While I do think Nikon NX Studio is worth trying out, let’s take a closer look at some of its characteristics to help determine whether it’s the right program for you.
Layout and ease of use
If you’ve ever used a program like Lightroom, Luminar, or Capture One, you’ll feel right at home in Nikon NX Studio.
The interface is pretty simple: the left side is where you access your photos in folders or albums. The middle is where you scroll through your photos or look at them more closely. Your tools are located on the right and clicking the title of a tool expands and collapses its options just like Lightroom.
An Import button in the top-right corner will let you start loading images from a memory card. Additional icons at the top of the main window let you switch between views: thumbnail, map, 2 and 4 images at a time, before and after, and list, which users of Apple’s Aperture software will certainly appreciate. Along the bottom are more tools that let you show view overlays (such as a grid or a histogram), assign star ratings, and rotate photos.
All these buttons and options might seem overwhelming, but it’s very straightforward; you should be able to find your way around the interface after a few minutes of exploring.
One key difference between Nikon NX Studio and Lightroom is that the former stores your image edits in sidecar files, whereas the latter is based around a single massive database, called a catalog. Some prefer one type of storage over the other, but while there have been reports of corrupted Catalogs causing problems for some photographers, it’s not an issue I have experienced.
Still, if you want a powerful image editor but are wary of putting all your editing eggs in a single basket, Nikon NX Studio might be a good choice.
In terms of sheer speed and editing efficiency, Nikon NX Studio does leave something to be desired. On a 2020 27″ iMac with a 3.6 GHz, 10-core i9 processor, lots of RAM, and a large internal SSD, my edits were fairly smooth.
But running NX Studio on a machine just a few years old with a spinning hard drive felt positively sluggish by comparison. Adjusting any given slider, from White Balance to Highlights to Color Booster, resulted in a visible checkerboard pattern across the image while edits were applied. Each adjustment only took a second or two, but these little bits of time add up quickly when editing dozens or hundreds of images.
Other Nikon NX Studio features resulted in slow response times or outright crashes. Navigating through folders to locate images took much longer than I expected, and simple operations like cropping were slow and choppy. I generally zoom in to a photo to check for focus and sharpness and then zoom out for more editing, but even this relatively basic operation was slower and clunkier than I would have liked. After leaving NX Studio running for a few hours – not processing photos, but simply open in the background – it brought my Mac to its knees with a strange memory management error.
I’m not saying that the program is unusable, just that users ought to approach it with a bit of caution. Programs such as Lightroom were just as buggy in their early incarnations and are much improved now, and I have no doubt the same will be true of Nikon NX Studio. It will get better over time, but right now you can expect to encounter some glitches.
However, it’s not all bad news in terms of performance. Loading Nikon NEF RAW files was snappy, navigating between editing panes was quick and easy, and import/export operations had no noticeable lag. When Nikon NX Studio works, which it usually does, it works quite well. But when it doesn’t work, it can be a bit frustrating.
It’s not uncommon for photographers to have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pictures to wade through. Nikon NX Studio isn’t going to win awards for groundbreaking AI-powered image management, but it does have some useful tools to help you organize your pictures.
In lieu of a Lightroom-style Catalog system, NX Studio shows you a hierarchical view of all the folders on your main drive and lets you navigate through them to locate your images. It’s not dissimilar from Luminar and others, and I prefer this method over the all-in-one archive system used by Apple Photos. When you import images from a memory card, you can create a new folder to store the pictures. You can create custom names for each import, as well.
When browsing through your pictures, you can assign star ratings, color labels, and keywords. There is a Filter bar that you can use to sort your photos according to these criteria as well as other information, but Nikon NX Studio does not have Smart Albums or other dynamic methods for automatically sorting your images. I use Lightroom’s Smart Collections to help me organize my images, but if you aren’t a fan of this method, then NX Studio will be fine.
Longtime users of Apple’s now-defunct Aperture software will find the Thumbnail List View to be particularly useful when managing photos. This shows a list-style view similar to what you see when browsing through your Mac OS Finder or Windows Explorer, with columns that display various parameters such as exposure information, file size, date modified, and more.
While Nikon NX Studio’s photo management tools are not as robust as I would like, they’re certainly a good start. If you prefer a straightforward approach that does not rely on a proprietary catalog or database system, then there’s a lot to appreciate.
This is where the rubber meets the road, and fortunately, Nikon NX Studio can hold its own against the competition in virtually all the areas that matter. While some NX Studio features are not as refined as other programs and some tools are missing in action, what it gets right, it really gets right.
There’s a long list of editing options at your disposal, including:
- White Balance
- Exposure Compensation
- Active D-Lighting, which is unique to Nikon cameras and is a nice way to automatically brighten shadows and create a more even exposure
- Brightness and Color
- Levels and Curves
- Lightness, Chroma, and Hue
- Adjust Details, which includes Noise Reduction and Sharpness
- Touch-Up, to remove spots and blemishes
- Adjust Composition, which includes cropping, straightening, and perspective control
- Camera and Lens Corrections
Once again, it’s worth remembering that Nikon NX Studio is a free program, and that fact alone makes the inclusion of all these options kind of amazing. While tools like a graduated filter, a radial filter, and an adjustment brush are missing, the options you do have should suffice for most photo editing. You can even create multiple custom sets of adjustment options that include only the tools you use in specific scenarios. This is quite useful if you prefer different tools when editing landscapes compared to editing portraits.
The Color Control Point editing tool is particularly useful, and one that I’d like to see in other applications. It allows you to click anywhere on your image and immediately have access to eight common editing sliders. Drag any of them to the right or left to increase or decrease that particular parameter. The top slider adjusts the size of the area to which the edits will be applied. It’s a highly useful tool for precise color editing, and the ability to adjust sliders right on the image instead of in an editing pane is something I have grown to appreciate a great deal.
The Lightness, Chroma, and Hue Adjustment takes an innovative and highly effective approach to manipulating color. While similar to the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance option in Lightroom, the Nikon NX Studio implementation offers useful options that professional and amateur photographers will appreciate.
You can use the eyedropper tool to select a color in your image, then click and drag up or down in the rainbow panel to adjust that color’s parameters. You can also change the angle of the rainbow, which means that your edits can be implemented more dramatically or more subtly. Finally, Width lets you target your edits to either a very narrow or very wide band of colors. It’s a powerful tool for global color adjustments.
There are some important drawbacks to NX Studio’s photo-editing capabilities, and any Nikon NX Studio review would be remiss in not pointing them out.
First, there is no Undo option. Yes, you read that right; instead of an Undo, you can create a saved state for your edits then revert to that saved state at any point, but an actual Undo feature is missing.
Also, there is no History tool that shows you every edit and lets you step through them one by one. While Nikon NX Studio is nondestructive and all your edits can be changed or removed at any time, a History feature would help when doing lots of in-depth changes.
Other strange feature implementations are present, as well. After you apply a crop, you can’t actually make changes to it; you can start over with a new crop, but you can’t edit the crop once it has been applied. You also can’t darken shadows or lighten highlights – at least, not with the Shadows and Highlights sliders. The Retouch brush has no customization options at all other than its size. Finally, there is no way to make export presets, which could be a dealbreaker for those who rely on this feature in Lightroom and other programs.
There’s a couple of ways to look at these drawbacks.
Compared to a program like Lightroom, NX Studio might seem limited. But on the other hand, you could argue that Nikon NX Studio is free, so there’s not much to complain about. It’s also currently on Version 1 and will no doubt be refined and upgraded over time. Many of the drawbacks have workarounds or alternative methods of accomplishing the same task, even if it does involve some extra steps. And finally, there is always a learning curve with new programs.
So are these missing features drawbacks, or is it more a matter of learning a new workflow? One could make a strong case for the latter over the former.
Who should get Nikon NX Studio?
While I can’t recommend Nikon NX Studio across the board, it’s a great option for many shooters. Certainly, Nikon users will appreciate all the tools NX Studio has to offer, especially for editing RAW files. If you are a hobbyist or working professional who needs a suite of powerful editing tools and you don’t mind some interface quirks, Nikon NX Studio could be right up your alley. Beginners might be intimidated by the plethora of buttons, options, and tools, especially compared to more basic image editors that are available for free on mobile phones and some computers. But Nikon NX Studio could be a good way for those individuals to start using a more advanced image editor without spending any money at all.
People who should definitely not use Nikon NX Studio are those who have a mobile-first workflow. There is no version of the program that works on phones or tablets, and it’s unlikely to be created anytime soon. If you primarily shoot and edit with a smartphone, you’re better off sticking with the tools you already have.
Nikon NX Studio review: final words
Nikon NX Studio is an outstanding program in many ways, and the fact that it’s free is certainly one of its most important advantages.
If you shoot in JPEG, you can use everything Nikon NX Studio has to offer, no matter your camera brand, while Nikon users will greatly appreciate its RAW editing capabilities. While there are certainly some important caveats to consider, as well as some messy bugs that will get ironed out over time, I certainly recommend you download it and give it a try.
Hopefully, this Nikon NX Studio review gave you some information to help you understand a bit more about the program and whether it will work for you!
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts:
Are you interested in Nikon NX Studio? Do you think you’ll use it? What do you like and dislike about the software? Share your views in the comments below!
Nikon NX Studio will only work with Nikon RAW files. RAW formats from Sony, Canon, Fujifilm, and others will not work, and neither will universal RAW formats like DNG. However, the program works just fine with JPEG images. So if you don’t use a Nikon camera but shoot in JPEG, you can easily use Nikon NX Studio for your editing and photo management.
Nikon NX Studio is designed for desktop-based workflows; there is no mobile version. You can take photos on a mobile phone, transfer them to your computer, and edit them in Nikon NX Studio, but that workflow adds many more steps and probably takes too much time for most people to consider.
There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these programs, and it’s impossible to say which one is better. Nikon NX Studio is free, but most of the others have free trial periods for new users. If you’re unsure of which to use, I recommend downloading them, signing up for free trials (if available), and making use of dPS’s many articles to help you learn. That way, you can make an informed choice and find the program that suits your needs.
Most computers made in the past few years will work just fine with Nikon NX Studio. I personally found better results when I was working with an SSD instead of a spinning hard drive, but almost any modern desktop or laptop will run the program just fine.
While Nikon NX Studio does have a built-in video editor, its capabilities are very limited. It works for basic trimming and combining clips but not much else.