Monday, 6 October 2014

Infrared camera conversions and channel swapping. Can files be processed in the new Nikon Capture NX-D?

With Nikon Capture NX-2 now discontinued, I had heard dire rumours of the very much downgraded but free ‘replacement’ Nikon Capture NX-D. Gone have those features like Control Points that made Capture NX-2 such a powerful bit of software. I was keen to find out if NX-D could be used for infrared colour conversion like NX-2 from cameras, like my old D70, having a suitable filter over the sensor (mine has a 715 nm filter).

At this stage I should say that I have two methods of ‘channel swapping’ on my iMac. The first is via the channel mixer in the add-on application to Photoshop Elements, Elements+. I do that step from Aperture with Elements selected as the external photos editor. I also add a hue adjustment layer there, adjust the R,G and B channels if necessary and then go back to Aperture for the final editing.

My second method is the one involving Capture NX-2. I use Catapult to move the files to and from NX-2 (see my post of 25 August 2012). The reason for using this method is that I found that I could get different appearances from the same initial image.

The method I use in NX-2 was described by Jeff Meyers in a post on the Nikonians website. You can follow the link to see his full description but the key part—equivalent to channel swapping in Photoshop—are these steps:

4. Now, here's the cool part. Click on the "New Step" button. Select "Color" and then "LCH" from the pull down menus.

5. Click on the pull down menu that says "Master Lightness" and choose "Hue." That will bring up a colored hue box. Below the box there's another pull down menu. Click that and select 180. Notice that the hues have all slanted.

6. Go to the triangular slider on the right side of the box. Slide it about two-thirds of the way up until the red and blue channels are switched. Watch your image. You'll want to experiment with the best place to put that slider. The red sky has now become blue.

So, can you do that in Capture NX-D? The answer is yes. Here are screen grabs showing the appearance of the control before and after swapping the channels; with the latter the sky has turned blue. With my filter and white balance I move the slider on the right all the way to the top.

I have found something odd with NX-D that prevents the straightforward use of Catapult between it and Aperture. If you right click on a raw Nikon image and choose Open With, NX-D does not appear (NX2 does). If you then force that by choosing All Applications from the box, a message appears stating that the file format is not recognised by Capture NX-D. That is rubbish because by choosing the same file from within NX-D, the file is recognised. 

I think it is for this reason that Catapult cannot open NX-D as it can NX-2. However, in coming up with the error message when trying to export to NX-D from the latest version of Catapult the image usually appears in NX-D anyway!

Catapult uses a scratch folder with two folders within it: Drop Folder and Pickup Folder.

From Aperture with the image selected, I choose Photos - ‘edit with plug-in’ - Catapult

In the Catapult box’s upper (export) panel I untick the ‘open with’ box but leave Drop to as Drop Folder. I then press Export, then Done which quits Catapult.

In NX-D I then open the file from Drop Box, do the necessary editing and then save it to the Pickup Folder as a tif jpg (BUT not the raw nef). In Aperture, selecting the same image as before, I again choose: Photos - ‘edit with plug-in’ - Catapult. This time I import the edited image from Catapult to Aperture. Catapult adds that version to the stack for that image and places them together.

There is no doubt that NX-D is a major downgrade from NX-2 shows how careless Nikon have been again with their software and its customer base, many of whom have not forgotten the desertion of their software for Nikon scanners.

There are all sorts of things I want to try in NX-D, like batch processing. However, although it can be used for infrared processing, sadly lacking are the Control Points of NX-2. However, for those with an infrared-converted camera, processing is possible with the free NX-D. The full Photoshop or Elements plus Elements+ are not necessary for the channel-swapping stage. However, NX-D would still not be my preferred editing software for infrared conversions. I find Aperture and the Elements/Elements+ combination much easier to use and the attraction of control points has gone. However, there are other possible combinations I have to try and should I no longer be able to use Capture NX-2 either as operating systems are upgraded or cameras appear which aren’t covered for raw files, I shall still have several ways of getting the look I want from photographs taken with different IR filters.

I am now left with concern over how much of a downgrade Apple Photos will be as a replacement for Aperture 3…but that’s for the future.

Added Note: I have found that White Balance can be changed in NX-D by using the grey point method (as in NX-2) so that the result using the LCH, Hue 180 etc step can be modified by going back to changing the grey point in white balance, just as in NX-2.