I'm looking for a free RAW editor/converter on Windows. Can you tell me some strong/weak points of them comparing with Capture NX and/or Adobe Photoshop Elements?

EXIF editing would be a nice bonus.


  • 1
    Did you want to edit the metadata, or actually edit the image data (or convert to another format such as JPEG?) Jul 30, 2010 at 9:12
  • See also photo.stackexchange.com/questions/724/…. In particular, consider whether your budget really is just $0 -- you can get much better software if you are willing to pay, and you don't have to pay much.
    – Reid
    Jul 30, 2010 at 16:18
  • @Reid Priedhorsky - my next option is Adobe Photoshop Elements, which includes Adobe Camera RAW.
    – alexandrul
    Jul 30, 2010 at 17:23
  • Converted to community wiki since there is no single clear answer.
    – chills42
    Aug 4, 2010 at 16:24
  • 1
    Picasa from Google.
    – abhi
    Sep 22, 2010 at 15:09

9 Answers 9


The camera manufacturer can sometimes offer an excellent RAW->JPG convertor. One reason to use the manufacturer's software is that no one else knows better how to interpret the RAW information. All the light and lens-specific data especially can be quite tricky to fully interpret and post-process by other than the manufacturer of the camera.

In the Nikon world, there's ViewNX, which ships for free with the DSLRs and is also downloadable for free here. It's excellent for first-pass editing of photos, including Exposure, White Balance, Sharpness, Contrast, Brightness, Highlight and Shadow Protection (very impressive), Color Booster, D-Lighting HS, and Axial Color Aberration. You can also do all your Metadata edits here.

Of course, it's not as full-featured as their expensive, and terribly slow pay version: CaptureNX.

UPDATE: Nikon's Capture NX-D is now free

Canon's own Digital Photo Professional (DPP) is included with every Canon DSLR. It can be downloaded for free from Canon's website, but you must have a valid camera serial number to download it. Apart from the obvious lack of no additional expense, the primary advantage to using DPP is that the same proprietary algorithms used to encode .crw and .cr2 files are used to decode them. It has a fairly full list of features of non destructive adjustments that can be made on a global level including a basic HDR tool. RAW files may be exported as 16 bit TIFFs to other image editors for further adjustment when desired. It features the Digital Lens Optimizer (DLO) which corrects for several lens aberrations (spherical aberration, curvature of field, astigmatism, comatic aberration, sagittal halo, chromatic aberration of magnification, axial chromatic aberration).

For Sony cameras it would be the Image Data converter software. It used to be two separate programs called Image data lightbox and Image data converter SR, but they combined those into one package in 2012. No requirements for download, as there is for Canon and Olympus. It processes RAW files, but offers next to nothing for images already in JPEG format. Also RAW-features are limited - for example you can't crop and resize at the same go. You can convert one RAW-image, save the recipe and then apply it in a batch process to other images without a need to open each RAW-file separately.

Link to Sony eSupport software pages

Olympus offers Image Viewer 3 for Olympus camera owners. The download will not begin without a camera serial-number filled in a field on the download page. Image Viewer 3 is a nice upgrade from the old Olympus Master 2 and the not-so-old Image Viewer 2. Selection of possible operations is good for RAW and also for images already in JPEG format. When saving to JPEG you can also include IPTC info in the file.

Link to Olympus software download

  • 2
    ViewNX can crop images, at least starting from version 2.3.1. The command is surprisingly hidden though in the advanced image manipulation panel - not the only UI gripe I have with ViewNX...
    – akid
    Jan 20, 2013 at 11:51
  • @Naseer Canon does offer a raw converter: Canon Utilities Raw Image Converter and also Canon DPP. In terms of processing and features they do a basic job, probably more so than ViewNX. Aesthetic wise, it is down right boring and stuck in the 80s. However for a free package it's pretty hard to beat and Canon seems to update it on a regular basis. Mar 18, 2013 at 3:32

There is UFRaw, supported through GIMP on Windows.
You may also be interested in this link and site in general:
Open Source Photography -- Raw Viewers/Converters.


I've personally been using RawTherapee on my Windows machine for light editing for a while now, and it seems good. Granted it's not Lightroom, but when it comes it basic adjustments without the need for catalogs, presets, virtual copies, etc... its pretty decent and does the job!


Simplest is possibly Picasa, it supports most raw formats transparently.

  • 4
    It's slow as hell unfortunately, though.
    – Reid
    Jul 30, 2010 at 15:56
  • 2
    Simple is right. The support ends at recognising RAW.
    – nik
    Jul 31, 2010 at 3:01
  • 1
    I used this to process Nikon RAW for years, and thought it was perfectly adequate. Then I tried Lightroom, and saw an enormous difference in the quality of the RAW->JPG conversion. I actually plan to re-convert all my Picasa-converted photos some day. For some reason, Google has not invested much effort into fully decoding the NEF format, especially in the exposure arena. I'm actually not advocating for Lightroom, since that's not free. If you own a Nikon, you should go download ViewNX, which they offer for free on their website. It's the free version of their CaptureNX.
    – Naseer
    Aug 2, 2010 at 2:10

In terms of RAW conversion, Nikon's ViewNX is free and will convert Nikon RAW files (NEFs and NRWs) using what is basically a cut down version of the RAW conversion engine in Capture NX2, i.e. it does a good job if you only want to tweak basic development parameters before conversion - it allows setting of picture controls, exposure, white balance, etc. but not much more than that.

ViewNX also has some very basic editing features and metadata editing capabilities too.


Your question seems to indicate you want to convert RAW files created with a Nikon camera. Several others have offered excellent answers when that is the case.

For others who may be reading this question and would like to convert RAW files created on a Canon camera, there is Canon's own Digital Photo Professional (DPP) that is included with every Canon DSLR. Updates may be downloaded free from Canon's website, but you must have a previously installed version or an original disc to install the update.

Apart from the obvious lack of no additional expense, the primary advantage to using DPP is that the same proprietary algorithms used to encode .crw and .cr2 files are used to decode them.

Some of the features of DPP: View and sort images, display the thumbnail list at high resolution, batch rename files, and check shooting information. RAW adjustments include: brightness/darkness, shadows, highlights, Picture Style, contrast, skin tone, saturation, sharpness/unsharpen mask, white balance (color temperature, several presets, or custom), cropping (trim/angle/aspect ratio), auto or manual dust deletion, basic cloning/removal, Auto Lighting Optimizer, noise reduction (luminance and chrominance), lens aberration (distortion, CA, peripheral illumination, color blur), and Digital Lens Optimizer. All adjustments are non destructive and contained in a "recipe" that is added to the file's metadata. Recipes can be saved and later applied to other files as well as batch applied to selected files. The recipe is applied to the image when converted and saved to JPEG or TIFF. DPP can convert and save files individually or in batches. You may also transfer a RAW image to Photoshop as a 16 bit TIFF. There is a basic tool that can composite several images, but it is nowhere near as advanced as using layers in Photoshop. There is also an HDR tool that can be used on 1-3 files. There is tone/color control (brightness, saturation, and contrast) and Detail Enhancement (strength, smoothness, and fineness). If you use the HDR tool on RAW files, some of the adjustments made to the image in the RAW adjustment tab are carried into the HDR module (such as color temperature, dust removal/cloning, picture style, NR) while others do not appear to be (ie: saturation and contrast, which are adjusted inside the HDR tool). You may also use the HDR tool on JPEGs or TIFFs.

Update: As devices without optical drives that are capable of running their applications are becoming more common, Canon now makes available for download a version of their software suite that does not require a previous version of the disc. You may be required to enter you camera's serial number to complete the download and/or install the software.

  • Would be nice to have a short version of this answer inserted into the accepted answer that tries to list camera manufacturer softwares. Apr 12, 2013 at 21:53

You might also want check out Scarab Darkroom. It's easy to use and relatively fast. Similar to RawShooter Essentials.


Image View (Plus More) 2.3 (disclaimer: the original author of this community wiki post is the author of the software, too) is a small footprint viewer and editor that has many (very) advanced features. It supports most raw formats and it allows you to control the development of the raw pixel data.

Most image viewers just extract the jpeg thumbnail or develop the raw data with default (e.g. bad quality Bayer conversion and some type of clipping and gamma function and using one of the white balances from the file - either "daylight" or "as set when photographing") . In Image View plus more you can decide how much to clip (if at all), choose between different Bayer conversions, white balance, gamma, etc. You can read the meta data, copy paste them to the clipboard, but not edit them. When you have opened the images you can then sort them, copy to new folder, batch convert (including some processing like resize, relight, sharpen, and correcting for lens distortion), or retouch them (like remove spots on the skin, or turn everything greyscale (many different types) except the foreground object, your imagination sets the limits).

The downside is that it has a disting learning curve, because the user interface is very shortcut driven (like emacs) for optimal viewing space.

You can get it here if you want to try it.

The most useful shortcut keys are:

  • p: preferences (adjust raw files).
  • c: Image colour control.
  • f: fullscreen.
  • s: slideshow (space to stop).
  • Right click mouse and drag (if not centered) move the canvas around.
  • +/-: zoom in/out.
  • Left mouse and drag: selection box (used for white balance in image control AND in raw auto WB). Also used for statistics box, setting the size of smoothing filters, and cropping/copy paste.

Edit: I have now started making video tutorials.

  • +1 it seems that I have a new toy to play with :D thank you
    – alexandrul
    Sep 4, 2012 at 18:12
  • also, please add a link to the site: sequoiagrove.dk/tools.php#imgview
    – alexandrul
    Sep 4, 2012 at 18:48
  • Isnt linking against the policy? Feedback how it works for you is much appreciated. The most useful shortcut keys are: p: preferences (adjust raws) c: Image colour control f: fullscreen s: slideshow (space to stop) right click mouse and drag (if not centered) move the convas around +/-: zoom in/out left mouse and drag: selection box (used for white balance in image control AND in raw auto WB). Also used for statistics box, setting the size of smoothing filters, and cropping/copy paste. Sep 6, 2012 at 11:14
  • I'll give it a try this weekend. I have formatted the shortcuts a bit, I hope it's ok with you.
    – alexandrul
    Sep 6, 2012 at 12:40

I've been using RawTherapee and ViewNX mostly, and I've recently tried Capture NX-D. So fare my favorite is RawTherapee, although I still have some issues with it. I'll list some pros and cons of the tools, based on my experience and some things that I've read here and there.

ViewNX is the simplest of the three, mainly due to the limited number of possible adjustments. Its main issue in my opinion is the lack of a noise reduction and curves tool. Some adjustments, like desaturation, require the creation of a Picture Control profile and are therefore cumbersome.

Capture NX-D is much more complete, but every time I try to use it I get annoyed by the GUI. The settings are not easy to spot, buried in a tiny portion of the window, and there seem not to be shortcuts to access them.

RawTherapee has tons of different tools and adjustments, conveniently arranged in tabs. It has tonemapping, light/shadows pushing and pulling, B/W conversion and several noise reduction tools. I find the noise reduction a bit light, and the sharpening a bit too subtle (it can do little with bad focus for instance), but perhaps there's a good reason for it.

Both Nikon tools alter the RAW files when adjustments are made, although they can somehow be restored. RawTherapee, on the other hand, creates separate metadata files that store the changes, keeping the RAW files intact.

RawTherapee uses a processing queue to convert the files, according to the adjustments that have been set. Capture NX-D and ViewNX require you to select the files to convert after having made the adjustments. I find RawTherapee's approach more convenient, as I can put the pictures in the queue right after I've applied the adjustments.

I had stability issues with RawTherapee, which tends to crash when the ram gets full (I have 6 GB). This happens when browsing large folders, or processing somewhat large images. Sometimes this gets quite frustrating; fortunately the changes don't get lost, because of the meta-files. Also the processing queue is kept.

  • Update: with the latest version, RawTherapee seems much more stable now. I'm using 4.2.30 at the moment.
    – clabacchio
    Nov 25, 2014 at 23:25
  • 1
    You mention that RawTherapee's sharpening doesn't do much for bad focus. Actually, there's a hidden gem here! In the sharpening panel, change method from the default Unsharp Mask to RL Deconvolution. This uses Richardson-Lucy deconvolution and can recover a "latent" sharp image even if you missed focus. And, the implementation here is easier and faster than most of the tools I've seen marketed to do this specifically. You do have to eyeball the radius rather than letting it guess, but it's not hard to get amazing results.
    – mattdm
    Oct 21, 2015 at 18:45

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