I took some raw images the other day and I found the lighting in some photos is very dim. I would like to enhance it as many say you have a lot of options to adjust different parameters in RAW. Which software do I use and Is it free? At the moment I am using Picass which can load RAW but can't edit it. I am using Nikon Camera (D5100).

If someone can highlight the parameters that I can adjust in RAW vs compare it with JPG (that I can't edit) would be great. BTW I am looking for a quick answer right now. The answer can be improved later.

  • I'm not sure what the question is here. Are you looking for a) what software you should use b) basic tutorials of what to do, or c) an idea of what you can do with RAW conversion software?
    – mattdm
    Dec 25 '11 at 16:07
  • 2
    For "b" and "c", How do I started with RAW photography? seems to cover a lot of what you're looking for. For "a", if you're looking for free, see for Windows, for Mac, or for Linux.
    – mattdm
    Dec 25 '11 at 16:23
  • @mattdm a) is what I am asking for. b) would be an ideal response
    – photo101
    Dec 26 '11 at 10:29
  • There is a lot of RAW conversion software. It's hard to have a Stack Exchange question which maintains an updated and useful list. The "community wiki" format can be used for that, and maybe that's the best here (one product per answer). I've rarely seen that produce awesome results, though; one just ends up with a half-hearted list.
    – mattdm
    Dec 26 '11 at 15:17
  • @mattdm: Would it be better to simply start an official CW for RAW Image Processors, and fill it with some official answers...one product per answer as you stated? I'm not sure this question is the best place to put such CW content, as it seems to be rather multi-faceted.
    – jrista
    Dec 30 '11 at 22:24

It's not the there are things in JPG that you can't edit (but you can with RAW). It's just that with RAW, there is more data in the image to work with. If you have dim, underexposed images, you'll be able to brighten them up with generally better results if you start with a RAW file rather than JPG. If your shots are well exposed to begin with, then it doesn't matter so much.

Most photo editing programs will alow you to do pretty much the same things with either JPG or RAW. For example, Adobe Camera Raw, which is the RAW editing program for Lightroom and Photoshop, you can do the same thing to RAW and JPG files, with a slight difference in how you adjust white balance or temperature. With many images you may get better results with a RAW file, but the parameters you can adjust are the same.

Free with the camera is View NX2, which handles data transfer, but also allows you to do some basic editing of RAW files.

Also with the camera is Capture NX2. It does more comprehensive editing. I believe you only get a trial of the software with the camera.

If you want a free RAW editor, try Raw Therapee. I've never used it, but friend rave about it.

But if you only have a few dark images, see what you can do with View NX2. It will allow you to adjust exposure and brightness.

  • Technically it's true that "more data" is the essential difference, but it's not just that there's more bits of data allowing more dynamic range. It's also that the data is in a, well, raw, unprocessed form which is more malleable, which turns out to be important in practice. Adjusting white balance is a great example.
    – mattdm
    Dec 25 '11 at 16:12

For free, you can use the Nikon software that came with the camera.

Otherwise, you'll have to pay for RAW processing software. You can get 30-day free trials of both Lightroom and Aperture and see how they compare. They're full versions; just time-restricted. So, if you need to do some editing for a project right now, they'll work for you.

  • 1
    There is also good completely free and full-featured RAW processing software. RawTherapee is probably the top example (available for Linux, Windows, and Mac).
    – mattdm
    Dec 25 '11 at 16:14
  • 1
    Actually I don't think any software came with my Nikon ( I would expect it personally). I tried to download it online since I am registered user (with my camera code) but I am not able to download anything free. It would be good if someone can point me to one online from Nikon.
    – photo101
    Dec 26 '11 at 10:32

Nikon Capture NX2

It doesn't come for free. But it has a 60 days trial period with complete features enabled. It has few benefits over other RAW conversion and image processing software for Nikon users.


  1. Nikon encodes raw images in NEF format, which is not an open format. Nikon retains your selected white balance, picture control (hue, saturation, sharpening) etc. as instruction set included in NEF file. This makes NX2 the only (?) RAW conversion software that can reliably reproduce JPEGs as they were shot. This also means that if everything is selected well in camera then you just have to export to JPEG using NX2, no processing required.
  2. NEF files can also store any NX2 applied changes in the file itself as instruction set. So you can always go back to original file or disable/enable any changes. Without any separate catalog or metadata files.
  3. (This could be a personal preference). Nikon's Control Point technique is very innovative and intuitive to use. All the edits can be applied to easily selected area in image. Color correction can be done to a specific color. It is more convenient than to use layers/mask etc.


  1. NX2 is very specific to NEF files. I do not know how well it performs with other raw formats.
  2. Nikon is after all a camera and lens manufacturer and it can not beat dedicated big software players like Adobe in terms of frequent release, bug fixes etc.
  3. Many 3rd party plugins are made available for wide spread softwares like Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture but not for NX2.

How to change exposure of your image

In Capture NX2, when you open NEF file, find the develop module on the right side of image. Adjust the Quick Fix > Exposure Compensation slider. In your case move it to right.

If the previous step blows off highlights and you want just shadows to open up then in same develop module adjust Quick Fix > Shadow Protection slider. In your case move it to right.

In the same Quick Fix module you can play with histogram to change overall contrast of the image.

Also take a look at Few basic tutorials.


I own Photoshop, so I started with that. And I still use it for any intensive editing. (touch-ups, masking, HDR, panorama)

But I found managing my library so much easier and infinitely faster using iPhoto. I love the way it manages events, creates slide shows, publishes online to Flickr etc. I also took advantage of the ability to easily make photo books.

Now I use Lightroom. More power than iPhoto, but with a similar workflow. And it integrates well with Photoshop.

All three handle RAW images from my old Canon T1i and my 7d. Of course iPhoto is free (with a Mac) and Photoshop and Lightroom are expensive.

  • Does iPhoto allow any custom processing or does it just batch-convert all RAW files at time of import?
    – mattdm
    Dec 31 '11 at 16:14
  • No. As far as I know the only option is to use an external editor to edit Raw images. (Preferences > Advanced > Use Raw with external editor). But as I said, I am mostly using Lightroom now. Of course in Lightroom you can specify "Develop Settings" on import. Dozens of presets. And you can create custom as well. Jan 4 '12 at 14:09

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