When editing the NEF (Nikon raw files) with Nikon's ViewNX 2 software, after modifying things like exposure and white balance, I have the ability to save the NEF file or "Save As" a new filename. Apparently I have to do one or the other before converting to TIFF/JPEG to open with an external program like Photoshop.

If I chose to Save the changes I make to a NEF file in ViewNX 2, am I permanently altering the original data? That is, am I just saving the new selections I made and I can re-edit and change my selections in the future, or am I actually altering the raw data itself, perhaps in some way which I cannot later undo?


Your question isn't exactly a duplicate.

With Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), you are creating and saving your changes to a sidecar XML file with an XMP extension. With ViewNX or Capture NX (Nikon's raw processing software) you are making changes directly to the NEF file.

As with ACR, you are not changing the raw image data, just the image-processing instructions. But those changes will overwrite the values that were stored by the camera when the NEF file was created, so things like a custom preset white balance or a selected picture control will be altered from the original. You can always work your way back to the original settings (the original raw sensel data are still there), but it's not as simple as deleting an XMP file when you realize you've made some horrible mistakes along the way.

† I can't be absolutely certain, but I think the dust-off picture data, when used in CaptureNX, is actually applied to the raw image data. That would certainly make sense from an economy point of view; the alternative is to store an entire separate set of sensel data values in the same file.

  • Although correct for View NX2, not quite accurate for Capture NX2. Selecting 'Original Version' from version selection dropdown will take you back to the original raw file with in camera setting applied version. For example if i've vivid set as picture control and i change it to lets say portrait. Reverting back to original version will have vivid applied.
    – Vikas
    Apr 3 '12 at 14:41
  • Sorry but -1. I this isn't correct for either Capture NX2 or View NX2 (or even View NX). View NX2 has a "Revert to Original" button that reverts to the camera settings. It's been a while since I've used it, but I'm sure that's all the settings, including white balance. Apr 3 '12 at 20:54
  • I'll accept that. Still, the changes are changed directly to the NEF file rather than to an outboard file; copying the NEF file also copies all of the changes.
    – user2719
    Apr 3 '12 at 21:24
  • 2
    @BenjaminCutler, I just checked that "Edit > Restore Original" option in View NX2 for NEF files edited in Capture NX2 is disabled. So I'm not sure if i can get back to original NEF file using View NX2.
    – Vikas
    Apr 4 '12 at 8:17
  • @StanRogers, You are technically correct that the changes are stored in NEF file itself but it should not mean that we are permanently altering the original data. By data i mean picture data, not lower level bits and bytes.
    – Vikas
    Apr 4 '12 at 8:19

I don't believe edits to 'Camera Settings' settings in View or capture NX edits the Raw itself. I did a simple test and whacked up the tint in white balance so it was obvious. I saved it and imported to Aperture and Lightroom. Both applications will first show the in-RAW jpeg preview (with obvious WB change) then generate it's own preview based on the RAW data it sees, which then reverts back to the original.

  • Thanks! That's very helpful. I've already come up witha workflow using Lightroom but this is probably the most technically correct answer.
    – Josh
    Feb 17 '13 at 14:10

It all depends on whether you save the image or not. If you save a NEF of an image you changed 'camera settings' on, you will get the same raw file with the edited image controls. If you save a different filename, you can have both the original and the modified settings of the same raw data. This is a trick I use to change color balance, as I always shoot in tungsten or daylight and never auto WB. This allows me to have consistent color balance over a set of images.


Be careful using nx. Lightroom doesn't mind about the data added by nx, but some programs can't use the file after it's edited and saved by nx. Darktable can't use this file, and neither might some other future programs you might want to use.

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