Can NX studio replace Lightroom for basic editing?
Published on 23 July 2021
NX studio review
Nikon is now providing all its users with a new software to replace its ViewNX-i – the NX Studio. NX Studio can process both photos and video footages. On top of that, this software is free! It can surely help to save some bucks for hobbyists or enthusiasts who do not need the advance features in Adobe photography plan (Lightroom and Photoshop).
II have been an Adobe user for years now. Although Lightroom processing speed has been pain in the ass at times, it gives me a smooth workflow and consistent color profile as I often work across both Lightroom and Photoshop. I have been trying NX Studio for a week now to see how it faired against the paid Adobe CC plan.
The overall interface of the NX Studio looks pretty similar to that of Lightroom. On the left side, there is photo navigation to view the images in small thumbnail, followed by all folders in my computer. The middle is the view of the selected images. The adjustment tools are situated on the right panel.
When I first used NX Studio, I took some time to navigate across the adjustment tools as some of the naming conventions were slightly different. At first glance, I find the image details slightly better on screen as compared to that in Lightroom. The RAW file image I loaded seemed sharper and the highlight control was better.
Basic Edit Palettes
While the colour preview seems the same in both Lightroom and NX Studio, the NX Studio render the RAW file better and the image looks sharper on screen than in NX Studio than in Lightroom. Not sure if there was some kind of sharpness enhancement in the NX Studio review screen, the lines on the cityscape buildings appear sharper in NX studio.
In the NX studio’s basic edit palettes, we have white balance, exposure comp, adjustment of brightness and color sliders. What’s new is the active D-lighting slider in Nikon software, which is a feature in all Nikon cameras. If your image is in RAW format, you now have the flexibility to adjust this setting during your post-processing process. This feature is not available in Lightroom.
The active D-lighting feature is used to restore details in shadow and highlights, which are often lost in strong lightings. This feature adjusts the midtone contrast to lighten up the shadows while maintaining the highlight details to produce a more natural look.
In Lightroom, we might be able to produce the same result by adjusting the contrast, shadow, highlights and curves sliders. On the NX Studio, it quite an easy process with just one click.
Example of Active D lighting
As you can see, the Active D-lighting feature works well for Nikon files through the examples above,. Just by turning on this feature the image is already looking so much more balanced than the flat RAW file and I have not even touched the other adjustment sliders.
After the basic adjustment, the image has started to look really good to me. The overall adjustment in the basic edit palette is quite easy to understand as well.
This is the lightroom image after basic editing. I adjusted through Lightroom to match up to color and exposure level against NX studio. I found some of the sliders such as exposure, highlights and vibrance need to raise quite an amount than my usual editing style to match close to the same color vibrance in NX studio.
What I found was the NX studio looks somewhat better on screen. It feels like there a glossy look on the touch to the image. In term of color, the NX studio was slightly more vibrant without pushing the slider up by a lot. The color on the buildings appear to have no color cast on them where Lightroom have a slightly yellowish/magenta tint to it.
One downside of NX studio which I realise was the preview screen often have 1-2sec of blackout time before the adjusted value show on screen. Example like raising up the exposure level, its hard for me to judge as it is lack of real-time preview while I’m adjusting the value.
Levels & Curves
Under the curves adjustment there isn’t much different from the Lightroom, the standard curves points, RGB channels are all in NX studio as well.
There was just one thing I didn’t like about the NX studio curves adjustment point. I wasn’t able to right click my mouse to delete the adjustment point. In order to delete the point, I’ll need to drag the point all the way to the left where the 0 is.
Lightness, Chroma, and Hue Adjustment
For color adjustment, there are chroma(saturation adjustment), hue, color lightness and master lightness. The master lightness curves which I felt was more of a duplicate of the tone curves to adjust the brightness of the image.
In NX studio, all these adjustment can be adjusted through curves similarly like the white balance adjustment in Nikon Camera. Whereas in Lightroom, color adjustment goes by sliders with number figures which I personally felt it was easier to make more accurate adjustment.
One thing I noticed from NX studio is that color seems more saturated and pop with slight adjustment on the chroma curves, it turns out quite nicely with minor increase. On the Lightroom, I need to push my slider much higher than what I usually would use just to match up to the NX studio image.
The noise reduction(NR) is very basic and it is actually same selection options in Nikon Camera like the high ISO noise reduction. The NX studio only have the option of ‘off’, ‘low’, ‘normal’ and ‘high’ for the NR function.
For sharpness adjustment, the adjustment value start from 0 all the way up to 10. Other than the usual sharpening, NX studio also include unsharp mask feature for RGB and other color channels. At this point of time, I don’t find it useful for their unsharp mask as my image looks over sharpen once I apply that feature.
I personally would prefer the details adjustment on Lightroom for this instance. On Lightroom, sharpness isn’t just apply to the overall image. There are more features like radius, details, masking for more precise sharpening. Under NR as well, there are also NR for color especially when shooting in high ISO situation.
Moving forward, I hope for more custom option in sharpening and noise reduction like Lightroom. For sharpening, I wish there is option such as masking to choose which area I want to sharpen and not just sharpening the whole image.
When I tried the retouch brush, this feature only work well for removing sensor dust than doing any advance cloning work. The brush felt quite similar to the photoshop spot healing brush but in photoshop I could easily undo the action if I did not like the healing work done.
In NX studio, it doesn’t have any undo option or delete away any specific spot that was done by the retouch brush. You have to reset the feature back to original value if you do click any wrong spot in the image by accident.
In lightroom, they have a better spot removal tool where you can choose the source to sample from and the targeted area. If the removal work isn’t what I want, I could easily remove it as well without resetting everything.
Color Control Point
The selected color control adjustment is very easy to use on the NX studio. Just sample on the color that you wish to adjust and start boost the color and brightness of that color.
One thing I didn’t like was the fixed size(circle shape) of the color control point. I wish they could improve the control point into a free transform shape where I can transform into oval or circle shape to suit the need of the scene.
Under the composition section, you will find your crop, straighten and perspective control tools. Basically those are the same tools in Lightroom. One shortcoming of those tools was in crop mode, I wasn’t able to rotate my image.
For straighten tool, rotating of the image can only adjust through the slider which I find it take slightly longer time to do so. I would prefer the flexibility to be able to rotate the image in view mode and using the straighten slider for fine tune of the image level.
For perspective control, it quite identical to the older version of Lightroom where there are only sliders to adjust the perspective. Currently Lightroom CC offer guided upright tool which you can place maximum of 4 ruler lines to adjust it’s perspective.
I also noticed an issue with crop tool. After I confirm my crop, if I wish to amend it I have to reset the whole crop process again. I wasn’t able to make any adjustment from the existing crop size. I hope this can be improve in future update, sometimes we photographer just want to make micro adjustment on the initial crop and not redo the whole crop process again.
Exporting of image
Going through the export function in the NX studio, it seems to look pretty basic to me. Other than choosing the long edge pixel I need, there wasn’t any dpi feature for me to input where 300dpi is often use for printing.
As a working photographer, I’m very particular on proper naming my albums and my exported files. The file naming feature really disappoints me quite a bit. Allow me to explain why. They have a total of 3 columns(Prefix, dropdown list, Suffix).
For prefix, I can input the custom filename but soon I realise an issue, they have a limited the characters that I can type in. I wasn’t able to input my usual style of ‘Date’_’event name’_Photo by Andy Chua_filename.jpg.
For the dropdown list, they do have option to choose sequential number or date shot but why would I want my filename to have the date in the middle of the naming. I hope they either have flexibility on the arrangement of their 3 columns if not do allow more characters in the prefix section.
This will be most important step for the post processing process, after all the adjustments done you should get pretty excited at your end product. I exported both image from NX studio and Lightroom at 2048pixels.
Some things I noticed were:
1) color looks better on NX studio without pushing color sliders by a lot
2)white balance was at the at the same value of 6500kelvin but Lightroom image was warmer than NX studio
3) Exporting both RAW file at 2048px, NX studio image was 2.3mbs in size whereas Lightroom image was 2.6mbs.
4) The NX studio produce a nicer blue tone for sky than Lightroom. This was one thing I noticed in Lightroom for years as I often cover swimming for sport event. Lightroom was never able to produce the same shade of blue I see from my Nikon camera screen.
5) The yellow tone for street lamp looks more saturated and towards orangish tone in NX studio than Lightroom.
If you are like me who use photoshop for advance editing this might be a bad news! NX studio has the option to export the file to 3rd party software like Photoshop for further editing but they send the RAW file over without all the adjustment done in Nx studio.
For instance, in Lightroom it will export the file in Tiff format with all the lightroom adjustment to photoshop for advance editing. I hope Nikon could do the same too for NX studio and not just send the original file over to 3rd party software.
I also noticed that the NX studio wasn’t able to read Tiff file in the application and showed grey screen as if like the file was corrupted.
After doing some comparison against my usual Lightroom CC editing software, I am quite happy with the NX studio for its first launch. What I love about this new software was it does offer some really nice features like active D-lighting, nicer color pop without pushing my color sliders to the top, no color casting on buildings and image does to render sharper both on screen and after export into jepg. Under view mode, I could also show the focus point on my image which was really nice. Lightroom could do the same but need to install a 3rd party software onto it.
Having said so, I do wish they could fine tune the software further for better features and workflow.
Some of the stuffs I wish they could include/improve on are:
1) Shortcut keys! I realise the whole software has no shortcut key to use where I like to use Cmd+Z(undo action), R for crop in Lightroom.
2) Toggle image for its before and after look. NX studio offer a 2tile screen for the before and after look. I personally prefer toggling the before and after look then having 2 screens of it.
3) I did notice some lag in loading image up. Eg. switching of images for view, sometimes there is a 1sec lag where it show a full black screen before the image load up. The software also took like 1-2sec whenever I load the image to 200% view.
Can NX studio replace Lightroom?
After testing the NX studio for the past week now, I can said it is a very capable software for basic editing as good as Lightroom. It does render the Nikon raw file better in term of color and sharpness.
If you are someone who doesn’t need advance features in Lightroom like color grading, adjustment brush and especially you don’t use photoshop. This is for you! the software is easy to use and best thing was it’s free! You don’t need to pay monthly subscriptions like Adobe CC if you dont fully utilise its full features.