Nikon Raw (NEF) Codec: fast, free new option

The Fast Picture Viewer codec is free, works on 32- and 64-bit Windows, and has since become my go-to codec for raw (NEF) images on both Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

Nikon Logo

Earlier this year, I wrote about the where, why and how of Nikon Raw (NEF) Codecs for Vista and Windows 7.

In the intervening months, my fellow photographers have introduced me to a shiny new alternative called the Fast Picture Viewer codec, which is free, works on 32- and 64-bit Windows, and has since become my go-to codec on both Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

Fast Picture ViewerWith this codec installed, you get Raw image support in places like Windows File Explorer, Windows Live Photo Gallery, and Windows 7 Media Center. And it’s surprisingly fast.

Here’s a link back to my updated earlier article, which explains the codec story in more detail.

Or you can just go download the Fast Picture Viewer codec.

Microsoft tech Bonus: It was created by a BizSpark startup.

Viewing a directory of Raw (NEF) Files from 64-bit Windows 7
The goal: a directory of Raw (NEF) Image files and their metadata in Windows Explorer. This is 64-bit Windows 7.

Nikon Raw (NEF) Codecs for Vista and Windows 7

Nikon Logo

Two years ago, I mentioned in an article that Nikon’s Raw (NEF) Codec was an important part of my photo-processing pipeline.  After many laptops, photos, and software updates, it still is.

I now work with photos on 32- and 64-bit machines running Windows 7 and Windows Vista.  In the hope it will help other Nikon photographers, here is an update describing some of my more recent experiences working with Raw (NEF) files under Windows.

[Note: I last updated this article May 2012.  tl;dr: download Nikon’s 32- and 64-bit NEF codecs here.]

First – Why would you want a NEF Codec?

The principal reason you’d want a Raw (NEF) Codec is to view Raw Nikon images and metadata from within Windows File Explorer and Windows Photo Gallery, and now Windows Live Photo Gallery as well, which was released as part of Windows Live Essentials.

Viewing a directory of Raw (NEF) Files from 64-bit Windows 7
The goal: a directory of Raw (NEF) Image files and their metadata in Windows Explorer. This is 64-bit Windows 7.

Of course, if you’re shooting Raw images, you’ll probably also want a fully-featured application that can view and edit NEFs (such as Nikon’s Capture NX 2, or Adobe’s Lightroom or Photoshop), in addition to the Codec. But the Codec itself is very useful for viewing, sorting and “triaging” your photos.

The options available to you for NEF Codec solutions will depend on whether you’re running 32- or 64-bit Windows.  Here are the ones I use today.

Nikon LogoRecommended NEF Codec for both 32- and 64-bit Windows:
Nikon’s NEF Codec

(current version: 1.14.0)  (click for download info)

Nikon’s Codec has gone through a number of revisions.  It is currently at version 1.14, and can be downloaded from here.  This codec is free to download. I should note that I couldn’t get it to work on a pre-release version of Windows 8.

Fast Picture Viewer

Alternate option: FastPictureViewer Codec (NOT FREE)

(current version: 3.2) (click for download info)

My impression (not even remotely scientific, since I’ve switched machines and cameras) is that version 1.8 is quite a bit quicker and more robust (stalls less often) than earlier versions.  My improved experience may also have to do with updates to Windows Vista, so I’m not sure.

Nikon Logo

64-bit alternate option: Ardfry’s x64 NEF Codec

(current version: 1.0.0.12) (click for download info)

In addition to the Fast Picture Viewer, another third party, Ardfry Imaging, have released a 64-bit NEF codec for Windows Vista x64.  I have previously worked with it on multiple 64-bit Windows 7 installations, and it worked well for me.  I evaluated the Ardfry Codec beta for its trial period, and decided it was well worth the $19USD they were asking for a registered copy.

But what if I don’t want to pay for (or install) a Codec?

Please note that even if you choose not to install a codec like FPV or Ardfry’s, Nikon’s Capture NX 2.1 works fine under 64-bit Windows (in 32-bit emulation mode), as you can see in the screenshot of 64-bit Windows Task Manager below.

Capture NX 2.1 works fine under 64-bit Windows 7 in 32-bit emulation mode
Capture NX 2.1 works fine under 64-bit Windows 7 in 32-bit emulation mode

That being said, I value being able to see my photos and their metadata within Windows Explorer and Windows Live Photo Gallery, which is not possible without the codec.  So a codec solution like the ones listed above makes sense for me. The Windows 7 installation pictured at the top of this article is sporting the Ardfry codec.

I hope this helps, and am always grateful for tips, advice, and further thoughts on streamlining my photography pipeline.

Videos should be streamed and not held (part 2)

I couldn’t resist the temptation to try to take my Windows DVD Maker output (a video DVD with a custom menus) and turn it into a streaming Silverlight site.  I figure this would be of interest to anyone who wants to share their home videos on the internet and include a custom DVD-esque presentation format.

Alas, I didn’t have time to create the “general solution” – but I think I’ve figured out what the general solution would look like.

The end result that I wanted was a custom Silverlight 2 application that integrates

  • a video streamed behind an interactive menu, and
  • a streaming player for the main ‘movies’, which would begin its life as an Expression Media Encoder player template

So the main menu looks like this:

24 Minutes Silverlight Site Menu
'24 Minutes' Online DVD - Interactive Silverlight Site Menu

And when you’re watching the video, you can move the mouse to pop up a UI like this:

DVDMenu
'24 Minutes' Online DVD - Silverlight Streaming Movie Player Overlay

When the video comes to a complete stop, it returns to the custom menu (top image above) with the streaming video background.

It was fun. It took some time. Here’s what I learned.

  • Video Player template: If you decide you’re going to create a UI for streaming Silverlight video, and want any interactive controls above and beyond a pause button – even just a playback slider – I strongly encourage you to start from a template, such as the ones found in Expression Media Encoder. See this Expression Encoder blog post about the templates. This will save you a lot of time, and the templates themselves are quite nice.
  • Re-encoding the DVD files: The files on a DVD with a .VOB extension can be opened and re-encoded by Expression Media Encoder.  This is important because the .VOB that contains your menu background also contains more than just the cycling “main menu” video, so you’ll need to trim it.  It also contains video clips for the “About” and “Select Scene” menus. I wish I understood this video format better.
  • Menu text and custom fonts: The menu text in the .VOB looks crummy when it’s been encoded and re-encoded and then scaled up.  So, re-export the DVD from Windows DVD Maker without any menu text, and then overlay the text in Silverlight. Embed a custom font if necessary – Expression Blend 2 makes font embedding possible and not very difficult.

Upload videos and app to Silverlight Streaming, and you’re ready to scale your home videos up to the scale of the intarwebs!

Unfortunately, I do not have permission to host the “24 Minutes” video on this site, even though that would have been very easy to do. When I have a chance, I’ll host a similar project so I can show what the finished results look like in motion.

From Windows DVD Maker to Silverlight Streaming site?

The Windows DVD Maker found in Vista is a clever little application. It makes DVD movies with slick title menus. You add your pre-edited video files (and/or photos), choose a look-and-feel for the menus, and click ‘Burn DVD’.

It’s a perfect example of a “95% solution”. The DVD Maker deliberately doesn’t account for roughly the other 5% of options you might consider when producing a video DVD, because frankly, providing for those options would make the app unnecessarily complicated… and probably wouldn’t make a real difference to the final quality of your home video.

I was asked to edit together a Christmas Party video for some friends (a “24” spoof called “24 Minutes”), and decided that DVD Maker would be a great way to deliver the final product (which was going to be viewed offline).  I was really happy with the results.

24 Minutes DVD Menu (screenshot from DVD produced by Windows DVD Maker)
"24 Minutes" DVD Menu (screenshot from DVD produced by Windows DVD Maker)

So now I have this video DVD…

Dude… that’s so 1990s!  Videos are meant to be streamed, not held!

Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a little app that could take a video DVD, and with a few clicks, turn it into a Silverlight Streaming site, complete with streaming video and a Silverlight-based replica of the DVD’s menus?

I wish I had a little utility that would take my DVD, my Silverlight Streaming ID and password.  It would crank away for a bit, do some re-encoding, and deliver me an “online DVD” all uploaded to Silverlight Streaming.

Sure, I’ve already re-encoded the movie myself with Expression Encoder and uploaded it to Silverlight Streaming.  But the menus that DVD Maker automatically produced for me, with video highlights playing behind the menu options, are kinda funky, and tie the whole thing together.

Someone should make that utility… or if it exists, please send me a link.  :)