Nikon Raw (NEF) Codecs for Vista and Windows 7

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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.

68 thoughts on “Nikon Raw (NEF) Codecs for Vista and Windows 7”

  1. You can also run the 32-bit Windows Explorer which can load 32-bit thumbnail/preview handlers. Windows Live Photo Gallery is also 32-bit.

  2. Lucas, that’s very interesting – thank you! Is it possible to have 64-bit Windows launch the 32-bit Windows Explorer by default?

    Also, I am curious to know if anyone has tried running Nikon’s 32-bit codec installer onto a 64-bit version of Windows. I wonder if it will allow itself to be installed.

  3. I’ve tried installing the 32 bit Codec on a 64 bit system. It wont install.
    Ardfry’s codec seems to be the only solution for viewing RAW in Vista 64 windows explorer. I wish someone woud hack the Nikon installer package… once installed the Nikon codec would probably work fine in 64 bit.

  4. Running 64 bit XP here.

    I just use the ViewNX to display my pictures, works just as well as viewing them in explorer as far as I can see.

    If you want to run 32 bit explorer in windows 64 bit you might as well just install windows 32 bit.

  5. i have installed both of these and none of them work AT ALL

    even trired the 32 bit “wow” above

  6. i think it working from everyone complaing

    just got this

    Nikon
    Unfortunately, we do not have software/driver support for 64-Bit Windows operating systems at this time. Compatibility and support for Nikon software running on a Windows 64-bit system is currently under review by the Nikon Quality Department in Japan. At this time we do not have any time table on when we will issue driver and software support for this system. You can attempt to use our product(s) on this system anyway, but we cannot provide assistance should you run into problems.

  7. Excellent post, thank you!
    I’ve started using Ardfry’s codec, and it works, but I’m missing some of the metadata that you’re apparently able to display. It shows thumbnails, but no camera settings (aperture, shutter, etc). I’m on Windows 7 beta 1, as you are. What camera are you using for these .nefs? I’m on a D90.

  8. @Dick — I am also shooting with a D90 (and love it). Have you noticed that you can increase the size of the panel at the bottom of a File Explorer window? Maybe you can stretch it to reveal the metadata. If it is not visible at all, try clicking Organize, then Layout, then Details Pane. hope that helps…

  9. I appreciate the info – thanks rob. It certainly explained a few things. Just my opinion however, I am very upset with nikon over this whole issue. From what I have gathered, this has been an issue since mid 2007 and they have yet to do anything about it. I find it unacceptable that I must spend an additional 19 bucks on a third party plugin in order to work with NEF on Vista 64.

    Nikon needs to wake up and realize that the 64-bit OS is not going anywhere. At this point I will no longer support NIKON with my future purchases.

  10. Good info here, thank you guys!

    I am shocked to hear that Nikon does not have 64 bit codec for my RAW files available! With RAM being cheap, 64 bit Windows is selling better than it ever has and people serious about photo work need the RAM because these app’s eat it up. My next build (spring of this year) is a i7 Intel and will have a minimum of 4 Gig of ram, so I’m expecting to go with 64 bit OS for the first time (am beta testing 64 bit of Windows 7 currently on my current dual core, 2 Gig ram system). Since I am running Windows 7 64 bit on my other partition and testing it out, I ended up here in a search for a working Codec.

    I hope Nikon wakes up and smells the coffee that this ain’t the 1990’s anymore … 64 bit is coming strong now and the need is now.

  11. For what it’s worth, I’ve used ExifPro for a number of years to view and organise my RAW files on my x64 system.

  12. I find all my software still edits RAW files fine, it is just the convenience of being able to use the thumbnail view in Explorer that I am referring to for the NEF CODEC.

  13. What the hell is wrong with Nikon? They are still old hat compared to Canon in the things they continually produce. They need to support what people use:

    1) A non 64-bit codec? common, what are they thinking? get with the times
    2) Their cameras still lag in modern features and mega pixels as compared to canon..again, they’re still too much of a camera company and not cutting edge enough or bleeding edge enough
    3) My D70 just died on me…nice quality

  14. Too bad that the Ardfry codec seems to load the JPEG preview image embedded in the NEF, not the actual Bayer RAW data. Reading the Bayer data would be better because you would get correct white balance and correct luminance levels (in JPEG, the in-camera exposure bias is corrected, so the results aren’t usually very reliable even as a preview of the final image).

  15. I am running Vista Ulitimate 64bit. What I find confusing is that if a NEF image has been opened in Lightroom, the image thumbnail will appear in Explorer. However if the RAW file has not been opened, only an icon displays.

  16. I didn’t work after installed Nikon Capture NX 2 in Windows 7 (build 7100), the *.NEF only show Capture NX icon on it.

  17. 543, You will need to install one of the codec packages mentioned in the article for thumbnails to work. Capture NX 2 does not generate thumbnails for you.

  18. So I’ve got an interesting situation.. I have the 32bit NEF Codec installed on my 64bit Win7 RC and the first 50 pictures I transfered from my D90 have thumbnails and work great. The remaining 100 or so have no thumbnails and show the ViewNX icon.

    Anyone have any ideas why the first 50 or so show thumbnails?? I haven’t changed any settings between the two transfers.

  19. Scatch that previous comment. I figured it out! I have the Nikon NEF Codec (32bit) installed on my copy of 64bit Win7 RC build 7100. By default the thumbnails will not appear, but there is a way to make them show up without installing a 64bit Codec.

    Manually start Windows Live Photo Gallery (available from Live.com free) and then browse to the folder containing all your NEF files. From there, the program reads through all the photos and creates a thumbnail for it.

    It appears to get landscape photo thumbnails very quickly, then makes a second pass to create any portrait style thumbnails. If you open Windows Explorer while these thumbnails are being created, you will see them appear (and stay visible) there as well!!

  20. I would like to raise a bit different issue, which may be connected with the codec itself or Windows Live Photo Gallery. One of the great features of Windows Live Photo Gallery is that it allows you to post to Flickr with just a click of a button. This also works for NEF files. However, what does not seems to be working is the ability to choose the size (resolution) of the NEF that you upload. I can pick original size, 1600, 1200, 800, the NEF is always posted as 1024pix JPEG. Does anyone have any experience with posting NEFs to Flickr?

  21. >once installed the Nikon codec would probably work fine in 64 bit.

    Certainly not with 64-bit applications as it is not possible to mix and match “bitness” within a given process. OTOH it is true that if you get it to install, 32-bit apps running on WOW64 should be able to use it.

    For native 64-bit apps like Windows Explorer, Photo Gallery and FastPictureViewer Pro (http://www.fastpictureviewer.com) you need one of Ardfry’s 64-bit codecs. Besides that I see huge benefits of being able to use all of the computer’s memory to preload and cache images with FastPictureViewer when running in native 64-bit mode with 64-bit codecs, talk about day and night with large images and, say, 8GB of RAM.

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