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: (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. Hi there

    From a confused OAP, what do I download to view NEF files in Windows Explorer Using Windows 7

    Many thanks in advanced


  2. I run PhotoShop CS4 with 64-bit Vista. What I did was go to Adobe and there is a free patch to their Codecs to include my Nikon 300s. Maybe that will work?????

  3. Got free version off at following link:

    If that link doesn’t work, try using the search box on cnet. I input FastPictureViewer 64-bit, which took me to the above link.

    Nikon really disappoints on this issue. No excuse on their part for not having a free 64-bit codec for NEF files to be viewed in Windows. Spend thousands of dollars on their equipment, least they could do is provide us with that! Thankfully CNET saves the day once again!

  4. As an update. After taking a closer look and sharing the download link it was pointed out to me that this is a TRIAL version. Now, everything installed fine and I have nothing stating it’s trial in the install but that’s what CNet and FPW’s website says. Also, after searching everywhere I can’t find anything stating how long the trial period is. Well, it’s up and running now. If it comes to an end I’ll be sure to post and let you guys know.

    I just thought I’d mention that even though I was happy FPV was found for free and it may turn out to be trail software that hasn’t discouraged me with FPV. These guys have put effort into this software and are deserving of compensation for putting this out. My utter disappointment lies with Nikon for not offering a 64bit NEF codec to simply view your images in Windows without opening a third party software.

  5. @Paul B: Glad you found the FastPictureViewer Professional trial!

    Just to clarify, there are two products: the first is the “FastPictureViewer Codec Pack” and the second is “FastPictureViewer Professional”, a standalone raw image viewer application that you installed, which ships with most codecs from the first product and comes with a trial license lasting a few weeks.

    Rob’s article refers to the Codec Pack, which is all you need to enable support for raw formats in Windows Explorer and Windows Photo Viewer (thanks Rob, and BTW we heard your remark about keeping the codec’s price affordable!)

    The FastPictureViewer Codec Pack was initially released as “donationware” for about 6 months, but unfortunately the “donation” part did not work so well despite the huge enthusiasm, so we changed the licensing and now ask for a modest fee to cover the development and testing costs, which helps us deliver a robust (and supported) product.

    –Axel (“the FPV guy”)

  6. I also found dpMagic ( quite good. Thumbnails get shown in windows x64. The viewer is something special – works extremely fast even with my 37 Mpx photos.

  7. Guys just try fast stone image viewer 4.5 its free and it’s really worth you’ll be satisfied with the options.

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