I am often asked by students about whether the software that comes with their new camera is any good. Beyond being free, the answer is no. It doesn’t have the features of third-party programs and, more importantly, doesn’t work well in in digital workflows. I have thought for a long time that Lightroom 4 or Aperture 3 (if you are a Mac user) is the best editing application for almost all photographers.
The argument for the camera manufacturer’s software is simple and it goes something like this:
Today’s cameras are the most technically advanced imaging tools ever made for photographers and no one knows as much about them and how to get great images from them as the companies that make them.
However, it doesn’t mean that your camera manufacturer knows how to use or wants to use that knowledge to write software.
First, camera companies have made hardware for a very long time and they have gotten really good at it. However, they don’t have very much experience at writing software and, as a consequence, aren’t very good at it. Second, camera companies don’t want to write software. It takes a lot of effort and, more importantly, long-term maintenance, which is expensive. These two factors, in my opinion, have given us the current state of affairs: The software offered by camera companies is mostly garbage! The interfaces are not very intuitive; the underlying technologies are old; and most of the software is hard to use and severely lacking in features.
The most sophisticated camera manufacturer’s software is Nikon Capture NX2 and it hasn’t been significantly updated since early 2008. It is now over four years old, which is two Windows and three Mac operating systems ago. Moreover, most of the software, and this includes Nikon Capture NX2, only does one or two things well. So, if you want to be able to find your images, you still need a photo manager, e.g., Photo Mechanic, and if you need to do major editing, such as removing an object or making localized corrections, you still need Photoshop or some other pixel editing application.
Despite all that, some photographers still use the manufacturer’s software, claiming that they get better raw conversions from it. Why? Because “nobody knows as much about their camera as the camera manufacturer.” Again, while I agree with this, the knowledge doesn’t help us get a great image if the camera manufacturer doesn’t use this knowledge. I have used Capture NX2, Silkypix (shipped with Fuji cameras but it isn’t written by Fuji), Digital Photo Professional (Canon), and others and compared them to Lightroom. If there is a difference, I haven’t seen it. In fact, the image coming from Lightroom was better in many cases in my opinion.
There is a downside to using Lightroom and Aperture. Generally, you must wait for Adobe and Apple to support the latest camera and sometimes this can take a few months. Camera companies do not cooperate with software vendors and this means that they must reverse engineer the sensors and data files. This can be especially problematic if your camera has some new or unusual technology. A good example is the Fuji X-Pro 1 with its new sensor; the software vendors are having a hard time reverse engineering it well enough to get good results from its raw files. So, is Fuji working with Adobe and others? No. Why not? I don’t know and it is very puzzling to me because surely Fuji wants photographers to get good results from its camera.
The bottom line-if you can’t tell already-is that I simply don’t think that any of the camera company software is good enough to be an alternative to Lightroom or Aperture. Both of these applications offer total solutions, allowing you to manage, edit, and output your images from within one application. However, I am sure both of these applications could be improved with just a little cooperation. (I know Fuji X-Pro 1 owners would be grateful to Fuji.) Don’t get me wrong! Adobe and Apple do a great job. With the sophistication of today’s cameras, I simply think that getting the most from our cameras could be best done with a little cooperation between camera manufacturers and software developers.