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Processing Raw (NEF) Files in Your Nikon D3200

The advantage of capturing Raw files, or NEF files on Nikon cameras, is that you make the decisions about how to translate the original picture data into an actual photograph. You can specify attributes such as color intensity, image sharpening, contrast, and so on — which are all handled automatically by the camera if you use its other file format, JPEG. You take these steps by using a software tool known as a Raw converter.

The bad news: Until you convert your NEF files into a standard file format, you can’t share them online or print them from most programs other than Nikon ViewNX 2. You also can’t get prints from most retail outlets or open them in many photo-editing programs.

But to process your NEF files, you can use the Nikon D3200's in-camera processing feature. Through the Retouch menu, you can process your Raw images right in the camera. You can specify only limited image attributes, and you can save the processed files only in the JPEG format, but still, having this option is a nice feature.

Through the NEF (RAW) Processing option on the Retouch menu, you can convert Raw files right in the camera — no computer or other software required. Keep the following two points in mind, however:

  • You can save your processed files only in the JPEG format. That format results in some quality loss because of the file compression that JPEG applies.

  • You can make adjustments to exposure, color, and a few other options as part of the in-camera Raw conversion process. Evaluating the effects of your adjustments on the camera monitor can be difficult because of the size of the display compared to your computer monitor. So for really tricky images, you may want to forgo in-camera conversion and do the job on your computer, where you can get a better — and bigger — view of things.

That said, in-camera Raw processing offers a quick and convenient solution when you need JPEG copies of your Raw images for immediate online sharing — JPEG is the standard format for online use or to share with someone who doesn't have photo software that can handle Raw images. Follow these steps to get the job done:

  1. Press the Playback button to switch to playback mode.

  2. Display the picture you want to process in the single-image (full-frame) view.

    If necessary, you can shift from thumbnails view to single-image view by just pressing OK.

  3. Press OK.

    The Retouch menu then appears atop your photo, as shown in the following figure.

    In single-image playback mode, press OK to display the Retouch menu over your photo.
    In single-image playback mode, press OK to display the Retouch menu over your photo.
  4. Use the Multi Selector to scroll to the NEF (RAW) Processing option, as shown in the previous figure.

  5. Press OK to display your processing options, as shown in the following figure.

    Specify Raw conversion settings here.
    Specify Raw conversion settings here.

    This screen is “command central” for specifying what settings you want the camera to use when creating the JPEG version of your Raw image.

  6. Set the conversion options.

    Along the right side of the screen, you see a vertical column offering the conversion options labeled in the preceding figure. To establish the setting for an option, highlight it and then press the Multi Selector right. You then see the available settings for the option. For example, if you choose the Exposure Compensation option, you see the screen shown in the following figure. Use the Multi Selector to adjust or highlight the setting you want to use and press OK to return to the main Raw conversion screen. Or, if a triangle appears to the right of an option name, you can press the Multi Selector right to uncover additional options. For example, pressing the Multi Selector right after choosing one of the White Balance settings takes you to a screen where you can fine-tune the setting, just as you can when adjusting White Balance during shooting.

    After selecting the Exposure Compensation option on the main NEF processing screen, press OK to acc
    After selecting the Exposure Compensation option on the main NEF processing screen, press OK to access the available settings.

    You can then manipulate the following settings for your image:

    • Image Quality: Choose Fine to retain maximum picture quality.

    • Image Size: Choose Large to retain all the original image pixels.

    • White Balance: Unless colors look off, stick with Auto.

    • Exposure Compensation: With this option, you can adjust image brightness by applying Exposure Compensation. For the peacock photo, the photographer darkened the image by using an Exposure Compensation of EV -1.0, for example. When using this feature, you're limited to a range of -2.0 and +2.0; when shooting, you can choose from settings ranging from -5.0 to +5.0.

    • Picture Control: This option enables you to adjust color, contrast, and image sharpness.

    • ISO Noise Reduction: This feature is designed to reduce the amount of noise in pictures shot using a high ISO Sensitivity setting.

  7. When you finish setting all the conversion options, highlight EXE on the main conversion screen (refer to the second figure, above) and then press OK.

    The camera records a JPEG copy of your Raw file and displays the copy in the monitor. To remind you that the image was created with the help of the Retouch menu, the top-left corner of the display sports the little Retouch icon, as shown in the last figure, below. In addition, filenames of pictures created with the Retouch menu begin with the three-letter prefix CSC instead of the usual DSC (or _CSC, if you captured the original in the Adobe RGB color space). The camera assigns the next available file number to the image, so the number of the original and the number of the processed JPEG don't match.

    The Retouch symbol indicates that you created the picture file by using an option on the Retouch me
    The Retouch symbol indicates that you created the picture file by using an option on the Retouch menu.
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