If you are using a Nikon D800, a D600, a D4 or any future Nikon cameras for that matter, consider yourself warned. If your copy of Nikon ViewNX2/Transfer is not up to date, using it to transfer your pictures will result in corrupted NEF files, which will not allow you to open your files in Capture, Lightroom, PhotoShop etc. Instead of preventing users from importing incompatible NEF files, Nikon Transfer will simply transfer and corrupt them, unbeknownst to you.
Unfortunately, I found out the hard way and I hope that this short blog/rant will help you avoid making the same mistake and also show you how to fix the corrupted NEF files.
I always bring my small netbook with me whenever I travel overseas so that I can transfer pictures to my external Hard Drives (HDs) using Nikon View NX2/Transfer while on the move. Other than that, I don't really use the netbook since it’s a bit too small for day-to-day use. Therefore, software on it can become outdated since Nikon software updates are generally tied to the availability of new cameras and rarely offer new functionality.
My workflow for years has included Nikon Transfer since it allowed me to rename, add metadata and transfer files from my memory cards to external hard drives simultaneously and seamlessly. I also used View NX2 because it allowed me to quickly review and rate photographs, which in turn helped me cull thousands of pictures down to the keepers.
The process didn’t change during my last trip to Africa. Everything seemed normal, that is until I arrived home.
When I uploaded my pictures to my local storage drives and began rating and culling, I noticed that all pictures taken with the D800 weren't previewing properly in View NX2. When I would single click on a D800 image to zoom in at 100% to check for focus accuracy, the image barely zoomed in. Pictures taken with the D3s didn’t exhibit the same issue. I shrugged off the issue thinking that it was a D800/View NX2 compatibility issue (this was my first trip with a D800).
The small issue however quickly turned into a nightmare when I began opening the NEF files in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw). Instead of opening up a 7360 x 4912 pixel file, files measured a measly 1632X1080 pixel. In other words, ACR was opening the embedded JPEG in the NEF file and not the actual NEF file. Moreover, I was unable to select a camera preset (e.g. standard, landscape). My only choice was “embedded”.
So what happened during the transfer, how did the old version of Nikon Transfer corrupt my D800 NEF files?
After hours of scouring the Internet, I found out that the older version of Transfer strips out and/or omits adding key metadata from D800 and D4 files since ACR and other software don’t know what to do with the NEF files. This happens presumably because Nikon Transfer does not recognize the camera. That being said, even though the information is all there (in MB), there is no way to open the NEF files.
During my online research, I found a small command line tool written by Phil Harvey that fixes the metadata. Fixing the issue is a manually intensive process since it has to be done one file at a time, but I'll take that over unusable and corrupted NEF files any day.
The moral of the story is pretty obvious for software users: keep your software updated and test and retest your workflow whenever you get a new camera. I had already tested my workflow with my D800 and my main computer and found no issues. I just assumed that netbook wouldn’t pose a problem either.
But there’s another moral to this story: Nikon should not build software that corrupts files, period. If Nikon requires users to update their software in order for it to be compatible with new cameras, they should simply make the two incompatible. Meaning, I would rather the software not recognize the D800 than recognize it and corrupt files. It’s what Adobe does, and for good reason.
As a result of all this, I have decided to move on from Nikon software. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I can’t risk having software in my workflow that can corrupt files at a moments notice without giving me a heads up.
However, my mistake is your learning opportunity, so please be careful when dealing with Nikon’s software suite.