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What is an NEF image file?

by Casey Schmidt  |  April 23, 2020

3 min. read
A Nikon camera.

Anyone who has taken a photograph and uploaded it to a computer knows how important it is to retain the original quality. This is especially apparent when using a professional camera. With a Nikon camera, this feature comes standard in the form of the NEF image file. It is the perfect picture format for anyone in need of high quality digital replications of print photography. Here’s a guide to help you learn all about the NEF.

What is an NEF and how is it opened?

The NEF image file is the standard extension resulting from any photograph taken using a Nikon camera. NEF is an acronym for Nikon Electronic Format. It maintains the exact photographed image with no loss of quality or resolution. Most users working with NEF likely edit and convert them, resulting in a different image file type at the end of the process. This is due to accessibility and editing restrictions of the NEF.

A Nikon camera on a dock.
Many different programs can open the NEF.

There are multiple ways to open an NEF image file, including software provided by Nikon. The flagship Nikon digital software is called the Capture NX-D. Mobile devices continue to evolve and can now open the NEF as well. If you have NEF files but don’t have the Capture NX-D system, there are some alternative programs to open your images. However, it’s probably easier to convert the NEF at some point anyway.

Key benefits to consider

The NEF upholds the original image throughout all future changes. Anyone with the need for image purity benefit greatly from this feature, as they can put pictures through a lot of edits without degrading the resolution. This also caters to professional photographers, since their original vision from the photograph they snapped will be fully represented. This preserves the sanctity of art and photography throughout digital transitions as well.

The NEF image file also provides transparency through detailed data retention. Each image maintains every piece of information throughout digital transfers. This includes the metadata of the pictures, which offers important information about each photograph, saving time that would otherwise be spent providing details. This includes things like the date of the picture.

A man sitting at a table outside smiling at something shown on his laptop.
The automatic data retention of NEF image files provide valuable insight.

Consistency issues

Photographers aren’t bound to Nikon products, so companies might have consistency concerns. For example, say three photographers are each delivering a batch of pictures digitally to a company. If two of the photographers use a Nikon camera and the third doesn’t, the delivered images will be mixed file types. This forces companies to take an extra step to edit and convert the files into a consistent format. The alternative, demanding a Nikon is used by all, is unrealistic and unprofessional.

The logical step in the process is to find a converter that can change the NEF into a more common image file type. Though there are plenty capable software tools, it’s a hassle to find converting systems that change files into a wide range of extensions. It’s instead a better idea to navigate the Capture NX-D software for solutions before looking for alternatives from third party systems.

The NEF is one of the most beneficial image file types, especially to photographers. When using it and sharing it extensively, make sure the benefits of the file type are outweighing the negatives.