Google's Picasa vs. Nikon Capture's RAW file JPEG export

I’ve been playing around with $g(Nikon Capture) tweaking some of the photos I took in the desert and noticed a substantial difference in the quality of exported JPG images as compared to Google’s $g(Picasa). Using the default settings you can see that the Picasa version is very washed out and dull whereas the Capture version is much brighter with more detail. (see update below where I screwed up)

Picasa JPG export (Nikon RAW source file) Nikon Capture JPG export (RAW source file)
Exported using Google’s Picasa Exported using Nikon Capture

Last year I used several exported photos from Picasa of the kids to make up our holiday greeting card and we weren’t very happy with the final results as they were dull just didn’t look good at all. This year I used Capture and the results were much better. Lesson learned.

[UPDATE: Dec 11, 2007] I screwed up. I guess that’s what you get when you post at 12:30am. The original Nikon image I posted had Auto Contrast turned on. I’ve since updated the image which is now a straight export of the Nikon NEF file from Capture with the only tweak being a resize. Thanks to people’s comments I went back and double checked.

8 thoughts on “Google's Picasa vs. Nikon Capture's RAW file JPEG export

  1. So you used Picasa defaults, but you tweaked the settings on Capture. What happens when you export with Capture’s defaults?

  2. Hello, Steve
    I regret not agree with you about the quality of the photo exported with Capture. Although it is clear that a "higher" level of detail and contrast is generated by Capture, it is not so obvious that it was a "better" photo …
    It is very usual for non-photographers users to prefer this kind of images but, from a technical point of view, the photo generated by Capture seems a bit unrealistic.

  3. … ups, sorry … I forget to say that, as it happens nearly always, the "middle-term" between both photos will be, in my humble opinion, the best one.

  4. Steve,
    While the photo imported by Nikon is more stunning, it’s also like nothing I have ever seen in nature. I’m reminded of a common problem with most people’s color television settings: color is widely deemed to be washed out unless it burns your retina.
    The mere fact that the one you like better was processed by Nikon is no assurance of its higher quality, either.
    Thinking of film, I would point out that although Kodachrome has always given a more realistic appearance, the market has generally preferred Ektachrome, where color saturation is higher. And if you’ve ever looked closely at Agfachrome, you’ll appreciate why so many European films have that "moody" look. It’s the film stock.
    Ultimately, as we now control the images we take, start to finish, without interference from a lab, it’s up to you how you set things, and how your images look. But I’m pretty comfortable with my guess that the left image is a closer approximation of reality.

  5. David,
    I used defaults in both applications, sorry that wasn’t clear. The source was a Nikon RAW NEF file.
    I didn’t really mention the quality of either photo just the degree of difference. I happen to like something closer to the one on the right though I agree, something in between would likely represent a "best shot".
    You’re right, the color here is too stark though it’s the reason I took the photo. While the red wasn’t as bright as the photo on the right it wasn’t as dull as the one on the left nor was the sky as dull. In fact, I took several photos of just the sky that morning because it was so blue (as a means of looking for dead spots on my CCD). Not to mention I dislike the loss of detail in the Picasa version which is something I’ve seen in other photos as well. FWIW, the photo was taken early in the morning and I waited for the sun to peak over the hills behind me and light up this ridge.
    To be sure, Picasa isn’t a photo processing tool, in fact, they’ve struggled dealing with Nikon’s RAW format from the beginning. At one point, Google was requesting people to submit RAW files that weren’t rendered correctly (which I did). While they’ve largely addressed the problems I occasionally have pictures which Picasa can’t render correctly at all.
    As for film stock I think you’ve hit on an interesting subject. These days I think it’s hard to find a photo that hasn’t been retouched to some degree or another and the tools are getting so easy to use that even an individual as graphically challenged as me can do interesting things.

  6. The picture on the left looks a lot brighter, sharper, clearer. The picture on the right looks muddled and cloudy. Is that your point? I wan’t sure.

  7. Hey Brad,
    The picture on the right is a JPEG export of the RAW NEF file. It has had no additional processing other then resizing and converting to JPEG. I’m guessing that without doing anything that Picasa is doing some default processing to the image and thus the export looks dramatically different than the export from Nikon Capture. The Picasa version is lacking in detail and the colors are clearly different.
    My point, which I’ve clearly muddled, was that I didn’t think Picasa’s results were as good as those you can get from Nikon Capture because of the "bleaching" of the photo that seems to occur with Picasa. I have other examples where people and clothing are washed out using Picasa whereas the Capture version is much brighter and richer in color.

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