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What Is a NEF File? (And How to Open One!)

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Using digital images can be very simple with the JPEG format. However, this format doesn’t give you the most amount of play when editing.

For this, you need a Raw format. Nikon uses Raw file formats with a NEF file extension. To know more about the NEF file format, and how to open NEF files, read on.

Image of mountains and clouds with an orange sky

What Is a File Extension?

File extensions are everywhere. All digital files have extensions that let you know what type of files they are. Importantly, they let your computer know what programs will open them.

Text files could be .txt files, .pdfs and .docxs. Videos come in .mp4 or .wav formats. Images share the same idea. You might have heard of .jpegs, .pngs or .tiff file types.

Images from digital cameras come with a file extension. This extension not only tells you the camera system you took the picture with, but it saves all the information from your camera’s sensor.

The file extension allows the file to connect and communicate with preview and editing software. Online platforms allow for different file extensions, where the majority of them use JPEGs.

The problem is that JPEGs are lossy file extension formats, meaning quality reduces every time you open and save one.

A Raw image captures more of your scene compared to a  JPEG. But at a compromise of a larger format Raw image file. Some can be 5x larger, depending on the information in the scene you capture.

Raw is a better way to go. But, you need to use the right software to be able to convert and use Raw files. Otherwise, they are worthless.

What Is a NEF File?

A NEF file is a Raw format image used by Nikon. NEF stands for Nikon Electronic Format. When you set and capture an image using the Raw setting, that file gets the NEF file extension. Unlike others, Nikon has one extension, where Canon has at least three.

Nikon cameras, like all other digital cameras, come with a file extension. Canon gives you CRW, CR2, and CR3. Olympus uses .ORF whereas Pentax provides .PEF.

There might be some problem with previewing the Nikon Electronic Format (NEF file) images on your computer. You need specialized software which comes in specific programs from the camera manufacturer or editing software from third parties.

The NEF file is modeled after the TIFF (Tagged Image File Format). This format is for high-quality images. Unlike JPEGs, It isn’t a lossy format, so it doesn’t lose its quality with use.

Image of a sunflower in a sunflower field

Common Questions

How Do I Convert a NEF File to JPEG?

To convert a NEF file to a JPEG is an easy enough process with the right tools. The most important thing you need is software that can read the NEF file.

Adobe Lightroom is the most straightforward option, as it opens the file with no problem or prompt.

Adobe Photoshop is another program you can use to convert NEF to JPG. But it can be a little more complicated to use. As the NEF file is a Raw image, Photoshop will force open Camera Raw (a Raw file convertor). This process is something you need to go through before you can open the image.

Lightroom has Camera Raw as part of its import process. Both of these programs allow you to import, edit, and then save or export the NEF file from NEF to JPG. These can be saved as TIFFs, PNGs or even GIFs.

How to Open a NEF File?

Opening a NEF file requires an editing software program such as Photoshop. Photoshop is a little more involved than opening it in Lightroom. As we looked at above, Lightroom opens Raw images without giving you notice.

Photoshop gives photographers and editors the chance to edit the NEF file image before converting. Camera Raw (window in the installation process) allows you to adjust your photo before it enters Photoshop.

After any changes, you need to press Open Image to use it in Photoshop. From there, you are free to edit your image in a converted PSD format.

Black and white image showing a persons legs walking along a lit corridor

How Do I Open a NEF File in Windows 10?

A NEF file won’t automatically open in Windows 10. You will need the Microsoft Camera Codec Pack, which will allow you to use file extensions from other camera manufacturers.

There are not many programs that will allow you to view or open a NEF file. Nikon’s CaptureNX2 or ViewNX 2 software is available, yet the latter is free. If you prefer, you can use Pics.io for using them online.

For mobile devices, Snapseed and Adobe Photoshop Express are two apps you can use for NEF files. They work for both iOS and Android systems.

Are NEF and Raw the Same?

A NEF file is the extension for Raw image files for Nikon DSLRs. It is similar to the lossless file format of TIFF. You will find these files are large, which they need to be to allow you to edit your images.

Image of eight seagulls standing on a sandy beach

Is a NEF File Better Than JPEG?

Typically speaking, any Raw image file is better than a jpeg. But, only if it is something you need. It depends, like always on what you plan to do with your images.

For example, Raw image files will give event photographers working in bright daylight the best chance for adjustments. With Raw, you get up to five stops of light and more choice over white balance, et al.

With a JPEG, you don’t get the same editing possibilities. If the images are for a paying client, you don’t want to scrimp on quality or editing.

A JPEG is perfectly fine for a family get-together. These are likely to be posted on Facebook, so the quality doesn’t need to be high.

I always photograph in a Raw format. It allows me to correct my mistakes. Fantastic images can be captured by the camera in JPEG, but I need to get them correct in-camera.

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