NEF - Nikon Digital Camera Raw Image File

What is a NEF file

NEF (Nikon Electronic Format) files are the RAW file formats from digital photos taken by Nikon cameras. The metadata contains information about the lens, settings, camera, and more. Raw files describe images which are not yet ready for processing, printing, or editing with bitmap graphics editors. The raw file resembles the scene as closely as possible staying true to the lighting, intensity, and colors present. Raw data images are a record of the data captured by the camera’s sensor. NEF files saved on a camera memory card are saved in either an uncompressed or lossless compressed format. NEF files serve as a type of “digital negative.”

NEF files can be altered without affecting the raw file. In-camera processing (adjusting white balance, hue, tone, sharpness) does not get applied permanently to the NEF file; it just exists as a set of instructions within the file which can be changed at any time without decreasing the quality or content of the file. NEF files can retain 12- and 14-bit data, meaning a greater variety of colors than JPEG or TIFF files (at 8-bits). NEF files contain metadata as well as a thumbnail and a JPEG file version for quick viewing of the image. NEF files can be edited and saved again as a NEF file, or they can be saved as something like a JPEG or TIFF for easier storing, sending, printing, and editing.

Here's a small, but not exhaustive list of programs that can open NEF documents:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
  • digiKam
  • Paint Shop Pro
  • Picasa
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