Having recently begun recording my images in RAW format, I've been in the market for a good RAW converter. I've used Nikon's Capture NX as well as CaptureOne from PhaseOne and Bibble. I'll divide my comments and comparisons into broad categories:
EASE OF USE
With Capture NX it was easy to browse and load images. I found no batch-renaming function. The workflow to process images was fairly logical but long. Since many functions duplicate or overlap one another , I could skip many of these steps. For example, there is a good curves/levels function, so it wasn't necessary to pull up the fuctions that adjusted contast & brightness. CaptureOne is much easier to use and faster than Capture NX, but it lacks some features. Bibble was very intuitive, but I found difficulty fine-tuning things like white balance and curves.
The hands-down winner was CaptureOne, for its intuitive interface for this function and instantaneous feedback. Adjusting white balance was clunky and slow in Capture NX. All programs allow you to easily apply this basic setting to other images.
CaptureNX and CaptureOne both allow for robust color management; NX extends this into printing images.
Bibble has a few "fast-fix" buttons that are pretty slick--they provide for crisp contrasty images with good white balance and skin tones (without much sweat on your part). CaptureOne lets you quickly make and see changes in your images, then cranks through the processor-time in the background. Capture NX is a little more clunky in this regard. Since it manipulates large raw files in real time, it can be slow. The workflow tabs on the right side of the screen are a little cumbersome at first.
NOISE and SHARPENING
I think sharpening was similar among the three programs--appropriate sliders, you get to see what you'll get. The noise reduction seemed best in Nikon Capture NX and worst in CaptureOne, but not by a large margin.
Okay, this is where Nikon Capture NX blows away the competition. The Control Points work brilliantly. I would have to be really adept at Photoshop masking and level manipulations to duplicate what can be done with a few clicks in Capture NX. Very skick, very fast, very easy to learn.
Like Apple's Aperature and Adobe's new program (Lightbox?) Capture NX keeps the images in RAW format. This is helpful on two levels. First, you get to hold onto all 12 bits per channel of color information that get lost when you convert into JPEG or 8-bit TIFF files. Second, the underlying ("raw") data is not affected when you edit an image. You can keep several versions of final images associated witht the same raw data, and can go back to modify your earlier changes days or years after making them.
If you are a Photoshop expert or plan to manipulate the composition within your photos, then the extra functionality of Nikon Capture NX is probably superfluous; stick instead with CaptureOne or (for PC users) Bibble, or check out Apple's Aperature. But if you'd like to open up the vast and amazing world of changing the colors, contrast, and brightness of parts of your image, than give Capture NX a spin. The full version is downloadable for a free 30-day trial.
It doesn't work on the new intel processors. And it seriously hogs processor time. Hopefully within six months we'll have a version for the new processor, right?