- Opening Nikon Z8’s NEF files directly on a Mac can result in errors due to unsupported raw file format because macOS doesn’t currently support Z8 NEF files natively.
- Not all NEF files are identical; Nikon sometimes updates the format with newer camera versions.
- Two free solutions for accessing Z8 NEF files:
- Nikon NX Studio: Nikon’s own RAW processing app. However, there might be compatibility issues with the latest macOS version.
- Adobe DNG Converter: Converts NEF files to a more universally accepted DNG format.
- Major RAW processing apps like Lightroom and Capture One have added Z8 NEF file support in their recent versions.
If you’ve tried opening NEF files from your Nikon Z8 on a Mac through Finder or Preview, you’ve probably found that they won’t open. And you’ve likely seen an error message along the lines that the file could not be opened because “Preview currently does not support this raw file format.”
There are two parts to the problem. And there are several solutions, some of which are free.
Table of Contents
Flavors of NEF
The first is that not all NEF files are the same. Nikon has been using the NEF file extension for RAW files generated by their cameras since they launched their first digital cameras. 1 So whether you’re shooting with an old Nikon D1 or the Nikon Z8, the RAW files will have a .nef extension.
But although they might look the same, that doesn’t mean that all .nef files are the same under the hood. Nikon adds their own proprietary tweaks and updates with newer versions.
You might not have noticed this problem if your workflow includes apps like Lightroom Classic or Capture One, which have had their own Z8 NEF file support included for a while. This is mainly an issue when trying to open Z8 NEF files directly through Finder or Preview or using an older RAW processing app that doesn’t support the newer flavors of NEF files.
macOS Support for Z8 NEF Files
The upshot of that is that just because an app or software “supports NEF,” it doesn’t mean it supports every flavor of NEF. And that’s what’s going on here. Nikon has tweaked the NEF format for the Z8 (and Z9), and not all software has caught up with compatibility yet.
The specific problem we’re running into in this instance is that macOS doesn’t yet have support for Z8 NEF files baked into the operating system. It almost certainly will be added at some point. But as I write this, I’m currently using the latest version available (macOS Sonoma 14.0), and Z8 NEF files won’t open directly in Finder or Preview.
So what I’m focusing on here is really intended as an interim fix. And it’s very much a moving target as more apps add support for Z8 NEF files.
Which leaves us with relying on third-party software to work with Z8 NEFs. For some, that’s not going to be an issue, because support has already been built into our workflow tools like Lightroom, Photo Mechanic, and Capture One.
But if you’re not using those, or your RAW editor of choice does not yet support Z8 files, I have some free solutions worth trying below.
Two Free Alternatives for Opening or Converting Nikon Z8 NEF Files
Most of the apps mentioned above are paid apps. If you’re already using them in your workflow and have a version at least as new as the version where Z8 NEF compatibility was added, you should be good to go.
But if you don’t use one of those apps and aren’t inclined to pay for them, there are two free alternatives. One is an alternative app; the other is a workaround.
Free Alternative App: Nikon NX Studio
UPDATE: I have been having trouble opening NX Studio on macOS Sonoma (it worked fine for me on Ventura). I have reached out to Nikon support and will post here any updated information on compatibility that I learn.
Nikon has its own RAW processing app called NX Studio. You can download it for free here.
NX Studio is Nikon’s home-grown app for viewing and processing images generated on a Nikon camera. That becomes particularly valuable for RAW files; for obvious reasons, Nikon typically has built-in support for the RAW files from its own cameras more quickly than third-party vendors.
I don’t routinely use NX Studio myself—I have other apps that work well in my workflow. But I appreciate that it’s available as a reliable option. If you’re used to the kind of interface used by apps like Lightroom, Capture One, or DarkTable, you’ll be up and running quickly in NX Studio.
NB: My focus here is on Mac, because that’s what I use. There is a version of NX Studio for Windows, too, and my understanding is that it will also solve this problem for Windows users. But I have not personally tried it on Windows.
Free Alternative Workaround: Convert with Adobe DNG Converter
Another good option is in the form of a workaround. An advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require you to change your preferred processing app; it just adds an extra step to the beginning of the workflow. So if you’re still using Lightroom 6 from before the switch to Creative Cloud subscriptions, for instance, this will convert the files to versions that you can open in Lightroom 6. Ditto on other RAW processing apps or versions that might not yet have added Nikon Z8 support yet.
You can download Adobe’s DNG converter here. It’s free, and there are versions for Mac and Windows.
It’s a pretty straightforward single-panel app. The main thing to watch is the setting for compatibility preferences.
You’ll want to make sure that it’s set to a version of Camera Raw that matches or is older than whatever version your app uses. If you were using Lightroom 6 as an example, you’d set the compatibility option to
Camera Raw 7.1 and later.
I have not extensively tested the DNG compatibility setting with other apps, so it might require some testing to find a version that works in whatever apps you’re using. But in general, DNG files exist to be widely compatible.
Nikon Z8 RAW NEF Support in Popular RAW Processing Apps
The major paid RAW processing apps tend to add support for new cameras fairly quickly. And if an app has support for Z9 NEF files, it should also work with Z8 files (although sometimes requires changing the file metadata to report it as created by a Z9 rather than a Z8).
Here are the versions for some of the major processing apps where Nikon Z8 NEH support was added. If you’re using a matching or later version, you should be good to go.
- Adobe Camera RAW: 15.3
- Adobe Lightroom Classic: 12.3
- Adobe Lightroom: 6.3
- Capture One: 16.2.0
- DxO PhotoLab: 5.12.0
- DxO PureRAW: 3.3.0
- ON1 PhotoRAW: 2023.5
Support on free RAW processing apps often takes longer—they don’t have the same kinds of resources to develop it. DarkTable, for instance, one of the best free RAW processing apps, doesn’t have support for the Nikon Z8 or Z9 NEF files at the time of writing.
Things Worth Knowing
I’m focusing here on NEF files from the Nikon Z8 because that’s the camera I’m shooting with most these days and it’s an issue I’ve run into myself. But the same alternative and workaround hold for other NEF files from other new Nikon cameras such as the newer Nikon Z f.
Sample Nikon Z8 NEF File
If you’re still waiting for your Nikon Z8 to arrive but would like to check out the compatibility with your current software, here’s an NEF file (uncompressed) I shot with my Z8. You can download it directly:
- Nikon Z8 NEF file (download / approx 68MB)
If you’ve gotten an error message when trying to open NEF files generated by a Nikon Z8 on Mac, you’re most likely running into the issue of compatibility for this flavor of RAW file not yet being built into the version of macOS you’re using.
There are at least three ways to move forward:
- Use one of the RAW processing apps that have added compatibility for Nikon Z8 NEF files.
- Use Nikon’s own Studio NX RAW Processing app (it’s free).
- Convert the files using Adobe DNG Converter (also free) into DNG format.
- The NEF stands for Nikon Electronic File. Nikon has also used the .nrw extension, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever run into those.