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Software Reviews

Capture One Pro 6 review

Martin Turner (Martin Turner) on March 15, 2011


Keywords: capture, phase, software

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Lightroom for grownups?

Phase One's Capture One Pro software offers the ultimate workflow for Phase One and Leaf cameras, and much of this functionality — but not all — is available for Nikon shooters. It works at blazing speed, has extensive customisation to fit around how you want to work, and has some very refined features not available on competing systems. However, support for Nikon equipment is not as good as it might be — Capture One permits tethered shooting, but not with a live preview, and, although it provides excellent profiles for Zeiss lenses, it does not offer out of the box profiles for Nikon lenses. On the other hand, Phase One has worked hard to give high quality profiles for Nikon pro and semi-pro bodies. By contrast with other software, it allows you to very quickly and easily build your own lens profiles.

What do you want to do?

In the world of Digital Assets Management, Raw Development and Photo Editing, there are basically four kinds of solutions:

  • Lightroom and Aperture try to handle the entire process for you
  • Photoshop does everything but the cataloging
  • Microsoft Expressions and similar products just do the cataloging
  • Capture One, Nikon Capture and DxO just do the middle bit — development or capture of images, but not really cataloging, and not really editing.

There's a bit of overlap, but that's basically it. If you are looking for a single solution then Lightroom or Aperture are probably what you want. But Lightroom is slow — not just with a large catalog (though version 3 does improve things), but with the editing of a single image. Aperture is comparatively short on features, and, in any case, it only runs on a Mac.

Photoshop will do absolutely anything you want done — but it's not optimised to quickly do the same things over and over again, even if you use Actions a lot. And, crucially, it only edits destructively, meaning that you can't turn some editing decisions on and off as you go. Of course, this again has improved a lot, but even with current versions, the decisions you make when you develop the Raw file to begin with are decisions you are stuck with.

If you don't see the point of something like Capture One, then give me a minute to convince you. But if you aren't convinced, don't worry: it isn't designed for everyone.

Time is money

The difference between hobby photography and advanced photography — amateur or professional — is about what you are prepared to put in to get the result you want. But the difference between amateur and professional photography is a bit more bread-and-butter: in professional photography, time is money. Any professional knows how to get the result they need in order to sell to their public — if they didn't, they wouldn't sell anything at all. But the amount of time it takes to get there is the difference between more or less surviving as a photographer, and really making it as a business.

Capture One is firmly aimed at the professional market. Its virtues are all focused around consistently and quickly getting the same professional result, and consistently and quickly sharing that with your clients. On my computer, DxO and Nikon Capture are slow, and Lightroom is sluggish. Capture One is so responsive that its like handling a large photographic print. Its iPad and iPhone applications don't allow you to control capturing an image in the way that OnOne's app does (different company, similar name). Instead, they are designed to help you show your clients the pictures you just captured, swiftly and easily, probably sitting down on a comfortable sofa where the client can rate the images while they drink a latté.


If you're not a pro, and have no desire to be, it's kind of hard to grasp just how important that kind of responsiveness and smooth customer interface is. Capture One has got far fewer features than Lightroom does — no gradient filters (though there is a workaround), little in the way of cataloging, no export to Facebook, and no plugins warehouse where you can get a little bit more of what you fancy. Its web export, though smooth and professional, only offers a few options. Capture One has also got less automatic image optimisation than DxO — much less for Nikon, since it doesn't come with built in Nikon lenses except as 'generics', although you can rapidly set up your own lenses.

And yet, and yet, I'm seriously considering abandoning Lightroom and working exclusively through Capture One in the future, even though that will mean finding another cataloging application and transferring all of my images.

To understand why, let's consider a real life example

The Ambassador's Reception

Here is your situation: you have just got back from an Ambassadorial reception in Westminster, London. You have about three hundred pictures which you worked hard to get — the room was in near darkness, the colour temperature was way below tungsten (it was actually candle lit), and you have about two hours to get a set of images off to the organisers.

There are three things you need to be able to make this happen: first, you need to be able to quickly look at the sharpness of each image and the amount of noise on it. Even shooting at ISO 6400 on a D3 with a f1.8 lens was stretching it — lots of the image are going to be a little soft or a little noisy, or, more likely, both. Which are the ones which are going to work? Second, you need to be able to get the colour correction absolutely right on one image. And, third, you need to be able to very quickly transfer that colour correction to every image in which you're interested.

Your starting image is something like this, which is just a test image you took to get the light right.

PJ3_5507
Your starting image is something like this, which is just a test image. The preset is set to "tungsten".

Yes, that's right: this was with the white balance preset to 'tungsten'. But, hey, there's a bit of white on the badge, and we'll work with that. In Capture One, you load the file up, and then go straight to this little icon:captureone15

This takes you to the Color Balance pane. Unless, of course, you'd rather not — almost everything in Capture One can be customised to work the way you want to. So, as an alternative, you could got to the top of the screen and click this icon:captureone16  From there, just dab on an area of white, and, he presto, the result is this:

PJ3_5507 1
Yes that´s right: This was with the white balance preset to "tungsten"

Mm. That's a bit better. In most circumstances this will be enough. But, if you prefer, holding down the eye-dropper will offer you 'pick shadow', 'pick skin tone', and a number of other options. Every photographic application you use can do white balance, but I've never seen another one with this many options. How about that. Now, if you were careful, when you were shooting all those pictures you set them to preset colour, not 'auto', and you set them to manual exposure. Why? Because if you're thinking workflow, you want to expose everything consistently. Consistent exposure means a consistent workflow will produce consistent results. Taking the colour balance you've just got (we could work on it a bit more if we were fussy), you now just need to upload the settings to the clipboard, with one click of:captureone17, and, on the next image you're interested in, click once on the down arrow captureone 1 sitting next to it, and all your settings are copied. Instantly. And I do mean instantly. 

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Martin Turner Martin Turner (Martin Turner)

Bidford on Avon, United Kingdom
Moderator, 4523 posts

1 comment

David Medina (davidmedina) on March 23, 2011

Great Capture one review, but tour comment about Aperture demonstrate that you don't know nor have used Aperture 3. Aperture 3 has much more features and it is more responsive than Lightroom 3 and Capture One. Aperture 3 local adjustment are superior than both Lightroom as well as Capture One. in Aperture 3 you can about apply locally every adjustment you can do in the program. and you can be selective as far as how you apply it - shadows, mid tones or high lights. Aperture 3 curve is as good as what you find in Photoshop and Capture One. And you can create multiple curves because they can be applied locally by a brush. Plus in Aperture 3 you can design books and work with video. So as you see, to say like you said, that Aperture has less features than Lightroom is totally innacurrate and demonstrate that you don't use it nor have taken the time to tested. Aperture 3 has more feature, more controls and better results as well as more responsive overall than Lightroom even in a 5 years old Mac Pro.

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