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Software Reviews

Capture One Pro 6 review

Martin Turner (Martin Turner)

Keywords: phase_one, software, capture_one

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.


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:


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:


  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:


, 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. 

That instantaneousness is important because when, say, you want to know if this picture is any good:That instantaneousness is important because when, say, you want to know if this picture is any good:

PJ3_5520 2

then you want to see it with the colours fixed straight away. In this case the fix isn't quite right — the lights had been turned even further down by this point. But it's enough to check by. Of course, to check, you want to see it at 200%, right? No problem. If you're running two monitors, you'll quite often have one turned up that high by default. But, if not, the resizing is instant. Really instant, with no waiting around. It's the instantaneousness of looking at a print with a loupe, like we used to in the old days. On the other hand, if you think it might be rescuable, you can go to the Details mode, which shows a loupe style close up. In this mode you can sort out the noise (lots at ISO 6400 in what has now become candlelight white balance), sort out the sharpening, and generally decide if the image is salvageable or not.

It isn't — not for anything other than a website. All this takes — well, virtually no time at all.

captureone 6


I can't stress the importance of the instantaneousness of this enough: when you're looking through 300 images, you will only really look at them all properly if it takes almost no time to do so — not if you're working against the clock. Otherwise, you basically take a guess, and hope it's the right one. Get it wrong, and you've spent five minutes on the wrong image. Oops!

Now, let's imagine that you've got a whole collection of shots picked out, and you're ready to email them. That's great — go to the oddly named 'Process Recipes' pane, which (need I say it?) quickly and easily lets you set up how you want to output, and then retain it so that you can output to a variety of sizes and formats in one go.



By the way, the main screen shows you the dimensions by default once you pick one of your 'recipes'. But wait — it's at this moment that someone switches the light on in the darkened room where you've been burning the midnight oil. You remember suddenly that you calibrated your monitor with that light turned on — and now all your pictures looked washed out, or greenish, or something. In Capture One, you don't have to go back to the colour correction pane. At the top of your screen, always there, are the tools you most often want, including your favourite white balance tool. You can apply this directly while in the Output pane.


What if these actually aren't your favourites? No problem, since that menu and almost every other one is fully customisable.

You fix the white balance, and press the 'Process' button. Within a few seconds (and it tells you how many), your images are ready, saved to disk. Easy. But, more important, quick.

Let's go back now for a second and look at the refinements. Here's one I really love:


The levels pane

This is the levels pane. Have you ever seen one before withsloping bars? With this one, you can interactively drag the top or the bottom to set the input and output levels differently. This is by far the best implementation I've ever seen of levels, and, yes, you guessed it, the response is instantaneous. That's fairly characteristic of most of the application: the features which are present are usually much more refined than in other applications, and much, much faster.

I'm not going to go through all of the features of Capture One — you can look at them on the Capture One website if you want. Most of them also exist in other packages, though the 'Keystoning' is something which you don't see on Raw developers, and is highly useful.

Here's an example of an image shot with a lot of 'keystoning' — incidentally showcasing the way Capture One is optimised to run on one or two screens, and also supports previewing with one or more iPhones and one or more iPads at the same time:

Capture One 0003 2

Example of a setup

As you can see this image has been shot with a wide-angle, and is strongly angulated.

Now here's the 'keystoned' version:

Capture One 0003 1

"Keystoned" version

You lose a bit from the edges, but it gives a very smooth way of sorting out verticals.

If you're buying on features, the Lightroom has the most, followed by DxO and Nikon Capture, and Capture One has the fewest. Capture One doesn't have very many presets, and it has no built in support for specific Nikon lenses (though you can set up your lens/camera combination semi-automatically, and also sort out the barrel/pincushion distortion without difficulty). By contrast, Lightroom supports most of my lenses with a specialist profile out of the box, and DxO even supports the combination D3 + 85mm 1.8, which is something I really wasn't expecting.

All that is by the bye, though, if the software you have won't deliver the result you need in the time you have to do it. I originally did the post-processing for the diplomatic reception on Lightroom, and it took me about two hours to get a set of email resolution shots to send to the organiser. It would have taken a lot longer to output shots even for the resolution for sending to a newspaper. By way of comparison, I also ran one of the shots on DxO. Now, DxO has a fundamentally different purpose — it's trying to wring the absolute maximum quality out of every image. But, like Lightroom and Capture One, DxO was not able to correctly set the white balance automatically. Setting it manually took a couple of minutes. Once set, DxO will happily process an entire folder of images in batch mode but, crucially, to process just one image for a 12 MP sized JPEG took 9 minutes 24 seconds. For forty images, that's more than six hours. When I tried the job in Capture One, it was averaging from start to finish — after I'd set the original image — about one minute. So here's the table: 40 images, processed and ready to go:

Capture One — 40 minutes

Lightroom — 2 hours (but at a much lower output resolution — higher would have taken considerably longer)

DxO — 6 hours (estimated by multiplying up from one image)

That's just one test, and if the makers of Lightroom and DxO would like to show me how to speed things up, I'd be happy to learn. However, even if the length of time working were less different, Capture One feels so much more responsive. I feel completely in control of the images — able to zoom right in, right out again, try a different setting, go back to the previous one, clone an image and keep working on the clones, export it to Photoshop to play with, anything I like without having to sit back and wait for the computer to do its work.

What I also like about it is that all of the tools are available all of the time, no matter what mode I'm working in. Lightroom and DxO make you work in one mode or the other.

So where do I come down with this?

I really didn't like the lack of support for Nikon. The absence of specific lens profiles I can live with — it's very quick to set up your own lenses, and the result is better than any factory out-of-the-box profile, because it is based on the optics of your actual lens and camera. I'm less happy about the lack of support for Live View when shooting tethered. You can get Live View via your iPhone when using OnOne's DSLRemote, so there's no real problem with it. With Capture One, you can't even set the aperture or trigger the auto focus. These features are available for Phase Ones and Leafs, just not Nikons. On the other hand, it does let you set everything on the camera without arguing about it, and the results are incredibly fast, and very nice. Here's one, a marketing image for a book:


marketing image for a book

I'm not so bothered about some of the other 'missing' features, such as upload to Facebook. Likewise, I'm not troubled by the fact that this (like DxO, but unlike Aperture and Lightroom) doesn't have any Digital Assets Management functions. It doesn't do a database. For that, Phase One recommends Microsoft Expressions, which used to be iView, and it has specific Expressions integration features. I used to use iView all the time, partly because it was a lot quicker than Lightroom. It was only the fact that I could install Lightroom onto every machine in my office for a fraction of the cost of iView + Photoshop that I moved my team onto Lightroom.

All that notwithstanding, I probably will now increasingly abandon Lightroom for pro work, though I might well hang onto it for databasing and for hobby photography. When faced with a deadline, I am vastly more comfortable working with something like Capture One, which reminds me a lot of QuarkXpress and the venerable Ventura Publisher — very selective when it comes to what features are included, but very strong on speed and reliability. Also, the features are generally better implemented than anything I've seen before. With Capture One I feel directly connected to the media. And that's more important than any number of bells and whistles.


After I wrote the initial draft of this review, I went to talk to one of the Capture One programmers, who set me straight on a couple of things. I have to say I've never met anyone as passionately engaged with the software they've written. He showed me no end of additional, undocumented features and tricks: "you can't include everything in the manual", he said. He was particularly keen on the local adjustments, which is a layers based (yes, that's right, layers!) local adjustment which not only covers exposure and sharpening, but also skin uniformity and local moire. You can also do local adjustment to specific bands of colour — something going even beyond Nikon Capture NX's interface in terms of usefulness, and very substantially beyond Lightroom.

Test Machine:
MacBook Pro dual core 2.6 Ghz with 4GB Ram running OS X Snow Leopard with extension Apple Cinema Display.

 UPDATE by Hendric 04.29.2011

With release of Capture 6.2 the set of controls for tethered capture has been increased. Here is a list:

  • Tethered support for Nikon D-7000
  • Support for Nikon D5100 (preliminary)

Capture One now supports the following Nikon camera controls:

Camera / Capture Control



raw, raw+jpeg, …

ISO sensitivity


White balance mode


Set custom white balance


Exposure mode


Shutter speed




Exposure compensation


EV step


Camera orientation mode


Sensor+ mode


SensorFlex mode


Aspect ratio / Image area


Shutter latency mode


Safe mirror-up mode


Power mode




Got a Phase One question?

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Post a Phase One Question


(1 Vote )

Originally written on March 15, 2011

Last updated on January 24, 2021

Martin Turner Martin Turner (Martin Turner)

Expert professional PJ & PR photographer Ribbon awarded for his valuable contributions to the Articles section and the Wiki

Zaventem, Belgium
Moderator, 4986 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.