Significant upgrade extends lead, but older machines will struggle
Capture One Pro version 7 is a significant advance on version 6, especially for Nikon users who now have access to Live View while tethering. Under the hood is an improved rendering engine which offers improved noise reduction and better colour rendering, especially in difficult images. Gradient masks are now supported in layers, and there are now profiles for popular pro Nikon camera/lens combinations. Capture One takes a leaf from Media Pro from the same stable, and now offers substantially enhanced cataloguing features. However, all this comes at an expense in disk, memory and processor requirements, and an up to date computer will be required to make the most of the new release.
Capture One is carefully structured to allow you to configure it for your own preferred workflow. Fundamentally, though, it's organised into a set of panes, each one pre-configured. You can change the content of the panes to suit your own way of working.
A couple of years ago Phase One bought Digital Assets Management system Media Pro. There was some decent integration between it and Capture One, but version seven goes a stage further and brings the catalogue features of Media Pro inside the Capture software. If you are used to Media Pro, then the Capture One implementation of it will be very intuitive.
In some ways this is the single biggest advance in the new version, and in other ways it isn't an advance at all. It's an advance because Capture One was previously very weak in the area of digital assets management, choosing to focus solely on raw developing. Faced with the growing challenge from, among others, Adobe Lightroom, Phase One's acquisition of Media Pro was a smart move — we had done a head to head shoot out of six digital assets management systems a few years before, and Media Pro was the clear winner. From my point of view, the combination of Phase One's rejig of Media Pro and Capture One Pro 6 made for the best possible combination of a lightning fast digital assets management system and an intuitive raw developer that was tailored to professional use.
Bringing the Media Pro features into Capture One means that you can save some cash by not acquiring both systems, and it also means that you can quickly catalogue a shoot and then work on it in Capture One without moving from application to application.
On an older machine (2008 Mac Book Pro) we were able to run Media Pro without any issues of lag at all. On the same machine, we found that a large catalogue of over 50,000 images did not convert properly (after two hours trying). Using small catalogues on a 2013 Mac Book Pro we found that the digital assets management features in Capture One Pro 7 zipped along without difficulty.
Whether you use the new cataloguing features is up to you — Capture One has a Session mode and a Catalogue mode, and you can happily stick with the older Session mode if you prefer. If you want the cataloguing, though, then you can use Capture One in this way, and you have all the functionality of Media Pro without having to buy additional software.
If you're moving across from Lightroom, this may be a deal clincher — Lightroom's principal advantage of Capture One was that it did all of the databasing functions as well as raw development. Now Capture One does it too.
Capture Pane: Tethering
Capture Pro 6 supported tethering on Nikon and Canon cameras, but it only supported Live View on medium format backs. I discussed this with the Capture One team at the time, and they promised to look into it. The new version now fully supports Live View on the D3 and other bodies. For some applications this is a nice-to-have, but for team-based professional work it substantially lifts the offering. This is because, as well as enabling you to see on screen what you're shooting, Capture One supports Capture Pilot on iPads and iPhones meaning that everyone on your team can see what you're doing and view the images as they come up.
Compared to everyone trying to squidge behind the camera and give their comments on the composition and lighting, tethering is a big improvement. Capture One Pilot takes this a stage further so that the art director can get an immediate update, and the client (if present) can be shown what's going on.
If you're shooting with lights, Live View is not such an advantage as you might think, because modelling lights never really reveal what the lights are going to look like — this may be one reason why it was missed out in version 6. However, the combination of Live View and Capture Pilot gives you almost total previewing and control.
If you want to take absolutely full control, there's also a plugin for Capture One for controlling Profoto lights. As with the computer hardware that Capture One requires, you need the latest Profoto lights with AirSync. Unfortunately for this review, my Profotos are a generation too old, so I wasn't able to test that particular feature.
While tethering you have complete control over program, shutter speed, aperture and so on, and you can pre-apply settings such as white balance so that — after sorting out the exposure and colour temperature on a test image — you can have ever image come straight into the computer ready prepped. This may sound like a specialist refinement, but once you get used to picking the white balance with the colour picker on screen, it makes for a very quick workflow.
Colour Balance and rendering
Compared to version 6, there is just one change to the colour balance panes, but it's a very significant one.
As a default, all images previously processed in Capture One 6 continue to be processed in the same way. If you click on the Upgrade button, though, you move to the Capture One 7 engine.
Version 6 Engine
Version 7 Engine
The difference is subtle, but significant. Difficult colours such as purples render much closer to the original intent, and there is better shadow detail and colour integrity in the shadow areas. In the examples here, note the bluish colour cast on the arm in the version 6 render which has been entirely defeated in version 7. Note also the better luminosity on the dresses, ad the improved colour on the flowers in shadow.
Images which were fine in version 6 will be fine in version 7, but those tricky images will be enough improved to make a significant difference. This may well be worth the price of the upgrade in itself. The old engine was widely considered to offer the best rendering of any competing product (I'm not looking for a flame war here!), and this improvement may in itself be enough to persuade you to jump from your current system to Capture One.
In the Exposure pane, the Highlight and Shadow controls for High Dynamic Range have been souped up, meaning that Capture One can now take you into the unreal territory of HDR-look images, if that's where you want to go. Because it's working from 14 or 16 bit RAW files there is generally enough play here to do almost anything you want. However, you may be better off using layers with gradient masks, as the HDR controls affect the entire image. Additionally, there are now clarity and vignetting controls available.
Lens Correction Pane
The lens correction pane now offers specific lens profiles. There are only 19 in the Nikon stable right now, but they include most of the lenses I own, including the 85 f1.8 (as well as the f1.4) which DxO has stubbornly refused to acknowledge.
If the HDR controls are not enough for you, you can create an LCC profile from the image and then partially enable it. This is quite a useful trick as it gives enormous amounts of contrast control. One of the programmers demonstrated this to me with version 6, and I've used it a few times since. The improved HDR controls and the gradient masks make this largely redundant, but it's a good feature.
If you have a lens with movements, then you can control this in the movements section.
The crop pane enables you to crop outside the image — useful if your distortion controls or rotations have left you with bits of image on the edge which you still want for some reason. The keystone controls are notable, because they are extremely easy to use, requiring you to click in just four places. Because everything works non-destructively from Raw, and Capture One allows you to work on variations, you can play with this to your heart's content.
Something which you won't find in many other packages is the overlay function, which simply allows you to have an image — for example a page layout, or the specifications for an ID photo — appearing over your image. You can do this while capturing as well, making it easy to shoot exactly what the art director wanted.
The details pane includes controls for sharpening, noise reduction, moire and spot removal. The spot removal has always been good in Capture One because you can simply copy its settings to another image, useful for dealing with that bit of lens fluff or sensor dust that you didn't spot before you started shooting 300 images.
Noise Reduction in version 7 is much improved over version 6. You may want to try this for yourself, since how much and what kind of noise you get depends a lot on your camera. Shooting with a D3, the new version clears up the very few images I had that version 6 couldn't clear up. If you have something newer than the D3, it's quite possible you won't be troubled even to that extent. Older cameras, of course, need more cleaning up.
A nice feature of Capture One is the Focus preview, which enables you to see in detail and instantly the effect of your changes at 100% on a critical part of the image. I used this a lot when working with the older Mac where low memory and a shortage of available disk space sometimes reduced version 7 to a crawl.
After Media Pro came out, I abandoned Lightroom altogether, because the combination of Media Pro for catalogues and Capture One for Raw was better for my use. However, a big frustration was losing the ability to apply gradient masks which Lightroom supported but Capture One didn't. You could use the paintbrush tool to paint in a kind of gradient, and that's what I often did, but it was tedious when there was consistent light fall off. Phase One has risen to the challenge, and you are now able to have as many layers as you want with different kinds of masks, including gradients. These only control exposure, colour, sharpening, moire and clarity, so you can't selectively apply a different colour temperature (which would have been very useful for multi-temperature images) or HDR.
In daily use, gradient masks are the biggest benefit for me, meaning that there is no longer a requirement to go into Photoshop at all unless I'm doing my own graphic design work.
Who is Capture One for, and what does it do for you?
Phase One would argue that Capture One produces the very best renderings of your Raw files. Adobe, Apple of DxO might disagree and say that their's are the best. Ultimately, the quality that your images appear at has more to do with the time you have to work on them than the brand of software you are using. Capture One excels at workflow. You can move adjustment elements to whichever pane you like, and easily switch from tool to tool with keyboard shortcuts. With version 6 I found that Capture One responded noticeably quicker on the computer I had than Lightroom did, especially when you have a big catalogue of images. Version 7 is slower and more demanding on an old machine. If you have a new machine then pretty much any software is going to zip along.
Where Capture One has leapt ahead, though, is in team photography. If you have someone on lighting, someone on art direction and someone commissioning the shot, then there are a lot of people who need access to the images as they come out in order to do their jobs properly. With wifi and Capture Pilot, anyone on your team with an iPhone or iPad can see what's going on, and if you've paid for the upgraded version of the software you can actually control the shooting from your iPhone.
Digital photography has already taken most of the guess work out of the photo shoot, but Capture One/Capture Pilot takes it to its final conclusion. The make-up artist can now know exactly how their work is appearing on camera, the photo assistant can see immediately whether the shot is in focus or not, the art director can see whether it's going to fit the layout.
This isn't to say that Capture One is only for commercial photographers. It's enjoyable to use, intuitive and powerful, and if you aren't currently bought-in to any particular system, it gives a very creamy, refined experience. In terms of its target market, though, Capture One is fighting hard to be not merely the best choice but the only choice for high-end commercial work.
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