For most photographers, the photographic workflow begins and ends with Lightroom. Capture One Pro, developed by medium format camera manufacturer Phase One, has lived for years in the shadows of Adobe’s 800-pound gorilla, attracting customers through word of mouth and through the passionate evangelism of its users.
Capture One Pro was built around a raw processing engine that Phase One evolved for its high-end camera systems, with a framework of tools and customizations that—while baffling to many Lightroom converts—provide a professional workflow much more customizable and much deeper than Adobe’s.
The newest version, Capture One Pro 10, adds a number of new tools and features to a program that’s spent the better part of a decade slowly maturing. The result is a comprehensive suite of tools that are designed to save time while maximizing image quality.
Heart Of RAW
I first saw Capture One Pro around 2004 (although it might still have been called LightPhase Capture at the time) as part of a demonstration of the company’s then-current crop of cameras. Company representatives boasted about its raw processing capabilities, and while it was appealing, it arrived right as Apple launched its ill-fated workflow tool, Aperture. Not only did Aperture do what Capture One Pro could do, but also it could do a good deal more at the time, and it did it with an interface that was more familiar to Mac users. For a number of years, I ran a group that taught Aperture, and it always felt like the two companies were cribbing from each other.
Apple took great pride in its raw conversion process, analyzing each new camera model’s sensor in order to give Aperture RAW compatibility. Many of those I knew at the time felt that Capture One Pro provided a slightly superior conversion, but again, with a smaller feature set.
All three programs were unique in that they were nondestructive, something that seems commonplace now but was pretty revolutionary to photographers accustomed to adjusting files in Photoshop and then wishing they could go back a few iterations to undo a change.
Capture One Pro and Aperture both crammed a huge array of features into a user interface that at times could be daunting, while Adobe took great pains to make Lightroom visually clean, with lots of empty space to frame the workflow.
Adobe decided to make Lightroom a modal program, which means that users need to switch between modes like “Library” and “Develop” in order to complete related tasks. You’re not able, for example, to organize your file structure while you’re in the middle of adjusting an image’s saturation.
When Apple pulled the plug on Aperture, it gave Phase One the ability to strengthen the tool without worrying about challenges from two competitors. With such a distinctly different look than Lightroom, Capture One Pro appeals to a different photographer—or at least appeals to a photographer who feels they need more out of their tool than other solutions offer.
The core benefits of working with Capture One Pro then center around image quality and image organization. Capture One Pro still boasts about having the best raw conversion around—something that’s hard to definitively quantify, yet something that Capture One Pro users attest to—and a user interface that’s nearly infinitely customizable.
It’s this latter strength that tends to result in the most converts, yet one that still takes some getting used to.
Don’t Cut The Cord
For studio shooters, there’s another powerful reason to shoot with Capture One Pro, and that’s the robust tethering tools. Capture One Pro provides more control over a tethered shooting environment than any other tool, with complete control over camera settings for many different brands of cameras. The program uses “sessions” (think of them as a mini-catalog for capturing a single client’s shoot) to arrange and edit tethered images on the fly.
There’s also a complementary iPad application called Capture Pilot that can be used by a client or studio assistant to browse, tag or rate any image coming from the tethered camera, and even allows photographers to trigger the camera via the app.
The tethered experience in Capture One Pro is enough to justify its purchase for a busy studio photographer looking to boost efficiency of their commercial shoots.
User Experience For Experienced Users
Because many people are new to Capture One Pro 10 (I’ll call it COP 10, for short, occasionally going forward), a review of the new features would be incomplete without a mention of the program’s customizable core.
Like many photo management tools, the program is broken into sections, with a browser, a viewer and a sidebar full of tools. Unlike most programs, these sections can be completely customized. Tool tabs such as “Library,” “Capture,” “Metadata” and “Process” can be added or removed from the sidebar, and any tool can be added to any tab. You could, for example, add a Levels tool to your Metadata tab for last-minute adjustment. Tabs can be pulled off to turn into “flying” windows that hover above the workspace.
Almost anything you do in your workspace can be changed. You can change the colors of the background elements, change the position and size of the browser and viewer, and much more.
It’s also possible to save workspaces, just as you can in programs like Photoshop and Final Cut Pro X, allowing users to jump quickly between different layouts for different tasks. Phase One has taken this approach of presets to the nth degree, with almost every facet of work able to be saved as a preset.
You can create presets for different typical outputs (web, print, specific client needs), presets for adjustments (black-and-white, high contrast, etc.) and presets for metadata (copyright information, title, job description). In the case of metadata, you even can stack up presets, applying first your general info to all images, then information on a model, then the keywords required by a stock agency.
Almost any correction or adjustment can be “brushed” onto an image, with multiple adjustment layers working together. Paint a slight bit of sharpness onto a subject’s eyelashes, then select the colors in a model’s face and brush a slight change in saturation to only a selected range of colors without worrying that you’ll over-saturate the irises.
Even though there are different tabs for different stages of work, there’s no modality at play in COP 10. It’s possible to adjust images, then drag them to a folder, then retouch them, then export the folder all within the same session without having to switch between modes. This reduces the time spent watching the cursor spin while switching from one mode to another.
This flexibility, though, is the biggest hurdle for new users—at first, it’s difficult to figure out which menu controls what setting. Phase One has done a good job at introducing users to the program via a string of live webinars, which can be found on its YouTube channel, but we’ve assembled some of our favorite webinars, as well as a walkthrough we did with Phase One’s David Grover at on our YouTube channel. It took me about two to three webinars and some occasional Googling to become proficient in the program.
Upgrading To 10
The most recent version of Capture One Pro adds to the company’s work on speeding up the workflow, with more efficient code for both Mac and Windows users, and streamlined features.
Capture One Pro 10 adds a significantly improved sharpening tool, with control over diffraction and halos (that can be combined with lens-based profiles for correction of common lens issues per lens) and a new output-sharpening tool that works independently of image sharpening. Combined with the new output soft proofing, it’s possible to simulate on-screen the effects of JPEG and print sharpening before submitting files to a client.
The company has revamped the color tools and the RAW engine’s handling of color for more precise control, as well as improved support for sRAW and mRAW files. It’s now possible to use the chromatic aberration and other tools to create a lens profile for individual lenses, and individual lens issues can be automatically corrected with what COP 10 refers to as Lens Color Correction profiles.
The program’s powerful Auto Mask (which creates a mask based on the edges of a brushed adjustment) now works with Fuji X-Trans sensors, mRAW and sRAW files as well.
There are new controls over file organization, such as the merging of catalogs and the rearranging of flies right from inside the program.
Tethered shooters have a new camera focus tool, which allows, as the name suggests, for focusing to be performed in the tethering stage, eliminating the need to focus on a camera’s LCD screen or viewfinder.
Finally—and this is a game changer—the program works with the full line of “input panels” from Tangent. Designed for video editing, these panels provide programmable buttons, dials and knobs that can replace a keyboard and can supercharge a user’s workflow. (See the “On A Tangent” sidebar for more.)
There are key features that aren’t available in Capture One Pro that will be a nonstarter for some Lightroom-based photographers. Primarily, the program’s lack of book and web modules means that photographers using Lightroom as a creative design tool will need to use a book output company’s software (or web interface) and that those looking to design a website with Lightroom won’t find the tools available in Capture One Pro.
While you’ll find reasonably powerful spot and healing tools, they are by no means as powerful (by the company’s own admission) as Photoshop’s Healing brush or the Content Aware Fill, so photographers using COP 10 shouldn’t ditch their subscriptions to Creative Cloud.
Finally, there isn’t a plug-in system for Capture One Pro. Many of today’s most popular plug-ins install as either a Lightroom or Photoshop plug-in, but with Capture One Pro you’ll need to install the Photoshop plug-in and edit in that application, or install a stand-alone version of an editing tool, and use the Edit or Open commands in COP to move files to those workflows and round trip back to Capture One.
In all, the Capture One Pro 10 upgrade provides a refinement to a tool that’s seen tremendous growth in the last few versions. Users of Capture One Pro 8 or Capture One Pro 9 can upgrade for $99, while a “three-seat” license for the full Capture One Pro 10 is $299. Sony shooters can take advantage of a relationship between Capture One and Sony to purchase a scaled-back version of the program called Capture One 10 (for Sony) for only $50. Trial versions of the program are available at CaptureOne.com, and it’s well worth the look.
On A Tangent
The UK company Tangent produces a line of elegant controllers aimed primarily at video editors, but thanks to a cooperation between Tangent and Phase One, these panels seamlessly integrate with Capture One Pro 10.
The main editing tools are Ripple (with three trackballs and dials), the Wave (with integrated trackballs and dials) and the flexible, modular Element. The Element is really four different products that can work together as a single larger control surface.
The Element Tk is a triple trackball layout with a few control buttons, which is useful primarily to photographers using Capture One’s color-correction tools. The Element Mf is a single trackball with an array of push buttons.
The Kb and Bt are an array of buttons and of dials, respectively, and they’re by far the most useful for an editing environment. Each Tangent control is mapped by default to a control in Capture One Pro, but the Tangent mapping software allows any control to be quickly swapped. It’s possible to create banks of controls on the same surface, so use the keyboard model to select images in a first pass, then use them for copying and pasting adjustments once selections are made.
Setting up the panels is a matter of plugging them into USB ports. Supplied magnetic pegs hold the models tightly against each other. In a single session, I configured the Bt to control every main adjustment tool (turn a dial to increase exposure, turn another to decrease the color temperature, etc.) and the buttons to help me rate images, toggle exposure and focus warnings, and send the images to Photoshop. Any menu item can be assigned to a control on the Tangent.
Combining the Tangent surfaces and a Wacom drawing tablet, I’ve eliminated the need to use a keyboard and have increased productivity exponentially as a result.
The smaller Element Kb and Bt are around $900, while the Element Tk is around $1,200—although it’s the less useful of the controllers for those not delving deep into color editing. The investment, though, is quickly recouped thanks to improved workflow and reduced time spent pecking at a traditional keyboard and selecting menu items.
All of the panels can be found at tangentwave.co.uk