image enhancement

Capture One Pro and other workflows…

One of the subjects that I teach is workflow. I know that I’ve mentioned that before but I thought that I’d remind you of that when I explain why and how I have been learning all about Capture One Pro – the professional RAW conversion, tethered shooting and image enhancement tool from Phase One. I am on version 6.3.5 (the latest available) and this is the first time that I have seen it since version 4 a few years ago.

Principally designed to make the most of Phase One’s own imaging systems, it also works rather well with the whole gamut of professional file formats. I have been using it for quite a few days now and I thought that I’d post some thoughts on here.

Before I get down to my opinions on Capture One Pro I need to say that every piece of software that I’ve used has needed quite a long time to get used to and anyone who does “full reviews” based on a few hours of use is kidding both themselves and their readers. I also need to make it clear that I paid for this software and that I have absolutely no ties to Phase One.

I have now used Aperture, Lightroom, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Canon DPP, Graphics Converter and a few others and Capture One Pro is probably the easiest of the lot to get to like. My knowledge of Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop has been gained over many years and many thousands of edits and it has only taken me a few days to feel almost as comfortable with Capture One. I’m still learning more and the more that I learn the more I like it. That isn’t always true of new software packages – even if you really want to like them…

The workspace that I'm currently using on a 15" MacBook Pro

I like lots of things about the way it works, about the interface and about how good the customer support and instruction manual are. Every time I think that I’ve found a flaw in the feature set of this software I search the knowledge bank or put a note on Twitter and there it is – the answer that tells me that everything I wanted was there all along. That is great but there seems to be one feature from Adobe Camera RAW that I use all of the time that isn’t there with Capture One Pro – good and accurate profiles of all of my Canon lenses ready to apply corrections.

My first impressions of the user interface centred around my inability to find the tools that I actually wanted. I knew that most were there because the literature told me they were and a very brief exchange on Twitter with the workflow genius that is Nick Wilcox-Brown let me know how to find them and add them to my custom user interface or “workspace” as the application calls it. Better still, you can create a range of custom workspaces and save them alongside the suggested ones for dual monitors, simple workflow, black & white or even a replica of the previous version (5) of the software. Being able to customise the workspace is not unique to this application but I believe that they have implemented it really well.

All of the adjustments and all of the options have easily controlled and finely adjustable controls (mostly sliders) and I found myself easing very quickly into the Phase One way of doing things.

Time for a short list of likes:

  • Customisable user interface
  • Easy to learn how to use
  • Extraordinary range of functions
  • Tethered shooting
  • Fantastic image quality
  • Value for money
  • Web contact sheets
  • Output of files to specific sizes

… and dislikes

  • Cannot find profiles for my Canon lenses
  • The sessions menus
  • Applying adjustment “recipes” seems hit and miss
  • The way that it handles IPTC metadata (I know that the sister app Media Pro does that better)
  • Speed of processing batches of files
  • Not recognising the simple tags that I can apply in camera or by using the ‘tag’ function in Photo Mechanic

That is a short list of dislikes and you have to actually use it to decide if you agree about the sessions menus – the way that Capture One likes to create a virtual time bubble for each job in much the same way that Aperture does by default. I may be doing something wrong when I’m trying to create, save and apply “recipes” which are a great idea (again shared with Aperture and others) that allow you to copy all of the adjustments that you have applied to one image to one or more others as well as keeping that set of adjustments for future use/adaptation. Sometimes the recipes worked and other times they didn’t.

My background is in news and editorial photography and IPTC metadata is a fundamental requirement for me and it forms a big part of my own workflow and the personal workflows of people that I work with when I’m doing coaching. Capture One Pro handles IPTC and is compliant with all of the IPTC fundamentals – it just doesn’t do it very well. The same can be said for quite a few image processing applications and I still love good old Photo Mechanic for the speed, accuracy and flexible way that it handles everything except RAW conversions and long term storage.

My final dislike is the speed when processing batches of files. On a two year old Apple MacBook Pro with an i5 2.4Ghz processor, 8GB or RAM it takes 50-60% longer to process a batch of 36 CR2 images from a Canon EOS5D MkII than Adobe Camera RAW inside Photoshop CS5 does. Individual files are shot through in almost the same time but batches are slower. I tried very hard to be scientific when comparing like with like but I am prepared to be proved wrong on this.

This isn’t really a full review – just some thoughts on an application that I am sure to have to teach very soon. Several people have already asked what advantages Capture One would give them over Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop and, to be honest, I couldn’t really name any. If you already use and are happy with either Adobe product for processing RAW files then it doesn’t really make sense to spend more money and get Capture One Pro. BUT (and it is a but worthy of being in upper case) if you are looking at designing a new workflow for news and editorial work from the ground up and you don’t already have licenses for anything else I would strongly recommend getting Capture One Pro and using it in tandem with Photo Mechanic. Between the two you have a solid, reliable and well priced set of options that will, without doubt, deliver the goods. That would leave you in need of an archiving option and for that Phase One’s Media Pro might be a good solution. There are those who’d argue that between the two Phase One applications you have everything you’d need and they would be right but there is no getting away from the fact that Photo Mechanic does what it does so well that it is worth the money and then some. The same goes for Capture One Pro too.