Capture One Pro 7 - a review

June 29, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I shoot RAW. That means that all photos coming out of my camera aren't finished products. They are just the core ingedients of a sometimes long path toward a final product.

Of course there exist numerous ways to convert RAW files to final products, but not every way is fast enough, or creative enough. And I don't have time to wait or click around - I need specialized software to do what I want, and fast. In the last few years I've used Bibble 5 and Aftershot Pro for this, but since that bit of software unfortunately seems to be dead now, I've been taking the time to look at alternatives.

And that will be tricky.. since I've grown quite used to my way of doing things. Will there be programs that can do what I want fast enough? For that, let's first briefly look into:

My WorkflowTM

For me: a good Workflow is Everything! After a photoshoot I usually end up with loads of images. All of these need to be backed up, graded, selected, sorted, processed and maybe even modified. Preferably fast, faster and fastest! Why? Two reasons. One: if you're in the zone, happily adjusting images here and there, you don't want to wait for software to keep up with your intentions. Two: time is money, so why waste it?

So, if this process cannot be optimized to my liking, any program - no matter how good - is quickly out of the picture.

My workflow typically consists of the following steps:

Grading images: on the left you see the filter menu of Capture One.

 

  • First, shoot! I'll forego that this is actually not the first step by far, but it'll do for this post.
  • Back up. Get the card out of the camera, put it into a card reader, and use explorer to copy everything to a "[DATE] [Shoot name]" folder on the RAID array. There, backup completed.
  • Load. I then start the raw editor, point it to the new folder and let it load. 
  • Grade. I walk at a reasonably fast pace though all photos -- 1 or 2 photos per second -- and press the number buttons to grade them, either in a single pass or in multiple passes. Everything that fails a pass will get filtered out for the next pass, so I end up with a ever smaller subset of good images.
  • Basic adjustments: I then go for a pass of adjusting crops and rotation, if and where needed.
  • And then, and only then I go for more advanced image adjustments. Batch-wise if possible, but not necessarily so. This is the fun part! I shape the pictures to whatever I had in mind while shooting, and see if it works out!
  • Process: I let the software generate a few different JPG versions of the images.
  • Upload: finally, I upload the adjusted selection to Zenfolio, and send the link off to the client.

My previous raw editor, Aftershot pro, usually delivered nicely in this regard so I was hesitant to try any other program which might interfere with that. I'm happy I did however! Capture One seems to allow me to work faster than I was used to. Good!

This review will not be going into the global details of how Capture One performs with respect to micro management of noisy pixels (in short: it's better), or into how it's catalog system works in comparison with Lightroom (don't use them, didn't like Lightroom) or into the fact that it does not have features like export-to-flickr, or all other things in which you can do stuff I don't do anyway (yet.. but that tethered shooting thingy seems to be very cool in the studio. I think I want to go for a trial setup in a few weeks to experiment with shooting-straight-to-the-NAS)

The Good

  • Fast image browsing during selections. I like being able to rapidly move from one image to the next, and then maybe back again. Judging images in a split second and then rating them.
  • Related to that: customizable hotkeys for everything! I find this to be a must, and Capture One has decent support for this: quickly being able to rate images, and maybe color tag some specifically.
  • Filters: nice! Capture One allows me to rapidly sub-select all previously rated images, or images that have a specific color tag, so I can do more detailed selection with the resulting set.
  • Output methods: nice! I've set up a nice set of batches within Capture One which I seem to require often: create a JPG with sRGB profile @ 90% quality, full resolution. Create a JPG @ max 1024x1024 pixel resolution with my logo in the corner, and create an even-smaller preview version.

The Bad

  • After rating, judging and manipulating I usually end up throwing away the photos I don't like. Capture One does support this but for some reason deleting is a very slow operation. I will have to look into this.
    Update: ah, stuff actually got moved to an alternative drive. That will slow stuff down. Luckily, it's quite easy to select another place for the Trash folder.

Overall using Capture One feels faster than I was used to, good. Next up:

 

Image Manipulation

Okay, so it fits in my workflow. Good. Second part: does it produce nice pictures?

Short answer, or otherwise I wouldn't be typing this: yes.

The Good

  • Fast image manipulation stands or falls with the speed in which you can reach the tools you need. And here Capture One shines: all individual tools can be moved, and the UI is nicely adaptable! Not happy with the default layout of the toolbars? Move them! Need a new toolbar (on a secondary monitor), no problems. I like that!
  • Powerful highlight and shadow recovery tools! On max settings this yields a HDR-like image, not my personal favorite kind of photography, but in limited amounts this tool shines.
  • Clarity: nice! The version delivered with version 7 allows for both local contrast improvements and subtly changing the local saturization of colors. A nice effect, but also one I do not want to overuse.
  • The color editor. It takes some getting use to, but it is actually an incredibly powerful tool for subtle or not-so-subtle manipulation of images.
  • Adjustment layers: I'm already used to using these (a lot) within Aftershot, and here they're easier to work with. Also: painting adjustment layers with pen-pressure tablet support, yay!
  • I like the ease in which lens distortion is just.. fixed. Nice! Also the ability to do quick perspective corrections is well thought out.

The Bad

  • Painting in adjustment masks could be more fluent. The interface sometimes lags behind when drawing, and that hinders this process a bit. However, coming from Aftershot Pro where this issue was way more noticeable, I think I can live with that.
  • Not all tools can be used in adjustment layers, which is a pity. I'd love to be able to also use selective color balancing or selective white balancing on a layer.
  • The black and white filter has a nice option for creating a duotone effect on duotoning photos, but I'm not happy with that yet. I like to mix this in with the original (color) photo, or change the mid-point of the effect. That's currently not possible.
  • No plugin support. One of the nicest features of Aftershot pro was its extendability using a very powerful non-destructive plugin format I have yet to see in any other RAW editor - although Darktable has similar capabilities it is not yet mature enough to be considered. The power I got from Aftershot pro usually came from combining these plugins for much more advanced sharpening and color effects. With C1 I haven't yet been able to replicate these.

Conclusion of all this? So far I like it, and I'm going to use it for a while longer. Capture One wasn't the only contender, I also took a thorough look at Darktable (not yet finished), DxO (too slow for me), Photo Ninja (creates nice results, but didn't work out as a total solution) and Lightroom (I still don't like the way this enforces you to their workflow). I'll keep monitoring if Aftershot ever gets a revival, but for now, I'm quite happy with Capture One.

Oh and to make this post seem less text-only I've added a couple of post processing examples below!

 

A few processing examples

I'll not be going into details on how this works in comparison with all other image editors out there. Here's just a few things I particularly liked while editing.

Example 1 - desaturization by mask

An example from a recent shoot with Simone. To highlight the out-of-placeness of the model I chose to desaturate the background. In this first example I've done this using a drawn layer mask.

 

 

In this example I did not draw a mask to change colors, but selected the "green" part of the images, and desaturated and darkened this. Much easier, and I like the effect it has on the trees.

 

Here's a cropped image from a different shoot which I happened to edit both with Aftershot pro and Capture One. I've created the individual results without referring to the other image, so there will be differences in tone and contrast. The photo processed in Capture one does however feel sharper, with individual bits of flour better visible and more pronounced.

Okay, one bit of pixel peeping - here's a 100% crop of a picture from another shoot. The left image was taken from my original edit using Aftershot. In the right image I've tried recreating that effect. Just compare the sharpness and fidelity of both...

 

Questions? Remarks? Feel free to post them here and I'll see if I can provide an answer :)


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Over Ork

Ork de RooijOrk de Rooij

Ork is een fotograaf uit Utrecht. Hij vond zijn passie in fotografie van mensen, zowel tijdens evenementen of juist in de studio. Ork staat bekend om zijn gedreven aanpak, waarbij hij open staat voor innovatieve ideeën die zowel het model als de fotograaf verder brengen in het maken van de perfecte foto.

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