Capture One Pro 11

Capture One Pro 11 review

Capture One Pro 11

Verdict: 5 stars ★★★★★

Anyone who thinks all RAW converters are the same should spend a little time with Capture One. Its RAW processing is superb, its local adjustments are powerful and controllable, its cataloguing tools are terrific, and it’s a brilliant studio tethered shooting tool.

Capture One Pro is a combined image cataloguing program, RAW processor and image enhancement program. It’s very similar in its scope and tools to Adobe Lightroom but it’s aimed even more clearly at experts and professionals.

It misses out on a couple of features that Lightroom has, notably cloud storage, mobile app syncing and online browsing and editing tools, but it has more sophisticated editing tools, professional studio tethering capabilities and, in many cases, produces superior results from RAW files. It is more expensive than Lightroom, but can still be bought as a regular ‘perpetual licence’ – though a subscription-based payment system is available too.

Capture One 11
Like Lightroom, Capture One incorporates powerful image cataloguing tools.

How does it work?

Like Lightroom, Capture One uses a catalog system to store, organise and search your images, so there is an Import process right at the start. You have a choice here, however. You can either ‘reference’ your images in their existing locations – useful if you need to store your images on an external drive – or import them directly into the Capture One catalog.

This is an interesting alternative because it lets you keep your working catalog separate from your main image archive, so you can just work on your top images and delete rejects as you go along, knowing that the originals are kept safe elsewhere. Apple Aperture used to offer this option, and it’s an effective and reassuring way to work. It also gives you a single, discreet catalog file that’s easier to manage than a separate catalog and referenced folder system.

Capture One Pro 11
Like Apple’s Aperture, Capture One Pro offers the option of importing images into a single catalog file.

For those who don’t like catalogs, Capture One offers a second, very different approach based on ‘Sessions’. These are most commonly used during tethered shooting in the studio, where you want to view, edit and cull images as you go along. However, you can also use session mode to view folders and images on your hard disk, so it can act as a regular folder and file browser – though you lose the more advanced organising and search tools in Capture One catalogs.

Like Lightroom, Capture One Pro is a non-destructive RAW processing tool – though it can also view and edit JPEGs and TIFFs. Any editing changes you make are stored as ‘metadata’ (processing instructions) either in the Capture One catalog or in a special folder alongside the images on your hard disk.

The editing tools are organised into a series of ’Tooltabs’ for Exposure, Color, Local Adjustments, Lens corrections, Details and Styles/Presets. There are also Tooltabs for checking image metadata (keywords etc) and for setting up recipes for image processing, where you export finished, processed images as JPEGs or TIFFs. This is how all non-destructive editors work – your changes are only visible inside the program itself until you export a new image where they’re ‘baked in’.

There are some things the editing tools can’t do, such as layered images and composites and effects that rely on direct pixel-based manipulation. It doesn’t support Photoshop and Lightroom style plug-ins, but it does let you round-trip images to other image editors, including Photoshop, Affinity Photo or the individual apps in the DxO Nik Collection for example. If you need a plug-in that doesn’t also work as a standalone app, then you can use an external editor like Photoshop to act as a plug-in ‘host’.

Capture One 11
Capture One doesn’t support Photoshop-style plug-ins, but it does support ’round-tripping’ to many standalone editing tools, such as Photoshop and the Nik Collection plug-ins.

Unlike Lightroom Classic, which has separate Library and Develop modules, in Capture One all the browsing and editing is done within a single window.

The tools and workflow can look complex at first, but it’s very easy to re-configure the interface so that your most-used tools are on a single tab. You don’t need to use, or even see, tools you don’t use if you don’t want to.

And if you come up with a set of adjustments that give you the perfect ‘look’ for a photo shoot, you naturally don’t have to recreate them manually each time. Instead, you can use Capture One’s Copy/Apply Adjustments buttons to copy your changes to the Adjustment Clipboard (you can check this to choose which adjustments are applied) and add them to other images with a single mouse click.

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Once you’ve found a ‘look’ you like with the editing tools, you can save it as a user style for re-use another time. It’s also possible to download style packs from Capture One and third party publishers.

You can also save Styles and Presets for later use. Styles are collections of adjustments from a range of different tools, while Presets are saved adjustments for one tool only, such as Curves or the Color Editor.

Even these Styles and Presets have another layer of control. There’s a ‘stacking’ option if you want to apply them cumulatively, you can apply them to new layers and then blend them with masks and opacity adjustments, and you can buy/download Style sets from the ON1 website.

Capture One 11
These adjustments (right) were carried out entirely in Capture One from the original RAW file (left) using Capture One’s sophisticated adjustment layer, masking and editing tools.

Is it any good?

Capture One lacks the widespread consumer camera support offered by Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. It can open the RAW files of pretty well all key serious/professional programs, but now and again you might come across a gap. At the time of writing, for example, it doesn’t yet support the entry-level Canon EOS M100, for example or Panasonic GX9 compact mirrorless camera.

Version 11.1, however, does add RAW support for some key professional cameras, including the Fujifilm X-H1, Sony A7 III and Panasonic GH5 and G9 models.

The same applies to lenses. Capture One can apply automatic correction profiles for many key high/end pro lenses, though some consumer lenses aren’t supported (or support is slower to arrive), which means you’ll need to apply chromatic aberration or distortion corrections manually.

Capture One 11
Capture One comes with lens correction profiles for many higher-end lenses like the Nikkor 24-85mm, but not all third-party or ‘consumer’ lenses. It can also carry out perspective adjustments for both horizontal and vertical convergence.

On the upside, the quality of Capture One’s RAW conversions is very high indeed, and it’s especially good at maximising the clarity of ultra-fine detail while minimising noise. With some camera models – Nikon and Sony for example – you might not see too much difference between Capture One and Lightroom – but with others, notably Canon models, default Lightroom conversions are both a little softer and a lot noisier.

Capture One’s editing tools are highly effective too. Its dynamic range tools are especially good at recovering highlight and shadow detail in RAW files while still creating a realistic, contrasty image. The colour tools initially look complex, but they allow very subtle adjustments to shadow, midtone and highlight tones as well as direct editing of individual colour ranges for hue, saturation and lightness.

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The Color Editor offers precise control over hue, saturation and luminance in different colour ranges.

Local adjustments are carried out using adjustment layers, each of which can have its own layer mask. These are created with a gradient mask tool and regular brush and eraser tools, each with an auto masking option that automatically identifies object outlines. It’s also possible to feather and refine masks and control the layer opacity – two new features introduced in version 11.

In principle, Lightroom edges slightly ahead by offering a radial masking tool which Capture One lacks. In practice, though, Capture One’s adjustment layer based editing is both more powerful and more intuitive than Lightroom’s. It’s also possible to use all the editing tools on each adjustment layer, whereas Lightroom’s local adjustment tools are only a subset of the full range.

Capture One does not, however, offer mobile apps, cloud storage and web/mobile synchronisation. If remote/mobile working is a necessary part of your workflow, you’ll need to take a portable computer and your image catalog with you, perhaps on a removable drive, or invest in extra Capture One licences for all the computers you want to use.

Capture One 11
Capture One is a non-destructive editor, which means that your changes are not permanently added to an image until you export (process) and new file. You can set up different ‘recipes’ according to the file formats and sizes you need to export.

So should you get Capture One Pro? First, you need to check it supports your camera’s raw files and has profiles for the lenses you use most often. Second, you need to be prepared to pay for the privilege of using a premium professional application. Third, you need to make sure that it works with the other programs you like to use as external editors and that you can get by with its desktop based approach.

If you can tick all three boxes, then Capture One really is a great buy. Its raw conversions are second to none, its editing tools are logical, powerful and customisable and it runs pretty fast too on our test machine, where Lightroom Classic has slowed to a crawl.

Capture One 11
Another example of the editing scope offered by Capture One 11. It has a tooltab dedicated to black and white and can also simulate film grain. You can create any number of virtual copies of the same image as you try out different editing variations.

What’s new, and what does it cost?

If you already own Capture One versions 9 or 10, you can upgrade to version 11 for 119 USD/EUR. It’s probably worth it because version 11, introduced in November 2017, brought substantial improvements to the local adjustment/layer tools, including the ability to use all the tools on layers, refine and feather masks after they’ve been created and adjust the layer opacity.

This version also came with ‘re-engineered’ colour controls, improved catalog performance and the ability to check for duplicate images on import.

Version 11 also introduced the ability to add annotations and export them to Photoshop as a layer – very useful for swapping retouching or layout notes with co-workers – and to add watermarks as a Photoshop layer too. It’s also possible to export a crop to a path when sending files to Photoshop so that the full image area is available if needed.

Capture One 11
This look comes from the Capture One styles package, which uses LUT (Look Up Table) files to pre-process images – the same principle as Adobe’s new profiles.

If you already own Capture One 11, the update to 11.1 is free. It’s worth downloading, since it brings the ability to add Styles and Presets, together with a free ‘Spring’ Styles pack. There’s also a new Resource hub accessed from within the program for tutorials, news, blog posts and webinars, and support for the Fujifilm X-H1, Sony A7 III and Panasonic GH5S and G9.

If you’re buying Capture One from scratch, it will cost you $299 USD or 279 EUR. That’s a pretty hefty price tag, but this is a polished, professional program that delivers superb results and you are getting a perpetual license.

The alternative is to go for Capture One’s subscription plan at 20 USD/EUR per month for a 12-month plan or 180 USD/EUR prepaid annually. That’s almost twice the price of the Adobe Photography Plan, but it’s a lower outlay than buying a regular license.

But you don’t have to choose either option straight away, because Capture One is also available as a 30-day trial. That should easily be long enough for you to decide if this is the right software for you.

Verdict: 5 stars ★★★★★
Price: $299 USD or 279 EUR plus taxes
More information: Capture One 11 (Phase One website) and 30-day trial

13 thoughts on “Capture One Pro 11 review

  1. I would have appreciated it if you had compared OneOne Raw 2018 with Capture One 11. I have many external hard drives and trying to figure out how to create a asset management system that works. Need to design parent and child groups as suggested in the LR bootcamp. Think creating a separate catalogue for each external drive may make sense. I also understand that Luminar 2018 will upgrade and provide Asset Management tool next month. How would you approach having six or more external drives so you can find your images? Which applications would you use. Will keywords cross platforms. Will a keyword in LR also show up if opened in Capture One, Luminar, OnOne?

    1. Hi Fred,

      You have lots of questions there but I’ll try to answer a couple and work out if there’s an article that could cover the rest. First, do you definitely need all these hard drives? What’s their combined capacity? Second, perhaps you could explain what you mean by “parent and child groups as suggested in the LR bootcamp”? Keywords will cross platforms because they can be embedded in JPEG and TIFF files. They cannot, however, be embedded in RAW files, only in sidecar files (like the .xmp files created by Adobe apps) or in your software’s catalog. RAW files are always going to be a problem in this respect. Generally, if you stick to a single asset management program, all of this will be fine, but if you like to use a few, it’s more problematic.

  2. You need to note that if you shoot only Sony you can purchase the Sony Pro version which does everything that the multiple version does and it is only $70/

    1. Yes, good point. I’m not quite sure why Phase One does that, but if you only have Sony cameras it is a good deal.

      1. I think Sony offers this deal on a Sony & TIFF-only Capture One version because Sony does not have the equivalent of, for examples, Canon’s suite of programs for processing Canon’s RAW files. Capture One provides that and more.

      1. Yep, that’s right, though this is the Capture One 11 review, which is going back a bit now. There is a free cut down Capture One Express Sony edition.

    1. In some ways yes (I do like the internal library option), but it is expensive, and it doesn’t integrate with cloud storage like Aperture did towards the end. It doesn’t really approach Aperture’s brilliant Project/Album/Stacking tools either, but I don’t think anything will now.

      1. Exactly. Its fast and very handy. I still use it. But I don’t like the colors when using Olympus ORF. I haven’t found a way to correct the colors systematically, the way I like. Olympus JPG look really good. So, perhaps I should go for COP11. Or should I wait for Affinity. Adobe is out of the question for me.

  3. I use NIK plug-ins and want to know if I can use the new NIK set with C1P. If Yes, how do I access them? Do I have to create a TIFF and export it? Some other command? Any video that shows how to do this with version 11 or version 12.

    1. It’s pretty straightforward – right-click an image and choose ‘Edit with’ (not ‘Open with). Capture One Pro doesn’t work with plug-ins but the Nik plug-ins will work as standalone apps, and you can add programs to the Capture One Pro’s list if they’re not visible. Capture One will then send export a variant to the external app using whatever file settings you choose, and when you apply your edits in the Nik plug-in the edited image is returned to Capture One.

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