04 White balance
All three programs can use the white balance settings (‘As shot’) embedded by the camera, and all three have done a good job of interpreting the camera’s auto white balance in this picture. What many photographers may not realise is that different RAW converters have their own idea about what different white balance settings should look like, and manually dialling in colour temperature and tint values later can produce different results for each program. That’s why I think it’s best to set an appropriate white balance when you shoot and start from the ‘As shot’ setting in your RAW converter.
This picture also highlights some of the broad differences between these programs. DxO Optics Pro 9 corrects all manner of defects, including corner shading (vignetting), and applies slight shadow lightening too. It can occasionally backfire with images that rely on contrast for their effect, though, and the twilight sky has gone a little flat and lifeless here.
05 Noise reduction and sharpness
Viewed from a distance, the Lightroom 5 rendition looks fine, while the Capture One Pro 7 version is noticeably more contrasty and saturated – this is is part of Capture One’s general style. If you want dynamic range rather than ‘punch’, you need to spend a few moments with its Highlights and Shadows controls.
Up close, though, the differences are striking. Adobe has made plenty of fuss about its advanced noise reduction tools in the past, and when you look at this side-by-side comparison with the other two it looks like it needs them! The default conversion is softer and noisier than the other two and quite disappointing.
I’ve always maintained that DxO Optics Pro has excellent high ISO noise reduction, and I think you can see the difference here. This image was shot at ISO 1600 on a Nikon 1, which only has a 1-inch sensor, but it’s done a good job of reducing the noise while retaining a good level of detail.
The clear winner, though is Capture One Pro, which has kept the noise right down while capturing amazingly crisp edges. I’ve seen some badly over-smoothed high-ISO shot from older versions of Capture One – some of its camera profiles seemed better than others – but it’s done a spectacular job here.
I don’t use Adobe Camera Raw/Lightroom when I want the best quality. I use Lightroom’s RAW conversions within Lightroom simply because they’re there, and it’s convenient. It’s the same with Aperture, my everyday image cataloguing tool – mostly its RAW conversions are fine, but if I need extra quality I’ll swap to DxO Optics Pro 9 or Capture One Pro 7.
I like DxO Optics Pro because of its ability to correct lens defects brilliantly and produce sharp saturated pictures. I like Capture One Pro 7 for its contrast, saturation and amazing resolution. Both are slightly inconvenient in that I have to step out of my regular workflow, but it’s worth it for the extra quality they can deliver when it really matters.