Capture One Pro’s editing tools and RAW processing are superb, it’s excellent for studio tethering and a sessions-based workflow but also has powerful cataloguing tools. You may still need an external editor like Photoshop or Affinity Photo, but only for complex composites.
- Sessions or catalog based workflow
- Referenced or managed images
- Superb RAW processing
- Excellent layers-based editing
- Great support for Styles and Presets
- More expensive than Lightroom
- Lacks cloud-based storage, mobile app
- Like Lightroom, you may still need other editors
What is it?
Capture One 12 is an all-in-one image capture, organising and editing program aimed mainly at professional photographers. Its closest rival is Adobe Lightroom, and these programs have a lot in common. Both organise your images in flexible, searchable databases, or ‘catalogs’, and both can apply non-destructive adjustments to your images, working seamlessly across RAW files, JPEGs, TIFFs and even Photoshop PSD files.
There are differences. Capture One’s editing and local adjustment tools are more advanced and its RAW conversions are smoother and sharper, but it doesn’t offer an equivalent to Adobe’s Creative Cloud ecosphere – you can’t share images in the cloud with a mobile or web version.
Capture One 12 is available in a full version which supports multiple camera brands either as a single purchase or a subscription (more expensive than Adobe’s Photography Plan), as slightly cheaper Sony or Fujifilm specific editions and as a free cut-down Capture One Express for Sony or Fujifilm version.
Sessions and Catalogs
Capture One can work either in Session mode or Catalog mode. Session mode is for photographers with a linear capture-select-edit-process workflow ideal for commercial/professional commissions – you shoot your images, choose the best, share them with the client and then archive the job before moving on to the next.
You can use this with images captured on memory cards in the normal way or via tethered capture, where the camera is controlled from a computer and images are captured ‘live’, with instant adjustments if required. Lightroom does offer tethered shooting with some cameras, but does not have an equivalent of this Sessions workflow.
Alternatively, you can use Capture One Catalogs. Here, you import your images into a catalog in the way that you do in Lightroom. You can then rate your images and apply colour labels, add keywords and work with other metadata. You can sort and filter images and you can create Albums or Smart Albums based on search criteria.
This is exactly what you can do in Lightroom, but Capture One does offer one very interesting difference; as well as working with images in their existing locations outside the catalog (‘referenced’ images), it can also import them into the catalog so that it becomes a single, self-contained archive that can be moved around as a single file and with no risk of accidentally breaking the links between the references to images and the image files themselves.
This was an option in Apple’s Aperture, and while it seems inefficient on the surface, it’s a way of keeping your catalog’s integrity more secure and means you’re working on imported duplicates of your images and not the originals.
Capture One editing tools
Capture One doesn’t support as many camera RAW formats and lens profiles as Lightroom, but the difference is mainly at the lower consumer end of the market. If you’re using almost any enthusiast/pro orientated camera and a mainstream lens, you’re likely to find Capture One can open RAW files and apply lens corrections automatically.
It can also apply perspective corrections for both horizontal and vertical keystone effects. It doesn’t offer automatic corrections like Lightroom, but they are quick and effective regardless.
Phase One is especially proud of Capture One’s editing finesse. Contrast adjustments are designed to keep saturation and colour transitions preserved, brightness adjustments keep highlights protected and saturation adjustments stop colours from burning out.
You get both Levels and Curves adjustments, and the Curves tool offers both regular RGB and Luma adjustments – Luma curves change the contrast without affecting saturation. There’s also an option to choose different Film Curves for basic tone mapping before any other adjustments are made, and this is where you’ll find Capture One’s new Fujifilm Film Simulation modes.
Capture One has a deceptively simple-looking High Dynamic Range panel for highly effective shadow and highlight recovery, and powerful Color Balance and Color Editor tools for applying complex and effective colour shifts. These are used extensively in the Styles and Presets built into the program and available separately from the Phase One website and others. Styles are combinations of image adjustments which can be applied with a single click, while Presets are adjustments made with a single tool. You can create, save and re-use both types yourself.
Capture One doesn’t support plug-ins as such (though this may change with the new plug-in developer support added in the latest version), but it can round-trip images to external editors. Photoshop is supported, but also any program that can work as a standalone app, such as Alien Skin Exposure X4, the DxO Nik Collection tools (even though they are, strictly, plug-ins) and more.
You may not need external editing tools very often, though, because Capture One has its own – including powerful layers-based local adjustment tools.
Where Lightroom has gradient, radial mask or adjustment brush options displayed as masks and ‘pins’ on your images, each with relatively limited adjustments, Capture One allows up to 16 clearly separated adjustment layers, each with its own layer mask and each one supporting all the adjustment tools used individually or in combination (with the exception of some low-level profiling options).
You can create linear or radial gradient masks or use a freehand brush tool with or without an Auto Mask feature. Once a mask is created, you can use a Feather Mask command to soften the edges or the Refine Edge command to clean up outlines. You can also swap to a Grey Scale Mask display to check for holes or untidy edges in your masks.
Adjustment layers aren’t the only type available; you can also create Healing and Cloning layers for image retouching – with Healing layers, you can move the healing ‘source’ to a suitable area of the image and Capture One will match the tones and colours for a seamless repair.
As if all that wasn’t enough, you can also add handwritten notes and drawings to your images either as notes or reminders to yourself or instructions to a retoucher – these can be exported as a separate layer in a Photoshop PSD file.
If you’re on a Capture One subscription plan you’ll get the new version automatically, but if you use a regular licence and upgrade periodically you’ll want to know what’s new in Capture One 12.
The biggest change is the addition of new ‘parametric’ linear and radial gradient masking tools. This means that they can be moved around, rotated and resized later, Lightroom-style, rather than being rendered as permanent pixel-based (raster) masks straight away. You will still need to rasterise a new linear or radial gradient mask before you can use the Feather Mask or Refine Mask command, or make manual adjustments, but that’s on only to be expected.
The other big change is Luminosity Masks. It’s now possible to restrict the effect of an adjustment to specific tonal ranges, so you can create a gradient mask for a bright sky that leaves a darker foreground object unaffected, for example, or apply a clarity adjustment that only affects the darker parts of the image.
Capture One 12 also brings a new plug-in ecosystem for developers. This doesn’t mean it instantly supports Photoshop plug-ins – it doesn’t – but it should lead to an interesting selection of add-on tools and options, and not just for specialised image editing processes.
Apart from that, Phase One has reworked the interface with improved ‘iconography’, a more logical arrangement of related menu items and a keyboard shortcut search option.
If you’re an amateur or hobbyist there may not be enough here to tempt you into upgrading from your existing version, especially if you upgraded quite recently, but for professional/studio/commercial photographers, the improvements in the masking tools alone make it worth the upgrade.
Is it any good?
Capture One initially looks quite technical and complex, but its default layout is easily changed and customised to suit the tools and processes you use most often and, unlike Lightroom, it’s not organised into ‘modules’ – everything happens within a single window.
The editing tools are both powerful and extremely effective, especially the layer and mask based approach to local adjustments. The built-in Styles and Presets offer a varied range of effects, and there are more available at a (relatively) modest cost if you’re looking for styling inspiration from professionals.
Image editing tools and workflows are a very personal thing, so this is a very personal opinion, but I find I can get the ‘look’ I want much more quickly in Capture One than with other photo-editors, and I’m more satisfied with the outcome.
For many, the quality of the RAW processing will be the key factor, and Capture One’s is quite superb. It strikes an excellent balance between noise control and detail rendition, and you have to work very carefully with Lightroom’s noise reduction and sharpening tools to even get close to what Capture One can achieve out of the box.
Capture One achieves excellent results with all camera brands, but it’s especially good with Fujifilm RAF files. It avoids the X-Trans sensor ‘worm effect’ in fine details you sometimes get with Adobe’s RAW conversion process and the new Film Simulation curves are excellent.
Capture One 12 is not cheap, it’s not designed for beginners, and it doesn’t have Adobe’s cloud-based ecosystem. But it’s excellent for tethered shooting, it offers both session-based and catalog-based workflows and its editing tools and output are superb.
Price: Capture One Pro 12 £299 or £20/month subscription paid annually, Capture One Pro 12 Fujifilm/Sony £219 or £16/month subscription paid annually
More information: Capture One Pro – Professional RAW Image Editing Software