The problem of many photo editing software (but also of other kinds) is that they make us slaves. When we really start to familiarize ourselves with a software, we will then hardly decide to migrate to another solution, especially when databases with thousands of photos are involved.
Maybe it’s because of distrust, or fear, but my personal experience tells me that, unless there are objective needs (like for example when Apple has ceased to develop my long beloved Aperture), laziness always wins.
For me this has been the case with Capture One, the editing and organizing software for photographers, developed by Phase One. But when whom you regard as the greatest luminary and expert in graphic editing, Simone Poletti, keeps telling you “I think that you should really try it out…” a few doubts just start to cross your mind.
So began my adventure with Capture One, which, thanks to its recently released version 11, has conquered my heart and my hard disk.
Since telling you in a single article about all the functions that I have found useful and innovative would be rather long and boring, I am going to break up the treatment in various articles.
Without resorting to roundabout expressions, I can just say that one of my greatest concerns and fears was the migration of the Lightroom catalog to Capture One. It was actually much more than a concern, considering that I had already tried that a few years before using a version 9 of Capture One and the divorce from Lightroom hadn’t really been uncontested.
But with version 11 things have definitely changed: the process is really fast and mostly painless. In fact, with just a few clicks Capture One starts importing the catalog, and the duration of the operation only depends on the size of the catalog we are importing.
Keywords, ratings, IPTC data and even basic corrections such as saturation, white balance and exposure are not lost. Even the structure of my catalog is preserved.
And all other modifications? Yes, they get lost, or anyway, they are not imported the way you want.
So if you are asking why I am praising the importation feature of Capture One, my answer is really simple: it doesn’t make sense to begin a photo in Lightroom and complete it in Capture One. As far as I’m concerned, when a photo is completed, ready to be stored, I save it as TIFF with ProPhoto RGB color space and thus the importation to Capture One goes very smoothly. As a landscape photographer, I don’t manage collections of 10,000 images, with corrections on 50% of them, that I leave there waiting to be exported according to my needs. From every shooting session I choose one photo, and when I start to develop it I get ahead with it until the end, which to me coincides with the creation of the archive file that I was mentioning above.
In short, in less than ten minutes Capture One 11 was running with my 10 years of landscape photography.
2 – The graphical interface
Surely one of the first aspects that we will notice the first time we open Capture One is that it’s nice. Yes, and I’m not ashamed to admit it: having a clean and pleasant interface before our eyes help us to spend hours in front of the screen.
But we all know that we’re not going to do much with good looks alone, and in fact the real strength of Capture One is represented by one of the timeless frustrations of Lightroom: the possibility of modifying freely every panel.
While with Lightroom the workflow was fundamentally determined by Adobe, with Capture One I am able to place any feature in a sequence of my choice.
Why on earth should I visualize first the exposure slider when I still have to correct chromatic aberration and lens distortion?
With Lightroom I always had to scroll the right column up and down, while with Capture One I’m not only able to decide if I want the column on the left or on the right, but I can also move the various tools according to the exact order needed for my personal workflow.
And it doesn’t end here: I can save all the workspaces that I want, so that whether I’m working on a plane using the screen of my laptop or at home with a dual monitor setup, it just needs one click to let Capture One adapt to the situation.
Finally the decision is up to me, not to those who programmed the software.
3 – Demosaicing
As you well know, when you shoot Raw with your camera you are not actually saving an image but a beautiful data file. These data, in order to become an image, need a demosaic algorithm that interprets them so as to convert them into a graphic form. Interpretation, by its own nature, is subjective, and therefore opening the same Raw file in two different conversion software (and consequently the use of two different demosaic algorithms) will produce different results.
Without any doubt Capture One has a demosaic engine that’s simply fabulous, I don’t know how else could I describe it. Every time I open a Raw file in Capture One I feel like I am already one step ahead in my post production process. It is really difficult to explain it verbally, but I invite you to open the same Raw file in Capture One and Camera Raw (therefore Lightroom or Photoshop) and compare the two images.
4 – Color Management
In Lightroom, color management is anything but a piece of cake: through the HSL panel (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) I can manage the individual color channels, but acting only on the entire image and not selectively, therefore if I want to fiddle with the blue of the sea, surely I will mess up the sky. By using a selective brush I can define the area of intervention, but alas, the brush doesn’t allow color management with the same detail as the HSL panel; it just allows us to generically manage the saturation slider. Starting from the latest version it is possible to refine the selective intervention with a color mask, but if we really want to act on the color then we have to resort to Photoshop.
With Capture One everything is infinitely more controllable and simple. In fact, it has been developed with a complete color management module which allows us to selectively act on every color with absolute precision and control. Since to us landscapists this aspect is fundamental to say the least, I will surely get to develop an article about it, in order to show you the potentials available to us. In the meantime, I really suggest that you explore this module and see for yourself how deep is the lair of the white rabbit.
5 – Adjusting contrast
Thanks to its continuous updates, Lightroom has various tools to adjust sharpness and contrast. While there are tools that I don’t like to use, like Dehaze, there are others that, in my opinion, do their job excellently, like for example Clarity.
However, as soon as you try Capture One you will see that it’s in a different league. The tools available are about the same, so you will have no difficulty in orienting yourself. The actual advantage is that the algorithms that carry out the actual work are really more sophisticated, and allow us to reach results that otherwise could be obtained only through an advanced elaboration with Photoshop.
In particular Clarity and Structure will allow you to reach levels of details, with no introduction of artifacts, that would be hardly reachable without applying advanced Photoshop techniques.
6 – Layers
Even if you are diehard supporters of minimal post production you surely have already found yourselves more than once with the need to selectively process an image, not only in terms of color.
In those cases you will have therefore found shelter once again in the brushes of Lightroom, but remaining stuck in front of two fundamental limitations:
They do not include all elaboration commands
After the insertion of a few control points, Lightroom becomes heavier than an elephant
So we all have searched for alternative solutions, which go from using Photoshop for a more advanced management of correction layers to saving the image as TIFF so as to “acquire” all the modifications applied until that moment and then start anew with a clean file.
Substantially Adobe’s choice has always consisted in providing a basic correction software (Lightroom) and a more advanced one (Photoshop) to which we have to move in case of specific needs.
But how couldn’t there be something in between? After so many years, that something is exactly Capture One: thanks to its layer management I can manage in a more structured way those that in Lightroom we used to call brushes and above all I can work on these layers with all the correction tools provided by the software, without limitations. That’s priceless.
7 – Focus Mask
Maybe it’s just a whim, but having immediately the confirmation that the shot on which I’m going to work is actually in focus is not bad at all. In Capture One there is a function called “Focus Mask”, which allows me to visualize, through an underline on the image, the areas that are recognized as in focus. No, it’s not black magic, it is “simply” a verification of the micro contrast and we can adjust threshold, opacity and color. Yes, it works more or less like the focus peaking available in the Nikon D850.
If maybe it cannot give us an absolute indication of the focus, it can still help us a lot when we are comparing two images and we are not sure which one to work on, so it can help us to choose the one where we can really start with an excellent focus, or, in the language of us landscapists, a greater depth of field. Loved by portrait photographers, for whom it’s been fundamentally developed, in my opinion, it really is a valid tool for us landscapists as well.
8 – Annotations
As it happens to many other landscape photographers (and not just them), after working for a long time on an image also for me it becomes difficult to notice certain imperfections or “overelaborations”, since the brain gets inured to the screen, which is taken as the new reference. For this reason, often times after working on an image we leave it to “ripen”, meaning that we only come back to look at it again after some time, so as to reset the brain. Almost always we will find some imperfections that need to be corrected. Thanks to the Annotations tool in Capture One we are able to keep track of what we see and subsequently proceed with its adjustment.
9 – No watertight compartments
It often happens that we use software that, even if interesting from a functional point of view, communicate difficulty with the rest of our photographic ecosystem. Capture One, on the other hand, will allow you to export and reimport your image with absolute ease, whatever the chosen destination may be. Therefore the opinion that it is not possible to interrupt the elaboration in Capture One to open the image in Photoshop and then go back without complications is just a false myth. And other false myths are those related to the absence of the ProPhoto RGB profile (which simply has to be activated) and the difficulty in the management of the printing process.
If anything, differently from other software, here again, we are able to personalize our module with what we really need, without having to adapt to the choices made by someone else.
10 – Performances
Finally, a matter that concerns us all is that of performances. It is no secret that Lightroom doesn’t like to be used for a long time, and even after the latest updates, unless you have state-of-the-art computers, you will have found yourself, like me, in need of restarting the software so as to free up RAM space, while remaining stuck in the moment when the control points created with the brushes exceeded a certain critical threshold.
Capture One is definitely less heavy on resources. It is difficult to run comparative numerical benchmarks, but I can assure you that even with various layers applied and after hours of use, Capture One never leads me to reboot in the face of my ancient 2013 MacBook Pro. First try and then trust: the demo version of Capture One 11 will provide you with the fully-featured software for 30 days, free of charge.
Of course, I won’t be the one to convince you that Capture One has made great strides over the last years, so much so that it has become the most advanced photo editing and handling software on the market, because, like me, you will certainly need to try it for yourself and metabolize.
Anyway, thanks to the fully-featured demo and free of charge for 30 days, you will have the possibility of calmly trying out everything you’ve read above, and probably you will soon realize that Capture One can really be the ally you have been looking for long in order to make your post production simple, smooth and effective.
Surely I and Capture One will spend many evenings together!
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