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First experiences with Capture One

I have taken the plunge: Just purchased the stand-alone version of Capture One Pro 10. I must admit that I had some last-minute doubts, especially about the costs. Don’t fool yourself: If you choose Capture One stand-alone over Lightroom subscription, you probably won’t pay less if you calculate the costs per month, at least not for the first couple of years (and now I don’t even take upgrades into account). Standard pricing of Capture One is €279 without VAT. I found a good deal at Eyes On Media (official Phase One dealer in the Netherlands): €303 including VAT (21% in the Netherlands). That still equals many months of Lightroom subscription. But then again, I now exactly know what I have bought, and I have paid for it in advance. Fair deal, if you ask me.

UPDATE: On November 30, a mere six days after I purchased version 10, Capture One 11 was launched. Guess what? Eyes On Media called me the same day to tell me that the key I bought for version 10 also gives me access to version 11. How great is that? They surely made my day!

Although the point of switching to another RAW converter is to make things better, it’s never going to be perfect. These are the things I miss in Capture One (most important first):

  • Direct connection with Flickr. I love this feature in Lightroom. I can upload my edited photos directly to Flickr. What’s more, Lightroom shows me exactly which photos I have re-edited and may want to replace on Flickr by simply clicking the Publish button. I even can remove photos from Flickr if I want to. I have downloaded the Flickr Uploadr app to use in conjunction with Capture One, which is nice, but doesn’t automatically detect and replace re-edited photos that I place in the upload folder. It just adds them to my Flickr stream as a new upload.

  • Editing history. Although I don’t use this feature all that often in Lightroom, it comes in very handy at times and sometimes it’s downright indispensable. When experimenting with Capture One the other day, I noticed a strange local blur in one of my portraits and I had no idea where it came from. I seemed the result of an erroneous application of the mask tool, but I couldn’t find it by checking the selection points. At that moment, I definitely missed the history tool. I ended up resetting the image after copying its adjustments and pasting them again on the original.

  • Blacks slider. It’s a small thing, but I like it that this slider can be moved to both the lighter and darker end in Lightroom. I like dark shadows and blacks, especially in black-and-white edits, so it’s great to be able to emphasize this. The Shadow slider in Capture One can only be moved to the lighter end, which is great for extracting detail from the shadows, but not if you want to make the shadows darker. Of course, darkening shadows can be done with the levels or curves tool as well, but a simple slider makes things just a bit easier. UPDATE: In the meantime, I found out that the color balance wheels provide an alternative for this. You can just move the lightness slider on the right of the shadow wheel downward to darken the shadows (the same can be done for highlights and midtones, by the way). That’s one little complaint less.

  • Third-party presets. I have two sets of VSCO presets in Lightroom (01 and 07) and I can’t use these in Capture One. Sure, there are third-party presets (or “styles“ in Capture One terms), but the choice is limited and they are pretty expensive (as are VSCO presets, by the way).

  • Plug-ins. Same story as for presets. I have the Nik plug-ins for Lightroom (especially use Silver and Analog Efex) and, again, they cannot be used in Capture One. To my knowledge, there are no comparable plug-ins available for Capture One. (The Nik plug-ins have been abandoned by Google in the meantime, which is an example of how cruel big tech companies can be towards photographers. Still, there are many options left if you use Lightroom.) UPDATE: I just found out that Nik plug-ins are in fact available in Capture One: Just select File/Edit With... and then choose one of the Nik tools in the Open With menu. That’s another little complaint less.

That’s quite a list, right? So what do I get in return from Capture One? Well, this is quite a list as well (again, in order of importance):

  • Detail and structure. As I wrote in my previous post, I’m amazed by the level of detail Capture One extracts from my Fuji RAW (RAF) files. As most would agree, Adobe has been struggling with Fuji RAF files from the X-Trans sensor for some time now. It seems, however, that they don’t care about that at all. I guess that’s because Fuji is not regarded as a big player in the digital photography world, which is a shame because Fuji is more popular than ever and sales are steadily rising. However, I also hear Nikon shooters claiming that their RAW files are better treated by Capture One than by Lightroom. I don’t think this is some kind of mass hysteria. Like many others, I like what I see when processing my files in Capture One. They come out crisp and detailed. There are also more tools available for improving detail and structure than in Lightroom, which is great if those things are your priority.

  • User interface. I must admit that I had to get used to it. However, at some point, I realized that it is actually reminiscent of Aperture’s user interface, which I loved for its straightforwardness. In Lightroom, the switching between Library and Develop modules drives me nuts sometimes. What’s the point of these separate modules? Why can’t we just edit photos right away, without switching to a separate module? There is no such thing in Capture One, as there was no such thing in Aperture, and I love it!

  • Speed. It’s true: Capture One is way faster at generating clear previews of your RAW files. Slowness of previews is a pain in Lightroom, especially if you are dealing with large numbers of fresh RAW files and you need to quickly browse these to make selections.

  • Highlight recovery. This is another strength of Capture One. Recovery of highlight details seems more powerful and natural to me than in Lightroom, where I see strange artifacts appearing when being all too enthusiastic with the sliders. In Capture One, I can go all the way with the Highlight slider without messing things up.

  • Subtlety. This one may sound a bit vague, but Capture One seems to offer more subtlety in almost all adjustments. Especially in the color department there are many things you can adjust, with a lot of headroom on each side of the spectrum. The plethora of possibilities may be a bit overwhelming, but if you give yourself some time, you will see that a lot of them make perfect sense.

  • Lack of presets and plug-ins. This is a tricky one. I miss them in Capture One, but in a way this is also a relief. While presets and plug-ins may make life easier by providing shortcuts to a desired look, they also may distract from thoughtful editing. It’s quite hard to follow what these presets and plug-ins exactly do to your photos. The result may look attractive, but to me third-party presets and plug-ins often feel more like someone else’s edits than my own. Capture One challenges me to improve my own editing skills.

All in all, I am very happy with Capture One. I love the results I get (although I’m still learning how to squeeze the most out of it) and I will definitely get used to, or find ways around, the handful of niggles. I will probably keep on using Lightroom 6 as an archive tool or for certain edits (e.g., VSCO presets). I will, however, definitely leave it behind as my main RAW editor.

Let me finish this post by showing my latest edit of a portrait in Capture One. This portrait of my youngest daughter was shot yesterday and unfortunately it isn’t perfectly sharp (I focused on the right eye, but she wasn’t prepared to sit very still). I have given special attention to the rendering of the skin tones, which I have never done that much in Lightroom. For that purpose, I have not only corrected white balance, but I have also played with the Color Balance and Color Editor tools, which have opened up a completely new perspective on editing for me. Furthermore, I have lifted the shadows and highlights with the High Dynamic Range tool. The result may look a bit clean, but it also looks quite natural to me. Finally, I have tried to get some nice detail by applying local adjustments to the right eye (especially brightness, sharpness, and structure) as well as some global exposure, contrast, clarity, and structure adjustments. I like the result, and I also like the thought that I will probably get even better results as I learn more about the intricacies of Capture One.

My latest Capture One Pro 10 edit.

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