Capture One. Twenty Two Days Later.

Meet my new go to primary post processing software, Capture One, specifically the newest version, which is 9…Number 9,…Number 9,…Number 9….(old Beatles reference,…never mind). I've spent a whole 22 days with it. In contrast, I’ve been a user of Lightroom (my old go to post processing software) for about as long as I have been working in digital. Photoshop has always been a staple too so I have been firmly entrenched with Adobe’s products for a time. Now, as a working photographer, I’m always looking for the best (and easiest) workflow in my post processing. Time is money and resources are tight. I want to use the products that produce the results I need faster and want the easiest and quickest workflow to get there. I feel I have found my new standard. After only 22 days. 

I shoot a Nikon system for work mostly but a Fuji X system is seeing more and more use. One day, I hope to rob a bank and sell body parts to buy a Phase One XF system. Until then, its Nikon and Fuji. The Fuji’s use their X-Trans filtering array over the sensor making demosaicing much different from the industry standard Bayer filter array.  Adobe still can’t get X-Trans RAW conversion right, although they have gotten better. For the most part, I was pretty happy until I went into my photo business full time a few years ago. Understand that all these products do the same things and have the same capability; none have any special powers over the other. It’s the way RAW data is interpreted and the willingness to go a bit “further” to achieve a certain result versus being good enough. I think Adobe just goes to “good enough”. Good enough leaves the user to tweak on their end to get to the result set they want. I can get the results I want using a mix of products (Adobe and for Fuji, Iridient) but it takes time, it takes an effort and more time per image to get to where I’m satisfied. Working full time, I find any shortcuts that help with workflow and reduces time on an image is worth it. I started adding up the time I spend getting my baseline “look” out of RAW conversion and figured there must be a better way. I also prefer to shoot tethered when in house and my experience with Lightroom (Lr) left me less than happy. There is no tethered solution worth words for the Fuji X, but 100% of my tethered work involves Nikon equipment so I’m most interested in Nikon tethered support.

Curiosity got the best of me after reading a few reviews, which lead me to checking out a few other products. Capture One stood out from the rest so I decided to go with a 30-day trial. A word about Iridient Developer (ID3), before I dive into my experiences with Capture One (C1). I have absolutely no issue with ID3. It is still, I think, a bit better with the X-Trans RAW files than even C1 and the updates are regular, tested and mostly bug free. It lacks a really good interface though, yet it does have a surprising capability for adjustment equaling any thing Lr can do and gets closer to the abilities of C1. It’s just more tedious to use lacking that slick interface and presentation piece. But it is very reasonable in cost. It works pretty darned good with Nikon too. C1 though offers everything Lr does (cataloging and file management might be an aside), and by that I don’t mean super ability, I mean it offers realistic true camera profiles, it offers more adjustment with greater detail, and allows for the use of controls within its product that I did have to go outside Lr for; specifically to Photoshop (Ps). It provides an interface and workflow that makes sense and it offers you the ability to further tweak those controls to your satisfaction. Just like Ps offers the ability to adjust a palette, C1 lets you move its adjustment controls to accommodate the way you use it. The level of detail you can get with C1 is numbing. First, after importing, you get a RAW file that rivals out of camera JPG’s. Without. Doing. A. Thing. Just importing. C1 has camera profiles down. Sure, I have created and used profiles in Adobe but their efforts just don’t come close to C1’s. I still have to tweak to get to the same place. C1’s answer to the Basic panel in the Develop module is really quite extensive and very similar but with more adjustment. Yes, you can jump to Ps and get the same level of adjustment, but with C1 its just there, no need to jump. Nice. Fast. Want to manipulate color? The color editor of C1 is again, ability wise, very similar to Ps in function but I’ve found their interface to be faster and more intuitive and its right there in C1. No jumping to Ps. Clarity in C1 comes with the ability to adjust the structure and you can do this in several canned levels similar to using NIK Color EFex4 and their contrast controls. When its time to sharpen, you do need to be careful here…C1’s sharpening is deadly crunchy and works about 180 degrees from the way Lr sharpening does. I do miss the ability to “see” the mask when sharpening(using the Option key) but you do have magnification options, which really help. I like the way C1 stores profiles or recipes for exporting files. It takes a bit of getting used to but after you use it, it quickly becomes a favorite – it did for me!

So far, I am maybe 22 days into my 30-day trial. I have decided to subscribe. I have found after using C1 for 3 paying gigs, that it does let me work faster and I can get the results I want spending less time per image. I have not done a wedding with C1 yet, and that’s the post-processing test of all tests. I think I will be about 25% faster minimum though. I have done portrait sessions and find the results to be outstanding. I’ve used it with my Fuji X cameras and while ID3 might be a bit better out of the box in terms of profiles (ID3 nails the Fuji Classic Chrome simulation) it’s so close, I could live without ID3. (Sorry Brian!). The big plus is I don’t have to batch process my Fuji files separately and load them into anything, I just use C1 and go just like with my Nikon files. Overall, I just save a lot of time in both converting RAW data from dissimilar cameras and in working with the results. I’m struggling with file management a bit. I’m still not at a happy place with it. I have found some quirky things when jumping to Ps to retouch skin, and trying to get the TIFF file back into C1. I need more time there. So I have years of working with Lr and days working with C1 yet I am doing about 80% of what I did with Lr. Plus I can tether! Tethering just comes up and starts working once you plug in a camera. Name your session, shoot, adjust and have those adjustments applied to the other images you shoot. Change clothing, change sets, shoot adjust, and on it goes. It just works! All the time! I swear tethering with Lightroom required chanting voodoo priests with dead chickens plus eye of Newt to make it work. And it was still intermittent. Every time it disconnected, the client would cast that doubtful eye to least thats the way I saw it. 

You have full control to create your own presets in C1, and admittedly, C1 doesn’t have the extensive Preset library the market has for Lr. Third party software does seem to support C1 though. I use NIK with C1 without issue. My online gallery provider offers Lr plug-ins but they don’t for C1. You will find a huge support infrastructure for plug-ins, presets, and other add-ons for Lr so you do need to realize that before jumping into C1. One pet peeve of mine is the lack of support for Nikon mounted third party lens profiles in C1. It’s almost non-existent. Lots of Canon love for third party lens profiles though.

Those Adobe types steeped in using keyboard shortcuts are going to read this and say, they can do all I describe. And they can. I’m not saying Capture One is better overall, or the best, but I am saying for me, it works much better, much faster and with more pleasing results, faster. I never really got shortcuts and that’s key to using Adobe. C1 is a working tool, with work in mind. Adobe seems to be more engineering driven maybe? I don’t know. I know the logic involved doesn’t lend itself to my photography work, where Capture One does. Capture One comes from a camera company; Lightroom comes from a software company. Maybe that’s the difference. I have thousands of files processed with Lr and Ps so I will have to keep my subscription to Adobe going, and I do still need Ps. That’s ok. I’ll start using Capture One as my primary software though and barring some odd occurrence, I hope to keep using it. I’m working on learning it more thoroughly and welcome the Phase One/Capture One videos and support pages. They have been very helpful. Hey, I’m not knocking Lightroom no matter how this sounds. I’ve been a big fan and taught several sessions on Lightroom over the years. I believe you have to use what you feel comfy with. I admit that the first paying gig where I used C1, I had a case of the jitters. I muttered under my breathe a few times as I tried to get the results I wanted and knew I could get in Lr easily. But I stuck with it and worked with instead of battling it. Lr and C1 are very different and if you think because you know Lr you know C1, you would be wrong. Forget Lr when working with C1. If you understand post processing, and what the controls do and why, then look for that result with C1 and you will be fine. If you use Lr in checklist fashion, adjusting this and that because you always do without understanding why, then you best stick with it because C1 will give you fits. I’ve now found a better tool for me, a working tool. I’d encourage other working photographers to at least look at Capture One if they think it will help. It’s not for everyone, and the earlier versions of the product quite frankly weren’t to my liking. Maybe I have changed, maybe Capture One has changed. Maybe both. Right now, it just rocks. When I look at my images, I feel like I bought a new camera.