If you do a quick Google search on "Best raw converter" you will se that Capture One is mentioned in almost all hits on the first page. Today there are three big multiplatform raw converters, Lightroom, Capture One and DxO Optics Pro. Lightroom is probably the most used, Capture One is known for it's very high image quality with lots of "punch" and DxO Optics Pro excels in lens and perspective correction. Often raw converter showdowns are between those three. Often the conclusions are that Lightroom offers the most complete and flexible package with great image browser/library, excellent local adjustment opportunities, great printing module and so on, but both Capture One and DxO Optics Pro offer superior image quality.
We are creatures of habits and when we have developed a good workflow in one program we are reluctant to change. This is the big strenght of Lightroom. It has lots of users, great functionality, efficient for batch processing and image quality is usually very good. So photographers are usually not willing to start all over with a new program just to gain a tiny bit of increased image quality. For most photographers an efficient workflow is more important than the slightly increased image quality. Unless you are shooting for magazines, stock photo or others with very high quality demand, the customers won't care for the difference anyway.
The fact that most photographers are not willing to give up their Lightroom (or Aperture for many Apple users) is something that many raw converter developers have realized and taken into account. Instead of trying to compete against the big ones, they play along and offer their converters to be used as plugins within Lightroom instead of being only a standalone alternative. Iridient Developer, PhotoNinja and even DxO Optics Pro has this ability in their newest version. Personally I think this is very wise. Last week Adobe released their 2014 version of Creative Cloud and with that the limited 9,99$ Creative Cloud Photography plan became a permanent plan. This means that you get the newest Photoshop CC and Lightroom for 10 bucks a month. As much as one can dislike the creative cloud, this is without doubt a good offer and very inexpensive compared to buying those programs and paying for updates. I believe that this was a smart move by Adobe that will probably create even more new Lightroom users.
While other developers adapt and offer their fine converters to be used as plugins Phase One offer their raw converter, Capture One, as a complete alternative to Lightroom and Aperture. There is to my knowledge no plugin feature so if you plan to use it alongside Lightroom or Aperture you have to find an effecient way to import and export manually.
Capture One 7 comes in two editions, Capture One 7 Pro and Capture One 7 Express.
Capture One Pro is a full feature raw converter that comes with photo manager tool that can use both catalogs and sessions, full feature raw developer with opportunity to do local adjustments in layers and has a fully customizable workspace.
Capture One Express is a simpler and more inexpensive alternative that lacks some features like local adjustments, focus mask, customizable workspace, sessions and some more.
Captur One Pro costs 299$ and Capture One Express costs 99$
Both version is on a summer sale until the end of June (2014) and one can save 50% of their normal retail price. This make their price point a lot more attractive:-). Capture One Express doesn't cost more than an average photoshop plugin.
They offer a 60 days full functional trial period for new customers to try out their software.
I tried several raw converters this winter with files from my old Canon gear. Capture One Pro was the one that all over gave the best image quality. It made my Canon files "pop" in a way I had not seen with other converters. But playing around with sliders a little more aggressively in Lightroom gave me similar results and the high pricetag prevented me from buying it. I also tried it briefly with files from my new Fuji X-T1 before the trial period ran out, but I wasn't as impressed as I was by the way it rendered my canon files. Although Capture One was rumored to be one of the best converters for Fujifilm X-trans files I liked the results from Lightroom with the new camera profiles better and I let the trial period run out without really giving it a chance.
After playing around with Iridient Developer and seeing how much details it revealed from the X-trans files compared to Lightroom 5.4 it struck me that I should have spent some more time with XT1 files in Capture One. My trial period on my imac had run out, so I downloaded Capture One to my windows laptop to see if it is as good with Fuji files as it is rumored to be.
Using Capture One on my imac always felt slow and kind of sluggish. Capture One has the opportunity to import Lightroom catalogs and the first thing I did after installing on my mac was to import my big Lightroom catalog. That was a mistake. It took forever to import all the images, and building all the previews took even longer. The previews also took up way much more space than the ones in Lightroom. I think previews in Capture One when using catalogs might be more like the smart previews in Lightroom and they seems to contain enough information to do proper work on the images "offline" without the need of the having the actual raw file there. This is great if you store images on external drives because you don't need them to be connected to work on the images.
Coming back to Capture One Pro was a happy reunion:-). I installed it on my windos 8.1 laptop, an Acer spec'd like a Macbook Air with a low power i5 ultrabook processor and 12gb of ram. This time I did not import any catalog but rather imported a few recent raw files as a session. This time around Capture One did not feel slow or sluggish at all. The program run way better than expected on my laptop with ultrabook CPU and all adjustments was seen in real time. No lag. I don't know if i it runs faster than Lightroom on this laptop, but it did at least not run any slower.
Working in Capture One is a little different from Lightroom, but it is not hard to adapt. For me the biggest difference is that Capture One does not have modules. I like the modules in Lightroom because they create a distinction between the different kind of work you do in the program. I have read online that many people dislike the modules in Lightroom and prefer to work with the "all in one" windows programs like Capture One. This is just personal preferances and it is easy to adapt to both ways. I had to make some keyborard shortcuts to hide either image browser or image viewer in Capture One to get my workspace a little tidier and get the feeling of a Library module and Develope module. I also miss the history palette from Lightroom. Capture One Pro does not have one and you have to use cmd/ctlr Z to go back in time.
In my Iridient Developer 2.4 review I wrote that I don't care much about the default output from a raw converter because that is just a starting point and are supposed to be adjusted and doesn't say anything about the capability and quality of the converter. With that said, Capture One seems to have the best default rendering and give the best starting point of the converters I have tried. I never use auto adjustment in Lightroom because in my experience it doesn't do a good job. Auto adjustment in Capture One on the other hand seem to give a nice starting point in most cases. It seems to do almost the same with every raw file though which in short term is to adjust contrast to +7, increase saturation to +5 adjust exposure, highlights, black- and whitepoint according to information in histogram.
If you are used to raw editing it is not difficult to find your way around in Capture One Pro. All the tools and adjustments (and more) one expect to find in a high quality raw converter are there. All adjustments can be copied and pasted between images, and if you don't like the way everything is layed out the user interface is fully customizable. Almost all the tools have nice presets that make good starting points and it is easy to make your own presets (a group of settings belonging to one tool) and styles ( a number of setting for multiple tools that can be applied at once). It shouldn't be too hard to find a decent workflow. I know lightroom better and do feel that I work a little bit faster in Lightroom than in Capture One, but that might just be a feeling.
For me who mainly shoot people or events I find Lightroom to be better than Capture One Pro for local adjustments. Both of them let you do local adjustments with brush and gradiant filter. Capture One Pro store the adjustments in layers while Lightroom works with different masks on one layer. Operatively this is just the same, but Lightroom has more features that can be adjusted locally. What I miss in Capture One is the opportunity to adjust white balance, shadows, highlights and noise locally. All of them are features that I find to be very usefull. Temperature and tint (WB) is very usefull to balance flash and ambient light when you don't have the right gel available. Doing local noise reduction is very usefull on high iso images to do more aggresive noise reduction on out of focus areas. Local highlight and shadow adjustments I use alot on midday images with hard light to even out the exposure. These are all feature I would really miss if I was going to replace Lightroom with Capture One Pro.
Where Capture One Pro excels is on color management. Capture One Pro 7 has a fantastic color editor that can also be used with brush or gradient filter to do local color adjustments. Capture One has also got 3 different methodes for clarity and structure adjustments. The Punch methode alter both saturation and midtone contrast, neutral methode alter the luminance channel only and doesn't affect saturation, just contrast. I am not sure how the classic method works. Clarity extract details a little broader than stucture which alters finer details. Clarity and stucture can also be applied locally. The ability to have this kind of control over color and fine details and the opportunity to adjust them locally make Capture One Pro a fantastic tool for landscape photographers. And for landscape photos I would without doubt prefer to work in Capture One Pro over Lightroom.
But how does Capture One handle Fujifilm X-trans files? Is it as good as it is rumored to be?
I'll start with what doesn't work. When trying out Capture One with my Canon files I fell in love with the focus mask tool. It worked very well and made it very easy to filter out the keepers without zooming in to check focus. Unfortunately for some reason focus mask doesn't work with files from neither X-T1 or X-E2. It gives weird results and even show bokeh in background to be in focus. I have tried to play around with focus mask settings without getting any reliable results.
Another thing that doesn't work with Fuji files is the Auto Mask function when working with local adjustments. This is not a big deal for me, because i prefer a smooth transition with a large feather and never use Auto Mask in Lightroom either. But for some this might be an issue.
When it comes to rendering Fujifilm X-trans files Capture One Pro is as good as it is rumored to be! It gives a very nice rendering with lots of details and punch. I like the colors from it alot. The colors from Capture One is not as true to the Fuji sooc jpeg as neither Lightroom or Iridient Developer is when using their camera profiles, but they have their own saturated look. The default colors might have a slight cast of yellow, but are all over very nice. Color balance can be adjusted with the color balance tool and single colors can easely be adjusted through the excellent color editor. There are also Fujifilm icc profiles to be found on the net and I'm using a Provia profile found here.
I didn't like the default skin color in some images though. Capture One is rendering the skin color in some outdoor images way to dark compared to both real life and sooc jpeg. This might be more because of a specific scene than the general way Capture One renders skintones and it gave a much better rendering on indoor images, but even indoor skin has a slight yellow cast to it. Anyway Capture One's Color Editor comes with a seperate tab for skintone adjustments where one can adjust skin tone hue, saturation, Lightness and uniformity. One should be able to adjust skin tone to our liking. One also has the opportunity to adjust the color balance of the image to set a feeling or remove color cast.
Capture One does fabulous job in extracting details from X-trans files. Rendering is crisp and playing around with clarity, structure and sharpening settings reveal lots of details. This is way, way better than Lightroom rendering. Last week Lightroom 5.5 was released, but this release didn't improve X-trans rendering regarding those well known details, foliage, watercolor problems. Even when doing aggresive sharpening in Lightroom, zooming in is like using a pair of glasses with slightly wrong prescription. Details are there, but everything is slightly blurred compared to the crisp and sharp images out of Capture One.
Comparing Capture One to Iridient Developer is much more of a tie. Iridient is rumored to extract even more details than Capture One. That might be true but I find the Iridient rendering to be a little flat and lack some of the "punch" Capture One brings to the table. I might be a little biased, because I am a fan of the way Capture One renderes raw files both from my old Canon and now Fuji. There is a "pop" in the Capture One rendering that I really like. The difference might just be the settings applied. In my opinion Capture One applies way to much noise reduction as default. This affects details, so I always bring it down even on high iso images. Playing along with sharpening also yield different results. High amount of sharpening with low radius extract details. More traditional higher radius sharpening bring little more "punch". In this case I was using Capture One on my laptop (because trial period on my mac had run out) and Iridient is mac only. So images are adjusted on different computers with different screens. That might affect the results more than the programs themself. Iridient image is also rendered flat and post processed in Lightroom while Capture One rendering is Capture One alone. Anyway both programs renders X-trans files way sharper than Lightroom. I prefer the Capture One rendering, but I like both versions and would be happy with either one. If I should be a little picky I see that some details might be drowning in highlight on some Capture One renderings where doing more highlight recovery would ruin the overall look of the image. This is just the same with Lightroom renderings. This is where local highlight adjustments come in handy. Unfortunately that is a missing feature in Capture One Pro.
I hear very good things about the Black & White convertion in Capture One. I haven't played around with it much, but there are several nice presents to start with. High quality presents are also avilable on the net. Some are to be found here. On BW Capture One Pro might be superior to Lightroom.
There is no doubt that Capture One is an excellent raw converter. If I was a landscape photographer I would buy it in a heartbeat regardless of which camera system I was using. The color and detail control would be worth the price alone. I keep wishing that I had known about Capture One Pro and chosen it over Lightroom when I first started working with raw files, because Capture One Pro does all over deliver higher image quality than Lightroom and this is especially true for Fujifilm X-trans files.
But I keep coming back to the same question as I did when tryingout Capture One Pro with my Canon files. Is the difference big enough to be worth a rather high price tag (299$ is 30 months of creative cloud subscription) and having to adapt to a new workflow? If you are about to jump ship the time is right with the 50% discount until the end of june...
There is a big difference in quality between Lightroom and Capture One, but this is all about major pixel peeping. The difference is probably important for big prints, but for me, beeing an amateur that don't print big, it isn't important enough. You will not see the difference in details unless you zoom in to atleast a 100% view. I also find that I miss some tools in local adjustments and would probably bring some of the images back to Lightroom for selective noise reduction and white balance adjustments anyway. For me it is a better solution to use Iridient Developer or Photo Ninja as a plugin inside a Lightroom workflow when the extra quality is needed. Another downer for me with Capture One Pro is that the excellent focus mask tool isn't working with X-series raw files.
Capture One Express on the other hand is another story. As long as tethered shooting and focus mask is not working with Fujifilm and if you don't need local adjustments, keystone correction and so on, you will get the excellent Capture One rendering for a fraction of the cost. At 50$ on summer sale it is a steal and would be a great supplement to Lightroom and Photoshop when you want the great Capture One look. But be aware that it lacks some nice features like split toning in BW, seperate skin tone color adjustment and so on. Without having tried I think Capture One Express could rather easy be integrated in a Lightroom workflow by for example using a auto import folder. A quick Google search comes up with several solutions.
To sum it all up I find Capture One Pro to be an excellent raw converter. It is probably the best out there when adding image quality and features. Personally I prefer it's rendering to Iridient Developer. It has similar amount of details but rendered in a more "punchy" way that I prefer. Capture One adds much of the same feeling to the image that I like in Lightroom while beeing far superior in details and sharpness. The color tool in Capture One Pro is excellent and if I was a landscape shooter I would choose Capture One Pro over Lightroom every day. But for my use Lightroom gives acceptable results and I like Lightroom to much to give it up. I still find the Capture One Pro's price to be a little steep if I was to buy it as a supplement to my Creative Cloud subscription. Capture One Express on the other hand is a steal at half price (on a sale until the end of June 2014)! I will buy Capture One Express while it is on sale. Local adjustments, keystone correction and other enchantments I can do in Photoshop!
Check out Capture One Pro and Express at www.phaseone.com/Imaging-Software/Capture-One-Pro-7.aspx
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