Capture One Pro is a professional image capture, cataloguing and editing program that’s very much like Lightroom in its scope and tools, but with a different background and, perhaps, a different audience.
It comes from Phase One, a Danish company specialising in high-end medium format cameras and studio photography. Capture One Pro is a powerful tethered shooting application for studio photographers, and not just those using Phase One cameras, but regular DSLRs too. You can capture the images from shoots in ‘Sessions’, then cull, select and edit images as you go along.
But as well as this sessions-based workflow, Capture One Pro also offers Lightroom-style image cataloguing for photographers who capture images out in the field and want to bring them all together into a centralised, searchable image library later.
It can work directly with raw files from a large number of cameras and is updated periodically to add new models. In fact its raw processing is of a very high quality, and one of Capture One’s big selling points.
It offers non-destructive global image adjustments, as well as localised adjustments applied via adjustment layers and masks. You can process raw files as JPEGs or TIFFs or export PSD files for Photoshop. Capture One Pro will also work with a wide variety of external editors and plug-ins like those in the Nik Collection.
How does Capture One Pro software work?
If you’re working with sessions, you set one up for each photo shoot and use different session folders for your image organisation. If you prefer to work with a catalog, you can import images either in their current location (‘referenced’ images) or import them directly into the catalog – a great feature for Mac users who miss Apple’s terrific Aperture application.
Once images are imported into Capture One Pro, you can then edit them using powerful global and local adjustment tools. These are arranged in a series of ’tool tabs’ for exposure/tone adjustments, colour adjustments, lens corrections, ‘detail’ adjustments (sharpening and noise reduction) and more.
It looks complex initially, but you can hide the tool tabs you don’t need and move tools around to organise the panels and tabs just how you want them.
You’ll find all the corrections you’d expect here, including levels, curves, contrast and exposure, plus a high dynamic range panel for recovering highlight and shadow detail in raw files.
Capture One Pro also supports ‘Presets’, which are pre-configured settings for specific tools, and ‘Styles’, which are collections of settings for achieving a specific ‘look’. You can create and save your own or download and install style packs developed by others.
We tried out a series of style packs from Capture One, including Film Styles, Black and White, Cinematic, Matte and Seasonal Styles.
These style packs do cost extra – the Film Styles pack is 69 euros, for example – and they don’t do anything you couldn’t theoretically do yourself, but most professional photographers need to save time just as much as they need to save money and they do provide some very good one-click effects. It’s the same principle as buying Lightroom preset packs.
One especially interesting feature in Capture One Pro is the ability to ‘stack’ these styles. This means you can create your own combinations with a Matte style and a Cinematic style, say, stacked together.
Capture One Pro’s local adjustment tools are interesting too. It has its own internal layers system for adjustment and cloning/healing operations, and each layer has its own name, layer mask and (in Capture One Pro 11) opacity setting.
You can create a mask using either a gradient mask tool or a brush tool. There’s an eraser for removing a mask from specific areas – it’s very useful for unmasking tall buildings when you’ve used a graduated mask to darken the sky, for example – and both the brush and eraser tools have an auto mask option for tight selections around object outlines.
It’s a very effective system which feels a little like using Photoshop, though these adjustment layers exist only within Capture One Pro.
Capture One Pro 11 vs Lightroom
Comparisons between Capture One Pro and Lightroom are inevitable, and while they do in principle do the same things, they go about them in different ways and these two programs feel quite different to use.
There are pros and cons right through the feature set. Capture One Pro is more expensive than Lightroom but is still available as a perpetual licence (the long term cost of ownership is still likely to be higher, though).
Its raw conversions are cleaner and sharper, with less noise and crisper micro-contrast in fine detail rendition.
On the other hand, it doesn’t support such a wide range of consumer level or niche camera raw files as Lightroom. It doesn’t offer such a large range of automatic lens correction profiles either, though both of these issues won’t matter if your own hardware is supported, so it’s worth checking.
Capture One Pro does not have any equivalent for Lightroom’s Radial Filter, nor its colour range or luminance masking tools, but its layer and mask-based localised editing tools are clearer to use and all the adjustment tools are available for each layer, not a smaller subset.
Capture One Pro doesn’t offer Lightroom’s mobile and web-based ecosystem, where your images are available for viewing and editing anywhere, on any device, but here it’s important to draw a distinction between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic.
Lightroom CC, the fully web-based version, misses out on some important options – it doesn’t yet support plug-ins or external editors like Photoshop, whereas Capture One Pro works with them perfectly well (as does Lightroom Classic).
What’s new in Capture One Pro 11?
Capture One Pro fans won’t need convincing that they’re using the best software for them, but they still might need convincing to upgrade, so here’s a list of what’s new in Capture one Pro 11.
- Annotations: You can now add annotations to your images to show others (or remind yourself) what’s been adjusted or what needs doing. You can export annotations as a separate layer in a PSD file.
- Layered adjustments: Now all the adjustment tools are available in adjustment layers and it’s now possible to adjust the layer opacity to alter the strength of your adjustments.
- Feather and Refine Mask: Local adjustments are made using adjustment layers and masks, and now you can change the feathering of a mask after you’ve created it – no need to redraw the mask from scratch. The new Refine Edge option allows more precise masking around complex edges like fur and hair.
- Greyscale mask display: As an alternative to the usual red overlay there’s a new, distraction-free mode to check masks for any missing areas, for example, where the image is hidden and the mask is displayed as a greyscale image.
- Color improvements: The Color Editor, Color Balance, White Balance and other color adjustment tools have been “re-engineered” for smoother transitions.
- Performance improvements: Overall speed has been improved for faster responses when editing and fine-tuning images.
- Export crop as path: When you crop an image and then export it as a PSD file, you can now choose to add the crop as a path rather than committing to it fully. The full image area can then be used in Photoshop if required.
- Duplicate Checker: The new Duplicate Checker can make sure you don’t import the same file twice – very handy since clutter can be the biggest issue facing busy photographers.
Should you buy Capture One Pro 11 software?
Capture One Pro is a powerful, professional-level application. Its main focus is professional photographers, but it would be equally suitable for advanced amateurs looking for the best possible image quality, tools and workflow.
Its closest rival is Adobe Lightroom, which is a good deal cheaper but available only as part of Adobe’s Photography Plan subscription services. Lightroom has the advantage of Adobe’s Lightroom web and Lightroom mobile synchronisation options, but Capture One offers better image quality from RAW files and a superior layers-based editing system.
Capture One also offers a sessions-based tethered shooting workflow in addition to its catalog-based image library. We’d give Lightroom the edge for its breadth of camera and lens profile support, but if your equipment is supported by Capture One, that won’t matter.
The only thing is, you’re probably still going to need Photoshop for more sophisticated adjustments like advanced cloning and retouching, layered composites and work incorporating text and illustrations. The offers a tricky dilemma because in order to get Photoshop you need to subscribe to the Adobe Photography Plan, which means you will get Lightroom anyway.
Photoshop isn’t the only good external editing tool out there, of course, and it’s just as likely you’ll want to use a specific plug-in or specialised tool for black and white images, film simulations or analog effects, for example – and Capture One will work alongside these too.
Capture One Pro is comparatively expensive, and you do need to check your camera and lenses are supported (most are), but the quality of the results and even the user experience is second to none.
There’s a trial version to help you decide.