RAW Converters: Capture One Pro 4.5

When I first started shooting digital, the RAW converter favoured by many pros was Capture One (CO), and so I bought a copy, and was reasonably impressed by the quality of the output although never by the speed of operation.

When Pixmantec brought out their RAW software I was easily converted, at least when the improved Pro version appeared. The output files looked more or less as good as those from CO, but the big advantages were in speed, workflow and a more intuitive interface.

Then Adobe bought up Pixmantec, wanting to incorporate its superior technology into their own products. Many of us were disappointed, but at least Adobe did give us the promise of a free copy. Lightroom when it finally arrived took a little getting used to (and I had to buy a higher spec computer to run it) but soon had me convinced that its integrated approach covering image management was the way forward.

More recently I’ve been more than impressed by Lightroom 2.1 RC (not a Catholic conversion but “release candidate“) which Adobe brought out rapidly to redress the problems which hobbled the performance of 2.0 on my machine.) Its burn and dodge tool in particular has almost completey removed the need to transfer any of my images to Photoshop in normal processing.

Long ago I’d subscribed to several future upgrades for CO, so I’ve kept up with the various releases of this. Although I didn’t use it often, there were occasional images where I just was not satisfied with the results I could get from Lightroom, and often found I could get a visibly better result with CO.

For some time, Phase One has been heralding the appearance of Capture One 4 PRO, and finally it has arrived. I downloaded and installed it this afternoon (I find it is version 4.5) You can see more about it on the Phase One site and download a trial copy if you want to try it out.

It is a real improvement over earlier versions, with improved tuning of image colours as well as a new skin tone tool. But even in these new tools there were some disappointments. One of the program’s problems has always been that it is in part a specialised tool for photographers using Phase One’s digital camera backs. It would simplify the software if this support (and that for some other tethered cameras) was eliminated from the normal version of the software. It remains rather less intuitive than Lightroom.

The lens correction tools are very welcome, but limited, again due to the software being seen as a support for Phase One. A product intended for pro use should at least come with lens profiles for popular Nikon (and Canon) lenses allowing the easy removal of lens distortions and chromatic aberration. However the the automatic CA removal works quite well and is fairly fast, and purple fringing is also handled quite well. (Presets are supplied for a few Contax and Hassleblad lenses.)

I was unable to carry out distortion correction as there were no presets for any lens that I use. The manual suggests you can adjust distortion manually (and save the results as Style presets for a very limited approach to automatic correction) but this is generally very difficult to judge with any accuracy. There is only a single control so more complex distortion cannot be handled. Manual vignetting adjustment is also possible, but so far whatever I’ve tried the ‘Color Cast’ check box and ‘Sharpness Falloff’ and ‘Light Falloff’ sliders and check boxes are simply unavailable clutter on the interface.

The other unacceptably poorly implemented feature in CO is Metadata support. You can add IPTC caption and copyright information, but not other essential fields such as keywords, location, date, category etc.

CO is probably a decenttool for studio-based photographers who don’t work with agencies or picture libraries and where optimum image quality is a high prioriyt. In particular it will appeal to those who find its “styles” useful rather than those who prefer their photography untrampled by such “creative effects.”

If you shoot on Nikon and need software to deal with the occasional file where Lightroom 2.1 doesn’t quite come up with what you need, then probably the best overall choice is the powerful if almost terminally unfriendly Nikon Capture NX RAW software (now actually NX2.) Just don’t ask me how to use it.

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