I like Capture One Pro. A lot. I have since version 7, which, after just 20 days into the 60 day trial, I purchased, having decided it was clearly superior to Lightroom 5 in terms of that most important element: image quality.
Capture One Pro 8/8.1 is a subtle improvement over 7. It doesn’t present the massive jump in quality that I saw going from Lightroom 5 to Capture One Pro 7, but it does do a lot of things right. In this article I’m going to mainly focus on the differences 8/8.1 have to version 7, and compare 8.1 against the latest version of DxO Optics Pro 10, which I feel is actually Capture One Pro’s closest competitor in terms of the quality of the renderer.
Note I’m not going to go into a ton of depth with this review. Capture One and DxO Optics Pro, which I compare it too, both have free trial downloads that are fully functional and well worth your time and effort. You may find your experience differs from mine, or that your style of photography is particularly well suited to one program or another.
I want to preface the rest of this review by saying I’m still all-in for Capture One Pro. It’s my RAW processor of choice. I was an Adobe Raw guy for a while when I only used Photoshop CS5 for everything, then I migrated to Lightroom 4 and then 5 when I didn’t want to spend a huge chunk of change to upgrade Photoshop just for RAW support. I discovered Capture One Pro in the version 7 days, shortly after version 7 was released, and gave it a download – after all, with 60 days of free trial, why not? I did back-to-back comparisons vs Lightroom and although Lightroom did some things better (such as having an eye-dropper selection to reduce chromatic aberration), the image quality results on output from Capture One were simply always superior to Lightroom – sharper, cleaner, with more pop and life.
When Capture One Pro 8 came out I downloaded the trial (it wasn’t a free upgrade if you owned v7). PhaseOne changed the interface somewhat – larger letters and sliders, for example. Honestly I preferred the look of version 7, but I’ve gotten used to how 8 looks. PhaseOne touted an advanced new processing engine that would deliver even better image quality. I haven’t seen much improvement from v7 in that regard. Version 7 was so good that, perhaps, there wasn’t that much more room to grow for the cameras I am using (Sony RX1R and Nikon D800E). If image quality is your sole and most important metric, and you already own v7, I would recommend downloading version 8.1 and see if you experience enough improvement to justify the cost of the upgrade.
Where I did experience a welcome improvement was in processing speed. I’m using the same computer as I did with v7 and the speed of importing large numbers of RAWs and the speed at which a JPEG or TIFF is rendered is noticeably faster. This is actually a pretty big deal for the working photographer, particularly event or wedding photographers who might have thousands of photographs to load, and for those photographers who have very high megapixel cameras (D800/E/810, A7R, medium format).
I still think Capture One Pro lags behind Lightroom in terms of friendliness and ease of use. I will often recommend friends who are dabbling in photography and want to start processing RAW files to just start with Lightroom, unless they are really willing to put in the time to learn Capture One Pro. I worry they’ll just get frustrated. The interface is clearly light years better than, say, Sigma Pro Photo (which you have to use to process the Foveon files from the Sigma Merrill cameras), and it contains an enormous amount of flexibility and power for editing your photos, including the ability to have editable layers on your RAW file. But it is not as clear-cut as Lightroom feels.
I was happy enough with the processing speed improvements over version 7 to purchase the upgrade (albeit on sale).
Vs DxO Optics Pro 10
In my opinion Capture One Pro 8.1’s real competition in terms of image quality is not Lightroom but rather DxO Optics Pro 10. This is DxOMark’s latest version of their RAW processor, and it is, overall, pretty good. The hallmark of DxO Optics Pro is the huge number of camera + lens combinations it has on which it can do automatic corrections for distortion, vignetting, sharpness decrease, chromatic aberration, etc. In this regard it is far and away superior to Capture One Pro 8.1 just in sheer quantity of camera + lens combinations available. I would say it also does a little better job with the corrections than Capture One Pro 8.1 for those combinations that both programs share.
A big feature touted by DxOMark for Optics Pro 10 is their PRIME noise engine. It is supposed to be the most advanced denoising engine in the world, capable of reducing noise without compromising detail. In use, for my cameras at least, I’ve found that Capture One Pro 8.1 does just about as good a job…and much faster, to boot. Processing speed is Optics Pro 10’s Achilles Heel. It’s slow. Not Sigma Pro Photo slow, but pretty darn slow, especially when you are used to Capture One Pro 8.1 or even Lightroom 5. Importing takes a long time, processing a RAW file to JPEG or TIFF takes a long time, and if you enable PRIME denoising then prepare to go make a sandwich while you wait.
In terms of sharpness and detail and general image quality, neither program really knocked the other out, at least in my testing. I could get colors pretty close, too. Capture One Pro has layers, which can be huge for some photos, but in general I would say the two programs are pretty evenly matched. That’s including careful use of DxO’s “Clearview” haze removal tool, which doesn’t really exceed Capture One Pro’s clarity and structure sliders (from what I could tell).
In my opinion, the benefit to DxO Optics Pro 10 is the lens correction suite. If you are an architecture shooter primarily with some less-popular lenses (for example, my new Zeiss 135mm f/2 Sonnar ZF.2 does have a profile in Capture One Pro 8.1 but the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 ZF.2 does not. and it needs it much more than the 135mm) then DxO is your best bet. You’ll sacrifice processing speed for those corrections, though. If you are an event/wedding/general purpose photographer or any photographer who shoots a lot of images – but you still want the best image quality – then Capture One Pro 8.1 is the way to go.