Capture One Pro 9 Review

March 06, 2016  •  1 Comment

Winter Sunset Over the CascadesWinter Sunset Over the CascadesLooking east out across the Cascade Mountain Range from Redmond, Washington on a chilly January evening, with the clouds breaking just as the sun set

I’ve been using Capture One Pro 9 for a few months now. I bought it shortly after trialing it as an upgrade to Capture One Pro 8.1, which had been my go-to RAW converter for some time now. I feel, a few thousand images later, I can give a good and honest assessment of this latest iteration of Phase One’s software, although I also have the sense that there is still a great deal for me to learn and exploit with this program.

An important caveat: I don’t use Capture One’s cataloging/asset management system. I don’t use anything except my own personal folder/file structure Windows. Something I need to change someday, most likely, but it works for me. So I can’t comment on that aspect of the software.

Also, this time around I’m not going to do a head-to-head comparo against the latest from DXOMark – the two processing modules continue to be neck and neck in output, I feel (and far ahead of Lightroom), so which one to use comes down to a matter of taste and familiarity, as well as whether your camera and lens(es) have custom profiles in either of the programs.

WindowsWindowsLight and shadows on the third floor of Bellevue Square mall in Bellevue, Washington

Pros

  • Fantastic output from the processing engine
  • Powerful and useful new color management tools
  • Great new “Luma”-only curve adjustment
  • Enhancements and improvements to the RAW-enabled layers and layer-specific adjustments
  • Speed improvements from 8.1
  • More and more cameras and lenses supported with custom profiles

 

Cons

  • Initially doesn’t feel like a huge improvement over 8.1 (takes time to uncover all the improvements that justify the upgrade cost)
  • Workflows still not as intuitive as Lightroom
  • Pretty steep learning curve if you are coming from Lightroom
  • Somewhat expensive (but competitive)

A Black and White SunsetA Black and White SunsetOver Lake Washington on a windy February evening

I wasn’t impressed with Capture One Pro 9 at first. Or, rather, not as impressed as I wanted to be, given it didn’t feel like all that long ago that I purchased version 8 (having made version 7 my default RAW processing software). For the first few weeks it felt like an iterative improvement over 8.1 – the new processing engine didn’t blow me away – going from 8.1 to 9 was not like the jump from 7 to 8 or the huge leap from Lightroom to Capture One).

But I bought the upgrade anyway because I knew I would be using it on a near daily basis for a long time to come, for thousands of photos. And, ultimately, I’m glad I did. This is one of those extremely deep pieces of software where it takes time even for experienced users of Capture One like me to uncover all the new facets of the technology. It helps to subscribe to the Phase One email and keep up with blog posts by the “image professor” – I’ve come across several things I simply hadn’t realized, and started incorporating them into my daily workflows.

Evergreen SunsetEvergreen SunsetA winter sunset through the forest - St Edward State Park, Washington State

The three biggest improvements (for me) so far over 8.1:

  • Color management – new Master, highlight, shadow, midtone “circles” that give you a tremendous amount of control over specific color within the photography, very much like color grading a motion picture
  • The new Luma-specific curve, which allows you to perform levels/curves adjustments (brightness/contrast) entirely in the luminosity realm, without impacting saturation or hue at all (the traditional RGB curve is still available)
  • All the little tweaks and enhancements to the layers and layer-specific processing functionalities

The latter should not be overlooked. As far as I’m aware, Capture One is the only software that provides layer processing on RAW files. This gives you ready access to the full dynamic range of the RAW files that the latest and greatest sensors are outputting today (especially Sony and Sony-derived sensors, as well as the newer Leica sensors and others). It really is a game changer if you are coming from Lightroom and want to be extremely detailed and precise in your processing – with LR, I had to process the RAW file as a whole into a TIFF, then import into Photoshop to perform the layer-based tweaks. As good as TIFF is, it isn’t RAW, and TIFF files are enormous. Capture One does away with the extra step and obviates much of the need for Photoshop (note I still have and use Photoshop for the Nik plugins…and that’s about it. If the Nik plugins were made natively available for Capture One, I’d probably never use Photoshop at all. As it stands, you can “round trip” a photo file out of Capture One into the Nik plugins, and it works, but that creates a TIFF and feels a little clunky).

CeilingCeilingThe strong lines, angles and bright skylights of Bellevue Square Mall in Bellevue, WA

As far as I’m concerned, the only real drawbacks to Capture One remain the same as I originally found back in version 7, namely that the User Interface still doesn’t feel as intuitive to me as Lightroom or even DXO. I have a harder time recommending Capture One to newbie photographers than I do Lightroom for that simple fact – I worry that newcomers will try Capture One for a few hours, get frustrated, and give up. It’s a program that rewards patience and demands you dig into it to uncover every feature and tool, but it doesn’t make it immediately obvious up front how to use all those tools

Bottom line: still the RAW processor for me. If pure image quality matters to you, then you should definitely give Capture One a try (and have the patience to give it a long try).

Morning Traffic in the FogMorning Traffic in the FogA foggy February morning in Redmond, Washington


Comments

1.Jarpi(non-registered)
Great comprehensive review. Surprisingly undiscovered earlier. Taking time to learn C1 and end up using it exclusively for raw conversion for sony files. C1 have impressive color tones and excellent shadow graduation and you have present that in full extend on your pictures.
Thanks for review.
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