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