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Capture One v4 review

Version 4 of Capture One is a powerful yet easy to use tool for any photographer By Robert Jensen

Phase One, longtime makers of high-end professional digital backs used by some of the top photographers in the world has just introduced its newest version of RAW image workflow software, Capture One 4. Capture One 4 can be used on a PC or Mac. On my 1.6GHz Core Duo laptop running Windows XP SP2 with 2GB of memory it ran quite smoothly without lagging, even during processor/disk intensive tasks that with similar software from other companies would take much longer.

Before I go on I should warn anyone who's using a PC that the tutorials, etc. are all for using the program on a Mac. Some features, like customizing the Toolbar, are not possible on the PC version and there are other differences with the PC version.

This really threw me until viewing the extended movie available on Phase One's download page. Even then I had to pick up the info by frequently pausing the movie and studying the screen to compare it with the PC version. No matter which computer you use I highly recommend watching the movie before using the program for the first time. It will give you a good head start. Just be aware, there are differences.


At first glance Capture One's dark-on-black interface is very similar looking to Adobe Lightroom and DxO Optics Pro 5. Along the top of the window are the typical Menu bar, below that the Toolbar, then the main viewer window which can show a single image or a selection of images. At the bottom of the screen is the Thumbnail viewer which can be toggled between Grid/List modes. The Tool Palette can be positioned on either the right or left (default) side of the screen.

The first thing most photographers will do with Capture One 4 is import some images from a memory card. Capture One 4 lets you change file names, tag the files with your copyright and backup to a second location.

Tool Palette
First up in the Tool Palette lineup is Library. Here you'll navigate to folders containing your images, right click to add them to your Favorites, create a new Album or Folder, rename, set as Output or Move To folder, show in Explorer (PC version) or Import.

The Quick tool palette is next. This is where most of your work will be done.  Included are the typical controls: White Balance with Kelvin and Tint sliders, an eyedropper tool, drop down list of common settings or Auto mode; Exposure with sliders for Exposure, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation and Auto mode; High Dynamic Range (a new feature with v.4) with Shadow and Highlight recovery sliders, and an Auto mode. If you've been frustrated getting good results using Auto mode with other photo editing software, then Capture One will save you hundreds of dollars just on your aspirin bill. It works very well!

Next is the Color palette where you can apply White balance (just as in the Quick palette), Color Balance using a color wheel or Hue/Saturation sliders. There's also a Lens Cast Calibration header, which sounds useful but is grayed out in the PC version. Following is Exposure, again copying some tools from the Quick palette and adding Levels and Curves. Following that is Composition, with a Crop tool. Crop Ratio can be set to Unconstrained or fixed proportions. You can add/save custom sizes as well. There's also a Rotation slider. Next is Details where you apply Sharpening and Noise Reduction (Luminance and Color). Then there is a Metadata palette where you can make some changes to the Basic section of information. This is followed by the Adjustments Clipboard where you choose which adjustments to copy/paste. Next is the all important Output palette where you select the file format, bit depth, Compression, ICC Profile, Resolution, Scale, whether or not to disable Sharpening, and after processing, the option to open the finished product in another program. Last is the Batch palette where you can batch process selected images in your folder.

At the top of the screen under File you can select Web Contact Sheet and Capture One 4 will automatically put together a simple web page from selected images along with information like title, descriptions and more. There's also the ability to create a slide show webpage.

One of Capture One v4's new features is the Variant. You can right click an image and create a Clone Variant, separate from your original image. With this variant you can make adjustments, while your original image stays untouched. You can also display your original and variant(s) together to aid in making adjustments. Under the 'View' menu you can show or hide and move toolbars to the right or left side of the screen. You can also customize the tool bar icon placement.

One thing that I liked was that all the sliders worked smoothly and were much easier to make fine adjustments using a mouse than with Adobe products I've used. Built-in camera ICC profiles for major manufacturers is also a terrific feature. In-camera color profiles and adjustments are preserved better in Capture One 4 than with most of the competition.

However there is one thing I think is sorely needed in Capture One - being able to work with JPEG/JPG and TIF file formats. As it stands now it only processes RAW files which leaves a major portion of the photographers out there with no place else to go but to the competition.

All in all Capture One's interface is smoother and easier to use than Adobe's Lightroom. Capture One 4 imports MUCH quicker than with Lightroom. While not quite as feature rich as Lightroom, I found that Capture One had the tools I needed most often and for those times where I needed to do more it was easy to go into Photoshop.

RAW file support
Capture One 4 currently supports RAW files from the following digital backs/cameras:

  • Phase One: P 45+, P 30+, P 25+, P 21+, P 20+, P 45, P 30, P 25, P 21, P 20, H 25, H 20, H 10, H 101, H 5, LightPhase
  • Canon: 1Ds Mark III, 1D Mark III, 1D Mark II N, 1Ds Mark II, 1D Mark II, 1Ds, 1D,
    5D, 40D, 30D, 20D, 10D, 400D/Rebel XTi, 350D/Rebel XT, 300D/Rebel, D60, D30, Pro 1, G6,
    G5, G3, G2
  • Epson: R-D1s, R-D1
  • Fuji: S5 Pro, S3 Pro, S2 Pro
  • Konica Minolta: Alpha 5 D / Maxxum 5 D / Dynax 5 D, Alpha 7 D/Maxxum 7 D / Dynax 7 D, A1, A2
  • Leica: M8, Digilux 3, Digital Module R for R8 and R9 cameras
  • Nikon: D3, D2Xs, D2X, D2Hs, D2H, D1X, D1H, D300, D200, D100, D80, D70s, D70, D50,
    D40X, D40
  • Olympus: E-3, E-510, E-410, E-500, E-1, E-10, E-20, E-330, E-300, E-400, C-7070, C-8080
  • Pentax: K10D, K100D, *istDL2, *istDL, *istD, *istDS2, *istDS (Only PEF files supported)
  • Sony: (alpha) DSLR-A100, DSC-R1
  • Adobe: DNG (raw DNG support only)

- Currently DNG read or write is not supported for S5 Pro, S3 Pro, S2 Pro, Nikon D1X or
  ?sRAW files from Canon cameras
* Compressed DNGs cannot be written currently

Final thoughts
Capture One 4 ($129 suggested retail) has a polished interface, with sliders and other controls that all work smoothly. The program as a whole seems to do everything without effort and that in turn saves you from as much effort in your workflow. All that wouldn't be of much use unless the software produced good results and right from the start I was aware of Capture One 4 preserving the colors that other programs lost or overrode with their own color casts. Generally working with a camera manufacturer's own software preserves colors and settings best but can sometimes be lacking in the usability department. Also, a photographer might use camera gear from several different manufacturers mandating the use of each manufacturer's own software to get the best results. Capture One 4 lets you use one program and interface to speedily process RAW images from many different sources. Its only shortcoming is only working with RAW files and not other image formats. If you primarily shoot RAW then Capture One 4 is worth a serious look, even compared to software costing several times its price. For more information, visit www.phaseone.com


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Robert Jensen has spent most of his 55 years in photography, from the age of 11 when he got his first camera (a Kodak Instamatic) to the present, shooting professionally. From 1971 to 1997 he worked in retail selling photographic equipment to people of all skill levels. For most of that period he was also a manager.
Related Keywords:digital imaging, Camera Raw, raw image workflow, digital photography, digital camera

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