Capture One - contender for Aperture and Lightroom?

Darkroom on your desktop
Steve Hullfish
By Steve Hullfish 11.19.10


Capture One has been the professional photographer's well-kept secret for a number of years. I am not a professional photographer and learned about it from a friend who is. We were discussing Apple's Aperture and Adobe Lightroom and he said, "But there's a better option."

That option is Capture One from Phase One. (

image Capture One was originally developed by Phase One to convert RAW file formats; it supported the Phase One digital back and a number of other RAW file formats. Today, the software is in its fifth version and works with any RAW image and most cameras.

image Capture One is great with pre-shot images from camera cards, but it really excels when tethered, by providing even more tools, like Focus Masking. With super-shallow depth of field, like with the Canon 5D Mark II or even shallower depth of focus on medium format camera backs, it's a welcome assist.

image The other recent addition - that puts Capture One into (and above) the likes of Aperture and Lightroom - is Phase One's acquisition of Microsoft's Expression Media software for digital asset management. Now, you can easily add a selection of images from Capture One to an Expression Media catalog; transfer rating and color tags between applications with a simple drag and drop; use Capture One's default rendering to preview images in Expression Media; and create a Capture One album with images from Expression Media. For professional photographers - and amateurs alike - digital asset management (DAM) is critical to monetizing your content and keeping your searches for specific shots to a minimum.

There are three versions of the software: The basic version delivers quick, ready-to-deliver images with little fuss; the Pro Version, which I am reviewing here, and a DB (digital back) version for those using Mamiya and Leaf digital camera backs.


For me, there are a few things that really stand out about this software. The first is the clean, easy-to-use layout of the controls and UI. You can explore and figure out quite a bit of the software without referencing the manuals or "help" at all. The controls are easily arranged and grouped and customized for each user. The design and look is modern and easy to navigate and conducive to serious tweaking of high-end imagery.


I love the workspaces for things like "Focus Checking," which allows you to move to a floating "focus checking window" to a specific spot and have it stay in that same spot through multiple images. If you're in a hurry, there is a tab of Quick tools that provide the usual basic adjustments laid out for a series of quick touches to an image or series of images. And Capture One doesn't limit itself to RAW. You can also do image enhancement on TIFFs and JPEGS. Exporting images can be done as TIFF, JPEG, JPEG Quickproof, or DNG. The exports can be done as 8 or 16 bit, with or without various compression schemes, color profiles and even their "open with" settings can be selected so that the resulting files are automatically opened with a specific application.

The second thing is the power of the tools that are provided. Every aspect of the image (not to mention the metadata) can be tweaked, down to correcting for specific lens deficiencies and "personalities" like vignetting or distortions. There are a lot of preset looks that can be applied, if you don't want to tweak the particulars yourself. The color correction tools are definitely powerful, with a full range of options, depending on how you like to work, or which tools are best for a specific image. The tools are similar to many of the tools I'm used to in the video world or in Photoshop, but with little nuances that make them better and more powerful.


The Skin Tone tool is nicely designed and allows you to apply color corrections specifically to skin tones without affecting other parts of the picture. You can even save and name specific skin tones directly from one image and use them on other images. Skin Tone Enhancement also smoothes skin tones without affecting the detail of other critical areas of the photo. There is also a Focus Mask Tool, which places an overlay of color on the parts of the image that the software sees as being in focus. This can be helpful in choosing the correct shots in a series, to quickly identify which ones have the correct areas in critical focus, and also, when tethered, to focus critically. Even the thumbnails can have this overlay, allowing very quick review of a series of photos without having to zoom in on every shot to check for focus issues. Capture One can do very nice spot/blemish removal and has powerful built-in noise reduction as well. While Capture One doesn't provide the ability to tweak an image at the granular level of Photoshop, it does have lots of tools, like creative vignetting, dust removal, and the other color tools I've mentioned here to be applied with little fuss and with greater efficiency.

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