Shooting in RAW opens up new possibilities for digital photographers. It allows complete control over colour balance, tone and contrast. Because the information in the original RAW file is never altered, it is a also completely non-destructive process. To be able to convert these RAW files into usable images, conversion software is needed. Manufacturers often supply basic tools with their cameras, but these are seldom good enough to exploit the full potential of RAW.
In this review, Gary Wolstenholme
takes a look at Phase One Capture One LE, to see if it's capable of unleashing this potential.
A trial version is available to download from the Phase One website which is valid for 15 days. A license can then be purchased for €99 (approximately £69) which will allow use with up to two computers and includes one free update. The installation program is contained within a .zip file, simply open this and start the setup program which will guide you through the installation. You may need a separate program to open this file if you are using Windows 2000.
Capture One LE is also available on DVD from photographic retailers such as the ePHOTOzine shop
. This way of buying the software means you have a proper printed instruction manual to help guide you through using the software. Whichever way suits you best is entirely subjective, you still end up with the same software and license.
The following cameras are supported by Capture One LE:
||1Ds MKII / 1D MKII / 1D MKII N /1Ds / 1D / 5D / 20D / 10D / 300D /
350D / D60 / D30 / Pro 1 / G6 / G5 / G3 / G2
||Alpha 7 D / Maxxum 7 D / Dynax 7 D / Alpha 5 D / Maxxum 5 D / Dynax 5 D / A1 / A2
||*istD / *istDs
||D2X / D1X / D2Hs / D2H / D1H / D200 / D100 / D70s / D70 / D50
||S3 Pro / S2 Pro
||E-1 / E-10 / E-20 / E-300 / E-500 / C-7070 / C-8080
||Digital Module R for R8 and R9 cameras
New cameras are added periodically, and are included in updates that can be downloaded from Phase One.
Capture One LE is available to run on Windows and Macintosh computers. The minimum system requirements for Windows are:
- Pentium III minimum. Pentium 4 preferred.
- 512 MB of RAM minimum. 1GB or more preferred
- Operating system: Windows 2000/XP
- Ports: FireWire or USB depending on the camera used
and for Macintosh:
- Mac G3 or later
- OS X 10.3.8 or higher
- 512 MB of RAM or more
- At least 2 GB of free disk space.
Multiple processors are also supported, this is because converting RAW files can be very processor intensive. Having two or more processors can dramatically reduce the amount of time taken to process your images.
RAW workflow consists of three major stages, transferring your images, optimisation of colour, contrast and exposure, and finally processing the batch of images.
||Above left - The Phase One Media reader window.
Above - Your files are automatically renamed as they are copied.
Left - Capture One launches and previews are generated as your files are copied.
Inserting your memory card into a card reader, or connecting your camera, launches the Phase One Media Reader. This handy program helps you to prepare, organise and rename your captures.
I found it helps to create a new folder each time I transferred a new set of images as your processed files are stored in a folder called, 'Develops' within this. There is no facility for creating albums, or for organising your images in any other way than this, so careful naming of your capture sessions is imperative.
As your files are copied to your computer, Capture One LE opens and begins generating preview images. I found that previews can take almost twice as long to generate as it does to transfer the files. You can start to adjust the images as it works, which saves a little time.
Optimising your images is split into four tabbed control panels, Capture, White Balance, Exposure and Focus.
The capture tab reveals an exposure histogram for the image. Luminance is shown by the solid grey area and the red, green and blue lines show exposure information for each colour channel.
In this particular instance the red channel is slightly overexposed, as shown by the vertical line at the right hand side of the graph.
I like to skip back to this when adjusting the exposure and white balance settings, if the image is seriously over or under exposed, it will tell you here in big red letters.
When using the white balance control panel you have a few options for achieving correct colour.
The first, and most basic option is to click the magic wand icon near the top. this automatically corrects the colour in a similar way to the auto white balance setting on your camera. It can be useful if you need to run off a quick conversion.
The next option is to use the pipette tool to select a neutral area in your image. The two square windows show the effect selecting a particular area will have on the colour - the first showing current settings and the second showing the result of selecting that area. As a guide, the writing in brackets informs you whether the area you are about to select will cause clipping of any of the colour channels. The writing changes to 'good' if you hover over an area that wont cause clipping. If you cannot find a neutral area in your image, Phase One recommend shooting the scene again with a QP or Gretag Macbeth colour swatch card in the scene. This really isn't a practical solution unless you are shooting in a studio, so if you're stuck with an image with nothing neutral in it, you have to take your best shot at adjusting the white balance manually.
Manual sliders and a colour wheel are provided for this job, careful adjustment and plenty of practice can yield great results, but this interface may be a little too complicated for novices to RAW workflow.
An exposure histogram dominates the centre of the control panel which includes controls for black, white and mid points as well as a tonal curve control which can be accessed by clicking the tab above the histogram. The curve tool is great for fine tuning the tone of your image, I just wish the histogram was overlaid as it is on the standard levels tab, this would save flicking back and forth between the two after making adjustments.
At the top of the control panel is a drop down menu containing four film simulation modes, standard, high contrast extra shadow, and a linear response option. This offers a quick-fix way of altering the tone of your image. There is also an automatic correction option, signified by the same magic wand icon as with white balance.
The three sliders above the histogram control exposure compensation, contrast, and colour saturation. Capture One LE gives 2.5 stops of positive or negative exposure compensation, although it is very rare that you will use either extreme.
Finally below the histogram are dropper tools to set the lightest and darkest parts of your image. The two square windows perform in a similar way to two found in the white balance control panel, giving you a glimpse of before and after.
This set of controls are very intuitive, and give plenty of scope for getting the best out of your images, if you take the time to learn how.
The focus control panel contains settings for sharpening and noise reduction. A preview window shows a magnified crop of your image and can be zoomed between 100% and 570%.
Each time you adjust the settings, the preview updates to show exactly how this will affect the final image.
Sharpening controls take a similar form to those found in Photoshop's unsharp mask tool, with a slider for the amount of sharpening you wish to apply, and a threshold control.
Noise reduction is split between two controls, one for colour noise, and one for pattern noise. For images taken at higher sensitivities, it would be good if the pattern noise suppression tool could be made more aggressive - it has little effect even when set to maximum. The colour noise reduction control is very effective, almost completely killing the horrible multicoloured specks that can occur.
The final stage of your RAW workflow is processing the images. Capture One LE gives you control over the file format the developed version is saved in, bit depth and the colour profile used.
File format options include TIFF and three levels of JPEG compression. I tend to convert to TIFF and use my photo editing software to create Jpeg versions as needed.
16-Bit and 8-Bit colour depth settings can be selected from the next menu. 16-Bit conversion is only available for TIFF files, but will lead to smoother colour graduation if a lot of image editing is done to the file afterwards.
The colour management menu allows you to convert your image to your main ICC profile, your cameras standard profile, a web profile or to greyscale.
Once you are ready to process your image, you can add it to the batch by clicking the red plus symbol, or you can set it processing straight away.
The layout of this control panel is straightforward and easy to use, allowing you to concentrate your efforts on adjusting your images.
Multiple versions of the same image can be processed, each time a new version is saved, an additional version number is added to the file name which helps you to keep track of your files.
Another feature includes the ability to view two versions of the same file side-by-side with different settings applied to each. This is a great feature for comparing different adjustments, especially if you need to adjust the white balance manually. Also the display can be set to show burnt out areas as areas of flat red colour making the adjustment of exposure and contrast much quicker and easier then using only the histogram for reference.
Two versions can of the same file can be viewed simultaneously
Burnt out areas can be highlighted, making adjustment much simpler.
|I have used the image to the right to compare the output produced by Capture One LE to that of two other popular RAW conversion solutions, Pixmantec Rawshooter essentials and Adobe Camera RAW.
A Nikon D200 set at ISO1600 with an 85mm f/1.8 lens was used to take the image. Images taken at high ISO sensitivities present a challenge for RAW conversion software. A fine balance between detail and noise needs to be struck in order to produce the best possible image.
Default noise reduction settings were used when processing the images.
100% crops of the areas marked by the yellow squares are shown below for comparison. I chose the different areas to show how each deal with different kinds of detail.
Find out more about Pimantec Rawshooter Essentials here, and Adobe Camera Raw here
|Capture One LE 3.7.4
||Pixmantec Rawshooter Essentials 2006 v1.2
||Adobe Camera Raw 3.3
Capture One excels at reproducing fine detail, the crop taken from the singer's chin shows the hair more clearly defined than with Rawshooter Essentials, but is matched by Adobe Camera Raw. Smooth edges are also clearly rendered, the crop taken from the singer's nose is slightly smoother than both the other processing solutions. Noise is also well controlled, giving images a film-like appearance, unlike the harsh regular pattern produced by Adobe camera raw.
The output from Capture One LE displays a good balance between detail and noise, fine detail is rendered clearly without harsh, regular patterns, although for some images I would have liked an option for more aggressive noise reduction. The maximum does not seem strong enough for very high sensitivities, or for older cameras that may not produce the smoothest images.
This package is rich with powerful tools and features that will allow photographers who understand the basics of colour correction and management, exposure and tone to produce quality results so long as they take the time to experiment with the tools and learn what suits them best. This program doesn't provide a quick-fix solution for novices or poor technique, but rather a powerful means to extract the very best results from accomplished images.
In summary the positive points of Phase One, Capture One LE are:
Quality of output.
Film-like appearance of digital noise.
Layout of controls.
Phase One Media Reader.
Film simulation modes.
Correction of images is still possible while the batch processes, which can save time.
The negative points:
The time it takes to generate previews.
Controls may be too advanced for beginners to get to grips with straight away.
No provision for organising your images other than saving them in separate folders.
No histogram in the curves control panel.