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Capture One PRO Review

Capture One PRO Review - Having already taken a look at Phase One's budget RAW processing solution, Capture One LE, Gary Wolstenholme turns his attention to Capture One PRO to see if the extra cost is justified by the additional features.

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Having already taken a look at Phase One's budget RAW processing solution, Capture One LE, Gary Wolstenholme turns his attention to Capture One PRO to see if the extra cost is justified by the additional features.

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 also a 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.

Capture One PRO or LE?
Two versions of Phase One's RAW conversion software are available, the LE version sells for under £70 and the PRO version for under £350. With such a great disparity in prices, it is best to make sure that the version you buy is the one you need. The following features are present in Capture One PRO, but not in the LE version.
  • Cross Platform Support (Windows and Mac)
  • Support for Phase One Digital Backs
  • Tethered Shooting with compatible cameras
  • Multiple simultaneous working sessions
  • Set default capture setting and apply to all images while shooting tethered
  • Automatic cropping while shooting tethered
  • Lens cast calibration for removing unwanted colour casts when used with a Phase One digital back
  • Tagging features to organise your images
  • 4-up image preview (only on Mac OSX)
  • Before and after previews
  • Colour editor to customise ICC camera profiles
  • CMYK colour proofing
  • Arbitrary rotation tool
  • Anti-Moire pattern plug-in
  • Multiple, simultaneous output of the same RAW file with different image settings
  • Flexible sizing and scaling options
  • Add IPTC information to your images
  • Create templates for your IPTC information
Extra features, such as the ability to add IPTC information to your images, tailor this version for the professional user. By adding accurate keywords to the IPTC data, professionals optimise their chances of selling pictures through online stock libraries or when wiring their images to a news agency. The ability to output multiple versions of the same file can speed up your workflow, as do other tools like the automatic cropping feature.

The RAW processing engine is essentially the same in both the PRO and LE versions. If you don't need any of the features listed above, then you can get by with the cheaper LE version.

Installation
A trial version is available to download from the Phase One website which is valid for 30 days. A license can then be purchased for €499 (approximately £350) which will allow use with up to two computers and includes two free updates. The installation program is contained within a .zip file. Simply open this and start the set up 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 PRO 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.

Supported cameras
The following cameras are supported by Capture One PRO:
Canon 1Ds MKII / 1D MKII / 1D MKII N /1Ds / 1D / 5D / 20D / 10D / 300D /
350D / D60 / D30 / Pro 1 / G6 / G5 / G3 / G2
Konica Minolta Alpha 7 D / Maxxum 7 D / Dynax 7 D / Alpha 5 D / Maxxum 5 D / Dynax 5 D / A1 / A2
Pentax *istD / *istDs
Nikon D2X / D1X / D2Hs / D2H / D1H / D200 / D100 / D70s / D70 / D50
Fuji S3 Pro / S2 Pro
Olympus E-1 / E-10 / E-20 / E-300 / E-500 / C-7070 / C-8080
Epson R-D1
Leica Digital Module R for R8 and R9 cameras
Phase One P 45 / P 30 / P 25 / P 20 / H 25 / H 20 / H 10 / H 101 / H 5 / Lightphase

Capture One is regularly updated to be compatible with the latest cameras, these updates can be downloaded directly from Phase One. Version 3.7.4, which will soon be available, will also support:
Phase One
P 21
Canon 30D
Pentax *ist DS2 / *ist DL2 / *ist DL
Sony DSC-R1

Hardware requirements
Capture One PRO 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.

In use

RAW workflow consists of three major stages, transferring your images, optimisation of colour, contrast and exposure, and finally processing the batch of images.

Transfer
Capture One PRO Capture One PRO
Capture One PRO 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 transfer a new set of images as 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 at this stage, so careful naming of your capture sessions is imperative.

As your files are copied to your computer, Capture One PRO 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 time.

Optimisation
Optimising your images is split into four tabbed control panels, Capture, White Balance, Exposure and Focus.

Capture
The capture tab reveals an exposure histogram for the image and controls for tethered shooting with a Phase One digital back, or Canon digital SLR. Luminance is shown by the solid grey area and the red, green and blue lines show exposure information for each colour channel. For this particular image you can see that the exposure is as good as it could be, all three colour channels fit within the bounds of the histogram.
If your image is over or under exposed, a warning is displayed in big red block capitals which is very hard to miss.
When shooting tethered, two menus at the top provide control over camera settings, which can be set remotely in the software. To take a picture, simply click the capture button located below the histogram.
Capture One PRO
White balance
The white balance control panel found in Capture One PRO is essentially the same as that found in the LE version.
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 magic wand icon near the top. this will automatically correct 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 word poor in brackets informs you that 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 won't 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, you would have to photograph one of these cards everywhere you went. 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.
Capture One PRO
   
Exposure
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 PRO 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.
These 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.
This is exactly the same as you would find in the LE version of Capture One.
Capture One PRO
   
Focus
If you are familiar with the LE version of this software, you will have already realised that this control panel is exactly the same in both versions.
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.
A banding suppression slider is also provided. Increasing this helps to prevent noise in images taken at high sensitivities separating into bands, which can make noise look quite coarse. I found this can help improve the film-like appearance of high ISO images.
Capture One PRO
   
Batch processing
The final stage of your RAW workflow is processing the images. Capture One PRO gives you the ability to process up to three different versions from the same RAW file simultaneously. You could process versions with different colour settings for various applications, greyscale versions, or even output the same image at three different sizes, for example; one for the web, one for medium sized prints and one at full resolution. Sorting your images at this stage can save you a lot of time that would be spent optimising images in your photo-editing software afterwards.
The size of the image to be processed can be determined either by specifying pixel dimensions, or by changing the percentage in the Scaling box.
In the file format menu you have the choice of four output settings, TIFF, and three Jpeg compression levels. If you were outputting different versions of the same file you could set one to TIFF and one to Jpeg ready for email or print.
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.
Capture One PRO
   
Another feature offers the ability to view two versions of the same file side-by-side with different settings applied to each. This is great 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.
Capture One PRO
Two versions of the same file can be viewed and outputted simultaneously
Capture One PRO
Burnt out areas can be highlighted, making adjustment much simpler.

Colour space editor
Capture One PRO gives advanced users total control of their colour profiles via a built in colour space editor. This allows you to edit the current profile to meet your preference and save it as a new custom colour space. The editor takes a similar form to the white balance tool and allows control over hue and saturation. Any changes can be previewed in real time and will apply to all images processed using this setting. Capture One PRO

Output comparison
I have used the image to the right to compare the output produced by Capture One PRO to that of two other popular RAW conversion solutions, Pixmantec Rawshooter essentials and Adobe Camera RAW.
A Nikon D200 set at ISO1250 with a 24mm 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 package deals with different kinds of detail.
Capture One PRO
Capture One PRO 3.7.4 Pixmantec Rawshooter Essentials 2006 v1.2 Adobe Camera Raw 3.3
Capture One PRO Capture One PRO Capture One PRO
Capture One PRO Capture One PRO Capture One PRO
Capture One PRO Capture One PRO Capture One PRO
Find out more about Pimantec Rawshooter Essentials here, and Adobe Camera Raw here

Capture One excels at reproducing fine detail, the crop taken from the singer's hair shows more clearly defined detail than with Rawshooter Essentials, but is matched by Adobe Camera Raw. Regular patterns are also clearly rendered, the crop taken from the singer's scarf is ever so 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 Rawshooter Essentials.

Verdict
The output from Capture One PRO 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.

The extra cost of the PRO version can only be justified if you really need the extra features. If you are a professional with a Phase One back, a digital SLR and both Mac and PC computers, then the choice is a no-brainer. On the other hand, if you won't use the tethered shooting facility, the batch processing options or many of the other extras, then Capture One LE is the program for you.

In summary the positive points of Phase One, Capture One PRO are:
Capture One PROQuality of output.
Capture One PROFilm-like appearance of digital noise.
Capture One PROLayout of controls.
Capture One PROPhase One Media Reader.
Capture One PROFilm simulation modes.
Capture One PROCorrection of images is still possible while the batch processes, which can save time.
Capture One PROProcess multiple versions of the same file simultaneously

The negative points:
Capture One PROThe time it takes to generate previews.
Capture One PROControls may be too advanced for beginners to get to grips with straight away.
Capture One PRONo provision for organising your images other than saving them in separate folders.
Capture One PRONo histogram in the curves control panel.
Capture One PRONo support for tethered shooting for manufacturers other than Canon.

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