My Love/Hate Relationship With Capture One

I've had more questions come at me about Capture One since the last Adobe CC update than I have in the last few years. I guess that whole regular old Lightroom is now Lightroom "classic" thing really did a number on people. Maybe that whole trust us thing with Adobe is wearing a little thin and "Don't worry, this subscription thing is good for you" is a little worrisome. Whatever it is there seams to be a lot of interest from photographers of late that a couple of months ago would never considered looking at another RAW processor.

Warning Label

I've always hated Lightroom with a passion. I rarely use it on anything I actually care about. Sure I use it here for proofing stuff with some preset slapped on the whole lot of 'um. It's convenient. Actually using Lightroom is not convenient, the one and only thing that is convenient is plastering on a preset, creating an album, and having it all on my phone in 30 seconds. That's not really using Lightroom is it? There are so many things I've always hated about Lightroom It's hard to even list them. I think I've mentioned how terrible the grain simulator is. The work-flow isn't really all that great either it's so so hemmed in because of the rush-to-market design since day one. It's also slow, really slow.

On the other hand it's kind of the lowest common denominator. It's the MS Office of photo-crap. I have to use it and be proficient as almost every other photographer I consult with, all of the people in workshops I host, etc, etc use it so there's that. The funny part is that almost everyone complains about how slow it is now. Way way back everyone marveled at how "fast" it was when compared with the ORIGINAL asset manager/raw processor/all-in-one program that invented the genre — Apple Aperture. Here's why it's funny, Aperture has always been really fast… on fast hardware with good graphics, it still is. Lightroom has always been a dog on decent hardware, it was somewhat faster on really shitty low end computers. Now that even shitty computers have a bunch of cores, decent graphics etc everyone is starting to see what a hunk of garbage it is. I hear the "new Lightroom", the trust me everything is in the cloud version is actually faster... go figure.

On with the show now that that is over.

Capture One Is Fantastic

Capture One is crazy fast on great hardware. It actually puts high-end computers to work in a productive way. Heck my aging 2013 trash-can Mac Pro running C1 with 50 or even 100 megapixel files completely slaughters just about any computer running Lightroom with the same files. It actually uses all those XEON cores. More importantly it uses all of the graphics processing, yep both D700 cards. It screams.

I won't go thru all of the tools but let's just say overall every single tool in Capture One is better than Lightroom, and in many cases better than Photoshop. What do I mean by better? Hmmmm, faster more convenient to use, fantastically fine degree of control. Just one example — the simple curves control. Lightroom's curves has always been twitchy and difficult to use precisely. Capture One's is fantastic and extremely easy to use to very fine degrees of control. Better. Aperture's curves control was very similar and maybe even better with it's shadows view and ability to see past the highlights end point but C1's is great. Same goes for pretty much all the rest of the color controls, etc, etc, etc. Lightroom feels much more like a bunch of hammers.

Do anything anywhere, adjust the U/I in whatever makes sense for the screen you've got, how you work, or the job at hand. Awesome, no more hemmed in. Hell we just got the ability to look at two different images side by side while making adjustments in L/R this year. THIS YEAR.

Speaking of flexibility, I can use Capture One any way I want to in terms of file and library management. Honestly if you have Capture One and haven't explored various work-flows and file management capabilities I would suggest you spend some time (more than a day) really getting to know all the ways it can be used.

  1. In library mode this is sort of the new "standard" mode where you can have it work a hell of a lot like Lightroom in terms of work-flow. Or you can have it work a lot like the default of Aperture/Mac Photos where it sucks imports into it's own internal file management scheme, or both.
  2. Sessions. If you are an old-school C1 user this is how you probably work with C1. Too bad most people new to the program never really use sessions or bother to even understand how great session file management is. Everything is in a self-contained package that is easily moved around and all the paths to files are relative. Awesome when tethering, but honestly awesome even when you are shooting to a card. My standard workflow is session based and then I use libraries as a browser across all of my sessions when I eventually move them off of SSD onto long term storage. What's super awesome is that all the metadata, ratings, organization, adjustments, everything you did in a session comes right in. Nothing moves. Easy and if you're even a little clever you can still work in session and pick-up changes. I rarely do that as I am "done" with a session when I move it off of SSD but I keep the session in tact.
  3. You can even use it like bridge/photo mechanic and not "import" anything. Just browse anywhere you want and start working... How? The answer is again sessions but no-need to setup or import or capture to that session. Any blank session will do. Blow it away when you're done, or import it to your library. Yep any work you did will still come along for the ride.

I'll repeat this for the millionth time because I am sure you've all read it somewhere or everywhere else. If you do any tethered shooting you want Capture One. Logic would dictate that how fast images come up when tethered is mostly due to RAW file size and transfer speed right? Well sure that has something to do with it but Capture One compared to Lightroom is instant with any camera, doesn't matter 40 mpix, 50, 100... they all feel instant compared to tethering even small file cameras in LR. Even better it always works. Always!!! No drop outs or disconnects, no fiddling around, it just works and the camera controls are far more comprehensive. Live view via camera anyone? Awesome stuff.

I honestly could go on and on and on and on about all the little things that make your life so so much better once you really learn the tool and discover the way it works and why it works the way it does. There is a learning curve that's more than you'd predict to get the most out of it. Actually it's like any very well designed tool, the more you use it the more you'll like it. It's a lot like comparing a 5D Mk IV to a 6D, or a Nikon D850 to a D600, you know any pro-level camera body to the consumer version with the same sensor. Sure they make the same pictures but if you use it all day everyday one certainly makes your life a lot easier.

Capture One SUCKS!

Okay, now comes the hate part. Without fail the first two point releases of any major upgrade to Capture One will crash. It will usually crash a lot. Or not??? For me it's been the case that it does but I use the shit out of it. Be prepared to keep the old version around for a while. The good news is that sooner or later it's very very very stable. For Capture One 10 this took until 10.2.1 for me this time around. Might have been the Fuji files? Maybe not. Honestly I've been using only Capture One since 10.1 and never reverting, in fact it might have been 10.2 that was a step backwards? Don't know but this happens.

Got a non-mainstream camera... good luck with that. If you shoot Phase One (obviously) Canon, Nikon, or kinda Sony now you are made in the shade. Actually you're pretty good even outside that box but god help you if you shoot say ummmm Fuji. I swear to god my XPro-2 was not fully supported until Capture One 10, official support started under Capture One 8?? In any case I had to go thru two entire paid upgrades until all of the stuff was supported on the XPro-2. Things like compressed RAW, things like lens profile corrections, etc. On that note, do not expect instant support on your first guy on the block to have the new camera. If you shoot commercial work there's a good chance this is okay since you usually are not the first one out of the gate grabbing up the completely newest thing on the block.

There are one or two tiny nits here and there that can be annoying. Honestly I don't know if those nits are SO very annoying because everything else is so well done and thought out so they stand out more or it's just that they are completely annoying but at least there's someone to talk to about it. The support is kinda good. Example, tethering, works great, hmmmmm, it's literally impossible to import from a connected camera though. There's just no way to do it. You have to connect to the camera with ANOTHER piece of software and use that to grab images off a card in a connected camera. WTF??? Is this a show-stopper? No, you can fire up anything you want that talks to the camera to pull images off and put them in a folder but holy shit how can you guys be so so good at connecting and controlling cameras but can't figure out how to import from a camera with a card for a decade????

End Notes.

Consider this an open letter to anyone that asks. Here's the bottom line, if you are lazy and want all your crap up on your phone right this second in one-stop shopping then LR is for you. If your work absolutely positively depends on smart object RAW files in photoshop and being able to double click and brink up that RAW in ACR while working in Photoshop then have at it. If occasionally you need to re-process the RAW and bring it back into photoshop, that's doable no matter what you use. Have a camera that's not supported and it's your main camera?? Sure all those cases it would make sense to use LR. In all other cases beyond casual use I honestly would recommend Capture One. Do I recommend Capture One to occasional photographers? No, the learning curve is longer, they don't get the consumer friendly features like Lightroom mobile, and there are FAR fewer resources to help. I also don't recommend an IQ3 Tri-chromatic to occasional photographers either. They will definitely make worse pictures than with their phone.

Same specs on pics as last time but instead of SOOC these have 10 seconds worth of tweaks in Capture One. Yes, JPEG artifacts really screw up high-res hair but I don't want moronically huge web pages do we, so low quality JPEG's at retina resolution it is.