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Capture One v8.3 Overview

Capture One has been a mainstay in the workflow of serious photographers for years and has continually evolved to remain the most highly regarded and advanced RAW workflow software in the market. If you don’t know much about Capture One or have been considering trying it, this article summarises some of it’s most compelling features as well as the benefits that keep me using it for all my work after 10 years.

This article has been updated since it was written to include features added in Capture One Pro v8.2 and v8.3 which were free upgrades released in 2015.   New features in those releases are identified in the main text and are also summarised at the bottom of the article.

Why Capture One?

It’s a misconception amongst some users of RAW conversion software that Capture One is somehow a less established competitor to Lightroom. In fact the opposite is true as Capture One was in use by professional photographers before Lightroom even existed. It started life as software for tethered capture and RAW conversion with Phase One’s high-end digital backs in studios in the late 1990s so you would expect their engineers to know a thing or two about producing the best possible results from RAW files.

The benefit for a wider photographic community came when support for raw files from DSLRs was introduced in 2003 and Capture One Pro was born.   Today, Capture One Pro has an incredibly rich feature set in a simple to use interface and supports files from over 300 cameras including DSLRs and mirrorless cameras from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, Leica, Olympus, Pentax, Ricoh, Samsung, Panasonic,Konica/Minolta, Epson, and digital backs fromMamiya/Leaf and Phase One.  There is a full list of supported cameras here.

The Capture One workspace, which is highly configurable.
The Capture One workspace, which is highly configurable and works brilliantly on dual monitors, allowing a full screen preview on one monitor as well as floating tools.

Capture One has stayed at the leading edge and functionality and performance improvements are added at every release to what is already a very powerful set of tools.  Capture One Pro Version 8 is about stability, speed, expanding the number of adjustments that can now be done locally within an image and enhancing further the quality of results from the High Dynamic Range, Black and White Conversion, Noise Reduction and Moire Control tools.

I’ve been a user of Capture One Pro software since version 3 in 2003 and have used it with all my professional and personal work since then with RAW files from several different cameras and digital backs from Nikon, Canon and Phase One.  I have been a beta tester for the last few releases.

I have have used Nikon Capture NX, ACR and Lightroom and my wife is a professional wedding photographer and Lightroom user. I get called upon to provide technical support but I’ve never been tempted to switch….

The Features and Benefits

Different photographers have different priorities. I am a commercial and advertising photographer working on commissions and I work a lot in the studio as well as on location. I often shoot tethered but also untethered when required. Capture One Pro has an extensive feature set and the ones described below are the ones that continue to make it the software of choice for me.

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means. Capture One offers a very comprehensive feature set and other features in the software that I don’t use will be important to other photographers.

RAW conversion quality

For years, the quality of RAW conversion by Capture One has been very highly regarded by professional photographers with many rating it as the best. Phase One’s development team continue to push quality and speed in each release. It’s sometimes argued that a camera manufacturer’s own software produces the best tones from a particular camera but the functionality, performance and useability of their software usually falls seriously short of what is required in a professional image workflow as well as processing files from only one brand of camera.

As well as built-in camera-specific ICC profiles, Capture One Pro offers a choice of film curves as part of the base characteristics of any image(s).
As well as built-in camera-specific ICC profiles, Capture One Pro offers a choice of film curves as part of the base characteristics of any image(s).

Where there have been any criticisms of Capture One these have usually been around colour rendition with certain camera profiles, usually around skin tones (which to some extent are a matter of taste). The ability to modify Capture One’s built-in profiles has always addressed that.

Tailored colour profiles are provided for all the cameras and digital backs that Capture One supports.  If you wish to tweak a camera profile to suit particular conditions or your own taste then you can use the Color Editor (see below) to make colour adjustments on a reference image and save the modified colour renderings as a new ICC camera profile.

Image previews are displayed in your chosen proofing colour space which would normally be the output colour space – for example Adobe RGB, sRGB or any CMYK profile you wish to use. It has the advantage that if you are outputting directly to CMYK, for example, then you are viewing all your adjustments in a CMYK preview image.

Global and Local adjustments

Most key image adjustments can be applied globally to the image in the nomal fashion or can be applied selectively to parts of the image using masked adjustment layers, which adds hugely to the ability to create output images straight from Capture One that don’t need to be taken into Photoshop.

Adjustments that can be applied locally (as well as globally) in Capture One Pro 8 are Exposure, Contrast, mid tone Brightness, Saturation, White Balance, Sharpening, Clarity, Moire Control, High Dynamic Range and  Color Editor (see below).  And you can have multiple different adjustments on separate layers, each with its own mask. Masks are painted in and out using brushes, with brush size and softness set by the user, or using a gradient tool.

Capture One Local Adjustment
A simple local adjustment to exposure, contrast and clarity. The red mask defines where the adjustment is applied.

The newly added feature to do local white balance adjustments in different parts of a scene is a real step forward for dealing with mixed light sources. And if you don’t want to make any selective local adjustments, that’s fine, all adjustments done on the Background layer apply to the whole image.

Curves and Levels adjustments that operate in much the same way as Photoshop can be applied globally.  Many users will find the Histogram tab useful – it maintains a histogram of the original unadjusted image data after application of the selected Camera Profile and Film Curve but without any other adjustments that have been made.

Since Version 7, Noise Control in Capture One Pro has been automatically optimised for each image according to the camera/digital back that created it. As usual, you have full control over the parameters if you don’t wish to use the defaults presented.

Moire Control is important to users of digital backs and cameras like the D800 and D810 that don’t have anti-aliasing filters. As an owner of a P25+ back I can say that the suppression of moire in fabrics and  aliasing artefacts in fine details like hair has got better and better in recent releases without even having to use the Moire tool. When it is needed, the use of a masked adjustment layer (or multiple layers if different parts of the image would benefit from different suppression parameters) makes it easy to brush in moire suppression without having to resort to Photoshop.

Repair Layers

Local adjustment layers now include Clone and Heal layers which in many cases will avoid the need to go into Photoshop to remove small objects and blemishes in the image. That’s in addition to the Spot Removal tool designed for sensor dust.

Image before any Repair or Local Adjustment layers are applied. Copyright Tony May 2014.
Image before any Repair or Local Adjustment layers are applied. Copyright Tony May 2014.
A Heal repair layer has been used to remove the burnt spot and a Clone layer to add more tablecloth top right. Image copyright Tony May 2014.
A Heal repair layer has been used to remove the burnt spot and a Clone layer to add more tablecloth top right.  An adjustment layer has also been used to tweak the contrast and brightness of the raspberries, Image copyright Tony May 2014.

High Dynamic Range

Capture One has very powerful but simple controls for Shadow Recovery and Highlight Recovery which have been improved even further in version 8. Not tone mapped HDR paintbox effects but genuinely useful tools for maximising the dynamic range from a single capture. With the ability to apply the adjustments either globally, or locally, along with exposure and contract adjustments in as many different local adjustment layers as you wish, it is very often possible to produce the desired result from a single capture.

If that isn’t enough, the ability to select different Film Curves as a base characteristic for an image, along with the camera profile, gives even more control. The default is film curve is Film Standard but Film Extra Shadow opens up shadow detail and Linear Response doesn’t apply an S-curve and gives a very flat starting point.  Film High Contrast is the curve I tend to use if I am working in Black and White.

Color Editor

The Color Editor in Capture One is an extremely powerful tool that allows the selective and very precise adjustment of specific colours using Hue, Saturation and Brightness controls. It is invaluable for very precise adjustment for example where colour reproduction or matching is critical, or for adjusting colours globally or locally in a scene to suit your artistic vision, the classic example being to adjust blue sky without affecting other parts of a scene. It is more sophisticated and subtle than the tools available in Photoshop.

The Color Editor allows very precise and controlled colour adjustments. Here the green of the basil leaves has has its hue subtly changed and saturation increased. The variant on the right shows the colours are affected - the olives are untouched. The colour wheel and picker is used to control the range of colours affected. Swatches show the before and after colours.
The Color Editor allows very precise and controlled colour adjustments. Here the green of the basil leaves has its hue subtly changed and saturation increased. The variant on the right shows the colours affected – the olives are untouched. The colour wheel and picker is used to control the range of colours affected. Swatches show the before and after colours.

It enables users to select and adjust a narrow color spectrum without affecting other colors in an image.  There are controls to adjust the width of the affected colour spectrum and the smoothness of the transition between selected colours and adjacent colours for a natural result.   The parts of the image that will be affected can be previewed in isolation.

Multiple colour edits can be applied to an image and because colour edits are one of the adjustments that can be applied locally on masked adjustment layers you have ultimate control over where individual colour adjustments are applied.

Global colour edits can be saved in the form of a modified camera profile which can applied to other images and future jobs.

3-Way Colour Balance Tool (v8.2)

The right hand variant has had 3-way Color Balance adjustments applied to move the shadows towards teal and darkened a little, the mid tones towards blue and the highlights toward orange. Original image by Catherine Kerr.  Camera, lighting, model, make-up and hair courtesy of Phase One, Flash Centre and Pin Up Academy at a Phase One Open Day. Phase One XF/75-100mm, model October DiVine.

The Color Balance tool enables precise control of colors, hue and saturation within an image in order to create a desired mood or “look” for an image similar to grading video.  The 3-Way option displays Shadow, Midtone and Highlight color wheels together which allow you to pull the colours towards a particular hue as well adjusting saturation and lightness for tinting and shading.

Adjustments made to highlight areas, for example, will affect mid-tones slightly but will not alter the shadows.  Lightness changes do not affect hue or saturation.

The use of sliders to adjust saturation (left slider) and lightness (right slider) on each wheel makes it extremely easy to perform very precise adjustments without inadvertently changing the hue adjustment.
The use of sliders to adjust saturation (left slider) and lightness (right slider) on each wheel makes it extremely easy to perform very precise adjustments without inadvertently changing the hue adjustment.


You can make multiple versions of an image to try different looks, black and white and colour versions or versions with different adjustments for blending in Photoshop, although the need for the latter has decreased significantly with the very comprehensive array of Local Adjustments now available (see above). Lightroom users will know variants as Virtual Copies.

Efficient Editing and Processing

Since its inception, Capture One has been a workflow tool for very efficiently editing, adjusting and processing the volumes typically generated in professional jobs.

Images can be given star and colour ratings and selects can quickly be filtered or moved to another folder.

Edits and adjustments to one image can be copied individually or all together to any number of selected images in one or two clicks.

Auto-adjustment by the software is available for WB, Exposure and High Dynamic Range; and like Chromatic Aberration analysis can be carried out on single or multiple images at once with a single click.

Styles can be created which consist of any number of different settings you wish, including Adjustments, Local Adjustments, Camera Profile and Film Curve, White Balance, Crop, Rotation, Lens Corrections, Keystone corrections and Metadata. Styles scan be saved, they can be used to apply adjustments to multiple images and can be automatically applied to new images as they are captured or imported.

Presets allow you to save settings for individual tools and have them appear in a drop down menu underneath the built-in presets provided for each tool.

Processing to create output images is done in background, in a batch queue that can be stopped, started or edited at any time, and is super fast, taking advantage of your computer’s graphics card where it can for extra processing power.Where required, multiple output files can be created simultaneously from each image, in different formats, sizes and colour spaces, with options to disable or enable sharpening, cropping, and the various subsets of metadata, and to include a watermark.

The Workspace can be customised extensively to suit your way of working and can consists of up to three windows. A main Browser window with tools, thumbnails, a preview of the selected image, an optional Viewer window showing one or more large image previews and if using Live View, a Live View window.  Any of the windows can be made full screen which works great in a dual monitor set-up.

Individual adjustment tools can be added, removed, moved or duplicated between different Tool Tabs. And they can be made free-floating  to float anywhere on the screen(s) independent of the main windows. All the important ones are re-sizeable – so for example you can have a very large (since v8.2) Curves tool for very precise adjustments.

Lens corrections

Capture One has built-in lens profiles which automatically correct geometric distortions and chromatic aberrations for a large number of commonly used lenses on supported cameras. A full list of supported lenses is contained in the Capture One release documentation available on the Capture One Pro v8 download page. The profiles can be selected manually or detected automatically. You can vary the amount of distortion correction if you wish and generic corrections are available for lenses for which Capture One has no profile.

Interior image showing lens corrections in Capture One Pro
Lens profiles are automatically detected and applied, the degree of correction can be manually adjusted if required. Here a value of 113% has been used to correct distortion at a focal length of 16mm as the lens is the Mk I version of the Canon 16-35mm. Chromatic aberration is corrected but a whole batch of images can be quickly analysed and corrected on a per image basis, with a single click. The Keystone tool is also being used on this image to correct residual perspective distortion.

You can also choose to analyse and correct chromatic aberration on a per image basis if you prefer and that can be done automatically on a whole batch of images with a single click. If you use lens movements and the lens is shifted, then by entering x and y shift figures in mm, the appropriate geometric corrections are applied to the image.

Lens cast correction (LCC) using a reference calibration image is provided which is essential for users of wide angle lenses with lens tilts and shifts.  As it (optionally) corrects light fall off as well as colour casts, it can be also be used to great effect with any lens for other purposes such as correcting residual variations in illumination across the frame when aiming for perfectly even lighting across a scene – for example when reproducing artwork.

And there is a crop-aware Vignetting tool that offers both negative and positive vignetting.

Keystone tool for perspective correction

Capture One’s Keystone tool is designed to fix both vertical and horizontal perspective distortion in both a geometrically correct and natural way and is simple to use – just drag the guides to align with edges of lines in the image that you want to be vertical and/or horizontal, click, and the corrections are applied.

Phase One have designed the tool so that the most natural result can be produced. Whilst the resulting correction is the same that the tilts and swings of a technical camera would produce, by default the correction is applied 80% rather than 100% but this can be changed with a slider.

The 80%  is implemented with tall buildings in mind. The logic is that our brains expect distant objects (the top of  a tall building) to appear smaller than near objects (the base of the building) so if a tall building is fully corrected with its sides parallel, we perceive the top to actually be wider than the base.  Applying the correction less than 100% leaves the sides not quite parallel and the result looks more natural. If you are sceptical take a look at this example on the (old) Phase One blog to  be convinced. It works.

The Aspect slider can optionally also be used to tweak aspect ratio and restore the correct aspect ratio (width to height) when converging verticals are corrected.  Using the sliders you can tweak all correction settings and preview the changes in real time.

Tethered shooting

Capture One has state of the art plug-and-play tethered shooting support for most recent pro and semi-pro DSLRs (from the D3 onwards for Nikon and the 5DMkII onwards from Canon) as well as Phase One and Mamiya/Leaf cameras and backs.   Supported cameras can be controlled and triggered from within Capture One or from the Capture Pilot app for iOS and Android tablets and phones (or via a web browser) which also provides another way for clients and others to view and rate images as they are captured without crowding around the capture workstation.

Camera Controls and Camera Settings  (updated and extended in v8.3)

The Camera Tool shows the same information for a tethered camera as the camera LCD top plate normally would – shutter speed, aperture, ISO, metering mode, AF mode, WB and file type/quality/size (e.g. RAW, RAW+Fine jpeg) and even battery status.

The Camera Settings tool now allows access to and control of virtually every setting in the camera’s menus from within Capture One with Phase One, Nikon, Canon and Sony cameras. These settings are available once the camera is connected so you can use the tool to configure the camera without hunting through menus, even if you are not shooting tethered.

Camera and Camera Settings tools shown as repositionable floating panels. Only a few settings have been expanded, in order to fit them all on-screen. You can see that all settings of the D750 are available and can be set from within Capture One.
Camera and Camera Settings tools shown as repositionable floating panels. Only a few settings have been expanded, in order to fit them all on-screen. You can see that practically all settings of the D750 are available and can be set from within Capture One.

The Overlay feature makes it possible to overlay, scale and position another image, layout or artwork over image previews to instantly see how an image will fit in the client’s layout and to check or replicate composition as soon as an image is captured.

Compositional Grids (v8.3) are presets for use with the Grid overlay feature and include 4 x 3, 3 x 3, small rectangles and Golden Ratio. User positionable guides are also switched on and off with the Grid and are independent of the grid preset selected.

Live View

With tethered Nikon and Canon cameras and with digital backs, Capture One has its own direct Live View facility which doesn’t require or use any Live View facility on the camera and is all done via a single USB (or Firewire) tether cable.

Want to use Live View in the studio with your D3, which doesn’t have Live View built-in?  You can have it in Capture One.  With seamless and fully colour managed dual monitor support, why use Live View on the camera’s tiny LCD screen when you can have the Capture One Live View window filling your monitor?

Live View includes Focus Controls to  set and tune focus. For those lucky enough to own one of the latest Phase One or Leaf digital back it also has a sophisticated Focus Meter tool to show focus peaking in multiple focus areas.

Choose how to organise your work

Capture One doesn’t dictate how you organise your images or require you to import them into a catalogue if you don’t want to. You can open Capture One, point it at a folder of images and just start working.  Image adjustments, ratings and previews are stored inside the same folder as your RAW images, meaning they are backed up when you back up your source images.

However Capture One does offer two structured ways of working:

Sessions offer a simple predefined folder structure for each new job or project into which you can import images from memory card or tethered captures and gives an easily archived inclusive folder structure. You can still create extra capture or output folders as you wish.

Catalogs are a way of working that will be more familiar to Lightroom users. One or more Catalogs are used to keep track of where your images are stored on disc, to let you organise images into Albums, Groups and Projects and search and filter or use Smart Albums. Every image has to be imported into the Catalog, although the RAW files can stay in their existing location. Adjustments are stored in the Catalog.

With Catalogs, images may still be browsed and some visual adjustments and metadata edits made even when the source files are offline. However more care is needed when deleting or moving images.

Black and White

The improved Black and White tool in Capture One. The film curve was changed to linear response before applying custom colour sensitivities using the sliders. A four stop positive vignette has also been added and finally, Silver Rich Film Grain added.
The improved Black and White tool in Capture One. The film curve was changed to linear response before applying custom colour sensitivity settings and a manual S-curve. A four stop positive vignette has also been added and Silver Rich Film Grain added.

In the past I have used Capture One rather than Photoshop to do black and white conversions. I had previously thought that if I was doing more monochrome work I would use a plug-in like NikEfex, especially for more artful and silver halide-like results. However a feature of Capture One Pro version 8 is an enhanced Black and White tool with six-channel colour sensitivity and a Split Toning feature allowing independent control over tones and saturation in the highlights and in the shadows, as well as coming with a whole bunch of  B&W and split-tone presets.

Film Grain

The Film Grain tool can be applied to any image and offers six different presets  with control over Granularity and Impact and my initial experiments suggest it can offer authentic results.

Printing & Web Contact Sheets

Capture One has ICC colour managed Printing allowing one to many images per page, with a selection of templates including contact sheets with image filenames. I don’t have call to use it nowadays but I do still use the Web Contact Sheet feature which produces a “classic” or “fullscreeen with filmstrip” HTML gallery in either a light or dark theme.

It’s not the go to tool for a choice of gallery styles and themes, flash galleries or for producing something that blends seamlessly with your website. It’s designed for producing something straightforward that lets clients review images after a shoot. Social and wedding photographers will want to produce galleries using other tools and will probably have an integrated proofing and ordering system integrated with their website anyway.

New in v8.2

The 3-way Colour Balance tool (see above), was introduced in v8.2, along with ability to resize the Curve tool for much finer control.

Also introduced was the use of tokens to dynamically specify filenames and folder names when importing images or creating output files. Names can be constructed from any combination of text and tokens which include virtually all the metadata fields from the image file (e.g. aperture, ISO, shutter speed, camera serial, focal length, image date, camera WB….and many more) and data from Capture One (e.g star rating, colour tag, current date, dimensions….and more).

Also many “under the hood” improvements for tethering and hi-res previews for 4K and 5MK monitors along with support for new cameras.

New in v8.3

V8.3 saw new versions of the Camera and Camera Settings tools introduced, with simple access to a increased number of camera settings for Phase One, Nikon, Canon and Sony cameras.  “Under the hood” improvements included a new “tethering engine” in the Mac version.

Try Capture One

A free 60-day fully functional trial is available from the Capture One website.  System requirements for Capture One version 8.1 are Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) or OS X 10.10 (Yosemite)  on a Mac, Windows 7 or Windows 8 (64 bit) on a PC. Older versions of Capture One which run on older versions of the operating systems are still downloadable from the Phase One website will work using a Version 8 licence key.

Useful Resources

Lots of tips and tricks on the Phase One blog

More tutorials here Phase One Tutorials

See more of my blog posts about Phase One and Capture One here