Capture One 4 Pro - Review

Capture One 4 Pro – Review


phasoneThese days there are many good options available for RAW conversion software. Photoshop has Adobe Camera Raw, Adobe also has Lightroom and Apple’s offering of Aperture being a few popular choices. However the professional photographers software of choice for many years has been Capture One which is made by PhaseOne who you may recognise from also making top end digital backs for medium format cameras. So it would make sense for the same manufacturer to also make a top end piece of software to accompany it’s hardware.

I have been a Lightroom user for many years and was more than happy with the level of control I had over my imagery. There is one fundamental function missing though. Tethering. What is tethering? Rather than recording your imagery to your memory card in your camera, you connect your camera to your computer and the images record directly to your computer via a piece of software. The Pro version of Capture One combines the Raw processing work flow with the ability to tether.

Shooting Tethered

Shooting Tethered

A majority of photographers will head out with their camera kit, armed with a bag full of memory cards and take their photos and when they get home download their images to their computer and view them from there. LCD screens are getting bigger, brighter and more accurate these days, but still for critical work, apart from looking at your histogram to make sure you aren’t blowing out the highlights or bogging in the shadows it’s not a fail-safe option. Some may say that digital photography and shooting in RAW has made photographers a little lazy as most imagery can be altered or fixed easily in RAW processing. We’ll leave that can of worms closed for now though.

Prior to using Capture One Pro 4, as a Canon user when I wanted to tether, I connected my 1Ds MKIII to my 17” MacBook Pro and used the supplied Canon EOS Utility software, which was ok to a point. It’s quite basic and I found that if I shot too fast, the software couldn’t keep up and would crash. This would result in me losing precious imagery. I can’t stress how unimpressed I was in losing what I thought was going to be the shot of the day on one occasion. I could play a little with the curves as I went along, but the control over my imagery was very limited.

Capture One 4 Pro

Capture One 4 Pro

Why would you want to tether? Being a professional fashion photographer, the ability to have a computer right by my side being able to see the images come up straight away is a massive bonus. If I am working on my own, I can get all the information I need about an image and can check its exposure integrity and get a much better feel for what’s happening in the shot than what I would off the LCD on the back of my camera. In fashion, there are generally a lot of people on set and when you need to get some form of approval for what you are shooting, having a handful of people crowded around my laptop screen, being able to make adjustments and zooming with ease makes life a lot simpler than trying to do the same on the back of the camera or having to wait to download your imagery from a memory card to do the same thing. When I shoot with an assistant, it allows me to be free shooting whilst a digital assistant is checking for focus and exposure as I go. Tethering is only any good if you are going to be relatively stationery. I have a 10 metre USB cable that connects me to my laptop, but you cant exactly shoot reportage this way.

So what are my options when I want to tether? Sadly, there are very few. So apart from the free software that comes with my Canon, Capture One Pro seems like a natural choice to make. As I mentioned earlier, it’s pretty much the industry standard as it is compatible with PhaseOne backs which accommodates the Hasselblad users and is also compatible with just about every Nikon and Canon digital camera available, including some of the newer ones such as the Canon 5D MK II and the Nikon D3X. Considering it covers many cameras across the Medium format and SLR format, it alleviates any photographer having to learn multiple applications.

As Capture On Pro tethers and does my RAW processing workflow, will I then be shelving Lightroom? Is there a need for both? Let’s look in more detail.

A great addition in version 4 of Capture One Pro is the ability to work on JPEG and TIFF files with all of the tools in the program, all as non-destructive editing. This is obviously something that Lightroom and Aperture users have been enjoying for some time.

Capture One Pro does a very good job of handling file importing. You can select the location you want to copy your files to, as well as create a backup copy. The meta-data tagging is unfortunately very simplistic only giving you Copyright and Caption fields. This lack of key-wording or tagging function I feel is a disappointing omission from its features. My work-flow revolves around tagging and key-wording. I’d never be able to find any of my imagery otherwise!

Capture One Pro also includes Albums, which are pretty much the same as Collections in Lightroom or Albums in Aperture. They make virtual copies of your images and can include images from multiple folders. Where Capture One Pro differs is that albums are tied to a specific session and not a global album that will always be there.

The image editing of Capture One Pro is extensive. It breaks it down into logical groupings that can be easily toggled between. The Quick panel gives you access to the most commonly used adjustments – white balance, exposure, and high dynamic range adjustments for highlight and shadow adjustment. There are also a number of styles available which are preset adjustments to modify your images.

The Histogram display is probably one the best around. Gives a great visual representation of what’s going on. A neat function is the Skin Tone adjustments panel. It works in a similar way to the white balance adjustment, but rather than neutralising an image based on the selection, the Skin Tone adjustment lets you pre-select a color value to adjust to, making it easy to exactly match a colour as needed.


Exposure, Curves and Levels are as you would expect them to be and work very well. Lens Correction can only be used when working with RAW images. These controls allow you to correct for chromatic aberrations, fringing, vignetting, barrel distortion and other lens problems.

There is no denying that Capture One Pro 4 is jam packed full of features. However, for me, it’s not going to be the only piece of software I will need. The exclusion of keywording is one that I would find difficult to work without. As far the editing tasks, particularly with RAW images, the output quality is certainly up there and perhaps even slightly better than what I have seen come out of Lightroom or Aperture. The batch processing option is good, but again doesn’t set itself apart from its rivals.

Where it really excels for me is the tethering. Its ability to download imagery straight from my camera is far more powerful and stable than that of the Canon software. In saying that, on a live shoot, I tried to shoot very quickly to see what it would do, and it did seem like Capture One Pro actually missed out a few frames which was alarming. This is potentially a case of me not being familiar enough with the software. The layout of the features is pretty good, but I still found myself getting a little lost at times. Perhaps again this is a symptom of being a Lightroom user for so long. Despite this being a fabulous package, I personally can’t see myself using anything more than the tethering function as the key-wording omission is too big an issue for me. At USD$399.00 (€299.00) it’s not cheap. But if you are not that fussed about the key-wording and you are looking for a one stop application that will process your RAW files, have a great editing suite and also tether, then its worth the extra money and you need look no further.

This review by Nathan Pask – You can find out more about Nathan at

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Sime (aka #gtvone) is the customer support manager for dPS, and lead blogger in our Cameras and Gear Blog. He's a Melbourne based photographer, and please feel free to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Some Older Comments

  • yellowledbetter September 25, 2009 08:16 pm

    @ nathan

    good thing it worked for you, that's how it should be.
    i've been puzzling to get it working and just gave up at a certain point.
    then i found this program and it worked instantly for me.
    in the end it's all about the result, everyone has got their tools to reach that goal.
    give it a try, it has alot of cool features that the canon software doesn't have, i'll stick to lightroom for my post processing though

  • Sime September 25, 2009 07:56 am

    @ S Simpson - This is a review of one product rather than a comparison to every tool available on the market. (But thank you for your input) Most pro fashion photogs that I spoke to used CaptureOne so that's what I asked Nathan (A pro fashion photographer mate of mine) to look at :-0) C1 is OK, BreezeBrowser is good.. Expression is coming along nicely... So many tools out there.


  • Reznor September 25, 2009 05:53 am

    @Zack Jones

    I've used DSLR Remote Pro and it had problems keeping up. You shoot a photo and it takes like 1-2 seconds to send it to the PC. Guess, it just depends on what you're shooting as Nathan pointed out.
    It's kinda cool for self-portraits, cause you can do time lapse shots, meaning, you can have your camera shoot every 10 seconds (or whatever time setting you like) and see the photo on the PC display and adjust your position, pose, whatever. It also has some photo booth mode, but I haven't tried that, yet.

  • nathan September 25, 2009 05:30 am

    I use the Canon software that came bundled with the camera when I've done some tethered shooting... Worked like a charm for me, yellowledbetter... but, after reading the article, my curiosity has been piqued enough to where I'm probably going to check this out!


  • S Simpson September 25, 2009 04:05 am

    I must say that it appears that there was not a great deal of research put into this article. If there was you should have mentioned that C1 works great Expression Media 2 which is a great keywording/cataloging system, far superior to Lightroom in my mind. Also as far as tethering, there is a very good product in Breeze Systems DSLR remote for Canon or NKRemote for Nikon shooters. It appears that Chris Breeze has finally released a mac version of DSLR for Canon's, one could surmise that the Nikon version might follow this.

    I have used C1 as my primary RAW converter for years and do have Lightroom installed as well. I will admit that it would be great if Phase One and Microsoft would get together on this one and build an integrated product but the two separately work very well and I can find any of my images in a heartbeat. I gave Lightroom an honest try but I found once the catalog got to over 70K images it slowed way down to a crawl when searching for images. Expression Media is lightning fast in searches. I have found the RAW conversions that I produce from C1 vs Lightroom to be superior as well. They do something in their sharpening algorithm that is just nicer than Adobe's.

    No doubt that Adobe makes a very fine product in Lightroom but in my opinion it is targeted at the prosumer market. For those that are really very serious about their photography they should take a hard look at C1 and Expression Media. I have used DSLR remote on many occasions and it works great.

  • Zack Jones September 25, 2009 03:23 am

    I remember checking out this software in the past and it looked pretty good. Fortunately for me LightRoom meets all of my needs. It's too bad EOS Utility can't keep up with the camera. I wonder if a program such as DSLR Remote Pro from Breezesys ( would keep up.

  • iamunique127 September 25, 2009 02:40 am

    I own and have used both Capture One 4 and Aperture 2. For me Aperture 2 is much more intuitive so I use it exclusively.
    BTW Aperture 2 also has skin tone adjustments.
    Thanks for the review. I've been meaning to re-visit Capture One and this might be the nudge I needed.

  • yellowledbetter September 24, 2009 09:58 pm

    thanks alot for putting this program to my attention!!
    I've been trying to get tethering possible for my eos 400D alot lately.
    used the canon software but no luck there!
    so when i saw your post about capture-one 4 pro i tried it right away
    opened the program, hooked camera to pc, click....picture on pc!!!
    so i'm really happy that you posted this, cuz i was kinda stuck on the whole tethering photography
    again, thanks!!!

  • Ian September 24, 2009 07:33 pm

    I toiled over the Great Raw Debate some months ago and now use Capture One 4 Pro exclusively for my initial RAW workflow using PS4 where required, I then finally move HQ JPEG copies into Aperture as a DAM system.

    I love Capture One 4 Pro and not only for it's tethering, but also for it's control and quality. One downside it can be slugglish at times and suspect it could be greatly be improved 'under the bonnet' should Phase One be inclined to do so - which they aren't (IMHO).

    Great to read someone elses opinions/views - thanks :)

    PS> My views/opinions here.

  • Nathan September 24, 2009 06:52 pm

    Kevin z, Justin & Chuck, auto import isn't quick enough to be able to make strong decisions on the fly. As Sime said, if you have a model on the go who is on fire, you shoot away and I want to make sure I have THE shot before moving on to the next look, I want the imagery to be up on my screen as quickly as possible. Auto importing them is too slow and cumbersome. Seconds matter. How are you tethering your imagery from your camera to the auto import folder? I'd be curious to know what software you were using.

    Reznor, as Vernon pointed out, if you are shooting 3-5 shots per second, you shouldn't be tethering. You are obviously shooting something like sport. Even if I was on set to shoot for a Sports brand, for instance a guy running full tilt down a running track and shooting at 5 frames a second, I wouldn't tether. Because of the nature of the work, I'd be using ultra quick memory cards and swapping them out every 30-40 shots for my assistant to look through.

    Lambert, You can indeed control the camera from your laptop. Being a fashion photographer, this option isn't much use to me. But for the Still Lifers out there it's a godsend! Making small adjustments and shooting from your laptop can save you lots of time. I guess this review was from my personal point of view. A fashion photographer wanting to tether and being a Lightroom user, would it replace what I already had.

    Robd, I must confess to not knowing a heck of a lot about Aperture apart from when (prior to me using Lightroom) I tried it and it corrupted my library twice. So I binned it. I know a lot of people who use it though and swear by it and I am told Ap2 is nice piece of software.

  • Robd September 24, 2009 04:09 pm

    Aperture 2 also supports tethering.

  • Lambert September 24, 2009 11:58 am

    Isn't one of the points of tethering that you can control the camera from the laptop? It's not just about getting the data onto the laptop. You can shoot with it too. No?

  • Sime September 24, 2009 11:08 am

    Yeah, guys - Lightroom will monitor a folder - not quite the same throughput though - when you're working with a higher end model and she's on a roll, you don't want to be held up by anything more than USB lag... I'm sure Nathan will pop by and explain, but I've been his digi-op once and know how frustrating it can be.

    So, yeah - Folder monitoring v's tethering...


  • Vernon September 24, 2009 09:40 am

    I do think that the point of tethering isn't so much for the shoots where you are taking many images in bursts, but rather the real detail work in a studio. So usually I don't think the speed would be a problem.

  • chuck September 24, 2009 09:06 am

    actually with Nikon Camera Control Pro you can auto-capture images and concurrently auto-import them into Lightroom.

  • Reznor September 24, 2009 08:27 am

    I think, the main problem responsible for the software not being able to keep up with the camera is the file size. USB is not that fast and if you shoot 3-5 shots per second, that's about 30-50 MB of data with a 10 MP camera. USB 2.0 has a maximum transfer rate of 480 Mbit/s which is about 60 MB/s... and that's under ideal conditions. With higher megapixels, that just won't do.

  • Justin September 24, 2009 07:15 am

    Uh, Lightroom shoots tethered. File > Auto Import. Works pretty well for me, too.

  • Kevin Z September 24, 2009 07:10 am

    Lightroom will "tether" in a sense: you can have it auto-import images from a folder. Just point it to the files on your CF card and you're "tethering" There's no difference really.