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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 www.nathanpask.com

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

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