Software Review: Phase One Capture One Pro 7

October 28, 2013

By Theano Nikitas

Don’t be turned off by the fact that this image-editing software bears the Phase One name. You don’t need a Phase One digital back or any other medium-format camera to use the Capture One Pro 7 standalone software program. Although it’s still referred to as a RAW converter by some—and does an excellent job processing RAW files from more than 200 different cameras (and growing)—Capture One Pro 7 has a wide range of image-editing features and tools. And, since Phase One has added asset management to Pro 7, the software is even more well-rounded. If you don’t work with RAW files or your camera’s RAW format isn’t supported, this highly capable software is, of course, JPEG-friendly.

In addition to being a staple image-editing and RAW-converter software solution for pro photographers, Capture One is well-known for its direct camera-to-software tethering capabilities across a wide range of medium-format, pro and enthusiast cameras, including those from Phase One, Canon, Leica, Nikon and Sony (a list of supported cameras for tethering and lens profiles can be found on Capture One has another tethering trick up its sleeve that’s available for most, though not all, cameras: The software can be used to link Profoto studio lights to your camera’s aperture or ISO settings so the light is automatically adjusted when you change those parameters. That capability requires a free plug-in for the Pro 7 version, but is fully integrated into Pro 7.1.2, which was released shortly before this issue went to press.

Tethering is further enhanced by Phase One’s Capture Pilot and Capture Control iOS apps, available for download in the App Store. Capture Pilot is free and provides remote viewing on iOS mobile devices during a shoot, so your clients are seeing images as they are captured. The Capture Control app, which is a $14.99 in-app purchase within Capture Pilot, provides remote capture with the ability to adjust multiple parameters on the camera including aperture, shutter speed, ISO and more. Of course you’ll need a wireless connection to make it all happen and, importantly, you still need Capture One Pro 7 since the apps access images and connect with the camera through the desktop software.

User Report
Installing the software is fast and easy. We used a 2-year old MacBook Pro with 8 GB RAM (twice the minimum RAM required) and running OS X 10.7.5 (the minimum is 10.6.8) for testing. Capture One Pro also supports Windows Vista (64 bit) as well as 64-bit Windows 7 and 8.  

The user interface (UI) is clean and attractive but, more importantly, it’s easy to navigate. The UI can be configured to your workflow but we found the default interface worked just fine. While there is a slight learning curve, Capture One is surprisingly intuitive, especially if you know your way around pro- or even enthusiast-level photo-editing programs. Even if you don’t, Phase One did an excellent job with a PDF help file that includes direct links to video tutorials within the document—though they’re Flash-based, so you can’t view the videos on iOS mobile devices. Capture One tutorials and informational videos are also available on YouTube.

Importing and cataloguing images was pretty much effortless, so it’s easy to get organized with the software’s digital asset management (DAM) tools. If you use the older Sessions and don’t want to switch to the new DAM system, no worries: Sessions is still available in version 7. If you’re used to using Adobe Bridge as a DAM tool, Capture One’s version may take a little exploration before you’re truly comfortable. On the other hand, if you use Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture, you should have no problems with the DAM aspect of Capture One.

Our major quibble with the catalogues and import process is speed: It’s a little more sluggish than we had hoped. But, right before we went to press, we got word from Phase One that Capture One Pro 7.1.4 was going to be released mid-September with a promise of faster performance when working with larger catalogues. The update wasn’t available in time to test it out, though, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Otherwise, during editing, for example, Capture One Pro 7 delivered fairly smooth performance—an attribute that it needs when handling the huge files from high-resolution cameras like Phase One digital backs.

Given Adobe’s move to a subscription model, it seems that a large number of photographers are looking for an alternative and, in terms of image editing, Capture One Pro 7 may fit the bill. Capture One probably has more in common with Lightroom and Aperture than Photoshop in regards to features (Capture One lacks many of Photoshop’s design and graphics options). For straight-on photo editing, Capture One is certainly competitive, especially for studio photographers who don’t need sophisticated compositing tools, for example.

In Capture One you’ll find a host of familiar tools such as Levels and Curves, as well as photo-centric features including sharpening, a color editor, skin tone enhancement, spot removal, high dynamic range, and local and global adjustments. Capture One also supports nondestructive editing and layer masks, and is especially effective at noise reduction.

Other notable features range from keystone correction and black-and-white conversion to automatic lens correction support for a range of lenses. There’s also a Lens Cast Correction tool, which allows you to create your own LCC profiles. Preset styles are available, or you can create and save your own, for consistency across files. Batch processing with Capture One’s Copy and Apply clipboard is a refreshing method of applying adjustments to groups of images. Frankly, other than Bridge, there weren’t many Photoshop features we missed while using Capture One.

The Bottom Line

Capture One Pro 7 is a highly capable image-editing program that continues to grow in features and functionality. It’s relatively easy to learn and use, and doesn’t feel bloated with features photographers don’t need. Whether or not it’s a good alternative for your workflow and business is up to you. There’s a free trial version so you can find out for yourself but we highly recommend this software to photographers who need a solid, photo-centric image-editing program.

Pros: Excellent photo-centric editing features; easy to use and navigate; supports many RAW file formats; includes lens profiles

Cons: Graphic design and compositing work isn’t its strong suit; cataloguing large batches of images can be slow (but will, hopefully, be improved with the latest free update)

Prices: $299 for Capture One Pro 7 (multi-user and Capture One Express upgrade pricing available); free for iOS Capture Pilot app; $14.99 for Capture Control in-app purchase;

Check out our archive of photo software reviews here.