Phase One Capture One 11 Review

April 10, 2018

By Greg Scoblete

Business school students could make an interesting case study out of the disparate approaches Adobe and Phase One have taken toward the pro photo software market. Adobe has been bold, unafraid of making sweeping changes even at the cost of alienating users (and for the record, despite all the Internet kerfuffle over recent Lightroom changes, Adobe continues to post solid financials).

Phase One has been more conservative, making significant but incremental changes to its flagship Capture One application. The latest update of said application brings us to version 11 and unlocks a host of useful features, even if it doesn’t swing for the fences. We teamed with N.J. photographer and director David Patiño to see if this update was worth an upgrade.

© Stephano Gardel

© Stephano Gardel

What’s New

With version 11, Capture One is dropping the “Pro” from the software’s title—so Capture One Pro 10 users don’t need to hold out for a “Pro” 11; this is it.

Phase One largely left the user interface alone in the jump from 10 to 11. Instead, like most new software releases, Capture One is focused on improving the speed and performance of its RAW editor and image manager. Among the areas targeted for a speed boost are the catalog and layers. Opening catalogs, making slider adjustments, masking and other edits are all speedier in version 11.

Layers (formerly called “local adjustments”) are also substantially improved. Indeed, they’re the lynchpin of the new update. All of the software’s adjustment tools are now compatible with layered editing. New tools have been added to refine and feather a mask after drawing, or adjust the opacity of a layer to control the impact of local adjustments. Capture One Styles, a series of image presets that are sold separately, can also be applied as a layer.

Also new is the ability to annotate images. What’s not new: While the software supports over 400 cameras, Phase One is still snubbing its medium-format camera competitors. There’s no support for Pentax, Hasselblad or Fujifilm medium-format bodies, an omission that strikes us as anti-consumer.

© David Patiño

From import to export and everything in between, Capture One 11 works fast. © David Patiño

In Use

Patiño migrated over 18 months ago to Capture One with Version 10 (Pro 10). He was drawn to the program, he says, for its reliable tethering and how the software processed colors. “Ninety percent of what I shoot is tethered,” and while he found Lightroom great, the performance of Capture One 10 was “phenomenal,” prompting a more permanent shift in his workflow.

Patiño says that across the board, version 11 is faster and more responsive than Pro 10 on his 5K iMac (3.5GHz Intel Core i5, 24GB of RAM and a 2GB AMD Radeon R9 graphics card). But what really impressed Patiño the most with version 11 is the improvements to layered editing. “It’s a game-changer,” he says. “It just gives you so much flexibility.”

The upshot is that Patiño is able to stay in Capture One longer, apply global and local edits and process images, only exporting his files into Photoshop if he has to do more serious retouching. With the more robust layers in version 11, “it’s just a simpler workflow,” he says.

Patiño also had the opportunity to test the new Styles packs. While he tells us he wouldn’t use a Style as the end point for an edit, they can be useful as a starting point, especially since you can now layer them on top of one another.

While Patiño does most of his own retouching, the new annotation feature is useful for more than just pointing out instructions to third-party retouchers. “If I’m on the road on the shoot, I can make notes on the images so that a day or two later I know what I want to do with them,” he says. Having the ability to export those notes as a PSD layer is also handy, Patiño adds.

Another feature Patiño liked is the ability to export crops as a Photoshop path. When delivering files for magazines in particular, he says, the ability to deliver a file that both shows his vision for the final image but provides a little extra wiggle room for placement on the page is a nice plus.

Bottom Line

If you, like Patiño, bought into Capture One recently (say, version 10), you paid $300. You’ll drop another $119 to upgrade to version 11, bringing your total investment in software over roughly two years to $419. In the same time, you’d have spent $240 for subscriptions to Lightroom and Photoshop. You can also subscribe to Capture One, though it too is pricier than Adobe’s photo plan.

We noted above the stark contrast between how Adobe and Phase One have approached pro photo software. To put it simply, Adobe is betting big on the cloud and Phase One is not. That means that as Lightroom evolves, Phase One is doubling down on being a studio utility. If you’re primarily a studio shooter, like Patiño, it’s a clarifying choice.

Phase One Capture One 11

PROS: Layered editing; annotations; speedy performance; customizable UI.
CONS: Pricey; lacks the cloud/mobility options of competitive titles; lacks support for most medium-format cameras.
PRICE: $299

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