Saturday, July 25, 2015

Capture One

Umbrellas in a public art display at MBK, a large mall in Bangkok. OM-D E-M5 Mark II, 40-150mm f2.8 zoom (at 85mm), 1/250th f2.8, ISO200. Converted in Capture One.

I'm looking for an option to Lightroom, my longtime photo editing tool. I'm not unhappy with Lightroom's conversions or cataloging tools. I am unhappy with Adobe's customer service ethic (or lack of same). At this point, Adobe is making LR available for rental or purchase but the purchase option is buried deep in the Adobe web store and the rental version of LR (Lightroom "Creative Cloud") is getting new features Adobe is withholding from LR6 for no reason other than greed by Adobe.

This would have been a relatively easy decision a couple of years ago. Apple's Aperture was not as robust as Lightroom but was an alternative to Adobe's application. I tried Aperture a couple of times and generally found it was okay but I preferred LR. Apple, for reasons known only to Apple, decided to kill Aperture and replace it with Photos, which is really more of an iPhoto replacement (which Apple also killed off, and replaced with Photos). 

I use Photos to manage some of my JPEGs and at this point in its development cycle I don't think it's a professional replacement for an application like Lightroom. 

Which brings me to Capture One
The Capture One screen. 

Capture One is from Phase One, a European company that makes not only software but also hardware (the highly regarded, 80 megapixel, Phase One XF cameras).  

Phase One offers a 30 day demo for Capture One. I am about halfway through the demo period. 
A dancer at Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. OM-D E-M5 Mark II, 75mm f1.8 lens. ISO200, 1/320th, f1.8. Converted in Capture One.

Capture One (C1) is the closest thing yet to a full replacement for Lightroom. It has its own versions of most of LR tools. They're different, which isn't necessarily bad, it's just different. 

Phase One is making C1 available either for rental or purchase and the two versions are identical. The purchase version is not stripped of new features, the way Adobe strips new features out of LR6. My gut feeling is that Phase One is committed to keeping the purchase option alive in C1.

In terms of cataloging and file management, Capture One offers the option of working in a catalog (like LR) or "sessions" which doesn't import your files into a catalog. I think this is an advantage over LR because there are times when I want to work on files that I have no interest in putting into my archive. For example, some of the detail photos I use in my blog

Capture One offers most of the same flexibility in catalog management that Adobe offers in LR. Selections can be made in ratings (noted by stars) or color labels. Adobe lets you change the name of labels (for example, my red label is called ZUMA because photos with the red label are sent to ZUMA. Photos I put into my archive get the purple label, which I've renamed PhotoShelter. The blue label I've renamed Republic because that was the label I used for photos I sent to the Republic when I was working at the newspaper.) Labels can't be renamed in C1, which would be an inconvenience but not a deal killer. 

C1 has "User Collections" and the Smart Collections, like LR. Smart Collections allow you to create collections that change dynamically based criterion you establish (for example, I have Smart Collections based on labels and countries, so all the photos I've sent to ZUMA from Thailand or Cambodia etc are in one place). I use collections to manage photos I make over time for projects I'm working on. 

After a couple of weeks with C1 I think they're cataloging options are a draw. LR wins on some counts (for example renaming color labels), C1 wins on others (for example sessions). I could move to C1's cataloging without too much trouble. 
It was an overcast day at Erawan Shrine. E-M5 Mark II, 12mm f2 lens. ISO160, 1/8000th at f2. Converted in C1. I used local corrections to burn down the highlights in the marigolds and candles in the tray. I also increased the contrast a little and applied some sharpening. 

75mm f1.8 lens. ISO200, 1/800th at f1.8. Converted in C1. A little vignetting applied to bring down the background. These files are made considerably smaller for web use, but in the full size file you can count each hair in her eyebrow. 

Both programs have a complete set of IPTC (captioning and keywording) tools. These are absolutely critical for journalists and travel photographers. This is a draw. 

The real meat and potatoes of a photo app though is in its editing tools. Here C1 is a clear winner. 

I think C1 conversions are sharper and show more detail than Lightroom's. (YMMV

C1 offers most of the same tools LR does but they are in different places and work in slightly different ways. I think LR has better highlight recovery but C1 has significantly better sharpening. I prefer LR's paint brush tool for burning and dodging, but I prefer C1's gradient tools. It's close to a draw but C1 gets the nod based on the final quality of its conversions. 

And now it gets a little confusing.
Somtam (papaya salad), 25mm f1.8 lens, at ISO200, 1/80th f1.8. Converted in C1. I dodged up the basil leaf in the bottom right and burned down the strip of julienned papaya in the middle left of the photo.

As good as C1's conversions are, I can get very, very close to the same quality in LR. And I can do it faster. I am more comfortable with LR's interface and tools, so at this point I can work faster in LR than I can in C1. 

A word or two about interface. 

I've been using LR since version 1. I know it pretty well and I am comfortable with it. To me, sitting down to work in LR is like sitting behind the steering wheel of a family car. Although some of your options seem limited, everything makes sense and you can do what you need to. 

Sitting down to work in C1 is like sitting in the cockpit of a high performance racing machine. (Or at least what I imagine a high performance racing machine is like.) You have lots and lots of options. A bewildering array of options. If you take the time to learn what C1 is capable of, you can wring a lot out of its editing tools and your raw files. But you absolutely need to learn how to use C1. 

The 30 day trial period is a good starting point but don't expect to master C1 in 30 days. 
Blind lottery ticket sellers protest Thai government lottery policies. 12-40mm f2.8 zoom at 40mm. ISO200, 1/320th at f2.8, converted in C1.

I'm halfway through my trial period and the question is what happens when the trial ends? Do I pony up for the full version or do I go back to LR? 

I am probably going to stay with LR. 

C1 is expensive (about $300 US). LR is currently selling for about $150 (when you buy rather than rent it) and I paid $79 for the upgrade. After trying C1 for a couple of weeks I think it's better than LR but not twice as good, especially when I already have LR. 

My archive is built around LR. Phase One offers a step by step guide to converting a LR catalog to C1, (they also offer a guide for importing Aperture catalogs) but I have 400,000 raw files in my catalogs and converting those catalogs to C1 is a daunting task I don't want to undertake at this point. 

Finally, Lightroom has one big advantage over Capture One: Plugins and Publish Services. 

I can push pictures straight from my LR catalog to my PhotoShelter archive. If I make a mistake in a caption or edit a caption (or keyword) after I've exported the file, I can update the photo my PhotoShelter archive directly from LR. This has been a huge time saver for me and its absence in C1 is a deal breaker for me. This is unfortunate because I really like Capture One. 

Almost every photo I edit in LR (or C1 if I used it) would go to my PhotoShelter archive. I work on a photo in LR, write the caption and keywords and hit the "export" button. Then I select my PhotoShelter archive as the destination and LR uploads the photo to my archive AND keeps track of it in its internal database. If I change the caption or keywords, I tell LR to update the file and it sends the edited IPTC data to the photo in PhotoShelter, which takes just a couple of seconds. 

In C1, I would have to export the photos to my local disk, then ftp the photos to my PhotoShelter archive. If I change a caption, I would have to re-export the photo and upload the new copy to my PhotoShelter archive (and delete the old copy). This is a much more complicated and time consuming workflow. (Or I would I edit my files in PhotoShelter's IPTC editing tools, a workable but slower option and the photos on my harddrive and in my archive would be out of synch.) 

If Capture One implemented some sort of Publish Services tool and ftp export the way LR does, I would be more likely to move my workflow over to C1. 

Just because I'm passing on Capture One though doesn't mean you should. I was very, very close to switching and I am willing to learn C1's workflow. If you're an Aperture user looking for an Aperture replacement or you're a LR user disgruntled with Adobe's business practices and you don't have the peculiar workflow needs I do, you should give C1 a hard look. I know I will the next time I have to upgrade my software.  

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.