Editor's Choice 2019, Photography, Reviews

Capture One Pro 12 image editor beats all others

Capture One Pro is a professional photographer’s delight. It’s an image editor and a media manager. I tried version 12 which comes with a lot of new, cleverly implemented features.

Capture One has a lovely media manager that supports an extensive metadata set and it is the best image editor you can buy.

Over the 20 odd years that I have been reviewing both DxO’s Optics Pro (now Photolab 2) and Phase One’s Capture One Pro, I always found the two to be more or less parallel in feature set, functionality and quality of output.

In the last version of the two applications, I think Phase One has taken a considerable lead on DxO. The reason is that DxO does not offer a full-fledged integrated media management system. Metadata support is almost non-existent – except for the most basic EXIF data, there is none – and users can’t edit any of it. Phase One, on the other hand, delivers an integrated, full-scale media manager with all the metadata that is relevant to most photographers. In fact, it’s so fully featured that I now compare this functionality to that of Photo Mechanic, which is overkill for many a photographer with the exception, perhaps, of photojournalists.

In addition, it still offers per-session or catalogue-based image management and lets you select, cull, edit and export in multiple ways.

But there’s more than just the media manager that makes me incline towards Capture One Pro 12 than to any other image editor currently on the market (I can’t speak for Adobe Lightroom as I haven’t reviewed it in years due to Adobe’s disinterest in supporting freelance journalists with a copy of their software).

And the reason for that is that Capture One Pro 12 keeps building on past versions instead of buying third-party software and integrating that into the app – which then results in an interface that is less intuitive than it could be. Also, Capture One is capable of using all computer resources. i.e. your machine’s processor cores, RAM and GPU.

Capture One Pro 12 supports more metadata than I could show in an image...
Capture One Pro 12 supports more metadata than I could show in an image…

And so, we come to the new features in this app which include Luminosity Masking, Linear and Radial Gradient Masks, intelligent adjustments copying, keyboard shortcut search capabilities and support for plug-ins. Needless to say the latter opens the door to all sorts of expansions that could make photographers’ life easier and their photography better.

Often, plug-in support means there is a potential for third parties to jump in, but usually it takes some time before the first plug-in becomes available. On the Capture One website, however, I already saw four plug-ins that expand the app’s capabilities in interesting ways. The portfolio platform Format (https://www.format.com) is represented, allowing you to send images directly from Capture One Pro 12, get client feedback with proofing galleries and more. A second platform is Prodibi, which is still in beta. The Helicon Focus plug-in provides a fully automatic roundtrip workflow for Helicon Focus from HeliconSoft. There’s also a JPEGmini plug-in for JPEGmini Pro Suite users only.

What sets Capture One apart since two or three versions ago is its capability to create well-defined selections without spill even if image areas are close together in terms of luminosity or colour. The Luminosity Mask functionality is no exception. As far as I know, only Affinity Photo gets it right the way Capture One does, and so Luminosity masking truly opens up editing possibilities that range from selective noise reduction to precise colour adjustments.

I tried this with an image of a dark medieval passage into a sunlit exterior. I was able to recover all detail that was lost in the shadow without in any way affecting the lighter areas. The mask I created was quite easy to get right because of the huge contrast, but I was really surprised to see that it was equally easy and precise to get a luminosity mask just right with an image where luma values were very evenly distributed across the image. I could fine-tune and modify the mask to perfection with an intuitive tool and, unlike a brush-made mask, the Luma Range tool adjustments can be copied from one image to another. The effect will then be based on the luminance of each image.

The Radial Gradient mask allows you to create a radial mask with three circles of strength: full, 50% and fall-off. This allows for very gradual effects that look natural and soft. Unlike Linear masks, you can have several of these on the same layer.

But – and here it becomes really interesting – you can also combine a luma range mask with a linear one. So, if you create a linear mask first and then, on the same layer, add a luma mask by selecting the Luma Range option from the Layers inspector, you can limit the mask to a luminosity range within that mask.

Gradient masks have evolved as well. They’re editable, moveable, rotatable and can be asymmetric. Phase One says it’s using a brand-new Parametric Masking Engine to allow for adjustments in size, shape and symmetry of the masks with mouse clicks and key presses.

Finally, when copying your adjustments between images, Capture One will automatically detect changes for a quick workflow. Image specific adjustments like composition or spot removal are ignored by default, but you can manually include them if needed.

Conclusion

Capture One Pro 12 is one of the best image editor with built-in media manager you can buy. Although it’s developed by a company that manufactures its own medium-sized cameras, it works with any camera – there are even versions that will integrate more with your Sony or Fujifilm camera.

There’s little competition in this market, as Capture One Pro has always been one of the best RAW converters and now comes with literally everything you need to creatively process your images. The support of plug-ins is, of course, the icing on the cake that promises to make photographers’ lives a lot easier.