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Software Review: Phase One Capture One 4

By Stan Sholik

When a widely used software program rolls into a new version, it's a notable event. This time the software is Phase One Capture One 4 (C1-4). This is the successor to Capture One 3.x LE, not Capture One 3.x PRO. It does not support tethered shooting, IPTC metadata, CMYK output, simultaneous multiple file output and a few other PRO features. If these are important features in your workflow, stand by for the promised release of Capture One 4 PRO later this year.

In January, Phase One released Capture One PRO 3.7.8 for the Mac with 3.7.8 for Windows due soon. With the release of Windows Vista and Mac OS 10.5 and the constant influx of new digital SLRs, Phase One along with all hardware and software companies have to work diligently to keep up with the changes.

Lacking features aside, C1-4 is a major upgrade of LE. It probably has all the RAW processing power that the vast majority of digital SLR users will ever need. It should even appeal to Phase One digital back owners who also use DSLRs. The Phase One DB software bundled with the backs cannot process DSLR raw files. Unlike C1 LE, which doesn’t process raw files from Phase One backs, C1-4 can process raw files from every Phase One digital back, as well as raw files from nearly every DSLR, enabling a common workflow.  

The user interface of Capture One 4 is totally new. It now sports a charcoal gray background. This is the default layout of the user-customizable interface. Image ©Stan Sholik

I prefer this user interface arrangement with the image browser on the left, the image viewer in the center and the tools panel on the right. With a couple mouse clicks, I can move the image browser panel beneath the viewer window and have a larger horizontal image in the viewer when I'm working with a majority of horizontal images. Keyboards shortcuts or mouse clicks hide both the browser panel and the tools panel so the image is full screen. Image ©Stan Sholik

Both browser and tools can be hidden to view images full screen. Unfortunately, it takes two keystroke combinations to hide them, rather than the one function key in C1 PRO. If you work on both platforms, you’ll appreciate that the Windows and Mac user interfaces are now identical, although some keyboard shortcuts differ.

The strength of C1 software lies in the workflow, and the best raw conversions in the industry, and C1-4 is no exception. The tool palette below the tool bar at the top of the screen sets a recommended workflow from left to right. Ten icons represent workflow steps, from the Library file browser, through image adjustments and composition, to output and batch processing. Each icon opens a new tab with the associated tools, selections or controls.

A few tools appear in several tabs. For fast image adjustments, use the Quick tool sliders for white balance, exposure and high dynamic range adjustments, and the Process button for image output. If you need more control over exposure, for example, the exposure and high dynamic range sliders are also available in the Exposure tab. There, along with levels and curves tools, are more precise controls. Both Levels and Curves have histograms that respond instantly to changes, as does the image preview in the viewer window.

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The Quick tab panel (above) contains sliders for white balance, exposure and high dynamic range adjustments, and a Process button to output the image. This panel is especially useful when only minor adjustments are needed. Base Characteristics show the ICC Profile that C1-4 applied to the image based on the EXIF metadata of the capturing camera and the processing curve that the software will apply to the image. The Exposure tab has the same White Balance, Exposure and High Dynamic Range headings seen here and adds Levels and Curves tools with image histograms. Image ©Stan Sholik

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The Processing tab panel (above) provides all the control you need to process the images. If you are processing a batch of images you must select them all, then hold down the Shift key while clicking the Process button. Image ©Stan Sholik

In fact, the program’s speed impressed me the entire time I worked with it. C1-4 and Lightroom took the same amount of time to import 1GB of raw files from a Phase One P45+ back. Then Lightroom had to generate previews, a slow process, while C1-4 was ready to begin adjustments. C1-4 was far more responsive in every way on large raw files from my Nikon D2X, as well as the P45+ back.

Among many new features is the high dynamic range slider, which recovers details in the highlight and shadow in raw images with sufficient dynamic range. Another new one is a brightness slider to lighten midtones.

Also new is the ability to view and work with up to 12 images at full resolution in the viewer window, simplifying copying and applying adjustments, as well as assigning ratings to similar images.

The ability to create multiple variants of an image is also new. Variants are clones of original raw files before adjustments are made. They allow you to try different adjustment settings, or even convert to monochrome from the raw file. Variants consume little disk space because the image file is not duplicated. Only the revised settings are associated with the original image and stored until the variant file is processed.

One of the new features of C1-4 is the ability to create multiple Variants of an image. Variants are clones of the original raw file before any adjustments. This allows you to try other adjustment settings, or even to convert the image to monochrome from the original raw file. Image ©Stan Sholik

If you create Web contact sheets, you’ll appreciate now being able to make them directly from the raw files in C1-4. Along with the necessary HTML and JAVA scripts, the program creates both clickable thumbnails and preview images, with controls for size and quality. (More new features are detailed on the Phase One Web site, www.phaseone.com.)

As good as the C1-4 raw conversion is, there’s room for improvement in several areas. For example, the file import module really bugs me when I’m working with multiple memory cards from one job. C1-4 doesn’t allow you to choose the beginning counter number when you’re importing images. Each import session begins with number 001, so jobs running across multiple cards can’t be renamed and sequentially numbered into the same folder.

Many photographers are archiving raw files in DNG format, but C1-4 provides only minimal DNG support. You can import DNG files created from many, but not all DSLRs, but there’s only one profile for all cameras. DNG output is provided, but the Phase One settings are not embedded, and the thumbnail and preview do not show the C1-4 adjustments. More support for DNG is needed.

Finally, IPTC implementation, including Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) information should be included in C1-4 LE and Capture One 4 PRO. More and more programs are supporting the IPTC core plus XMP, and it should become part of the image file as early as possible in the workflow.

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The Metadata tab panel contains only basic EXIF camera data plus a copyright and caption block. Full IPTC implementation is available in Capture One PRO and hopefully will someday finds its way into Capture One 4.x. Image ©Stan Sholik

Capture One 4 is available for download from Phase One. Registered users of Capture One LE or PRO can download the program for free, new users for $129, which allows activation on two computers. You can also download a free 14-day preview of the program.

Stan Sholik is a contributing writer for NewsWatch Feature Service and a commercial photographer with more than 30 years of large-format studio and location experience.

Phase One Capture One 4 Raw File Support

Phase One: P 45+, P 30+, P 25+, P 21+, P 20+, P 45, P 30, P 25, P 21, P 20, H 25, H 20, H 10, H 101, H 5, LightPhase

Canon EOS: 1Ds Mark III, 1D Mark III, 1D Mark II N, 1Ds Mark II, 1D Mark II, 1Ds, 1D, 5D, 40D, 30D, 20D, 10D, 400D/Rebel XTi, 350D/Rebel XT, 300D/Rebel, D60, D30, Pro 1, G6, G5, G3, G2

Epson: R-D1s, R-D1

Fujifilm FinePix: S5 Pro, S3 Pro, S2 Pro

Konica Minolta: Alpha 5 D / Maxxum 5 D / Dynax 5 D, Alpha 7 D / Maxxum 7 D / Dynax 7 D, A1, A2

Leica: M8, Digilux 3, Digital Module R for R8 and R9 cameras

Nikon: D3, D2Xs, D2X, D2Hs, D2H, D1X, D1H, D300, D200, D100, D80, D70s, D70, D50, D40X, D40

Olympus: E-3, E-510, E-410, E-500, E-1, E-10, E-20, E-330, E-300, E-400, C-7070, C-8080

Pentax: K10D, K100D, *istDL2, *istDL, *istD, *istDS2, *istDS (Only PEF files supported)

Sony: α (alpha) DSLR-A100, DSC-R1

Adobe: DNG (raw DNG support only)