Capture One 4 is more than just a rewritten version of Phase One's Capture One LE. It offers improved speed and quality of RAW conversion, and it builds on its strengths as a RAW-processing workflow tool. Recently I tested it on shoots with a Nikon D200 and Phase One P25+ digital back.
The software includes new features (such as mid-tone contrast, high dynamic range exposure tools, and an image import function that is triggered when a memory card is mounted, as well as some features previously found only in the PRO version (such as web galleries, custom target levels, and a freehand rotation tool). It also supports RAW files from the full range of Phase One digital backs as well as DSLRs-though it won't read settings in older versions of Capture One because a new way of storing settings is used.
The simplicity and philosophy of the interface remain, with additional keyboard shortcuts and tools replacing or adding to familiar ones to speed the process of previewing, selecting, adjusting, and processing large volumes of RAW files. In the main window, tools and thumbnails can be hidden. Multiple images or variants can be viewed together, and using only two keys, it's possible to compare a number of images in a sequence two-up and progressively determine the best. Images are rated using a five-star system, and tagging has been replaced by the ability to set a "Move To" folder for "keepers."
Zooming at magnifications above 65% brings the whole image preview area into sharp focus; it takes a second or two but makes it possible to inspect detail over a large area. It's not possible to preview the effects of sharpening at 25% or 50%, though, which would be useful.
New exposure tools include a Brightness slider to increase mid-tone contrast, and High Dynamic Range sliders for shadow and highlight recovery. I found this useful in controlling the degree of specular highlights when shooting jewelry. Custom Target Levels avoid clipping to pure black or white, which is useful in repro. "As shot" color temperature and tint values displayed in Capture One 4 are different for the same files in Capture One LE, although previews look virtually identical. Auto White Balance adjustments also produce different results.
Many tools feature presets and user presets can be created. Color adjustment tools allow auto-adjustment, and it's now possible to initiate the individual auto-adjustment of every image in a selection and to undo and redo adjustments one at a time. Even better, multiple image variants can be created from one RAW file and can be adjusted, cropped, and processed independently. I found this useful when using one set of adjustments to optimize gemstones and different adjustments for gold. Both variants are preserved should I need to go back to them.
More control is possible over sharpening; Amount, Radius, and Threshold sliders and presets that recognize two-stage sharpening are now popular, with the first stage post-capture.
In many cases, the new tools allowed me to produce better results without relying on Photoshop adjustments. In others I was hard-pressed to see big differences in processed images between the new and older software versions. Processing was very speedy and a little quicker than older versions on my MacBook Pro. The 22-megapixel P25+ files were processed to 16-bit TIFFs in approximately 15 seconds, and D200 files in 10 seconds. And Phase One says that Capture One 4 is optimized for Intel machines.
The Web Contact Sheet is a great addition to the software. Only two styles are available, but previews open in a large Flash-style window. A neat touch is that as soon as you select the Contact Sheet option, the software starts building it.
Although tethered shooting isn't supported directly in Capture One 4, I found that if I ran Capture One DB in parallel (which has the PRO features but works exclusively with the company's digital backs), I could shoot tethered as normal with a P25+ and images popped up automatically in Capture One 4 when pointed at the Capture folder. When using a remote release, I could minimize the DB application and never even look at it. I then previewed, adjusted, and processed images in Capture One 4.
I was also able to point Capture One 4 at the Capture folder when using Nikon software to shoot with my D200 tethered, although it was necessary to click in the Capture One window once the file had transferred from the camera to make images appear.
- Tony May
There are still some bugs in the software, which perhaps indicate the extent of reengineering. Some users are reporting issues with color management, and Phase One has acknowledged problems on dual-screen setups. The company has issued one software update and is working on further fixes.
It is clear that with Capture One 4, Phase One's objective has been to further streamline and improve workflow, allowing high image quality to be produced through a straightforward interface. While some problems need to be ironed out quickly, I have already begun using Capture One 4 on some important commissions.