If you had told me in January of last year that I would leave my comfortable 6 year-old routine in Lightroom for Capture One Pro, I would have called you crazy! Let’s face it, for all of us, change is always perceived as challenging. Be it moving to another city, changing job, switching operating system or breaking any kind of habit, it takes time, willingness and energy to embrace changes. The fact is, as of January 2017, my RAW converter and image editing software of choice is Capture One Pro 10.
This blog post is by no means a review of Capture One but rather an expression of my personal opinion and a quick overview of my folder organization.
A bit of history…
As mentioned earlier I started using Lightroom in 2010 and even though I had tried Capture One Pro 7 and 8, I found myself sticking to what I knew the best. I had a few frustrations with Lightroom though: rather average RAW conversion requiring lots of editing to match what my Nikon would capture, terrible RAW conversion for Fuji X-Series files and most importantly both slow and unstable tethered capture that would randomly lose signal. The catalog organization was great though and my workflow with LR was fast enough for me to ignore other options. Then came Capture One Pro 9 at a time when I was recovering from knee surgery in early 2016 with a bit of time on my hands to look into it. Based on the reviews and tutorials I read/watched, I came to realize that Capture One had come a long way in terms of stability, interface and catalog organization. In March 2016, I took some headshots for a lawyer’s office and shot the job tethered to Lightroom for the very last time. Why? Well, when I came back from the shoot I loaded my Nikon D800E RAW files both into Lightroom and my newly installed trial version of Capture One Pro 9 and compared the photos…
When looking closely at a rather simple headshot, here were my immediate conclusions: the image looked sharper in Capture One, the colour of the tie of the young lawyer photographed that day was more accurate, his skin tones looked better and all the tones in his hair looked better as well. And this without moving any sliders yet! I basically just had to retouch a few details and even out the background colour in Photoshop and I was done!
Knowledge is power…
Convinced by this rather great experience, I watched all the free Capture One webinars from David Grover and basically learned my way around Capture One within 2 weeks. In April, I shot my first job tethered to Capture One: a full day shoot of a house for a builder. Capture One worked flawlessly all day and night when I went back to shoot some exteriors at dusk. Impressive! Most importantly, my Nikon files never looked so good! I truly felt that my RAW files were finally unleashing every ounce of detail and sharpness that my lenses could produce. I often refer to it like having a brand new camera. Yes, it looked that good and if you don’t trust me I challenge you to download a free trial, compare your files and prove me wrong!
Quality is addictive…
Following this first job shot tethered to Capture One I have shot numerous jobs both on location and in the studio using Phase One’s RAW converter. Not a single time has the tethered capture crashed on me, and I truly believe that the quality of my files significantly improved. The problem with quality is that it can become rather addictive and the following question came up: what if I had better lenses and a better camera? Well, I tried a Phase One XF and IQ back with Schneider lenses and never looked back. The quality of the files coupled with the quality of the RAW conversion is just pure madness, and I strongly believe there is currently no better photography hardware-software combination on the market.
Session vs catalog
When opening Capture One for the first time, one has to face a choice: session or catalog. Coming from Lightroom this might sound a bit confusing at first but here again organization is key. Just consider sessions as jobs. Being a commercial photographer, 99% of what I photograph is shot tethered to a computer. Each job is a tethered capture session and this organization is reflected on my hard drive as well. But more about this later. A catalog is just a way of organizing photos by date, project or whatever the heck you want! In 2016, I have been shooting sessions into Capture One while still archiving my photos in a Lightroom Catalog. I told you earlier, embracing change is sometimes difficult! As of January 2017, I operate 100% in Capture One running both sessions and catalogs.
Call me OCD if you wish but there is no escape from it: photos have to be organized. So let’s get to it!
We already made clear the fact that every single job is a new session. So on my hard drive I have a Capture One Sessions folder divided by year, and each year is divided into 2 folders: personal and work. I don’t know many photographers that like mixing up their cats’ photos with their clients’ photos. I don’t, and I have way too many cat photos! From there, each personal and work folders are divided in main event, client name or whatever you want. For instance “Client XYZ” is the main folder with its subfolders: “Project A – January 2017”, “Project B – October 2017”, etc. These subfolders are my actual Capture One sessions and each of them is a subfolder on my hard drive. Hopefully you are still with me…
Capture One sessions are by default subdivided into 4 folders: capture, selects, output and trash. This is obviously customizable as is everything in Capture One by the way. I run the default session settings because it works for me. Each and every photo shot is stored into the capture folder. I then move every single edited and finished photos into the selects folder. My exported files, called processed files in Capture One – Hi Res, Lo Res, Flattened TIFF, etc. – are stored into the output folder.
We already said that a catalog is a way to organize photos. I personally create a new catalog every year. Here again each of my catalogs contain 2 sections: personal and work. This is purely a matter of choice and some photographers might prefer to have different catalogs for different purposes. Some may have separate personal and work catalogs, wedding photographers may have a different catalog for every wedding they shoot, etc. After creating a catalog you will need to import photos. That’s what we are here for after all! Here again, one has 2 options: import photos from their current location or import/embed the photos into the catalog. Those familiar with Aperture will recognize the second option. I personally import “from current location” for 2 reasons: I already worked my ass off to organize my photos into folders and subfolders on my hard drive so I might as well take advantage of it and reflect this organization in my catalog. Also, the fact that photos are not embedded into the catalog makes for a lighter and snappier catalog. Who really wants a sluggish catalog of several gigabytes? The embedded option is great though for exporting subcatalogs when you need to work on another machine or if you are sending a subcatalog to a client.
So our photos are now in the catalog. Which photos you are going to ask? Well, I use a catalog to archive my final photos and to store whatever I don’t want in a session: my travel photos for instance or the snapshots I create for my Instagram account @benardphoto. As a side note, I also have a general “final photos” catalog not yearly based which includes all of my final photos since the beginning of time.
Lost in translation
So the photos are now comfortably sitting in the catalog but it is still a big mess because we haven’t created any virtual folders or subfolders in the catalog. For those of you coming from Lightroom as I did, here is a quick Lightroom to Capture One translator: collections are now called albums, collection sets are now called projects and smart collections are now smart albums. Capture One also adds the option to create “groups”. Easy enough! From there, my catalog organization reflects my actual folder organization. So in the 2017 catalog, I have 2 main “groups”: personal and work. Subsequently, in the work group for instance, I have an Instagram folder with albums organized by month and it is exactly the same on my actual hard drive. In the 2017 folder, I have an Instagram folder with subfolders organized by month so the virtual organization in the catalog matches the physical organization on the hard drive. For final pictures, I just import the flattened TIFF version of a final photo that sits in the output subfolder of the corresponding session. Photos can then be colour tagged and rated like you would do in Lightroom and the complete kit of keywording tools and copyright is obviously there as well.
One thing I didn’t detail yet is the highly customizable aspect of Capture One. Everything is customizable: tools, shortcuts, panels, workspace, everything can be moved wherever you want it! This really helped me at first as I could configure Capture One in a rather close configuration to the one I came to know so well in Lightroom making the transition a lot smoother. This is one of my favourite features of Capture One as you can also adapt your workspace to what you do: tethered capture, culling, editing, dual monitor setup, etc. and this both in sessions and catalogs.
So I am currently running Capture One Pro 10, the latest version, and I couldn’t be any happier. The new tools added in this version are really worth upgrading/updating from previous versions in my opinion. I already discussed some of my favourite new features in a recent Instagram post. The incredibly fast and stable tethered capture coupled with powerful tools (the colour editor is fantastic!) truly make Capture One Pro 10 the best RAW converter available in my opinion. Note that I didn’t even mention the Helicon Focus integration that I use all the time for my product photography, which works flawlessly with the focus stacking tool on the Phase One XF. But I digress.. This might be the subject for another blog post in the future! 😉
Again this is only my humble commercial photographer’s opinion as I am not affiliated to Phase One or Capture One by any means, but if you want to get the very best of your RAW files I think you should give Capture One a serious try.