Capture One 22 verdict
Now with greatly improved perspective control tools thanks to the 15.2.0 update, Capture One 22 is a professional Lightroom rival that offers a step up in both image quality and editing tools, and supports a variety of professional workflows. These included a new subscription-based Capture One Live service for client collaboration. If you own Capture One already and don’t know whether to upgrade, Capture One 22 brings a number of other important changes, including HDR merge and panorama stitching. Capture One is not cheap, but it’s designed for quality first, not cheapness.
- Improved perspective (‘keystone’) controls
- Tethered, session and catalog workflows
- Powerful adjustment layers and masks
- RAW processing quality
- Magic Brush and Style Brush tools
- HDR and panorama stitching
- Pretty expensive
- You’ll still need other software for layers and some effects
- Capture One Live is $9.99/month
What is Capture One 22?
Capture One 22 is an all-in-one image capture, organising and editing program aimed mainly at professional photographers. It was previously owned and published by Danish company Phase One, which also makes high-end medium format studio and field cameras, but it’s since been split and is now published and sold separately. Capture One’s closest rival is Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, and these programs have a lot in common in what they do, but approach things very differently.
• See also: Best image editing software – what to look for, how to choose
• Read more: Capture One vs Lightroom: which is best?
Capture One 22 is the latest version, adding HDR merge tools, panorama stitching and a new, optional Capture One Live service allowing online remote collaboration with clients and co-workers. This costs $9.99/month, which will sound a lot to enthusiasts and hobbyists but could quickly pay for itself for professionals courting big clients.
As of the Capture One 15.2.0 update, the branded Nikon, Sony and Fujifilm editions have been officially discontinued. If you use any of these on a subscription, Capture One will automatically upgrade you to the full Pro subscription at no extra charge. I asked Capture One to confirm this and whether there was a fixed term, and was told that there is currently no time limit, though it would depend on a unbroken subscription.
Capture One is available both for a single one-off fee or on subscription. Be aware, though, that it’s around 2-3 times the price that Lightroom Classic ever was to buy, and that the monthly subscription for Capture One is more than twice that for the Adobe Photography Plan – and you don’t get all the extras provided by Adobe, including Photoshop.
If you are a subscriber, you will automatically get the Capture One 22 update free. If you own a perpetual license for Capture One 21 or earlier, you will have to pay to upgrade, and you will have to decide if you think it’s worth it. For professionals it seems a relatively modest outlay to stay up to date with a key professional tool; for enthusiasts, it’s a slightly different call – you could always skip a version before upgrading, unless you need new camera support.
Keep in mind that Capture One does issue updates for each major version, so the latest 15.2.0 update adds improved perspective controls and more, which makes it an even more attractive upgrade proposition than when it was first launched.
Like Lightroom, Capture One can organise your images in flexible, searchable databases, or ‘catalogs’, and both can apply non-destructive adjustments to your images, working seamlessly across RAW files, JPEGs, TIFFs and even Photoshop PSD files.
Capture One doesn’t offer an equivalent to Adobe’s Creative Cloud ecosphere – you can’t share images in the cloud with a mobile or web version. Capture One is designed very much for a desktop/laptop-based professional workflow, whereas Lightroom has a much broader base amongst both professional and amateur photographers and social media/mobile photography users. Capture One has released a paid for Capture One Live service for remote collaboration, though, and does say that an iPad edition is in the pipeline, which hints at a Creative Cloud style setup.
Sessions and Catalogs
Capture One can work either in Session mode or Catalog mode. Session mode is for photographers with a linear capture-select-edit-process workflow ideal for commercial/professional commissions – you shoot your images, choose the best, share them with the client and then archive the job before moving on to the next. This is where the new Capture One Live feature is likely to prove especially valuable.
You can create sessions with images captured on memory cards in the normal way and copied across to a computer, or via tethered capture, where the camera is controlled from a computer and images are captured ‘live’, with instant adjustments if required.
Capture One’s Sessions have another, less obvious use. You can use a Session as a simple image browsing tool for your whole library. You don’t get the more advanced search tools of a Capture One catalog, but you can still sort, edit and filter images, create virtual copies and more. For those who don’t like having to import images into catalogs, it’s the perfect solution and a huge feature that Phase One doesn’t push perhaps as much as it could.
One of the complaints about database applications like Lightroom is the need to import images first and then keep the catalog synchronised with your image folders. Capture One sessions don’t need any of that – they can browse folders live, store adjustments in a setting folder alongside the images, and sessions even offer some basic but useful album, filtering and search tools.
Otherwise, you use Capture One Catalogs. Here, you import your images into a catalog in the way that you do in Lightroom. You can then rate your images and apply colour labels, add keywords and work with other metadata. You can sort and filter images and you can create Albums or Smart Albums based on search criteria.
This is exactly what you can do in Lightroom, but Capture One does offer one very interesting difference; as well as working with images in their existing locations outside the catalog (‘referenced’ images), it can also import them into the catalog so that it becomes a single, self-contained archive that can be moved around as a single file and with no risk of accidentally breaking the links between the references to images and the image files themselves.
This was an option in Apple’s Aperture, and while it seems inefficient on the surface, it’s a way of keeping your catalog’s integrity more secure and means you’re working on imported duplicates of your images and not the originals.
Capture One editing tools
Capture One doesn’t support as quite as many camera RAW formats and lens profiles as Lightroom, but the difference is mainly at the lower consumer end of the market. If you’re using almost any enthusiast/pro orientated camera and a mainstream lens, you’re likely to find Capture One can open RAW files and apply lens corrections automatically. It won’t process Hasselblad RAW files, presumably because the previous parent company, Phase One, is a direct Hasselblad rival.
You can also apply perspective corrections for both horizontal and vertical keystone effects. This is the biggest change in the free Capture One 22 15.2.0 update. Capture One now offers automatic vertical, horizontal and combined keystone correction, just like Lightroom, plus a new Skew slider to correct skew effects that regular keystone corrections sometimes leave behind. I can confirm that the new tools work extremely well – and it’s also possible to add vertical keystone correction to Capture One’s set of Auto Adjustments.
Capture One has a formidable array of adjustments. It offers both Levels and Curves adjustments, and the Curves tool offers both regular RGB and Luma curves. There’s also an option to choose different Film Curves for basic tone mapping before any other adjustments are made, and this is where you’ll find Capture One’s Fujifilm Film Simulation modes. Lightroom is better than it used to be at handling Fujifilm X-Trans files, but Capture One is out on its own.
Capture One has a deceptively simple-looking High Dynamic Range panel for highly effective shadow and highlight recovery. This has always worked really well, and the additional White and Black sliders help restore a full range of tones and rich contrast after shadow and highlight recovery.
The color editor is particularly effective. You can click and drag any color in the image ‘live’ to change its hue or saturation or alt-drag to change its luminance. There are also powerful Color Balance and Color Editor tools for applying complex and effective colour shifts. These are used extensively in the Styles and Presets built into the program and available separately from the Phase One website and others.
Styles are combinations of image adjustments which can be applied with a single click, while Presets are adjustments made with a single tool. You can create, save and re-use both types yourself.
Almost all of these adjustments are available in Capture One’s adjustment layers (next section), whereas Lightroom offers only a subset of local adjustment tools.
Capture One doesn’t support plug-ins as such, but it can round-trip images to external editors, which usually amounts to the same thing. As long as the external editor is able to operate as a standalone single image editor, it should work. Photoshop is supported, but also any program that can work as a standalone app, such as Exposure X7, the DxO Nik Collection plug-ins (which do work as standalone applications), Affinity Photo and more.
You may not need external editing tools very often, though, because Capture One has its own – including powerful layers-based local adjustment tools.
Phase One is especially proud of Capture One’s editing finesse, and this got a major boost in Capture One 21, the previous version. There are two key new local adjustment tools: the Magic Brush and Style Brush.
The Magic Brush tool is very simple to use – you just drag it over a range of tones you want to select and Capture One will then automatically extend and mask the selection to similar tones. You can control the masking tolerance, the edge refinement and more, and the brush is additive, so if you miss a bit you can just brush over it to add it. The Magic Brush creates a new, masked adjustment layer, ready for you to make any adjustments you like.
The new Style Brush does not, as you might imagine, paint Capture One Styles adjustments over areas of the image. Instead, it’s like a glorified dodge and burn tool with a far wider range of image enhancements. You choose an enhancement and then paint over the areas you want to enhance. Again, there are a wide range of brush controls, and what you get is a masked adjustment layer which you can go back to at any time to re-adjust.
Adjustment Layers are the secret of Capture One’s power. Where Lightroom has gradient, radial mask or adjustment brush options displayed as masks and ‘pins’ on your images, each with relatively limited adjustments, Capture One allows up to 16 clearly separated adjustment layers, each with its own layer mask and each one supporting all the adjustment tools used individually or in combination (with the exception of some low-level profiling options).
You can create linear or radial gradient masks or use a freehand brush tool with or without an Auto Mask feature. Once a mask is created, you can use a Feather Mask command to soften the edges or the Refine Edge command to clean up outlines. You can also swap to a Grey Scale Mask display to check for holes or untidy edges in your masks.
Adjustment layers aren’t the only type available; you can also create Healing and Cloning layers for image retouching – with Healing layers, you can move the healing ‘source’ to a suitable area of the image and Capture One will match the tones and colours for a seamless repair.
As if all that wasn’t enough, you can also add handwritten notes and drawings to your images either as notes or reminders to yourself or instructions to a retoucher – these can be exported as a separate layer in a Photoshop PSD file.
Capture One 22 HDR and panorama merge
The new HDR feature is much like its equivalent in Lightroom. It’s not designed to produce wild and spectacular HDR effects like those in Aurora HDR, for example, but to merge a series of bracketed RAW files (not JPEGs) into a single HDR image. It’s just as effective as Lightroom’s tool and, like Lightroom, it creates a fully-editable DNG file with all the processing headroom of a regular raw file but with extended dynamic range.
Equally interesting is the new panorama tool, which doesn’t just stitch regular horizontal panoramas, but multi-row stitching in all directions. It works well with no user input, though depending on your lenses and limitations, you may need to do some basic distortion and vignetting correction first.
Capture One 22 offers sundry other enhancements, including an AI-driven auto-rotate option (Capture One’s first AI tool!) and wireless tethering for Canon cameras. Capture One also says catalog performance has been improved for Windows users.
Capture One results
With the possible exception of DxO PhotoLab or PureRAW, Capture One has (in my opinion) the best quality RAW processing in the business. Its fine detail rendition and noise control is several steps ahead of Adobe’s, and while Capture One can’t match the extraordinary high-ISO image quality of DxO’s DeepPRIME processing, it does support Fujifilm X-Trans files – having said that, PhotoLab 5 does AT LAST support X-Trans RAW files in a beta/development phase.
As well as this RAW processing quality, Capture One also has an extremely powerful set of editing tools for both global adjustments and local adjustments, and local adjustments are handled with a very effective and easy to grasp layers system. Capture One is more like Photoshop than Lightroom is!
The Magic Brush and Style Brush further extend its editing capabilities, to the extent that you might not often need any other editing too, and the new HDR merge and panorama stitching options close one of the few remaining gaps in Capture One’s feature set.
When you combine all this you get an editing tool of great power that’s also capable of the highest levels of image quality. Add to this Capture One’s expensive but excellent Style packs and you’ve got software that is certainly not cheap but is extremely good.
Who should get Capture One 22?
Capture One will definitely appeal to professionals, but probably advanced amateurs and enthusiasts too. It initially looks quite technical and complex, but its default layout is easily changed and customised to suit the tools and processes you use most often and, unlike Lightroom Classic, it’s not organised into ‘modules’ – everything happens within a single window.
The editing tools are both powerful and extremely effective, especially the layer and mask based approach to local adjustments. The built-in Styles and Presets offer a varied range of effects, and there are more available if you’re looking for styling inspiration from professionals – though like Capture One itself, Capture One’s Style packs carry a premium price.
Image editing tools and workflows are a very personal thing, so this is a very personal opinion, but I find I can get the ‘look’ I want much more quickly in Capture One than with other photo-editors, and I’m more satisfied with the outcome.
For many, the quality of the RAW processing will be the key factor, and Capture One’s is quite superb. It strikes an excellent balance between noise control and detail rendition, and you can work for a long time with Lightroom’s noise reduction and sharpening tools and still not get close to what Capture One can achieve out of the box.
Capture One achieves excellent results with all camera brands, but it’s especially relevant for Fujifilm RAW shooters. It avoids the X-Trans sensor ‘worm effect’ in fine details you sometimes get with Adobe’s RAW conversion process and the new Film Simulation curves are excellent.
Capture One 22 is not cheap. It’s not designed for beginners, and it doesn’t have Adobe’s cloud-based ecosystem – yet. But it’s excellent for tethered shooting, it offers both session-based and catalog-based workflows and its editing tools and output are superb. There are plenty of ‘value’ image editors on the market, and if cost is a key factor then Capture One is not really in the game. Instead, it is designed to be effective, efficient and capable of the best professional quality output, and it succeeds at all three. For quality-conscious RAW photographers who prefer to stick to a computer-based rather than a cloud-based workflow, it makes all the rest look second best. Its sessions are ideal for pro photographer shoot-edit-share workflows, and its catalogs are perfect for longer term image management.
Get Capture One
Capture One is available as a one-time license or a subscription:
• Perpetual license: from $299
• Subscription: from $20/month
• Capture One Live: $9.99/month
65% discount for students
Capture One is available as a full featured 30-day trial