Capture One does take a little time to master - Lots of tabs hide controls for everything you’ll ever need, but once you get the hang of it, converting RAW files is very fast. Most of what you need is on the Quick control panel shown here - including Capture One’s High Dynamic Range sliders for restoring highlight or shadow detail, which work very well with high contrast subjects.
One of the big pluses for this RAW conversion software package is that Capture One images generally need no, or very little other work after conversion. Default levels of sharpening and noise reduction are set, and are usually spot on. That saves a huge amount of time in Photoshop in comparison to most packages. It’s so much better than doing everything twice.
Capture One 5 is available in two versions normal: and Pro. The Pro version includes distortion correction and batch tools, but to be honest, I’m a pro and I use the basic version. Why? The optical corrections aren’t as good as the PT Lens plug-in I use in Photoshop and the other extras frankly don’t seem worth the money to me. When I started out using Capture One 4 there was no Pro version but I loved the basic version. Having tried the Pro version several times now, I still love the basic version. Save money and buy better lenses.
Capture One has recently been updated to Capture One 5 and the normal version is good value. Unfortunately it now has some very serious competition in the shape of Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5. Capture One, although it can deal with TIFs and JPEGs, is essentially RAW file conversion software, so it lives or dies by the quality of the converted files it produces. Until this spring Capture One was my choice for Canon DSLR RAW files, and I think, among the best for Nikon. Lightroom 2’s poor RAW conversions from Canon files ruled it out for many pros including me, but, obviously someone at Adobe realised this and set about producing a completely new RAW conversion module for Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.
Adobe Camera RAW 6, or ACR 6 is very unusual in that it’s a complete, start again rebuild - not an update - and it’s a revelation. So far I’ve only seriously tested it with Canon files, but it leaves all other RAW conversion packages, including Capture One 5, trailing some way behind. The bad news doesn’t end there either, Lightroom 3 isn’t the only RAW conversion software to have caught and passed Capture One. DxO Optics Pro is what you want if you really need perfect correction of distortion, and DxO’s RAW conversion and noise reduction are also now better than Capture One. See my recent camera specific tests. Even Canon’s own, free, DPP or Digital Photo Professional, has been steadily improving to a point where it really is pretty good. So if you’re a Canon user now, you may not need anything else.
Capture One 5 still has great workflow and is a pleasure to use, but right now it’s just not the best option. Adobe Lightroom 3 may be much more expensive, but right here, right now, in my humble opinion at least, it’s the best there is, not my old friend Capture One.