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Capture One Review

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Capture One is a powerful tool that is able to do professional photo editing. In this Capture One Review, we will look at this photo editing tool packed with possibilities for creating a photo editing workflow that suits every need. Capture One can be overwhelming for new users with all the tools and options available. Therefore we have created this thorough review to help you find out what’s up and down in Capture One, what is useful, and what is not. 

PROS: Fast, flexible and very professional tool for RAW processing.

CONS: It is pricey if you need to use several different camera brands.

Capture One Review – Short Verdict:

Capture One should be the go-to RAW processor of professional photographers compared to other RAW processors on the market. Check our detailed description of what makes Capture One special in the review below.

Capture One Review Overall Rating: 4.5

User Experience:5
Integration & Plugin Support4

Capture One has a lot of features that are similar to Lightroom and other photo editors. I assume that you have a little bit of experience with other photo editors, and if you do, you already have a good starting point for learning Capture One as many of the features are similar.

Most of the tools will feel natural once you have gotten used to where you can find the different tools, just like learning any other app.

When you get a grip on how Capture One works, you will begin to spot the areas where Capture One excels and outperform other photo-editors like Lightroom. It is not always visible at first glance, because of the sometimes overwhelming number of options and control you have. 

Most photo-editors lets you import your photos into a catalog, organize them into folders and collections depending on your needs. Capture One more seamlessly allows you to edit your photos, as you only have to change the tool tab, when browsing an image, instead of opening the image in a developing mode. But before we dig into that, let us get on with this quick start guide with a short tour of the Capture One interface.

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Capture One Interface

Capture One is built more or less like any other photo editing app, with the difference that the interface is customizable. Out of the box, you will have your library structure with folder and collections in the left side panel (on the first tool tab).

Speaking of tool tabs. At the top of the left side panel, you find a number of tool tabs. These tabs structure the tools you use to process your images in Capture One. The first tab is, as mentioned, displaying the folder and collections in your catalog or session. The second is the Capture Tab, which is used for tethered capture. Then it moves on with tabs for lens correction, color, exposure, details, adjustments (styles and presets), metadata, and process recipes for exporting.

If you take a look at the way the tabs are ordered, you will find that they more or less give you the workflow from left to right. It doesn’t mean that you have to do something on all tabs to process your images, but it gives you a good idea of where to look for a specific tool. If you are looking for a tool to export your images, try one of the tabs furthest to the right. Hint, use the (output) process recipes tab.

If you are not happy with the tool tabs’ layout, you can add or remove tools to each tab, customizing the interface entirely to your liking.

Customize The User Interface Completely

If you miss one tool on one of the tabs, you can add/remove tools to each tab if you want. If you cannot change your habit of pressing a specific keystroke for accessing, i.e., Grid View, you can change the shortcut keys or assign new keys to some of the more hidden features of Capture One.

This is one of the things we want to emphasize in this review of Capture One. All photographers are different. Some want a simple interface, with just a few tools presented on one tab. Others want to have tools arranged according to which stage of post-processing they are working on. The point is that each photographer is different, which is why it is so great that your photo editor can adapt to you, not the other way around.  

Enough about the Capture One interface for now. Let us move on how to import images into Capture One. 

Catalogs or Sessions

One of the first things you will encounter when you want to import your images into Capture One is whether to use Catalogs or Sessions. In short, catalogs are suitable for storing your entire image library or large parts of it, anyway. As an example, I use two catalogs. One for private images, and one for my more professional type of work as a landscape and nature photographer.

Sessions, on the other hand, are more lightweight, and useable for storing images, that you will likely not want to visit often. For instance, this could be client shoots, where you will import, cull, edit and then export the images without much need to visit the images from this client’s shoot again unless the client has another request concerning the images from the shoot. You might not want these to clog up your catalog. 

However, if you do want them, you can “import” or show the content of an entire session into a catalog as well if that is what you want. 

Browsing and Culling Images

Browsing through your images in Capture One should look familiar to you if you have experience with any other photo editor. First, you need to select a folder or collection with images in it. You can browse through your images in two ways. One is in grid mode, where you see multiple rows and columns with your images. If you double-click one of them, you will enter the normal browse mode, where you can see a single column to the right with other images from the current folder or collection. If you click on one of the other images, you will bring that image up in the single image browser in the middle of your screen. Alternatively, press the up or down arrow to move to the next image in the folder/collection. If you have set a Capture One’s image-preview settings to be equal to your screen size, you should see almost no delay in switching between images. In this regard, Capture One outperforms Lightroom. Remember, the current image is ready to be edited. You don’t need to load it into a develop module, to modify the image. 

From both grid mode and single image browsing, you can assign a ranking, rate, compare, rotate, etc. However, you can also begin to edit your image. As I said, you don’t need to “move” into a specific edit-mode or module. You can just switch to the left side tool tab panel that has the tool you want. If you want to edit metadata, go to the metadata tab. If you want to color grade, go to the color grading tab, and the exposure tab for correcting exposure. You get the picture, I guess. If you want to move back to navigating your folders, just pick the first tool tab and choose the folder/collection you want.

Capture One Plugins

With version 12, Capture One introduced support for 3rd party plugins. At the time of writing, we are at version 13 (called Capture One 20, since PhaseOne changed the numbering to fit with a yearly update sequence).

Thus plugin support is relatively new in Capture One, and they haven’t established a strong collaboration with plugin developers, so the number of plugins is still fairly low. 

Even though plugin support is limited you can still connect to your favorite alternative photo editor using “Edit in…” from the right-click menu

Highlighted Features in This Capture One Review

Let us review some of the things that make Capture One special, without going too much into a comparison with other editors. We will mainly discuss the tools that either gives you new possibilities, or where it can be challenging to get started when you are new to Capture One.

Loupe tool

The loupe tool allows you to hover over a specific area of an image and instantly see the selected area magnified to 100% (or 200% if you change the loupe setting). This allows you to quickly determine whether the image is sharp vs. blurry or gives you a quick way to check out your image’s details.

The loupe tool also works in the image browser and grid view, allowing you to hover over a thumbnail, and jump straight to 100% magnification of a specific part of the image, like a subject’s face or similar. It is immensely useful in many situations.   

Loupe view is one of the things we like with Capture One in this review

Focus Mask

You can enable a focus mask using the default shortcut Q. It gives you an overlay showing you the area if an image, which is most in focus. You can use this when comparing images to find which images you have nailed the focus just right where you wanted, and on which images you missed focus on the right spot. It is very useful when culling images and deciding on which to process and which to delete. Sometimes the focus doesn’t show anything in focus due to the threshold you configure in the system settings/preferences. 

Better and Different Color Grading Tools

The color grading tools or color correction tools are quite different from what you are probably used to if you come from Lightroom. Instead of sliders, you will have the colors presented in a single circle or three circles (representing shadows, midtones, and highlights). This allows you to make i.e., the shadows a bit bluer, the highlights more yellow in appearance while keeping the midtones intact. It opens a world of opportunities with more flexible control. However, it does take a bit of time to get used to it.

You can also change color using a color picker tool and then adjust the hue and luminosity.

Export to Many Different Formats at Once

By setting up a few favorite process recipes, you can export your images to many different formats in the same export job. 

Each process recipe controls the level of output sharpening, naming, output folder, styles applied, etc. This means that you can make Capture One output to multiple file formats, apply different styles and have them all output to different folders if you want by just ticking of which process recipes to use for your export job. There are endless possibilities. 

Process recipes in C1 - Capture One Review

The most common scenario is exporting the web in a few different sizes (as a .jpg file) and exporting for print (perhaps as a .tiff file) in the same job. What I find particularly useful is the control you have over output sharpening. It is not just high, medium, low, or off, like in Lightroom. Instead, you can fine-tune the sharpening level to fit better the output size you want, and the intended viewing distance. Again you get much more control in Capture One, which I am sure you will appreciate. 


Capture One tokens are small shortcodes that allow you to use, i.e., EXIF-data, for naming and keywording your images dynamically. For instance, if you shoot with several cameras, you might want to use the camera name or model as part of your file name. You can set this on both import or export. Once you master the more photo editing related tasks in Capture One and begins to focus on optimizing your workflow, you will undoubtedly become excited about this feature.

Before and After Viewer

The before-and-after viewer tool is particularly powerful compared to other photo editors as it allows you to compare the before and after of several images in the same view. It’s very cool, but I don’t know when exactly when I will compare multiple before and after images. Most of the time, I will want to compare several original shots to find out which to process, or several finished shots to find out which to publish. 

Working with Layers

Unlike Lightroom, you can use layers in Capture One to apply different adjustments. This also means that you can adjust the opacity of adjustments later on. Because layers are so well integrated, you are not limited to a fixed set of adjustment sliders. 

Masking Tools in Capture One

When creating layer masks in Capture One, you can choose from various tools to enhance your masks. You have both a brush tool, gradient, and circular masking tool available. Furthermore, you also have a luma range mask similar to the Luminance Range Mask tool in Lightroom. From the advanced color editor, you can also select a precise color range to work with and then convert this to a layer mask. Just like the select color range tool in Photoshop. 

The Luma Range Masking Tool is something we like in this Capture One Review

Using Styles in Capture One

If you are the type of photographer who loves to stay efficient using presets to optimize your workflow, you will be thrilled by how flexible you can do this in Capture One. 

First of all, you should know that what Lightroom calls presets is termed styles in Capture One. You apply styles to an image to achieve a complete look. Capture One also have presets, but those are predefined setting to single tools.

Because Capture One uses layers, it also gives you much more flexibility when it comes to using styles. You can add styles to a layer and have another layer that uses another style, allowing you to mix them freely using different layer masks. 

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The New Heal and Clone Tool

The new heal and clone tools are also different from what you might be used if you are coming from Lightroom. These tools are normally reserved for Photoshop, demanding a round-trip from Lightroom to Photoshop (and perhaps back again), if you want to clone parts of your image. However, with the May update of Capture One 20, these new tools were introduced. They function very similarly to how you would use them in Photoshop. 

Synchronizing Image Settings

The flexibility in Capture One is a photographer’s dream come true. This is also the case when it comes to your options regarding synchronizing settings between images.

You can choose to synchronize all settings from an image. From each tool within Capture One, you can also click on a sync button. You can synchronize all modifications made to an image or just settings from a specific tool. 

Another cool feature is the ability to synchronize luma range masks from one image to another. 

Speed & Performance

It is a bit out of scope for this review of Capture One to make precise performance tests and stack them up besides benchmarks from i.e., Lightroom. But my general feeling and observation are that Capture One is faster than Lightroom. This especially comes through when you switch from Library mode to Develop mode in Lightroom when working with a large catalog. You don’t have that awful delay in Capture One. Importing images is a little faster, but not by much. The most annoying performance issue that I have experienced with Capture One is when using the brush tool with the auto-mask feature enabled. This causes Capture One to pause and calculate the mask from time to time. 

Capture One Price

Capture One is, in general, more expensive than the alternatives.

However, if you only use one camera brand, like Fuji, Sony, or Nikon, then you can get a license that gives only contains the camera profiles belonging to this brand. This lowers the price of Capture One noticeably but only lets you edit files for that specific brand. However, it is a full features version. 

Furthermore, you can choose between buying a perpetual license or as a subscription, allowing you to always be up to date with the latest version. 

What We Miss in Capture One

One of the features that I miss in Capture One when doing this review is the possibility to blend multiple images. Capture One can work with layers already, so the ability to load images as source layers and then use the masking tools in Capture One to hide/show the image layer would be a great addition. This feature would save a lot of users a round-trip to Photoshop or Affinity Photo when, i.e., working with exposure blending in landscape photography.

I also miss having a regular history panel, where you can trace our editing steps back in time and revert to a specific step. You can easily reset specific tools, so it is not a severe issue. However, many photographers are used to history panels for other editors, and it would be a nice feature.

Concluding words

It is no secret that I am very impressed with Capture One. In this review, I have highlighted some of the main points of why I think Capture One deserves more attention than it seems to be getting amongst photographers. With their new pricing options, you can save on the subscription if you only use Nikon, Sony, or Fuji, making it comparable in pricing to Lightroom/Photoshop. 

It should be the features and your workflow though you should consider when deciding whether Capture One is the way to go for you. You can get a free Capture One trial at their website.

Featured photo by Irina Iriser from Pexels.

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