A simple Capture One Pro workflow
Updated on January 30, 2020 for Capture One Pro 20; the original post appeared on September 28, 2018.
I originally setup this blog to share travel information and images, but 3/4 of the emails I receive from readers is on the topic of image taking and image processing, so I thought I’d share a few answers to common questions here.
By far, the three most common questions I get are:
- What camera do you use?
- What software do you use to edit the images?
- How does camera A compare to camera B and how does software A compare to software B?
Given the close partnership between PhaseOne, Fujifilm and Sony to offer Capture One (C1) software with their new cameras, I thought I can answer question two above, and also provide some tips that I’ve learned along the way. This post is based on one that I wrote on the Fujifilm forum on DPReview that received a very positive reception and remains the most bookmarked as of 2020.
I’ve invested an enormous amount of time into learning C1 and I’m hoping that this post can save you some time in learning this fantastic software.
- C1 is awesome and fast.
- Detail extraction is top-tier, matching or exceeding software such as Iridient Transformer and Lightroom (LR), and newcomers like ON1 and Alien Exposure.
- Colour profiles for Fujifilm are now embedded in the software in the “Color” tab, and can be found under the rather unintuitive “Base Characteristics” panel and “Curve” drop down menu. If you’d like to add other colour profiles or “styles”, there are a number of options available online for free and for sale. I have really enjoyed the RNI film simulation package I bought two years ago.
- The workflow presented below will get you to 90% of the final image with just a few clicks, making this a fast and efficient workflow to use when travelling and going through hundreds or thousands of images.
With PhaseOne’s commitment to Fujifilm in their software, I want to give C1 a shot to see how it stacks up against the venerable LR.
I’ve been a huge Adobe fan for decades (and still am). Pagemaker and Photoshop were game-changers for my work and I often used it in the workplace to convey information in a different way than typical PowerPoint presentations. Adobe has been a mainstay for me for the past two decades.
I have no issues with one-time licensing models or monthly subscription models. Businesses and their staff need to get paid and the value of their work does not have to be linked to the cost of producing that output. I totally understand the need for a stable revenue and profit model to help manage cashflow.
Photography is a hobby for me, and the main goal is to capture lifelong memories in images. I regularly print photos in A3+ and A2 sizes. I also regularly print photo books for my bigger trips.
A simple workflow:
- Create a “Session” for the trip (I use a 2019 i7 MacBook Pro 13 with 16GB ram and 1TB SSD; I would recommend this setup as a minimum if you’re working on 50MP+ files).
- Import or drag-and-drop the images into the “Capture” folder in the session.
- Turn on the “Focus Mask” to see if any images should be scrapped (I use this at a high level for totally out of focus shots).
- Select the images I really like by giving it a “Green” colour flag (+ key shortcut).
- For images that are grossly out of focus or are poor images, I use the “Red” colour flag (- key shortcut).
- Filter by “Green” images and show JPEG and RAW (Fujifilm and Leica JPEGS are often excellent so it’s worth it to keep them alongside to see if any editing is required to begin with).
- If the image requires editing, I use this process in C1:
- Colour tab > Select Curve (this is where Capture One Pro keeps the Fujifilm simulations; I typically use Provia as a starting point, but often switch to Velvia or Classic Chrome if I want more or less saturated images).
- Exposure tab > Exposure Tool > Click the magic wand icon.
- Exposure tab > High Dynamic Range Tool > Click the magic wand icon.
- Exposure tab > Levels tool > Click the magic want icon (I sometimes find the magic wand makes the images too high contrast so I back down the black point or move the mid point a tiny amount; this is especially required when the image has moody lighting or a hazy landscape).
That’s it! That gets me to 90% of the final image, and often 100% of the final image. If required, I’ll use the awesome layers capability in Capture One to make further localized adjustments.
You can actually automate steps 2-4 using Command-L or Control-L if you’re using a Mac or PC respectively, but I prefer to see the effect each step has on the image. For example, in step 3, I find the shadow recovery a bit too much and often back it down to keep more contrast.
Thoughts on C1:
Initially, C1 is difficult to use because they’ve taken a different approach to the layout of the controls as compared to LR, however there is a “workspace” available called “Migration” that will make any LR user feel at home.
There are very, very good webinars for C1 on youtube. I’ve watched every single one and they’re engaging and informative. The fellow that leads the webinars is really classy. He never disparages his competitors and is willing to highlight areas where C1 can improve.
Where I feel C1 really shines is in its ability to get great images in a very short period of time. When you’re travelling and want to be out enjoying the new city rather than editing, this speed is really a huge plus.
C1 provides a colour calibrated “Base Characteristic” that you can work from or you can use your camera’s film simulation if supported by C1. I personally love the film simulations and have tested them against SOOC JPEGS; they’re remarkably similar.
I love the way C1 allows you to manipulate the black and white points. It uses a levels diagram that you can quickly move a point over and set the black and white points. You can then also set the mid point in the same way. I think Photoshop was the first to have levels shown this way, and I find it more intuitive than LR’s method.
Beautiful image from the start:
C1 uses a “Base Characteristic Curve” which I believe is just a luminance curve applied to the RAW image; the standard “Base characteristic” curve for most cameras will be “Film Standard”, which produces an image that looks like a typical S curve. None of this needs to be understood or known to the user. It just works. The images come out of the gate looking great. If you want to start at the same baseline as LR, you can select a “Linear Response” curve.
C1 is on par with Iridient X-Transformer + LR, and because it’s an all-in-one software package, it’s easier to manage and a better user experience. You also save some disk space because you don’t need the large DNG files that IXT produces. I do however want to make it clear that I am no way disparaging the great work that the Iridient has done. The person that created that software is a genius and has out-developed Adobe at demosaicing the Fujifilm raw files.
The starting point for sharpness in C1 depends on the ISO and likely other factors. I find that at low ISO, the sharpening usually starts at 140. This level of sharpness is already more than enough and sometimes, I even back it down. I haven’t seen any worm artifacts or other sharpening issues with Fujifilm X-Trans sensor images. Grass blades and foliage look great in C1.
C1 does not have a “Dehaze” tool, but you can get pretty close using the “Clarity” and “Structure” tools depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Initially I couldn’t match LR “Dehaze”, but as I’ve gotten better with C1, I can now manipulate “Clarity” to get close to LR. For really difficult dehaze situations, I “edit with” to Affinity Photo which has an excellent dehaze tool.
Further to that, one of my favourite camera book authors Thomas Fitzgerald has created a blog post on how he has developed an excellent dehaze alternative in C1. If you’re on a Mac, he has also produced a script that automates the creation of the layers required for this dehaze method.
I hate catalogues. Somehow I always make a mess of them and I hate their lack of portability. When I travel, I take the MacBook Pro with me and an external drive. Ideally, I want to work on the images on the external drive, and then come home, plug them into the iMac and review the images on its glorious 27″ screen. C1 has a workflow called “Sessions” that works perfectly for my workflow requirements. Once I edit the images, I prune them down to the “Selects”, export them to JPEG and archive them on the Synology NAS and in the cloud using B2*; if you’d like more information on Image Management, please see this series of posts on this important subject (Part 1, 2, 3). If you prefer to have cataloguing, C1 allows you to import your session into a catalogue, retaining all the edits and information.
*I recently had a near catastrophe and was able to get a USB key of my images backup sent from BackBlaze for a small fee and was able to restore all the lost images.
Things that are amazing in C1:
- Sharpening: The default setting is clever and adapts to ISO and other factors. It’s almost always sharp enough and sometimes even too sharp. It cleverly adds computed “film grain” to high ISO shots to make them appear sharper.
- Sessions workflow: I love the way “Sessions” work. I can use an external drive and seamlessly move between a coffee shop with the laptop and back to home on the desktop. Just plug the external SSD in and edit away on any computer.
- Focus mask: I use a lot of manual focus lenses on the Fuji and Leica so this is a real time saver. It’s basically focus peaking but on a static image. Turn on the focus mask, and it tells you where it sees high contrast edges. This works amazingly well, especially when you’ve taken 100’s of images of a person and want to see which ones are perfectly focused on the eyes.
Things I miss from LR:
- Sharpening mask. C1 has the ability to not sharpen skies, etc. but it’s a bit clumsy. You have to zoom in, set the mask to 0, dial sharpening up to the max, then dial in masking until the sky is clear of artifacts. Then you go back to the sharpening tool and dial in the real sharpening you wanted. Fortunately, I’ve found that masking of “1.0” seems to almost always be where I end up, so maybe it uses some algorithm that does the analysis for us.
- Dehaze in one tool. In C1, you have to manipulate “Clarity”, “Structure” and sometimes the black and mid points to get to the same results as LR can achieve in one slider. I’ll admit that I’ve occasionally had to go to Affinity Photo for tough dehaze situations.
- Guided upright. C1 has a keystone tool that lets you enter four points to straighten vertical and horizontal lines, but I can’t consistently get the perfect results that I get with LR. I also miss the auto-align features of LR that seem to get horizons or buildings bang-on every time.
All in all, now that I’ve moved over to C1, I find LR to be a clunky old thing that needs a revamp. It looks like Adobe agrees with their recent announcement and ongoing transition in relegating the current LR to “classic” status.
I hope you’ve found the above useful; if you have, please leave a comment below. If you have any questions, I’m also happy to provide the answer or find someone who can provide the answer. If you see any errors or ways that I could edit more efficiently, I’m always open to hearing your thoughts.