Review: Capture One Pro 8

Appendix: Detailed Image Processing Comparisons with Lightroom

The following show some attempts at comparing processing in Capture One to Lightroom with four different image sources: an Olympus E-M5, a Canon 5D Mark III, a Ricoh GR and black-and-white film scans (TIFF).

When viewing these, keep in mind that they are sRGB JPEG compressed versions of the actual displays. As a result you may see fine texture and colour differences, depending on your computer and display. I have used 400% crops to deliberately exaggerate any differences in the image output. Try not to forget that most differences at this size will likely not be visible when printing or viewing the photographs normally…

Capture One vs Lightroom: Olympus E-M5 at High ISO

While micro 4/3 is a great format for portability, it is not so great for pixel-level image quality. High ISO images are particularly challenging, and with the E-M5 I normally try to avoid shooting above ISO 800.

The following images show an ISO 1600 image shot in bad artificial light with the 12-50mm at its widest angle, processed in Capture One and Lightroom respectively. The first pair show the result from an initial import, with default settings:

The first and most obvious difference is that Lightroom is over-saturating the red channels, and blowing out detail in the lighter red fabric:

The problem is not that Lightroom has lost information in the image, but rather that it has generated reds so saturated that they exceed the sRGB colour space that my display (just) manages. There is pretty much no meaningful output medium for which this is a useful default behaviour.

It is not clear to me why this was so saturated by Lightroom. Raw Digger shows that the red channel in these areas is far from saturation, with substantially stronger components (and likely some minor clipping) in the metal spoon area and regions of white fabric.

Another key difference is that Capture One has applied considerable noise reduction, whereas Lightroom has applied none.

Both programs provide an auto-adjust option. With Capture One, the auto-adjust by default corrects just about every possible setting, including geometry (you can change this if needed). With Lightroom, there is an “auto” option for white-balance, and an “auto” button to automatically set the basic tone controls. So lets see what these do:

Both programs have significantly cooled the white balance, making the colours much less warm. The output from Capture One is already pretty good, while Lightroom has unfortunately hugely increased the exposure and in doing so its over-saturated red channels are now in overdrive, clipping to such an extent that there is massive detail loss with sRGB output media.

To try to pull as much detail as possible from the two programs, I made the following edits in Lightroom:

  • desaturate the red channel by -27 (to stop the channel blowing out
  • boost clarity to 10% (to compensate for the camera & lens’ lack of micro-contrast)
  • adjust the toning
  • add a little noise reduction

and the following edits in Capture One:

  • reduce noise reduction to 10 (from 50)
  • under the clarity panel, set “structure” to 25 (again, to boost micro-contrast)

Here are the results, at 400%, 100% and full-screen respectively from each program:

From these it seems that Capture One is managing to extract more colour information. Lightroom’s default colour processing was frankly terrible in this case, and it the strong default saturation level for some colours results in blown output channels unless heavy desaturation is used. It was possible to improve this a little through the use of alternative profiles (for example, the excellent HueLight profiles rather than the default “Adobe Standard”), but the results still fell short of Capture One.

Despite this, Capture One’s output is not perfect: in shadow areas, it is difficult to get clean results without a lot of fiddly adjustment of the sharpening, noise reduction and clarity controls. The following show the best shadow detail that I could obtain from Capture One in comparison to Lightroom – both images are 400% crops:

Here, Adobe renders finer grained noise with lower contrast. In Capture One, the noise is much coarser, particularly in the shaded red fabric under the chin. However, it should be pointed out that these differences are only visible at very high magnifications and are unlikely to be an issue in the real-world unless printing particularly large.

Capture One and Lightroom also produce clearly different colour output from the same image set to the same colour temperature. Lightroom appears to consistently over saturate reds, while Capture One appears to look warmer overall.

There was also one other subtle difference. If you compared the full-sized images, you might have noticed that the two programs appear to be showing a slightly different crop.

It turns out that this is because Lightroom is only applying 80% of the embedded micro 4/3 len distortion correction, whereas Capture One is applying 100%. Fortunately, while Adobe does not allow control over these automatic corrections, Capture One does. The following sequence shows the image with corrections from 0% to 120%:

Being able to control the distortion correction is potentially very useful if you want to trade-off distortion against sharpness and a potentially wider field of view.

Capture One vs Lightroom: Olympus E-M5 at Base ISO

This example shows a view taken while hiking in Switzerland near St Moritz. The view is interesting, because of the colour of the lakes – it really was the deep aquamarine colour that the photographs show.

First, the full images processed in Capture One, showing the initial import, auto-levels, auto-levels and white-balance, and finally a version of the image with white balance set somewhat closer to reality at 6000k, and the levels adjusted to taste:

Then the same again, but processed with Lightroom:

It is interesting how different the auto-white balance settings are. Capture One chose 5572k, while Lightroom chose an improbably warm 6850k. Given that the scene was taken with patchy sun and clouds, the actual setting is probably almost directly in between.

The final images are very similar (and could easily be matched more precisely with enough time).

Lastly, some pixel-peeping 400% crops from the center of the final images. From these it is again pretty obvious that Capture One is by default applying more noise reduction and sharpening than Lightroom, even at low ISO. By adjusting the corresponding settings in Lightroom, you can again produce an almost identical result, aside from the colour:

Capture One vs Lightroom: Olympus E-M5 at Base ISO

The same image was processed in both Capture One and Lightroom.

As before, Capture One produced cleaner and more detailed output than lightroom, so I attempted to edit the Lightroom image to match as closely as possible. With edits to sharpening, noise reduction and clarity, the two programs produced essentially no difference in output when pixel peeping:

Note that although there are differences in colour, with Lightroom noticeably saturating the yellow more, there is for practical purposes essentially the same sharpness and detailed in both cases. There is marginally more detail in the Capture One output, which I suspect is due to better preservation of details by the noise reduction algorithm – but in practise no one is going to see this in any meaningful output media.

Capture One vs Lightroom: Canon 5D Mark III at Base ISO

Another comparison – this time made with a 5D Mark III image taken at base ISO with the 50L. The image was taken earlier this year at the Chinese New Year parade in Barcelona (with somewhat less than spectacular weather). Is it possible to replicate the Lightroom processing in CaptureOne?

It turns out that the answer is clearly yes, but with caveats for colour. The following images show the output from both programs at full size and with two selected areas of 400% crops:

Replicating the Lightroom processing in Capture One was mostly straightforward. Only basic adjustments to the exposure, brightness, contrast, black point and white-balance. However, matching the colour was more difficult and required the use of Capture One’s colour editor to replicate the red tones rendered by Lightroom – which are still not perfectly matched even after some effort. Capture One tends to render warmer red tones than Lightroom even when the white balance is otherwise well matched.

If you look closely, Capture One again manages to pull more detail from the red flag than Lightroom. It does not seem possible to adjust Lightroom to prevent this, although using a good third party colour profile (eg Huelight) does improve things slightly. But again the differences are small, and unless pixel-peeping you would be hard pressed to tell the results apart. It is likely that this is again due to Lightroom’s tendency to oversaturated reds.

Comparison with Lightroom: Canon 5D Mk III at High ISO

A hand-held macro shot from the garden, in such hopeless lighting conditions that even at ISO 6400 this was shot at only 1/40th of a second leading to some motion blur (from the photographer, not the snail!).

The initial import:

And the results after editing, with 100% and 400% crops:

Although the initial image looks very bright, none of the colour channels has saturated and the RAW files makes an excellent starting point for editing even with the high ISO setting.

The lighting was very harsh, so in the editing a mask was created around the snail to reduce the surrounding brightness and also to reduce the colour saturation on the surrounding rock (which was substantial due to the light rain while this was taken). Both Capture One and Lightroom made the masking and adjustments very straightforward.

Both programs worked extremely well here (although the final images were probably left too dark – but given the weather, that is probably about right!). As usual I prefer the colour from Capture One, and it was possible to pull marginally more detail than from Lightroom by careful use of the clarity and sharpening settings.

Capture One vs Lightroom: Ricoh GR at base ISO

The following image was taken with the Ricoh GR at ISO 100 in pretty much optimum conditions. The exposure was set to avoid blowing out detail in the clouds.

On initial import:

and after edits to correct for perspective (key-stoning), shadow detail and colour:

The final output is very similar in both cases, with the most obvious difference Lightroom’s rather over-luminous rendering of the green in the foreground tree and a difference in the tone curve (likely due to the use of highlight and show corrections) affecting the clouds and deep shadow areas. Matching the Lightroom and Capture One curves would likely be possible via the curves adjustments, although time precluded this.

As in the other examples, the output from Capture One seems considerably warmer than Lightroom, necessitating different colour temperatures. Again, Capture One’s sharpening and noise reduction needed to be turned almost off, while Lightroom needed both more sharpening and a substantial clarity boost.

The keystone corrections in Capture One replicate all the functionality in Lightroom. However, they are much easier to use, with an on-screen tool to set the horizontal and vertical corrections directly from the image.

Capture One vs Lightroom: Ricoh GR at High ISO

This image was taken in a market, using zone focus at f8. Because of the low light, the camera’s auto-ISO has chosen a relatively high ISO 8000 for the exposure.

On initial import Lightroom produces a noticeably brighter image:

and after editing to reach a final image:

It was quite difficult to produce approximately similar colour output from the two programs. Capture One’s output is by default much warmer, and shadow areas were much more saturated. But it was still possible to approximate the Lightroom result by using the colour editor to match the colour profile used by Lightroom.

Processing the shadow areas in Capture One was much more difficult than in Lightroom. The RAW processing algorithm appears to struggle with fine-grained noise, trying to pull-out non-existent detail. In areas that should be smooth, Lightroom produces a pattern similar to film grain, while Capture One tends to produce blotchy patches that are not very aesthetic.

The following pixel-level crops illustrate this. The first shows the output from both RAW engines with all luminance noise reduction, sharpening and clarity set to zero. The second shows the output with the default settings, and the third shows Lightroom’s default settings against the best I could achieve with Capture One. In each case the left image is Capture One, the right Lightroom:

These examples are obviously pixel-peeping in the extreme. However, the patterned structures are large enough that if the image is over sharpened or has a significant “structure” setting (under “clarity” in Capture One), they become visible even at modest magnifications. If you compare the 100% crop images from Capture One and Lightroom, you can clearly see some artificial texture at the shadow transitions on the skin along the arm.

The following show an area of the image with luminance noise reduction and clarity set to zero and default sharpening settings. For both Capture One and Lightroom three images are shown, corresponding to the default colour noise reduction, reduced colour noise reduction and maximum colour noise reduction.

Overall, I prefer the Lightroom output except for the most extreme setting, which causes the red colour to bleed badly on the right. In comparison, Capture One suffers from desaturation in shadow areas and is also creating largish structures of false detail in comparison to Lightroom’s fine grained noise. Capture One also seemed to loose some luminance detail as well.

This was the only image that I processed where it took substantially more effort to get the desired result from Capture One than from Lightroom.

Capture One vs Lightroom: Scanned Black and White Film

This image was the result of processing a film with some developer that was badly expired. As a result the developed film had almost no contrast and the giving a very soft 16bit TIFF scan that needed extensive editing in Photoshop to remove dust prior to the import in to Capture One and Lightroom:

While Capture One’s import appears to have worked, if you look closely you can see that none of editor controls are enabled and several of the histogram displays are not functional. No error is obviously raised, but a check in the console logs shows numerous copies of the following:

  Capture One[19032]: 2015-08-24 17:55:08.198 (Thread ...) ICP_GetPreviewHistogram failed with error code: 1

At this point I contacted Phase One support, who rapidly but slightly unhelpfully replied that this was a known problem in Capture One 8 – but they did not when or if a fix might be forthcoming. This is extremely disappointing, as Capture One is the only software that I seen to have that can not open these files.

The work-around is to convert the image to RGB in Photoshop, making sure that a suitable colour profile is attached:

Capture One: film scan import as RGB TIFF.

Capture One: film scan import as RGB TIFF.

Note that in the process of converting the image, Photoshop appears to have modified the tonality of the image. It is unclear if this was the result of actual bitmap data changes, or just the result of assigning a different colour profile.

Once converted, the image could be processed, giving very similar results to Lightroom:

For the most part, Capture One’s more aggressive sharpening and clarity tools are useful when processing the typically soft scans that I make (as I disable sharpening in the scanner).

However, given the problems with monochrome TIFF files, Capture One is difficult to recommend for this application. It is by far the most serious issue I have with using the software.

Capture One vs Lightroom: A Brief Look at Sony RAW Compression Artefacts

This is a very short and un-detailed look at how well Capture One manages to deal with image artefacts that result from Sony’s bizarre decision to use lossy compression in their RAW files. For this test I used a cRAW file from the ever useful Imaging Resource – the only image in this post that was not taken by either Marco or myself. I am interested in the issue because the A7rII looks like the best contender to replace our now ageing Canon full-frame cameras.

The problem with Sony’s RAW compression is not just that it is lossy, but that the compression scheme is very susceptible to producing subtle banding, and also false patterns along high-contrast edges. In most photographs and processing it is very unlikely that you will see any issues – but with very extreme edits (pushing shadows and clarity to maximum) they are very easy to see at 400%:

Neither Capture One nor Lightroom can remove the problems that this causes completely, but the result from Capture One is vastly better than the horrific barber-pole mess from Adobe.

As I said, these problems are very artificial and will not occur with most sensible processing. Still, it is disappointing to see Lightroom output like this from what is, allegedly, a high-end professional camera.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sony has partnered with Phase One to provide free versions of Capture One specifically for use with their cameras. If you want the best RAW processing quality, it would seem sensible to take advantage of this.

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