Phase One Capture One Pro 7 review

Price when reviewed

Phase One is best known for its medium-format cameras and digital backs, and its Capture One Pro software is the natural choice for tethered shooting and raw processing with these cameras.

It’s also compatible with a wide range of other cameras’ raw files, though, from full-frame SLRs to pocket-sized compacts. We’re impressed to find new cameras such as the Sony Alpha SLT-A99, Nikon D600 and Canon PowerShot S110 are already supported.

Previous versions of Capture One Pro left library management to the accompanying Media Pro application (€139 exc VAT; around £173), but some management functions are now built in. Imported images are stored in Catalogs, with Sessions acting as virtual folders to gather images in one place. There are colour labels, star ratings, keywords and Places tags, and it’s easy to filter and browse by date.

An Advanced Search dialog box filters by IPTC and EXIF metadata such as creator, camera model and ISO speed, and the Search box can tap into this metadata, too, for quicker results.

Phase One Capture One Pro 7

The rest of the interface is easy to navigate, with a series of tabs that break raw processing down into colour, exposure, lens, composition, details and local adjustments. Processing stages (such as sharpening) can be momentarily bypassed by Alt-clicking their reset buttons, but we’d like a control that stays bypassed until it’s clicked again.

We expected great things from Capture One Pro’s raw-processing engine, but despite promising improved out-of-the-box image quality in this update, initial tests left us disappointed. The default sharpening and noise-reduction settings were too heavy, suppressing subtle details in low-ISO images when there was no need for any noise reduction. It often trailed behind Lightroom and DxO Optics Pro 8 Standard on default settings, and in a couple of tests it gave worse results than the camera’s JPEG output. Thankfully, customising settings is straightforward.

Noise-reduction quality was excellent for moderately noisy raw files, maintaining crisp detail in ISO 6400 photos from a Nikon D800, or at ISO 1600 from a Pentax K-5. When we quadrupled these ISO speeds it wasn’t as good, though, and Lightroom and Optics Pro both gave better results.

The software corrects automatically for lens distortion, chromatic aberrations, vignetting and purple fringing, but the database of lens profiles isn’t as comprehensive as the competition, and doesn’t cover JPEGs.

We weren’t overly impressed with the new HDR tool, either. Increasing the Shadow control worked as expected, brightening the darker parts of images. Noise reduction was handled intelligently for raw files to account for the fact that boosted shadows are often noisier than the rest of an image. The Highlight control gave less attractive results, though.

Phase One Capture One Pro 7

It successfully rescued clipped highlights but had an adverse effect on midtones, adding an odd halo along skylines – a tell-tale sign of sloppily executed HDR processing. Highlight Recovery proved to be tricky to accomplish by other means – the Exposure control is too blunt an instrument, and the Levels and Curve controls weren’t up to the job either.

The software’s Color tab is more successful. It hosts a choice of colour profiles named Film Standard, Film Extra Shadow, Film High Contrast and Linear Response, which make for a useful starting point. White balance can be set by clicking either a neutral colour or a skin tone with an eyedropper.

Another eyedropper tool is used to define a limited range of colours to tweak for hue, saturation and lightness. Local adjustments are handled well, too, with a solid collection of exposure, colour, sharpening and moiré processes on hand. They’re applied using a gradient or brushstrokes, and the latter includes variable brush size, hardness and opacity.

For the most part, Capture One Pro is polished and highly capable, but there aren’t many knock-out features. Tethered shooting for Phase One and Mamiya Leaf cameras is the obvious exception, but both Capture One Pro and Lightroom support tethered shooting for a similar set of Canon and Nikon SLRs.

We found it lagged slightly behind its rivals for image quality at default settings, and certain functions such as Highlight Recovery fell short. It also costs twice as much as Lightroom currently, and that’s difficult to justify.


Software subcategoryPhoto editing software

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