171117 Raw Converting - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

This isn't a Lightroom versus Capture One debate. It's not even a comparison between two mature, viable raw converters and asset management programs. This is me leaving Adobe's software, which I've used since 2006, for Phase One's Capture One Pro. 

This page is a slow-moving live blog of my experiences making the switch. As such it's a record of me figuring things out; if I make a mistake or can't see how to do something, perhaps I'll figure it out further down the page. Or perhaps not. You can find me on twitter or via email through the links at the top-right.

The story actually starts almost three years ago, when I downloaded the trial version of Capture One Eight in the hopes that it could be a replacement for Lightroom, which I had in version Four at the time. It wasn't for two reasons: it didn't support all of the legacy files I had, and the learning curve was steep enough that it wasn't worth climbing for what would only be a partial solution. So I bought Lightroom Six, skipping Five completely – a perk of buying perpetual licences – and have used it for years. But now times have changed, and it's time to move on.

My first step: buy the shortcut keyboard made by Logickeys specifically for Capture One. Having hit a learning curve that was shaped like a wall with my C1P8 trial, I know I need the help overcoming a decade of experience with Lightroom. And what I saved by buying LR6, instead of subscribing to Creative Other People's Computers, easily pays for the new hardware.

The keyboard feels at least as good as my old Apple Extended Keyboard, and the shortcut labels do help. It's a bit harder to write with, though, since I don't touch-type.

Right out of the gate I'm running into problems with the number of keystrokes and clicks Capture One Pro Ten – henceforth C1P10 – is needing. Exposure warnings are <command-e> instead of just <j>, and there's no keyboard shortcut for spot clone/heal versus just hitting the <q> key in Lightroom.

The scroll wheel on my Kensington Turbomouse controls brush size in LR6, and zoom level in C1P10. There's no real answer to the C1P10 zoom control in LR, while C1 has keyboard shortcuts for brush size. I know this because of my fancy keyboard, so that's a win for it, and overall I'm liking how C1 behaves better.

Big, big Capture One shortcoming: there's no way to bulk-adjust the capture time of images, leaving photos from multi-camera shoots helplessly scrambled. I would have thought that a program designed for working professionals would have considered that they might use more than one camera at a time. 

Added to the lack of geotagging support, this inability to time sync photos is a major hassle. The whole point of going to C1 is that I don't want to use another DAM program and standalone raw converter. Lightroom can manage this, and it doesn't call itself Pro.

Another odd inability: not being able to recognize photos that have already been imported, requiring me to manually select only the new images or risk having many, many duplicates. I never erase my cards, so this is an annoyance that I wasn't anticipating.

But even with just a couple of hours with C1 I'm already preferring its conversion tools. The exposure controls are very good at getting the results I want, even without me learning a lot of subtle tricks.

Capture One Ten's Keystone correction is better and easier than what I could do with DxO Optics 10 / Viewpoint, which I needed to use as an off-board editor with many Lightroom files. Being able to use the scroll wheel to quickly zoom-in to position control points is a big part of the advantage over DxO here.

Not needing to round-trip tiffs to DxO for keystone correction may be a net win, even with my new-found need to send images to Affinity Photo for HDR and Panorama merging that Lightroom could do in-house.

About those HDRs: I've tested working within both Lightroom and Affinity Photo to create files with high dynamic range from the same sets of night skyline photos. There are pros and cons to each method, sure, but ultimately I didn't like either method of the Maximum Effort images any more than the ones where I simply adjusted the tones within a single well-exposed photo.

Added bonus: maybe I won't bother taking six-shot brackets any more, saving time and space.

The photo of the Art Gallery of Ontario, above, is part of a new series that I'm doing that involves photographing Toronto scenes at night, which falls under the category of "well, I haven't done it before." Not only was this image comprehensively edited in C1P10, the light streaks are from additional photos that have been edited and then layered in Affinity Photo. Pretty basic stuff overall, but completely outside of my experience and I would never have tried it before the tandem C1-AP switch.

Now that I'm adjusting to how C1 thinks raw conversions have become easier. The "Library" aspect remains confounding. 

I miss Lightroom's ease of creating collections – smart, quick, or otherwise – and the ability to filter and view images by metadata. My C1 catalog isn't even at 3000 photos yet, and I'm already having a hard time keeping track of things, and keeping track of how to keep track of things.

After a week I'm still constantly hitting the escape key to try to clear my tool selection, or enter to conclude a brush selection session. And I can't even tell you how many of my Adjustment Layers have been named "bbbbbbbb" as I tried to figure out why the Brush tool wasn't appearing.

There continues to be a lot more mouse-clicking in C1 than in LR. Maybe this is a familiarity thing, but I always need to be clicking on something, and then also clicking on its checkbox. Or its drop-down menu. Or needing to unclick something else. Or hitting another key to confirm a change, deselect an editing range input, or deactivate a tool.


Being able to combine a gradient fill and a brush with the same adjustment, at the same time, is a big advantage over Lightroom. Not being able to use multiple gradient fills on the same layer takes some of that advantage back, though. Life's a barter.

Otherwise I'm not really clear on how C1's "layers" are that big a deal.

The keystone correction remains one of my favourite things ever. It's easier to both place the marker points and to adjust the effects than in my slightly older version of DxO Viewpoint / Optics 10, which was still good enough to blow LR6 out of the water. 

I do wish that C1's keystone tool shared a couple of behaviours with DxO. One is the ability to drag the entire alignment line for rough positioning instead of only being able to move the end control points. The other is that there's no way to unlink the four control lines during simultaneous vertical and horizontal corrections. Sometimes the best reference lines aren't in the form of a box, even for me.

The video tutorials really are good. I'm now using the colour editing tools with confidence, if not actual skill. 

One thing I was worried about with Capture One is its exposure adjustments, especially the lack of a Blacks slider, and the lighter-only control of the Shadows slider. These concerns were unwarranted.

In Lightroom I would usually brighten the shadows slider and then use the blacks level to return some sense of a normal tonal range to the image. Sometimes I would also brighten midtones with the curves tool, but the four exposure sliders did almost all of my adjustments.

I had learned what to expect with Lightroom's slider controls, but their non-linear adjustments aren't transparent, and caused problems with editing spherical photos that required a different approach. Namely:

Curves. With Capture One I rarely touch the exposure controls, using Curves and Levels for almost everything. Protect the highlights, adjust the midtones, and just a quick clip to the shadows: so easy. 

I just wish that the histogram shown in the levels tool was (optionally) updated to match the current image values.

In fact, I now worry that there are probably simpler ways of making the adjustments that I want, and that the different controls that I can use might be fighting each other.

The "highlights" recovery slider in C1's 'HDR' panel is nowhere near as aggressive, or effective, as in Lightroom. Exposure adjustments help, but a little more care is rewarding.

Oddly, it's my spherical Thetan jpegs, the worst files I own, that benefit the most from moving to Capture One and Affinity Photo. The tonal adjustments in C1 are easy and don't leave artifacts when the flat files are put into a spherical projection, with all of the different edges joining up, and the "open with…" menu option lets me edit the underlying jpeg in Affinity. There I'm able to move the projection to clone out the camera support, if it's visible, and make any other detail changes that I need to.

It took a little while, but I did find the way to configure the image filters so that I can sort images by shutter speed, aperture, camera model, file format, or even pixel dimensions. 

This remains less useful than it could be – there's no way to group-select a range of values. So seeing, for example, every photo with a shutter speed of fifteen seconds or longer would currently need TWENTY-FOUR mouse clicks. That's only going to get worse when I import images with 21 or 24 second shutter speeds, not to mention my further adventures with Bulb mode.

And don't click the wrong button, or hold the wrong modifier key for single-button-mouse aficionados, or else you're starting over again. 

Do I need to point out that Lightroom allows shift-clicking to select a range of values?

I do realize that these foibles and flaws are probably in everything, and that I'm only butting up against them here because I haven't accepted them as part of the landscape. That's fair. But they're still usability flaws, an unnecessary extra penalty that shouldn't be part of the process.

So to get around the long-precidented ability to shift-click I need to create a Smart Album that can filter by the desired attributes; fortunately for this example, wanting to see only my long exposures is a frequent enough desire of mine that it's worth creating a Smart Album for.

Where did I find the ability to create Smart Albums, you ask? Why, it's under the "User Collections" subheading of the Library tab, of course!

Why not err on the side of user interface consistency and call Albums "Collections" if they're under the "User Collections" subheading, the way Lightroom does, you ask? Beats the heck out of me.

Oh, and for what it's worth, these Capture One Pro Ten screenshots are the only images here that have been edited in Lightroom. Capture One can't read the Apple screenshot Dot-PNG files. See my original reason for not switching to Capture One Pro Eight years ago, above.

It's now Day 7 of my Capture One transition, and I still don't really understand the difference between Clarity and Structure.

Happily, I have found how to edit keyboard shortcuts. Well, to be honest I had found this ability several days ago, but it took me this long to find the controls that I wanted to change. The spot removal tool in C1 is now selected with the "Q" button, the same as in Lightroom.

And the "J" key has been taught to toggle the highlight-shadow warning visibility. So happy now. So very, very happy.

I've even added modifier keys so that I can get directly to the Keystone adjustment method that I want to use. C1's tools often have drop-down menus to choose what exactly they do, and this is a bit like selecting lenses for a camera: you'll always have the wrong one at the ready. That's not a fault, it's an unavoidable law of the universe.

When I used Lightroom to import photos I thought that the SD card reader built into my monitor was as fast as my stand-alone reader. I no longer think that.

I do see the Spinning Beach Ball a lot on my six-core Mac Pro, though.

The more familiar I become with Capture One, the more I realize how simplified Lightroom's controls are. Lightroom does a lot of hand-holding and assumes that it knows better than its user, which is perhaps a holdover of it originally being developed for Macintosh computers.

Lightroom loves sliders, and doesn't love showing what they do. Or rather, what they do is complex, and we're only shown the simplicity. The exposure controls that I mentioned earlier are the easiest examples of this, since I had to stop using them with my Theta spheres. Shadows and Clarity work subtly differently at the edges of images, so I couldn't use them. C1, with its more complex interface, becomes much more direct if less easy.

Colour control is a huge example of "Lightroom = Easy, Capture One = Hard". But easy isn't always better, and it's only easier if it does what you want.

Lightroom has a "defringe" tool, which Theta images desperately need. You can see this in the purple streetlights of the 'before' image in the keyboards shortcut screen shot. Capture One doesn't do this, which had me seriously concerned at the outset. Spoiler alert: from the photo above you can see that I've figured it out.

How the Definge tool in Lightroom works: select the eyedropper from the tool tab. Click on an area with fringing, and see if that gets rid of it. Now try another area. Did that desaturate too much of the photo? Yes? Click somewhere else. Didn't remove all of the fringing? Try again somewhere else. Good enough? Great. Not quite there? Well, let's just desaturate the Purple and Magenta sliders in the colour controls instead.

Sometimes it works automagically, other times it doesn't, so just try again. Simple. Easy. No real control.

Often my Theta images wound up in black and white because they were unfixable in Lightroom. If you have ever edited jpegs from an old Blackberry you'll know what I mean.

With Capture One and its wall-shaped learning curve the process is different. The video tutorial is highly recommended, but the way of sampling and controlling colour selection is both more precise and flexible, giving better correction with less chance of damaging innocent areas of the image.

There's no specific defringe tool because it isn't needed.

The best part: knowing how to fix fringing in C1 means I know how to adjust any other colour I like. The skill is transferrable in a way that clicking an eye dropper and hoping for the best, or adjusting a slider in LR's H/S/L panel, isn't.

Easy can be limiting; complex can be liberating.

Part of moving away from Lightroom meant needing a replacement for its HDR and Panorama merging tools, so Affinity Photo is also part of this transition. This brings other new abilities that I didn't have before. I bought Photoshop CS3, but never really used it, so having a good pixel-editor is a new experience.

The photo of my winter re-reading and study list, above, is a merge of thirteen images from my D800. That's probably more work than a photo meant for Twitter needed, but I wanted to try out Affinity Photo's automated focus stacking against the results I could get with my tilt-shift lens. Software won – even though I was being lazy by refocusing the lens instead of using an adjustment rail. (Of which I own two.)

Adding new capabilities is no small consideration.

The cost of software and the specialty keyboard – although not strictly necessary, it all helps – equals the price of a decent lens, or could be put toward a new camera. So the question has to be asked: does this investment of money and time improve my results, or expand my capabilities, as much as a new lens or camera?


Better than that, it applies to all of my photos, from any time, not just ones taken under certain circumstances or with a certain tool. It's a lot less entertaining than a new toy, and has its frustrations, but I'm already working with these new capabilities in mind.

And now I need to be a bit nicer to the Nikon rep to make up for my lightly scoffing at the D850's in-camera focus stack shooting, although I stand by my assertion that using a focusing rail remains the better way to work, especially when photographing subjects smaller than a book.

I suppose, since I'm using Capture One and this photo was taken within arm's reach of my computer, I should also try tethering. But that's a tutorial for another day.

Day sixteen. Still no sign of Phase One releasing a new version of Capture One. 

I've been reading another blog or two from people switching to C1 from Lightroom. They don't seem nearly as persnickety as I am. Perhaps I'm just 'detail oriented', which I think is often code for something rude.

Little quirks of the interface still jump out at me. I use a dual-monitor setup, with the catalog in my secondary monitor. Clicking on the C1 window that's persistently visible in that monitor makes C1 my active program, but doesn't bring the Viewer window to the front of my main monitor. Odd. Switching via <command-tab> solves this.

With Lightroom the secondary window in my other monitor would only be visible when the program was running in the front, letting me see my iTunes catalog. But the secondary Lightroom window would still occasionally go away, or open the secondary window in a smaller window in front of my main window, which was completely useless.

One thing I do not miss: Lightroom sorting imported images in "Added Order". What possible purpose could that possibly serve, and why on earth would they routinely default back it it? Good riddance.

Having set the <J> key to toggle highlight warnings still makes me so happy.

I thought I would gradually transition to C1, learning it on the side as I continued to use Lightroom for my 'real' work. The start of 2018 was going to be the switchover date. But no: the  switch has been sudden and complete.

I find that I'm even using C1 for quick edits on photos of only ephemeral value. Sometimes I want a image for social media that's a bit better than what I can do on my phone, but that still doesn't require or deserve major effort. That, for me, should mean Lightroom since I'm still much faster with it – not being as nuanced as a raw converter is a strength here, not a weakness. But no: I'm using Capture One for those two.

And now, after twenty-three days of my Version Ten trial, version Eleven has been announced. Yay me and my sense of timing. Now I'm off to download the new version and see if it resets the clock on my trial period.

It does.

And here we go again – from this point on, all comments are about Capture One Pro Eleven – C1P11 – instead of version ten.

First impression of C1P11: I'm glad Phase One has added the ability to avoid importing duplicate files. From the release notes: "Using a super robust caching mechanism against the RAW data means importing the difference from the last import is easy, accurate and efficient." 

Robust, easy, accurate, efficient. They don't say fast. It's not fast. But then I did give it a card with almost two thousand 24Mpx Fuji RAF files, so perhaps that's fair. 

Also in the interest of fairness, the duplicate checker in Lightroom often failed, giving me lots of extra files. I'll report back if C1P11 is better, and how quickly it works with cards it has seen before.

Also new for 11: I'm no longer naming my layers "bbbbbbbbbb" because the layer's name field is no longer active by default. I'm also no longer renaming my layers. 

The persistent layer creation ability that now resides above the viewer / editor window is a great boost for quickly layering adjustments, and I don't need to switch tool tabs nearly as often. I'm starting to think that layers might be better than the whole-mess-o-adjustments technique that Lightroom uses.

Being able to use the cursor keys to adjust the Curves control points is neat. You know what else would be neat? Being able to apply manual barrel distortion correction to a bunch of jpeg images that really need it. The options the tutorial says I need are greyed out because apparently only raw files ever need work.

And yes, I did eventually find the "Purple Fringing" tool under the lens corrections tab. Pfft. Who needs it. It doesn't work with jpegs either.

With a couple more days behind me, I can confirm that the "Exclude Duplicates" import option remains not fast. Going through my Theta to find new images – jpeg only – wasn't too painful, but it also didn't find the thirty-two new images that I had taken since it saw the camera last. It did think that I should give another chance to dozen older ones, including "Production And Progress", above.

Going through the multi-thousand images on the memory card from my X100F, which it has seen before, C1P11 successfully identified only new images. But boy howdy, did it take a while to to it. I suppose that's not really a problem; my laundry wasn't going to hang up itself.

It's charming that Capture One generates an exception report listing every duplicate file it finds, though.

When there's a version 11.1 I may try the non-duplicate importer mode again, but for now I think I'm done with it. I'll go back to manually selecting the most recent photos in the import dialog, or copying all of the photos from the day onto a folder on my hard drive and then doing a batch import from there.

This is something I'd do when working with multiple cameras anyway – the folder name is "LR In", so this isn't a Capture-One-specific workaround.

Yes, I suppose I could just reformat cards each time I use them, but keeping the originals in the first part of a three-stage backup and archiving system that I use. The third step, which protects finished images, is something that was fairly straightforward in Lightroom, but I'm still trying to replicate in Capture One.

And Capture One Eleven still can't seem to handle simultaneous images from multiple cameras. Sad.

Double-clicking on the visible window brings both main and secondary monitors into view. No more click-darn-command-tab-command-tab.

Adding the 'layers' drop-down to the top bar of the viewer has completely transformed the interface. So much easier to add layers and refine adjustments now. As for other ten-to-eleven interface changes, I have no comment. It wanted to set me back to a single monitor view, so I simply reverted to may saved C1P10 dual-window workspace.

Even though I don't need to switch between tool tabs as often as I used to, I still wish that there were keyboard shortcuts to get to them. For example, having "D" take me to the main exposure tab would be perfect. Someday I'll need to dig into the interface again to see if that's possible.

But wait, there's more!

This is not some petapixel-friendly "Ten Weird Tricks Why I Switched" or corporate-appealing "This Is So Much Better Everything Is Wonderful Now" retrospective written in the Third Person Omniscient. Instead it's an ongoing entry as I gain more experience with the switch to Capture One from Lightroom. As such it may never have a proper conclusion, so please check back from time to time to see how it evolves.

Article started: 12 Novemer 2017.

Last updated: 30 November 2017.

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