I think that on software this is probably one of the most asked questions “Frank which RAW convertor do you use and which one do you advise?”
Well let me start with saying that there is no 100% best solution, in this blogpost I can only tell you what my experiences are and my results, the problem is that all three convertors are strong in certain areas and less strong in others but none is the strongest in all. So in this post I will tell you my opinion and how I use them, this might differ from yours of course.
The contenders :
DxO optics 9.5
First lets look at my opinion on them and when/why/how I use them.
I think it’s no secret that Adobe is a huge company and their products are among the best photographers use, in fact it’s the standard for most professional workflows. Adobe has several software packages I use including Premiere for video, Lightroom and Photoshop of course, and I have to be honest I LOVE all their products, and probably that’s also the reason that they are the standard in the industry for so many people.
Lightroom is where all my files “life”, it’s my hub where I keep everything combined, make smart albums, label and keyword my images, and yeah I’m even using their GPS map module. In short Lightroom is what is on my computer screen a lot and when I search the archives it’s actually the only software I use.
DxO is a company I’ve grown to love over the last few years, they have a really cool plugin for Photoshop called DxO filmpack which actually is my standard go to tinting software if I need some special looks. When I want a bit more deeper control I will use Alien Skin Exposure 6 but filmpack has some pretty awesome options. The fun part is that both filmpack and Alien Skin Exposure are both “film emulators” but still both have different looks and behaviors so this is the reason I’m actually using both on a daily basis. But that’s not the only thing they have on the market of course. Their DxO Optics 9.5 is a full blown RAW developer software solution including some of the best optical corrections on the market, and…. in my opinion the best noise reduction algoritme out there, it’s almost magic.
A lot of people however know DxO from their tests of sensors, cameras and lenses, and this is also where they got their knowledge from to build software like Optics 9.5. The first time you open up a shot and see the dialog that you can download the lens profiles and camera profiles you are a bit surprised…. why aren’t they all build in? well… because there are A LOT and they update and change them constantly, and don’t be surprised if you see your mobile phone pop up.. they really are very complete.
DxO optics I use when I have some difficult shots, loads of noise, strange distortions I want to get rid off, or when I just want to have the best optical correction out there.
The main issue for me is that DxO optics doesn’t support my Medium format files and Fuji, so I can actually only edit my Sony files in Optics, but….. in all honesty they do a pretty good job on those.
The first time I got into contact with Capture One was when I wanted a real good solid tethering solution for my Canon camera, and Capture One was just that for me ROCKSOLID…. the RAW developing? well to be honest I never really got into it, the interface was cluttered the processing not logical and in short I did not really like the software, expect for tethering. But I can tell you loads have changed in Capture One, but one thing stayed the same, it’s a ROCKSOLID tethering solution if your camera is supported, but even if it isn’t it has a really nice feature that sets Capture One on top of my list for tethering. If you point the software from your camera towards the folder CAPTURE in Capture One and you shoot Capture One will show every image that comes in as active picture, meaning that although Capture One doesn’t do the tethering for the “outside world” it sure looks like it. Now I hear some of you say “Hey Frank Lightroom also has a hot folder option” and yeah I know but did you ever try it? I did and to be honest it’s not that good. When shooting fast it can sometimes take several seconds before Lightroom picks up the files and dumps them all at once into the folder meaning you skip the images and only see the last one, also setting up the hot folder is a bit of a “problem” it has to be an empty folder and it copies the files to another folder, with 36MP files coming in this is all slowing down the process and making unnecessary movements on your harddrive, also when you stop tethering and start again that folder has to be empty. I never really understood why software like Lightroom and DxO (which does show the images coming in but doesn’t make them active) don’t do this like Capture One, it should not be difficult to program.
Over time I’ve been playing around with Capture One more and more and the last tour we did in the UK I even “forced” myself to not even open Lightroom but do everything in Capture One, the result…. well actually this review, so let me start.
The RAW battle
Working with RAW is my only option, I’m not a JPEG shooter and I really don’t care if someone tells me that their camera makes some of the best JPEG’s out there, it like telling me that McDonalds has really great hamburgers…. sorry but it will never beat a good steak. Although there are situations where you sometimes can better visit McDonalds, for example for speed and because you just want something that will do or if you have to save money…… that’s for me the difference I will never shoot JPEG because I think it’s good enough, I’m a RAW shooter, but then again I don’t shoot anything that REALLY needs speed, although I love to shoot sports I don’t shoot it professionally (and those people I can understand sometimes might prefer JPEG).
Let’s first take away one small misunderstanding.
Some people think that if you open a RAW from Lightroom into Photoshop that Photoshop actually works with the RAW…. this is NOT true, Photoshop will work with the file after it’s been converted into the format you tell ACR (Adobe Camera Raw, which is embedded into Lightroom and opens separately in Photoshop) to convert it in, for example TIFF 16 bits ProPhotoRGB (my preference). So when opened in Photoshop ALL files are converted. The question now is…. “is RAW really RAW” and the answer is Yes it is.
Let’s make a food comparision.
If you order a ready to eat microwave diner from the supermarket not much can go wrong, you open it up, put it in the microwave and wait…. and eat. All people will taste the same unless you start adding ingredients of course, but normally it will all be the same. Things chance when you go the butcher and order a RAW steak. Now you have many different options, you can use herbs, sauces to marinate the steak, you can choose the BBQ, gril etc. to prepare the steak and you will end up with a multitude of different options. Now I know it sounds weird when we talk about photography but bare with me.
Shooting RAW means you’re shooting a file that according to your camera manufacturer will give you the best base to work with, some RAWs will have some “ingredients” build in, and some have only what’s absolutely necessary, but in essence you can’t get it better than this RAW file. However to get this into something that Photoshop understands we do have to covert this RAW into something different, and this is where actually the magic happens. Believe it or not EVERY single RAW convertor will do this differently, there is absolutely no base for how it’s supposed to be done. If we think about recent history I only have to say “Fujifilm” it took Lightroom quite some time to get this “perfect” while for example DxO still doesn’t support the FujiFilm files, but other convertors out there still do a better job than Lightroom. So there is a difference, but how much is the difference?
If you look casually to your files you will probably say “Hummmm I’m satisfied, it looks great, can’t imagine this being different”, and you are probably right to think that because let’s be honest why should there be a difference right? it looks nice? well let’s take a look at the three RAW developers and what they do.
The first sample is for sharpness and is a standard blue sky shot with some buildings.
Let’s first look at the different renderings from Lr, DxO and Capture One
As you can see they are all a bit different, and this is without touching anything, no corrections are done to the files, which were shot with the Sony A7r by the way.
At first glance I prefer the DxO rendering, but let’s zoom in
The main reason I choose this shot is for the blue sky and the detail in the shot, for example look at the wire from the satellite dish.
As you can see Capture One clearly shows way more sharpness, the reason I liked DxO is also clear, it has a slightly more contrasty look the image which makes the sky a bit more saturated, but as you can see in this shot better it does close up a bit in the shadows, however when we judge sharpness Capture One is the clear winner, so let’s continue.
I love working with people and one of the things that really got my attention while working with Capture One was the rendering of fine detail in skin, hairs etc. but also the very pleasing tones in the images. Now this last thing is a bit hard to explain. In Lightroom I use a color checker passport to get the color as perfect as possible, both DxO and Capture One don’t support the use of Color checkers (which in my opinion is unbelievable for professional software) so one would expect that the color rendition is a done deal right? well as it seems it’s not as you can see in the following samples.
Let’s start with Lightroom.
This image was shot with a Leaf Credo 60 so only Lightroom and Capture One can process this file.
It looks nice, but let’s compare it to Capture One.
As you can see Capture one is A LOT more detailed.
This makes you suspect that Capture One is adding some sharpness (which is actually does indeed), but how much?
let’s try to mimic this with Lightroom.
Remember that a setting of 20 in software A is not 20 in software B, and with some software a setting of 20 for image A is not the same as 20 for image B, so this can be mind boggling. What I did was to set the sharpness in Lr as high as it could go without destroying ANY of the fine details or causing ringing, and this what I got.
And although it’s indeed sharper it still doesn’t have that “pop” and “3D look” that Capture One shows. I also do like the skin tone in Capture One a lot more although with Lr the profile from the Color checker was used.
Now one could say that Capture One is meant for the Medium format files from the Phase One and Leaf digital backs, and that’s correct, it is the native software, so let’s see what happens with a Sony file, and now I use all three convertors, let’s start with Lightroom :
And Lightroom with a bit of sharpening
Next up is DxO
And also DxO with a bit of sharpening
And finally Capture One
Sharpening on the Lr and DxO file were both done in Ps with the exact same settings, in the Lr file you can see some artifacting in the eyebrows which is not visible on the Capture One and DxO shot, but the DxO shot is slightly softer overall. However again I prefer the skin tones in Capture One and when I look at for example the eye ball I feel that the Capture One rendering makes it a bit more round, which can also be credited to a slight contrast boost I see in Capture One.
Conclusion and some more
So which one is best….?
It seems Capture One right?
Well at first glance I would also say yes, but again it’s not the complete story, to get a real winner we have to look at much more and that would go way too deep for this blogpost, but let’s just scratch the surface for what I use.
Lightroom is awesome for keeping my catalogue, creating smart albums, books, printing etc. it’s in my opinion not beat by DxO and Capture One in that aspect, so without ANY doubt I would choose Lightroom for this purpose.
DxO is awesome for noise reduction, optical corrections with a click, adjustments via the autosettings, integration with filmpack and user styles are also very very good and the end results are just a big step above Lightroom, plus with the newest version the integration with Lightroom is almost seamless so you can now actually stay within Lightroom but still use DxO optics, a HUGE plus for the people that need speed but also want a big step up from Lightrooms processing power.
It seems that Capture One as a standalone (no integration with Lightroom) has the worst chance right?
Well not quite and this might surprise you, Capture One is actually my number one convertor at the moment, and I do LOVE optics 9.5 from DxO but with model photography it just can’t beat some of the things I have with Capture One, in the end it all boils down to a few things I have in Capture One that I don’t have in DxO or Lightroom and that make my life a LOT easier and editing a LOT faster.
1. Focus mask overlay
A very cool way to see if your images are in focus, Capture One shows a big green mask on all areas that contain the highest contrast, meaning in practice which are in focus. When shooting tethered with a manual camera (or wide open) this is a very cool tool when you can’t get close to your screen or if there is too much sunlight, you can REALLY see the green mask so you know you got it or not.
2. Presets and styles
Getting an unique look to your images is very important now a days in my opinion and Capture One does this via presets/styles which can be very easily created and stored. The nice thing is that you can create “variants” with different styles without wasting drive space, but best of all is that you can actually change your RAW settings even when presets and styles are active, and to top things you can even stack presets. But most off all I’m pretty familiar with filmpack and Alien Skin but I can still create looks in Capture One that I prefer to both other packages on SOME images. My main tinting is still done with DxO filmpack and Alien Skin but Capture One has great potential.
Within Capture One there are the options of adjustment layers, you can brush effects in, take away masks etc. It doesn’t support all settings but it does pretty well.
Capture One has a very powerful adjustment for skin uniformity which will actually take care of those images where the skin tone is not equal over the whole body of the model, it’s a very simple to use tool and it works “wonders”.
Something a lot of users from Capture One don’t know or use (from what I heard), you can run a lot of different recipes for export at the same time, for example create a TIFF, a 4K videoframe, a 1080P videoframe and a web version with watermark (which you can move around and chance a lot more than what Lightroom allows) all at the same time in different folders, or in the same with the same or different names, it’s very easy.
I wanted to start with this but decided to do it at the end.
Capture One is without a doubt the best tethering solution out there, next to the great “hot folder” option you also have the options of :
A. Focus overlay (see point 1)
B. Capture Pilot : see images on your mobile device and rate them, or even across the world
C. Overlay mode : shooting for a cover? no problem just overlay the cover
D. Styles : you can actually show each image that comes in with the style your client choose (this is also possible with Lr and DxO although DxO doesn’t support showing the active image that comes in, you have to do that manually)
Capture One grew on me, it was always on my harddrive because I needed it for tethering, over time I’ve experimented with it and always was pleased with the outcome but never really had the time to switch due to time “problems”, at the moment I’m not using lightroom for RAW developing anymore, it’s all Capture One and DxO optics 9.5
If you’re a tethered shooter and shoot a lot of people : Capture One without any doubt.
If you’re into street and travel photography you can benefit from the awesome auto settings in DxO, the great noise reduction and optical correcting so in that case without a doubt DxO Optics 9.5
Lightroom as a RAW developer is a great allrounder everything is very easy to find and it “just works”, it does pretty well as RAW developer, the results are nice, when having to go through thousands of shots Lightroom just simply rocks, the catalogue system however is what keeps it on my harddrive, DxO is now very much interlinked with Lightroom so these two work together incredible nicely, so if you’re not into tethering and don’t need the Medium Format or Fuji support check out DxO optics with Lightroom, I think you’re gonna like it.
Which ever RAW software you choose it’s important to know there are differences, you can tweak Lr and DxO to mimic the look of Capture One and visa versa, however when you look closely the same differences will be visible the question is how important is that for you.
I’m working closely with DxO (Image Master), Capture One (Ambassador program), Adobe (Influencer program) so I can honestly say that I have absolutely no second agenda or what so every.
Disclaimer 2 :
I’ve used Sony A7r and Leaf Credo 60 files for this test, it can very well be different for your camera.
If you want a good deal on software please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our discount pages.
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