Evolution of raw converters.

This post is going to focus on the 3 raw converters we use most. Those are Capture One Pro 7.2, Aperture 3.5.1, and Lightroom 5.3. ( current versions as of this posting )


First off, I will touch on Lightroom. Before Lightroom was commercially available, you could sign up as a beta tester and get a free, rather buggy version to use. I jumped at that chance, and first off I was not thrilled with the user interface Adobe had in place. I was hoping that was going to change for the final version. We worked with the beta, and decided that it was not for us at that time.

I have never been happy with the raw conversion that comes out of ACR. While I have used Lightroom and ACR in a pinch a few times, the weird interface and sub-par raw conversions kept me away from them.

Seeing as Adobe had included Lightroom 5 in the Creative Cloud, I am once again putting it to the test. So far I can say the user interface is still a massive turn off for me, but the raw conversion is much improved since I last used it. ( in 2011 ) As photographers, we usually demand the best quality possible from our gear. After running a few hundred comparisons, I just don’t feel LR5 is up to delivering the goods. It’s a fast-ish way to edit ( read sort ) and adjust large amounts of photos, and the output is good enough for 100% of the jobs. The issue here is it could be better.

After the testing with LR beta ended, we started using Aperture at version 1.5. This was a significant upgrade that allowed referenced files. We were very happy with the UI and the raw conversion was a notch above what Adobe was doing. We invested our time into learning, and catalog building with Aperture. Apple had been rather slow keeping AP up to date with the latest camera models, and with AP itself. The latest updates IMHO were aimed at making it an easier transition from iPhoto, and feels very dumbed down. I really love what Apple was doing by keeping this app on a pro level, but adding things like iPhoto effects and face recognition; really makes me feel that AP is losing its focus. The other biggest issue I noticed is that Aperture was really slowing down and becoming a massive resource hog on our systems.

Apple has built the raw conversion engine into the OS itself, so iPhoto and Aperture both use it- as does Preview. The raw updates actually come in the form of OS updates, rather than AP updates. The feature set is very robust and you can do a lot in terms of image adjustments, and even some spot removal if in a pinch. AP does allow for plug-ins, but it is trailing in offerings compared to the more popular LR.

While we still use AP daily, as all of our legacy files are in AP. Capture One Pro is primed to take over the #1 spot. First off, the user interface is dark and gets out of the way so you can focus on the work at hand. We feel COP has many similarities to AP in terms of interface, and to a lesser extent file structure. I also admit that COP can be a little quirky, but in return we get image quality that rivals even Nikon’s own raw conversions!

When we first started really testing COP it was with Version 6, and the only option was to use Sessions, a single project workflow that we really loved. Unlike AP, we would start a new session for every shoot without having to have all of our past projects hanging out in the session. We liked that a lot! Phase one acquired Expression Media from Microsoft, and released it as Media Pro. BOOM! We now had a powerful cataloging system that used the awesome raw converter in COP! So we would use sessions in COP and then bring those sessions into Media Pro for cataloging, key wording, and lightning fast location of images. Media Pro reflects all the settings and adjustments made in COP and round tripping is a snap.

Phase one released COP 7 and teased a totally rebuilt raw conversion engine, so of course we upgraded. Well the new version includes the cataloging system in Media Pro, so now you have your choice of catalog or session.

In the Camera Panel you have a menu called Capture Pilot, and this allows you to set up a server. You can then push either all of your session images or just selected images to a web server with option to password protect the gallery. This also give you the option to send this info to an iOS device running the free Capture Pilot app. This app lets the important people on the shoot see and rate their favorite images without having to be crowded around the Digital Tech Cart. The best feature of the Pilot system is the In app purchase of camera controls. This allows you total control over your camera’s settings from the iPad and that’s a massive help for those odd mounted camera shots, and any other shooting that places the camera in inaccessible locations.

Also for studio shooting, is a nifty plug-in from Profoto that with the help of a USB dongle can adjust all of your AIR equipped Profoto lights! No more needing to switch over to Profoto Studio 3 to make all your lighting adjustments, it’s all in the same workflow!

With (arguably) the best image quality, powerful cataloging options, and features that are aimed square at the pro without any fluff, you can see why Capture One Pro is part of the future here at MJS.

We have also made a podcast about raw converters that can be found on iTunes or in the podcast area as session1