Introduction: The Matchup
Most digital cameras that shoot RAW files also include some form of software to convert the files into more common image formats. Unfortunately, the majority of these programs are basic, ineffective, and slow. We looked at two popular alternatives: Adobe Camera RAW and Phase One Capture One Pro. Adobe Camera RAW is widely utilized, since it powers conversions in Photoshop. Phase One Capture One Pro is less familiar to snapshooters, though it holds a steady following among photo professionals and enthusiasts.
The RAW file is often described as the "digital negative" or the basic digital information that has to be processed to become a photograph. Much like the different chemicals and washes in the darkroom and their organization, the interface and processing quality of RAW processing programs are important to photographers who want to reprocess the information.
In this review, we compare Adobe Camera RAW from CS4 with Phase One Capture One Pro's version 5. The latter program retails for $400 for the complete package, while Adobe Camera RAW comes bundled with Bridge and Photoshop for $700 or with Lightroom for $300.
The two programs offer similar features, but in different interfaces. Adobe's Bridge and Photoshop work together; RAW images are sorted and selected in Bridge and then opened in Adobe Camera RAW. Once in Camera RAW, all of the editing features are available. Phase One keeps the Capture One workflow simple - in one program - and allows users to work with tabs that progress from left to right, beginning with organizing a folder and capture structure to processing, output settings, and batch processing.
Adobe Lightroom interface
Of the programs, the Bridge/Photoshop/RAW application is the least modifiable. Lightroom/RAW is more easily customizable, and Capture One Pro even more so. Phase One's Capture One Pro allows you to simply drag tools to the Quick Tab for sorting and organizing. Capture One Pro also has something that the others don't: an integrated camera tethering function with camera-specific information and controls.
We used three proprietary RAW formats with Adobe Camera RAW and Phase One Capture One Pro to evaluate the conversions: Canon (.CR2), Nikon (.NEF), and Olympus (.ORF). We wanted to see how the software dealt with different product lines and to check for consistency in processing trends like color, noise, and sharpness. We used Canon's EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 1Ds Mark III, Nikon's D3X and D300s, and Olympus's PEN E-P1, E-P2, and E-620 to gather our test files.
Color: Adobe Camera RAW proved to be more accurate in its color rendering than Capture One Pro for all three digital camera makers. The most interesting finding in this area, however, was that both programs yielded a similarly generic, less precise rendering of color from the Olympus files.
Noise: Again, Adobe's Camera RAW program performed better in handling noise issues. Files were visibly cleaner with neutral conversions from Adobe Camera RAW than Capture One Pro, across all three platforms.
Resolution and sharpening: Phase One applies more aggressive sharpening to its files, while Adobe opts for a fairly low amount of sharpening, choosing to leave that task for output sharpening in Photoshop rather than Camera RAW. The task is easier, of course, to perform within one program - Capture One Pro - but only if ultra-sharp is what you want
Reviewing Adobe Camera RAW and Phase One Capture One Pro head-to-head makes for a tricky conclusion. Is one really better than the other? RAW processing is largely a matter of preference. Adobe supports more cameras, in and out of the mainstream, and produces a more consistent result across multiple camera platforms. If you're processing files from different camera brands/models, Adobe Camera RAW is your solution. If you have a mainstream camera and like the sharp look of Phase One's files, then Capture One Pro will meet your needs and do so with a more streamlined interface that is easier to use.
For more details, read the full review on Head2Head Reviews.
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