Capture One 21 Review in 2024 – Photo Editing Software

If you’re not aware of it, Capture One is a popular photo editing and cataloging software that’s admired by many working professionals. Developed by Phase One, the software was originally solely designed for their pro line of cameras. As the popularity of the software grew, what started as an application for a powerful Phase One camera led to an award-winning software that’s used by photographers and studios worldwide.

capture one review

Capture One offers a complete package when it comes to shooting, editing, and organizing images. Tethered shooting is a breeze with Capture One. This feature is one of the key reasons why many professionals love working with the software. Further, it also has a robust catalog feature that lets you organize the images in a database that you can search, tag, and flag. Then there is its core functionality – the ability to work with raw and JPEG images to apply non-destructive edits; and believe me when I say that the quality of output is no less (or even better) than any industry-leading software.

Capture One 20 is the latest version of the software that you can get your hands on right now. Built over the success of Capture One 12, Capture One 20 aims at making the software more intuitive and easier to use. It’s clear that with Capture One 20, Phase One is looking to make things easier for Lightroom users to switch to Capture One. It is thus clear that Phase One is doing its best to challenge Adobe Lightroom in being the best photo editing and organizing software.

capture one photo editor

Key features of Capture One

Color Editor

The color editor in Capture One is a really powerful tool that lets you work with specific colors. It basically isolates particular colors and lets you make adjustments to those colors. Using this tool, you can quite conveniently adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness of any color in context. What’s great is that you can conveniently choose the color range that you want to work with by using the Direct Color Editor Tool.

If you find yourself working with a greater range of colors, you can see that the Advanced color editor tab has an additional Smoothness slider adjustment. What this does is that it adds some amount of smoothening around the color range that you’ve selected. This ensures that no hard edges appear in the final image if you have similar color ranges.

My favorite tab in the color editor panel definitely has to be the Skin Tone tab. This is something that you cannot find around in other editing software like Lightroom, and it does an excellent job of selecting and working with the skin tones in a matter of just a few clicks.

capture one skin tones

As an individual’s skin is composed of different colors, skin tones can be complex to work with. So, when you’re selecting a skin tone, you actually end up selecting a wide range of colors; this could include the colors in the background or anything in the frame. In my example above, you can see that the selection includes colors in her clothes, on the chair, and on the background. Thankfully, Capture One is smart enough. It allows you to use the colorselection as masks. You can then conveniently edit the mask to include just the areas that you want to work with and exclude the non-essential ones.

If you’re having trouble masking out these areas exactly Topaz makes an advanced masking software called Topaz Mask AI (see our review here). It is one of the best photo masking software options out there for masking hair and more complex situations.

capture one tethered shooting

I was easily able to get rid of the unwanted selection by converting the selection to a mask and then erasing the regions other than the subject’s skin.

Tethered Shooting

Tethered shooting is something that many professional studio portrait and product photographers cannot live without. Using this method, you can connect your camera to your computer, have full control over the camera settings, take photos, and store the images directly to the computer. The main benefit of this process is that you get to see the previews instantly on a larger screen; an absolute must for images where sharp focus and attention to detail is critical.

Capture One offers one of the most powerful and efficient workflows for tethered photography. You simply connect the camera to your computer using a USB cable, and Capture One gets instantly ready to work with the camera. Every new photo that you take when tethered gets stored in the Capture folder of the session that you set up in Capture One.

Organizing Your Photos

Capture One is not just another photo editing software. Targeted towards professional photographers, the software also features a robust database system that lets you organize your photos systematically.

Capture One features an extensive rating and tagging system that helps you find your images conveniently. You can search for images either using ratings and keywords, or by using metadata such as date, camera and lens used, and even settings like aperture, focal length, and shutter speed, and so on.

capture one editing

Capture One 20 Overview: What’s Improved?

Labeled Toolbar

Up until Capture One 12, when you looked at the toolbar at the top, we had a bunch of icons. A  new user would have no idea what it did unless they hovered over, the icon, or clicked on it to try it out. This made the life of a new Capture One user terrible.

I was so happy when I first launched Capture One 20 and noticed that it now has texts below the icons that tell you what that tool is all about. This will definitely save everyone a lot of time, especially if you are just starting out.

Scrollable Panels in the Tool Tabs

Well if you’re coming from Lightroom, scrollable tool panels are nothing new for you. But, it sure is a new thing for Capture One. In the past, the software would not allow you to have all the tool panels open. If you opened one, Capture One would make space by closing some other panel. So, if you had to work to and fro between multiple panels, you’d find yourself frustrated.

capture one toolbar

In the latest version of Capture One, this has changed for good. You can now have all the panels open, and there’s no space constraint as you can scroll through the different panels. Like in the previous version, the order of the panels is still customizable using the drag and drop method. In addition, if you want any of the panels to remain static while you scroll through, it can be done by dragging it to the pinned area of the panel. I’m totally in love with this feature. Thank you Capture One!

HDR Panel

Up until Capture One 12, we just had two adjustments – Highlight and Shadow. What always bugged me was the fact that you could only recover the highlights and shadows in the image. You could not add to the highlights, or make the shadows deeper.


With Capture One 20, the HDR panel is a lot more practical. They have added two more adjustments: Black and White. Making your images “pop” go so much easier. Also, the slider now starts right in the middle at zero so you can slide it both ways, positive and negative. This is definitely a great step in the right direction by Phase One. I feel that the HDR panel is a lot more practical now.

Crop Tool

I used Capture One 12 for more than a year, but the crop tool was something that I always struggled with. I always felt that it was unintuitive.  For instance, when you select the crop tool, no handles would appear. You’d either have to place your cursor at the edge of the image or start doing a crop by yourself. Also, once you were done with the crop, applying it was equally frustrating. Double-clicking or pressing enter would not work. You’d have to select some other tool for the crop to be applied.

I’m very glad that Capture One 20 has improved in this area. Now, as soon as you select the crop tool, a frame with handles appears in the corresponding aspect ratio that you can easily adjust. And once happy with the crop, you can simply apply it by pressing enter or double-clicking. Now that definitely makes a whole lot of sense.

Color Editor

Capture One has always been powerful as far as handling colors is concerned. In the latest iteration of the software, you can notice that they have tweaked the Basic tab in the Color Editor panel to be a lot more user friendly.

While the Advanced and Skin Tone tab remains the same, the Basic tab has been revamped to appear a lot more inviting to use. New users will feel right at home as the layout is not very easy to maneuver. It has been toned down to look and work like the HSL panel in Lightroom.

capture one color editor

You also have the option to use the Direct Color Editor in the basic tab that lets you use your cursor to select the color whose hue, saturation, and lightness you want to adjust. With the direct color editor selected, simply hold the mouse button over the color you want to adjust. Vertical movements let you adjust the saturation. Horizontal movements let you adjust the hue. And by pressing Alt (Option in Mac) and moving the cursor horizontally, you can adjust the lightness. It’s that simple.

More Control Over Layers You’re Copying

One cool thing about Capture One is the fact that you can work with layers to make adjustments. For instance, if you’re working with a portrait, you can have separate layers to work with the skin tones, brighten the eyes, brighten the teeth, and so on. So, if you have a bunch of portraits that you’re working with, you can make the required adjustments in one image, and copy the layers to other images for consistent outputs.

With older versions of Capture One, you could only copy all of the layers. You had no choice. But now, with Capture One 20, you can now choose the layers that you want to copy. This makes your workflow so much clutter-free. However, keep in mind that you will need to reapply the masks when copy-pasting the layers as the composition will vary across images.

capture one photo editing

My Verdict on Capture One

Capture One is indeed an excellent raw editor with a powerful photo organization feature built-in. The software handles and renders raw files beautifully and the output it comes out is just fantastic; no complaints hands down. If you’re someone who works a lot with colors, or who needs to constantly work in a studio, tethered, getting hold of Capture One makes a whole lot of sense.

Event photographers who do not have the flexibility of carrying their light setup everywhere will love what the software has to offer in Capture One 20. I don’t know what Phase One has done with the noise reduction algorithm, but it’s just mind-blowing. The software handles noise in an excellent way, and loss in detail is minimum.

I admire the way that Capture One is coming out to appeal to the many users that have become accustomed to working in Lightroom. The tweaks in the interface and added functionalities will definitely make Lightroom users feel at home while showcasing a level of performance that is unmatched. If you have been using Lightroom and have been holding off from using Capture One, I feel that this is the right time. Give Capture One 20 a try, and I’m sure that you will not regret it.

We’ve also compared Capture One vs Lightroom here if you’re interested in a comparison.

The pricing model that the company has adopted for Capture One is pretty interesting. You can either purchase or subscribe to a plan that supports images from all major cameras, or a plan that’s brand-specific (for Sony, Nikon, of Fujifilm). If you own any of these major brands, you’d be better off subscribing to the latter plan. You can find more details on the subscription or purchase plan on their website. If you want to try out the software, you can download a fully functional 30-day trial of Capture One 20 as well.

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