Pro photographer wants Capture One Pro 9 for its metadata, Color Editor and local editing features

It’s almost a tradition. Around this time of the year Phase One releases its new version of Capture One. The newest version adds some important improvements in the realm of metadata and image management. In addition, it has two new processing engines and a whole bunch of new and improved editing tools. I took Capture One Pro 9 for a ride and it remains the top photo editor. Its new cataloguing capabilities are bound to be an extra trump card, although they stay behind those of dedicated apps like Photo Mechanic 5.

I’ll start this review of Capture One Pro 9 with the catalogue management improvements. Phase One added a new keyword tool, keyword libraries tool, additive keywords and lists, and sortable keywords. In addition, you can import keywords from Phase One’s own media manager and from third party applications that export their keywords to a CSV file. Photo Mechanic is one of these. Keywords can be added to both catalogues and sessions.

capture one pro 9 interface

Keyword features galore in Capture One Pro 9

Working with the new keyword capabilities is easy. Phase One’s implementation is user-centric. It is a very user-friendly system to manage images with. If you don’t have a library yet, you’ll have to manually add keywords to your images, but that too has been made as elegant as possible. Once you have a library, it’s mostly a matter of dragging keywords to images. Hierarchical (aka “structured”) keywords are equally simple to apply.

I wanted to see what would happen with the extensive non-hierarchical keyword list I have built in Photo Mechanic 5. Capture One Pro 9 imported it flawlessly. That’s no surprise as the text file really is nothing more than just a list with each word on its own line.

capture one pro 9 keywords and libraries

A totally different beast is the hierarchical list. In Photo Mechanic 5, adding hierarchical keywords is bit of a pain in that you really need to prepare your hierarchy first or buy a controlled vocabulary. Capture One Pro 9 takes a different approach and enables you to create structured keyword lists by adding them in a special format: “humans < man < self-portrait”, for example. Afterwards, you can just drag the keyword — either the parent (which will then include all children) or a child — to the image(s). Importing a structured keyword list from Photo Mechanic, however, is a no-go. As a result, adding a controlled vocabulary from David Riecks at Controlled is not supported either. That’s a pity, because buying a vocabulary is less time-consuming than having to start from scratch.

On the bright side, Capture One Pro 9 does support multiple keyword libraries besides the default one. This allows you to differentiate between multiple keyword taxonomies. Your custom keyword libraries are global. They are shared across catalogues. Whenever you drag a keyword from one of your custom libraries to an image, that keyword is added to the catalogue’s (or session’s, but I always work and test with catalogues) library.

Last but not least, the quirks and illogical things that could happen when adding keywords to images in the past, have been ironed out. For example, You can filter images using keywords. You can also sort keywords of individual images.

Capture One 9’s masked ball

Capture One’s layer-based local editing tab has been expanded since it first appeared. In Capture One Pro 9 it’s a true powerhouse with flow and airbrush masking, masking from the Color Editor, straight line brushing by holding down the shift key and the availability of new local adjustments like the curve tool and the clarity slider.

capture one pro 9 create mask from color editor

The masking from the Color Editor in particular is a very powerful new feature. You can select a colour in the Color Editor and when you want to further edit the objects with the selected colour, you can have it sent to a layer. The selected colour range will have been set up as a mask. The layer is automatically created. I found this to be an invaluable time saver as it allows you to quickly set up a mask based on colour, then erase the mask in those same-colour areas you don’t want to affect. That’s a lot faster and usually more accurate than painting a mask from scratch.

capture one pro 9 color editor mask

You can now link brush settings together with the eraser settings as well. Again, this saves time. When you change the brush setting, you’re automatically changing the eraser settings to the same values and vice versa.

capture one pro 9 brush settings

Other improvements

Capture One 9 comes with a new Contrast Engine. If you already have images that have been processed with a previous version, you can choose to update to the new engine. The results aren’t stunning, but subtle — and they’re an improvement. The new Contrast Engine gives a slightly more balanced look.

capture one pro 9 curve endpoints

There’s a new Rescaling Engine as well. What this does is scale your exported images to a better quality. I tested this by comparing the same image output with the recipe set to JPEG in Capture One 8 Pro and Capture One Pro 9. I could barely see a difference, but the file exported with version 9 was about 1.5 times bigger than with the previous version.

A further enhancement is a Luma Curves tool, which I think is a must-have. The Curves tool itself now also allows you to drag the endpoints freely as needed. Finally, Capture One Pro 9 comes with a new Color Editor interface. The new interface is more intuitive to work with and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Phase One got its inspiration for the new colour wheel design straight from the video world. The wheels resemble Telecine colour wheels quite a bit.

Once again, Phase One has managed to upgrade Capture One with features that firmly establish the app’s superiority. A 3-seat licence costs €279.00.