How great an upgrade is Capture One Pro 21?

Capture One Pro 21 is a major upgrade with many improvements. New features in this version include Speed Edit, a Dehaze feature, improved importer, ProStandard camera profiles for (currently) a limited number of cameras and Leica tethering. In addition, Capture One Pro now supports HEIF images, makes it easier to adjust brushes and has more help in the form of enhanced tooltips and easy access to tutorials.

Speed Edit allows you to edit images without having to click the sliders in the interface as they use a combination of mouse movements and keyboard shortcuts. The Capture One Pro approach is less costly than control surface support as you don’t have to buy a controller and it’s actually very fast once you memorise the shortcuts, especially as you can also edit multiple image variants using Speed Edit.

It is very efficient to hold down the “W” while keeping your eye on the image and dragging anywhere in the image to change contrast settings. It’s also flexible in that you can scroll the mouse wheel or trackpad. You can also use the keyboard arrows to change values. My preferred method is to drag the mouse.

A new tool is the Dehaze tool. It eliminates haze and improves saturation in flat-contrast images. It will automatically analyse the image and detect where contrast and saturation are needed, allowing for a workflow that will reduce the time of manually assessing and mixing multiple adjustments.

When you drag the Amount slider in the Dehaze tool, a shadow tone is automatically detected and picked. If the result differs from your expectations, the picker can be used to determine another shadow tone that will yield a different result. As with many of these Dehaze tools, it works but also inevitably shifts colours in your scene.

The importer has been greatly improved in Capture One 21. It has a much larger import window with high-resolution thumbnails, better descriptions of import destinations in catalogues, an option to select multiple folders to import from simultaneously, and an option to select images directly in the Folder Browser.

One of the most important novelties in version 21 is that Capture One now has what they call ProStandard profiles. This is touted as a new type of camera profile that renders colours more naturally. Right now, there aren’t that many ProStandard profiles yet, so I could not try out these profiles as I don’t have any of the cameras in the current list, but I saw them in action in the demos the press was invited to, and they look great. I do doubt if “old” cameras like my Sony Alpha 700 will be included.

According to the company, the profiles have multiple purposes. They should be better at preserving colour across contrast gradients, resulting in more natural colours from shadows to highlights. They should deliver a better transition between colours of different hues and a better retention of colours when applying image adjustments. And they should enable more standardised colours across different camera models.

Basically, what they are saying is that the current state of affairs of the Capture One RAW development is not really the best you can get out of your camera. I always thought the difference between the slight colour shifts between DxO Photolab and Capture One Pro were due to what you would have found in the film development era — a difference between labs.

A comparison between Capture One Pro 21’s standard profile, a DxO Photolab 4 default demosaicing and the default settings for development in Affinity Photo clearly show it’s impossible to reconstruct the “true” image — it simply does not exist.

The new profiles are said to be particularly suitable for portrait photography and product photography of subjects with saturated or otherwise challenging colours, such as orange and neon colours, although the demos in the live webinars did include photos of landscapes with blue skies.

So, is the upgrade worth it? I think it depends.

If you’re a control surface freak, then support for Loupedeck or Tangent Wave would have been nicer. Most people don’t like to memorise hundreds of keyboard shortcuts, but truth be told, they are faster to work with.

The Dehaze tool changes your image less than DxO’s ClearView both with their default settings, so Capture One’s “wins”.

As for the ProStandard profiles, I don’t think — if the existing profiles are not as good as they could have been all along — this should feature in an upgrade but should be included in an update.