Many photographers, including our team at PL, have been frustrated with Adobe’s latest move to discontinue the standalone version of Lightroom, something Adobe said it would not do in the past. As a result, a number of us (including myself) have been looking for alternative post-processing tools that can replace Lightroom completely. For the past few years, I have owned Phase One’s Capture One Pro software, which I found to be very capable when it comes to post-processing images. Some of Capture One Pro’s capabilities (such as color adjustments, adjustment layers, etc) are light years ahead of Lightroom, and performance-wise, Lightroom has only been getting worse year after year, with things like adjustment brush slowing down even some of the most powerful desktop computers, whereas you can stack layers and layers of adjustments on images in Capture One without slowing anything down. Because of this, I have been running Capture One for some time now, hoping that I can fully transition to it at some point in the future. However, the biggest reason why I have not been able to fully transition, is the lack of Fuji GFX 50S camera support, something I was hoping I would see in the new version of Capture One 11 that was just announced today. After looking at the release notes of Capture One Pro 11, I came to conclusion that Phase One has no plans to support the GFX 50S or any other medium format camera on the market to protect its own medium format system. For this reason alone, Capture One could never replace Lightroom as post-processing software for many photographers out there.
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The Future of Medium Format Systems
Thanks to Hasselblad and Fuji, we now have several mirrorless medium format systems at sub-$10K prices. Hasselblad was the first to announce its X1D-50c (see my Hasselblad X1D-50c Review) and Fuji followed suit with the GFX 50S (see my in-depth Fuji GFX 50S Review). Add the well-established Pentax 645Z DSLR and you have a total of three players in the “crop medium format” market. Although these are still fairly expensive options, many photographers who want to move up in quality from full-frame are most likely going to choose between these three systems. With the recent price adjustments that the Pentax 645Z and the Fuji GFX 50S have seen ($1,500 off 645Z and $1,000 off GFX 50S kit + big GF lens discounts), the cost of owning a medium format system is getting lower year after year. And with the arrival of 100+ MP sensors in 2018, the cost of current generation medium format cameras is going to decline even further (especially on the used market), which means that more photographers will be shooting with medium format systems in the future.
Camera Ecosystem vs Post-Processing Software
When choosing any camera system, photographers must not only pay close attention to the hardware ecosystem, but also software and support options. This means that one should not forget to look at camera support in post-processing software. If post-processing software has very limited or even worse, no support for a given camera, switching camera systems might have bad future implications, costing a lot of time, frustration and money in the long run. Because of this, it is wise to assess and fully understand risks associated with buying into a camera system.
It is important to understand that for hardware and software to work well with each other, camera manufacturers have to work close with post-processing software companies in order to have full, proper support. Unfortunately, this is where camera manufacturers have always continuously failed, making it extremely frustrating for software companies to be able to support them. Camera manufacturers think they are better off bundling their own proprietary software with their cameras, but all they do is end up creating unusable trash that nobody wants to use. Nikon has been pushing its buggy Capture NX-D (which is something it forced all Capture NX2 users to switch to after Google acquired Nik Software), Canon has had its useless Digital Photo Professional software for a while and just when I thought that Sony was the smart one with its Capture One partnership, it has also recently announced the development of its own post-processing software called “Imaging Edge Software Suite”. And the worst of them all by far in my experience has been Sigma’s Photo Pro software, which for a while was pretty much the only software tool that was capable of reading Sigma’s RAW files. I remember sitting with my friend who invested in a Sigma SD Quattro, wondering what a heck he was thinking when he picked that camera, since none of the post-processing software I was familiar with could open those super detailed RAW files. It was a very frustrating experience and I am thankful that Sigma finally decided to implement DNG support in its Quattro cameras, so that one can use any software that can read DNG files.
This shows just how bad camera manufacturers are at making software. What I don’t understand is, if their efforts have failed for so many years, why on earth would they continue to invest in making crappy software? In fact, to protect their own software, camera manufacturers have been making their RAW files cryptic to read, with no open standards to allow software companies to easily take advantage of all the available features. As a result, software companies end up reverse-engineering their software to be able to read RAW files – a similar process third party lens manufactures go through when trying to bring autofocus capabilities to their lenses. That’s how bad things really are. Instead, camera manufacturers should abandon their awful software that they clearly can’t write in the first place, and open up their RAW files for all software companies to tap into. If they take all the wasted resources and allocate their efforts towards working with any software company that wants to support their hardware, it will be hugely beneficial for everyone, especially us photographers. Unfortunately, given the history, I just don’t see this happening any time soon…
When Software is to Blame
Sadly, you can’t just blame camera manufacturers for failing to provide open standards and working closely with software manufacturers, since the software part isn’t perfect either. I have expressed my frustration with Adobe’s software many times in the past at PL and I have not been happy with their discontinuation of future Lightroom standalone versions either. Lightroom is very broken and it is too big now to fix (since it sits on piles and piles of bad code), which is probably why Adobe started its Lightroom CC – sometimes it is easier to start from scratch than to try to fix all the problems. We can see similar patterns and issues across many different software tools on the market, many of which have basic stability and performance issues that should not exist in the first place. Much of the software crashes or unexpectedly quits while sometimes performing basic tasks, which is very annoying. And let’s not forget about cross-system issues and bad software practices by OS vendors that make it even more frustrating for the end user.
Capture One and Conflict of Interest
The good news is, most of these software issues are potentially addressable. Companies who genuinely want to make good software will provide bugfixes and workarounds, so if the client base pushes for solutions, they are probably going to get them at some point. The bad news comes when software manufacturers are not willing to work on their software due to conflict of interest or some other problems, which is sadly the case with Capture One. Just because Capture One is owned by Phase One, which is in the business of making and selling medium format cameras, the company is not willing to add support to other medium format systems on the market. This is utmost stupidity on behalf of Phase One management. Instead of thinking about banking on all the potential customers who want to abandon Adobe, Phase One is thinking about protecting its camera sales. In fact, I would argue that blocking support for cameras not only achieves absolutely nothing, but it ends up hurting the company in the long run financially. Think of how many more licenses Phase One could be selling to professionals and enthusiasts out there. There are tens of thousands of Hasselblad, Fuji and Pentax owners out there and their numbers are only going to increase going forward. If any other manufacturer joins the medium format market, there will be even more worldwide adoption and potential license sales.
Capture One Pro 11: Supported Medium Format Systems
Wondering what medium format systems are supported by Capture One Pro? Take a look at the release notes PDF that Phase One made available today and scroll to page 10 where camera support pages start. I took the time to go through the entire document, and aside from finding medium format cameras from Phase One and Mamiya, I could not find a single medium format camera from other manufacturers. We have already seen Phase One block Pentax 645Z users before, just because the company wanted to push its IQ250 body and prevent its users from moving to the lower-cost 645Z, which forced Pentax 645Z users to modify DNG files and fool the software to accept 645Z files as IQ250 files, or use a “CaptureFix” backdoor. Hasselblad cameras have never been supported and Leica S is not in the list either. While many of the Fuji X-series cameras are supported, the GFX 50S competes directly with the IQ250 just like the 645Z does, so I don’t see it getting support either. This is extremely disappointing and discouraging to see.
The Danger of Investing in Capture One
Personally, I am appalled at Phase One’s current stance to block medium format camera support in its Capture One software. On one hand it is a very impressive piece of post-processing software that I would love to take advantage of on a day-to-day basis. It does many things much better than Lightroom and the new capabilities of Capture One 11 look wonderful. On the other hand, I cannot recommend it as a long-term investment to anyone, especially if Phase One continuous to block its competitors in Capture One Pro. To me, this is no better than Adobe’s decision to move everyone to the cloud – it simply does not say anything good about the company. Anyone can spend $300 on a piece of software, but that’s not where the investment ends. Think of all the time and effort you would have to go through to learn the software, only to discover one day that the camera you want to move up to will never be supported…
Phase One needs to change the direction of its software going forward. I hope the company reconsiders its stance and becomes more flexible, adding support to all cameras, not just those that do not compete. If there is no solution to this, perhaps the company could split its Capture One division into a different company – I am sure it will make a lot more money that way.
Are you currently a Capture One Pro user? If yes, are you concerned about Phase One’s stance to block other medium format cameras in its software? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.