Moving from Aperture to Capture One
Update (Mar 31, 2018): After trying to replace Aperture with every alternative under the sun, including Capture One, nothing allows me to cull and edit large photo shoots as fast as Aperture. I really tried to make other options work, but they all drastically slowed me down.
So, for now at least, I’ll be sticking with Aperture but continuing to test out new alternatives as they come along. I’m particularly excited to try out Luminar 2018 once its Organize module lands later this year.
I’ve been a big fan of Apple’s Aperture photo editing application for several years. I loved the way it was built to support the full workflow of photographers, which includes culling and organizing photos, not just applying edits. And when you were ready to edit photos, I loved that they offered an auto button as a time saver to effortlessly get you to a better starting point.
I also loved how the UI made it possible to see all of the edits applied to every photo in one panel — you didn’t have to hunt around multiple tabs and expandable sections just to see everything applied to the image you were looking at. They also had easy-to-use, purpose-built tools like a skin smoothing brush that met me at my mental model—“I want to smooth the skin here”—instead of forcing me to understand image-processing jargon like structure, clarity, and highpass filters.
When Apple announced they would be discontinuing development of Aperture, I was pretty sad. I looked around for alternatives, but while Aperture no doubt lacked in capabilities, I felt nothing out there compared in terms of workflow, design, and ease of use.
But at the same time, my Aperture workflow had long suffered from a few pain points like the lack of perspective correction and inconsistent results with the spot removal tool. So I reluctantly began searching for alternatives.
Finding a replacement
Lightroom continues to be the most popular choice of photographers the world over, but for some reason the UI turns me off. I just couldn’t get comfortable using it.
I found DxO Optics Pro and gave it a brief trial, and while I really liked DxO ViewPoint product for perspective correction, their software lacked the polish I had come to expect from Aperture, and I got the sense that not much development effort was being put into keeping their products up to date. Not hearing many other photographers talk about DxO’s software was also worrisome; maybe they all knew something I didn’t.
That’s when I heard about Capture One. It was heralded by many as having the best RAW image processing and color manipulations engines out there, and it was backed by the same people that built PhaseOne medium-format cameras. Surely they know a thing or two about image quality. And when I took a tour around their product and video tutorials, it felt very familiar.
The combination of a reputation for outstanding image quality, a familiar UI and workflow, and some much-needed enhancements over what I had in Aperture, meant I had found something I was willing to invest some time into to see if I could make it work.
I eventually got there, and it took a good deal of trial and error to find replacements for all of the things I knew how to do in Aperture, but I’m happy I’ve made the move. This guide is my attempt at sharing how I moved my Aperture workflow to Capture One. Hopefully this can help a few more of you Aperture hold outs out there.
Step 0: Decide between Catalogs and Sessions
There are two organizational paradigms in Capture One: Catalogs and Sessions. The first decision you’ll need to make is between Catalogs and Sessions.
If you want all of your images across dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of shoots all in one place, then you’ll want to use a Catalog. This most similar to how Aperture works.
Because this can quickly eat up a lot of space over time, you’ll probably want to use external and/or Cloud storage to house the original RAW images. When the originals are disconnected, Capture One puts the image into offline mode, but you can still make edits because Capture One keeps a 2,560px (configurable) snapshot of the original in the catalog. You’ll have to reconnect the originals before exporting images. Learn more in this tutorial.
If you want to keep each photo shoot separate from the rest, you’ll want to use Sessions. Your images are stored in an easy-to-understand folder hierarchy on your hard drive.
Each Session has its own top-level folder that you name (for example, Jenny Green Headshot). Then inside that folder are four more folders:
- Capture Folder. Where your captured RAW images live.
- Selects Folder. I think this is where you are expected to place your favorite shots. I don’t use this folder.
- Output Folder. The default location for all of your exported JPG/TIFF/etc images. (You can have any number of subfolders.)
- Trash Folder. When you delete an image, it goes here and subsequently can be sent to the system trash.
I prefer Sessions over Catalogs because I like the mental separation between shoots and it’s easy to put all of your Session folders in Dropbox and selectively unsync a Session when you’re done working with it.
The rest of this guide shows how to use Sessions in a way that approximates the Aperture workflow.
Step 1: Create a Session and a few Smart Albums
Go to File > New Session… to create a new Session. Pick a Name and a Location (I put mine in a Dropbox-synced folder), and don’t worry about any of the subfolders.
To help this process and make it feel a little more like the Aperture workflow, I make some Smart Albums. Smart Albums are different from regular albums in that they automatically fill themselves with images based on the matching rules you specify. By contrast, with regular albums, you’ll need to manually add images to them.
Here are the Smart Albums I create:
Not Rejected. This mimics Aperture’s default view, which automatically hides photos you have rejected. Unfortunately, Capture One doesn’t have a concept of rejected photos, but it has something close: if you press minus (-) while looking at a photo, it will be tagged red. This Smart Album is set up to hide all photos tagged red.
Selected. This contains everything tagged green. Press plus (+) while looking at a photo to tag it green. (You can also use the Capture One 9 > Edit Keyboard Shortcuts… menu command to change the shortcut from + to = so that you don’t have to worry about pressing that pesky Shift key.)
Rejected. This contains everything tagged red. Press minus (-) while looking at a photo to tag it red.
All Images. This shows all images that haven’t been Trashed.
You don’t have to go through all of the trouble of creating these Smart Albums every time. You can simply go to File > Save as Template… and select this template each time you create a new Session.
The next time you create a Session, you simply select the template you saved and the Session Albums will be there waiting for you.
Step 2: Capture
You can either shoot tethered straight into Capture One, or you can import photos via USB, SD card, etc like any other photo management software. To learn more about shooting tethered into Capture One, check out this video: How to Tether Your Camera to Capture One Pro.
One thing in particular I want to call out is that, while shooting tethered, you can make adjustments to an image you just shot and have it apply to the subsequent images you shoot.
This is especially helpful for white balance. For each new lighting setup, simply shoot a grey or white card, set white balance in Capture One and then shoot away knowing that you’ll have the same white balance setting no matter what settings are in your camera. In the Capture tab in the Next Capture Adjustments panel, just make sure that All Other is set to Copy from Last.
Step 3: Cull images
After I’ve captured all of the images for a shoot, the first step is to get down to the best images. I work in the Not Rejected Smart Album, deleting and rejecting photos. I do this in roughly three passes:
- Delete all photos that are unrecoverable. These are shots that have poor focus, shots where the subject is blinking, poorly cropped shots, etc. These images will go to the Trash Folder.
- Reject to the photos that don’t meet your quality bar for this shoot. These shots just aren’t as good as the rest. You can reject photos by marking them red with the mouse or by pressing the minus key (-). You can find these in the Rejected Smart Album.
- When you have several similar shots, reject all but the best one. (Again, by marking them red.) No one needs to see the same photo four times. Even if they’re all pretty good, one of them is the best.
Step 4: Organize for output
Now that I’m down to just the best images from the shoot, I spend some time thinking about what I want to do with them. Several will go to the client, some I might save for my portfolio, and yet others I might post to Instagram. I like to make regular Albums for different export destinations (e.g., deliver to Client, add to my Portfolio, post on Instagram, etc).
Step 5: Make adjustments
First, some things you should know about making adjustments.
If you’re using a Trackpad, turn on two-finger panning
The default behavior in Capture One is to zoom when scrolling. This might be a reasonable design decision if you have a wheel mouse, but if you’re using a Trackpad or Magic Mouse, it can be just plain frustrating.
Thankfully, it sounds like you can turn this off this behavior by going to Preferences > General and turning off Zoom with scroll wheel. (Thanks to @larsmuel for the tip.)
Now you can drag with two fingers on a Trackpad to pan vertically and horizontally. Alternatively, you can also hold Spacebar and then click-and-drag to pan.
Navigating via the tab strip
Capture One organizes its numerous panels into multiple customizable tabs. Here’s my current setup, from left to right: library, capture, exposure, color, lens, composition, details, local adjustments, adjustments, metadata, output, and batch.
I really miss having everything in one panel in Aperture, so I’m going to play around and see if I can make that work in Capture One in a way that doesn’t become unwieldy.
Aperture lets you selectively see the effects of specific adjustments by checking / unchecking the checkboxes next to each one. Capture One has a workable but somewhat fussy alternative design: you have to hold Opt and then click and hold the reset icon in the top-right of the desired adjustment panel.
Move sliders with a two-finger swipe on a Trackpad
Capture One really nailed this detail for Trackpad users: you can position your cursor over a slider and use a two-finger swipe left or right to move the slider. Much simpler than grabbing and dragging the thumb.
Mapping techniques and tools from Aperture to Capture One
The main challenge in migrating to Capture One is figuring out how to do the edits you already know how to do in Aperture. Here’s my attempt at finding a Capture One replacement for the edits I typically do in Aperture (in roughly the order I go through them).
Click the A icon in the top right of the Capture One toolbar to automatically enhance your image. Capture One lets you control which adjustments are applied when you click auto. You can turn on and off any of the following: white balance, exposure, high dynamic range, levels, rotation, and keystone.
Perspective correction and cropping
Aperture doesn’t have perspective correction, so moving to Capture One is a huge step up, particularly for shots of buildings and anything that contains (what should be) straight lines. Look for the two not-quite-parallel lines in the center of the main toolbar to find all of the perspective correction (keystone) tools.
The crop tool icon looks the same as the every other one you’ve seen:
Exposure, highlights, and shadows
Auto usually gets this about right, and it works much like in Aperture, but if you need to make tweaks it’s pretty self-explanatory.
I prefer to get white balance right while shooting, so I always shoot something neutral — something known to be white or grey — under my lighting setup and then immediately set white balance based on that image, either in the camera or in Capture One when shooting tethered.
For those times when you can’t get the white balance right, these controls work like you expect.
Capture One has some pretty useful and flexible color manipulation tools. Learn all about them in this video.
There’s also an excellent split-toning Color Balance adjustment tool to selectively color cast the shadows, midtones, and highlights. You want bluer shadows, greener highlights, and more magenta in the midtones? Go for it. And for each you can also adjust saturation (on the left) and lightness (on the right).
Skin tone adjustment
Capture One has a dedicated tool for adjusting skin tone and it works great. In the Color Editor palette select the Skin Tone tab. Then select the eyedropper icon to the right of the circle and pick a representative skin tone in your image. Adjust the arc segment to select more or less of the surrounding colors. Then you can:
- Adjust Uniformity, which pulls similar colors together (move the little dot to specify the color to which you want selected colors to move toward)
- Do a Hue rotation to shift the color more towards an adjacent hue.
- Adjust Saturation and Lightness.
This is a pretty good tool that seems to offer a little more power than Aperture’s color adjustment tool.
Aperture’s skin smoothing adjustment couldn’t be easier: grab the skin smoothing tool and start brushing areas that need smoothing. The default tends to be a little too aggressive, but it’s easy to tone it down.
In Capture One you’ll need to use local adjustment layers. In the Local Adjustments panel, use the plus icon to create a new layer and name it “Skin Smoothing” or anything else that will remind you later what the layer is for.
Then set Clarity and Structure to a some large negative value. (Don’t worry about the exact values yet.)
Finally, press b or click the paint brush icon to select the brush tool and paint in the adjustment over the areas that need smoothing. You can press m to toggle the visibility of the area you have painted.
Finally, play with the Clarity and Structure values until you like the result.
Spot and dust removal
Aperture’s retouch tool works great: press x to select it, and if you’re using a Trackpad you can 2-finger scroll up and down to change the size of the tool. Paint over spots to fix fix them.
In Capture One this is a little more laborious but more flexible. Press o to start the spot removal tool. Press [ to shrink and ] to grow your brush. Click on spots to remove them.
After you’ve fixed spots, a round marker is left behind in that location, making it difficult to judge whether you like how the spot was removed. Press v to exit the spot removal tool, take a peek at how things look, and then press o to go back into the spot removal tool if you need to.
I do miss how much more intuitive it feels to paint over spots instead of clicking on them. However, the benefit of Capture One’s spot removal method over Aperture (and other forms of inpainting) is that you can easily see all of the spots and selectively resize or remove specific spots.
In Aperture all you can do is remove strokes from the top of the stack or kill all of them and start over. Kinda lame.
The result of Capture One’s spot removal tool also seems to be better and cleaner than Aperture’s, which often adds unwanted texture to otherwise smooth areas. Puzzling.
Copy adjustments from one image to several others
If you have a bunch of similar images, it’s pretty simple to apply adjustments from one image to the rest. Once you get one image how you like it, click the diagonal double-sided arrow to copy the adjustments to the clipboard. You can use the checkboxes to select specific adjustments and then press the Copy button.
Next, select a bunch of images and then make sure you’re in Edit All Selected Variants mode. This applies your changes to all selected images. You’ll know you’re in this mode when the 3-card stack icon is highlighted orange.
Finally, with the images selected that you want to apply the adjustments to, click the down-and-left-pointing arrow in the right side of the top toolbar.
Step 6: Optionally, edit in an external program
Sometimes, you just have to go to Photoshop or some other editor to do something that Capture One can’t do or can’t do as well as the external editor. It’s important to do this step last because the edit will be done in a flattened copy of the image.
Right-click and image, choose Edit With…, and you’ll see this dialog:
For maximum quality you’ll want to choose the following settings:
Format: TIFF, 16 bit
Scale: Fixed 100%
Then in the Open With field select the application you want to edit with and click Edit Variant. (As you can see in the image above, I’m a big fan of Affinity Photo.) Behind the scenes this is exporting a TIFF, saving it in the same folder as the RAW file, and then opening it in the application you chose.
Note that Capture One gets upset if you try to call Open With… from within an Album or Smart Album. If that happens, just switch to one of the Session folders. A silly design decision, but whatever.
Go edit the file in the other application and save it when you’re done. Come back to Capture One and you should see both copies. If you like your edit, you can select the RAW image and press minus (-) to reject it. (It won’t be lost forever. You can find it in the Rejected Smart Album.)
Step 7: Export and share
This is another area that is a huge improvement over Aperture. Whereas in Aperture I had to remember to manually export to multiple folders at various sizes, Capture One makes it possible to set up the export logic once and run all exports at the same time.
Each export can even go into its own subfolder if you wish. In the Process Recipe panel, set the subfolder via the File tab.
Once I’ve exported all of these images, I go to Dropbox, find the Output folder, get a link to it, and share that link with my client so they can download all the images they want. For more savvy clients that want access to the RAW images, its easy to instead share a link to the Session folder instead so they have access to everything.
As a side note, I’m hoping to try out Pixieset soon as a better alternative for delivering images to clients.
Step 8: Archive
When I’m done I unsync the Session folder from Dropbox so it doesn’t take up space on my local hard drive.
Improvements to Capture One
Looking forward, there are a few things that I hope Capture One can improve in the future.
Particularly on a 5K Retina iMac, there are noticeable delays in rendering time when moving between images. When you first switch to an image, it immediately shows a pixelated preview so you know which image you’re looking at. The problem is that I often have to wait a few seconds for the full-resolution image to render. And despite Aperture being known for poor performance, I never had this problem in Aperture, especially when Quick Preview mode was enabled (press P to toggle).
Make two-finger panning the default
For Trackpad users, two-finger dragging is a natural gesture for horizontal and vertical panning. The default setting for Zoom with scroll wheel (Preferences > General) should be off. But this is easy enough to fix manually.
Inpainting for spot and object removal
Capture One’s spot removal works fine for spots, but I think it just feels better to use strokes to paint away spots than to single-point click on spots to remove them. When the things you want to remove are large objects in the image, you’ll have to move to the Local Adjustments tab and use a healing adjustment for those. Why two tools for what is basically the same thing? What’s more, the healing brush simply doesn’t work as well as, say, Affinity Photo’s inpainting tool. I would love to see Capture One add a really good inpainting tool so I don’t have to go to do a round trip to Affinity Photo for those edits.
Toggling adjustments with checkboxes
The gesture for temporarily and non-destructively turning off an adjustment in Capture One is quite fussy: hold Opt while clicking and holding the reset icon. The Aperture solution of having a checkbox next to each adjustment is far simpler to execute and understand. I would love to see this make it over to Capture One.
Toggling between the original image and current adjustments
I often want to compare the current state of an image to the original RAW image. In Aperture you can simply press the m key to toggle between the edited and the original image. This would be a nice addition to Capture One.
Save for the few annoyances above, I’ve been really pleased with Capture One thus far and look forward to future developments in the world of photo organization and editing tools.
If you’re out there still holding on to Aperture, hopefully this guide can help you evaluate Capture One to see if it is a good match for your photography workflow. I’d love to hear about your frustrations and successes in moving from Aperture to Capture One or any other replacement.