With Phase One launching new versions of its Capture One software, we spoke to Claus Mølgaard, Vice President of Research and Development, to find out what's new and the work that's been put in. Many of the changes in the latest version are enhancements of features offered in Capture One version 4, but there has been significant work to bring new features, he says:  ‘The Focus Mask feature required a lot of work but I think it's something people will find very useful. It shows you a mask over both the thumbnail and your preview image to show where your image is in focus. It means you can look at a shoot of 300 images and instantly choose the ones with the correct focus – it's a fantastic time saver.'

‘We also think people will like our skin tone enhancer. This allows you to smooth and improve the skin tones in your photos without affecting other parts of the image. For instance if you have a subject with a red nose you can dampen down the red and balance out the skin tone. Again this can reduce the amount of time spent by reducing the need for a make-up artist.'

Although not a new feature, Mølgaard also seems proud of the software's lens correction capabilities: ‘it's a unique two-step process: it can analyze images to detect and correct for distortion in all types of lenses. This correction can be combined with our own profiles to make a custom profile of your specific lens. A lens is a very delicate optical and mechanical device – there are always tolerances in the manufacturing process which result in differences from lens to lens.'

The latest version of the software includes support for over 150 cameras, including DSLRs from Canon, FujiFilm, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony. This increased level of camera support is at the heart of the update and represents a great deal of work he says:  ‘The amount of time each takes can take anything from a week to several months. Sometimes you get 90 percent of the quality in 10 percent of the time, but it's important for us to keep chasing that last 10 percent. For example, Fujifilm DSLRs require very specialist image processing.'

‘We start by looking at the file format and all the associated metadata. We have close relationships with many manufacturers and they will provide us with much of this information. But even with that information, we have some very specialist color setups to allow us to profile the color response of each camera. Each sensor has a very specific noise footprint and you have to understand it and work out how you're going to work with that. Then, depending on the camera, there may be some lens optimization that we'd want to do as part of the raw conversion – again this may involve input from the manufacturer - to achieve what we think is the best possible out-of-the-box result.'

‘We work with manufacturers because we are a camera manufacturer ourselves and we believe we'll be able to produce the best results if we have the maximum amount of knowledge about the optical design and the camera system. Sometimes they come to us with their own profiles, which we'll evaluate against our own. We may have some technologies that are better, for instance. But we'll try to achieve the most that is possible with that raw data.'

And this helps to explain why the results produced by Capture One are not always the same results produced by the manufacturers' software:  ‘By talking to a lot of photographers we try to offer them what they want in terms of color, noise, detail and contrast. We optimize the tone curve to try to make the most of the captured data and this can mean more detail comes out of the shadows. And hopefully most people would agree that the out-of-the-box results are the best and if they don't, then they have all the tools to achieve the look they want.'

Although Panasonic's G-Series is not supported, Mølgaard dismissed rumors that this would always be the case: ‘I'm not sure I'd say it would never be supported. We go for cameras whose users are likely to use our software to try to achieve the best possible picture quality and since new cameras keep coming all the time we have to prioritize. We tend to start with high-end DSLRs and work from there. We have to think about who the manufacturers are targeting and how easy each company and camera is to work with.'

The PRO version of Capture One also gains a range of additional tools for tethered shooting.  This is possible when working with selected Canon and Nikon DSLRs as well as the company's own digital backs and models from Mamiya. ‘You will notice improved support for both Leaf and Mamiya - in which we are part owners - both in terms of supporting more models and offering more tethered shooting features for Mamiya. Leaf tethered shooting support and file support will naturally be expanded in future releases.'

In addition to being able to shoot tethered, the latest version of the software can offer previews that include the effect of user-defined ‘styles.' ‘It means when you have a special look you're trying to achieve, you can show the Art Director your idea as you shoot, rather than having to say “It might look a bit dull now but I'll do it later in PhotoShop,” it also means you can light and expose your images perfectly to take into account the look you want.'

The latest version also adds a series of preset workspaces to give access to the most commonly-used tools. ‘For instance there's a “simplified tethered shooting” workspace for people using tethered shooting for the first time or renting the equipment. It just gives you the tools you might need and you can customize it later as your needs develop.'

Again, says Mølgaard, this has come out of the company's close relationship with working photographers: ‘We've been doing high-end image processing since 1994, we've always worked closely with professional photographers. Through our lenses, cameras and software, we're trying to make life easier for them, to help them get the best images possible.'