Imaging workflow

Next to image quality, the ability to work efficiently may be the most important attribute of any raw converter. Whether you need to edit one image or 50, being able to quickly make and evaluate adjustments, isolate specific areas of an image to manipulate and save previous adjustments for future use are paramount in establishing a productive workflow.

Tool adjustments

All three apps provide a slider interface for most image adjustment tools. Here you see basic exposure adjustment palettes for (from l to r), Capture One Pro 7, DxO Optics Pro 8 and Lightroom 4.

Both Capture One Pro 7 and Lightroom 4 provide smooth real-time updates to the image preview as you drag a slider. DxO Optics Pro 8, on the other hand, not only incurs a brief delay when dragging a slider, but the image preview immediately switches to a lower resolution version with visible artifacts, making fine-grained adjustments more difficult to evaluate until you let go of the mouse. Neither does DxO Optics Pro 8 allow you to highlight a slider's corresponding value box to adjust the numbers via your keyboard. Instead you must click on very small up/down arrows to move the value in single increments. Both Capture One Pro and Lightroom 4 allow you the option to move in larger value increments by holding the Shift key while pressing the up/down arrows on your keyboard, a very useful way to quickly make gross adjustments.

Lightroom also offers the handy trick of activating the slider value's number box simply by hovering the mouse anywhere over the slider bar. You can then adjust the value via the up/down arrows on your keyboard.

TWO-WAY TIE: Capture One Pro 7 and Lightroom 4 provide real-time feedback when adjusting sliders.

Localized edits

The ability to restrict edits to specific regions of an image is crucial to many photographers' workflows. Capture One Pro 7 offers this functionality via an adjustment layer interface in which you create and then paint on image masks, a là Photoshop. A full complement of exposure, color correction and sharpening edits can be made in this way. Lightroom 4 bypasses the need for user-created layers, automatically creating a mask each time its localized editing tool is employed. Lightroom 4 also offers the option to apply localized edits, including white balance adjustments, with a graduated filter tool. DxO Optics Pro 8 offers no region-based selective editing tools.

WINNER: Lightroom 4 allows for localized white balance adjustments and automatically creates a layer mask with the Adjustment brush and Graduated filter tools.

Before/after comparisons

Lightroom 4 offers a very efficient and flexible solution to before/after comparisons. With a single keyboard shortcut (Y), you can display a 2-up comparison of the image's current state with its appearance at the time of import. Better still, you can select any editing step in the History panel and set it as the 'before' image state. This means you can compare your current image to any previous editing state, whether it occurred 10 minutes or 10 months ago.

When editing an image it's often useful to compare its current state alongside a previous one.

Capture One Pro 7 allows similar, if less robust functionality. But here, in order to view any side-by-side comparison you must first create a 'variant', Phase One's term for a virtual copy, or metadata-based duplicate of the original image. You can easily make a variant that reflects the image in its original default conversion state, but making a comparison against a more recent edit is only possible if you had the foresight to have created a variant at that earlier point.

DxO Optics Pro 8 lets you view the current image alongside the unedited version without creating a virtual copy. Bafflingly though, this 'before' image has all default corrections disabled, meaning you're comparing your current edits not against the image state you began working on, but alongside one that has every auto feature of the software turned off. It's hard to image a scenario, outside a product demo, where this type of comparison would actually be useful.

WINNER: Lightroom 4 offers a user-defined choice of the 'before' image state.

Batch editing

Edits made to one image can be batch-applied to multiple images, though each application differs in the way these can be applied. All three allow you to create a preset consisting of adjustments you've made to all editing tools or just a user-defined subset of them. But Lightroom 4 and Capture One Pro 7 also give you the option of batch applying edits while avoiding the additional step of creating a preset.

In Lightroom 4's Library and Develop modules, once the source and destination image(s) are selected you can choose to batch-apply some or all of the available edits shown above, all from a single window.

In Capture One Pro 7, there are two distinct methods for applying edits from one image to another, depending on whether you want to copy editing parameters for all adjustment tools or just a subset of them. To batch-apply all adjustments you must first select the source image and copy its adjustments. Then, with another image(s) selected, you paste the adjustments. To apply edits on a per tool basis requires you to select both the source and destination images and click an 'Adjustments Clipboard' icon that is located atop the appropriate tool panel.

WINNER: Lightroom 4 has a unified interface for batch-applying edits for all tools or a subset of them.

UI customization

You can take advantage of a dual-monitor workstation in all three raw converters by displaying the thumbnail view and image preview window on two separate screens.

While DxO Optics Pro 8 and Lightroom 4 have a modular interface, in which tool access is restricted by the currently active tab, Capture One Pro 7 (shown here) lets you move individual palettes so that they float anywhere on either screen and, more importantly, remain accessible no matter which category you select from the Tool Tab Bar (highlighted in red).

WINNER: Capture One Pro 7 allows you to arrange individual tool palettes so they're accessible from any organization, editing or processing tab.

Click here to continue reading our Raw Showdown article...