Capture One, Silver Efex, and Photoshop

I tend to not jump from one workflow to another too often, because every software package has its own learning curve, language, and quirks. It can be frustrating to learn how to do something in one program and then relearn it in another (along with different menu settings, key commands, ect.)

That being said, sometimes it can be worthwhile to compare different software or processes to see if there is something that could further improve image and, more importantly, print quality. 

Final version with the Capture 1 export, Silver Efex B&W conversion, and Photoshop contrast/burning and dodging controls. 

I had been using Lightroom 3 for developing of raw files since 2010, and was fine for my mirrorless Sony Nex camera. I then got the new Nikon and have been relying on that more than shooting MF film/drum scanning. Now I needed an updated RAW converter that supported the new camera and was still able to support OS 10.6.8 (long story).

Capture One Pro vs Lightroom

Fortunately Capture One 7 can run on Snow Leopard. I think Capture 1 is a little clunky and the "development" stage can be unintuitive. At first I was simply converting the NEF to DNG with Capture 1, and then imported and developed as normal in Lightroom.

When I compared exported tiffs processed in Lightroom to those processed in Capture 1, the later were all sharper, with less apparent sharpening artifacts, along with better contrast and mid-tone separation.

After lots of testing, I found that while the initial de-mosaic processing of Capture 1 is actually better, but the black and white conversion isn't as good as what I am able to achieve in either Lightroom or Photoshop. I tried making multiple cloned variants with different B&W conversion settings to later mask out and blend in photoshop. None of that was as good as the B&W conversion done with Lightroom or exporting a full color tiff to convert Photoshop. 

Local Adjustments

Capture One and Lightroom both have the ability to make local adjustments to the raw files before exporting, and I think capture one does it slightly better. It uses what are effectively adjustment layers and the ability to paint in the amount of adjustment. Lightroom does the same, but with adjustment brushes, that are not as easy to control (or figure out how much of an adjustment you are making). I prefer to use these tools to get the general lightness and darkness and contrast balanced, or local clarity increases in the this stage. Any additional tonal corrections and adjustments are then made in Photoshop, where adjustment layers and masks make this process easier/faster/more intuitive.   

Capture One Pro vs. Silver Efex Pro vs. Photoshop

Its is no secret that I really don't like plug-ins. Most of the adjustments a plugin like Silver Efex or Topaz Labs black and white can do can be done with photoshop with an adjustment layer or two.

I also don't like the idea of "film emulation" profiles. Film's grain structure is byproduct of film technology and chemical reactions, no matter how good the algorithms are, they can't recreate the structure of film grain—all it does is introduce digital noise. 

However, after multiple tests of this image using different conversion techniques, modifying the default settings within Silver Efex Pro seems to have a slight advantage over some of the techniques I've used in the past.

I will go into detailed workflows of some those black and white conversions with Capture 1, Silver Efex, and Photoshop in a future post. Until then, here are some screenshots comparing those different techniques. 

Top: Capture 1 processing, color export and B&W conversion with Silver Efex
Bottom: Capture 1 processing and B&W conversion

I have included some 100% screen shots showing the difference in tonal separation and sharpness. Some of the deficiencies of the other conversions can be overcome with additional contrast control in Photoshop, but I still feel is it better to get it as good as possible before extensive dodging and burning/contrast control later on.  

Left: Color Capture 1 export and Photoshop Black and White Adjustment Layer Conversion
Right: Capture 1 Black and White Conversion and Export

Left: Color Capture 1 export and Silver Efex Pro Conversion
Right: Capture 1 Black and White Conversion and Export

Left: Color Capture 1 export and Photoshop Black and White Adjustment Layer Conversion
Right:Color Capture 1 export and Silver Efex Pro Conversion 

The Verdict

Well the verdict is still out. Some of the benefits of Silver Efex are the ability to define the emulation of the films spectral sensitivity in conjunction with color filtration, as well as changing the contrast curve of the "film". Most of the built in settings clip the shadows so I would not recommend using blind presets. The other contributing factor that might give Silver Efex the "edge" is the ability to increase the structure settings, which seem to give a different result than an additional sharpening layer and settings when employing a photoshop B&W conversion layer.