"It's the workflow that kills me!" I can't tell you how often I hear that comment by a digital photographer. We all know digital photography is fun and rewarding, providing almost instant confirmation that you've either captured some semblance of what you expected or that you did not. That's the fun part. It's the after-the-fact image processing that can be a real time sink and can make digital editing anything but fun.
Notice, I said 'some semblance of what you expected,' because the LCD monitor on the back of your camera cannot be trusted for critical image editing. An image may look well-composed and correctly exposed but may be too soft, either blurred or out-of-focus, to be useful. Even with cameras offering a magnified view of the LCD screen, true sharpness cannot really be determined. You need to do this on a computer monitor where you can see the image at 100%, the actual pixels.

Caption: Photoshop CS's File Browser with an enlarged Preview Window. Although gross editing decisions can be made with the Preview Window, an image cannot be judged for critical sharpness and focus in this way.


Critical editing for sharpness is one of the most tedious tasks of the digital workflow because most software programs will not preview with a 100% view. Let's not confuse a 100% pixel display - where a portion of the image is displayed on the screen at full resolution - with a display of the entire image. Many programs provide a large preview window which shows the full image, including Photoshop in the File Browser, but these programs do not provide a 100% view of the actual pixels. This is analogous to editing slides by projection, where an image may look sharp on a screen but is definitely not when studied under a slide loupe. In the digital age, the 100% view, the Actual Pixel view, replaces your old slide loupe.
In Photoshop, to see a 100% pixel display, you have to open the image. If it's a JPEG file, the image opens immediately and you can click on 'Actual Pixels' in Photoshop's drop down View Menu. If it's a RAW image, you must open the file in Photoshop's RAW converter where you can zoom in to 100% using the zoom tool, or by selecting 100% in the drop down menu in the lower left corner of the display window.

Caption: Photoshop's RAW conversion window. The box around the cobra's head was drawn with the zoom tool and will fill the window with the boxed image when the tool is released. At 100% it will show critical sharpness. You can also get to 100% by selecting 100% from the drop down menu (arrow, lower left).

Caption: The cobra head enlarged in the RAW converter window of Photoshop CS. In the background the entire image is displayed in the Preview Window of the File Browser.

Either way, it is a time-consuming task because it takes a couple of clicks and a few seconds to open up the image to see the 100% view. If you shoot in the RAW mode, as I always do, the time involved in checking for sharpness in Photoshop is extensive. There's got to be a better way … and there is.
Phase One's Capture 1 RAW conversion program (http://www.c1dslr.com) is an absolute time-saver for editing your RAW digital files. Capture 1 resembles the File Browser of Photoshop CS in many ways, with a window of thumbnail images and a larger window that displays the currently selected image. Just as with Photoshop, this large preview window does not provide sufficient resolution to discern critical sharpness. However, you don't have to open the image to check for sharpness.

Caption: Capture 1's layout is similar to Photoshop CS's File Browser, with the exception of the Focus window which displays a 100% view that is used for discerning sharp focus.

Instead, Capture 1 has a Focus window that displays a portion of the image at actual pixel size. There's a drop down menu that provides three options for the size of this window - small, medium, or large, to view the image at 100%. I generally use the medium sized window which gives me more than enough image area to discern sharpness.

Caption: The focus window has three display sizes. Large is illustrated here.

To use the Focus window, click on the Focus tab. I generally keep this tab active until I've edited all of my images. Now, move your cursor over the Preview Window. An Eyedropper icon appears. Click, and the Eyedropper icon changes to a white rectangle that frames the area that appears in the Focus Window. You can move that box around the image to check for critical sharpness in several areas.
If an image is sharp, hit the Down Arrow on your keyboard and scroll to the next image. If the image is soft, click the Delete button and the image is sent to the Trash. Granted, there are some clicks involved - selecting the area for sharpness and clicking to advance to the next image, but the process is fast and editing goes swiftly, far faster than going through Photoshop's Raw conversion window.
Capture 1 is designed for use with RAW files. It is not much use if you only shoot JPEG files. But should you? I'd suggest you did not, unless your primary concern was getting as many images as possible onto your memory card, since a RAW file is generally about three times larger than a JPEG file.
So why shoot RAW files? RAW files capture all the data available without interpretation or compression, similar in some ways to how your eyes record a scene. With a RAW file you can adjust the color temperature and the white balance and to some extent exposure. That's not to say that an incorrectly exposed image can be made perfect, for you should always remember the adage, 'Garbage In, Garbage Out,' but an exposure that's off by a stop or so can generally be salvaged quite well during a RAW conversion. I think of the RAW mode as an insurance policy - if I make an error in exposure or I have the wrong white balance I have a good chance I can correct my mistake. Also, in RAW, I'm working with a 16 bit file which contains far more information than a JPEG file can offer.
Capture 1 is more than a RAW editor. It is also a RAW converter that will convert, or develop as it is called in Capture 1, an image to a TIFF or to one of three file sizes of JPEG. Exposures can be tweaked by 2.5 f-stops in either direction, and color corrections can be made in several ways. Images can be batch renamed and batch developed as well, at least in the Pro version of the program.
There are three versions of Capture 1 with increasing levels of sophistication and added features. The stripped down and least expensive version is Capture 1 SE. More advanced features are included in Capture 1 LE. Both can be upgraded to the souped up version, Capture 1 Pro. All offer what I consider the most valuable feature, the focus check I just described, and all offer exposure control and conversion to usable files.

Caption: Capture 1's Exposure Window showing the histogram in the Level's tab.

My Digital Darkroom Workflow begins in Capture 1 where I check focus and cull the images that are poorly composed or out-of-focus. The images I know I'll want to convert to a TIFF are tagged. If necessary I'll tweak exposure for the tagged images in Capture 1's Exposure window by moving the exposure slider and I'll adjust contrast in the Levels and Curves box. Unlike Photoshop, where I'd have to wait to proceed to the next image as the one I'm working on is converted, in Capture 1 I can make my adjustments, click on the Develop tab and process the image while I work on the next one. Capture 1 processes images 'behind the scene,' so you're free to work on more images while the conversions are taking place. In Photoshop, it's one image at a time.

Caption: When the editing is completed, and all the changes and tweaking is completed, Capture 1 will develop the selected images either individually or in a batch.

Capture 1 remembers the changes made to each image so if I wish I can wait until I've tweaked an entire group before selecting several images or an entire folder for a batch conversion. After the images are converted, I continue my workflow in Photoshop CS, but often there's little left to do except adding some final resizing, sharpening, and cropping of the image for my intended use.
I didn't realize how dependent I was upon Capture 1's editing capabilities until I bought my EOS 1D Mark II before it was supported by Capture 1. For a couple of weeks I was forced to edit my RAW files in Photoshop, after pulling my hair out trying to use Canon's proprietary conversion program. Fortunately, I received the upgrade that supports the camera in Capture 1 before I made a two week trip to Brazil's Pantanal where I shot as many as 10 gigs of images a day! With Capture 1 I had the entire collection edited before I returned home, working during the mid-day siesta or after dinner. I'm sure I'd still be editing if I was using Photoshop.
I was lucky enough to have a friend tell me about Capture 1 when I was whining about how difficult it was to edit my RAW images. I downloaded a two-week trial version and I've been hooked ever since. As my friend did for me, I'm compelled to pass on the news … if you shoot RAW, you must try Capture 1. You will love it.