A Future of Capture One for iPhone

29 Oct 2023 ∞

When Capture One announced they were releasing Capture One for iPhone a lot of digital techs rolled their eyes. Why would we want to tether to a phone? The marketing didn't offer a compelling reason, instead mostly featuring "influencers" with knotted up orange cables, seemingly another example of how Capture One had forgotten its core professional users.

While I'm sure there are situations where a photographer might find this useful, say out in the wilderness and wanting to pack light, in studio or on location with a crew it makes little sense. I don't think it's constructive to focus on the ways Capture One (the mobile app) isn't a fit for commercial workflows, of which there are many. Instead I'd like to explore how Capture One (the core technology) can be leveraged on a mobile device to help working digital techs.

Wireless tethering, as it exists today, is useless. RAW files are too big, Wi-Fi bandwidth is too low. There are solutions to transfer JPGs for preview but those aren't the real photos, so there's little point in organizing and adjusting them because you'll have to do it all again when you import the RAW files later. What you'd want is to only send a better preview image, not just a JPG, but something more representative of the RAW data. A file that you could organize and adjust: a proxy for the future RAW file. As it happens, Capture One already has such a file1, and with some changes to the way the iPhone app works it could offer a compelling wireless tethering solution.

The mobile app would act as a wireless bridge between camera and computer. It would advertise itself (and thus a connected camera2) to other Capture One session, where it would appear in the list of available cameras. The user can then select this remote camera the same way as any other camera connected via USB or wirelessly and be able to shoot as normal, with a few changes to the workflow.

When a photo is taken Capture One on the phone will render a proxy file and send that3 to the host session, keeping the RAW file either on the camera's card or downloading it to the phone as a normal tethered image. The comparatively small proxy files should be easy to send in real time as images come in. If the network go offline the phone can continue caching proxies to send them upon reconnection.

A digital tech's workflow largely stays the same: setting capture folders, naming files, adjusting images, tagging plates, etc. All of these operations would be done to the proxy files alone in a similar manor to working with offline images stored on an external drive. When it comes time to offload the images to the main session they'd be linked up to their proxies, copied into place, and the photos would come online.

The minimal app wouldn't need to do much besides render proxies, but there's no reason it couldn't also be more active in the session; after all modern iPhones are clearly up to the task of running Capture One, as evidenced by the fact they run Capture One. With a little bit of two-way communication the mobile app could reflect the adjustments made in the host session to apply next capture adjustments or adjustments made after the fact. The file organization could also be reflected, to help keep everyone on the same page.

Some of this could also serve as the core for a revamped Capture Pilot. With one session acting as a server many clients could connect, either as remote cameras or viewers. Leveraging the permission structure of Capture One Live these client sessions could have varying capabilities tailored for the needs of the specific user. A distributed Capture One would offer unparalleled flexibility for different types of workflows: an art director could make selects from a separate computer; clients can review images as they come in on an iPad; a food stylist could shoot from set; multi-set shoots could share a session, organizing files centrally.

There are a lot of interesting possibilities for how Capture One can grow to be a multi-platform application. New platforms need to enable those of us in the commercial photo industry to expand our workflows, not abandon them. The recent, greatly needed, improvements to Capture One Live are a fantastic example of how to enable new workflows that weren't possible before. Hopefully Capture One for iPhone can similarly open new doors in the future.

  1. The proxy file was even improved in 16.3

  2. Or the phone's camera, if that's your cup of tea.

  3. It could be worth having an option to send the RAW file, accepting the tradeoffs, for cases where you need it like when focus stacking.