I’ve been a longtime fan of Capture One DSLR for processing camera RAW files, but there are a couple things missing from it, and some features that it used to have that have disappeared in newer versions. I had tried Pixmantec’s RAW Shooter Essentials when it first came out, and found that I just didn’t like the feel of it. However, I decided to give RSE a more thorough tryout to see what it could offer me.

The one thing I noticed right away is that RSE feels fast. It is constantly updating the preview of your image as you make changes, even while you move your mouse up and down a menu. It doesn’t wait for you to let go of the mouse before updating the preview. This is a very nice feature because you don’t have to keep clicking over and over to see what a change is going to do to your image.

The screen layout of RSE is very flexible too. Unlike C1, all image adjustments to exposure and white balance can be made on a single “Task Panel” on the right. C1 splits these jobs up into several different tabs on the right side, so it can be cumbersome flipping between them. RSE’s Task Panel has sliders for adjusting white balance, exposure, contrast, saturation, tint, sharpness, detail extraction, and noise suppression. The RGB histogram is always visible and updated in real time at the bottom of the panel. The sliders are more flexible than C1 as well. There are separate highlight and shadow contrast settings, which give a very fine level of control to the finished image, especially in highly contrasty photos like mine. You can make similar highlight contrast adjustments with curves in C1, but it doesn’t seem as intuitive or controllable.

RSE also has the option of moving the thumbnails to the left, right, top or bottom of the screen. You can also pull a slider to change the size of the thumbnails, or turn them off entirely, which allows you to easily control how much space they take up. You can sort the thumbnails into three different groups. This is similar to C1’s image tagging function, but is quicker and more flexible since there are three groups instead of just one. RSE also remembers which images have been recently processed. C1 forgets this as soon as you view a different folder. This is frustrating if you process images over a period of several days.

The menus at the top of the screen are a bit odd in RSE. They’re represented by icons instead of words. This is not bad, but I prefer to at least have the option of changing the icons to words, so I don’t have to remember which icon means what.

RSE always shows EXIF data, like ISO, focal length, shutter speed and aperture at the bottom of the screen. C1 used to always show this information, but now you have to hold the mouse over a thumbnail to see that info in a popup. It doesn’t make any sense to me to hide this kind of critical information from a photographer, but it has been a source of frustration to me ever since they made the change. RSE seems to lose the EXIF data when converting to JPG. This is a minor annoyance, but one that I hope is corrected in a future version.

Checking focus is easier in RSE than in C1. In C1, there is a separate tab on the right, and you have to click on the image to see a tiny window that shows a preview 100% crop for checking focus. In RSE, you can pull a slider to instantly zoom the preview up to 400% for focus checking. Checking for pixel clipping (zero-data pixels either white from overexposure or black from underexposure) is just a matter of pressing the ctrl-key. It lights up dark pixels in blue, and light pixels in red.

Copying adjustments from one image to a large number of them works similarly to C1. This functionality is what kept me from switching to Adobe Camera RAW. Copying settings in ACR to multiple images was cumbersome. In RSE, you just need to select the source image, then shift-click to select the destination images. You can then apply the adjustments from the source to the destination.

I think RSE is a real force to be reckoned with. Pixmantec has included a lot of features that should be in C1 Pro, as well as having made workflow smoother and more logical. I’m not sure that I’ll immediately switch over to RSE for all of my processing, but the idea is growing on me. Oh, and did I mention, it’s free? Check it out.