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Capture One vs. Lightroom 2020

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We compare Capture One vs. Lightroom on some of the key features that might make a difference to the picky photographer. Do you want to use the best RAW image editor and digital asset manager for your images? We have taken a closer look at two of the best options. Because Lightroom is bundled with Photoshop, you also need to compare some of the essential features between Capture One vs Photoshop, unless you want to pay for both subscriptions.

Photo editing has been a natural extension to the photography process since the dawn of photography itself. Before entering the digital era, photographers would spend hours developing film in the darkroom, then projecting it on photo paper, hoping they achieved the desired effects.

Although, there are still plenty of people who shoot on film chances are most of us shoot digitally for the most part. Even more so – we depend on editing software to replace the “darkroom” for tweaking our shots after we’re done shooting. Funnily enough, one of the most popular RAW converters out there is Adobe’s Lightroom. And it has been the leading product on the market for years. 

What I’ve been noticing recently though, is that more and more colleagues turn to alternatives for their RAW processing and specifically – towards Capture One Pro.

Capture One has been on the market for more than a decade, however, in recent years it catches up to the functionality of Lightroom has become a favorite photo editor for professional photographers. I think it’s safe to say that perhaps it is the best competitor of the popular software. Be that as it may, there are still a lot of things to have in mind when deciding which one can suit your needs the best, with some serious pros and cons for Lightroom and Capture One. 

In this article I’ll outline the top features that differentiate both applications and how can they boost your workflow. What I’ll leave to you is to weigh the information and hopefully, help you make an informed decision. 

Capture One vs Lightroom

Cataloging and Digital Asset Management

Capture One vs. Lightroom: cataloging

Capture One vs. Lightroom - image management

Aside all the RAW processing power both products offer, a big part of digital asset management is the ability to catalog, filter, rate and sort all your digital images. While objectively good at it, both applications have their own specific way of doing things.

Like Lightroom, Capture One can open files from your hard drive(s) and work on them directly without moving them anywhere, however. Capture One also has a “Session” option, which creates a project like file called a “Session” and a few folders to contain your captures, selects, outputs and trash.

Sessions are typically used for a per-shoot basis like client assignments where you want to sort, select and output the images loaded into the session, without wanting to access them regularly. Catalogs are more designed for containing your entire body of photographic work. In Capture One you can also work with a combination of both sessions and catalogs.

I’d say sessions are pretty neat when shooting tethered, working on a single project or actually working first in a session and then simply importing it in your catalog.

Capture One also features the standard Digital Asset Management (DAM) tools to help you categorize your images in folders, albums, smart albums, searching filters, and keywords. But you can find those pretty much in all organizational software pieces. 

Capture One interface and folder hierarchy when shooting in Sessions.
Capture One Sessions folder hierarchy.

Now, when we start talking about exporting from the catalog things get more interesting. They both have what you’d expect – naming files, output location, output sharpening, resolution, quality, etc.

capture one vs lightroom - export features

BUT something super useful Capture One has more than Lightroom is the process recipes. It’s not that in Lightroom you can’t make your own export presets and chose them from the menu. However, in Capture One you can select multiple recipes to run at the same time. Yes, It might load a bit more, but it will execute all of the desired output settings in one click of a button. I find that really useful when exporting for different social media channels or providing clients with full-size images for print and images for their social media.

On top of that, there’s the proofing mode which lets you actually see what the exported image is going to look like, so you can take into account things like output sharpening. 

Capture One Process Recipes menu
Capture One Process Recipes menu. Here you can mark more than one and execute at the same time.

While Lightroom gives you a bit more freedom when applying watermarks and/or logos on top of the exports I feel like I had everything I’d need when testing Capture One as well.

Something really clever Capture One is the annotations. They’re pretty much only usable for when somebody else is editing your image, so they can see your guides, but what I was impressed by is that when you export an image with annotations in PSD to be used in Photoshop it exports the annotations in a separate layer which you can toggle on and off in PS. 

Capture One Layers vs. Adjustment Brush in Lightroom

And while we’re on the topic of layers… With the release of Capture One Pro 12, Phase One introduced layers which pretty much work as you’d expect – opacity slider, rename option, copying masks between layers, inverting masks and all that. Everything you do is completely nondestructive.

Lightroom has the adjustment points for its gradient, radial masks, and the adjustment brush, but it’s not quite the same. Moreover, now you can apply styles (equal to presets in Lightroom) to layers and tweak the opacity for lower intensity. This is something much requested from Lightroom for years, but for now, it seems like we won’t be getting that luxury. It is a bit strange though that Adobe doesn’t seem to follow the same photo editing principles in both Lightroom and Photoshop. It would definitely make sense to make layers available in Lightroom as well.

Something you can do to mimic that effect in Lightroom though is getting Capture Monkey’s plug-in – the Fader. It works in a similar fashion as a layer, but just for presets. 

Capture One vs. Lightroom: color editing

Something else Capture One offers is the creation of masks from selections through the color editor and the use of refine edge tools. Both applications offer gradual filters and with version 12, Capture one introduced radial filter just like the one in Lightroom.

With Capture One Pro 12, Phase One introduced the Luma Range tool. This tool really saves you a lot of time, since it allows you to limit your masks to certain luminosity ranges in your image and only work on them. This is a really powerful tool, because it gives you the option to copy those adjustments across all images from the same shoot with similar light conditions, regardless if your subject moved or the composition changed!

Lightroom Gradual Filter applied.
A graduated filter in Lightroom. All the adjustments made in Lightroom are displayed as grey dots on the picture and there’s no way to name them, so you have to click individually to see which is what.

As I mentioned, Lightroom’s way of things is just different. You paint your adjustments with a filter or a brush. If you want to go back and correct things – you can with the only real downside being that you cannot name the adjustments. It’s only an issue if you have a lot of adjustments.

Color Editing Capabilities: Capture One vs Lightroom

Color has always been a subjective topic when it comes to photography and photo editing. Adobe is the leader in the image editing and processing software, so their color game is top-notch, but Capture One is developed by Phase One.

Phase One is not just a software company. They are a camera manufacturer company and one that produces top of the range medium format cameras. Basically, Capture One is a software developed by photographers for photographers. And here you can feel the difference already. Capture One uses image color profiles designed for each specific camera model. You can switch between those ICC profiles and the different Curves they offer or choose the Linear Response which is your true RAW file, without any adjustments added by the camera what so ever.

Lightroom’s HSL Sliders vs. Capture One’s Color Editor Wheels

We all know the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminosity) tool that Lightroom has for editing colors within your image. It has a few different modes of display and is especially a group of sliders for each of the main colors – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Aqua, Blue, Purple, and Magenta. With those sliders, you can adjust the values of these colors changing their intensity, lightness, and hue. Something very useful Lightroom offers is the HSL color picker which allows you to alter colors with directly clicking and dragging on the picture. 

Capture One vs. Lightroom: HSL sliders in Lightroom

Capture One, on the other hand, has the Color Editor, which is more or less the same thing with the main difference being it is visually presented as a color wheel.

The Basic Color Editor offers pre-selected colors to edit just like the HSL but divided into fewer colors. You can choose to edit the Green, Yellow-Orange, Red, Magenta-Purple, Blue, and Aqua. But here comes the advantage of the Color Editor.

In the Advanced tab, you can use the color picker to select the color you wish to edit and narrow it down with smoothness and then change the Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. Moreover, there is an option to make everything else black and white, showing you only what you’ve selected. And if that’s not enough you can actually first paint a mask over the image and edit colors only within the range of that mask.

Capture One Advanced Color Editor tool.
Advanced Color Editor in Capture One. Capture One also has the ability to have floating window for every feature it offers.

The third tab of the Color Editor in Capture One is called “Skin Tone” and it is designed to edit, well, skin tone. By selecting the desired skin color in your image you can then use the uniformity slider to make the rest of the skin tones more like the one you’ve selected and then, of course, edit it just like you’d edit any other color. This really helps with removing some colored skin spots and differences in hue on the skin. But the best part is that you can get really creative and actually use the uniformity slider on any other color you wish. 

When comparing Capture One vs Lightroom, I dare not say which software is better in editing RAW images, they both have their pros and cons. However, overall Capture One offers more in-depth color editing and finer refinement tools.

A very big advantage for Lightroom is the popularity of the software. If you’re one of the people who fancy presets and you don’t mind spending an extra buck on a few – the market is saturated with options. Building up a collection of Lightroom presets can really speed up your workflow. While Capture One has their equivalent – styles, the feature is still pretty new, and not that many options have popped up for sale, yet.

What About Customization?

Lightroom workspaces.

For better or for worse, when it comes to customization Lightroom has been known to almost not have any option, with very few things you can move around, show or hide. Lightroom looks like it has always looked. Definitely, a perk if, for example, you share your computer with someone else, as everything will always look the same.

Capture One is the opposite. Customizable everything. You can change the default workspaces, put tools anywhere on the screen and even duplicate tools to create new custom tools.

A prime example of that is the curves tool. In Capture One you can duplicate the curves tool twice and have a Red, Green and Blue curve at the same time showing each color separate and with their individual values. 

On top of that, you can also change the shortcuts and create your own workflow by changing the default values for each tool you use.

But like I said, if I sit on your computer and open your Capture One I’d probably be lost for a while, because of all the customization decisions you’ve made to suit your flow. 

Plugin Support

Before making a switch from Lightroom to Capture One, it is also worth considering if you are dependent on specific plugins. The plugin support for Capture One only came with Capture One Pro 12. Therefore the number of plugins for Capture One is still fairly limited.

If you want to automatically upload client images to an online portfolio or client photo galleries as the final step of your image editing workflow, you are limited to using Format. Neither Smugmug, Photoshelter, or Zenfolio offers plugins for Capture One Pro yet.

Capture One vs. Photoshop

Since Lightroom bundles with Photoshop and you likely want to avoid paying for both subscriptions, it makes sense also to take a look at Capture One vs. Photoshop when you consider switching from Lightroom to Capture One. Although I know many photographers who do have both Capture One and Photoshop. They prefer to use Capture One for their digital asset management instead of Lightroom.

In itself, it doesn’t make sense to compare Capture One with Photoshop. They use two different approaches to photo editing. But what would you miss out on if you only had Capture One and not Photoshop? And which features are covered by Capture One? We only look at the features relevant for photographers and not graphic designers in this comparison. 

Clone Tool

With Capture One 20 (May update), some new tools were introduced. This includes a new clone tool, which replaces the need to take a roundtrip to Photoshop for cloning out artifacts. Like the clone tool in Photoshop, Capture One’s clone tool also requires a source point. You can set by holding down the Alt or Option key. Your clone work will automatically end up on a separate layer. This allows you to undo everything or change the opacity and so on with a few clicks. Note that a clone tool is not available in Lightroom.

Heal Tool

The healing tool is also a new addition to Capture One in May 2020. It works as expected, just like in Photoshop, and does a great job. In most cases, this tool also saves you a roundtrip to Photoshop. It is a welcomed addition to Capture One. It makes it much easier to do without Photoshop if you want to avoid paying for both Capture One and Photoshop.

Select Color Range

A popular selection tool in Photoshop is the Select Color Range tool. Many Capture One users don’t realize that this feature also exists in Capture One. You can do this in the Color Editor (Advanced Tab). Just select a color range using the color picker tool and click on the action menu (…). Next, choose Create Layer Mask From Selection.

Capture One vs Photoshop: Select Color Range in Capture One

Exposure Blending

If you work with landscape or architecture photography, you will miss being able to blend several exposures into a single image. Even though Capture One has both layers and masks, you cannot load another image as a new layer and then blend these two images using luminosity masks or regular masking tools. Capture One also lacks automatic HDR blending tools like you find in both Lightroom and Photoshop. I would prefer that Capture One included a way to manually blend exposures rather than an automated HDR tool that guesses which areas you want to blend.

Panorama Stitching

Another feature relevant to landscape photographers is panorama stitching, which is also missing from Capture One. You can argue that this is a specialized tool, that doesn’t belong in a RAW processor. However, both Lightroom and Photoshop have tools for creating panorama images. An alternative to buying a Photoshop subscription is to use Affinity Photo for this instead.

Focus Merge

Macro and product photographers won’t find a tool for focus stacking shots in Capture One. Instead, they have to rely on other tools like, i.e., Photoshop or Helicon Focus. There is a Helicon Focus plugin for Capture One. However, Helicon Focus cannot align your images for you when merging images. This makes handheld focus stacking impossible. 

Add Text and Effects to Images

Occasionally photographers want to add a bit of text overlay on their images. A wedding photographer might want to add a bit of text on the cover image for the photo package they deliver to a client. However, Capture One lacks tools for adding text as it is a pure RAW processor. 

Price Tag: Capture One vs Lightroom

Adobe Apps prices screenshot.

When comparing two products we must definitely pay attention to the price of them as well. Here things get more confusing, however.

In 2017 Adobe created a fork and introduced two versions of the software. One is the same old Lightroom we know but without a perpetual license. The other is the Lightroom CC based on creative cloud storage. They are both very much alike and very much different, but that could be a whole article in itself.  

The important thing is that you can now only subscribe to the software. Depending on what option you want you can choose between:

Adobe Lightroom + 1TB Cloud Storage for $9.99

Adobe Lightroom + Photoshop + 20 GB Cloud Storage for $9.99

Adobe Lightroom + Photoshop + 1TB Cloud Storage for $19.99

And those are all pretty good prices for what you get, especially when it comes with Photoshop attached. 

Capture One licenses can be even more confusing. PhaseOne offers perpetual licenses, subscriptions, and different versions with support for Sony or Fuji cameras only. Meaning you can get the Pro version with support for all the camera profiles they have. If you only use Sony, Fuji, or Nikon – you can save a few dollars with a license only for one of these specific camera brands. You can see the full Capture One pricing options here: 

Capture One Pro Perpetual License for €349 (no subscription). Approx. $393

Annual monthly plan for €24 (Approx. $27) or €220 (Approx. $247) when prepaid. Monthly for 29 Euro / Aprrox. $33.

Alternatively, the Sony/Fuji/Nikon versions are:

Perpetual License for €149 / Approx. $169. You can find monthly paid plans specifically for Nikon/Sony/Fuji as well at €11 per month if you prepay yearly (approx. $13).

Capture One vs Lightroom

Why You Might Want to use Lightroom Instead of Capture One?

Capture One is Expensive

Let’s face it. Capture One is more expensive vs Lightroom, specially if you have cameras from multiple brands. Plus you don’t even have Photoshop without the Lightroom subscription. So you need to weigh if the extra professional tools of Capture One is worth the higher price point. After all, if you are like most photographers, you will do 90% of your editing in Lightroom / Capture One and not in Photoshop. However, many photographers would hate to let go of Photoshop. Even though a good photo editor like Affinity Photo might be able to replace Photoshop for your needs. However, Capture One does have special prices if you only need it for a single camera brand like Nikon, Fuji, or Sony.

Capture One doesn’t have a history panel

The history panel in Lightroom is handy for going back to a specific point in your photo editing process. Capture One lets you undo edits, of course, but you cannot see a list of the latest edits so that you can go back to a specific point. Capture One lets you reset every tool separately or reset all the edits you have done to your photo. It is flexible, but not the same as having a history panel.

No panorama and HDR tools in Capture One.

For landscape photographers, this is a big drawback. They would expect a photo editor to stitch a set of photos into a panorama or merge exposure bracketed photos into an HDR. Without these tools, you have to use other programs, like Photoshop, which you will lose, if you cancel your LR/PS subscription. The panorama and HDR tools in Lightroom even generate DNG files as the output for the panorama and HDR image instead of large TIFF files.

More Lightroom Presets Available vs. Capture One Styles

There are more presets available for Lightroom. However, there are great offers for Capture One styles on the market as well. This is, of course, only a drawback if you have a workflow that relies on presets. If you have invested a lot of money in a preset system for Lightroom, this will, of course, hold you back from making a switch to Capture One. Just remember that you don’t need hundreds of Capture One styles or Lightroom presets. You only need good ones that match your photo editing style and inspirational needs.

Max Adjustment Strength

Lightroom’s max adjustment strength of most tools is stronger vs. the tools in Capture One. On some occasions, you need to max out the effect of a tool. Here Lightroom has the upper hand, even though Capture One is not much behind. Most of the time, at 100% strength, any effect will produce unnatural looking results. So this is definitely not a big issue.

Lightroom is a Bit Easier to Learn Than Capture One – If You Are a Beginner

If you are looking for your first RAW processor, Lightroom is easier to learn compared to Capture One. Capture One is flexible and targeted for professional photographers, who want control of every aspect of the post-processing workflow. Therefore it is also a bit more difficult to learn from scratch, but not by much. More learning material and resources are available for Lightroom vs. for Capture One.

Why You Would Want to Switch to Capture One

Capture One Has Layers

You can use layers in Capture One but not in Lightroom. In Lightroom, you are limited to the adjustment points that separate the different local adjustments you make with brushes and gradient tools. Once you have created a small number of local adjustment points in Lightroom, editing starts to get slower and lag when you use the brush tool. Working with layers and local adjustments in Capture One is a different league altogether. You can apply almost every adjustment you would want to layers, instead of being confined to changing only basic adjustments in Lightroom. Many photographers have, over the years, pointed out layers to be a much needed and lacking feature in Lightroom. It is also much easier to tone down the adjustments by changing the opacity of the layer or toggling it on/off. This is one of the areas where Capture One is far better than Lightroom.

Capture One Styles are More Flexible Than Lightroom Presets

Using styles in Capture One is also more flexible vs. Presets in Lightroom. Because of the possibility to add styles to layers in Capture One and the ability to stack multiple styles, you will find more ways to use styles in Capture One than you can for presets in Lightroom. With layers, you can lower the opacity of applied styles, limit the effect by using layer masks. This opens up for a whole new level of creativity when it comes to using presets and styles.

Capture One’s Interface is More Flexible

Capture One’s interface is generally better than Lightroom for advanced photographers. The customizable keyboard shortcuts let you create the shortcuts that fit your particular workflow. You can even mimic the shortcuts from Lightroom if you want to make the transition easier. You can customize the layout of Capture One to your needs. It is also possible to add or remove panels to all tabs in Capture One. As you can see further up in the article, you can split up the curves adjustment tool into three and place them on the tab where you usually want to adjust these settings.

Spot Healing Tool Generally Works Better in Capture One

Spot healing works better in Capture One. The first thing you will notice when using spot healing for larger areas is that Capture One doesn’t have the same lag and delay as you experience in Lightroom. You will also appreciate that the spot healing points don’t overlap as they do in Lightroom, where it can be challenging to grab the right healing point if you want to modify it. One of the most important points about spot healing is that the result looks better in Capture One.

Save Default Values for Anything

Capture One allows you to save default values for almost anything. Not only that, you can save default values for each tool in the interface for each camera you use. This can be a big time saver when using different cameras.

Performance: Capture One is generally faster than Lightroom

Performance is generally better in Capture One. You won’t sit waiting in front of your computer waiting for Capture One to load the next image (if you chose the right preview size under preferences). In terms of performance and speed comparing Capture One vs. Lightroom, you will find that Lightroom is the slower one. It often lags when browsing images, which is not the case with Capture One. Also, during preview generation after importing photos, you will likely notice that Capture One is considerably faster.

Focus Mask

One of the really awesome things in Capture One is its focus mask feature. When you enable the focus mask, a mask overlay will appear, showing which areas are in focus. This saves you a wast amount of time switching between photos to find out which one is the sharpest. The focus mask even works while browsing in grid mode or comparing images side by side, showing a focus mask for each image.

Loupe Tool

Another cool feature is the Loupe tool, which allows you to magnify the area you hover over to 100%. The Loupe tool also works from grid view, in browser mode, or on a single image. It saves you a lot of time, of opening an image, zooming into 100% to check its sharpness or details, and then closing it again. With the Loupe tool, you can just hover over the area you want to see at 100%.

Heal and Clone Tools

The new heal and clone tools in Capture One 20 make it less likely that you will have to take your image into Photoshop to remove complex artifacts or objects from your images.

Before and After Viewer Even in Browser Mode

In the 2020 May update, Capture One introduced a new before and after viewer. It allows you to see your image before and after your enhancements. However, Capture One takes this a step further by allowing you to compare multiple images before and after at the same time.

Output to Multiple File-types In One Single Process

Process recipes is another Capture One feature for handling exporting / output processing tasks that wins over Lightroom’s export feature. With process recipes, you can set up Capture One export to multiple formats at the same time. If you want to export your images for social media use, a website, print, and export the original file in the same process, you only have to check these different formats. You need to set them up for the first time and save them as a process recipe, of course, but after that, it is incredibly flexible and time-saving. An additional benefit of the export feature is better output sharpening option, outputting to different locations, and even recipe-proofing the output result at 100% before pressing the Process button. When comparing Capture One vs. Lightroom for output or export options Capture One is again ahead of Lightroom.

Default Image Quality is a Little Bit Better in Capture One versus Lightroom

Straight from the camera, your images will look slightly better in Capture One, with a little more saturation, and with more vivid colors. It is only a tiny bit, but you will feel like a better photographer. However, this might not be your preferred starting point for editing your photos. This is about how Lightroom and Capture One decide to interpret your RAW files, and it might also be a bit matter of taste.

Even though there is no consensus about it, a lot of photographers who make a switch from Lightroom to Capture One, end up saying that they perceive the image quality to be better in Capture One. Especially photographers using Fuji cameras report that Capture One renders Fuji x-trans images much better than Adobe Lightroom does.

Is Capture One Better Than Lightroom?

In short, YES. The long answer is that it probably depends on how you prefer to edit your photos. Lightroom is simpler vs. Capture One, where you get more control of almost every aspect of the photo editing workflow. If you want a photo editor, where you can go more in-depth with controlling different aspects of the photo editing process, like culling, colors, masking, sharpness, and output settings, then Capture One is a better fit for your photo editing workflow.

Capture One is likely a better choice for advanced and professional users. It is also a bit more expensive if you need a license that can handle several camera brands. If you only need a license for either Fuji, Nikon, or Sony, then the price becomes somewhat similar.

As you can see, it’s pretty tough deciding between Capture One vs. Lightroom. In a lot of scenarios Capture One feels more superior than Lightroom including color editing, tethering, and exporting images. However, in most cases, you might still need the use of Photoshop after that and then the Lightroom + Photoshop plan might seem more lucrative. So when you compare Capture One vs. Lightroom and Capture One vs. Photoshop, the decision might become a bit more complex, if you often find yourself using Photoshop a lot. Are you also ready to switch from Photoshop, and move to an alternative like Affinity Photo?

Lightroom offers a lot more plugins and third-party software add-ons, presets, HDR merging, and panorama stitching. You get even more options when you consider the features that you get with Photoshop. These features are still poorly presented or non-existent in Capture One. 

Capture One feels more modern in a way. It is customizable, more color oriented, with advanced exporting options which allow you to export different sizes and resolutions at the same time. Capture One includes an application for your mobile which allows you to rate images, remote control your camera and what-not. 

Find the Best Option for You: Capture 1 or Lightroom

In any case, both software products are the best at what they do and at the end of the day, the best one is the one you feel more comfortable using. Actually one of the best ways to find out is by downloading a free trial of each and get a little experience of using each.

Adobe Lightroom Free Trial Download

Capture One Free Trial Download

Author Details

Hey, my name is Krassy Dimitrov. I’m a commercial photographer based in Bulgaria. Among the things I like shooting you’ll see a lot of travel, product, wedding and portrait photography. I’m also an author and contributor to the ever-growing Photography-RAW website here. 

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Hey, my name is Krassy Dimitrov. I’m a commercial photographer based in Bulgaria. Among the things I like shooting you’ll see a lot of travel, product, wedding and portrait photography. I’m also an author and contributor to the ever-growing Photography-RAW website here. 

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