Capture One vs. Lightroom

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. We compare Capture One vs. Lightroom on some of the key features that might make a difference to the picky photographer.

Image 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 “dark room” 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 and 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.

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.

Capture One Pro 12 also 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 you subject moved or 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. 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, because 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 presets can really speed up your workflow and 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. 

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 now and 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 and depending on what option you want you can choose between:

Lightroom + 1TB cloud for $9.99

Lightroom + Photoshop + 20 GB Cloud for $9.99

Lightroom + Photoshop + 1TB for $19.99

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

Capture One can be even more confusing with having 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 or if you shoot only Sony or Fuji – save a few dollars with picking up support only for their camera profiles. Your options here are: 

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

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

Alternatively, the Sony/Fuji versions are:

Perpetual for €249 / Approx. $280. You can find monthly paid plans specifically for Sony/Fuji as well.

Concluding words

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 when it comes to 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.

Lightroom offers a lot more plugins and third-party software add-ons, presets, HDR merging and panorama stitching all of which are still poorly presented or non-existent in Capture One. 

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

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. 

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. 


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. 

Capture One vs. Lightroom

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