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Capture One vs. Lightroom 2021

Do you want to use the best RAW image editor and digital asset manager for your images? We compare Capture One vs. Lightroom on some of the key features that might make a difference to the picky photographer.

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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.

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. 

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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.

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.

Both apps allow you to add tags and star ratings when culling images. However, if you are used to flagging photos in Lightroom, you will miss it, if if you switch to C1.

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. 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 Tool Brush in Lightroom

With the release of Capture One Pro 12, Phase One introduced layers that 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 non-destructive.

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.

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 Features: Capture One Pro 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.

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 whatsoever.

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

We all know the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminosity) color tool for editing in Lightroom. 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.

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.

Capture One vs. Lightroom Tethered Shooting

Most professional photographers prefer Capture One’s capabilities when it comes to tethered shooting. You can apply styles directly to the image you see on the screen before capturing it. You can also send the live view from the camera directly over to the Capture Pilot App letting others see instantly what is happening, and let them rate each shot as well. This is great if your clients are with you in the studio.

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?

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.

Lightroom workspaces.

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 keyboard shortcuts and create your own workflow by changing the default values for each tool you use.

Capture One vs. Lightroom: Image Quality

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.

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.

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.

Is Capture One Hard To Learn?

Compared to Lightroom, Capture One is maybe a little more difficult to master. This is mainly because there are more features and more things you can control in Capture One. However, for just a basic editing workflow, Capture One is not more difficult to learn.

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Extra Tools and Features in Capture One

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. 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 a new addition to Capture One 20 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.

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. Just select a color range using the color picker tool in the advanced color editor tab and click on the action menu (…). Next, choose Create Layer Mask From Selection.

Capture One vs Photoshop: Select Color Range in Capture One

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.

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

Save Defaults in C1

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.

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. 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%.

Loupe Tool

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.

Speed Editing Allows You to Edit Multiple Images at Once

With the latest version of Capture One (2021), you get a new speed edit tool. This tool allows you to create speed edit keys, that once you press them allow you to drag your mouse left or right to change the slider, that you assigned the speed edit key to. This could be the contrast, or exposure slider, that you assign to a specific key.

It also works in browser view, so you can lift the exposure of several images using the speed edit-key, without needing to synchronize the images afterward.

Output to Multiple File-types In One Single Process

Process Recipes

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.

An additional benefit of the export feature is a 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.

Price Tag: Capture One vs Lightroom

Lightroom Pricing

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.

The important thing is that you can now only subscribe to the Lightroom/Photoshop photo editing software package. 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.

Can I Still Buy Lightroom Classic Standalone?

You cannot buy Lightroom CC as a standalone product. You have to opt for a subscription model.

Capture One Pricing

Capture One licenses can be even more confusing. PhaseOne offers perpetual licenses, subscriptions, and different versions with support for Nikon, Sony or Fuji cameras only.

This means 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: 

  • Annual monthly plan for €24 (Approx. $27) or €220 (Approx. $247) when prepaid. Monthly for 29 Euro / Approx. $33.
  • You can find monthly paid plans specifically for Nikon/Sony/Fuji as well at €11 per month if you prepay yearly (approx. $13).

Can I buy Capture One As Standalone?

Yes, you can buy Capture One as standalone. It is called a perpetual license:

  • Capture One Pro Perpetual License for all models: €349 (no subscription). Approx. $393
  • Perpetual License for a single camera brand (Nikon/Sony/Fuji) for €149 / Approx. $169
Capture One vs Lightroom

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

  • Capture One is Expensive if you use multiple camera brands
  • It doesn’t have a history panel
  • No panorama and HDR merge tools in Capture One
  • More presets available for Lightroom
  • Max adjustment strength is higher in Lightroom – Most of the time, at 100% strength, any effect will produce unnatural-looking results. So this is definitely not a big issue.
  • Capture One has a steeper learning curve for beginners

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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 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.

Find the Best Option for You: Capture One 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.

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3 thoughts on “Capture One vs. Lightroom 2021”

  1. This is a great comparison. Personally, I agree that Capture One, pound for pound, loses out to Lightroom in a competition of quantity of tools, DAM, and the latter’s bundling with Photoshop. All that being said, I use Capture One. It gets me to my end goal faster than Lightroom. I always have a 90% solution in C1 after just a few tweaks. This is due not only to its interface (as you explained well) but also because the program is simply much faster than LR, at least on my machine. The remaining 10% I take care of in Affinity Photo or Luminar.

    To each his own, of course. I’ve actually tried dumping C1 to go back to the LR/PS ecosphere, but I’m repeatedly frustrated by how cumbersome the latter option feels after having used C1 routinely.

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  2. “Capture One’s interface is generally better than Lightroom for advanced photographers”. I use both Lightroom and Capture One. I don’t agree with your statement and it reflects the arrogance I feel that comes attached with working with Capture One. (not that you are arrogant..I am talking about Capture One. I appreciate your review). Only recently has Capture One bent the knee to understanding the needs of photographers. Their support has finally become customer friendly. In the past few years before that they would require a huge amount of unrelated info to answer a simple question.

    Lightroom totally dominates the market because they make the editing of an image very intuitive….and many pro photographers use it. Using Capture One doesn’t make you more pro and above the rest. When you have 5000 images to go through Capture One is not your image editing software of choice. Back in the day when Lightroom’s tethering was so slow, Capture One was the option for you used it for tethering and then exported images to Lightroom for editing. But now Lightroom has increased their tethered import speed (by the way, LR tether would save both to the card and computer…thus the slow import speed)

    i really want to believe in Capture One because they do have good, but nonintuitive software that parades around as if they are the King and Queen of photo editing. I promise you (knowing my experience with them) they will charge you dearly for purchasing every update. Then they will release an update with just a few improvements and charge you an arm and a leg simply to update a very few features. Quite honesty, in these upgrades, I feel like I am paying for Capture One to come up to industry standard in terms of simple things like the crop tools and the User interface.

    Every year I come back to Capture One and ask myself if I should spend the ridiculous amount they ask for an upgrade. Maybe I should because they finally have finally brought their crop tool up to industry standard and added the dehaze tools in CO 21…I wonder where they got that idea from? That company introduced that tool so long ago I can’t remember their name.

    CO21 has these speed edits which are really amazing. It is the way that both video and photography editing is going. In short you edit right on the image using your cursor. CO is last in doing this but will market this as something innovative and will charge you dearly. So ‘dearly” pull out that wallet and pay for this latest update. Or you could wait for CO 22 when they are releasing a tool with a “Pro Saturation” tool, and upgraded UI interface, and a free CO t-shirt. All this for an upgrade price of only $300USD plus whatever else they can suck from you.

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