Are You Thinking of Moving From Lightroom to Capture One? Read This First

Are You Thinking of Moving From Lightroom to Capture One? Read This First

There are plenty of things about Lightroom that bug me and despite being a hardened user of more than 6 years, I thought it was about time give something else a go. The newly updated Capture One caught my attention and opened my eyes.

Capture One 20 launched earlier this month and it claims to be the best version ever for dragging Lightroom users into its fold. In keeping with photographic traditions, the naming convention is illogical, having moved from Capture One 12 straight to Capture One 20, apparently to avoid unlucky 13 and reflect the fact that it’s 2020. (Shh. Almost.)

I should preface this article by explaining that this is entirely a personal experience and that your mileage will vary. Like many of us, I’m set in my ways and while I like playing with new things, I’m also resistant to change. The thought of ditching almost seven years’ worth of Lightroom images is not a pleasant one, and I can’t figure out how I could run these systems alongside each other for a year or two in order to transition without it being too expensive for me. That’s a big reason to stick with what I’m used to. With all of that in mind, if there’s an aspect of Capture One that I don’t like, it’s probably because it doesn’t suit me, rather than it being something fundamentally wrong with the software.

I will also add that I’m not delivering beauty, fashion, or product photography to high-end commercial clients. I’m a part-time professional working on small jobs and lots of personal projects. I’m often delivering large batches of images from events without intensely detailed editing. My post production is often light as budgets are small.

Painful Pricing?

Capture One pricing

If you decide to opt for the subscription model, you'll be paying $20 a month. No Photoshop to sweeten the deal.

I downloaded a thirty-day trial, and being a Sony a7 III shooter, I opted for the Sony version. Capture One offers versions specific to Sony or Fujifilm cameras, and it’s much cheaper than the fully pro version: $9.99 per month compared to $20 per month. However, I sometimes shoot images on a Canon (one old camera and the odd rental), and I occasionally like to throw a Lightroom preset onto something shot with my iPhone. I can’t justify more than doubling the cost of a subscription to accommodate this infrequent use. Capture One is dramatically more expensive than Lightroom in this regard. Notably, my Adobe subscription includes Photoshop, and ditching Lightroom would mean having to fork out again for image-editing software such as Affinity Photo. Suddenly, making the transition is looking incredibly pricey.

Capture One pricing Europe

If you live in Europe, expect to pay up to 33% more than US customers. Ouch.

(It’s worth noting that Capture One Express is available for free to Fujifilm and Sony users, but this Express version does not support tethered shooting and nor does it have any layer or masking tools. A few other features are omitted, such as annotating files, keystone correction, and spot removal. For a full list, click here. Given that the potential to remove dust specks is absent, it feels a little pointless.)

[Edit: Unlike Lightroom, Capture One Pro can be bought outright: $299 for all cameras, and $129 for the Sony/Fuji version.)

Capture One can import a Lightroom catalog, and one quick way to get started is to grab a load of images in Lightroom, add them to a Collection, export that Collection as a Lightroom catalog, and then import that catalog into Capture One. Ratings and collections are maintained, but any editing beyond crop, rotation, orientation, white balance, exposure, saturation, and contrast will be lost.

The Need for Speed

One of the first big changes compared to Lightroom is the speed. In Lightroom, if I’m browsing through a freshly imported batch of photos, hitting R to switch to the crop tool can take a moment. With Capture One, it’s instantaneous. Zooming in to an image is also refreshingly quick and far more logical, and with the completely different layout, there’s no need to transition between Library and Develop modules — something that can sometimes be quite laggy in Lightroom. While the process feels less intuitive (at first at least), spot healing is also noticeably more responsive.

Significantly More Control

The second major aspect that makes itself felt is how much more control there appears to be in Capture One, to the extent that it feels a little daunting. While I’ve been using Lightroom extensively for many years, it’s not so often that I dive into the HSL/Color panel, but when I do, I feel like I have a reasonable understanding of how things work. By contrast, Capture One feels like it’s on another level, with color wheels and words like “Uniformity” that quickly made me feel out of my depth. No doubt it’s a skin retoucher or product photographer's dream, but I just wanted to run back to the safety and comfort of Lightroom.

Capture One color wheels

Help. Send help.

Layers Upon Layers

The third huge difference is how layers function. While Lightroom has never fully embraced the concept of Layers (which is a little odd given how fundamental they are to Photoshop), Capture One is invested in their power and deploys them very effectively. The potential to change specific parts of the image is vastly superior to Lightroom: simply create a layer, draw in a mask, and you can make any change you like, using any panel. While Lightroom restricts you to an adjustment brush (or gradient) that can be used to tweak exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness, etc., Capture One’s entire array of panels is available. If you want to apply, say, a curves adjustment to a specific part of the image, go ahead.

Capture One layer mask

Notice "Face smooth" in the panel on the left, and "Face smooth" just above the image itself. The layers are always within reach, allowing you to jump around very easily.

You can even mask out a couple of separate parts of the image and apply completely different presets. Masks can be quickly inverted, filled and feathered at will, giving you far greater control.

Stepping back for a moment, it’s a little strange that Capture One's use of layers is so much more like Photoshop compared to Lightroom. Just being able to label your adjustments makes a huge difference, allowing you to keep track of multiple changes without having click around trying to remember which pin brings up which changes. Perhaps Lightroom has held back because it assumes you can do all of that stuff in Photoshop. Whatever the reason, compared to Capture One, it feels incomplete.

No Need for Photoshop?

My assumption is that these three factors — speed, color control, and layers — means that you will spend more time in Capture One and a lot less time in Photoshop. As someone who spends very little time in Photoshop beyond occasional compositing and the odd bit of cloning, for me, it’s overkill — especially given the step up in price. For anyone who’s shooting commercial work, it makes much more sense, especially given the control over color and potential for easily copying layers between different raw files.

After a Day of Play

After an hour of playing, trying to replicate the look and feel of one of my images edited in Lightroom was proving impossible. The learning curve here is quite steep and no doubt it’s doable, but it takes a greater degree of skill than I have available. I’ll be spending more time playing and watching tutorials over the coming weeks and if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments. A few bugs have sprung up: the keystone tool occasionally blacks out the image, and the entire application crashed once — “Graphics hardware encountered an error and was reset: 0x00000813.”

Capture One keystone bug

My capacity for causing software to crash is really quite something. Usually I can crash a Photoshop update within 24 hours, and I barely touch it.

Speaking of the keystone tool, Capture One feels slightly more refined than Lightroom, but the basic functionality is the same. Photographing people in weird places on buildings at height combined with my alarming inability to hold a camera straight means that this is a tool I use quite frequently. As a result, Lightroom’s “Auto” button comes in very useful when trying to fix an image, especially photographing events when quick edits are crucial.

Lightroom transform panel, auto

Shot at an event, I don't want to spend any unnecessary time trying to get things straight. The "auto" button is quicker, even if it then needs a bit of fine tuning.

If you click Capture One’s keystone magic wand, you just get a message saying “Some of the selected Variants could not be adjusted.” From what I’ve gathered, this tool is only available if you shot your image using a Phase One back, as Capture One wants to use the data from a Phase One gyroscope and accelerometer. If you use Lightroom’s “Auto” button in the Transform panel regularly, expect a much slower workflow when switching to Capture One.

In Conclusion

Capture One is not for everyone and certainly isn't for me, but I'm going to continue playing for the duration of my 30-day trial and I'd urge anyone to give it a quick spin, if just to see how much control the layers functionality gives you, and how much snappier certain aspects feel over Lightroom. If I were producing high-end commercial images, this would be the obvious choice as my retouching work would be a lot more detailed. I also feel that Lightroom is quite limited in terms of functionality by comparison, and jumping over to Photoshop to make up for its shortcomings isn't always ideal.

I'll continue with Lightroom in the hope that Adobe makes some significant changes in the next year or two, and also waiting to see what Serif produces. Its Affinity Photo software has proven very popular and there are rumors that it will create its own digital asset manager. Being a fan of Designer, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Affinity will produce an alternative Lightroom/Photoshop duo geared towards photographers that fixes all of the problems that Adobe seems reluctant to address.

Obviously I'm just scratching the surface here and no doubt experienced Capture One users will have a lot to say, but hopefully it's of use if you've not played with Capture One before. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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101 Comments

Previous comments
Norbert Tukora's picture

Develop mode was never meant for culling images! If you prebuild the preview images in 1:1 High quality then culling is a breeze from there on.

For culling images while on the road we hadn't found a really good solution neither.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

For your culling on the road, you can try Photo Mechanic.

For me, C1 works on the road. I create Sessions instead of Catalogs. With Sessions, I can copy the whole project from platform to platform (Mac to PC and vice versa). No need to go through an import process or regenerate any previews. It just works seamlessly.

Karim Hosein's picture

«…If you prebuild the preview images in 1:1 High quality….»

Yeah, move the slowness from one point to another. I have heard the stories of some people expressing how long it takes to import images into Lr prior to culling, often leaving the job to happen overnight. That is ridiculous. I cannot speak for C1, but my import process is very fast, taking minutes or seconds, depending on how many images I have.

Typical event, less than 30 seconds. Worst case, a couple minutes, maybe three.

David B's picture

You got a great setup there! C1 works faster for me with my computer and small 16MP images. Advancing to the next image still takes a split second to load even longer without previews generated

Sheldon C's picture

If first switched to C1 in 2016 when I was using a 2012 Unibody Macbook Pro that didn't have a hi-res retina display. C1 was blazing fast even when outputting to a 30" display. By 2017 I was on a fully loaded 2016 Macbook Pro loading the same images onto a 5K external monitor. C1 was obviously not prepared for this. Everything was really slow for most of 2017 before they ironed out whatever it was that made it slow for me. I love C1.

Jarrod McMatt's picture

The library mode is faster. The boot up and file loading times are not.

Yin Ze's picture

Lightroom speed was one of the reasons I (thankfully) switched to C1. The main reason was Lightroom color rendition of D3/D700 and especially D4 files was horrible. I am scared to bring my mbp 13" 2.8ghz i7 with 16gb to its knees with latest build of Blightroom.

LA M's picture

I'm using it for one off images...it's got a lot of benefits and does a few things better than LR...if I had to choose one it's still LR but for all out image quality it's superior.

Luke Adams's picture

I experienced the same thing in that I could not after many attempts seem to make my edits in C1 look as good as in LR. Something about the way C1 renders my raw files (Sony A7R3) perhaps? They always just looked kind of dull, like a very slight washed out film look has been applied. Also, I don’t think C1 is a retouchers dream at all. Have a client with bad acne? Have funny creating a separate layer for EVERY little blemish you need to remove!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

"Retouchers Dream" refers to how easily you can even out the skin tones.

If you're having to create a separate layer for EVERY little blemish, you're doing it wrong. Depending on the severity of the acne, you can just use the Spot Removal tool (attached pic) and maybe in combination with the Skin Tone tab to reduce the redness. But, yeah, if it's really really bad, I end up using Affinity Photo.

Dan Donovan's picture

1) You don't need layers to remove blemishes. The Spot Removal tool works well for blemishes. You move from blemish to blemish, clicking once on each one. It's that easy.
2) Capture One is not made for heavy retouching. It is made to compete with Lightroom. With Capture One's layers and other tools, I feel it comes out ahead. However, most people will still need Photoshop or Affinity Photo for some work.
3) There was some setting wrong if your photos looked bad when initially appearing on your screen. Capture One is famous for having better looking images right out of the box.

Luke Adams's picture

If I recall correctly, while the spot removal tool “can” work, it’s purpose is removing sensor dust, and I don’t think you can define the sampling area, correct? And while it may work to a degree on blemishes, how about those 6 or 7 wispy hairs that you need to fix in almost every photo of the bride? LR can generally handle that, and very quickly. C1, not so much. I don’t think I’m alone in my opinion of the subpar clone/heal tool of C1 if you read some of the opinions around the web. I would go so far as to say it is probably the worst implementation of it among the well known raw editors. Which is a shame as It seems in stark contrast to most of the rest of the program.

Dan Donovan's picture

There are two spot removal tools: One for general spots (like blemishes) and another for sensor dust. And they both work with a circular area. So, they are not designed for wisps of hair. The healing and clone tools on a layer in Capture One would be more appropriate for a couple strands of hair. Beyond that, it is better to use Photoshop or Affinity photo for retouching.

Indy Thomas's picture

"I will also add that I’m not delivering beauty, fashion, or product photography to high-end commercial clients. "
This is a narrative advanced by C1 and its adherents.
While it is, as you note, very full featured, LR and PS still acquit themselves very well even at high end projects.

As for the reputation for "better color", we have to remember color is subjective and one can say they prefer one color rendition over another but that doesn't make it objectively better. IME C1 was different in subtle ways at the default setting (Canon) but not in any meaningful way that would impel me to switch. Some files looked better, some worse, but most were nearly indistinguishable.

It is a matter of whether you are putting in time in the RAW edit or in PS, the time investment for elaborate processing is always high.
It is a matter of personal preference and at times that preference is colored by the narratives promoted by the products.

vik .'s picture

so do you expect the best to be cheaper than Lightcrap?

Dan Donovan's picture

Capture One is highly customizable to fit how you like to work. When starting out with C1, I highly recommend you create a Tool Tab (set of tools in one panel) with the tools you know how to use and need right away (white balance, levels, exposure, shadows/highlights, etc). They will all be together and easy to access. Then later you can learn the power of the color editor and other tools.

When Apple pulled the plug on Aperture a few years ago, I ran the same images through Lightroom and Capture One. I liked the image quality with C1 and have been happy with it ever since. As far as version 20 goes, I have been using it everyday since its launch and have had no issues.

And finally, be sure to check out the tutorials on the Capture One website. They are fantastic and will get you up to speed quickly.

Lawrence Jones's picture

The baggage that Creative Cloud brought to my machine with the performance hit across the board was worth the change for me. Glad to be rid of it. Got perpetual C1 Pro and I upgrade when I like and when the software is off, it is off.

Lawrence Jones's picture

Signing out does not turn it off. You have to go through the the task manager and kill the instances of CC.

Randy Pollock's picture

How can you even try and compare the two when you have six years' experience with one and less than 30 days with the other? That's like giving advice on video shooting when you have shot stills for six years but only shot video for 20 days... I used (and still use LR for analog) LR for 10 years then switched to C1 two years ago. Just like when I started with LR, it's a learning experience getting used to C1. It's a great program for many reasons, but please don't base your opinion of switching or trying it based on this web post. Like everything, try it yourself and watch some of their wonderful training videos...really those videos made all the difference for me when I first started with it.

Les Sucettes's picture

LR‘s RAW converter sucks big time which disqualifies it from the get go. Just run a test and try to get back as much highlights or shadow detail back as you can and compare it to C1 (or Aperture, which is even better).

In terms of no need for Photoshop, cannot create the same natural feel on either LR or C1. I mask with Channels and have fine tuned tools - non of that filter bs which simply masks your bad photography skills.

Sorry... if you know what you are doing you‘ll use the best tool to get the job done. And that means C1 for RAW conversion, exposure, shadows, temperature maybe a bit of colour if you’re in a hurry. Everything else in Photoshop.

The “costs” of having both Adobe and C1 are relative compared to the latest $3000 lens you bought from Sony

ANDREW WILDER's picture

I no longer do any professional work and just do photography for fun and family. Switched to C1 about a year ago and i love it. The learning curve was steep at first, but i found that the starting point of loading a raw image in C1 was better than LR. The highlight and shadow recovery seems to work much better as well in my experience. I have a nice little work flow for pics of the kids and family and have enjoyed learning how to edit the skin tones and textures using YT tutorials.

Viktor Wågman's picture

I really dont get why pepole think C1 is so hard? Mabye im just to photoshop and that make it easy..

Colin Robertson's picture

I've been trying Capture One for a few months now and I'm really torn—on one hand, it's rendering of the files from my Canon EOS R is just flat out better than what I get out of LR. I love the color control, layers, and normalize features. The ability to command-select several images and have them all up at once for editing is glorious.

Where it falls down for me is when I have to do any compositing (which is all the time), or want to stitch a panorama or merge HDR. Sure, I could get HDR software, but I really dislike most dedicated software's HDR "look". In LR it just makes a single DNG file with a lot more dynamic range. I could merge panorama's in Photoshop (ignoring cost for a moment), but it's a hassle compared to LR. You can use 'edit in' in Capture One to bring images into in Photoshop, but there's no 'edit as layers in Photoshop' option. If you're compositing, you're left with a TIFF file of each image you want as a layer, and you have to manually merge those into a new file in Photoshop.

So, from a workflow perspective, it's a major hassle. If I were tethering, that's another story...

From the cost perspective, why is there no Canon-only license like there is for Sony & Fujifilm? I would probably still want the full version because I have a bunch of RAF files on my computer that I might want to process using C1... But a subscription is twice that of what Adobe offers. Right now I'm paying it because I'm still trying it out, but I can't justify paying for both Adobe and Capture One... I might buy a perpetual license, but I would have to be pretty sure I was going to stick with it....

I love the results I get out of Capture One, but it's a frustrating proposition.

Colin Robertson's picture

Thanks, I read this but it I still wish the process was as smooth as Lightroom where I can 'open as layers' in Photoshop. Maybe this will be possible by version 21...

D R's picture

You mentioned switching from edit to browse in lightroom can sometimes be slow. With capture one you can quickly display the browse display, hit 'g' for a full view or 'ctrl-b' for the sidebar view. Both of these display instantly.

Christoph .'s picture

I've always hated the colour from LR, and detested the awful speed. I tried nVME storage, upgrading CPU and most recently added a 2080 and LR is still quite slow.

C1 is *fast*. I've had it for a while and it's had it's own problems for me in the past, v12 and now v20 is incredible. My PC goes as quick as I can, every adjustment is basically instantaneous and I feel I've finally achieved what I set out to have so long ago with LR. A lot of the small improvements they've made over the past few iterations have propelled it to incredible levels as well, even something as simple as being able to adjust the crop on multiple selected images at once and the tiny little tweaks that just make so much sense.

Only thing I miss is dehaze. I know it can be replicated but it's handy having a slider there for it that's so effective for certain scenarios.

Ken Yee's picture

C1 has much better looking skin tones out of RAW files too.
I hate Lightroom Cloud...so crippled so this might be worth a try..

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