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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Previous comments
John Pyle's picture

LR if: you want your photos on all devices to cull, edit, and share. Pump out volume of content. Quick editing. Drone photography with the profiles from DJI. Shoot with several cameras and mediums (phone, Gopro, DSLR, mirrorless). Want to see and edit (with the preset) video clips.

Capture one. High end commercial studio editing and retouching. For work where a client is looking for 5-10 perfectly edited images or less. Tethering. You are staying at a laptop or desktop to edit. I have used both....10 years full time consumer portrait photographer. Seniors, models, families, aerial, etc. Spent the last 3 in cap one. It’s overkill for most of my work as a session with 80 pics for a high school senior doesn’t need professional high end retouching using cap one. Recently went back to LR because my profiles and presets on CC are on my phone, desktop, iPad, and laptop if needed. Just my thoughts.

Jarrod McMatt's picture

It is not that hard of a switch. Really, it is not. I switched with 11 and upgraded to 12 for the built in luminosity masking. I probably will not upgrade to 20 as, while it will do more, I do not need the newest features. And you know what? Capture One will not sue me for using an older version. Also, Capture One has online webinars that are quite good. It took me less than an hour to nail the basic features.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Well, after Aperture wasn't supported any longer and the results where ... I tried C1 and stayed. It's too good for my purposes as amateur, and I switch one or two versions before upgrading (won't upgrade to C1 20) to keep the price lower.
Anyway: It has never been easier for me to edit my images. Adjust contrasts without affecting saturation? Easy. Recovering highlights or shadows without creating a completely flat look? Easy. Of course, I'm not into refined retouching, rarely use layers (that can do magic sometimes for high dynamic range images), but it works pretty well. But so would LR. I decided not to go that way because of usability, never had to learn that much coming from Aperture.

Joe Vahling's picture

Capture One nails it with Fuji cameras. Plus their output quality from raws look better than Lightroom's. Capture One is literally an All-in-One solution to photo editing. Other than using frequency separation, hair strand removals, and detailed dodge and burning, there isn't much of a need for me to open Photoshop, though photoshop editing has been my highest quality of edits.

I really like capture One as that pre-program before finishing an image off in Photoshop.

Now for what I don't like Capture one for.
Lightroom by in large is my best solution for dealing with 15,000 image catalogs. I make use of metadata a lot and Capture One for metadata feels lacking to me. Same goes for bulk applying keywords, keyword-hierarchy, and other searchable attributes. With my detailed metadata, I'm able to search and organize photos by people, names, model releases, locations, shooters, ect. This is a handy feature for when I have repeat clients spanning years.

The biggest issue of me dumping Adobe is simply the Cloud. Capture One is awesome for single client commercial shoots. However when I do events, weddings, and quick turn around, it's Lightroom hands down. Being able to bulk apply metadata, and edits, across an entire shoot is better in Lightroom. Also having the photos that are on my PC sync to the cloud onto my mobile devices extends my productivity when I am away from my desk.

My workflow feels unified being able to rate and cull images on my phone, make basic exposure and detail adjustments from my ipad, finalize and output images from the desktop and all of this is unified under Adobe Cloud. Plus being able to share albums instantly with clients for comments and review right out of the cloud is handy too.

If Capture One offers a cloud based ecosystem where I can work my photos from any device, I'll jump ship completely.

Brian Allan's picture

I acquired Capture One Pro (Sony) some time ago and have given it a workout; not impressed! I won't be upgrading to the latest version.

I subscribe to Lightroom/Photoshop and have used these two package since they were released on Windows. I guess I'm habituated to them BUT I also use Affinity Photo (and like it a lot) and Luminar 3/4. I much prefer Luminar to Capture One even though Luminar 4 does have a few bugs; hopefully fixed reasonably fast in future updates.

Colin Robertson's picture

Really? I bought the latest version of Luminar and besides the cool AI features, it's processing is downright GARISH compared to everything else on the market. You're right though, Luminar 4 is buggy as hell. It crashes on me all the time.

Brendan Kavanagh's picture

I migrated from Lightroom (all the usual reasons; dismally slow, quite often refused to work at all) to Capture One 10, then 12 and now 20 and haven't looked back.
Loading images takes as long as Lightroom takes but once they're in place, everything else flies.
Since making the change I've probably more than halved the number of images that require finishing in Photoshop.
With regard to duplicating the finished results that you get from Lightroom, using C1, it's unlikely that you ever will as the raw conversion engine is completely different.
There was an interesting article published a while ago;, explaining it.

Timothy Roper's picture

There's a very steep learning curve for C1P, as it's mostly designed for, and used by, digital techs for studio, tethered shooting. That's where it really shines. Over the years I've made dedicated efforts to learn it, but have always gone back to LR for my work. It really does depend on how much you need its specific features. Also, on my iMacs at least, CP1 has always been MUCH slower than LR installed on the same machine. So that's always been a hindrance for me, too.

Yin Ze's picture

I don't see how Lightroom is that much simpler. C1 actually allows you to customize it to your needs and this makes things way way simpler. It also allows a digital tech to use your computer(if necessary) by simply bringing a copy of the workspace file and even keyboard shortcuts. I am processing compressed raw a7riv files and was surprised how fast c1 processes them on my macbook 13": about 6-8 seconds per photo. I think with a9 it was 3-4 seconds per photo.

Colin Robertson's picture

Save as 'Large Document Format'. PSB. You can't see these in LR (or any other editor I know of), but at least you will be able to save all your layers. Let's hope Lightroom starts supporting PSB's soon, because the high-res camera's really do push the limits of PSD's. I was using a Sony A7RIV and the raw files from it are over 120MB EACH.

Marcus Adams's picture

The biggest issue is that you really CANNOT just shift your work from one to the other. Yes, you can shift the LR catalogue (although I encountered errors doing so that COP support were unable to resolve) but it really doesn't feel like for like once you have done it.

In terms of actual image processing, on an iMac Pro 10 core, the comparison is like the difference between a 900cc lawnmower and a Ferrari. COP is far, far more responsive and as you note in your review, it offers huge flexibility that LR lacks.

In terms of a DAM system, I think LR is better.

The ideal program would be a hybrid - so if Adobe could just buy COP and merge the two, that would be great. Thanks!

Colin Robertson's picture

Just like when Autodesk bought Maya and merged it with 3ds Max! Oh wait... Just like when Autodesk bought Softimage and merged it with... (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ彡┻━┻ NEVERMIND!

Colin Robertson's picture

But it would be extremely nice if Adobe's processing could match C1's and if C1's DAM could match Adobe.

Deleted Account's picture

C1 seems to be missing (and please correct me if I'm wrong) an 8-point keystone correction tool - separate points for verticals/horizontals rather than either/or or a 4-point. Both DxO PL (via Viewpoint) and LR CC support this, and it's a big deal for real estate / architectural editing with one point perspectives.

Colin Robertson's picture

Do you mean the 4-line perspective correction (for squaring up 1-point perspectives)? They do have this—my only beef with this feature of C1 is that the points are all connected. In LR you trace four straight lines, in C1 it's a little trickier...

Martin Leblanc's picture

Bought my license in September, now they want 220 dollars to "upgrade" to a new version number which has... a little bit better denoise algorithm(which should have been there to begin with, the one in version 12 is awful, not pro by any mean) and 3 sliders changed. Bleh, they're just after a quick cash grab.
I must say I regret my purchase, the interface is a mess, the denoise is awful, the highlight recovery tool doesn't recover anything it just make the image worst, the shadow recovery just add noise which the denoiser is incapable of removing, the color option are potentially powerful but so complicated that in my hands they just make the image worst, the watermark can only do single line, the file manager doesn't dig into sub folder... I could go on, but the gist of it is that software is way too pricey for it's quality, performance and interface which are more akin to the free option available.

Murry Cave's picture

Still looking for a digital asset management system that allows bulk export of metadata for import into a GIS. So far only Aperture does this and will be keeping a legacy machine on the current version of OSx to maintain this functionality but it seems such a easy fix for any of these replacements.

Colin Robertson's picture

That seems like a pretty niche feature for a raw processor... Are there not any plug-ins available that can do this?

Murry Cave's picture

No good ones that I've found. I can't be the only person out there doing forensic and environmental litigation work where geographic accuracy is important.

Colin Robertson's picture

Good luck! Seems like location data has taken a back seat in many modern cameras and software (smartphones not withstanding). I don’t think it’s a huge priority for them. Which is unfortunate, I like having that metadata too, but it isn’t exactly key to my work.

terriss brown's picture

I have been using capture one starting with 12 last February. There is a learning curve, but I'm getting the hang of it. You know that you can export your capture one edit into photoshop and then back into capture one. You can also move your edit from capture one into affinity and back.

Gustaf Jansson's picture

As a Fujifilm photographer I've tried to move from LR to C1. But I couldn't really go full C1. I still need PS and I don't have money for both C1, PS/LR. So I tried Affinity that didn't really work great with my hardware. So for now I stick with LR. The files looked a little bit better in C1, but for me, it wasn't worth it.

chris bryant's picture

"After an hour of playing, trying to replicate the look and feel of one of my images edited in Lightroom was proving impossible"

Doing that is a mistake. C1 has its own 'feel' which is often perceived as 'better'.

Tim Devick's picture

If you plan to use catalogs in C1 (rather than sessions), note that the import of your LR catalog into C1 is fraught with troubles. It is supported but it definitely isn't "smooth sailing".

C1's catalog search speed is far, far slower than LR. I have a 20,000 image catalog. I can search the entire catalog for anything with LR 6 but the same search in C1 can take 10-15 minutes.

C1 does not allow lens adjustments like chromatic aberration correction, distortion correction, and chromatic aberration correction on files in JPG format. Maybe they figure that the camera will have compensated for those things in JPG mode and some newer cameras do but a lot of older cameras did not.

Layers are a great feature but you're only allowed a max of 16 layers. Most of the time, that has been enough but I have had a few cases where I needed more.

LR's keystone adjustments, especially their AUTO keystone adjustment option, is far superior to that of C1, IMO. WIth C1, you enable the keystone tool then draw vertical and/or horizontal lines to show it how you want your verticals and horizontal lines, then click APPLY. This usually gets me close but fairly often I have to fine tune the corrections using the manual Keystone adjustments on another page.Even after that amount of tweaking, C1 may still not get it right. For difficult corrections I will still go into to LR and use their Auto keystone adjustment instead.

Finally, at least for my Nikon raw files, C1 does not offer the ability to select from any of the camera color styles - Landscape, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait,etc. unlike LR. I -think- with Fuji raw files it -does- allow this. Instead, C1 determines what they think is the best color conversion from raw and it's up to you to adjust the image for your camera settings manually.

On the other hand, I very much like the results when it processes my Nikon raw files and their Auto exposure adjustment almost never gets it wrong, unlike LR 6 which almost gets it wrong for me.

ryan hirschberg's picture

I have been considering changing over to c1 for a couple of years now. What keeps me tied to Lightroom is the history panel, being able to see my editing steps and go back to a certain step is very useful. I have been waiting for c1 to add a history panel with each new update. With all the minute adjustments that can be made in c1, a history panel seems a necessity. There is lots of great raw editors out there, and no history panel? Does adobe have a patent on it or something?

Jon The Baptist's picture

In my experience, the amount of work that one can do in C1 has been able to reduce retouching budgets for clients. Less time in Photoshop for something that's faster to do in C1 while still on set.

Considering the tethering control and color options, how anyone uses LR for commercial work anymore is utterly baffling to me.

Bernard Languillier's picture

I unfortunately still have to use LR for my H6D-100c files, but frankly speaking it's one of the reasons why I use that camera less and less these days.

C1 Pro is really a much better piece of software. One aspect that hasn't been mentioned is the quality of the color profiles. It's really quite obvious for the Nikon and Fuji cameras I am using.

The local retouching implementation of LR makes it a no go, while the layers in C1 Pro have now reached a very high level of maturity.

The only 2 aspects I prefer in LR are:
1. The automatic correction of verticals. That can be a major time saver and I hope Phaseone delivers something equivalent quickly
2. The launch time of C1 Pro can be long on large libraries

Jim Kilgo's picture

I have been using LR since 2008 and the full Creative Cloud versions since 2011. So I have an extensive catalog(s) of images and since I do video work I have the need for Premier Pro and Audition for audio. I shoot Canon 5D MarkIV and FujiFilm systems with both the X-Tran and Bayer sensors. LR has issues with the X-Tran sensor and I find my self shooting more and more images with the Fuji system, so I have been searching for a solution and I'm testing C1/20 now. I really love how C1/20 provides much more in the ability to edit an image and its speed has proven much better on my system then LR, but I still have my concerns including C1/20 into my workflow. Cost aside (not that I would want to spend more for any additional editing systems) I find it difficult including C1/20 into my workflow alongside LR. Maybe I'm just a little too attached to the LR cataloging abilities. I guess I will continue my 30 days of trial and hopefully come to a sensible conclusion...

Vangelis Medina's picture

Capture One still do not have Auto White Balance?

Jon The Baptist's picture

C1's always had auto white balance

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