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
Pieter Batenburg's picture

Whatever the company, I hate the subscription model. In the end, It becomes really expensive. Probably not a big problem for companies but a real issue for private persons.

Le sashimi's picture

Hey didn't capture one marketing at some point not too far in the past make fun of CC's subscription model ?

Karim Hosein's picture

Two of the reasons why so many competitors to Lr/Ps seems so much faster is that most of them take better advantage of multithreading and/or GPU acceleration. Adobe is still mostly a one thread pony, and only uses GPU in a couple or so modules.

So Lr/Ps benefits from faster, more expensive CPU's, and a little from better GPU, while most others benefit greatly from less expensive, not-quite-as-fast, multi-core/thread CPU's, and greatly from better GPU's. If one has a dual core CPU and an older GPU, one may not see significant —or any— speed increase with C1P, or other alternatives.

I have an older six-core CPU and a newer nVidia GPU, and my work with my developer of choice is actually more than adequate. (Still thinking of updating my MB/CPU to a modern system, but for other reasons).

Rayann Elzein's picture

My LR subscription is coming to an end in 1 month. I just cancelled the yearly automatic renewal, let's see if I can force myself to learn C1 until then!

Ross Alexander's picture

I'm still on Capture One 10 and I love it! About 3-4 years ago LR was just unusable, it was horrendously slow! I was sick and tired of the software dictating to me how long it took to edit images, so I took the plunge with C1.

I bought C1P10 outright rather than a subscription. I can't bear the idea of going back to LR now, C1P10 has just been so much nicer to use and much faster! I can do so much with keyboard shortcuts that I barely have to use the mouse/Wacom tablet. Tabbing between sliders and using the shift and arrow keys makes editing a breeze and really FAST!

I also like how I can easily self contain projects ('session') and move them around on my computer without breaking a link to the high res source files and messing everything up.

Currently as I say I use C1P10, and I also have PS CS5. I really don't need the latest CC version of Photoshop, so for now at least things are working well.

C1 did take some getting used to as it is very alien coming from LR, but I can do almost everything I did before better easier and faster. The vignette tool is more sophisticated in LR than C1P10, but C1 have since updated it, so if I updated my software I would have the functionality that LR gave me back again but in C1.

D R's picture

The vignette tool is still the same. The crop tool has been updated though which is a great improvement. I generally use the radial gradient mask for vignettes as it offers more flexibility compared to the basic tool they have on offer.

William Davis's picture

Both these programs have earned their place, but both are also a bit stuck in the past in many ways as well. Built for an era where time consuming, bespoke retouching was part of a scheme where you could charge and get paid a fair wage for taking time to perfect each image.

The problem is that’s not the process the author describes needing to do here. He needs to batch process lots of images FAST. It’s real world photography as it’s often done today. Because the cameras are so smart today, a decent shooter usually get shots that are less than perfect, but not bad to begin with.

But you still need to make them pop.

Apply the spice that turns your basic chicken breast shots into honest to goodness treats. Not cordon bleu magician magic, but the type of food truck savory WOW that has long lines forming. That’s what people are willing to pay for in most cases.

We laugh about good fast and cheap, but isn’t that sorta what food trucks deliver? modest prices, high efficiency via a limited menu and production efficiencies, and still an attention to flavor and recipe?

Here’s my concern after reading this.

Basically, this shooter won’t make a nickel more if he pushes these shots from 75% as quality up to 90%. Don’t get me wrong, of course other shoots DO demand pushing to get as close to 100% as possible - and sussing out whether Lightroom or Capture One is better for those Situations, is fine. But because getting 50 shots pushed up to 80% in a couple of hours is often smarter business than getting 10 shots perfected in the same amount of time is kinda WHY Lightroom became as popular as Photoshop. But both of those venerable approaches and many others haven’t moved very fast in the changing landscape of the modern digital arts. And for my money, software like the more AI driven Luminar from Skylum is coming on strong because of that.

Nothing beats a great chef surrounded by Viking ranges and fast broilers.

But nobody also wants a kitchen without a microwave oven.

The industry landscape is moving WAY too fast for life without the best efficiency tools you can deploy.

Horses for courses and all that

Just my 2 cents.

Rayann Elzein's picture

I think you are absolutely right. However, how can I push 50 shots up to 80% in a couple of hours, when it takes up to 3 minutes to export one single 20 megapixels shot with some basic adjustments and maybe a couple of spot corrections? That's what LR has been all about the past year or even longer, even after deleting all Adobe products and reinstalling everything. And it happens both on my 3 year old laptop and on my recent quite maxed out desktop.

William Davis's picture

It’s certainly an issue. For me, 4 years ago I dropped enough for a maxed out MacBook Pro with a top spec GPU for my primary video work and noticed it DID NOT like certain programs with older code bases. But that same laptop could FLY with some of the more modern software. Programs like Pixelmator and Afinity Photo ran much faster than Photoshop or Lightroom. And I had to make a decision. I could throw beefier desktop computers at the inefficiency and stay with the familiar and try to counteract my productivity slowdown that way — or learn new software and stay more mobile. In the end, I felt it was right to change software for me.

I just popped for a brand new 16” MacBook Pro and on the software I use daily now, (Final Cut Pro X and Luminar, primarily) that laptop works EXTREMELY well.

Seriously, times have changed. Hardware is faster and more affordable than ever. And modern software can really leverage that to drive crazy productivity. But you HAVE to be willing to change your approach and your workflow as the advances are developed. And often that means leaving behind your older comfort zones.

My 2 cents anyway.

As they say, your mileage may vary.

Rayann Elzein's picture

I think you're completely right! My biggest issues are the following:
1) lack of time. The learning curve for C1 is quite steep coming from LR, and every time I downloaded trial version I gave up not because I didn't like it, but because of time.
2) cant really import old edits. This shouldn't be a problem but I have had a few very messy years before in my files/catalogs organisation, and without LR, I will be quite lost. If only you could just buy 1 month subscription to LR every now and then for emergencies, but no, at least here in Europe they force you to take a whole year membership.

Having said that, I just got so aggravated lately when sitting together with a client, wanting to show him a picture in full screen mode (in LR) and as soon as I pressed on the F key, the screen started flickering and after 3 minutes LR just crashed. Tried again later while alone, and the same behaviour is happening on both my laptop and top of the line desktop.

So first step was to cancel my LR subscription (it was due for renewal around mid January), giving me now 1 month to learn C1.

terry pitcher's picture

Pretty much consistent with my experience. Having both licenses I now tend to use LR more often. mainly because of better keystone correction and more natural and balanced rendering. C1 still has its edge when you need finer control over the skintones, but at the same time v20 is so much more buggy and laggy than v12 while the LR performance is getting better and better with each update.