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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100 Comments

Robert K Baggs's picture

I've been on the cusp of making this switch for some time. LR is so clunky and cumbersome. With every passing year I think it seems more and more outdated. But finding a window to make the change is always tricky.

It will be easier than you think!

David Boyars's picture

I'd be all with you two years ago buy LR has gotten much faster. Still slower than C1 except all the tools and different keybpoard shortcuts makes me slower. I use C1 for two reasons, HDR and detail sliders. My results just look better!

Just do it. Stop looking for a window and just do it. It is not hard. The ability to control color is worth it alone.

I don't have the current version of C1P, but I've had a number of prior versions up to 11, and ALL have been much slower and clunkier than LR on the same machine (pretty spec'd out iMac).

There must have been some issue. One of the reasons people are moving to C1 is because it is faster compared to Lightroom Classic.

Michael Kormos's picture

Lightroom seems to actually run slower with each passing year. I'm actually convinced it's a Flash app running in a browser.

One of the really nice things about C1 is how easy it is to configure. I moved over from Apple's Aperture and was immediately overwhelmed with the overload of options, but one of the aspects that led me to choose C1 over other alternatives was that I could configure my tool panels to mimic what I was used to in Aperture. I kept the training wheels on for the first few months and gradually started adding additional options in.

Ryszard Błogowski's picture

One important difference wasn't mentioned in the article: you can buy a perpetual C1 license. For a lot of people it can be a deciding factor.

Deffo a big deciding factor for me. I have enough subscriptions. I don't want another one. not only that but Adobe contracts you into your subscription. If it was not contracted I would be more willing to jump on board. I don't want my productivity software holding my finances hostage.

C Fisher's picture

Lol ikr, tried to cancel creative cloud and it wanted to charge me an early termination fee. Guess I'll have to wait until September.

Michael Holst's picture

BINGO! When I upgrade to a camera not supported by my version of LR, I'm switching to C1. I've used it many times and while it's different than LR in many ways, it's just a tool to get used to.

Andy Day's picture

Thanks Ryszard. I've since updated the article to mention this. Apologies for the omission!

Sure you can buy a perpetual license but if you skip a couple of versions they get you anyway with price increase for upgrading to the next version. Forgot how long you can skip versions but might be 2-3 versions. I also wonder if C1 12 will work on 10.18. I skipped upgrading to 20 this year for the first time since v6. They went to far with the upgrade pricing.

You still save about $60 over the course of three years if you outright buy the software. I think it's something like $300. C1 also actually works. I have used LR for years and these latest versions just stop working for me after about 15 photos edited. I'm sure LR works fine for other people, but across the 4 computers I've used it on it just will not run. From my perspective it's either get locked into a contract subscription for a software that doesn't run with terrible customer support for 12 months or Pay $300 upfront and you have nothing to worry about except an upgrade after a couple of years. I'd rather have the latter. HOWEVER, LR merge tools are still amazeballs. I can't find any other software as good for stitching photos together.

Hi, I paid US $134 to upgrade last year from C11 to 12 with 10% discount code from C1 ambassador . This year I purchased the a7riv. I don't think C11 would support the a7riv. This is how you are also forced to upgrade if you buy new equipment within 3 year c1 upgrade cycle. Now Capture 1 20 is $156 for upgrade from 11. No ambassador codes either so far. Their lower price for subscription is right out of adobe playbook. I guess it is time for a "10 Things Phase One does that Adobe did." article on an non-sponsored site.

Yeah that's one thing I'm not too thrilled with C1 about. I'd like to see license upgrades last at least two years. My C1 v11 only lasted me 10 months because they came out with C1 20 later in the year and I had to pay again.

That said, they did change one thing about their pricing policy that I'm happy about. You no longer need to have purchased the previous year's edition to be eligible for upgrade pricing. You can skip versions so if you're happy with all the things that C1 does, you can skip the upgrades and keep using it. I've chosen to keep upgrading because C1 has been improving so fast that the upgrade is usually worth it for me though I have to say I'm totally unimpressed with the updates to C1 20 in so far as my workflow goes.

Randy Nicholson's picture

Use what works for you, and yes using the 30 day trials is the way to go,. You have to commit to actually using it during those days. Capture One does have a lot of great resources online to get you through the learning curve. I happily made the switch years ago, but for travel while using mobile (ipad etc) I still use lightroom... until they have a mobile version. I only made the switch because of tethering issues in Lightroom... likely fixed now but too late.

Part of the problem is that for longtime users of Adobe products C1 is a whole nuther ballgame. Different layouts different features and lingo from PS LR BR, etc. I think when I got my first Sony camera the Sony C1 was free or $50, I found the C1 learning curve to be steep but worthwhile. I was on the sub for a few years now have a stand alone license.
I use C1 for most of the image prep, do round trips to PS for retouching and layered images and LR some other stuff.
Randy is right about the tutorials that C1 and others produce, there is so much new and different with C1, the small 2-3 minute how to youtubes helped me a lot.

As a long time Adobe user, I am still frustrated with the slowness of Lightroom. I have an iMac Pro with the base configuration (which is overkill for the recommended system requirements for Lightroom). Just the other day, i was using the Spot Healing brush with 1to1 previews loaded and still, the software lagged when I would paint to remove stray hairs. Its really frustrating that Adobe cannot make this software work better, considering they have added the GPU acceleration, which honestly didn't seem to do too much to improve the speed of Lightroom... Capture One is tempting to me but I utilize the mobile apps for Lightroom to cull my images on the go so much that I cannot go without that in my workflow...

I have to agree with you on the travails of LR speed. I recently went through a long process to optimize my computer for speed with LR and yielded some significant increases. However, the best solution for me was buying a new computer that has minimal software other than PS and LR. No email or online connections. I actually shuttle work via USB sticks.

David Boyars's picture

I wish a faster computer would encourage LR to wake up and stop shrugging off, unfortiunately its all in the code. LR is slow! C1, using Microsoft API works faster on Mac or PC

jonas y's picture

Capture One 20 is buggy as heck, the first image is the result of export, and the second image is showing the result of the denoise process, this is the latest build btw.

Reginald Walton's picture

It is a bit buggy. Seems like they rushed it out.

Johnny Rico's picture

So little new was added since v12, surprised if they had to rush ha

jonas y's picture

To be fair, they have significant improvement regarding high iso noise reduction, HDR functions, and DNG handling. I wouldn't say that is enough to justify the junk as it is so bad I might not upgrade my copy for the first time after CO 7.

Yeah, they def rushed it out. I clicked on color editor > direct color editor and the trial app keeps crashing.

Reginald Walton's picture

I kept hearing how much faster CP1 is than LR, especially for tethering. I did make the switch to CP1, however, I'm not seeing the speed increase. It takes just as long (if not longer) to render my D850 and A7R4 images in CP1 as it does in LR. Same with tethering, I just don't see any difference in speed. That said, I do like the option of sessions and catalogs in CP1, rather than just catalogs in LR. I've converted all my LR catalogs to sessions. CP1 still doesn't support HEIC files - need to convert them to JPG files and then import them.

Norbert Tukora's picture

CP1 being faster than LR is a myth.
My 9900K @ 5.1GHz + RTX2080 custom loop does 1:1 preview images in 5sec for the Fuji GFX 100 raw files. And those are 101.8 MP 16 bit raws.
Bashing on LR is a popular thing to do for writers.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

C1 is faster when editing and culling. What drove me nuts about LR was in order to speedily cull through images, I had to be in Library mode which was lower quality than Develop mode. The problem with culling through using Develop mode was it was slower per image. In C1, none of this silliness of having multiple modes. There's one mode. And, that mode is super fast. And, doesn't require a custom loop to do it.

I have a little MacBook 1.1ghz I use for culling images while on the road. Can you imagine using LR on this? lol

"Bashing on LR is a popular thing to do for writers." Actually, Andy (writer) is on your side.

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