Which is Better for Studio Portrait Photography, Lightroom Classic or Capture One 20?

Lightroom has enjoyed dominance in its area for over a decade and has been the go-to raw processor and catalog tool for many photographers. However, rivals have been creeping up and improving gradually, with Capture One 20 now being considered by many to be better in some regards.

I've always considered raw processors and editing software like Photoshop to have a similar effect to choosing a bank as child or teenager: that is, once you've got one in place, as long as it does what you need it to do, you can't really be bothered to change. I've been using Photoshop for approaching two decades which meant that when I had use for a raw processor, Lightroom was the natural purchase. Those two were just staple, I could do everything I ever wanted to do and more, and I didn't consider switching.

Then, over the last 5 years or so, I have been dabbling elsewhere. Sometimes that was curiosity, sometimes that was sponsored, sometimes that was at the suggestion of somebody. Whatever the case, I've tried a fair few now. The first thing to say is that Lightroom isn't the default winner and hasn't been for a while. There are a number of great alternatives and a number of up-and-comers, and I've liked elements of programs like Affinity Photo, ACDSee, and ON1. However, the two alternatives to Lightroom that have remained installed for me are Capture One 20 and Luminar 4.

In this video, studio portrait photographer, John Gress, compares Capture One 20 with Lightroom from his perspective. There's certainly no outright dominator of the sector — even for something as specific as a studio portrait photographer — but one does edge it.

Which editing suite do you use?

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Ryan Cooper's picture

I've gone back and fourth on C1 and I do think it is better than LR but the problem is, there isn't any true replacement for photoshop. (Affinity is getting closer but not there yet), which means I'm going to be paying for Lr/PS anyway, regardless which ultimately makes C1 a pretty tough sell as it is an extra monthly fee for an app this mostly the same as Lr which I already have.

That said, for me, I hate the C1 UI. Like I love its features, but hate the UI, I find it annoying to work with. It feels clunkier and less refined than Lr but brings a more powerful package. (power that I find I rarely actually have a need to leverage)

derek j's picture

I look at lightroom as the program that comes with my photoshop subscription. Unless C1 completely blows it out of the water, or a viable photoshop alternative comes out, it's not really worth switching.

Ruud van der Nat's picture

In the past I’ve used DXO optics pro 10, but switched to capture one. I think it’s intuitive and gets the result I want , I also use photoshop cc, very powerful program, I love the possibilities but it’s the least intuitive program I’ve used. Always got frustrated when trying to work with lightroom, so never got passed that.

Jamal Mubarik's picture

Hi all
Can anyone recommend a book, CBT for a beginner of LR and C1. I would like beginners to intermediate training. I dont have desire to lrarn Photoshop. My needs are basic.


Ruud van der Nat's picture

C1 offers a lot of tutorials,videos etc

Zoli Tarnavölgyi's picture

Again?? :-D

LR would be a perfect sw, except the terrible tethering capabilities, totally untrustable. :-(

David T's picture

Capture One
+ Probably better color editing/processing
+ Snappy and responsive
+ Way faster and reliable tethering
- UI/Library hard to use
- JPG Export very slow (probably because it's more accurate or something)

+ Cloud integration
+ Photoshop integration
+ Good UI and library
- Cloud integration
- Bad tethering

I just pay for both... right tool for the job and all.

David T's picture

With Sony tethering it leaves a copy on the card. For Fuji I had to use the fuji continuous transfer tool and hot folder, which was wayyy slower.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

The age old debate of LR vs C1. I've tried all of the RAW processors and asset managers on the market. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, LR & C1 are by far the best in terms of sheer image quality. C1 is certainly best in class for tethering while LR is still lacking live view and support for camera systems other than Canon and Nikon. When it comes to processing RAW files, sometimes I like the look of C1 better, sometimes I like the look of LR better. C1 handles highlight recovery really well when compared to the muddiness that LR sometimes produces. But I'm perfectly happy with LR's image rendering, especially when creating custom profiles with an X-Rite Color checker. I get perfect skins tones and super accurate color on product photography. LR's new texture slider is an awesome sharpening tool.

Ultimately when it comes to workflow, LR has it beat. It has a tight integration with Photoshop you just can't get from any other piece of software. Opening multiple files as layers and putting them into a single Photoshop document is a basic function that C1 still lacks. LR can open files as smart objects giving you the ability to keep raw data intact in a non destructive workflow while inside Photoshop. C1 creates way too many unnecessary files. i.e. opening a processed file from C1 into Photoshop automatically generates a PSD.That may be fine for opening single files, but if you want to open multiple files and add them as layers into a single PSD, C1 creates PSDs for every one of those files that you later have to delete.

I absolutely love LR's cloud functionality as well. It gives you the ability to create image galleries for clients through the use of your creative cloud account. You can also add production notes in the galleries as well. This is all built in to LR and something I use on every client project.

Customizing your interface and keyboard shortcuts with C1 can be a blessing or a curse. When you customize a program, you get used to those shortcuts. If you're every in a situation where you're working on someone else's computer, and you don't have access to your custom workspace and shortcuts, you're going to have a hard time working efficiently in C1. With LR, the shortcuts are the same no matter where you're working making it easier to work on other machines with needing to import custom workspaces and shortcuts.

C1 seems to be quite a bit faster than LR in many respects. That being said, I'm also managing over 20,000 images in my LR catalog, and when I'm using C1, I'm generally working in sessions and managing way less imagery. So it would make sense that C1 would run faster. I'll admit, there are times where I look at a side by side of the same image using LR and C1, and sometimes there's just something about the C1 file that I like better.

Both programs are solid in their own right. C1 is awesome, LR is awesome. These are just tools. Client's could really care less what you use as long as you're bringing artistic vision and creative problem solving abilities to a project.

Oscar Headshots's picture

This is exactly my experience. Except my install of C1 at some point developed the bad habit of mysteriously losing my adjustments. Had to stop using it and really miss the speedier workflow.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

Weird, I wonder why that happened? Maybe try reaching out to PhaseOne and see if they have a solution

Oscar Headshots's picture

I did. Unfortunately they left me out in the cold with no answers. It started happen out of the blue. I use a PC, maybe it is more stable on a Mac

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

That's unfortunate to hear. I haven't had any issues on mac. Funny you say that though because I feel like adobe products are more stable of PC's these days. I love the creative cloud....when it works. I gave up on Adobe Premiere earlier this year and switched to Final Cut because Premiere was so freaking slow that I couldn't edit even the simplest of videos.

Paul Sokal's picture

You can tether and save to an SD card as well as a hard drive with Capture One. It's under camera settings, first item

Paul Sokal's picture

Turns out this is camera dependent but is possible with Fuji cameras

Trey Mortensen's picture

I actually recently switched from Lightroom to Capture One over the last year. I bought a Sony a7iii and since I've refused to pay the subscription model my Photoshop was CS6 and my Lightroom was the last one before the subscription change. I bought both Affinity and C1 while they were on sale for 50% off, so my total is about the same as 1 year of a subscription, but based on my track record, I won't upgrade for at least 3-5 years. A win for Capture One.

So my experience is that Capture One has a MUCH steeper learning curve than Lightroom. I actually ended up just making some of the key shortcuts the same as Lightroom after getting frustrated. Otherwise, I am really happy with the program though. It's SOOOOO much faster than Lightroom, even with bigger files. I can sift through a shoot in about a third of the time simply because the photo renders faster. People have criticized Sony colors, but I found that once I switched to Capture One, I'm liking the colors more than my old Canon on Lightroom (before editing of course).

The biggest thing that I miss? The library and metadata search that Lightroom does so well. I've been able to make a "good enough" replacement, but it isn't nearly as easy or as simple to use as the Lightroom one. I've used that a ton to see what shots I'm doing with what lenses.

So overall, I'm incredibly happy with Capture One (plus Affinity for any extra little photoshop things I need). My editing is faster now and the colors are more pleasing to me. Is it perfect? No. But it's really good. For those of us who despise subscription models, it's a great option. I only shoot gigs as a "paid hobby" so it doesn't make sense to have a subscription when I don't make a ton of money shooting.

In the end, options are great! I loved using lightroom and if you're cool with a subscription, it's definitely the easier to use one. Capture One has the benefit of speed, color, tethering, and ultimate customizability. There's really no truly wrong answer.

Gregory Mason's picture

For me tethering was the main problem when I had C1, it always broke down during a shoot, where as I have problem with LR on that front. Apart from that if I was working full time photographer I would definitely be using C1.

Chris Rogers's picture

IMO C1 is far better for me than Lightroom at everything except panoramas and HDR.