Software Wars: Can Capture One Pro Defeat Lightroom Classic?

Software Wars: Can Capture One Pro Defeat Lightroom Classic?

Capture One has a great reputation for image quality but comes with a premium price tag. Does it live up to its reputation, and is that extra cost worth it compared to other programs? I tested it side by side with Adobe Lightroom Classic.

If you read my previous article, you will have seen that I was testing different cameras' raw files in Lightroom Classic. Using Lightroom as a benchmark, I now compare how the same images appear in other programs, and my first stop is Capture One. I hope you will refer back to that article to compare some of the results.

Capture One Pro is very different in its layout from Lightroom, and that took me a little while to get used to it. From a Digital Asset Management DAM perspective, the range of functions is very similar, but they are presented and operated in very different ways. I like the layout better in Lightroom, but that may be because it is what I am used to. Saying that, the workspaces in Capture One are customizable.

A screenshot of Capture One showing the tone adjustments.

An even more significant difference falls in how the adjustment sliders behave. For example, the contrast slider in Lightroom emphasizes darkening the shadows to increase contrast. Whereas, in Capture One, the overall effect is brightening and darkening the tonal extremes of the image much more evenly, even perhaps with an emphasis on brightening. Other sliders, such as Saturation, have less effect on the more saturated colors and more on the more muted shades.

I ran the same pictures through Capture One as I had with Lightroom for my previous article. I've also tested some additional ones but have not included them in the article for copyright reasons. There are significant differences.

Capture One showing some of the color adjustment tools.

These tests are solely image quality results on raw files straight out of the cameras. The raw files can be adjusted. Every program is unique and has its own extra features besides its raw engine algorithms. Consequently, other factors may persuade you to use one program or another. Furthermore, I don't have the resources to test every camera on the market and certainly not under the same lighting conditions.

Where appropriate, I've mentioned that I have developed photos to achieve what I think are better outcomes. Still, these results are subjective, so I have only included them to illustrate a particular point. Furthermore, as I have said before, I am more experienced at adjusting images in Lightroom Classic than in Capture One. So, others will be more skilled. Therefore, they may get better results than I did.

Camera Brand-Specific Test Results

Nikon and Capture One

In my previous article, I said Nikon users would be happy with the resulting image quality if they owned Lightroom. Now that I have tried Capture One, I am amending that statement. A Nikon user will be happy with the image quality of Lightroom Classic but probably happier with Capture One.

With Capture One at default values, the raw previews with Nikon images are bolder and sharper than with Lightroom. In the test image, I can see individual pine needles on the tree much more clearly at a 100% zoom in Capture One.

JPEG produced from Capture One with default settings. Click to see larger version.

There is more contrast with the unadjusted image too. This gives the overall effect of the preview image looking darker. Despite the darker shadows, I increased them without producing any noise in the picture. There was also little evidence of noise in Lightroom when the image was viewed at 100% zoom on increasing the shadows.

At 100% zoom, there is much more definition visible in the pine needles than seen in Lightroom.

The other thing that Capture One did better was the handling of global color adjustments. With a landscape shot, I reduced the highlights slider, and the pale blues in the sky became visible. In Lightroom, achieving the same effect required significantly increasing the Vibrance slider. However, that oversaturated the greens of the trees and yellows in the grass, which then needed adjusting back in the HSL panel.

Skin tones in portraits also looked bright and vibrant, and the color seemed accurate too. This wasn't true of all camera brands.

Canon and Capture One

The overall look of the default image was similarly improved in Capture One over Lightroom Classic. The image was more impactful, and the fine details were sharper when zooming right in.

As I reported in my previous article, Lightroom did not accurately reproduce colors, and this difference is stark when comparing the same photo with Capture One and Lightroom. The blues of the model's top look purple in Lightroom Classic, whereas they are more accurate in Capture One.

Similarly, at default, the skin tones in Lightroom appear flat in Lightroom, whereas Capture One gave bright and impactful results. Increasing the brightness of the shadows in both programs produced similar noise levels, although this was well controlled in both.

OM System and Capture One

The results from Capture One with raw files from the OM System didn't surprise me. Several top pros who use the system develop images in Capture One for one good reason: the resulting pictures look far better. I agree.

In Capture One (right in the above shot), the overall exposure is much closer to what one sees through the viewfinder; it's brighter. I've found that Lightroom drops the exposure by at least half a stop.

Unexpectedly, in the shot shown above, I could entirely recover the sun's blown highlights without them turning grey in Capture One; I needed to reduce the exposure by 1.5 stops for that to happen. In comparison, with Lightroom, despite the overall image already looking darker, it took 2.1 stops of reduction to do the same, and the sun became a muddy grey.

One would expect the reverse to be true at the other end. On the contrary, a hugely underexposed image took 2.46 stops of exposure adjustment to recover shadow details and only two stops in Capture One. This would suggest that the effective dynamic range using Capture One is greater than in Lightroom.

However, there was one area where Lightroom outperformed Capture One. In the under-exposed image shot at night, +2 EV has been added in exposure during processing. Some faint reds and blues are reflected in the water, seen center-left of the above heavily cropped images. Lightroom Classic (left) could recover these colors, but Capture One (right) couldn't see them. Even on adjustment, only the tones appeared, and they were colorless. However, the rest of the image looked far better when processed by Capture One: most colors were more saturated, and there was no proliferation of digital artifacts visible in the Lightroom version.

As I reported in the previous article, Lightroom's big failure is that it produces some nasty digital artifacts with OM System files at default settings. At default, all images are hugely over-sharpened, and even reducing the sharpening to zero leaves some graininess. These issues are not the case with Capture One, which gives clean images with little visible noise even when increasing the luminance of the shadows.

Sony and Capture One

The one brand that would make me less likely to swap from Lightroom to Capture One is Sony, but only for one specific reason.

The exposure differences experienced with Lightroom images with the OM System camera were evident with Sony raw files. However, although the Lightroom images appeared darker, the browns in Capture One appeared both darker and a lot more yellow. Consequently, in Capture One, a man's brown face appeared jaundiced at default values. This was not evident with caucasian models. If you photograph people of color, the combination of Sony and Capture One does not seem a good choice. I struggled to get the skin color correct.

Below is the straight-out-of-camera result. Lightroom is on the left and Capture One on the right.


I am sure some readers do photograph people of color using a Sony camera and develop in Capture One. If that is you, I would be fascinated to hear your experiences in the comments; I fully accept that it may be my lack of experience with the program was the cause.

The strange thing was that when I compared the same image of a caucasian climber in the two programs, the subject appeared more yellow in Lightroom. Again, Capture One is on the right in the following image comparison.

Capture One produces brighter previews for Sony raw files than Lightroom Classic. Furthermore, Adobe's program also produces some nasty-looking artifacts with images shot at ISO 400 that were not there in Capture One. Also, recovering shadows in Capture One led to less noise.

Fujifilm and Capture One

You may remember from my Lightroom tests that it performed poorly with Fujifilm images, lacking detail in greens. Again, the results could have been better here, although they are far improved over Lightroom Classic's offering.

Noise control is great in Capture One. Like with all the modern cameras I tested, noise is far less of an issue nowadays.

Although chromatic aberrations were very pronounced in the default settings – the Fujifilm lens was the only one I tested that showed it significantly – those were removed by checking the appropriate box in the lens correction panel. Also, its removal didn't leave a thin halo, as can happen with Adobe's programs. I don't know why that isn't checked by default.

The colored fringing visible here could be quickly removed. The details in the tree is still not perfect, but it's better than in Lightroom. My previous article shows the results from that software.

All colors were bolder and more saturated in Capture One than in Lightroom and grays were slightly warmer, giving landscapes a richer look. This warming seemed less than in the Sony images. In comparison, the default Lightroom version appeared pasty and needed more punch.

What I Like and What Can Be Improved in Capture One

Compared to Lightroom, in most circumstances, Capture One's image results compared favorably to Lightroom's. Where it fell behind using the default values. It could be adjusted to match or surpass Lightroom. I could also adjust Lightroom to equal the Capture One default image, but in almost every circumstance except with the Sony portraits, I could achieve far better results with Capture One.

Across all brands, the images looked more vibrant, had better contrast, and had better detail. Moreover, noise reduction did not leave the photos looking muddy as Lightroom's tool does.

I prefer Lightroom's layout. I find it more intuitive, but that may be because of its familiarity; I've used it for many years, and Capture One is new to me.

The elephant in the room, though, is the cost. The lowest subscription price is $179/year, around $60/year more than the Adobe Photographer Plan, and you get a lot more tools from Adobe; it includes Photoshop and its mobile cloud service. However, if image quality is of primary importance to you, you do most of your work in raw development, and you have a flexible budget, then Capture One is a good choice.

That doesn't make Lightroom Classic a lousy program for developing images. If it were, it would not be as successful as it is. However, as these real-world tests show, there are other choices, and Capture One produces excellent results. But is it the best?

Next time, I'll review DxO PhotoLab 6 and see how it compares with Lightroom Classic. Will it do an even better job than Capture One? 

I want to once again thank my fellow writers for generously sharing their images for me to play with: Used with the kind permission of Peter Morgan, Canon; Gary McIntyre, Fujifilm X-T5 and Nikon Z 7II;  Andy Day, Sony a7 III, and John Ricard, Sony A7 and Nikon Z6.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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C1 offers better file quality, however considering the price, many including my self can not justify the added expense. ( Still need PS )

I have b even using C1 exclusively for tethering and image processing for ten years, I find it to be superior to LR. I don’t think that Photoshop is going to be replaced anytime soon but C1 has made strides since v12.

I m 100% with you. I still need a photoshop subscription too. That means an added subscription. Other than that, I m impressed with the results of C1

Thanks, for your comments George and Tony. The price is a premium one and, given the current financial situation, that is going to be a major factor for more and more people.

I think C1 has the edge over LR but the Adobe package with Photoshop is better and much better value if you go subscription. Now that C1 has given the screw you to it's perpetual license users, I've switched over to PhotoLab 6. Better results but not as polished or as fast as C1.

You feel like you get better results from PL6 than C1 or than Lr?

I jumped off the C1 bandwagon when it became clear that they were trying to punish perpetual license holders. Prices for upgrades had doubled over just a few years and they no longer discounted the upgrades either. It became cheaper to buy a new license every year than upgrade the one you already had.

I think I'm getting better results in PL6 than C1 mostly because PL6 has far superior noise reduction and u-point (which is both a pro and con when it comes to local adjustments). I haven't used LR since 2016 so I can't provide a current evaluation of it.

I never bought into 23 as it just didn't offer any benefits to my workflow and I definitely didn't find it worth their asking price! 22 at least added HDR which has done really well for the real estate side of my business. (I did verify that I can merge HDR's in C1 then finish them off in PL6 if desired) Anyway, if I ever had to go back to C1, I would probably have to do a 3+ year upgrade cycle to make it worthwhile as they just aren't prioritizing features that would help my workflow.

Still my upgrade-license from v22 to v23 cost me less than a yearly subscription would have cost me, and despite the changes in licensing they have later stated that they will not actually want to increase the year-on-year cost for owners of a permanent license who upgrade on a yearly basis.

That, and I find that I get better images from CaptureOne than from DxO Photolabs 6 under a number of circumstances -- in particular, shadow recovery.

Add the features and performance and C1 remains my main RAW file editor and Affinity Photo for when I need mutiple pixel layers.

I'm reviewing Photolab 6 next, Jaron. I got some really good results from it, but my tests are limited to just a handful of cameras shooting under different circumstances. Nevertheless, I hope they encourage people to try other options to see what works best for them.

The shadow / highlight recovery with C1 is much better than LR with Sony and Canon files in my experience..

I'm not a pro, but since I moved from EOS 7D M2 to ROS E I'm struggling with LrC (see my comment in your prev article: I need to lower sharpness to zero and apply Neutral profile during importing), and even if it's just a hobby I could afford the extra $$$ (and I do not use PS), and I'm not evens scared about the different layout... Unfortunately it'd be annoying to re-edit all my catalog: unfortunately importing the catalog from LrC to C1 you do lose most of the editing.

I am about to import the catalog to DxO PhotoLab 6 for a future comparison article. I have previously done that to On1 Photo Raw and most of the edits remained. Saying that, I tended to re-edit anyway as I am never satisfied! Thanks for the comment.

About layour: CaptureOne has a layout that is very similar to Lightroom I beleve?

As for the Sony and Capture One, it almost seems (I'm not saying that it is) you have the raws mixed up. :D . The reason is I've never had files that yellow/green unless there were grass or leaves around. Generally, C1 leans towards magenta. Whenever I play around with LR, it seems to lean towards yellow/green when using the in-camera profiles.

Below SOOC raw image +1 exposure: C1 default on the left; LR default, which uses the in-camera profile "Camera Standard", on the right.

Thanks, I did wonder if I had done that at first, so I did actually go back and check, and exported them a second time to make sure. In your example, the Lightroom one definitely looks more yellow. I must do some more investigating. Super photo. Thanks for sharing it and your experience.

I shoot people of colour, with Nikon and Sony and edit solely in C1 (I still have LR). Don't remember ever having the yellow skin issue. The last I observed, there seems to be a bit green tint in my shadows mostly and had to apply an overall layer with some color fix (guess it was a color cast and WB could not fix without messing other things up) , the results where game changing.
One habit I have been doing is playing with other camera profile to see which I like best.

Thank you, Edwin. I only noticed the yellowish tint when I compared it with Lightroom and other programs. I'll persevere and see if I can get other results. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

I shoot Sony. I like the skin colors produced by C1. It all depends on the camera profile C1 is using (I use the Sony A1 Pro profile). If skincolors are not how you want them to be then ksut modify them and tell C1 to use this modified profile for all RAW photos you import from that specific camera. It is that simple.
The skin color correction in C1 does not exist in any other software. It is just briliant. It does not fix skin colors but makes slin colors uniform. (eg. change red ears because of a temperature change to a more natureal skin color)

Every photo on my website is edited in C1, then processed in Photoshop & the finetuning of the PSD is done in C1.
The quality I get from C1 is for some reason better compared to LR or any other RAW editor.

I don't like C1 switches to a perpetual license in the future. It is yet unknown what they mean by another price model offered for "loyal customers".

Thank you Joeri, that's really useful. That's a fabulous gallery too, thank you for sharing it.

At least 7 years back I moved from LR to C1, primarily due to LR crashing, I needed a less stress free option. C1 has been excellent using Canon, Nikon, Fuji, and Sony gear always shooting raw images. C1 has become far more intuitive, rendering beautiful natural colors, with superior highlight and shadow recovery.
I am thrilled with my Sony + C1 combination in portraiture for people of all colours, honestly it is magical. During a recent impromptu photo session with a beautiful young couple his darker skin and her lighter skin were exposed perfectly, I could not be happier with the results.
The only and main deterrent to C1 is pricing, it is flying off the rails, literally.
This year I am holding back from upgrading leaving my options open.

Nobody should pay full price for C1. Once you register, they periodically send out discount codes, and stores like B&H have sales too. For Sony users, Capture One Expess is free, which is hard to beat for beginners.

Same for Fuji users, but it doesn't allow editing with layers, which makes it far less useful (to me at least).

The results are certainly pretty good by all accounts. Thanks for the good comment.

I'm glad it works for you.

If you’re reading the articles on this website, it’s highly likely that you’ve spent many thousands of dollars on your camera equipment. Whether you’re a professional or an amateur, you like to have your photographs represent your best efforts…they are your “brand.” If you’re a professional, they help you build your business with prospective clients. If you’re a hobbyist, you like to show them to friends and family. You want to be proud of your work.

Many complain about the cost of Capture One. That’s okay. But let’s look at a little context. As of today, Capture One’s future pricing and licensing policies are unclear at best. However, let’s assume for the moment that you can purchase a new or an upgrade perpetual license for about $300 a year. There are 365 days in the year. That works out to about $0.82 USD per day to use your license.

I understand, everyone’s financial situation is different, and each of us must decide what’s best for their bottom line. I also understand Adobe’s products are good and their licensing plans are likely less expensive. However, think about it in the context of how much you’ve invested in your photographic business or hobby – Capture One for 82-cents a day doesn’t look too prohibitive?

Sounds like some sleazy salesman/advert tactic, cost "per day". Most bills are monthly, every 3/6 months, or yearly. That's how most people budget.

--- "Capture One for 82-cents a day doesn’t look too prohibitive?"

Yes, $300 a year is cost prohibitive for many.

a) They are very slow at innovation. For instance, right now, almost everyone and their mother have some form of "AI".

b) There are just as, if not more, powerful tools for less. And, often more comprehensive.

c) They are no longer the top RAW editor. Back when I switched from LR to C1 in 2014, C1 was clearly superior. Nowadays, not so much.

Hi Eddie...

So my post "Sounds like some sleazy salesman/advert tactic..."

I clearly pointed out it costs $300 per year, and I clearly said "...everyone’s financial situation is different, and each of us must decide what’s best for their bottom line." I'm not sure how that's "sleazy."

But, okay.


Hey, wut up, Tom!

And, you also clearly tried to downplay the $300 by using the 82-cents per day as a distraction. That's why it's sleazy.

Funny how you didn't mention the 82-cents in your response. Now, that's double-sleazy. haha joking joking :D

All the best to you, Eddie.

Hey as long as you don't pull out piece of paper and do a "four square" I am sure that you are not a sleazy salesman.
Everyone on this forum can afford .82 per day for a useful program. I think people are just getting a little tired of all the subscriptions, but WTH I am still on C1 20.

As a people photographer using Sony (a7 RIV and a7 IV) I hate how C1 renders files; way too sharp, crunchy, and "digital" looking. And I'm not a fan of what C1 does with skin tones either; both Caucasian and POC.

I use C1 for tethering in the studio, however, because it's just so much faster. LR seems to have addressed the stability issues when tethering, but it's still slower than C1. When tethering in the studio, I just simply import my files into my LR catalog and start my workflow there which always ends up in PS anyway. It all just works and I've got the flow pretty much set in stone.

One thing I've noticed vis a vis LR, though, is how well it works with Leica files. I have an acquaintance who shoots a Leica SL2 and tethers to LR and it's way fast. It's faster than either of my Sony cameras connected to C1. And it renders the colors beautifully. It's shocking how well it works. But, of course, Leica produces .dng files natively so I'm sure that has something to do with it. I wish Sony enabled a way to produce .dng raw files on output.

--- "I hate how C1 renders files; way too sharp, crunchy, and "digital" looking."

It could be because their sharpening is too aggressive. They typically default to a range from about 140 to 180, depending on camera body and maybe lens. I changed the default to 100 and almost never have to increase it. You'll have to do this for each body/lens combo.

But, yeah, when I used to have it at their default of 180 for my a7Rii + Sigma 35 f1.4 Art, it looked like smartphone sharpness. it made no sense. That Sigma lens is one of the sharpest and they still applied heavy sharpening to it.

I generally remove all sharpening anyway. If I were a landscape photographer I might not. But with people, I generally remove it and maybe do a bit of output sharpening depending on where the image is headed.

That's an interesting comment, Daniel.

C1P is becoming very expensive. So far my post processing tools are C1P + Affinity Photo. But in my next upgrade (I buy perpetual, so I have some time) I need to look into Lightroom (cheaper subscription for the number of tools it offer).

In my next comparison, It'll be PhotoLab 6. That is a lot less than C1, and I was very impressed with the results. It might be a good alternative that doesn't require you to compromise on image quality. It's not perfect, no software is, but it is worth giving the trial a go. You are right about the increasing costs, not just of Capture One Pro, but of everything. Thanks for the comment.

Hmm... thanks for your suggestion (and, yes, I will read your comparison). I will look into it. Although I am not in a hurry to make the switch (the current C1P supports all my gears), it is good to check out and be familiar with it.

Quite beyond the issue of quality vs cost, each one can have their own opinion based on needs, preferences, equipment, type of photography or budget, for me the real issue and problem with the Adobe subscription model, which is different from other brands, is thart Adobe ties and forces their costumers to pay for one year minimum, even when paying a monthly fee we are forced to pay for a full year, you can´t just stop. The other software companies, in their subscription models, allow costumers to end in the nest month, no questions asked. And that, for me, is a deal breaker. So yes, CO1 and PL6 are much better in that regard, even before adding the quality of results to our buying decision process.

Yeah the no refund if circumstances change thing is not cool.
But OTOH Adobe will give a substantial discount if you ask for it.

If you're editing maybe 3 months or less of the year, that makes plenty of sense. But, if you're editing 5+ months of the year, you're basically paying Adobe price. Except, you have to go through the trouble of subscribing, then cancelling before the next billing cycle each time.

Interesting. Question: I do subscribe to the Lightroom/Photoshop plan, but Lightroom does not support my Canon RP for tethering. Do you think it would make sense to buy a one-off version of Capture One for tethering (and not care about buying the future versions for a few years) but keep using Lightroom for editing, since this software will keep getting updated through my subscription? In other words, can you imagine any inconvenient in not upgrading Capture One if I just use it for tethering? I don't plan on changing camera anytime soon. Sorry for the long question.

C1 is a viable alternative to Adobe. First and foremost, it isn't bloatware. Try to get rid of Adobe from your system and see how much work it takes to finally clear it out. Next, you don't need two programmes ( or three if you count Bridge) to do what one programme should do. Third, tethering in C1 works - period. Lastly, I've read a number of articles wherein the author says that C1 doesn't do this or that, so you need Adobe. Frequently, this is incorrect. However, there are a few things C1 doesn't do that Photoshop does (focus stacking - but there is a third-party plugin for it). Obviously, choose what works for you.

I'm always amazed when articles like this come out and people start complaining about Adobe's pricing, as if software is developed for free. Those who gravitated to C1 b/c of the Adobe's subscription model (which by the way, most if not all subscribe to their ISP's, mobile phone provider, streaming/cable provider's subscription model as they increase yearly). That said, you can give Adobe kudos for that photography plan that has been $9.99 for over a decade.

competition drives prices down and speeds up development.... imho.

Usually, however, it hasn't brought the price of C1 down any. Compared to the the Adobe photography plan of $10 a month, that's the best deal. When I was with Adobe (switched to C1), that's what I used.

Can you still use LRc+PS if you stop your subscription? No, because there's no perpetual license option. Can you still use C1 if you don't pay anything for a certain amount of time, or forever? Yes, because you have an option to buy a license tu use the software as long as you wish, need or suits you.
I got mine at half price and will be enough for at least 2 or 3 years. Do the math :-)
But maybe it's not a case of this or that, more of this AND that... for me the greatest strength of CC it's the ecosystem, integration between desktop+mobile.
Nothing comes close. Enough to almost forget the terrible, outdated and inflexible interface.
As to quality of results they are mostly equivalent and totally dependent of personal preferences or type of work. Aperture was the best (in the interface and depth of its catalog handllng ) in its time, but....
We are spoilt for choice, thanks for that.

Who buys software nowadays and use the same version for perpetually? I want updates and new features. Like I mentioned earlier, most people don't think twice about the Internet/TV/mobil phone subscriptions, but want to poo on Adobe for theirs. And they must be doing something right or that people like b/c there are plenty of alternatives out there now and they are still making big $$$. And for full disclosure, I moved from LR a couple of years ago to C1 b/c of the option to use either Catalogs or Sessions and I like the Sessions option. But that said, if LR had Sessions, I would likely move back, that's a great value b/c I don't know of any photographers who wants to use a 3 or 4 year old version of LR or PS. But to each their own.

The internet/tv/mobile phone analogy is flawed because it really isn't a subscription, but a service you pay to use. If you cancel one of those services or all of them you can have another company sell the same or equivalent, even at the same price or better conditions. We are not tied to them, we are free to choose another provider. And there really is not that many competitors or plenty alternatives, 2 or 3 at best (comercial software, both editors and photo management): LRC, C1, ON1 2023. Used to have Exposure X7 but apparently they are not developing their software anymore... The others are not complete solutions, they lack this or that, while excelling in some areas, DxO PL comes to mind.
But Adobe are doing a great job with LRc and even more with LR, it's a pity it's not feature equivalent with LrC, perhaps intentionally... I agree: to each it's own, and that's great. Cheers.

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