After 10 years of working in Adobe Lightroom, I recently moved to Capture One Pro (C1). Initially, I was just wondering if there was anything on the market that could be better than Lightroom. The development goes forward by leaps and bounds, so it is not that pointless to occasionally remove the blinkers and look around. During a one-year long excursion full of various tests of RAW editors that were on the market at that time, I tried living for a few months with each of DxO Lab 2, Luminar 3, and Capture One Pro 11 and 12. The last one seemed to me the most mature and at the end of the trial, I purchased a full version 12. Since then, I have edited with Capture One Pro hundreds of photos from my last year’s trips to Madagascar, Greece, Costa Rica, Shetland, Pantanal and Borneo. I would say, it clawed itself under my skin and we became quite good mates. Still – Adobe Lightroom has several features that I miss in C1. For example, I really miss the ability to view photos thru the subfolders, which is very bitter when you want to quickly browse through the photos from your trip and you have to frustratingly click through all the photo folders one by one. I try to bypass this with collections, but it’s not the same. Likewise, on C1 I’m not too keen on the fact that when editing a photo you cannot reduce it to something smaller than “fit to screen”. I quite like to edit photos on a smaller preview, which helps me to perceive the context of each edit. And thirdly, I lack the ability to quickly compare “before and after” edits at the touch of just one key. Even as a seasoned Lightroom user this is where my list of cons ends, though. On the contrary, I absolutely revel in the possibilities offered by Capture One and below are my TOP 7 pros. Occasionally, I will compare certain functionalities with Lightroom, in which I spent an entire decade of my photographic life. However, I wouldn’t like for it to sound that LR is terrible and C1 is so amazing. I consider both of them to be at the vanguard of RAW photo editing softwares and I honestly like them both. Capture One currently suits my work better and here are seven main reasons why. I edit my photos on an EIZO CS2730 monitor, so I for illustration purposes I placed my portrait previews of 6 kinds of toucans on a picture of the monitor, which you can click on for higher resolution. See also my article – what’s new in Capture One Pro 20.
A selection of my photos taken last year and edited in Capture One Pro 12
1) Virtually unlimited customisation options
Initially, as a longtime Lightroom user, I naturally struggled with a completely different interface. There was practically nothing ‘where it should be’. However, as I immersed myself in it, I gradually discovered incredible possibilities of customising everything. A user can put their own toolbars in their favorite place, swap them from left to right and put their workflow exactly as they want it. True, even Lightroom now allows you to move tools, but especially the Basic toolbar is so extensive that moving it will actually not help much. In C1, once you find the best layout for your work, it can be saved as a Workspace, and you can get back to the original settings with one click. C1 offers a selection of pre-installed workspaces, which include Simplified, B&W, Weddings or Migration. The last one is aimed at former Lightroom users. If you are in the process of trialing C1 then I’d recommend switching workspace to Migration and suddenly you will feel (almost) at home. Unfortunately, I noticed the Migration workspace only after I was “tweaking” my own ones, which I named Lightroom Basic and Lightroom Advanced. Here, I have saved a few personal practical settings that make my work even easier. So, if you are confused by the initial C1 appearance, do not worry as it’s just one of many customisable variants, one of which may be a traditional “Lightroom” layout that you can access in one click (well, three actually).
2) Custom keyboard shortcuts for virtually anything
Now, customising your workspace is one thing, but imagine how excited I was at the prospect of assigning keyboard shortcuts to virtually anything. There are 13 categories available with hundreds of options. Of course, no one is pushing you to create and use them all. The great part is that you can create your own profile with your own keyboard shortcuts. Of course, any Lightroom immigrant will first want to know that he won’t lose his favorite “G” and “D”. Workspace and shortcut customisation helps tremendously to really maximise the program’s potential.
3) Possibility to compare up to 12 different photos side by side
If you often shoot series of pictures of animals or sports, for example, you probably know the pain of looking for the best shot from the series. I used to do this in Zoner, then in ACDSee. Lightroom can also compare photos side by side, but unfortunately only two, and loading them in full res takes forever, unless you have created large thumbnails when importing. Therefore, I was really pleased when I learnt that C1 allows me to compare up to 12 photos at a time and their loading is comparatively fast. All enlarged photos are fully loaded in full resolution in about 15 seconds, which is extremely convenient when culling.
4) Working in layers
I have to admit that I really like Photoshop and its precise local editing using layers and masks. Lightroom does not have this option, or at least not as user-friendly. That’s why, after the basic edits in Lightroom, I used to bridge to Photoshop, which has much better and more accurate local edits. Layers in C1 largely bypass this need. Despite my going to Photoshop anyway, the photo is much more ready thanks to its layers and is largely finished. If anything helps, it’s indeed a combination of layers and definition of luminance areas using the Luma Range.
5) Accurate masking of brightness with the Luma Range
The Luma range is a new tool since last year’s version 12, and in fact it was one of the strongest arguments why I even started exploring Capture One. Newer versions of Lightroom CC have a similar tool, but in C1 it is much more sophisticated and user friendly. All you need to do is create a layer and use two handles, we know from the Level tool, to determine where the local adjustment of brightness will apply. For example, if my toucan has a burnt upper beak, which happens often, with Luma Range all you need to do is apply a new layer mask to specific places and levels of brightness. This way you can be assured that the adjustment tool will not be applied anywhere else. What Capture One can salvage of the burnt areas is quite unthinkable. In another layer, you can for example, elevate shadows. All in all, the combination of layers and the Luma range is incredibly strong. In the future, it would be great to upgrade the software with something like the Sharpness range that would similarly define places within and out of depth of field, which would be brilliant for local noise removal and precise sharpening. I guess we’re gonna have to wait and see and keep using this advanced tool in Photoshop that works great.
6) Amazing image detail processing
For my testing the quality of the output was crucial. It’s not enough to take a photo, blindly open it in several programs and then compare the sharpness. This would give you a very distorted idea of true program’s functionalities. Which is why I spent up to several months testing each software because it’s important to understand their logic and principles. Objectively, I have to admit that there were times when for example DxO gave me a sharper photo. Unfortunately, these were hardly definable situations and I was not able to pinpoint when & why this was happening, because on other occasions the output was much worse. The outputs were very inconsistent, and similarly, I was not convinced by Luminar 3, which I consider to be the “best unfinished piece of software” on the market. In terms of output quality and consistent results, the true winners are unsurprisingly Capture One and Lightroom. Latest Lightroom CC Classic update produces the outputs practically identical to C1 in many cases (last year I didn’t feel that way though). I’m really excited with my own default sharpening setting, which I apply to all my photos with absolutely minimal adjustment. If the photo is out of focus, outside the depth of field or blurred due to movement, I prefer to use specialised tools such as for example “magic” Topaz Labs software that I wrote about in another article.
7) Possibility of using floating panels
When I started using Lightroom 10 years ago, I was really annoyed that the adjustment sliders were pretty short. The longer the sliders, the finer and more precise the selected finish. Fortunately, Lightroom can now stretch the side panel and the sliders are nicely long. Short sliders also bothered me in Luminar 3. So, how is Capture One doing, you ask? Very well, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t put it in TOP 7. Not only does the C1 offers pleasantly long adjustment sliders, but you can also expand the side panel to some extent. Their range is quite close to the ‘extended’ Lightroom panels, so they are adequately precise. If needed, the tools can be removed from the taskbar and used as floating tools, then returned back. This is especially handy for example when using curves. In C1, you can enlarge it easily across the whole image if need be, and create perfect curves. The other tools are the same size as the fixed ones in the edit panel. Removing and returning the panel is simple, just drag and drop.
Video [EN subtitles]
In April, I uploaded a YouTube video that reflects my personal viewpoints on key differences between Capture One and Lightroom and draws on the information in this article. I have some settings already a bit different and more will be added with the new version but I still believe that if you want to see Capture One used next to Lightroom, it may be a useful video to you.
Capture One is ultra complex that is made up for by sheer editing convenience. Those users, that are frightened by its basic looking interface, will surely be pleased that with just a few clicks, everything can be changed by omitting those complex tools, which can be gradually added back to your workflow. The new version of Capture One 20 is here. See my article – what’s new in Capture One Pro 20. Ultimately, if you are considering changing RAW editor, I strongly recommend taking Capture One Pro into consideration under a free monthly trial. You have an option to purchase a monthly subscription, similar to the Adobe products, or as a perpetual license with no additional payments. Yes, C1 is more expensive out of most current software on the market, but at the same time it’s one of the best.
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