Updated for 2021
I first wrote this article last year, and since then it has become my most popular post on this blog. However, since last year, both applications have continued to develop, and both have had several new features added and both have changed the way they perform, so I felt that it was important to update this article. While the bulk of this will still be the same, there are a few things that have changed that are worth pointing out.
Despite being around for a long time, Capture One has really become more and more popular over the past few years. As capture One has gained more and more users, Adobe has also seemed to step up its development of Lightroom. With ardent fans on both sides, it can be hard for users to distinguish the facts from the fan service, and so, hopefully, this article will provide a balanced look at both.
I have been using both applications for many years now and I often switch back and forth between each as my primary editing application. This often depends on what I’m shooting with or the tasks I want to perform. I’m lucky to be in a position to be able to use both, and I realise that this doesn’t apply to everyone.
This article is primarily written from the perspective of someone looking to switch to Capture One from Lightroom, as the chances are, if you’re reading this article, that’s probably why. If you are a Lightroom user looking to make the switch, I hope this article can provide some useful information.
Features vs Functions
One of the complaints about Capture One from Lightroom users is that they don’t understand why it’s called “pro” or why someone would consider it “high end”.
This may seem like an obvious or silly question, but the answer probably isn’t what you think. While Capture One and Lightroom share many of the same functions, they aren’t the same, as in my opinion Capture One is more of a high-end tool. This may be a controversial opinion, but Capture One and Lightroom, aren’t directly competing in some respects as they occupy different segments of the market. Capture One is a more focussed tool and a more high-end tool, primarily designed around RAW processing. While it has some photo workflow and organisational tools, its primary strength comes as a raw processor.
Lightroom, on the other hand, has a broader set of tools across a lot of areas. This covers things like organisation, working with online services, creating books, making panoramas and so on. On a purely feature for feature set, Lightroom would appear to have the upper edge. But, if you’re only comparing features on a spec sheet, then you’re missing the things that make Capture One so good at what it does.
The answer is that, while it might have a smaller overall set of features, those features that it does have are generally more focused and more powerful. Often, while Lightroom may work in a certain way to achieve a certain unction, Capture One might have several different tools for that purpose, and those tools generally have more granular control.
If I was to make a bad analogy (which is always dangerous) it’s like comparing Premiere Pro to Davinci Resolve. Premiere Pro does most of what Resolve does, but if you’re colour grading, Resolve has a much more powerful toolset. In contrast, Premiere is a much broader application and appeals to a wider audience.
(This analogy falls apart a bit because Blackmagic has been busy adding features to resolve and it’s now quite a comprehensive editor too)
One example of Capture One’s more advanced capabilities is colour correction.
Capture One has a compelling set of colour correction tools, that greatly exceed what is possible in Lightroom alone. You can create individual colour keys on single colours in an image and manipulate them. You can create your own colour profiles and use them as the base calibration. You can create masks based on a colour key, and you have very precise controls over that key. You also have a three-way colour corrector similar to what you have in cinematic and video colour grading solutions. Combined with the powerful layer system in Capture One, you can have exact control over the colours in an image. And that’s just one example.
Update: Since I wrote this last year, Adobe has added a three way colour corrector to Lightroom too, and so this is one less advantage that Capture One has.