Lightroom v. Capture One Pro

If you have read my posts about Lightroom and Capture One Pro, you will already know that I have a love affair with Capture One Pro. It is now time to pit some of what I consider their best and worst features side by side in our latest test of Lightroom v. Capture One Pro. We are only going to look at Lightroom CC Classic in this article because I still don’t understand Adobe’s release of Lightroom CC earlier this year.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Price

In order to get an updatable copy of Lightroom CC Classic you need to have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. There are two plan options which include Lightroom CC Classic for photographers. One plan is $9.99 a month and the other is $19.99 a month. The $19.99 plan essentially gives you more online storage. Both of these plans include Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic CC, Photoshop CC and Spark. Adobe will send software updates at will and it will cost you nothing additional to run the latest versions.

Phase One has a similar yet different system in play for Capture One Pro. They are allowing photographers to purchase a software license out-right. For $299 you can buy the software, which includes minor updates free of charge. About once a year Phase One will introduce a major update and charge an upgrade fee of $79. In addition to the license buy out, they offer a perpetual monthly license option just like Adobe. This will set you back $15 every month, but all upgrades are included. The major downside is that Phase One doesn’t offer Photoshop, so if you bounce between Lightroom and Photoshop you are going to need to pay for both products. This means your base monthly outlay will be $24.99 if you choose to go with Capture One Pro as your photo editing software of choice and want Photoshop as well.

Do photographers need all these options?

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Gimmick Overload

Lightroom has become way too gimmicky for me. I think Adobe has sacrificed Lightroom performance by providing too many useless features. I am not sure how many pro photographers will use Web, Slideshow, Map or Sync. Yes, seeing where you have taken your photos on a map is cool, but I am not sure how you would quickly find a photo searching that way. Nor am I convinced that you could easily sync a large catalog of photos to your mobile device without performance snags either.

As a pro photographer I really only want organization and processing features. I need the ability to find a photo quickly and then make it look like I intended. I have dumped many of Adobe’s added gimmicks in Lightroom for other platforms all together.

Capture One Pro is giving the pro photographer a powerful yet, simple photo editing tool. It is not a module based system like Lightroom. You open the software and go to work on your photos. From the same UI you can edit, adjust, and catalog a photo however you need to. On top of this you can organize your workspace however you like. If you like to add keywords, followed by adjusting exposure, followed by adding captions, you can customize the Capture One Pro workspace to allow for this.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro workspace © Jay Goodrich
Old and Busted Windows 98 workspace? (Click to Enlarge)
Lightroom v. Capture One Pro workspace © Jay Goodrich
Or the New Hotness workspace of Capture One Pro? (Click to Enlarge)

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Workspace

The Lightroom workspace is the photo editing equivalent of Windows 98. There was a time when it’s workspace was not cool, but ok. That time was short lived though and photographers are still looking at an ugly workspace every time they want to do any kind of work with their photos.

The Capture One Pro workspace is modern. It makes you feel like it was “Designed by Apple in Cupertino”. In addition, Capture One Pro’s workspace is fully customizable. You can move tools around, turn tools off, and make the software work for you.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Performance

Even though Adobe released a speed upgrade for Lightroom earlier this year something has yet again changed. I wrote about how impressed I was with the new release. Lightroom seems to have slowed again. It’s as if Lightroom’s performance has run out of nitrous. I will say that it could be my 4 year old iMac at this point, but Lightroom has never made feel like I am rolling around in a Porsche – more like 1977 Beetle.

Capture One Pro is significantly faster than Lightroom. There are a few features that I suspect give Capture One Pro the speed benefits over Lightroom. For starters, Capture One Pro doesn’t include all those useless gimmicky features like Maps, Slideshow and Web Modules. It doesn’t include modules at all. Second, Capture One Pro builds it’s previews based on your monitor’s resolution. The feature speeds up Capture One’s rendering, but it comes with a cost though – storage.

Because both software packages are non-destructive to your original RAW photos, they need to read and write between the catalog and workspace every time you select a new photo. The catalog is the albatross around both platforms necks. Though the benefit of the catalog still probably out-weighs its negatives.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - The Catalogs

Adobe significantly shrunk the catalog of Lightroom in their speed release earlier this year. This helped with both performance and saving hard disk space. The other benefit to Lightroom’s catalog is that it saves photo Previews and Smart Previews separately. This allows you to delete the previews you generate to in-turn save space on your computer. In addition, you can delete photo previews for folders you are done working on/mastering. This is a fairly large advantage over Capture One Pro.

Capture One Pro also runs a catalog system like Lightroom. However, Capture One Pro’s catalog is all encompassing. Your photo previews are not separate from the Catalog so they cannot be deleted. Capture One Pro also needs monitor resolution sized photos to help it run fast. Unlike Lightroom though, Capture One’s previews are all Smart Previews, meaning it is not generating two different sets of previews as part of it’s functionality and those previews can be utilized if your photo storage is offline. This makes Capture One Pro’s catalog significantly larger than the Lightroom catalog if you are diligent about deleting the Lightroom previews.

One other important little catalog feature in Capture One. You can have multiple catalogs open at once. This gives you easy access to searching those multiple catalogs. You can create individual smaller catalogs and even break your catalogs up by subject if you wanted. The sky is the limit for you workflow options.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Photo Quality

Photos in Lightroom have always looked soft to me. Yes, there is an article about how to create a Develop Preset to help your photos look better, but Lightroom still just doesn’t compete. Sharpness and noise are harder to deal with in Lightroom using the same camera and file structure.

Capture One Pro makes your photos look better without you having to think about it. Import photos and boom, Capture One Pro renders them sharper and with less noise than Lightroom. It doesn’t matter what camera you use. You don’t need to create any type of preset either.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Ease of Use

Lightroom is easy to use. There are tons of tutorials online from everyone and their mothers. Based on what I see from participants in my workshops, most people know and understand the basics. I also see that most people don’t understand how preset crazy you can get with Lightroom in order to maximize efficiency though.

Capture One Pro is just as easy to use as Lightroom. I have found that people get hung up on the very fact that Capture One Pro is NOT Lightroom. While it is very similar it is different. This doesn’t make it worse. Phase One has done a fantastic job with their webinar series. In fact, I watched a dozen of their webinars before even opening Capture One for the first time. When I finally downloaded the free trial, I was off to the races.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Local Adjustments

Adobe added some refinement tools to their local adjustments earlier this year. While these new features helped, Lightroom still lacks in the local adjustments department. I am not sure why Adobe just didn’t adopt their local adjustments that are built into Photoshop for Lightroom. Why reinvent the wheel when you already have it? Not much of what Adobe does makes sense to me anymore though. They have two different versions of Lightroom which do much of the same thing. Bizarre.

Phase One has nailed the non-destructive local adjustment options inside of Capture One. Capture One’s local adjustment system is layer based just like Photoshop. Their masking system is completely editable and refinable. The adjustments give you almost as much control as you can find in Photoshop. Yet, you do not have convert the file from a RAW to make those adjustments.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro color adjustments © Jay Goodrich
Lightroom's targeted color adjustments are limiting compared to Capture One Pro. (Click to Enlarge)
Lightroom v. Capture One Pro color adjustments © Jay Goodrich
Which looks like a more sophisticated color editor? Lightroom on the left or Capture One Pro's above? Answer - look above. (Click to Enlarge)

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Color Adjustments

While Lightroom does have a good targeted and global color adjustment system in place, it is severely lacking when compared to Capture One. The tools do work in Lightroom, but they are less accurate and have very little refinement capabilities. Push specific color adjustments too far and you will begin to see halos at those color borders. Plus it is much harder to separate out color tones in Lightroom. 

In Capture One you can refine colors with significant accuracy. You can even create a mask for a local adjustment of almost ANY type using the color selection tools. You can also create pixel based selections and change mask parameters after the fact and really refine a color selection down to a very color specific tone. This is Photoshop for RAW editing.

The dreaded (Q) shortcut in Lightroom. The Spot Removal Tool. (Click to Enlarge)

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Dust Cloning

I am throwing this tool in here because I feel the only software that allows you to clone out dust in an easy manner is Photoshop.

Lightroom may be the slowest and clunkiest of all our options when you are trying to clone out sensor dust. It is like watching paint dry. This singular tool zaps every bit of power from your computer. It is so draining in fact, that I clean my camera sensor before and after every single shoot so I only spend limited time using this feature.

While Capture One’s dust removal tool is as fast a Photoshop, there are times when it just won’t delete the dust. The second option in Capture One is to create a heal layer and then pick a sample location – which is usually the fix, but more time consuming as well.

Sensor dust isn’t going away people. Software developers need to come up with an easy solution that is FAST.

Setting up a custom keywording workspace in Capture One Pro is easy. Then all you have to do is make it part of your personal workflow. (Click to Enlarge)

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Keywording

One last comparison here.

Keywording in Lightroom isn’t bad. It does require more processor power than you would think. The main thing that irritates me about this tool is that you have to save a metadata preset to apply a set of keywords in Lightroom. You can however, use a plugin to search stock photo websites for keywords that are actually being searched and essentially steal them.

Capture One doesn’t have a plugin (that I know about) to search and steal keywords from stock sites light Getty. They do allow you to build a keyword hierarchy and library though. This allows you to apply a series of keywords to a single photo or series of photos with one click. So when I photograph in Grand Teton National Park tomorrow, I can add a base set of keywords on import or after the fact without having to apply multiple metadata presets.

Lightroom v. Capture One Pro - Decisions

So who wins? Well I think that depends on what features you want/need. If speed is important, I would probably go with Capture One. If cost is an issue I would probably go with Lightroom. Hands down though, if you want your photos to look the absolute best, I would use Capture One Pro. Don’t worry if you are a major Photoshop user, Capture One integrates with Photoshop just as simply as Lightroom does. I personally think Capture One is a superior product at this point. I justify the extra $15 a month because I already run the entire Adobe Creative Cloud suite for other apps like Illustrator and Dreamweaver. This means that I am not going to escape the fees from Adobe regardless. If you haven’t chosen a way to process your photos at this point, I would definitely take a look at beginning with Capture One Pro.

Get your very own – GAME CHANGER. It is quite possibly the best camera on the market for the money.

5 Responses

  1. Hi Jay,
    Stumbled across your blog searching about Capture One and been reading a few of your posts. I am switching from lightroom and I think you missed a big difference. SESSIONS! The fact the capture one gives a photographer to work in sessions rather than just a catalog is huge for me. I loathe the lightroom catalog, its so limited and it seems to want everything in the root folder. Im old school, and want some basic folder organization so if the software goes away (Aperture!) I have some kind of organized structure to my files and can find what I need just via OSX Finder or Windows Explorer. Lightroom will surely let you put an edit in a subfolder for example but then it won’t allow stacking if its not in the same folder. Thats just one example of limitations I feel the Lr catalog is.

    As a portrait photographer sessions just make much more sense to me and I love that Capture One gives you the option. You can ever import a session into a catalog if thats what you want to do. Professionals want power tools, and after spending time working with Capture One and experiencing much of what you have already wrote about, Im convinced that Lightroom is a toy in comparison.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Yes, I completely agree with you about Sessions. I haven’t mentioned Sessions, because for me, it is not as easy to use Sessions for my workflow. For you however, it is the perfect solution. As a portrait photographer, you are dealing with very specific shoots, with a very specific client. I completely understand that you can use your OS to search for something, but for me, search is a much different and extensive situation. So I need the catalog to easily search in a specific manner. Capture One also gives you the option of working in both because it allows you to work in multiple Catalogs and Sessions at once. Basically, the reason I love this software is that it super adaptable to ANY photographer. Unlike you know who…

      If you or anyone needs more info, Capture One also has some of the best webinar sessions. They highlight the pluses and minuses of both Catalogs and Sessions which can be viewed here:

      At this point, I truly don’t feel there is a perfect solution for editing our images. There positives and negatives to each.

      Thank you for the awesome comment on this!



  2. “Capture One Pro is significantly faster than Lightroom”.

    In some ways perhaps but I have LR 6 and C1 v11 and ~20k images in each catalog. I can search my entire LR catalog for any attribute or text and it always returns all of my results within a second. In C1, searching my entire catalog takes 20-30 minutes; If I narrow my search down to one folder that contains maybe 100 files or so, C1 still takes 5 minutes to search. Searching in C1 is deathly slow! From my reading on the internet, this has been a problem with C1 for many releases and they don’t seem to be addressing this problem.

  3. Thanks for this! Very helpful.
    One question that I cant figure out…
    Is it possible to copy a heal layer from one image and apply it to others?
    I cant figure out how and its driving me crazy.
    I have a sequence of images that were shot on a tripod and need to clone out one small item (too large for the spot repair) but very easy with the healing brush. How can I do it on one then apply to all the other images?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Noah,

      It is possible to copy a heal layer from one image and apply it to others. You need to use the Copy/Apply feature in the upper main tool bar. When I have a bunch of images shot like yours I will add a Heal Layer to the first one, then Click Copy/Apply, then select the other images that I want to apply the Heal Layer to, and Click Copy/Apply again.


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