Using Capture One Pro Instead of Lightroom

Capture One Pro Introduction

As many of you know I have been struggling with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for some time now. It began when I replaced my main office computer with a new Apple Retina 5K iMac. Lightroom is slow, clunky, and crashes often. I cannot stand calling Adobe’s tech support as they seem to farm out the service overseas and everyone you talk to appears to be reading a queue card at this point. This alone is one reason I am using Capture One Pro.

As a full-time professional photographer my image editing software is the most important piece of my business puzzle. If this software becomes inefficient in any way, then the rest of my daily routines suffer as well. Early in the summer of 2016 I began looking for a replacement. I even considered finding a stray copy of Apple’s now defunct Aperture, but knowing how often OS updates are happening this didn’t seem like a realistic or viable option.

Relying on Suggestion

A friend of mine who works for Canon suggested looking at Capture One Pro. I began with some research, followed by watching a few webinars and tutorials on YouTube. What instantly caught my attention was that Capture One Pro was developed and maintained by Phase One.

Phase One makes the highest megapixel medium format camera on the market. I figured if there was a software out there that could handle 100MP RAW files, it might be able to handle my catalog of 200,000 + photos from Lightroom. So I downloaded their 30-Day FREE trial, watched more webinars, and starting tinkering around with Capture One Pro.

Capture One Pro Interface by Jay Goodrich
The Capture One Pro Interface (click to enlarge)

The Capture One Pro Interface

Immediately upon opening Capture One Pro, I knew something was going to be different. Their user interface instantly ignited the designer in me. While Lightroom feels and looks like Windows 98, Capture One Pro looks like it was designed by Apple. It is clean, contemporary, and fresh. Do you remember that line from Jerry Maguire, “You had me at Hello…”? Capture One Pro makes me want to use it. This is good because as a photographer I need to work on and release new photographs all the time.

It’s as if the designers at Phase One took the best features of Photoshop, Lightroom, Photo Mechanic, and Aperture and fused them together in one glorious package.

More Professional

In addition to falling in love with the look of Capture One, this software just seems more professional. I don’t need all of these add-ons that Adobe believes I need. I build my books in InDesign, I build my website in WordPress, I print my photos out of Photoshop, I could never sync 200,000 photos “on the line” or in my mobile device, and my camera is old-school without any sort of built-in GPS, so I do not need a mapping system.

What is extremely important to me is that my photo management platform allows me to manage my photos simply, quickly, and efficiently. This is probably why Capture One Pro seems to function better than Lightroom. It is not full of extraneous options that a true professional photographer wouldn’t need. It also doesn’t use a module base system like Lightroom. There isn’t a Library Module, Develop Module, Print Module, etc. When you open a photo from a folder in Capture One, you can work on it however you see fit.

Customizing Capture One Pro

This immediately leads me to Capture One Pro’s completely customizable workspace. If you want to adjust the exposure of your photo, then add metadata to it, then adjust color, then clone out dust, then add keywords, then make local adjustments – no problem. You can build a workspace that allows you to add each tool component of this functionality to your workspace and then save it.

So I now have a workspace that I specifically built for keywording and metadata, then one for color adjustments, then one for global processing. It’s crazy cool and completely customizable to the user’s needs.

You can also completely customize your keyboard shortcuts. If you came to Lightroom from Photoshop, you were probably accustomed to simple shortcut keys like ‘C’ for crop. In Lightroom to bring up the crop tool you need to use the ‘R’ key. This can be confusing at the start until you re-train your brain. Out of the box Capture One uses the same shortcut keys as Photoshop, but you can also change them to whatever you want! The entire keyboard shortcut menu is user customizable.

Capture One Pro Catalog

Capture One Pro is similar to Lightroom in that it uses a catalog to record your photo adjustments and metadata, but that is where the similarities end. With Capture One Pro you can have multiple catalogs open at once. This is a HUGE change for me because from within Lightroom I would have to quit the software and then re-open it if I wanted to change catalogs. This style of functionality would kill me from a time perspective if I needed to search multiple catalogs for a photo. Thus I had one Lightroom catalog.

Now I have multiple catalogs that are broken down by the subject matter that I shoot. Even though I may need to search for something like a sunrise, I can have ALL of the specific catalogs that would contain sunrises open together and figure out what photo I need in a matter of seconds. This is a big but happy change to my workflow.

Photos in Capture One Pro

Following my first import into Capture One Pro I realized that my photos just look better. In fact they look substantially better. I believe this is in part because Capture One automatically adjusts your photos’ sharpness and noise based on your camera’s EXIF information.

Yes, I have read Scott Kelby’s post about setting up Lightroom to match the look of a photo in Capture One Pro. So yes, you can get similar results using Lightroom, but in order to achieve these results you need to build a preset that you then apply either on import or afterwards in the Develop Module. Capture One makes these adjustments automatically. I want my computer to make my life easier and by automatically taking care of adjustments like this it is doing just that. Capture One allows me to go right into the fun part of editing photos – exposure and color adjustments.

Noise in Capture One Pro

There is very little noise in my photos using Capture One to process. Above is a 100% enlargement of a photo taken with my Canon 1DX at ISO 3200. All I did to the photo in both platforms was to import it with the software set at its defaults. Notice the difference with the Capture One photo. That’s pretty crazy since I shoot at ISO 3200 quite often.

Lens Correction in Capture One Pro

Not all optics are created equal. Cheaper lenses have a tendency to lose sharpness as you get towards the edges of your frame in a photograph. While camera manufactures like Canon are getting dramatically better at achieving sharpness from edge to edge with their newly released lenses, older lenses still suffer in our digital photography world.

Capture One has a Lens Correction feature that is geared towards making your photos taken with older lenses look even better. Within this tool are two controls that work unbelievably well.

Sharpness Fall-Off

First, is a slider that allows you to adjust a photo’s lens sharpness fall-off. I don’t know how the Phase One engineers did this, but I can tell you that it works well. Take a look at the above photo enlarged to 100%, specifically inside the area of the red square, shot with a Canon 16-35mm version II lens. Notice the detail that comes back using the Sharpness Falloff Slider (you can click on the photos to enlarge).

Second is the Diffraction Correction Checkbox. If you have a taken a photo above your specific lens’ diffraction sharpness point (typically f-stops of f/16 and above) turn this functionality on and Capture One attempts to correct for lens diffraction.

Notice the difference in the sheeps’ fur at 100% (you can click on the photos to enlarge)

Capture One Pro Color Editor by Jay Goodrich
Capture One Pro Color Editor (click to enlarge)

Color Editor in Capture One Pro

I was most impressed with the color adjustment functionality of Capture One Pro. The Color Editor in Capture One has a basic tab that gives you similar color adjustment functionality to Lightroom. That is where the similarity ends though. There are two additional tabs in the Color Editor. The first is the Advanced tab and the other is a Skin Tone tab. Both of these tabs add options that crush Lightroom’s capabilities in the color department. While the Skin Tone tab works really well for portraits, I mostly use the Advanced tab.

The Pick Color Correction tool in Capture One allows you to select and further target a color for adjustment. I know you are like no biggie Jay, Lightroom does this with the Targeted Adjustment tool. Yes, I know, but what you don’t know is that in Capture One, the target is just the starting point. You can refine the color choice by not only amount of color but by hue as well. There is also a checkbox called the View Selected Color Range checkbox that turns all the colors outside of the selected gamut black and white. This allows you to keep refining hue and amount to really only make an adjustment to just the specific color in question.

Now here is the hand grenade…that color you are about to adjust can be made into a mask for targeted local adjustments as well.

Local Adjustments in Capture One Pro

The Brush and Gradient tools in Capture One work almost identical to the ones in Lightroom with some differences. All Local Adjustments in Capture One are applied to specific adjustment layers. This is similar to how you work in Photoshop. These layers can be named and their masks tweaked infinitely. You can create a mask with the Brush, Gradient, and Color selection or any combination there of. You can also copy masks, invert, and auto fill them. Unfortunately, you cannot tweak the edges of your masks like you can in Photoshop, but you can create Healing and Cloning layer masks in Capture One too. This is of course all non-destructive.

The Brush tool in Capture One also has an Auto Mask feature where the brush will find hard-edged boundaries in your photo. Lightroom has this feature too, but it works significantly better in Capture One.

Photo Dynamic Range

Phase One’s XF 100 MP camera captures photos in true 16 bit format. The camera also produces a 15 stop dynamic range. Why is this important? Because Capture One is the software engineered to handle this camera’s power. I am pretty sure that these algorithms transfer across to other cameras. Thus, I am pretty shocked at how much more exposure latitude is rendered into my photos when processing them with Capture One.

Notice the highlights in the sky of the above two photos. Lightroom would just make the sky highlight gray and Capture One made it a darker gold. Also pay attention to all of the detail in the grass on the Capture One version. Like I said in the beginning, my photos just look better.

Keywords in Capture One Pro

My final two reasons for loving this software are simple little touches of functionality. A long time ago in a galaxy…wait, sorry, wrong script. A long time ago I used a software platform called Photo Mechanic to add metadata to my photos. One thing that was really cool with Photo Mechanic was the ability to create hierarchical keyword sets and maintain a controlled vocabulary of keywords.

For example if you had a photo of a bear from Yellowstone National Park you could add sets or strings of keywords that contained all of the keywords associated with bears and Yellowstone with one click. Within the Keyword Library of Capture One you can do the same thing by building those strings of keywords. Now you are not individually adding keywords for a common photo type that you may shoot.


Export is another tool that works very similar on both platforms. However Capture One allows you to export multiple photo types to multiple locations all at once. Think of this workflow example…I have that bear shot from Yellowstone, I have made adjustments to it, added all the necessary metadata to make it searchable “on the line”. I want to now export that file for upload to Facebook, Instagram, my stock photo website and my portfolio website.

Each of these destinations needs a different file size and resolution. Some need watermarks and some do not. I can build the parameters of the needed exports. Then with one click export that single file to the four different locations with the necessary file structure. This is a HUGE time saver for me over Lightroom. In Lightroom I can still build the presets, but I cannot export them all simultaneously at the click of a button.

Overall Functionality of Capture One Pro

Capture One Pro functions pretty cleanly. I haven’t noticed any delays or hangups with the software when making any types of photo adjustments. Especially when cloning out sensor dust or applying brush masks. In general, Capture One just works and it allows me to work.

Customer Support for Capture One Pro

Now if you can imagine attempting to transfer 200,000 + photos into a new software platform isn’t going to be a one click operation. Although it actually can be in Capture One if you want. You can open the software and click Import and proceed to import your entire Lightroom Catalog into Capture One. I contacted customer support to see if importing my entire Lightroom catalog was the correct direction to head. This led to more questions and finally Capture One put me in touch with their lead webinar host. Yes that is correct, the guy in charge of producing all of Capture One’s webinars and video tutorials emailed back and forth to get me going in the proper direction.

There is no way Adobe would EVER do this for me. The fact that I am important to Capture One engineers means that you are too.

Are There Drawbacks

Yes, there are some drawbacks here, but those drawbacks are really dependent upon how you work on your photos. If you LOVE Lightroom stay with Lightroom. If you love the way your photos look in Lightroom stay with Lightroom. You may actually want to stay with Lightroom if you have a large photo library like me because of the time it will take you to move things over. If you love all of the connectivity Adobe is building into Lightroom stay with Lightroom. You will need to stay with Lightroom if you process your photos as .psd files. Although Capture One can export a .psd it doesn’t read them so they will not import into the software.

And if you process most of your photos as tiffs you may want to stay with Lightroom. Capture One is a bit slow when rendering huge .tif files. Phase One engineers are working on this. Capture One Pro 10 is much faster with those files than previous versions, I personally don’t feel they are quite there yet.


Finally, remember that Capture One isn’t Lightroom. It works differently, but it works really well. If you are the type of photographer who has trouble learning new techniques and software platforms you may want to stick with what you know.

I firmly believe that Phase One produces some of the best webinars and tutorials. That is how I learned how to use the software in mere hours. So you won’t be heading down this road in the dark if you decide to switch. And more importantly, with their customer support you won’t be walking the road alone either.

Now I have to go, I have a huge job ahead of me – getting all of my photos into Capture One. For me the rewards are far worth any of the drawbacks because I think Phase One is working on a far superior product here.

Capture One Pro Logo

I emailed Phase One about how impressed I am with Capture One. They responded by making an ambassador. If you want a 10% discount on buying their software outright or 10% off of one of their monthly subscription plans enter my ambassador discount code: AMBJAYG at checkout and start making your photos look better. Way better!


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