While Paul navigated Japan and experimented with the very promising Luminar software, I was closer to home, in Berlin, making a set of photographs in various situations to compare the outputs of Capture One and Adobe Lightroom.
Lightroom got me very excited in the early days. Compared to my workhorse of the moment, Photoshop, the newcomer created a much better digital reenactment of the darkroom processes of my childhood. Instead of software for the digital creator, it felt like a digital experience created by photographers for photographers.
And it probably was.
More recently, however, 3 pain-points have gradually depleted the love and encouraged me to start looking elsewhere:
So, temptation to try Capture One has been high for a long time, even though past attempts had resulted in a “life’s too short” knee-jerk reaction to the far less intuitive and flowing interface that Phase One had plagued their offering with. It took dedicated followers of quality such as coauthor Philippe to jump ship and face the learning curve.
This time, however, no chickening out of the trial.
One immediate nail in Lightroom’s coffin, for Sony users, is that the Express version of Capture One (a more basic version than the Pro, which doesn’t allow local adjustments, for instance) is free …
A second is that it’s very easy to import (into Capture One) files that have already been imported into Lightroom. The RAW files aren’t duplicated and the catalog is totally separate from Lightroom, as is the output folder you specify.
All of which makes a comparison very easy to perform.
And here we have it. I’ll get into the specifics of workflow and ergonomics in a more fully fledged review. The topic of today’s article is the different looks you can achieve and (are naturally drawn to) using the two pieces of software. Is Capture One really superior on Sony files ? Considering Lightroom’s more intuitive interface and ability to integrate with a huge range of third-party filters and presets, Capture One needs a solid win in this department to justify the effort.
In LightRoom, very high dynamic range situations are handled either by lowering the highlights / pushing the shadows via dedicated sliders, or lowering global contrast or via the curve editor, which replicates the same effects. Using the sliders can lead to a slightly lifeless image which can be livened-up via clarity or a slight mid-tones contrast boost (curve).
In capture one, the highlights and shadow sliders belong to an HDR group and act on the shoulders of the contrast curves. They seem to lower the contrast of highlights and deep-shadows as well as bring them closer to mid-tones. This results in a more lively mi-range, on which you can also work via a strangely named brightness slider. Clarity can also be added, but comes in two flavours/sliders: structure, which basically adds micro-contrast and clarity, which is very similar to the one found in Lightroom (but seems to have a more limited effect).
All photos above were processed in Lightroom. Below, you’ll find pairs of Lightroom / Capture One photographs, for comparison. Note again that this is the free version of C1, so all the C1 photographs on this page have only received global adjustments.
On paper, Capture One’s approach is slightly less intuitive. At the computer, however, it’s very satisfying indeed. To the point that even the free Express version (no perspective correction, no local adjustments) makes the Lightroom + Nik combo feel quite redundant. But how much all of this matters in real-life is really for each person to decide. So, on with the comparison pairs.
One major issue I still can’t understand or find a solution to is this: the jpg files from Lightroom (sRGB) look very similar here (on a relatively low gamut screen) to the file viewed inside the program. Whereas with Capture One, the files look a lot more saturated in the software than in the final jpg, whatever the output profile. So I’m providing a few sets of variants (ProPhoto, AdobeRGB, sRGB) for a few photographs so you can make your own opinion.
None of these pairs were scientifically matched. White balance settings in Capture One do not mirror those found in Lightroom and image management is quite different. So these probably represent where the software took me more than how close the two can be made to look.
What I’m seeing is a more natural image with Capture One. More lifelike and realistic (which is also how Paul’s Luminar processings felt).
Which is great … when that’s what you’re going for. Capture One is obviously software designed for working professional photographers and it shows in the great realism of the final image. Sometimes, that feels a little dull compared to the more vibrant and saturated output from Lightroom. But it’s fairly obvious you can boost saturation and clarity on C1 to make it look like LR whereas it’s a lot more difficult to find the natural beauty in files that have been slightly overcooked from step 1, inside the RAW processing.
Horse for courses and a choice of individual tastes, then.
One area where I find Capture One absolutely sings, is B&W. Stay tuned, that’s the topic of the next article.
So, what do you see ?
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Fascinating article, thanks, Pascal. I will certainly try it – there’s little point in buying quality gear to capture “the right image” in the camera, and then ruin the result with software that doesn’t match the quality of the gear. And I do see the “realism” that you are referring to, in the CaptureOne shots.
I detest the system Lightroom has for locating and opening files – I run my own catalogue system and being expected to suffer theirs is a complete pain, a road block to starting any post processing and a burden tidying up afterwards. I refuse to have anything to do with Adobe’s cloud or anyone else’s, for file storage – not just for the reason you mentioned, but because there was a tragedy with cloud storage a while back when an American outfit which had provided it went into what they call “Chapter 11″ and lost everyone”s stored files.
And as I said in the last paragraph of my comments on Paul’s article on Luminar, I don’t(and won’t) “buy” Adobe’s offerings on terms involving what seems a rather heavy handed monthly payment – updates to a decent post processing system aren’t required on a continuous basis, in any case. It’s not just an issue of cost (although that’s part of it) – I still use PS9 on a fairly regular basis, because it has features that Adobe junked in subsequent releases – I hate it when upgrades wreck a feature of a software program that I use, but you lose control over that if you have a subscription version.
Thank you Pete. My version of LR is old too. It’s the last non Saas one. As for PS it’s older still, as this does all I need. Unfortunately, at some point in the future, a new camera will arrive that requires a profile that those don’t have. So decision time looms. Right now, C1 does feel like a very workable alternative. But Luminar seems even sexier, somehow 😉 We are spoilt for choice, aren’t we 🙂
i found the comparison between the 2 programs very informative. Will be looking forward to the BW segment.
Thank you Dave
Thanks Dave. I’ll publish that as soon as work permits 😉
I switched grudgingly from Aperture to Lightroom perhaps four or five years ago. I think Aperture gilded images even more than Lr does. I have also made good use of Iridient Developer (formerly RAW Developer) over the years – powerful and well worth a try. And I have Capture One, but rarely use it. I recently bought Luminar, amazing for a first major version. And I have Affinity Photo, also quite capable.
I really chafe at Adobe’s rental scheme, and the file management aspect of Lr is primarily an irritant. But Lr’s current sharpening, noise reduction (when needed), and CA correction are in my opinion far better and more natural looking than what is available in C1. Since I use it only as a raw converter (which is to say I always finish up and print from Photoshop) I recently thought I would revisit ACR, but the way it is set up makes comparing multiple frames of the same shot awkward at best.
I must spend more time with Luminar. So far it seems to be lacking any CA removal. I use a lot of vintage lenses, so that is a problem for me. Otherwise, it is remarkably full featured, first version or not. I have to spend more time with Affinity too. I can see an excellent alternate workflow of Luminar or Iridient > Affinity.
Mark, Luminar does seem to be the rising star here. I bought my copy today and will review it more when my macbook arrive in a few weeks. From what I understand, auto CA correction is available but manual will have to wait a bit. Paul’s recent article and photographs really convinced me of the potential of that new contender. There are plenty of good options out there, but the idea of doing most of the work in the same app is really nice. More soon.
I am a Berliner and you captured my city well. Regarding the comparison (I am a C1 user): I would say that in every case I see a difference in color balance, contrast, brightness or clarity between the two, I know which slider I would have to move to make them look equal. My conclusion: use whichever you are comfortable with.
For Sony users C1 has the big advantage of being FREE and you know where your files are stored (same place as they were before import 🙂 ). If you like NIK, you can always “roundtrip” from within C1 to Photoshop (where your NIK filters would reside).
What I really like about C1: The DEFAULT processing and output. Press the BIG A button, and all your files get processed automatically with zero user input. For those afraid to spend too much time on raw processing, that is the way to go. How is the default output from LR? That might perhaps be an interesting comparison too.
Thanks Andreas. Visiting Berlin quickly explains why this is such a popular place for photo workshops. It’s amazing.
In my limited experience, the full auto mode is far better on C1 than LR. At least with my camera.
Yes, it would have been possible to make photographs almost identical, but it’s very interesting to view how the controls lead you to slightly different looks. It’s even more true in B&W.
A timely post for me – as I’m in the process of switching from Aperture to (probably) Capture One myself. The thing that struck me was that in every case where I took an image I’d previously edited in Aperture and re-edited in Capture One, the finished result looked better. This was the case even though I was still struggling to learn Capture One. In a few cases, I went back to Aperture and tried to re-edit to get the same result but simply couldn’t do it. I haven’t found this with any other editing software.
With respect to intuitive interfaces – it’s hard to distinguish between what you’re used to and what’s intuitive. I’ve never found Lightroom intuitive. 🙂
I’ll look forward to more of your thoughts on Capture One, as I continue my evaluation too.
Kim, you’re right, familiarity probably clouds my judgement when it comes to intuitiveness. But I did find LR super easy to learn because it mirrors a darkroom very closely. Whereas C1 follows a different process. Still, after a few days, it actually feels very predictable and and pleasant. And the results seem to remove a thin veil compared to LR. It’s a very capable piece of software.
I switched to the subscription version of Lightroom about a year ago when they had one of the features I was interested in only in the subscription version. I think the pricing of the subscription version is pretty good if you use both Lightroom and Photoshop.
I was a bit confused to read about problems locating / backing up files with the subscription version.
When I switched over I left my storage location of my files the same as before – I use an external drive enclosure with 2 mirrored drives. No problem to locate files.
As to your comparison Lightroom – C1, I am a Lightroom user since the beginning and I am just not patient enough to spend a significant portion of my time to get the best out of C1. Since I am a Fuji X user I am limited to programs that support the X files and there Lightroom does a good enough job for me. Should I need the best interpretation for a file then I switch to Iridient which seems to handle x files usually better then other programs.
As always your article was very interesting, thank you.
I never used Lightroom a great deal, but gave up of version 4.4 which was supposed to include improvements in the handling of Fuji X Trans files (which on previous versions had shown lots of issues), but which still gave soft results with artefacting of fine details that was significantly worse than the bundled version of SilkyPix v3 that Fuji give aware as “Fuji Raw File Converter”. Capture One gave much better results with Fuji, but as you say the user interface is pretty horrible, and although I am technically minded and work with computers all the time, I always found both the catalogue and output features impenetrable and difficult to understand. Unfortunately my relationship we significantly soured using Version 8. I had several looses of data when catalogues became corrupt (Phase One explained this as being due to me keeping the catalogue on external media to the PC with the software), and then during a trip of several months installed on a PC running Windows 10 and a large catalog, it would either hang or crash completely, sometimes even crashing the PC, because it appeared to grab all available memory and then crash the system through lack of resources (which should normally be managed through the software and OS features when running Windows). Again, no explanation, and loss of data every time, and the Phase One catalogue recovery tool failed to run and gave an error – great!
Since then I’ve moved almost exclusively to SilkyPix Pro v7, which has no catalogue (fine by me) but does in my experience give good results once you understand how to get the best from it. I think people like Lightroom because it’s easy to move the sliders around without much understanding of what you are doing and why and get an ok result – SilkyPix tends to need more understanding of what you are trying to achieve to get the best results, and there is less online support from other users on the internet to help the uninitiated, although the Ichikawa Software online manual is pretty good, but badly translated.
I have some work inside Capture One v8 catalogues, and keep wondering if I should upgrade to v9 – but if you have been using Pro and have multiple catalogues, Express will not allow you to use them as it is locked to a single catalogue – which based on previous versions simply will not work when the catalogue gets very large and will start to cause performance and reliability issues. In many ways it’s a shame as the results are quite good and natural looking – but I feel the software is made by a company who simply aren’t very good at software.
Edit: should have said I never understand why Capture 1 has no concept of “input” and “output” sharpening, just “sharpening” that I’m never sure what it’s for (pixel level sharpness? output sharpening for a size?). The noise reduction in V8 wasn’t great and the colour NR left a bruised look to dark area and shadows. And the defaults for sharpening and NR were far too high. SilkyPix, for example, defaults NR values be camera and ISO used.
Hi ArtUk, everyone I know prefers Irridient developer for X-Trans files. Paul recently sent me comparisons and the differences were not subtle.
Your experience with Capture One mirrors mine when it comes to crashing, unfortunately. And sometimes, when I start the program, it tells me it is already running. Apparently some processes don’t stop properly when you close it. So, programming seems a little more shaky than on Lightroom.
SilkyPix is new to me. Worth a try, then?
Capture One does allow you to select various types of pre and post sharpening. At least in version 9.3. You’ll find them in the Quick panel > Styles and presets > Built-in presets > Sharpening. Does this help?
“. . . and every update is pricey as well”? That’s how they cream the customers – but updates aren’t compulsory, and what amuses me about them is that they rarely turn the world upside down. If you’re happy with one of these programs, you can use them for years & years, without any thought of updating them – till one day you notice that they now have a feature that you’d actually want & use. I’ve only ever had 4 generations of Photoshop – I still use the second one, almost as much as the current one, and the only reason why I replaced the 3rd one with the current one was for one particular job, involving over a hundred shots (PS14 had a feature I needed to complete post processing on them).
If I get C1, then – coupled with the others – there’s little or no likelihood of me ever needing or wanting any of their updates. Quite likely, whatever came on offer is already there on my MAC from one of the others anyway. And I have an aversion to too much of this guff – I still try to “take” good shots, rather than to “create” something in post processing. I’m not a total purist, but there are “limits” I don’t want to breach. 🙂
Thanks for the advice on getting started with C1, Pascal – I’m playing with C1 again today, so I’ll do that on a few trial shots.
I gulped when I read your experience with Version 8 on Windows 10, with a large catalogue, Artuk. The hanging & crashing reminds vividly of recent experiences here – I run Windows 7 on this PC, and when Microsoft were pushing the uptake of their “new” Windows 10 operating system – offering a free upgrade – I tried it, found it wanting, backed off, and went back to Windows 7. Ever since then I’ve been plagued with issues in Windows 7 – and I finally got a confession out of Microsoft. Apparently they (not me !!) corrupted my operating system (W7) with the re-instal, and they’ve had thousands of similar problems with other people from one end of the world to the other. And in any event, both before & after that, I’ve found the post processing systems all chug or freeze in Windows. I’m giving up – I’m starting the process of closing down on Windows and using the disc space to expand my Apple system.
So when I read your comment, I wondered whether it was Phase One or Microsoft that actually caused those issues. I guess the loss of data points at Phase One – but the crashing, in my mind, points at Microsoft. You could possibly measure what’s going on by simultaneously pressing CTRL/SHFT/ESC which should open up a Microsoft window that enables you to see what’s running, what demands they are all making on the system, and what space is available in RAM or elsewhere to keep running & avoid crashing.
You know, one elephant in the room is all those years of legacy files if one switches to another workflow. I have fifteen years of layered psd files! Not to mention all the raw files with saved settings from various raw processors. I guess I could buy a used Mac, keep it off line, and never upgrade the OS. That would give me a few more years of access to my legacy files. This is a universal problem with no really good solution that I am aware of.
Yes, and that’s a very painful elephant. This is a strong point in favour of sticking to the big boys such as Lightroom who will likely still be with us in the coming decades. Then again, who knows what gems you might find when re-importing old RAW files into a new processor? Providing it was compatible, that is …
Update. Too early to give a comprehensive report, but already on issue:
1 – File importing is about as much fun as it is with Lightroom – boo, hiss
2 – Free for some – anyone without a Sony, it’s 279 Euros plus VAT, which is near enough to AUD$400 (we don’t have to pay VAT, though) or 237 pounds plus VAT, or 4,170 rand.
3 – HUGE learning curve, I think – this might be different with the Sony (Express) version, I can’t tell – but I suspended work on the second file (a NEFF file – which seems to be “Nikon” for “TIFF”) this afternoon, because I couldn’t get anything useful to happen.
4 – Staring enviously at your results, Pascal – have yet to achieve anything similar – still have 29 days of my “free trial” left, let’s be fair and keep trying . . . 🙂
yes, C1 does feel expensive for non Sony users. I suppose we shouldn’t think about it in this way. It’s cheaper than upgrading to a better camera or lens and does improve quite a few things. But it does feel like a lot and every update is pricey as well.
Learning curve … it’s probably OK when you start with C1. But coming from LR, it’s not immediately obvious how to use C1. Stick to the Quick page for a while. In there, the main thing to get the hang of is the brghtness slider. I start with that, then play with the HDR sliders. C1 does a pretty good job of Auto-everything on import. So you can check that box and save yourself a lot of time by starting your work on zeroed files rather than the “as shot” files.
Good luck 😉
5 – Starting to get the hang of Capture 1 – I’ve found I can do things with it that I’ve been trying to do, for ages, with all the other programs, but so far with little success. Now that I’m beginning to understand it better, I am definitely warming to Capture 1 and the burning issue for me is price – since I am not a Sony user and am left facing a bill for about $400. Sigh – if I want it, that means it has to wait a couple of months – I’ve already outspent my quota on photography this past year.
6 – Still not really enthusiastic about Luminar, although I’ve had one early success with it. This obsession with “pre-sets” takes you so far and then you start banging your head against the wall. I’m beginning to see my “win” as the outcome of a successful game of Russian roulette, using Luminar instead of pistols. And I am curious, Pascal – what adjustments did you make in Capture 1, to produce the Capture 1 version of your shot of the Geldautomat?
Presets are blessing and a curse 😉 They allow you to view variations very quickly but also make people lazy and stop all creativity if you’re not making the effort to (1) select the ones that correspond to your ‘look’ (2) use the result as a starting point for personal processing.
Geldautomat. This reveals one of the most infuriating aspects of Capture One (Express, don’t know about the Pro version): no history. So I can’t tell you what I did in what order. All that’s certain is that white balance has been teaked, exposure, contrast, brightness and clarity have been pushed. Probably nothing else.
Talk about an impulsive purchase! It wasn’t like I felt the need for a change from my usual workflow, which by DS standards must be sort of prehistoric, since it is PS/CC (latest version) + NIK as imagined. I don’t use LR. I have DxO OP & VP but haven’t quite got into their workflow, though I like the results. I seem to be man of habit.
So, considering the ground floor nature of Luminar and its US$59 price tag, it was impossible to resist. I first tried a couple of difficult landscapes (seriously overexposed) with OK results. Then a single portrait taken yesterday with a good exposure on my a7Rii + 50 mm Loxia. One click on “Basic” and another on “Smooth Portrait” and Voilá! – very possibly the best portrait processing I’ve ever made.
Looking forward to batch raw processing.
Very interesting comparison as the results very a lot. Sometimes, C1’s colors and contrast are way off, sometimes LR is. In any case but normal daylight, they render very different. I wouldn’t point out one to be a superior winner. And I saw nothing which is impossible with the other. So I stick with Lightroom because I have a year-long workflow, experienced no troubles, is very a reliable and don’t need to pay for it (last retail version too).
Btw: Next time, you visit Berlin, raise your hand and I show you some nice places from my native city.
Thanks! I’ll take you up on that. Such a brilliant city, I can’t wait to return. Workshop, maybe?