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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