This article aims to give you a clear, unbiased assessment of the pros and cons of Capture One vs Lightroom. By the time you’re done, you’ll know all about these two programs – and you’ll know which one is right for your needs.
Let’s get started.
Capture One overview
Thanks to its advanced tools, Capture One is often the choice of professional photographers and retouchers. It’s a high-end program that offers powerful tethered shooting, in-depth image editing, and a robust image-organization system that’ll satisfy even the most demanding of photographers.
- A vast range of image-editing tools and features
- Tethered shooting option that performs well
- Designed for professional workflows
- Superior RAW image processing
- The user interface can be confusing – it’s not always easy to find the tools you need
- Not beginner-friendly
- Image organization/library feature is clunky and difficult to use
- No simple one-click presets or filters
Lightroom offers image organization and library features, as well as RAW, TIFF, and JPEG image processing. Thanks to Lightroom’s smooth integration with Adobe Photoshop, many photographers use both programs for image editing. Lightroom is easy to use and includes a range of one-click presets to speed up your workflow.
- Easy for beginners to use
- Simple and effective image library/organization
- Good range of one-click presets available online
- Good for beginners and advanced photographers
- No image adjustment layers
- Subscription-only model
- Tethered shooting performs poorly
- Image editing tools not as advanced as Capture One
Capture One vs Lightroom: in-depth comparison
Now that you’re broadly familiar with these two programs, let’s take a closer look at how they stack up, starting with:
While both Capture One and Lightroom offer a near-identical range of basic image editing tools, there are some key differences worth considering.
First, Capture One offers adjustment layers, while Lightroom does not.
Lightroom is designed to be used alongside Adobe Photoshop, an advanced layer-based editor. So if you want to use adjustment layers, you do have the option to send your Lightroom-adjusted files across to Photoshop, though this can be inconvenient compared to Capture One’s more comprehensive, one-stop-shop approach.
Both programs offer lens corrections and profiles, as well as the usual cropping and rotating features, etc. As a quick aside, the Crop tool in Lightroom is simpler to use than the one in Capture One – and it’s also far easier to find!
Capture One and Lightroom can process RAW files, but Capture One does have the edge here, especially considering the amount of fine-tuning you can do with the shadows and highlights. Capture One offers high dynamic range editing of your RAW files, which lets you make significant adjustments to the highlights, shadows, blacks, and whites:
While Lightroom offers RAW exposure adjustments of its own, the options are clunkier and less sophisticated compared to Capture One.
What’s one area where Capture One really beats Lightroom hands down? Color adjustments. The Capture One Color Editor doesn’t just offer Basic and Advanced options, but also a tool to fine-tune skin tones, plus an outstanding interface that serious color editors will love.
Capture One also offers the Color Balance tool with Master, 3-Way, Shadow, and Highlight options. If color grading is your thing, Capture One blows Lightroom out of the water; its sophisticated tools are capable of performing even the most demanding of color edits.
Lightroom does offer color adjustments, of course, but nothing comparable to Capture One:
Tethered shooting is also where Capture One excels. I have used it extensively, and it’s fast and efficient. Although Lightroom does offer tethering, it’s not reliable, and it’s slow and glitchy at times. It just doesn’t cut the mustard for a pro photographer, especially one who has clients waiting to see the RAW shots during an in-progress session.
Ease of use
As far as I’m considered, Lightroom is much easier to use; the interface is simple, and you can view all the tools and features on one screen.
Capture One, on the other hand, uses a series of tabs, cursor tools, menus, and sub-menus, and it’s easy to get lost or spend ages hunting for something you need.
The Lightroom Library system is also clear and simple, while Capture One makes this unnecessarily complicated.
Using presets in Lightroom is easy. Download your presets, import them into Lightroom, and they’ll appear on the lefthand side of the Develop module. Hover your mouse over a preset to see how it will affect your image, click to select a favorite, and you’re done. Just look at the simplicity of Lightroom’s Preset panel:
Capture One doesn’t do presets – sort of. It does have preset equivalents, but they’re called Styles, and you’ll have to go into the Adjustments tab and follow the sub-menu to find and apply them:
Also, Styles packs are expensive, whereas there are plenty of free Lightroom presets on the market.
Supported file formats
Capture One supports the following file formats:
- PSD (read-only)
- DNG files are supported in Capture One Pro, but not in brand versions (e.g., Capture One for Fujifilm, Capture One for Sony, etc.)
Lightroom supports these file formats:
- Digital Negative format (DNG)
- Photoshop format (PSD)
- Large Document format (PSB)
- CMYK files
If you want to use PSD or PSB formats, then Lightroom will be your best choice. It’s also best for those who want to import the supported video files listed here. As noted with Capture One, DNG files from all cameras are only supported in the Pro version, whereas all DNG files are supported in Lightroom, regardless of which camera they came from.
Is there a mobile version?
Lightroom offers a totally free app for your device, downloadable from both iOS and Android app stores. You will need an Adobe subscription to access several advanced features, but once you’ve purchased Lightroom, this will take care of itself. Also, note that images and edits from your Lightroom app will sync across your Lightroom CC programs – so you can edit on your phone, then see the changes on your desktop (and vice versa).
Unfortunately, Capture One doesn’t currently offer any kind of mobile app. If you want to edit images taken on your smartphone, you’ll need to transfer them to your computer (and if you want to edit images on your phone, you’re out of luck, though you can always grab the free Lightroom app).
As with all Adobe apps, Lightroom is only available as a monthly subscription. You can purchase Lightroom CC on its own – with 1 TB of cloud storage – for $9.99 USD per month, or you can grab Lightroom as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes access to Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic, and Photoshop CC and starts at $9.99 USD per month, though you can pay extra for additional cloud storage.
Unfortunately, Capture One is quite expensive, and the pricing structure can be confusing, too. You can buy the program outright or rent it via a monthly subscription, and you can buy plans for specific camera brands, such as Sony, Fujifilm, or Nikon (these camera-specific plans are cheaper, but can only be used on images from certain cameras).
Capture One Pro is $299 USD for a new perpetual license, and subscription plans start at $19 USD per month. An annual prepaid subscription for Capture One for Fujifilm, Nikon, or Sony is $149 USD (which comes to around $12.50 USD per month).
Capture One vs Lightroom: final thoughts
Ultimately, the software you choose will be a reflection of your preferences, your skill level, and your budget.
Therefore, if you are a professional photographer who requires an integrated workflow from tethered shooting through to finished images, then Capture One is the best choice. It’s also the program to choose if you like advanced editing and color grading on adjustment layers.
Lightroom, on the other hand, is great for beginners, intermediate, and pro photographers who don’t need the huge array of features and tools available in Capture One. Lightroom is also less expensive, plus it’s more pleasant to use.
I’ve used both programs extensively, and each has its own strong and weak points. If you’re still on the fence, I’d recommend you take the time to determine the features that are important to you in an image editor. That way, you can make an informed decision regarding the best program for your editing needs.
Now over to you:
Which program do you like better, Lightroom or Capture One? Which do you plan to purchase? Share your thoughts in the comments below!