Last updated on January 16th, 2020

This Capture One review will cover the basics of the professional photography software and what I believe is important.

Capture One is a Lightroom alternative: they both manage image assets and can edit photos.

I’m also a Lightroom enthusiast, so I’ll try to be objective. However, professional photographers have valid reasons to switch from Lightroom to Capture One.

What is Capture One?

Capture One Pro is a comprehensive image management and editing software developed by Phase One.

There is also a free version of Capture One called Capture One Express which only supports Sony and Fujifilm cameras with limited features.

In this post, I’ll be reviewing Capture One Pro 20 which was released on December 4, 2019. Read about the new features.

Capture One Interface on Mac

Now Let’s Get into the Capture One Review

Capture One has several features that is standard across photography applications that I won’t mention. Rather, I’ll provide a summary of the important ones.


Capture One is a RAW editor. That means it can render a RAW file into a viewable digital image for editing. As you probably already know, RAW files have more data to play around with for better image enhancements.

The software supports RAW formats from Canon’s CR2 files to Sony’s ARW files.

Capture One can also edit JPG, TIFF, DNG, PNG, and PSD files.

Capture One supported camera formats

Image Management

One of the most important aspects of photography is organizing. When you shoot as a hobbyist or professional photographer, you will easily have over 10,000 images.

Capture One allows photographers to organize photos via a catalog or session.

Capture One Catalogs vs Sessions

A catalog is a database of your photos. The photos can be stored locally on your computer or on an external hard drive. Capture One never alters the source files. The images in a catalog can be organized by a hierarchy system of collections, albums, projects, and groups.

A session is also a database but is project-oriented: it’s a complete project. You create a new session (if you want) for each client or project. Each session creates a new database with a modular system of folders: capture, output, select, and trash. You can move the images between these folders in C1 unlike in a catalog. It’s a bit like Adobe Bridge.

Sessions are great for tethered shooting.

When would you use a catalog or session? 

I do travel photography. So, one database is fine with me and I can organize my travel photos via country albums.

For photographers with clients, such as a portrait photographer, sessions are probably the way to go. The initial images you photograph go in the capture folder, the images you select or want to keep are moved into the select folder, the rejected images go in the trash folder, and the client-provided final images will go into the output. It’s a great way to shoot tethered and provide some final images to the client on the spot.

This is just an example of how Capture One catalogs and sessions work. Some photographers may choose to create multiple catalogs for each project.

Image Editing

Capture One has a variety of tools for image editing. I’m not going to list each tool since they are basics for image editors. However, I’ll provide a review of some useful tools.


Capture One has a dedicated highlight and shadow recovery adjustment nested in the HDR tool. It’s great for correcting the exposure in the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks.

But don’t be mistaken by the name, Capture One can’t merge bracketed photos to create an HDR image.


The clarity tool has two adjustment sliders. One for clarity and the other for structure.

The structure slider adds detail and depth to the image without adjusting the contrast. This tool makes your image look lively. It’s similar to Aurora HDR’s structure tool.

Spot Removal

The spot removal tool is good for exactly that, removing small debris or dust spots from an image.  Don’t expect to do advanced retouching.


There are 3 masking options: brush, linear gradient, and radial gradient. Masking is one of the better ways to produce fine art photography or selective adjustments.


The ability to create image or adjustment layers is a powerful technique for advanced photo editing. Capture One can create layers and see which adjustments are optimal by hiding/showing the different layers.

Color Grading

Shifting colors in Capture One is easy with the color balance and color editor tools.

Color balance allows you to adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness (HSL) of the shadows, highlights, and midtones.

Color editor provides advanced color grading without impacting other colors. It also comes with a skin tone adjustment option.

Capture One color editor and color balance tools

Black and White

Capture One’s black and white tool allows you to convert your image to monochrome quickly. The tool also allows you to create a split tone image by adjusting the hue/saturation of the highlights and shadows.

Styles and Presets

Save time by applying image adjustments using styles or presets.

  • Styles are a saved combination of multiple adjustment tools.
  • Presets are just one saved tool setting.

Download my free Capture One styles.

How Much Does Capture One Cost?

One main reason photographers look for a Lightroom alternative is the price. They don’t want to pay for an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and prefer to buy Capture One outright.

  • Capture One Pro costs $299. It supports over 500 cameras.
  • Capture One Pro for only Sony or Fuji cameras costs $129.
  • Capture One Pro subscription plan costs $20 monthly or $180 annually.
  • Students receive a 65% discount on Capture One Pro software.

In addition, Capture One comes with a free 30-day trial.

Sign-up for a Capture One promo code of 10% off.

For comparison, an Adobe Creative Cloud photography plan costs $10 monthly and includes Lightroom, Photoshop, and their mobile versions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Capture One Better than Lightroom?

No, Capture One is not better nor worse than Lightroom. They both have mutually inclusive features which cater to different types of photographers.

Can Capture One Replace Lightroom?

Yes, Capture One can replace Lightroom since it has features and tools that Lightroom doesn’t. It all depends on the photographer’s goal and workflow.

Is Capture One Non-Destructive?

Yes, Capture One is non-destructive. It won’t alter the original image files.

Is Capture One Better than Photoshop?

No, Capture One is not better than Photoshop. They are quite different photography software. Capture One is an image management software with a built-in, non-destructive image editor. Whereas Photoshop is an advanced raster image editor for complex projects.


Capture One Pro is a great software that creates aesthetic photos. I believe it’s the go to software for Fuji or Sony shooters.

I covered some of the main points in this Capture One review. I’m going to further examine Capture One and see what type of images I can produce and test out the color grading a bit more with my Canon photos.

However, I am disappointed that I can’t convert RAW camera files into DNG during the import process (maybe I missed something). In addition, the spot removal tool needs improvement.

And since I’m a travel photographer that already uses Photoshop and pays for the Adobe CC photography plan, I’m going to stick with Lightroom for now.

For a Capture One and Lightroom comparison, read my Capture One vs Lightroom post.

Luminar 4 is another alternative to Capture One and Lightroom. However, it’s image management is not that great but it has some awesome editing abilities that stand out more than C1 and LR, and costs less than $100. Read my Luminar 4 review for more information.

What are your thoughts on Capture One?

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