Last updated on October 11th, 2019

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. Consequently, I’ll later provide a Capture One vs Lightroom comparison to give you a better idea of which software may be right for you.

I’m also a Lightroom enthusiast, so I’ll try to be objective.

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 C1 called Capture One Express which only supports Sony and Fujifilm cameras with limited features.

In this post, I’ll be reviewing Capture One Pro 12.

Capture One Interface on Mac

Now Let’s Get into the Capture One Review

RAW

Capture One is a RAW editor. That means it can convert 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. C1 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. 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 C1 catalogs and sessions are used. 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 standard for image editors. However, I’ll point out some useful tools.

HDR

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

One the other hand, if you want to brighten highlights and darken shadows individually, you can’t do this. You’ll need to create a mask and use one of the other tools such as exposure.

But don’t be mistaken by the name, C1 can’t merge bracketed photos to create an HDR image.

Clarity

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.

Masking

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

Layers

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. 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.

Capture One vs Lightroom

Is Capture One better than Lightroom? There’s no one answer for that and it depends on what you’re looking for. I’ll discuss some important factors that’ll help you decide.

capture one vs lightroom

Capture One provides two ways to manage photos: catalogs and sessions; whereas Lightroom is only catalog-based. I don’t shoot tethered but from research, many photographers prefer tethered sessions.

Lightroom has a better RAW image import process since it can convert RAW files into Adobe’s lossless DNG RAW format. DNG files save a considerable amount of space when working with thousands of photos. For some reason, Capture One only converts RAW files to DNG during export.

Capture One has layers – one of the best ways to edit images with stacked adjustments. Therefore, you won’t need Photoshop unless you’re doing advanced editing. Lightroom doesn’t have layers.

Lightroom has panorama image stitching and HDR merging whereas Capture One doesn’t. These features aren’t deal breakers but I can see where travel photographers may want these features.

I personally don’t do much panorama stitching and my HDR photography is done in Photomatix or Aurora HDR.

Capture One has better color grading with its advanced color editor. But you can still color grade with Lightroom.

Lightroom has book and print modules. Most photographers don’t use all the modules, but for client jobs, the book and print modules make it easier for soft proofing print-ready images. You can still soft proof images in Capture One by changing the ICC profile and so on.

Capture One has a customizable interface. The default interface is a bit clunky but it’s easy to adjust and move around the tools to a photographer’s workflow. Lightroom’s interface is not customizable.

Lightroom is intuitive for beginners. It’s easy to import, edit, and export images from the start. Capture One has a learning curve that will require you to read or watch a few tutorials.

Capture One has better RAW image rendering for Fuji and Sony cameras as mentioned by other photographers. The images just look sharper and crisper on Capture One.

Lightroom’s retouching is better with its spot removal brush. The Capture One spot removal tool is limited and is only good for dusts spots or small distractions. You can’t use C1’s spot removal tool to paint over an area (I couldn’t figure it out) or choose a sample source like Lightroom.

The above Capture One vs Lightroom comparison should give you a better idea on which software is right for you. But it really depends on your needs. Another alternative to Capture One and Lightroom is Luminar 4.

Finally, one aspect that is overlooked is Lightroom CC comes with access to Lightroom Mobile: a powerful mobile image editor for Android and iOS. And you can sync your Lightroom Mobile photos to your desktop version of Lightroom.

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.

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

Conclusion

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’m going to play around with C1 more 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.

What are your thoughts?

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