Which is better Capture One or Lightroom

The question of which is better Capture One or Lightroom is one of the most important decisions a photographer can make.

Workflow and catalogue questions are a world apart, and this post is only about image appearance. There are both notions of  subjective and objective and a mix of both.

As with all image appearance your monitor state and ability to properly display colour is the key element in comparing any imagery. The best monitor I feel for price and quality is the BenQ SW2700. Mine is the ideal tool for image editing, maintained by calibrating with an X-Rite i1 Pro and Palette Master which is included with the monitor. I have about the BenQ SW2700 here and a post about this gem on my blog.

Building images from raw exactly the same is quite complicated. Form the same raw image each application Capture One and Lightroom will process the image with a default that will be very different.

Good news, both have controls to bring the look to a similar point, yet it will never be exactly the same no matter how hard you try. That is the mix of objective with what is pleasing colour ( subjective) into a seemingly similar appearance.

Which is better Capture One or Lightroom looking at just image appearance comes down to how well you can shape the image, how well the tools work on the raw image, and which aspects cannot ber customised.

As far as tools go, Capture One has many features that Lightroom simply does not. As I have stated before, the Color Editor/Skin Tones has the ultimate in tools for beauty or portraits which is the Uniformity slider. This basically smooths color deviations in a picked narrow area in skin tones. It works absolutely wonderfully. Although I edit most images in Lightroom, this tool is sadly missing. Knowing this makes it even more frustrating.

Overall HSL controls in Lightroom are basic, yet efficient. Capture One is convoluted, yet more advanced as you can change the range of selected colour, as well as radius. C1 after V8 have a nice Luma curves ability; meaning you can change contrast without over cooked saturation problems occur.

Sharpening tools, same as most tools in C1 are superior and more advanced. Yet  truth be it C1 by default is way too crunchy in sharpness. In fact Lightroom when used properly with masking, makes for a pleasant sharpening. Coming from the age of drum scanning I can assure you LR sharpening is very well done. You might say Phase One comes from Imacon, also based on scanning, yet their sharpening was always way too much. Clarity in C1 is much better than LR, but play carefully as too much structure or clarity combined with the default sharpening will make a crunchy image that will be regretfully non reversible.

Certain aspects that are likely camera specific are saturated colours detail reproduction. Capture One with Canon ( which is used for this comparison image) cannot reproduce red hair well. Not only colour, but detail. Lightroom here is by far the winner. On the other hand Lightroom poorly reproduces saturation gradients into shadows. This is not easy to fix, and evidence of poor shadow transitions especially with Canon is present in most images. Capture One is much better at this up to the limit of Canon’s poor dynamic range.

Color correction by default. After playing with color calibration sets in Lightroom, although a bit flat ( Adobe 2012 ) it is in fact the most accurate compared to a X-Rite Color Checker Passport. The default C1 set is pleasing, not necessarily accurate, but acceptable. Those who say one is better than the other it only the default, and one should learn to tune to taste. To say that C1 is so much better as the colours are better are missing the point, and admitting they really do not yet understand the very nature of a raw developper. Now you can make an ICC profile for a camera for C1 but technically ICC camera profiles are outside of the scope of profiles anyway. If anything you can tweak the defaults until you have a preset that reproduces what you feel is right, save that as a preset, and apply to incoming images for that camera. Lightroom is by far the easiest application to make a DNG profile for each camera. You simply shoot an X-Rite Color Checker or Passport and export to DNG profile. The plug-in finds the chart, builds a profile, and sends it to the Calibration folder. Restart Lightroom and set your images to this profile calibration and it is done.


Local adjustments are always subjective, yet again between C1 and LR they work differently. I find the brushes finicky, and frustrating  and not accurate in C1. Lightroom works with the same shortcuts as Photoshop and Wacom tablettes work exactly the same. While Photoshop handles as many layers as you like, and does not slow down, LR and the pins definitely will. C1 is great in the sense you can layer up to 16 different masks and most controls are available with each layer. IF I could ever get the brush to behave the way it does in LR or PS, I’d be happy. Yet I cannot so it is always a frustration point in C1. So much so I often give up and do local adjustments in Photoshop or on an imported psd in LR.

Here are two edits done as close to the same from Capture One and Lightroom. Which is better Capture One or Lightroom?


which is better Capture One or Lightroom
Capture One Edit
which is better Capture One or Lightroom
Lightroom CC edit


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6 thoughts on “Which is better Capture One or Lightroom”

  1. Thanks, Neil! Great comparison! I have to say I much prefer the Capture One result (more natural skin tones – especially the highlights, deeper hair color, some subtle details in the face that I don’t see in the other version …). As a (happy) Lightroom user I am intrigued but I wonder whether the Capture One look could also be achieved in Lightroom … I’m not sure that would be possible (or easily doable), and if not then I’d have to give Capture One a go.

    1. C1 in most cases outperforms Adobe Lightroom in terms of IQ. There are only two drawbacks or quality problems with C1. Firstly the problem that is easily fixed is sharpening. The images downsized to web images you may think are sharper but intact they have artefacts due to the excessive sharpening. Simple enough you simply turn the amount down and radius. The other problem with Canon cameras and perhaps others is rendering saturated reds with detail. I am sure you remember certain ICC profiles that could not discern details in greens like grass, and some reds like hair. This is still problematic as C1 bounces in and out of detail to flat mushy areas then back to detail. To make it worse Canon cameras 5D etc all have a steep loss of dynamic range into shadows. This too is easily fixed, shoot Nikon, Sony or other. There are many tools in C1 that make shaping the image easier and possible that LR misses.
      The reason I may have mushed the image a bit in LR is I painted negative Clarity on her cheek, and chin as she had some bumps. I did not do that in C1. Yet I can assure you C1 pulls more detail on every image regardless, just tone down the sharpening to avoid artefacts.

  2. Interesting comparison Neil, I also prefer the way C1 has handled the skin tones and hair.
    I still use a 5D MK II and as you have said red is not Canon’s favourite colour.
    Lovely portrait.

    1. Thanks. C1 generally is a level above in skin tones and control of those textures and tones. Default sharpening though must be watched as it makes for a lot of destructive work to be removed or redone. As Mr Glover says in C1 tutorials best to use local adjustments there. Hair is not great in C1 especially reds, and with Canon sensors. This may be a calibration or profile problem that can be tailored to match. Pull up any red hair and you’ll be astounded at the flat areas that occur mushy details loss of graduation. The same image in Lightroom absolutely wins out on Canon images there with all of the profiles Adobe 2012, Camera (Canon simulations) or X-Rite generated DNG profiles.

  3. Neil. Nice job. Of your two images I prefer the Capture One. They are close. With my Sony A7RII I think it’s a whole different ballgame. I did the test between Camera Raw and C1 and skin tone wise C1 was the hands down winner. I just processed the raws with most settings in default and never any sharpening for me in the raw processor. But back in my DSLR days I always preferred the Nikon skin tones to Canon.

    1. C1 has always been in my opinion finer and controllable in skin tones. In fact I have always recommended C1 for the Skin Tone Color Editor for its uniformity slider. The only thing you have to be careful of is default sharpening in C1 is excessive and really quite bad. Adobe have that part right, yet in LR and ACR the clarity slider is excessive. Phase One corrected this in V8 if I remember right. It was a good choice for Sony to go with C1 as it is a level above in processing. For DMA it is not very good, and how they can continue to not support .psd is just absurd.

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