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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