This isn’t an image quality comparison, simply a breakdown of the key differences in the Capture One vs Lightroom debate. They appear very similar in terms of what they do, who they’re aimed at and how they work, but there are some key differences in the details.
If you are struggling to decide which is best, this feature comparison will hopefully make your decision clearer!
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Capture One and Lightroom Classic are both professional all-in-one photo cataloguing programs with non-destructive editing, seamless RAW processing, automatic lens corrections and powerful search tools.
Capture One has a strong reputation amongst professional studio, fine art and commercial photographers for its image quality and tethered shooting capabilities, but has also developed its cataloguing and editing tools to compete very strongly with Lightroom.
Lightroom has become a standard ‘go-to’ program for many photographers who need to manage and edit images on a larger scale than traditional photo editors like Photoshop are designed for and works alongside Photoshop very neatly as part of Adobe’s Photography Plans. Adobe has made things more complicated, though, with two very different Lightroom versions: Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic.
The broad differences are highlighted below, but you can get more detail in this Lightroom CC vs Lightroom Classic comparison.
So which is best? That will depend on your needs, your expectations, how you like to work and how much you want to invest in your software! This section-by-section comparison is designed to help you decide.
Capture One uses a single window interface, Lightroom uses modules or a single window, depending on which version you choose.
Capture One has a single-window interface with Viewer panel and a Browser panel. You can display both, to view folder/album contents as well as the image you’re working on, hide the Browser or hide the Viewer to see thumbnails of folder/album contents only.
Lightroom CC follows a similar route with a single window to display folders/albums, thumbnails and images being edited, but Lightroom Classic uses a module-based system where you have to swap from the Library to the Develop module, for example, to edit an image.
2. Organising and search options
Capture One and Lightroom Classic have broadly similar organising and searching tools, but Lightroom CC is more basic.
Capture One can browse your images by folder, in albums and in smart albums. It has filter tools for quick filtering of images by color label, rating and more, and supports both camera EXIF data and user-editable IPTC metadata like keywords.
Lightroom Classic offers the same range of tools but more detailed options and combinations in its drop-down Filter Bar. Lightroom CC is much more basic. Its Filter Bar is more limited and it does not support smart albums at all.
3. Image storage
Capture One uses local storage, as does Lightroom Classic. Lightroom CC takes a different ‘web-first’ approach with cloud storage. This is partly Capture One vs Lightroom, partly Lightroom Classic vs Lightroom CC.
Capture One uses regular local storage for your images, referencing them in their current location. However, it adds another option once offered in Apple Aperture – internal storage within the image catalog, so that you have a single all-in-one image catalog file.
Lightroom Classic also uses local image storage, referencing files in their current location. It can also copy imported images into a new Lightroom created folder archive, but they stay ‘outside’ the catalog. Lightroom CC uses cloud storage, but with local caching/backup.
4. Camera and lens support
Capture One supports major cameras and lenses, but Lightroom’s support for consumer and niche cameras and lenses is wider.
Capture One gets regular updates to add support for new cameras and lens profiles, but while it’s sometimes quicker than Adobe at adding support for major new models, it can be slower to support more consumer-level cameras and lenses, and may leave some out entirely.
Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC offer the widest support for different camera RAW files and lens correction profiles of all software applications. The get camera and lens profile updates at the same time and generally pretty promptly.
5. Global adjustments
Capture One probably has the edge over Lightroom for global image adjustments, but the tools and options are broadly the same.
Capture One’s global adjustments are very powerful. You can apply Levels, Curves, colour adjustments, manual perspective corrections and more, and its customisable interface means you can group tools into tool tabs to suit your workflow.
Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC offer more or less the same global adjustment tools, but in a non-customisable interface that relies on stacked expanding/collapsing tools panels. The adjustments broadly match Capture One’s, but include handy automatic perspective corrections.
6. Local adjustments
The Capture One vs Lightroom battle takes another twist here. Lightroom is considered to offer very good local adjustments, but it’s actually not that great. Capture One wins here, with a more usable adjustment layers system, more refined masking options and full tool availability on each layer.
Capture One uses internal adjustment layers with masks that can now be either pixel-based (rasterised) or ‘parametric’ and adjustable. It’s possible to create quite sophisticated masks and mask refinements. Layers can be named to make them easier to identify.
Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC offers the same range of local adjustments/masks but using ‘pins’ rather than adjustment layers, so you can’t ‘name’ adjustments or see a list of those applied. You have access to a smaller set of tools for local adjustments.
7. Virtual copies
Capture One’s Versions are easier to work with, but Lightroom Classic CC’s Virtual Copies can be organised separately. Lightroom CC is the big loser here.
Capture One offers virtual copies but calls them ‘Versions’ and uses a system where there is no ‘master’ – each Version has the same status and you can delete any of them. You can try out a range of different ‘looks’ on a single image and Versions are automatically stacked in the catalog.
Lightroom Classic offers virtual copies, but Lightroom CC does not – this could be a critical factor for many photographers. In Lightroom Classic, there is a ‘master’ image and virtual copies are secondary. It is possible to separate virtual copies for use in different collections.
8. Presets and profiles
There’s no clear winner here. Capture One’s presets are typically more expensive, Lightroom’s are more numerous and more variable.
Capture One supports profiles as base ICC profiles which are applied ahead of any manual adjustments. You can also apply presets, which do use the adjustment tools, particularly the colour editor. Capture One presets are sold commercially by Phase One and others. They are expensive but selected for quality.
Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC also support profiles either included by Adobe or published separately and installed by third—party profile creators. These too are applied as an initial image correction. You can also get a huge range of commercial and free Lightroom presets. Some are better than others!
9. Capture One vs Lightroom: Output quality
Capture One’s RAW output is superior. Lightroom’s RAW processing needs more work, especially when balancing image noise and detail.
Capture One produces high levels of detail, low noise and offers extremely effective and natural-looking shadow and highlight recovery from RAW files. This is where subjective opinions come in, but Capture One’s RAW conversions have a deserved reputation for quality.
Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC can produce high-quality RAW conversions but with initially higher levels of noise than Capture One, so careful adjustments are needed to achieve similar levels of quality. Strong highlight and shadow adjustments can produce edge artefacts.
10. External apps and plug-ins
Capture One can work with almost any external editor but not plug-ins. Lightroom Classic works with both but is better with plug-ins (you can register only two external editors). Lightroom CC, however, is practically a closed system. It’s a tie in the Capture One vs Lightroom Classic battle (I might side with Capture One here), but Lightroom CC is a distant third.
Capture One can ‘round trip’ files to most external editors such as Photoshop, Affinity Photo and even Nik Collection plug-ins (which also work as standalone apps). It does now have a plug-in architecture but it is not yet widely supported.
Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC differ considerably here. Lightroom Classic supports both external editors and plug-ins, making it a somewhat better ‘host’ than Capture One. Lightroom CC does not support plug-ins and only works with Photoshop as an external editor.
Capture One offers a wider range of workflow options, including a ‘Sessions-based’ mode which doesn’t require image importing.
Capture One offers tethered shooting, ‘sessions-based’ editing and catalog-based editing. Its highly-regarded tethered shooting mode is used for ‘live’ capture and editing. You can use ‘sessions’ to browse and edit images without importing them or ‘catalogs’ to work Lightroom-style.
Lightroom Classic works from a catalog or image library, and images must first be imported into this library before you can work on them. It does support tethered shooting, which Adobe is steadily evolving. Lightroom CC also requires an import process – a pain point for many users.
12. Cloud sync & mobile
Lightroom is the obvious winner here. Lightroom Classic offers some synchronisation capability but Lightroom CC is fully cloud-based. If you want all your images available everywhere, on any device, Lightroom CC is the only program which will do it. At a cost, of course.
Capture One does not offer cloud storage or synchronisation option and does not offer web-based sharing and editing tools in the way that Lightroom does. It’s very much a desktop-based tool that leaves users to work out sharing and mobile editing options for themselves.
Lightroom Classic can sync Smart Previews via Collections with Lightroom Web and the Lightroom Mobile app for sharing, mobile editing and browsing. Lightroom CC takes this to the ultimate, with fully cloud-based storage and an ‘all your pictures everywhere’ workflow.
Both programs can be slow to load but Capture One feels snappier in use. Lightroom CC can be speedy too, but Lightroom classic can be painful.
Capture One can be slow to load initially (SSD storage makes this faster), but once it’s loaded it’s pretty fast and efficient in operation. Thumbnails load and scroll smoothly and editing processes feel like they’re happening in real time with no ‘hangs’.
Lightroom Classic is often reviled for its sluggish performance. It can take a long time to load, and seems to struggle particularly with displaying large numbers of folders in it is sidebar. Lightroom CC feels faster, but you are dependent on an Internet connection.
14. Cost of ownership
Capture One is more expensive to buy or rent, however you look at it, so if value is key for you, then Lightroom has an inherent advantage.
Capture One is considerably more expensive than Lightroom. A perpetual licence costs £299/$299, and while there is also a subscription option it costs £20/from $15 per month, paid annually, which is as much as Adobe’s most expensive Photograph Plan option.
Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC are available only on subscription, and the cheapest tier is £9.98/$9.99 per month (paid annually) for which you get both versions, and Photoshop. Lightroom CC users will need to get the more expensive £19.97/$19.99 1TB plan.
Capture One vs Lightroom: the verdict
Capture One is extremely well suited to regular ‘desktop’ users, especially professional photographers who need tethered studio shooting and the highest levels of image quality. It’s expensive, but its workflow is flexible, its tools are powerful and its output quality is second to none.
You can get download a Capture One trial from the Capture One website.
Lightroom Classic does everything that Capture One does for desktop users, but with a little less finesse. It is, however, a lot cheaper and offers cloud/mobile synchronisation. Lightroom CC is a different proposition, with serious limitations for ‘desktop’ users but fully cloud-based working.
You can find out more about the Adobe Photography Plans and download a short trial version from the Adobe website.
Read more: Best image cataloguing software