With photographers around the web showing their disgust for the latest update to Lightroom, and the speed and reliability of the program crashing, many photographers are considering a move to alternatives to Lightroom. This week I've been testing out one of the key competitors: Capture One.
While there are many pros and cons to both programs, the biggest differences are that Lightroom has a more intuitive interface and does a better job of managing an entire portfolio of work all in one place, but the program is slow and buggy. However, Capture One provides a powerful alternative for advanced photographers who want fast import and tethering with excellent color grading, and who can live with a session-based workflow and a quirkier interface. The big sticking point, however, is that if you migrate from Lightroom to Capture One, you'll lose many of the edits you've done in Lightroom–possibly on tens of thousands of photos.
When it comes right down to it, I'd probably say that Capture One is ahead of Lightroom is most areas. The problem, however, is that if I were to switch over, I'd lose thousands of hours of work that I've done in Lightroom and would be forced to adopt to a quirkier interface. But am I tempted? You bet I am. And frankly, Lightroom is on probation as far as I'm concerned. If it doesn't get a significant speed and stability improvement in the next 8 months, I'd consider switching to Capture One.
The only thing that could change that timetable for me is if Capture One were to more aggressively price their software. At $299, it's unlikely to gain marketshare against Adobe's Photoshop AND Lightroom bundle for just $9.99/month, or the availability of Lightroom as a standalone product for $99 (frequent sale price) or $149 (full price).
“Develop Module” Tools
Color grading in Capture One is more full-featured than in Lightroom. I'd give my left arm to get the powerful “Skin Tone Editor” from Capture One implemented into Lightroom. It allows for precise selection of skin tones and a full-featured array of tools for editing the skin tones. I'm jealous of it. Check out the embedded video below to see how color grading works in Capture One. The relevant portion starts right at the 10 minute mark.
The “heal clone” tool in Capture One is the most similar tool to Photoshop's amazing “content-aware fill” tool. It doesn't work in the same way as content-aware fill, but it does allow the photographer to clone detail from one area of a photo onto another, and still take luminosity into account to make the healed area look quite real. I would certainly still put content-aware fill ahead of the Capture One's “heal clone” functionality, but it's not terrible either. Since Lightroom doesn't implement content aware fill nearly as well as Photoshop does, I'd say that Capture One's clone tool is actually a bit better than Lightroom's, but neither work as well as Photoshop's content-aware fill.
One of the beauties of Lightroom is its simplicity. While in Photoshop there are dozens of sharpening tools, Lightroom pairs it down to much more simple sharpening. Capture One is somewhat of a mid-point between the two, and example of that is the clarity slider. In Lightroom, it's a simple slider with no settings, but in Capture One, there are three clarity algorithms with both “clarity” and “structure” sliders. That's very powerful for photographers who want to get into a bit more fine editing without passing a photo to Photoshop.
Capture One also includes a keystone correction tool, which is excellent for adjusting perspective-based issues in a photo. For example, if you take a picture from an elevated area looking at a building, the top of the building will be larger than the bottom in the photo and the sides of the building will not appear straight up-and-down. The keystone tool would be the perfect way to adjust this. Real estate and architectural photographers rejoice!
The import process in Capture One is lightyears ahead of Lightroom. I imported 500 photos in just 42 seconds and had them ready to edit!!! The photos come in significantly faster, and the interface shows you exactly what's happening and when. The jpg previews are brought up immediately, and the full previews are built faster than Lightroom with a clear progress bar that shows the photographer exactly how long the process takes.
The speed of the import process extends to tethered capture as well. Capture One is probably the best tethered-capture software in the industry. It's lightning fast, but does not support many camera systems. Only Canon, Nikon, and Sony DSLRs are supported. Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, and Pentax users are left in the cold. One cool feature available in Capture One tethered capture is a focus mask, which analyzes the photo and determines which areas are sharp and which areas are not, so you can check focus on the final image right after capture without zooming in and analyzing focus by looking at all the different areas of the image.
One area of concern for me, however, is the speed of adding “develop module” adjustments to an image. I found that the design of the Lightroom software makes each tool quicker to use. In fact, this ended up being one of the primary reasons that kept me from purchasing the full version of Capture One. While the software is very powerful, some of the adjustments took too much time to apply when compared to Lightroom.
Lightroom also has far better integration with Photoshop than Capture One–no surprise. If you find yourself round-tripping to Photoshop and then back to Lightroom frequently, then Capture One probably isn't a great option, despite its process recipes which make the process somewhat acceptable.
Design and GUI
As I reviewed Capture One, I had to keep fighting the urge to dislike things that were different from what I'm used to, which is Lightroom. However, in the UI department it was tough to like Capture One. The entire user interface feels more complicated than it needs to be. Having taught Lightroom to THOUSANDS of photographers all across the world, I see how quickly they can get up to speed in using the program. The same is not true of Capture One. The interface is more quirky and requires more explanation.
However, there are some aspects of the Capture One interface that are superior to that of Lightroom. For example, when flipping through an entire library of photos in Lightroom, it can take a long time to scrub through the horizontal timeline. In capture one, however, the images scroll by in rows so you can flip through photos far more quickly.
The coolest design feature in Capture One is a completely customizable workspace. Much like in Premiere Pro, you can set up different work spaces and customize where every tool goes on the screen. Lightroom, on the other hand, has very few customization options to change the interface to match the tools that you use most frequently. While I'd personally love a customizable interface, I can also see the value in Lightroom's stripped down, simple interface that works for the vast majority of users.
Capture One is really not built to manage all of the photos in your portfolio from multiple years. While it does have the catalog capability, the company still seems to want users to switch to a session-based workflow. A session-based workflow means that you have a “mini catalog” just for each individual shoot, without creating a larger catalog-based workflow which would allow the user the ability to search through all images ever taken all in one group.
For professional photographers, a session-based workflow actually works quite nicely, because you get the speed advantages of a brand new catalog for each shoot. However, for most hobbyist photographers who aren't focused on just delivering photos to a specific client but want their entire portfolio organized, Capture One is not the ideal program. While the catalog based workflow IS possible in Capture One, I'm told that it doesn't do as well with a large catalog as Lightroom can. I did not personally test a large catalog as I reviewed the software.
My favorite feature in Capture One is hierarchal keywords, which is not possible in Lightroom. What it means is that a keyword can be nested from within a larger keyword. So if I'm photographing sports, I could have the broad keyword “sports photography” and within that, I could have keywords for football, soccer, tennis, swimming, etc. I could see myself using this quite regularly since I'm a bit fanatical about keeping my library organized.
Stability and Updates
I don't think any photographer is happy with the last several updates to Lightroom. The stability of the program has been horrid, despite the fact that the software's features and compatibility have been updated frequently. While Adobe's change to Creative Cloud has been acceptable to most photographers who are now used to the monthly pricing model, the updates have not been well tested before release.
Capture One has the opposite problem. The program is very stable and my testing did not unearth any bugs, but the pace of updates to the program is quite slow. Worse yet, updates to camera and lens compatibility have been even slower.
So the bottom line is that Lightroom is buggier but has more frequent feature and compatibility updates. Capture One takes longer to add compatibility with cameras and lenses, but seems to be a more stable and speedy platform.
One issue I found in Capture One, however, is that it does NOT do well AT ALL in working with images over 1 gigabyte. I brought in a D800 TIFF file that had significant Photoshop work done to it and the picture basically brought Capture One to it's knees every time I tried to do anything to it. For some photographers, a file this large is extremely rare, but for me it's actually quite common when shooting panoramas on high megapixel cameras, or when doing a lot of post-processing in Photoshop.
Switching from Lightroom to Capture One
Capture One does have a tool that allows photographers to import a Lightroom catalog, but it won't bring in everything. Your metadata will all be brought in flawlessly, and many of your edits (exposure, etc) are also brought in without any issue. Local adjustments, however, are entirely lost. Ouch.
For me, and I believe most photographers, that's the #1 thing keeping photographers from migrating to Capture One.
Capture One is significantly more expensive than Lightroom. It is priced at $299, while Lightroom can often be found on deals for $99 (normally priced at $149), and is available COMBINED WITH PHOTOSHOP for just $9.99 per month (which is a fantastic deal!).
Frankly, with so many users upset at Adobe right now, an aggressive pricing move could win over many users to Capture One. This is using the same technique that Adobe did when Final Cut made huge missteps with Final Cut X and Adobe swooped in with rapid development, aggressive pricing and marketing to steal market share away to Premiere Pro. If Capture One cut its price to $99 and aggressively pushed its marketing out to the photographer community, I believe it could devastate Lightroom in short order.
But at the $299 price point and where photographers know they'll lose a significant amount of their past edits when switching, and will be forced to learn a completely new program, it's a tough sell. It would take an aggressive and sudden move from Capture One to win this battle.
Capture One is probably worth the $299 price tag for many professional and advanced amateur users, but since the price is too high for the average user, the best training, supplementary products, plugins, and presets will always be made more widely available for Lightroom. And all of those ancillary benefits seem to have won over the majority of professional users as well.