Capture One 20 versus Lightroom Classic

I want to highlight a few points where Phase One's alternative differs from its rival. First and, for many users, most importantly will be the model under which both apps are distributed. Adobe no longer offers Lightroom Classic under a perpetual license, having made the rather divisive decision to provide only a monthly or annual subscription. For its part, Phase One offers a choice of either a subscription or a perpetual license, catering to users who favor either approach.

Capture One 20's user interface can be customized to your tastes. Here, I've moved the tool stack to screen right, with the browser beneath the image, as in Lightroom. I've also pinned a navigator to the top of the tool stack.

However, Adobe's pricing is significantly more affordable, especially when one considers that its $10 monthly subscription for Lightroom Classic also includes both Photoshop and its new cloud-focused Lightroom app as well. By contrast, Phase One charges $20-24/month for Capture One Pro 20, the version which most users will need, which is double the price of Adobe's subscription. Since there's no perpetual license for Lightroom, I can't make a direct comparison here, but as compared to DxO PhotoLab, a perpetual license for Capture One Pro 20 is about 50-130% more costly, depending on which version of DxO's software you opt for.

And the high price tag of Capture One 20 is a bit difficult to swallow when you consider that Adobe Lightroom has significantly broader camera Raw file support than Phase One's alternative. While most mainstream camera brands are pretty well supported in Capture One, you'll still find exceptions. For example, when I tried some of the cameras I've recently reviewed -- the Canon M6 II and SL3, Pentax K-1 II and Ricoh GR III -- I quickly discovered that while three of the four are now compatible with this latest update, the SL3 still isn't on the list close to a year after its launch, despite both of its predecessors being supported.

Pricing is on the high side compared to Lightroom, and camera support is a bit more limited, too

If you're shooting a less popular brand, you're even more likely to find your gear somewhat unsupported. For example, Pentax users have just ten lens profiles to choose from, and (less surprisingly) Samsung users have none. Casio or Sigma shooters will find their out-of-camera Raws aren't directly supported by Capture One 20 at all. Nor will you find specific Raw support for your smartphone or drone, even from market leaders like Apple or Samsung. Lightroom, meanwhile, now supports close to 850 different camera and smartphone models, half again as many as Capture One. You can of course convert an unsupported camera's native Raw files to DNG and edit that way, but you won't have any custom color profiles - just Phase One's generic DNG processing.

This is more likely to be an issue for those shooting lower-end cameras and less popular brands, but even pros will want to take note, because Phase One continues to resist adding most rivals' medium-format cameras to Capture One, seeing them as a threat to its own hardware business. Thankfully, Fujifilm's medium-format models are now supported, as are a few Mamiya Leaf cameras. But you won't find any Hasselblad, Leica or Pentax medium-format cameras on the list, although Lightroom supports many of these too.

Capture One 20 is capable of excellent image quality, and its user interface feels less bloated than that of Lightroom

In terms of image quality, I think both Capture One 20 and Lightroom Classic are capable of excellent results, and I wouldn't say there's a big difference in favor of either app. Lightroom perhaps feels a little easier to use out of the gate, but its interface is also a lot more bloated with features I seldom actually use such as slideshows, photo book and web gallery creation, and the map module. And its modal design feels rather dated in comparison to the non-modal design of Capture One. Of course, Adobe's attempting to reinvent a lot of this with the new cloud-oriented version of Lightroom, but thus far the Classic version is still far more commonly used.

As well as image management and editing, Capture One 20 also supports tethered shooting and live view with many cameras.

The good news, if you're contemplating a switch from Adobe's product, is that Capture One 20 can import quite a bit of information from your existing Lightroom catalog, saving you the work of recreating everything. Although more advanced tools like adjustment brushes and the like can't be imported, and there will inevitably be differences in rendering between the two companies' imaging engines, Capture One can nevertheless recreate your Lightroom collections, as well as cropping, rotation, orientation, metadata, star rating, color tags and approximations of white balance, exposure, saturation and contrast.

Conclusion

Although it's not the major update that the jump in version number might imply, Capture One 20 continues to evolve in the right direction, with a noticeable improvement in approachability for new users, and improved image quality to boot. If you're looking for an alternative to Lightroom, there are quite a few apps to choose from these days, but thanks to good image quality and some very intuitive tools, Capture One should definitely be on your shortlist.

While I think pricing is currently a bit on the high side, I definitely applaud Phase One's decision to let users decide for themselves whether they prefer an ongoing subscription or a one-time fee for their software. Really, my biggest concerns in comparison to Adobe's product are two-fold: The more limited support for lower-end, older or less popular cameras, and a noticeably lower level of performance when rendering image previews and final versions alike.

Phase One deserves praise for letting its users decide whether they prefer an ongoing subscription or a perpetual license

Most users will want to purchase the Pro version of Capture One 20, which is priced at $299 for a perpetual license, $180/year for a prepaid subscription, $20/month with an annual contract, or $24/month without the contract. Customers who've purchased Capture One 12 after October 25, 2019 can upgrade for free. Enterprise and Cultural Heritage versions are also available, aimed at studio and library / museum use respectively.

If you only plan to use either Fujifilm or Sony cameras, you can instead purchase Capture One Fujifilm or Capture One Sony versions which drop support for other brands, and are priced at $129 (perpetual), $99 (annual prepaid), $10 (annual, paid monthly) or $16 (monthly). Users of these two brands can also opt for the free Capture One Express, which has some features removed as noted on Phase One's site.

What we like:

  • Great image quality
  • Non-modal user interface
  • Less intimidating to new users
  • Extremely customizable UI
  • Intuitive per-color editing with Basic Color Editor
  • Improvements to noise reduction, HDR and cropping tools
  • Tethered shooting for many camera models
  • A choice of either ongoing subscription or perpetual license

What we don't:

  • Performance noticeably lags Adobe Lightroom Classic
  • Higher-than-average price tag, both for subscription and perpetual
  • More limited camera and lens support than some rivals

Who's it for:

Enthusiast and professional photographers who want an imaging tool that's focused predominantly on management, culling and editing, and who predominantly use mainstream camera brands.