Capture One Review: Everything You Need to Know (2021)

This is a guide covering capture one.

Imagine you are an Adobe Lightroom CC user. You are used to the tools and technologies and the subscription-based model of the system.

Then someone introduces you to another system that is equally powerful, if not more, has the same set of tools that you use in Lightroom, and gives you the freedom to choose between a perpetual license option and a monthly subscription option.

Which one would you choose?

Before you answer that question let me tell you the name of that software – Capture One.

What is Capture One?

Capture One is a RAW image processor designed to work with any major RAW file format including Nikon, Canon, sigma, and of course Phase One’s proprietary RAW format.

As a matter of fact, Capture One supports more than 250 different RAW formats.

But the good thing is there are different versions of the software. You can either choose a version that works with all RAW formats or a version that can handle a specific RAW file format.

Of course, in the second option, you can get a much cheaper price. But it will only make sense if you are invested in a single camera make.

What is Capture One?

The Simplicity of the Interface, or the Lack of It?

Between Lightroom and Capture One, I feel both the software has a decent learning curve involved.

It is not that you can get started without any issues. It will be a challenge initially.

If you haven’t used any of the two software before we recommend that you start with something easier like Luminar AI before you migrate to a RAW image converter like Lightroom or Capture One.

We have recently reviewed Luminar AI. You can read all about that software here.

Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop
Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

A Discussion of Some of the Essential Development Tools in Capture One

Once you get the hang of things however Capture One is easy to use and intuitive. You will find many similarities between Lightroom and Capture One.

For example, the cataloguing feature on Capture One is reminiscent of Lightroom.

But apart from that everything seems pretty much the same. You can tweak the position of the development tools to the right and make it appear just like Lightroom.

You have your Exposure tab that contains the Exposure, Contrast, Brightness, and Saturation sliders that you can tweak.

Then you have the Levels Tab where you can play with the different levels. This tool does pretty much the same as what you would have seen in Lightroom.

It is handy and you can quickly make adjustments to your levels.

Before that, you have the HDR Tab which is something new compared to Lightroom because you don’t have that on LR. With the HDR Tab, you can work specifically on the Shadows and the Highlights and get some detail out of them.

I love the HDR Tab. This is something that I sorely missed in Lightroom.

I would have to use a tool like Aurora HDR to add some HDR effects to my photos.

If you have an ISO invariant camera or at least anything that has a low noise threshold, you can push your shadows and pull your highlights by two to three stops using this slider

Two more Tabs are worth mentioning here.

One is the Clarity Tab and the other is the Vignetting Tab. The Clarity Tab. Although I am never a fan of the Clarity slider, there is something new that I don’t get in Lightroom and is pretty useful for someone like me.

For someone like me who shoots landscape photos, I need a tool that allows me to enhance the textures in my photos (or at least preserve them) without inducing artefacts.

A sort of a sharpness and clarity tool but without the nasty side effects.

So over to the Clarity Tab on the bottom left of the development module and you can find the Structure Tool slider.

Slide the tool to the right and you can see how it affects the texture and details in your photos and how to tends to enhance them.

Slide it all the way to the left and everything gets softened and blurred. This tool is incredibly useful in so many ways but works the best when you have natural detail and texture in your photos and you want to be able to retain them.

After this comes the Vignetting Tool. I like the Vignetting Tab because I can use it to manually adjust the lens vignette.

Before and After tool
Love the quick Before and After tool that allows you to check the effects of your changes.

Layers

Capture One has some similarities with Adobe Photoshop in the sense it allows you to use Layers in your photos.

Layers

Linear Gradient Mask

There are more similarities with Lightroom as Capture One has a very useful Gradient Mask tool.

The Gradient Mask tool is available from the Exposure Panel. Just click on the Gradient icon under Layers Tab.

It works pretty much the way it does in Lightroom. All you have to do is click and drag the mouse to create your mask.

Next, move over to the Exposure Tab and make your adjustments by dragging the sliders as per your requirements.

The Gradient Mask tool is a very powerful and easy-to-use tool to adjust exposure and other aspects of a photo.

Linear Gradient Mask

Pricing

Capture offers a mixed pricing solution for photographers. There are standalone versions that work for a particular type of camera RAW file.

That means you can choose to buy or subscribe to a Capture One RAW image editing solution that will only work with RAW files produced by a Nikon camera.

Canon users similarly can opt for a Canon-only solution. This is, however, recommended only when you are using a dedicated camera brand and have no plans to upgrade or use a different camera brand in the future.

It also means if you borrow a camera of another make you will not be able to edit your RAW images unless you upgrade or subscribe to that RAW editor.

This version is cheaper than the does-it-all version. It costs $19/mo on a subscription basis.

Alternatively, you can opt for a perpetual license that costs a minimum of $149 for a single computer.

There are other versions as well that give you some additional goodies like extra style kits plus the critical advantage of using the latest version.

That one costs $278 for a perpetual license. We feel this is the best option if you are on a single camera platform and need the option to use the latest Capture One software.

On the other hand, there is a does-it-all solution. This is the Capture One version that we recommend for photographers who use multi-camera setups and or need the option to be able to edit multiple RAW file formats.

This one is priced at $24/mo for a multi RAW file format and a minimum of $179 for an annual single-user license that gives you the option to use the latest version at all times.

With the $179 version, you won’t get any additional style kits. The perpetual version costs $299 for a single computer license.

You own your license and won’t have to pay anything extra ever.

There are downsides to some of the perpetual license options because the cheaper prices won’t allow you the latest version upgrade which the monthly licensing pricing plan would.

Man doing credit card payment online

Is Capture One a value for money option?

Capture One is a value for money option for many photographers. And when I say that I mean amateurs, non-professionals, and people who shoot for their gratification and not for business.

These people often don’t need the latest software. They just need simple edits and cropping so that they can make large prints or share an edited photo online.

For them a perpetual license fee is untenable. With all of Adobe’s products now having migrated to a monthly licensing version Capture, One and its perpetual license option seems like a better option.

Especially because it is just as powerful as a RAW editor.

Should you opt for Capture One over Lightroom?

Adobe’s Lightroom sets the benchmark when it comes to photo management and photo editing tool.

However, plenty of people don’t use Lightroom as their default photo management utility. They use it only as a photo editor or RAW editor.

For these people Capture One is a good alternative because under the hood there is not much of a difference between the processing qualities of Capture One and Lightroom.

Images edited on both software when compared with each other reveals that both software is evenly matched.

Many users argue that Capture One is best when used in a tethered shooting mode. We would like to point out that Lightroom also has a decent tethered shooting mode.

So they are equally good when shooting in tethered mode.

Some users argue that the interface of Lightroom is better. This is a subjective thing.

Many photographers like the interface of Capture One better than that of Lightroom.

We would recommend you download trial versions of both software and test them out doing editing and retouching, exploring the tools before you make up your mind.

Having used Lightroom and Capture One throughout this week we would say that we are split too!

We like both tools! Maybe even slightly leaning towards Capture One because of the better pricing packages.

Before and After
Before and after image edits using Capture One

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