The day I bought my first real DSLR was the day I stopped shooting film, with mixed emotions.
The new normal all of us are now faced with is Digital Camera Based Photography relies on a computer for processing and file storage - the digital darkroom. Soon after my switch from film to digital I quickly learned shooting in JPEGs format would not support more advanced image “tweaks” later. Once I realized that fact I immediately went into the camera settings and changed the format to NEF or “raw” format as many people call it. That simple change meant – I needed more advanced specialized raw editing software that could read and edit RAW files, at that time I turned to the Nikon Software Store and bought Capture NX-2 for about $199.00, the software could do magic with raw files – Capture NX 2 was everything I needed. NX-2 was simple enough yet had enough features to make my photos look better QUICKLY without me spending hours processing a set of images. Then one day Nikon announced it was halting raw support for the NX-2 software. Planning ahead for the NX2 demise at least for newer camera support, I began to look around, what happened was I basically went with what “everyone” else was doing by popular vote – “Light Room” – and I hated it. Seven years later, all my images are in LR catalogs and I still dislike using Lightroom, I learned to use Lightroom out of necessity. Underneath the covers, it feels foreign every time I use Lightroom, I am at odds with it.
This brings me to this point in time - is it time should I convert to Capture One? You might just be asking yourself that same question. This article is not a technical comparison between two products, but more of why Capture One could be YOUR first editor rather than migrating from Lightroom like I am considering.
Lightroom has many benefits! I do recognize what Lightroom offers – but I simply dislike how I am forced to interact with the main feature I need – the editing features called “develop” and no matter what I do in the Lightroom edits I almost always find the need to export the file to Photoshop for additional tweaks - I think Lightroom is limited in its ability to do meaningful full edits quickly within the Lightroom environment.
For those new to Lightroom – LR offers non-destructive editing: meaning the edits to your photos are an LR modification not applied directly to the image itself, basically a config file for the image which Lightroom reads and applies those settings for each image and renders it in Lightroom, If you want those changes outside of Lightroom you need to export with changes so other editors see the edits.
The great thing about Lightroom – Asset management! Lightroom has a good asset management toolset which allows you to tag and catalog and create mini-libraries of your images within catalogs. This feature makes it extremely easy to retrieve just the images you are looking for from the thousands you may have within Lightroom. Example: I did a 2-year project of photographing wildflowers as a volunteer, while I had no idea what the scientific names were, I simply tagged the images by project name, and then added specific attributes about each flower, color, number of leaves/pedals, etc… LR has excellent cataloging capabilities - later when asking about a particular flower I could quickly pull up the flowers that matched the attributes. Keep in mind if anything happens to the LR database/catalog you are screwed – all that information is stored external to the image in a special file associated with the reference image. Catalogoing does require some discipline- but by default, Lightroom knows what lens was used an what camera and settings, and of course the date time of capture + a few other attributes depending on how you have your camera set up.
Lightroom the editor: I find this part for me as being the most important reason for Lightroom but yet lacking and limited in what and how it is delivered. When you first import your images from your camera – Lightroom applies a default Adobe RGB profile settings. This is annoying. You can change this behavior by setting a new default but it is frustrating - to have your images re-graded as a flat Adobe Profile.
The Lightroom editor is logically arranged with the most common settings at the top and you work your way down to modify other attributes of the image as necessary. I find the LR editor adequate but not all that intuitive or flexible or fun to use and like I said – I normally export the image into Photoshop for further refinement. You may get a sense that I do not like Lightroom - correct I do not, but I have stuck with it for many years now - but now looking for a change that takes my photo editing to the next level. - am I wrong to want that?
Are other Editors are available now? Several – I will focus on Capture One, which I have been using now for a month. In that one month period – I have had a much better experience with image editing than any other RAW image editor that I have used to date. In fact, I took some of my Lightroom images and re-processed them in Capture One – and achieved better results with less than 3 weeks of experience in Capture One VS years in Lightroom. WoW!
The Great Things about Capture One in a nutshell: It is an image editor first and foremost, the UI focuses on editing workflow placing you in the driver’s seat right from the start – rather than you trying to find it. Although you will need to import images into a catalog or a “session” the process is fast and simple. During import Capture One reads the images and applies the correct camera profile, not a generic Adobe RGB profile - so the images look closer to what you originally shot.
In addition to my two Nikon cameras I also enjoy and use my wonderful Fujifilm XT-2, with Lightroom the default imports show up as washed out images after you import them – Capture One software understands the camera your images were shot with and applies the Fujifilm look – giving you a hell of a head start with editing – because it is closer to what you saw in camera when you shot it. The Capture One Pro sliders behave differently that what most of us are accustomed to – in a good way. Like the HDR shadows. It appears the software understands the dynamics of the image and does not “destroy” the image if you choose to slide to one extreme or the other.
Capture One appears to preserve the image profile as shot and not apply a “flat” profile to your images during import – or at least Capture One has “better” starting profiles in my honest opinion.
Capture One Highlights:
- Capture One is a HIGHLY customizable image editing tool workshop, although I have yet to make changes to the default layout – it is very easy to do through drag-drop, add/remove toolbars, or just re-arrange the defaults to your liking. Totally awesome!
- Layer support in version 11 – similar in concept to Photoshop layers, If you apply a layer to an image you can use a brush to paint the areas you wish to modify – such as adding more exposure to a darker area without affecting the remaining image area.
- With Layers comes “annotations” – Great for others who you collaborate with, allowing you to markup the images with notes on a layer.
- Skin Feature – a Nice built-in feature that you can use to pick an area of the subject and use the area as a reference to smooth/tone the skin – diminishing blemishes and smoothing the skin overall quickly.
- Multiple ways to modify color – and you can do it with ease.
Capture One Pro Pitfalls: $ Price $. If you are already paying an Adobe Creative Cloud Subscription for the Photography Suite which includes Lightroom and Photoshop you might be reluctant to shell out $300.00 for the Capture One Pro product, especially since it does not include an asset management console – which is an add-on option @ an additional $190.00. Thus the move to Capture One can be painful in more ways than one.
So what have I decided?: I decided Adobe Lightroom needs a lot of work when it comes to being a fully capable raw editor, and I doubt it ever acheives that status because that would undermine Photoshop - these two Adobe products are conjoined twins. given the fact, Adobe packages Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC for about $20.00 per month or 199.00 per year - It is very hard to move to another solution costing MUCH MORE for an editor without a built-in asset management solution. Until Capture One integrates a robust Asset management with their superior editor - there is NO WAY I will invest $$ for just a few minor benefits over what I have with Lightroom and Photoshop CC combo, after all, Photoshop alone is far superior in its ability overall. Until Capture One Pro understands the market and includes asset management - NO, I will stick with what I have.