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Is It Time To Switch From Lightroom to Capture One Pro? Here’s Why It Might Be

I’ve been a rather happy Lightroom user since version 2. However, last year, I made the switch to Capture One 9, and here’s a short breakdown of why I did and why maybe you should too.

Image Quality

Before you start to even process an image in Capture one you’ll notice that your raw images simply look better in Capture One than they do in Lightroom. Raw images opened in Capture One 9 show excellent color, contrast, and fine detail with nearly any combination of camera or lens. Even decade-old images from long discontinued cameras absolutely sing in Capture One.

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For those who may be curious why a there’s a difference at all, understand that raw formats are interpreted differently by various converters, somewhat akin to how different cooks following a recipe may have slightly different resulting dishes. Capture One, it is largely agreed (though subjective), gives truer skin tones and overall balance.

Local Adjustment Layers

Besides having the ability to create as many as 10 layers of local adjustments in Capture One 9 we now have the ability to make local adjustment masks from Color Editor selections. This allows users to very easily create more complicated masks for compensating for lighting in interiors, skin-tone editing, skin softening, portrait retouching, and landscape color separation.

By contrast, Lightroom’s adjustment layer is limited to just a single layer with far less precision. While Capture One’s layers aren’t as robust as that of Photoshop, it covers what most photographers will desire to have and cut down on multiple application switching.

Luma Curves Channels

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This, is a big one. The Luma Curves Channel is a new channel in the curves tool for Luminance. The luma curve adjusts contrast in a different way than with only the RGB channel which will often change overall saturation with contrast is increased.

Additionally, users can perform all available curve adjustments on local adjustment layers for even more precise fine tuning. Having this option on local layers is a huge precision plus.

Focus Mask

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Capture One 9 employs a suite of two simple tools that help users easily determine if their photos are in focus. The one you’ll use the most is likely to be the Focus Mask. The Focus Mask works by analyzing each individual image in a session or catalog and determines the sharpest areas. In use it’s sort of like a “peaking” feature but for still images instead of video capture.

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Once analyzed, the sharpest areas of the image are overlaid with a color mask. If nothing is in focus, no overlay will be present. Even cooler, this feature works in catalog view, allowing users to cull for correct focus in entire shoots very quickly.

Powerful Color Editor

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The color editor in Capture One 9 defines the exact color tones you select and then allows you to adjust these colors in an optimal way. The Color Editor in Capture One is the tool you wished Lightroom had.

Although the controls might seem similar, the degree of control you have in Capture One puts it in a class of its own. To put it simply, you can precisely modify any specific color in a raw image that you see. Even better, the Color Editor plays well with the Skin Editor for portraits, and Color Editor selections can be turned into local adjustment masks. Boom!

Offline Mode

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When importing images to a Catalog, a preview is made and stored in the Catalog. This preview is what’s displayed when you edit in Capture One, and without directly being connected to the RAW images, Capture One 9 will still allow you to make any adjustments you like. You’ll only need to relocate your referenced images when processing for export.

Basically, it’s like a Lightroom Smart Preview but you don’t need to specifically enable it. Less fuss, and saves you a step.

Live View

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The tethering experience with Lightroom is abysmal with almost any camera combo. It’s choppy, laggy, and can be generally unreliable. Capture One 9 is a different animal altogether, and it’s easy to see why on professional shoots it’s CO you’ll see tethered. Users can connect their compatible Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leaf or Phase One camera for instant tethered capture. Live View, shows directly in Capture One simplifying composition and aiding in accurate focusing.

For the first time in years may find yourself planning tethered shooting into your workflow because of how easy and useful Live View in Capture One 9 is.

Media Pro SE

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This recently revamped asset-management program can work seamlessly with Capture One 9. What portrait, event, and wedding photographers will love is that you can import thousands of images into Media Pro SE in minutes, with previews that are so responsive culling and organizing large libraries becomes easy and doesn’t require a maxed out system! After you cull you can drag and drop only the files you want to edit into a Capture One session.

Capture One 9 Is Worth A Try, — It’s Also Free!

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With every new release, Capture One pushes itself to be an even more versatile and indispensable tool in the digital photographers kit. The last several updates to Capture One have added new features, improved existing features, improved speed, and improved output capabilities. By contrast, Lightroom’s most recent updates have been more like maintenance releases to fix stuff broken on previous versions.

For advanced Lightroom users, you’ll find the learning curve for Capture One 9 to be pretty small. Many of the tools look similar, and you can even setup the editing tools in a similar layout to Lightroom if that helps. I promise you if you give Capture One 9 a legitimate try for a couple weeks, most of you won’t want to go back.

[REWIND: CULLING IS CRITICAL & LIGHTROOM IS THE TOOL TO DO IT WITH (IF YOU KNOW HOW)]

That said, Lightroom has a vibrant community of educators and numerous tutorials and workshops available. LR also has robust 3rd party support and quality presets such as the SLR Lounge Preset system, with nothing quite to match it within Capture One. The value of that cannot go overstated.

Although Capture One predates Lightroom the user base is still very small by comparison made of mostly fashion, food, and studio photographers who were early adopters of medium format digital.

Capture One Pro 9 is available for $269 through the Phase One website. If you already have version 7 or 8 of the software, you can upgrade for $99. There’s also a subscription plan that gives you access to the program for $15 per month, opening the doors to many more users. You can get it here.

Marlon is a South Florida-based wedding and portrait photographer, writer, and interactive designer. Involved in photography since the 90’s, his background began with repairing film cameras from a master Vietnam veteran, followed by years of assisting professional photographers then before starting his own business in 2006. Marlon at his heart is a tinkerer that has love for and adept in every medium of photography.

When not working Marlon is all about spending time with his wife, Naomi and two boys, Taze and Brassaï.

http://www.marlonrichardson.com

Comments [77]

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  1. Larry Zamba

    If you own a Sony, Pentax or Olympus or pretty much any other camera on the planet except for Nikon, Canon and a couple of Leica’s forget about tethering with Lightroom to instantly see your shots.  It won’t support it.  That’s why Capture is a great product.

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  2. Phoenix Kiula

    Rubbish. Even in v10, the UI of C1 sucks ass. WHo’s doing this black design, with just icons and tiny tiny tiny fonts? And who needs 10-layer editing when there’s always Photoshop for the truly sadomasochistic, while LR achieves with much lesser effort nearly the same output for anyone who wants to edit  a photo all night?  Sorry, tried C1 many many times, pretty much once at every  version, and it has yet to woo me. LR is a beautiful balance of form and function. Next story please..

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    • Kishore Sawh

      If it has yet to woo you, then so be it. But everything you’ve stated here is opinion. If LR is good for you then great, but your statements are again, simply opinion. 

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  3. Michael Turk

    Lightroom and Alternatives!

    You may well complain about Lightroom, but I recently purchased both Affinity Photo and Topaz Studio.  They grind to a complete halt on my little netbook.   

     At least Lightroom actually runs on it, albeit a little slowly! 

    I  might try C1 if it is an improvement from Lightroom, but then I would probably discontinue my monthly Adobe subscription … and what do I use in place of Photoshop?  Michael.

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  4. Simon Hansen

    Pretty nice article! I was reluctant to switch to C1 because I had so many nice presets. Now I just found out about the website http://www.c1naturalstyles.com, which has even better looks than I had before! Certainly did make the switch easier for me and now I am so happy to use Capture One, it is just so much faster to use and the image quality clearly speaks for itself…

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  5. Jim Dailey

    I thought I would comment on the price. I bought a Canon 1Ds 15 years ago and used the first incarnation of Capture One. I am forever grateful that I did as the image quality is still better than I can get out of Photoshop today. The buildings are now gone. As the saying goes “you can’t go back” is right. Do it right now and you will forget the price years down the road when you see the quality of the images this program puts out. 

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Couldn’t agree with you more. And with their update released today, the tide is even more in their favor

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  6. Francois Brunet

    Is Capture One compatible with Fujifilm files?

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  7. Francisco Arjona

    How can i install all my lightroom presets on Capture one!!??

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    • Kishore Sawh

      You can’t. It’s a big holdback for many, but I don’t see that changing.

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  8. Marcellinus January

    How about batching editing and fast editing ?

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  9. Travis Hausler

    The only thing that irritates me is that when I work others on a shoot I like to SYNC with pictures and bulk edit shadows and color balance. Capture ones does do it, BUT many more steps involves. It’s more of a copy and paste work flow It take way too many steps that cost me time in my work flow. If i work alone on shoot or project i would still like to sync my edit without all the additional keystrokes. The color rendition is far better than Lightroom. I wish Lightroom was faster and I wish cature one would think outside of the levels of the studio Pro for their work flow.

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  10. Michael Bobarev

    Done! 9’s owner :)

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  11. Markos Achar

    Hi. I just switch from Lightroom to Capture One. Is there a way to edit HDR pictures, and Panorama pictures?

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  12. Kelvin Strepen

    Too much comments. But I know why……

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  13. Gavin Wren

    I’m produce photography for both online and offline publication. I recently did a back to back comparison of Lightroom and Capture One and I preferred Capture One in terms of image quality. It also allowed me to streamline my workflow more easily. There was just one stumbling block at the end of the road, which is saving for web. Lightroom will create small file sizes, upload directly to flickr and there are even plugins that will transfer images directly to my WordPress media library, also allowing me to set alt text via lightroom. This makes a huge difference to the workflow for the online side of my work and also makes me lean towards Lightroom. I was having to resave capture one images through Photoshop to get the file sizes down for online use, which was tedious. If it wasn’t for that, then I’d go for Capture One all day long.

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    • Mark Carpenter

      You should be able to make a file in what ever size you want by using the “output tab.” It has the icon of the single gear. Save what ever recipe for future use.

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  14. Joseph Ford

    While I agree with your assessment, Capture One lacks support for PSD. A good round trip in Capture one with Photoshop would be essential.

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    • Doug Peterson

      @joe – C1 can be set up for one keystroke round trip to PS with full layer support on return. Sounds like you need to take our Capture One Masters Program classes :).

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    • Thomas Starlit

      I would like to hear how to do that. Even the online help states that layers will be lost with hopping from C1 to PS and back

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  15. Deirdre Ryan

    I might be doing this…yesterday it took 15 hours to export images out of LR. 15 HOURS..now mind you I do believe that there might be other things going on with my Mac Pro 2012 system, however before I did this, it didn’t take this long. Yesterday it did. I lost an entire day of work. 15. Hours.
    Adobe fix Lightroom!

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    • Phoenix Kiula

      Upgrade your computer. 2012 is ancient laptop especially if you had very low memory. 

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  16. Quintin Mills

    Hello.
    Where can i download the free version to try it out?
    Is Capture One 9 Pro different to Capture One 9 or are they the same thing?
    If they are different, what are the main differences between them that would make you upgrade?

    Thank you.

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    • Doug Peterson

      Quintin, phaseone.com to download. There is only one download. It’s free (always, forever) if you’re using it with phase one digital back files and $299 (at phaseone.com… less if you call Digital Transitions) if you want to use it with Canon/Nikon/etc files. Free 30 day trial can be activated to try it out.

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  17. Alexander Panzeri

    Thanks for the review!
    This is really helpful for me that I’ still using Aperture 3.X.
    When I’ll be able to buy (my costumers are really XXXX) a new laptop/desktop I’ve to choose the new editor.

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  18. Victor Fomino

    Hi, you say: “Capture One 9 Is Worth A Try, — It’s Also Free!” – where is the free version for download? Can you provide a link please? – I downloaded and installed with a 30 days trial period. Is this what you were talking about?
    Thank you,

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    • Doug Peterson

      Victor, There is only one download. It’s free (always, forever) if you’re using it with phase one digital back files and $299 (at phaseone.com… less if you call Digital Transitions) if you want to use it with Canon/Nikon/etc files. Free 30 day trial can be activated to try it out.

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  19. Nick van der Touw

    I’m trying to get my workflow moved over to Capture One Pro 9, but unfortunately the program seems to freeze up most of the time. I’m running a 13-inch MBP retina and can’t seem to get past opening the catalogue most of the time. Has anyone else experienced this at all?

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    • Marlon Richardson

      That doesn’t usually happen. I run CO9 on a 2011 IMAC with 32GB’s of memory and it’s pretty swift even with A7rII files. I’d send a message to Phase One support to see what the problem is.

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    • Nick van der Touw

      Thanks Marlon, sent them a message. Just thought I’d try my luck here while I wait for a reply. Loving the quality of the files straight out of the gate. Once I manage to solve the loading issues I think I’m going to be very happy using it.

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  20. Chris Giles

    I tried several times to get on with Capture One but the workflow isn’t an intuitive as Lightroom. Factor that in with other things like locking out certain camera types i.e. the Pentax 645z and Hasselblad bodies and that it’s a lot more expensive than CC devalues a slightly better Raw convertor.

    Because that’s kinda all it has that’s better and it isn’t enough to convince me to dump a good consistent workflow. Not that I wouldn’t, just I’ve tried it three times now.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      I agree the missing medium format raw conversion is irritating and they should probably change that policy. However, it will only matter to someone who shoots digital medium format. I suspect that this is only a fraction of all digital photographers.

      I agree due to so many screens and no clear starting point as to how to work files, it’s not as intuitive to learn as most other raw converters.

      I wonder would many users be interested in SLR Lounge creating tutorials on how to get started with CO9?

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    • Kayode Olorunfemi

      Am in a similar boat… tried it 3-4times, each time I go back to Lightroom when I have a job on hand… it seems too clunky to get my head around or maybe Adobe has brainwashed me with all those years looking at Photoshop. Either way it seems its not for me.

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  21. Karl Fakhreddine

    Hi Marlon, thanks for the article. I am a little frustrated with LR and followed your advice and tried CO9. There is better control on the colors but I find the interface a little clunky. It is not at polished at LR and seem to lag a little.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hey Karl, I’m sure Marlon will chime in here also, but he and I both believe one of the reasons LR has been so successful is the absolute ease and familiarity or the interface – it’s just easy to quickly move around some sliders. CO9 isn’t as intuitive – but it’s not hard to learn really. The lag, on the other hand… that’s unusual.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      I wouldn’t call LR polished, maybe you just have years of familiarity with LR and almost known with CO9.

      It is possible to layout CO9 almost exactly the way LR is laid out. I could help with that if you are interested.

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  22. Alex Petrenko

    Tried CO9 because of skin. Really liked the result. But then was not able simply sync star ratings (written into XMP by PhotoMechanic) to CO, felt stupid after reading help and decided to give it a try later :) Simple (in LR) “Sync folder” even after tweaking Settings didn’t work.

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  23. Ernesto Del Aguila III

    Thanks Marlon for the article. I made the switch a year ago from DXO originally starting with LR. I love the image quality you get starting at import and the customization of the application itself. It’s cut my workflow substantially. I am definitely curious about Media Pro SE and giving that a go.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      If you’ve used Photo Mechanic, this sort of program will feel familiar. What gives this the edge over Photo Mechanic for CO9 users is that you don’t have to perform an export after culling to load selects into a *Session (doesn’t work for a catalog sadly…)

      *You can convert CO9 Sessions into Catalogs later if you like.

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  24. Chris Kwock

    you know, if there were people making presets for this, especially the slr lounge ones, I would totally take the leap.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      these are decent, but to be honest it’s really easy to make presets in CO9. http://captureonestyles.com/

      I’d suggest you fully finish some files in LR and then export that catalog into CO9. It’ll try to interpret the adjustments already made on the images. If you like what you see just save it as a preset.

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  25. Sean Reese

    $299 on the site…..Plus, I don’t see a way to contact sales or customer service.

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  26. Marc Billingsley

    I’m confused….you say “capture one is worth a try….it’s also free”….then you say it’s 269 dollars.

    One is free…the other one isnt.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      It’s free to try for 30 days. In that trial period you’ll get full capabilities without any restrictions.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Tough to not give it a try given that . . .

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    • Andrew Allan

      Well then it is NOT free, it has a free trial which is VERY different from free. Great article, I might try and thank you, but your wording does imply to people that Capture One is free and you should fix that.

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    • Jim Dailey

      It’s free with their digital back. 30 free trial for slr users.

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    • Larry Zamba

      It’s free if you own a Sony camera.  They made some kind of a deal with Capture.

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  27. Stephen Velasquez

    I started out with Aperture they faded out by not updating. Then I went with DxO optics which is sluggish and gimmicky. Got LR5 upgraded to Adobe Cloud and I am happy with it. They are problems with Tethered shooting but I could work around that. I’m sorry but I’m not divorcing LR for a few flaws that I could work around.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      The biggest reason to switch for someone like you would be the superior raw conversion. You’ll notice it immediately from the preview images. Also, tethering with Capture One 9 is amazing. If your camera has Live View, you’ll have access to it within Capture One 9 with most models. You can also control Profoto Lights wirelessly.

      But if you are happy, then there is no need. Just know that there is a viable option available to you.

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  28. norman tesch

    269 dollars…. thats a big pill to swallow.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      That’s understandable, for sure. It may be worth considering, however, given that Photoshop costs a pretty penny to buy outright, and the subscription model keeps you paying for Adobe. though, agreed, it’s still a bit more costly, as you can get a year of Photoshop and Lightroom for $10 a month, vs the $15 for Capture one – though that has an end value…

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    • Doug Peterson

      How much have you spent on camera bodies and lenses in the last three years? This software makes ALL of those pieces of hardware look better and reduces the time you spend in post. It’s worth 10x what they charge. If you’re a student or company you should call Digital Transitions for special C1 pricing.

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  29. Brandon Wyche

    I use both Capture One and Lightroom. I use Capture One for everything but events. In Lightroom I use VSCO keys for the speed. For bulk processing Capture One just can’t keep up. Other than that Capture One is product of choice amazing raw processor.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      I found the latest version of Capture One 9 to be much faster than how sluggish Lightroom has become. I have edited many weddings in Capture One 9 in a fraction of the time it would’ve taken me to do it in Lightroom. My main editing rig is still a 2011 IMAC, only because Capture One allows me to still work fast using it.

      *Also, keep in mind you can cull your images using Media Pro SE, a lightening fast data asset management program that works seamlessly with Capture One. It’s just drag, drop, and edit.

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    • Doug Peterson

      This is absolutely untrue. Come to our Capture One Masters Program Advanced Workflow and you’ll leave significantly faster than LR+VSCO. The amount of customization, shortcutting, automated workflow triggers, and automatic output flow control is incredible and far, far beyond LR.

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  30. Paul Wynn

    It’s going to be hard for C-One9 to dislodge Adobe Lightroom. LR isn’t perfect but in my experience, still represents exceptional value for money.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      It’s a good product that so many have years of familiarity with. To me the real benefit to LR is it’s robust 3rd party support, many high level presets, and social integration.

      In truth I moved to CO9 because LR didn’t provide adequate IQ for the camera’s that I’ve used over the years. It was a clunky piece of software until version 8.

      I think it’s worth a try for anyone not happy with the IQ, speed, and lack of precise color control found in LR.

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    • Kurt Heyde

      Any idea whether CO9 is compatible with any of the NIK software packages? That is one truly free software collection that has come in extremely handy and I’d hate to lose the ability to use in my workflow.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      It will work the same way LR works with 3rd part plugins. The RAW gets converted to something else of your choosing before it’s opened in the Nik console. After your edits it’s added to you CO9 catalog or session.

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    • Doug Peterson

      Phase One has no interest in dislodging LR. They will always be the 70% solution aimed at prosumers. Capture One is targeting the top few percent of users that are about quality, customization, and workflow. It’s slightly harder to learn (classes like COMP help), but it’s a much better solution to most pro photographic workflows.

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  31. Lion Hijmans

    I use Lightroom beside Photoshop. One of the main features for me is the Library – ordening my pictures is important. Could you tell something about a library function in C-one?

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  32. Jean-Francois Perreault

    As a Fuji shooter, I’m more and more annoyed at Adobe’s lack of progress with X-Trans files. I’ve made the mistake of installing the trial version of Capture One without giving it much attention and now I can’t install it again to really try it out.
    I might “rent” it for a couple of months and really give it a go.

    I am so close to switching to C1…I’ll make my decision at the end of the summer.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      The Fuji output is pretty flawless in CO9. It’s night and day. Last year some genius figured out a work around to use Fuji X film simulations in C09. Definitely give it another go!
      http://www.fuji-x-forum.com/topic/1631-capture-one-pro-8-film-simulations/

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    • Jean-Francois Perreault

      Thanks for the link! I have installed them and they are pretty close to what I see from Fuji’s JPEGs.

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    • Dave Lyons

      Jean-Francois Perreault
      If you email them and tell them that they will give you an additional 30 days I believe.

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    • Jean-Francois Perreault

      I’m currently trying it out. So far I’d say some files do look better in C1, others look pretty much the same. There seems to be quite a bit more you can do in C1 but so far I find it adds a bit more work as well. But I’m still in the learning process so that’s normal.
      So far, the advantages of C1 do not seem to overcome those from Lr.

      I like the Focus Mask option but it doesn’t seem very reliable. One f/1.4 image shows just the right amount of focus area while the next one, almost identical, shows the entire image as in focus. So I can’t fully trust it for fast culling.

      I still have plenty of time to evaluate it a bit more so I’ll have a better opinion in the next few weeks.

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    • Doug Peterson

      This is a misunderstanding of what the focus mask is and how to use it. The effect of exposure and noise is important. Once you understand how to use focus mask it’s incredibly powerful. I’d suggest taking a class. If you’re in LA or NYC you should try the COMP class by Digital Transitions.

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