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Transitioning from Lightroom Classic to Capture One

I began an annual subscription to Capture One about two years ago. Several experienced photographers I know had been recommending Capture One as an alternative to Lightroom for RAW image editing, so I decided to give it a try.

I subscribed to Adobe’s Creative Cloud service soon after purchasing my first DSLR camera in 2016. Lightroom Classic and Photoshop have been the most popular image processing and file management programs since the early days of digital photography. I have maintained my Creative Cloud subscription, as there are several advanced applications in Photoshop that I continue to use.

However, my workflow now typically revolves around Capture One. I am often very satisfied with the results I get, meaning I don’t often have the need to bring an image into Photoshop for further adjustments.

There are a few subtle differences in the two photos above (Lightroom on the left and Capture One on the right). I prefer the look of the water in the waves and the overall contrast in the Capture One processed image. I have found that Capture One brings out much more detail in the highlights for high dynamic range landscape photos.

Switching to Capture One can be a bit nerve-racking at first. But here’s how to easily get started, and what advantages you’ll want to immediately check out with Capture One.

Importing a Lightroom Classic catalog into Capture One

Capture One provides a Lightroom Classic importing tool that simplifies moving over a Lightroom catalog. I recommend beginning with importing a smaller Lightroom Collection first to become familiar with the process. Large catalogs will take much more time to transfer.

The key steps to import a catalog from Lightroom to Capture One are as follows:

  • While in the library menu of Lightroom Classic, right click on the catalog (or a collection) and select Export Catalog.
  • Open Capture One and create a new catalog.
  • Select File > Import Catalog > Lightroom Catalog and locate the Lightroom Classic catalog that was saved in step 1 (.lrcat file).
  • A confirmation message will appear, letting you know that your catalog has been imported.

Photographers who are familiar with Lightroom’s adjustment sliders will see many similarly named sliders in Capture One. I recommend initially spending time scrolling through the various panels and adjustment sliders in Capture One. Open an image and test each slider to see its effects.

The exposure module within Capture One above contains many of the same adjustment sliders as Lightroom’s Develop module.

Advantages of Capture One over Lightroom

Layers & masks

I have been very impressed with Capture One’s layering and masking features. Targeted adjustments can be made on individual layers that can be fine tuned with the opacity slider.

I particularly like the luminosity masking Luma Range feature in the Layers panel. The full range of Capture One’s adjustment panels can then be applied to each individual layer, which is more versatile than masking capabilities in Lightroom. For example, a curves layer can be applied to a linear or radial gradient mask.

Customization of panels

Capture One’s editing panels are fully customizable. I have improved my workflow by moving several frequently used panels into a single page. There’s also several different Workspace options; even one titled Migration for the most familiarity for Lightroom Classic users.


I know several portrait photographers who have purchased Capture One specifically for its tethering capabilities. The Tethering panel allows immediate views of photos during a portrait or product photo sessions.

Wireless tethering has recently been introduced for certain Canon and Sony cameras; it’s my hope that Nikon cameras will be soon be supported, too.

Color control and grading

Capture One has an advanced color editor with an eyedropper to select a specific color range within and image. Adjustments to smoothness, hue, saturation and lightness can be made to the color range selected. A Skin Tone adjustment option along with a set of Uniformity sliders is particularly useful in portraits.

Curves panel

Capture One’s Curves graph has combined RGB — red, green and blue ± channel adjustment options, much like Lightroom. However, the Capture One curves graph also has a Luma option, which allows tonal range adjustments based upon luminosity without affecting color. I like using this Luma option to make slight adjustments within the midtones for added depth and dimension.

Specific adjustment slider advantages with Capture One

Highlight recovery

Capture One’s highlight slider does a much better job of recovering details in highlights for high dynamic range landscape images.

Saturation, Clarity and Structure

These sliders in Capture One are more subtle and effective in Capture One.

The left image above shows the location of the Capture One color editor. The image to the right shows the location of the luma range feature within the layers panel.

Black & white conversions

Capture One has incredible controls for converting color images into black and white. As an infrared photographer, I have been very impressed with Capture One’s capabilities in the B&W conversion of those photos.

Within the color module there is a Black & White panel. Select Enable Black & White and then experiment with the various color channel sliders. Then open the Exposure module and experiment with the exposure and high dynamic range sliders. I like to begin with the Contrast slider and then test the various high dynamic range sliders.

Capture One black and white processing of a photo from Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I highly recommend Capture One for photographers interested in taking their image processing to the next level. A free 30-day trial provides time to become familiar with the advanced editing tools.

Want to learn more on getting started with Capture One? Check out some of our other tutorials below:

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Rafael Jones

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