Capture One 20 Review: Time to Make the Switch from Lightroom?

11 Jan

The post Capture One 20 Review: Time to Make the Switch from Lightroom? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Carl Spring.


It’s that time of year – time for a Capture One 20 review.

In a huge change to the schedule, Phase One took the bold step of renaming it Capture One 20 instead of the unlucky for some Capture One 13. Let me know your thoughts on this bombshell below!

Okay, I admit it. That is simply an excuse to get you to read on. But is there more than a simple name change to this update? A coat of polish if you will?

Well, honestly, yes and no.

The best thing is that, unlike last year, they have added Catalina support in version 12. This means that Mac owners don’t have to upgrade this year unless they want to. I (and may others) appreciate things like this, bravo Phase One, bravo.

Capture One themselves said that this update aimed to make the software more accessible and easier to use. Simply put, they are after Lightroom users who are unhappy with Adobe.

This update does make Capture One 20 feel more Lightroomesque (yeah, I made that word up). It improves the workflow for existing users as well as adding some useful tool updates.

Capture One 20 New Interface Overview

Another Year, Another Capture One release. Could this be the one that makes you change?


So let’s start with the list of new features list. 

  • New user interface
  • Faster culling of images
  • New HDR tools
  • New color editor
  • New crop tool
  • Improved copying of layers
  • Improved noise reduction
  • Improved support for DNG files

Now, these all seem to be small changes when taken individually, but do they add up to a whole package that makes it worth the upgrade? Or perhaps more importantly for many of you, is this the upgrade to make Lightroom users make the jump?

Let’s look at these upgrades individually. 

New user interface

Capture One 20 Review of User Interface

You can tweak the layout until you find your perfect workspace. The new scrolling area makes a huge difference.

This is one of the little things many users of Capture One have been asking for what feels like forever. (Finally, Capture One!)

Actually, it even has a scrollable section. Better than that, you have a pinned area, where you can keep tools you always need, along with a scrollable area. That means you no longer need to keep minimizing and maximizing tools.

However, this does mean there is a workflow change for regular users of Capture One. You can no longer simply scroll on a tool to change sliders. Now you need to hold down the alt key to alter tools.

To me, this is great as it stops any mistakes when editing. However, you can alter this in the preferences and use the Alt/Option key to scroll through tools instead.

I do love this update – it means you can customize it to exactly how you want your tools and not have the hassle of minimizing tools. I am sure there are Lightroom users who are thinking, “What the hell! You call this an update?”

Well, yes. This is one of the features that will make moving across from Lightroom easier and more intuitive.

Faster culling of images

Culling of images in Capture One 20 is now much faster. As a wedding photographer, it makes a world of difference to my workflow. You can set the software to automatically move to the next image once you rate it, either by star rating, color rating, or both. This simple tool saves a lot of time.

A new color editor

New Colour tools in Capture One 20

The color tool redesign is a welcome addition.

Well, they say it is new. In reality, it is another user interface update that makes the tools more user-friendly. Along with full layer support, it is more useable.

Capture One 20 has reduced the real estate that the basic color editor takes up. You now have 8 color segments with sliders for Hue, Saturation and Lightness. These are customizable, so if you are looking to isolate a specific range, and the standard segment just doesn’t work, you can simply customize it.

Direct color editor

This is a nice touch that again helps speed up workflow (sensing a theme yet?).

When selecting a color within a photograph, if you continue to hold your mouse button down, you can alter the settings of the selected color range with your mouse (and the alt key).

By sliding your mouse vertically, you alter the saturation. Move it horizontally, and you change the hue. Finally, hold down the Alt/Option key whilst moving horizontally to change the lightness of the color.

New crop tool

Capture One 20 Review of the crop tool

So many upgrades this year make Capture One 20 smoother to use. The crop tool is a perfect example of this.

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record. This is by no means groundbreaking – it should have been fixed several versions ago – but cropping is faster and easier than ever before.

When you hit the Crop tool, the first thing you notice is the bold handles. This means it is much easier for you to grab the handles and crop the image. These handles also disappear when you are cropping in or out of the image, which is a nice touch.

Capture One 20 also allows cropping to the center of the image by holding down the Alt/Option key. It also freezes crop ratios when using the unconstrained option by holding down the shift key.

Lastly, it is easier to switch to the rotation of the image. Instead of having to change to the Rotate tool, you simply move outside of the crop area, and it becomes active. It is also noticeably smoother (on my computer at least) and easier to fine-tune than ever before.

Improved support for DNG files

Capture One 20 also offers better color profiling for DNG files. The improvements are subtle, but they are there. If you use DNG files, you will see a slight improvement in the rendering of colors, with them appearing more natural. However, how much of an improvement will depend on the camera the DNG comes from.

Improved copying of Layers

Capture One 20 Review layers example

The ability to choose which layers to copy across is a great improvement in this current version.

There are three really great improvements to working with layers in Capture One 20. 

Firstly, it is the ability to decide which of the layers you want to copy across. This is great for when you want to have layers that do not want copying across, such as specific retouching layers, or you want to copy your color edits across to a series of images, but not everything else.

This brings me to perhaps the biggest improvement, it pastes copied layers on top of any existing layers. This is huge and removes one of the previous frustrations when using layers in Capture One.

Lastly, you can now easily copy layers between cameras. This can be useful if you have two photographers on a shoot using different cameras. This is a tool that, if you need it, is great. But for many users, this won’t be a deal-breaker.

Improved noise reduction

Noise Reduction

A small but noticeable improvement to the way the software handles noise is seen in Capture One 20

Okay, it’s time to bring out the big ones – the two new feature updates aimed at getting existing users to upgrade.

First is the improved noise reduction.

They have changed the noise reduction algorithm in Capture One 20. There is definitely an increase in performance here, both in the standard reduction applied at import and when using the tools. The colors in high ISO images tend to look nicer (especially skin colors), and you can reduce more noise than in the previous version.

This is one of those tools that suddenly make this upgrade a no-brainer if you shoot a lot at high ISO.

New HDR tools

Capture One 20 New HDR Tools Review

The New HDR Tools allow fine-tuning that has been missing from Capture One for years. This has several users excited. Those looking to move from Lightroom will feel much more at home.

Again, this is more of a “finally!” moment than a “WOW” moment.

The new HDR tools include a black and white point slider. This makes things so much easier in a practical sense and especially if you are moving from Lightroom. Also, the redesign of the sliders mean you can darken shadows rather than just recover them and the same with highlights.

It is great to have this feature, but it should have been developed a while ago. It makes working with shadows and highlights in Capture One 20 so much better.

This finally means no more tweaking the levels just to get the right black point. Again, this is something that Lightroom users have had forever, which brings me nicely to my conclusion.

So, Is it Worth The Upgrade?

This is one of those upgrades that really isn’t exciting. Just like when Apple revealed IOS12, this is not going to be full of new features. Instead, it’s about making the workflow better and making it much more intuitive for Lightroom users to move across.

I think the fact that Phase One updated Capture One 12 to run on Catalina OSX says a lot. In the past, you needed to upgrade to the newest version to use the latest operating system.

As someone who uses the software constantly, the updates are worth the price tag. It really makes editing quicker and easier.

I no longer find myself wishing for fixes to tools quite as much. The new user interface is much nicer than previous versions too. The addition of a black point and white point in HDR tools is great, while the big plus is the noise reduction improvements.

But is it worth the $ 159 to upgrade?

It is going to be hard to justify for a lot of people. The best advice, as always, is to try it for 30 days and see. There may be features that either individually or collectively make it worth your while. However, you may be able to invest that money more wisely.

Should I move from Lightroom?

No Capture One 20 review is complete without the Lightroom question. This is the bigger question and, in my opinion, the main point of this upgrade from Phase One’s perspective.

They have made the software much more user-friendly. The UI tweaks really are good. They are very Lightroom-like, meaning that you will find it much easier to come over to this software.

I have never got on with Lightroom. I tried it briefly when Apple stopped supporting Aperture but found myself preferring Capture One. To me, it is a better piece of software.

Phase One is definitely trying to persuade you to switch over to them, with this upgrade more likely to push more people to Capture One. It gives a more polished performance than ever and fixes some UI issues that long term users have wanted for a while. They even have a monthly subscription model if you don’t want to pay upfront.
It may seem like an expensive outlay at $ 299, but if you are a Fuji or Sony shooter, you can purchase Capture One 20 for $ 129. At that price, it really should be something you look into.

So, if this version can’t persuade you to switch from Lightroom, nothing will.

Have you tried Capture One 20? What are your thoughts? Are you looking to make the switch from Lightroom? Share with us in the comments.

The post Capture One 20 Review: Time to Make the Switch from Lightroom? appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Carl Spring.

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