Capture One Pro is a high-end image organizing and editing tool that works on the same principle as Lightroom Classic, offering seamless non-destructive editing of raw files, TIFFs, and JPEGs with the ability to create multiple ‘virtual’ copies of images (‘Variants’) to experiment with different looks.
Its particular strengths are tethered camera operation and professional photographic workflows, but the steady addition of organizing and editing features has made it a direct Lightroom rival.
Unlike Lightroom and Lightroom Classic, Capture One is available both on subscription and with a perpetual license, though Capture One is shifting towards subscriptions and will no longer be offering mid-version updates for perpetual licenses.
Its processing and editing tools alone guarantee it a place amongst the best photo editing software tools you can get today.
Processor: Intel Core i3 or faster or AMD Jaguar for Windows, 4+ cores recommended
OS: Windows 10 (64-bit) or Windows 11, macOS 11 or later
RAM: 8GB minimum, 16+GB recommended
Hard disk space: 10GB (SSD recommended)
Monitor: 1920 x 1080, faster GPU/CPU recommended for 4K+ displays
Capture One 23 can view and edit raw files ‘live’ without any processing phase in the same way as Lightroom. All the editing adjustments are non-destructive and stored either in the catalog file or as ‘sidecar’ files if it’s being used in ‘session’ mode.
This is one key difference from Lightroom in that with sessions Capture One shows folder contents live without the need for any import process, with all the editing tools but only some organizing tools intact. In this mode, it’s like a much more powerful version of Adobe Bridge.
Capture One catalogs work in the same way as Lightroom Classic, showing both folders and images on your hard drive and ‘virtual’ albums and smart albums which can be organized in their own hierarchical system of folders and sub-folders. One difference is that images can also be copied into the catalog as ‘managed’ files within the catalog itself, not external ‘referenced’ files.
The editing tools are somewhat different to Lightroom’s with a little more depth in the controls and a system of adjustment layers and masks which make almost all the tools available for any layer or adjustment.
We last reviewed Capture One Pro 21, and since. then Capture One has added Speed Edit mouse/keyboard shortcuts, a Dehaze tool, panorama stitching and HDR merge, HEIF/HEIC support, Smart Adjustments for standardizing a ‘look’ across a series of images, a new Culling window, the ability to store adjustments as layers within presets and Capture One Live client/colleague collaboration, now free.
Design and interface
Capture One Pro 23 operates in a single window with a customizable tabbed left sidebar showing image organizing tools, editing tools, metadata, and more. The main window shows either a thumbnail Browser, a full-scale image Viewer, or both, depending on how you choose to set it up.
This is software designed for professional users, so there are no beginner modes or simplified workspaces. However, the tools are laid out in a very logical and efficient manner, so once you’re up to speed with which tool does what, it’s easy to work quickly. If you find you use only a handful of tools frequently, it’s easy to set up a custom Tool Tab with these alone.
Capture One’s raw demosaicing and processing is a cut above Adobe’s. You notice this, particularly in mid-high ISO shots where Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom (it's the same raw engine) don’t just fail to tackle the camera noise but appear to add some of their own.
Capture One is also very good at targeted color adjustments, it offers both RGB and Luma curve adjustments and almost all of its adjustment tools are available in its adjustment layers, unlike the smaller subset of tools in Lightroom.
It doesn’t have Lightroom’s AI masking, but it does have very effective manual masking tools, including a Magic Brush, Luminance masking, and the ability to create masks from color ranges.
Capture One 23 also has easy-to-apply Style Brushes for all sorts of ad hoc local adjustments and it can round-trip images to most external editors, not just plug-ins. Its tools, processing quality, and efficiency do put it on another plane compared to cheaper rivals.
• Adobe Lightroom Classic: It’s a lot cheaper than Capture One and also comes with Photoshop in the regular Photography Plan
• DxO PhotoLab 6: The organizing tools in PhotoLab are less sophisticated, but its raw processing and lens corrections, and editing tools are excellent
• ON1 Photo RAW 2023: This do-it-all photo editor and organizer could replace Lightroom and Photoshop at a stroke, though can be clunky
Capture One 23 is definitely a professional buy, not because it’s difficult to use but because most amateurs might balk at the price compared to Lightroom. It costs around twice as much as its Adobe rival, depending on how you compare the options, but it’s not always easy to put a price on quality. Two years of a Capture One subscription will cost about the same as a decent backpack or tripod, and far less than a pro lens or a new camera body.