Yes Virginia - there IS an alternative to Lightroom

December 07, 2015  •  2 Comments

A glance back at my blog will reveal that I've been a fan of Adobe's Lightroom and use it almost exclusively for "post". I even fancy myself as pretty proficient in using it, although nowhere near Julieanne Kost proficient - but I can get things done in LR.

My problem is Adobe. I don't wish to follow their "CC" path and rent my software; I'd sooner own it outright. However, ever since Apple announced the demise of Aperture, Adobe has started treating those of us who prefer to buy LR as second-class users - and I suspect that sooner or later, we simply won't have that choice. So, I'm open to alternatives.

In terms of photo editing software, there's plenty of choice. Mac users have Affinity and Pixelmator, and everyone has offerings from Google's NikTopaz and DxO. These are all great products, but they don't do what LR (and Aperture) does: solid cataloguing and powerful photo editing in one package. 

Enter Phase One. Google them and you'll find that like their friends across the Baltic in Sweden, this Danish company offers seriously expensive medium format cameras. However, they also produce a contender for LR: Capture One Pro

Like LR, Capture One is both an editor and a cataloguing system. And they seem to be serious about its dual function because their latest version has enhanced keywording capacity. Is it as good as LR in this regard? Frankly, I don't know. I suspect not - but they seem to be trying to improve the this function, so I guess it's a matter of time before they catch up.

Capture One does seem to be a better editor. I've only played with a 30 day trial (for a few days), but even without knowing what I'm doing, the results are impressive. Compare these two samples from a Nikon D800 raw file. The top image is from Lightroom. The lower image was processed in Capture One:

Image processed with Lightroom 6.2

Part of a Nikon D800 raw file processed in Lightroom 6.2

Part of an image processed in Capture One Pro 9 Part of a Nikon D800 raw file processed in Capture One Pro 9

Depending on the resolution of your screen, there may or may not be a huge difference in these files. Looking at the whole images on my iMac, the Capture One image is much more clear, and the colours closer to the actual scene. (I should add that this image was shot at the wrong time of day and had a huge contrast ratio. The cliffs were in deep shadow, so I was asking a lot of my Nikon and my software. (When you're driving across the Nullarbor Plain, unless it's a photo trip, you take what you can get!)

There are other features of Capture One which I like. The control over colour that it offers is industrial strength and its implementation of adjustment layers is impressive. (I don't know enough about it to do a review, but if you are interested, the web has many tutorials and reviews on Capture One.)

So, why aren't I using Capture One? In a word: cost.

Capture One costs €279 to buy or €12 per month to rent. For Aussies that translates to about AUD455 (or thereabouts) for Capture One, whereas LR (which I already own) costs AUD186 outright or AUD10 to rent (with PhotoShop). For someone without a revenue stream from their photography, that's a big gap.

To summarise: My impression is that Capture One is a better product than Lightroom, but at something like two and a half times the price (in Aussie dollars at least), it's just too expensive for an amateur. If Phase One were to drop the price to around the Lightroom price, I'd jump ship - and I think quite a few others would as well.






Shane Baker
Thanks for your comments Gary. For what it's worth, I took the plunge and bought C1 9 outright and I've (mainly) not regretted it. (When I get an hour I'll write a little about my experience to date.)

You mention the C1 price and it sounds like you agree it's too high. Personally, I think that by dropping the price, they would more than make up in increased sales what they lost in lowering their margin.

It's interesting what's out there now. Aperture is all but dead, but for those of who want both cataloguing and non-destructive editing, we have C1 and now it seems, a very able offering in the form of On1 Photo 10. Mac users who don't need a full-on product have Photos (which is gaining plugins), and there are alternatives to PhotoShop such as Pixelmator, Affinity Photo and Serif PhotoPlus X7 (to name but three).

I still think Lightroom is a great product, but if I was at Adobe, I'd be reconsidering some of their recent "marketing" decisions.
Gary Brook(non-registered)
Hi Shane. I'm still a member of Southside but only meet them a handful of times each year, mostly due to other interests and clashing of dates. It's interesting that you're the only other member that mentioned about Capture One, even though I have used it for several years and spoke of it, despite it's price at that time - and I'm still updating it (6.3.7 I think). I bought it's basic version of Capture 1 v.3.1 in mid 2004 from Michael Tapes in the USA, as it was completely 'different' and you need understanding of it's concepts and the language it used in it's manual. I used it for nearly 9 months before I updated my licence to the full Pro version. I found the RAW processing reduced the noise level by 1 - 1.5 stops, which meant I could shoot my Canon 10D/1DII bodies successfully (my opinion) up to ISO 800 - 1250 respectively. As well, I bought some accurate camera profiles as C1Pro allowed me to integrate them in to the colour managed workflow I was using, which then and still includes Quimage. This was important to my wedding work that I was selling then, particularly my prints as they improved significantly after I profiled my own monitor and printer. Exciting times when most of those concepts were new, little known and unreliable, but it took me a year or so until it was eventually sorted. Rxcellent website by the way. Regards,

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