Jumping Ship from Lightroom to Capture One Pro 9 (Podcast 534)

Jumping Ship from Lightroom to Capture One Pro 9 (Podcast 534)

I almost started the title of this episode with Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes, like the one I released when I quit my old day job to pursue photography full time six years ago. Although not quite as dramatic, I’m really excited to tell you that I’m switching from Adobe Lightroom to Phase One’s Capture One Pro 9 as my main image processing, asset management and workflow application.

I started using Lightroom back in 2006, during the initial beta phase, and I’ve been a loyal Lightroom user since, so this may come as a bit of a shock to many of you, although I can already hear some of you existing Capture One users chuckling to yourselves, not so surprised that I’ve finally decided to make this change.

Why the Change?

Firstly, let me explain the reason for this sudden change in direction. It’s pretty simple, but this is a powerful motive, so I want to take the time to relay this. Then, I’ll go on to talk about some of the tests that I did to see if I really could move over to Capture One Pro 9 completely.

Capture One has been on my radar since around 2009, when I first tried the demo version of either version 5 or 6, I don’t remember which it was. At that time, although the raw processing engine was already very impressive, there were a lot of key features that I relied on Lightroom for, that were missing in earlier versions of Capture One.

When Capture One 7 was released, I took another look, and found that most of the functionality I wanted was now there, but I couldn’t really invest the time necessary to fully check out Capture One, and as a result, I still didn’t really see the benefits to switching.

A Revelation!

Then, a few weeks ago, with Capture One 8 having come and gone, and the latest version now being 9.2, I had a little bit of time, so I decided to take a deeper look. To begin with, I simply grabbed a handful of my favorite images from Lightroom, dropped them into a folder, and imported them into Capture One.

There is a checkbox in the import dialog to Include Existing Adjustments, and I’m not sure if that was on or off during this first import, but my images were totally reset, with none of the Lightroom adjustments that can be imported applied. This was a good thing though, because it enabled me to see something that was a total revelation for me. I saw detail in some of my images that I didn’t even know existed from the view I’d had of them in Lightroom.

First Comparison

The first image I looked at, was my Red-Crowned Crane study, that some of you will recognize from the cover of my Making the Print eBook. Before I show you the new version, I want to let you know that there is perhaps too much detail visible, and I will probably dial that down a little again to the more dreamy look that I had in my original.

The point is though, in Capture One Pro 9, I was able to see that detail, and I have the option to keep it or dial it down as I feel necessary to complete my photographs. In Lightroom, I didn’t even know that the detail was there, so the choice did not even exist!

To illustrate, here are both my original version of this photograph from Lightroom, on the left, and the first version that I did in Capture One, on the right. Regardless of which one you prefer as a photograph, I’m sure you’ll be able to see that the Capture One version has a huge amount of detail, compared to my Lightroom version.

Tanchou Study #7 - Lightroom (left) and Capture One (right)

Tanchou Study #7 – Lightroom (left) and Capture One (right)

There are a few things that we need to bear in mind at this point. The first one being that, after I imported my raw file without any of the Lightroom modifications I’d made, although the detail immediately caught my eye, I did have to play with the Levels a little in Capture One to give the image a bit of a boost, but it was pretty easy to bring it closer to how I wanted the image to look, while maintaining the detail.

Now, when I asked for my wife’s opinion on the Capture One version, she said the crane looks like a chicken, and I tend to agree, but the second point I want to reiterate here, is that as I move forward, and import work from future shoots directly into Capture One, I will now at least be able to see the detail, and this will put me in a position to be able to make up my own mind about how much of the detail I want to maintain, and how much I want to lose if I choose to go with a softer look like my original version of this crane shot.

You Won’t Have to Rework Your Archives

Also note that I was going to include the version of the crane photo that I was presented with in Capture One after importing my Final Selects folder using a Lightroom Catalog and Include Existing Adjustments, as opposed to simply importing the file, but it actually looks so similar to the original Lightroom version there isn’t much point. What this means is that you can migrate your work to Capture One and maintain the look of your images as they appeared in Lightroom, to a certain degree.

There are a lot of things that are not imported along with your images, so for example, any dust removable or cloning work that you did against your original images in Lightroom will be lost. All Lightroom Local Adjustments are also lost, so if you want to maintain a copy of the file in Capture One, you have a couple of choices. The first thing you can do is to save the Lightroom version as a TIFF file, and bake your changes into the image.

The second option is to make the changes again in Capture One, but be aware that the spot removal tool in Capture One works differently from the Lightroom version, and for detailed cloning it’s generally better to jump into Photoshop anyway. If this is going to be necessary, just save your image as a TIFF before importing it into Capture One. Note too that it has to be a TIFF because Capture One doesn’t support Photoshop PSD files (as of August 2016) so don’t save your files in PSD format. More on this later…

Tests Continued

Having completed my first test, with my mind already significantly blown by the detail in my crane shot, I decided to take a look at the black and white capabilities of Capture One. As you know, black and white plays a big part in my photography, and I’ve been a big fan of Silver Efex Pro, originally from Nik Software, until they were bought by Google, and therein lies part of another problem I was hoping to fix with a potential move to Capture One.

Although Google have made statements that they don’t intend to kill off Silver Efex or any of the Nik suite of plugins, the fact remains that we haven’t seen a version upgrade since version 2 which was released what seems like an eternity ago now. I have continued to use Silver Efex Pro, because I believe it’s still the best black and white conversion plugin, and Lightroom’s black and white conversion lacks the control that I need.

This doesn’t mean that I am totally happy with Silver Efex Pro though. There are times when it leaves a nasty white line or halo around dark objects, and I sometimes have to spend hours painstakingly removing that in Photoshop before I can print a photograph for a customer.

It can also leave a lot of grain in the sky sometimes, and although that can look organic, it requires a bit of cleaning up at times too. Because of these things, the next thing I tried in Capture One was my ability to create a well balanced and toned black and white image without using a plugin.

Excellent Black and White Conversion in Capture One

Believe me, I’ve tried lots of different methods to convert to black and white, so that I could overcome my reliance on a plugin that is no longer being improved, and none of my tests have really beat Silver Efex Pro, until now.

The first conversion I did was of my Boat Graveyard shot from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour last year. Again, there are a few points that we need to keep in mind, as this is not a straight comparison. First, here is my original black and white version from Silver Efex Pro (below).

Boat Graveyard #2 - Silver Efex Pro

Boat Graveyard #2 – Silver Efex Pro

And here is a new version (below) created from the original color raw file, from scratch, in Capture One Pro 9. I didn’t necessarily try to recreate the Silver Efex Pro version, although I could get close if I wanted. Rather I was working here to come up with something with beautiful tonality and texture, and not quite as heavy-handed as my Silver Efex conversion.

Boat Graveyard #2 - Capture One Pro 9

Boat Graveyard #2 – Capture One Pro 9

I’m sure you’ll agree that this conversion shows that it’s no longer necessary to use Silver Efex for this kind of photograph, but there is another kind of black and white photograph that I do, where I make the background go almost totally black, and I honestly did not expect to be able to do this in Capture One, so I gave it a try.

Black Backgrounds

First, here is the original photo (below). I know it’s not a lot to look at, but I knew as I shot it that I was going to make it black and white.

Lotus Flower Interior - Original Color Version

Lotus Flower Interior – Original Color Version

Here now, is the black and white version that I did completely in Capture One. Until now, in Silver Efex Pro, I’ve had to use Control Points to knock the background out like this, but in Capture One, I got it very close to a black background just with the available sliders, levels and other controls, and then took out the last few spots of light grey with a some local adjustments on a new layer. Yes, Capture One supports layers!

Lotus Flower Interior - Capture One Pro 9

Lotus Flower Interior – Capture One Pro 9

Once again, I was blown away by the fact that I could do this level of black and white conversion right there in Capture One. The image I exported here is sitting in my catalog as a Canon raw file, with a cr2 extension, instead of a 130 megabyte TIFF file. I don’t mind saving TIFF files when they are necessary, but the more you have in your archives, the larger it gets, and the backups take longer too. The more images you can keep in the original raw format the better, in my opinion.

Subtle Tones and Detail

I really have been impressed with the subtle tones and detail that I’m getting from Capture One Pro 9. Here’s one last black and white conversion example, to show that it’s really very possible to get great detail and tones right there in Capture One. You might remember this photograph from Mount Asahi from this year’s Hokkaido Landscape tour (below). Again this is a Silver Efex Pro conversion.

Mount Asahi Trees - Silver Efex Pro

Mount Asahi Trees – Silver Efex Pro

And here is a version that I did in Capture One (below). Again, I was not trying to emulate the Silver Efex Pro version, more I was trying to bring this to a point that I feel it’s actually better, with more depth and tonal quality. Once again, let’s also keep in mind that I was simply not able to do this level of black and white conversion in Lightroom.

Mount Asahi Trees - Capture One Pro 9

Mount Asahi Trees – Capture One Pro 9

I am really just breaking the surface with my processing in Capture One, but I have been totally impressed with it. To the point that I have now committed to myself to switch completely over to Capture One Pro 9. At this point in my evaluation I set about the task of checking out all of the other features of Capture One Pro 9.

Spot Removal & Cloning

Another test that I performed was my ability to do some complicated cloning in Capture One. There are actually a lot of cable car cables that run behind the trees in the left side of this Mount Asahi Trees photo. Even in Lightroom this was too much of a pain to clone out, so I did it in Photoshop in my original version of this image.

At first glance, spot removal in Capture One seems less capable than Lightroom, and I didn’t think that removing the cables would be possible. The Spot Removal tool in Dust mode works well when removing dust from skies or other plain backgrounds. It just makes the dust spot disappear, whereas Lightroom often selects a part of the scene that has nothing in common with the background of the dust spot, and so can be frustrating to use.

With the Capture One Remove Spot tool in Spot mode, I initially tried to remove some people from the beach in the Boat Graveyard shot above, and it just didn’t work. Then, I found that you can use the Adjustments Brush in Clone and Heal modes.

This is actually really quite a powerful tool, and is enough to save me from going into Photoshop and saving a TIFF file in all of the cases I’ve tried so far. For removing the cables in this Mount Asahi Trees shot, it would have still be easier to do the work in Photoshop, but I did it in Capture One Pro 9 to prove to myself that it is possible, and it was.

Import Folder Structure and Filename Change

Another thing that I tested was my ability to import images into my usual folder structure automatically, and I also rename my files on import. I don’t want to have to set this up every time I import, so I need to be able to create presets with the necessary settings.

I import my images into Year/Month/Day folder structure. Capture One has sessions and other ways to organize images, but I want my regular shoots organized how I’ve always done it. I like having everything from each year in a single top level folder, and then 12 month folders, and inside each month folder I have a day folder for all the days on which I’ve made photographs.

If you use location or shoot names to organize your images, it quickly becomes unmanageable, especially when it comes to backing up, so it was important for me to figure out how to automatically import into my preferred folder structure, which is possible by creating a preset such as the one you see in this screenshot (below).

Import to Year/Month/Day Folder Hierarchy

Import to Year/Month/Day Folder Hierarchy

To change the filename during import, I created another preset that automatically uses a shoot or location name, the date of the image, and the original filename, so these were a couple more things I could check off my list. As you see in this screenshot (below) you can build the new filename from text you enter and insert the various metadata tags.

Change Filename During Import

Change Filename During Import

To add my location or shoot information, such as “Hokkaido” in this example, included a tag called Job name, and with this, if I enter a keyword for the shoot into the Job Name field in the import dialog box, it gets inserted into the new filename. Once you save this as a preset, it’s available for selection during import, and is actually automatically selected for future imports unless you change it.

The Importance of Presets

For me, being able to set up this kind of preset is vital to creating a smooth workflow that is automated to highest possible degree. Even if I had to manually create a new day folder inside a month and year folder, and navigate to that in the import dialog, it would have made me think twice about switching to Capture One. I simply feel that the workflow itself should disappear into the background and allow us to get on with our work.

I’ve also mentioned before that I am a big believer in doing tasks such as renaming files as early as possible in the workflow. If you change the filename during import, it’s done, and you never have to worry about it again.

Export Presets

The next thing I tested was my ability to create good export presets. Capture one has a very powerful export feature and uses presets called Process Recipes. Again, I’ll follow up in the coming weeks with detailed descriptions of these features, but by creating a Process Recipe, you can very easily select these and export your images in various formats and sizes, and it’s even possible to select multiple Recipes, so you can export different versions of your photos at the same time, which is great!


For my final check, I made sure that it is possible to print from Capture One Pro 9, with specific border sizes, and I wanted to save all of my settings in presets, again, as I don’t want to be re-entering these details every time I want to change media, print size or orientation.

Capture One 9.2 Printing Dialog

Capture One 9.2 Printing Dialog

At this point, although I have found a way to save my border settings in a preset, or Template as it’s called in the print dialog (above), I have not yet found a way to save all of the print settings in this dialog in a single preset. This means that when I change media, I have to ensure that I change the Color Profile specified for that media in this dialog. I always check that anyway, before I print, so if I don’t find a way to do this later, it’s not going to be a show-stopper for me.

I haven’t actually printed from Capture One Pro 9.2 yet though, because my large format printer has given up the ghost, and I’m currently working with Canon to buy a new one, but once I’ve actually tried printing, I’ll let you know how it goes, maybe as part of a review of the new printer.

Checks Complete!

This was really the last check that I wanted to clear before I made my mind up that I was going to actually jump ship. There are some things that don’t feel as smooth as Lightroom, but that is probably more a case of me not being fully accustomed to working in Capture One yet. Having said that, it didn’t take that long to figure out where things were, and as I’ve continued to work in Capture One Pro, it’s getting more and more intuitive each day.

What Will I Miss?

There are a few things that I am going to miss about Lightroom, one of them being Lightroom Mobile. I made good use of Lightroom mobile, both for sharing work from tours with my wife as I travel, and also for sharing work with potential clients for them to let me know which images they want to license or buy as a print for example. I also keep my portfolios in Lightroom Mobile, so that they are always on my iPhone and iPad, to share with people that I meet.

Because I don’t currently intend to cancel my Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, I will still have Lightroom available, and adding my final selects just for Lightroom Mobile is something that I will consider, but that’s less than ideal.

Another thing that I will miss to a degree is the control Lightroom has over Slideshows. From what I’ve seen so far, Capture One has just one Slideshow mode, with no titles or intro screen, and no way to change the size of the image on the screen.

There is a way to change the transition type and number of seconds before moving to the next slide, but that’s about it, and the transitions, other than fade, are totally tasteless. I thought this didn’t match the level of refinement that I found in the rest of the application in any way. Hopefully this is still a work in progress.

These couple of things are about it though. I’m sure I’ll miss Lightroom in other ways as I continue to make Capture One Pro my main processing and workflow app, but I’ve been using it for the last few weeks, and I’m really enjoying it, so I’m prepared to work around any other shortcomings I might find.

Preparing to Migrate

So, with my tests complete, and feeling happy to jump ship, I set about the task of actually migrating my images into Capture One, and learned a few things in the process that I’d like to share with you today before we wrap this episode up.

Convert PSD Files to TIFF

As I mentioned earlier, Capture One doesn’t support Photoshop PSD files, at least not as of version 9.2, so you need to convert any PSD files that you might have in your Lightroom catalog to TIFF format. To do this, I created a Lightroom preset as you can see in this screenshot (below).

Lightroom Save as TIFF Export Preset

Lightroom Save as TIFF Export Preset

The import things to note here are that you can select Same folder as original photo for the Export To location, which means you can run this on all of your PSD files at once, and not have to worry about where they are and specifying the save location. They’re just go right where your PSD files are, and you can then delete your PSD file.

Also, ensure that you turn on the Add to This Catalog checkbox, so that you don’t have to manually add your TIFF files back. Then under File Settings select TIFF as the Image Format, I don’t use any Compression. For the Color Space select ProPhoto RGB if you want to keep your images in as high quality as possible, but if you don’t use ProPhoto RGB already, you might as well select whatever Color Space you do use. Keep the Bit Depth at 16 bits/component as well.

The Resolution isn’t really import, but I always use 300 pixels per inch because that’s what I use as a base for all of my printing. I also use All Metadata, and of course you don’t need to watermark these images, so ensure that isn’t checked.

Keeping Layers in PSD Files

The only problem with this method of exporting your PSD files as TIFF is that the images will be flattened, so if you have any layers in your PSD files, you’ll need to open each of them in Photoshop and then save them as a TIFF file manually, ensuring that you turn on the Layers checkbox to preserve the layers in the file. If you have a large number of PSD files with layers, you could also create an Action in Photoshop to save them as a TIFF with layers.

Clean Up Your Collections

The next thing I did was to clear out any Lightroom Collections that I didn’t need. Partly because when you import a Lightroom Catalog into Capture One, it will create a User Collection and add the images that were in your Lightroom Collections into these new User Collections.

If you have a lot of PSD files in your Lightroom Collections, you will also need to replace these images with your new TIFF files manually, so the less Collections you maintain, the less time you’ll spend on this task. In Lightroom, I selected my Collections and I turned on the Metadata filter, and under File Type selected Photoshop Document (PSD).

This shows all of the PSD files in the collections. Then I was able to right click each PSD file and jump to that image in the Library. Then I added the new TIFF file that was next to the PSD to the Collection that the original PSD was in. I also right clicked each PSD file and rolled over the Go To Collection option, to see if the PSD file was in any other Collections. If it was, I dragged the new TIFF file to these other Collections too, and then deleted the PSD file.

Once you know that you have all of your PSD files converted to TIFF and check that there are no more PSD files in your Lightroom Collections, you can filter out all of your PSD files again, and delete them. Be careful that you really do have a new TIFF for each of them first, but as long as you do, it’s safe to delete your PSDs.

Export Lightroom Catalogs for Each Import

After this, so that I could maintain these Collections in Capture One, I exported my main Lightroom Library structures as new Catalogs. In Lightroom I was able to keep my Final Selects and all of my original raw files in one catalog, but Capture One doesn’t like really this.

I’m sure it works, but the Capture One Catalog gets huge if you import them all into one Catalog, so I’ve split mine up a little bit. This is actually something else that I’d have liked to avoid, but I’m going to make it work to enable me to switch.

I have three top level folders, one called Finals, with all of my final selects, a 2016 folder with all of my raw files from this year in, and an archive folder called Photo Originals, in which I have year folders from 2000 to 2015. To make importing each of these to Capture One easier and maintain my Collections, I right clicked each of these and selected Export This Folder as a Catalog.

I unchecked the three checkboxes so that I did not Export negative files, Build / include Smart Previews or Include available previews in my new Catalog. With these three top level folders exported, I was ready to import into Capture One.

Importing Lightroom Catalogs into Capture One

To import a Lightroom Catalog, from the Capture One File menu, select Import Catalog and then Lightroom Catalog. You will then see the following dialog (below) telling you what information will be imported. At this point in time, this included Collections, Crop, Rotation and Orientation information as well as White Balance, Exposure, Saturation and Contrast settings, and Metadata, including IPTC, Rating, Color Label and Keywords.

Capture One Import Lightroom Catalog Dialog

Capture One Import Lightroom Catalog Dialog

There is a note about Color adjustments being approximations, and I did notice some images, probably the one’s which I’d applied a custom white balance to in Lightroom, that were totally off. The White Balance was like 860K, to they were a shocking bright blue. I went back through these and corrected the White Balance. It wasn’t a big job.

Catalog Considerations

After importing my three main catalogs to Capture One, I checked the size of my new Catalogs, and my @Finals Catalog is 8.8GB, which is big, but manageable. My 2016 current year originals is 21GB, and will probably be around 30GB by the end of the year. That’s big too, but I don’t want to split that up.

My Photo Originals Catalog, with every image I’ve shot since 2000 to the end of 2015 is a massive 174GB, which is really too big for my liking. The interesting thing is that all of these catalogs only take around 10 seconds to open, so Capture One isn’t slowed down by the size, so I’m still considering how to move forward, but my current plan is to add my 2016 Catalog to this master Photo Originals Catalog at the end of this year, as I start a new 2017 catalog.

I’ll keep you posted on this, but I think I might end up splitting each new year into a Catalog of it’s own. I don’t really like to do this, as I like to be able to search across my entire archive, and splitting it up removes my ability to do this.

What’s more, in Capture One, you can’t select the top level folder and search across the entire Catalog. You have to actually select the folders that contain images, which is a limitation I’m not entirely happy with, but because of this, there isn’t even a strong argument for having everything in one Catalog.

[UPDATE: I have just found that you can select the All Images Catalog Collection and then search the entire catalog. I’d like to be able to select a higher folder in the hierarchy and search multiple sub-folders, but found, I can at least search the entire catalog when necessary.]

Working on Multiple Computers

You might also remember that I have historically kept my Lightroom Catalog on an external Thunderbolt hard drive, so that I could move easily from computer to computer, simply by moving the hard drive. At the moment, I’m not quite there. I have set up Capture One with a symbolic link to it’s settings folder, with the actual folder in my Dropbox, so that all of the presets and settings are automatically synched between my computers. If you don’t know how to create a symbolic link, there is too much risk in me telling you, so we won’t go into this right now.

I am also currently synching my Catalogs between machines using ChronoSync, but that’s something that we don’t really have time to get into today, and it might be time wasted anyway, because I haven’t really arrived at my final solution for this, so I’ll update you on my strategy later, when the dust has settled.

No Turning Back

As I’ve mentioned, there are a few annoying quirks in Capture One, but nothing at this point that has made me feel disappointed that I’ve decided to switch. In fact, the last few weeks have been a lot of fun, as I’ve dissected my digital workflow and rebuilt it in a totally new application.

I’ve done a number of shoots now too, and imported my work directly into Capture One Pro 9.2 and I am loving pretty much everything about it. The image quality and control that I am finding is making me totally happy with my decision to jump ship, and more than enough of a reason to overlook its few shortcomings.

I think the last time I used the term “jump ship” in the Podcast was around seven years ago when I decided to switch from Windows to Mac computers. This actually feels almost as big a move, and it’s both disruptive and time consuming, but it feels right. I already feel at home in Capture One Pro, so this is it. I’m no longer a Lightroom User.

The Bottom Line

If you want an application that works exactly the same as Lightroom, then you’d better stay with Lightroom. This is why I stayed with Lightroom for such a long time. However, if want the ultimate image quality, and you are willing to make changes to your workflow I personally think it’s worth making the change.

Capture One Pro 9.2 Screenshot

Capture One Pro 9.2 Screenshot

Save 10% When You Buy Capture One Pro

After I’d made my decision to switch, I talked with the folks at Phase One, and I’m excited to tell you that I have been invited into their Ambassador program. This means that I can get you a 10% if you also decide to buy Capture One Pro, and I get a small payment for my effort as well.

Of course, this has no influence at all on my decision to switch or recommend Capture One. My decision was made before I knew about the Ambassador program. I do though hope that you understand that I put a lot of effort into the content that I create and publish here on the blog and podcast, and this kind of program helps me to pay my bills, and continue to offer content for free.

Please note that due to changes in Phase One, the discount code that I mentioned in the Podcast is no longer valid. 

30 Day Trial of Capture One Pro

I will be releasing tutorials on Capture One in the coming weeks to build on what we’ve started today, so please do stay tuned for these. Also, note that you can download a fully working trial version of Capture One Pro from the Phase One Web site, and try it out for a full 30 days before you buy. See if you love it as much as I already do.

Show Notes

Download Capture One Pro here: https://mbp.ac/c1download

Music by Martin Bailey


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