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Capture One vs. Lightroom vs. Capture NX2 raw conversions

January 24, 2013  •  4 Comments

Since posting the red light shots, now at the end of this blog, I have done quite a bit of additional work using the various editors. In general, I am finding that the best initial rendition depends on the subject matter and the default setting. Thanks to my friend Ernst Vegt for advice and various items suitable for checking colours. I set some of these items on my desk where other items and a bright desk light provided a high contrast set. The Nikon D600 with 50mm lens was on a tripod and I took several shots with different exposures. To see whether noise is an issue, my comparison is based on the ISO 1400 version, which the D600 would normally handle with ease. I processed in Lightroom 4.3, Capture One 7, and Capture NX 2 using the most up to date versions of each software. I then compared my screen output with the objects in the same light as they had been photographed. This time I wanted to show the initial raw conversion rather than where I finished as with the red light images.

I am certainly no expert in software testing but I have learned more during this process. So to the results. Initially, I found that Capture One was much better at rendering the pinks in the CD and the ball, while Lightroom was maintaining superior detail in highlights and shadows. Capture One was much too yellow in recording the orange knob on the ball. Lightroom was terrible in the purple with a neon tone and smudged detail. I didn't bring NX 2 into the review until the next stage.

Feeling quite confused I decided to follow a different procedure. This time I removed any sharpening and noise reduction that the programs apply by default. I changed Adobe camera calibration from standard to camera neutral, which is my setting in camera. I added NX 2 to the mix and this is what happened. I present the three conversions saved as JPG files in full frame and also at approximately 100% resolution. To see larger images you can go to the software test gallery (all my photographs/blogs).

Capture One below

Colour Test CO7 Lightroom 4.3 below

LR test-2 Capture NX 2 below

Colour test NX2 Capture One 100% below

Colour Test CO7 100 Lightroom 4.3 100 % below

LR test-2-2 Capture NX 2 100% below

Colourtest NX2 100



Remember that these are the starting points for further processing work. Looking at these images, Capture NX 2 clearly retains the most shadow detail followed by LR 4.3. If I change the profile curve in Capture One from default "film standard" to "film extra shadow" shadow, retention recovers at least to the LR 4 level.

As the 100% crops show, Capture One is still too yellow in rendering the orange knob on the ball, while LR 4 comes closest to my eyes.

The neon pink and the smearing that I noticed in the purple in LR4 is now gone. I see little difference in colour and detail among the three.

Green is a little less intense in Capture One.

The bright highlight in the letter opener is best retained in LR4 and worst in Capture One. However, the yellow ball highlight is handled with the smoothest tonal gradation in Capture One.

This is only one image and others might lead you to a different conclusion, especially when using other brands of camera. However, in this example I find the differences between these renderings to be moderate and I think excellent results can be obtained from each with further processing. For example, selecting the linear response curve in Capture One lowers contrasts and provides a more correct orange and a less severe metal highlight.

If you prefer a more contrasty look with strong colours, Capture One might be the best choice, and it can also be set up to respond in more subtle ways as noted. Many argue that its skin tones are outstanding and its tethering ability may also be a major factor. NX 2 provides an excellent starting point but lacks the ease of linking to plug-ins and Photoshop that come with Lightroom, not to mention Lightroom's superior data management.

I remain unsure what is the best for me as I can't yet find a clear winner. I may stick with Lightroom as my core organizer and raw converter, but have the others available to see if I can make more pleasing images with the shots that are most important to me. Each program has real virtues.

Earlier Attempt

I have often thought of giving Capture One a try as a raw converter and editor. Having read several reviews recently, I decided to download it this morning and have overtaxed my eyes and brain since then. Among the slides I played with is a high contrast scene of 5th Street, Courtenay, on the night of 13th November 2012. I used a Nikon D600 with 85mm F 1.8 lens. This shot contains red lights and reflections that are difficult to edit and tough for the sensors in the first place. So here is how the examples worked out. I decided not to display the initial rendering from raw, which is what many others have done. Instead, I show the best result I can get with each program after a reasonable amount of editing work.

Courtenay Night LR4.3 Lightroom 4.3 using only the develop module.


Courtenay Night LR4.3 + ColorEfex 4 Lightroom 4.3 + NIK ColorEfex 4 combining small amounts of detail extractor and contrast filters. The red was really sensitive to any strong additional filtration.


Courtenay Night - Capture One-7 Capture One - 7

CNX2 only Capture NX 2 using only the develop section.

Courtenay Night CNX2 + ColorEfex 3 tonal contrast Capture NX 2 + Nik ColorEfex 3, tonal contrast filter.

To my surprise I had most trouble getting a reasonable result with Capture NX 2. Reds were blotchy and it was really tough to find any detail. Adding the tonal contrast filter helped a little. Also, I think the bright lights come through as too bright with even less detail than in the other three. Capture One 7 is probably the crispest with best detail, but not much better than the LR4.3 efforts, especially the second with its addition of some NIK detail. I like much of what I did with Capture One today, but probably not enough to change my work flow based on Lightroom. However, I have only tried a few images and I only have one day of experience with Capture One. You can see the comparisons more easily from the Software Test gallery in the Blogs group.

Final Comment

At last the sun came out and I could photograph the MacBeth Colour Checker in sunlight as well as in shade and tungsten. I found that the results look similar for each converter except that Capture One produced by default a somewhat brighter, truer red while Lightroom looked best on the yellow. NX 2 was always close to Lightroom. As my time with Capture one continued over the last 17 days the crashes became more and more problematic. My 8 gigs of RAM may be too little for it to function well. I'm sticking with Lightroom for now.


Bob Ell(non-registered)
Very interesting findings Peter. Each has its advantage, but I tend to agree with your findings thus far. I do look forward t seeing more samples as your tests progress.
Bill Turnbull(non-registered)
The LR 4.3 images are the best. You probably could have tweaked the original a bit more to mimic the NIK ColorEfex variant. The Capture series all feature blown highlights with loss of contrast. Leave it to NIK to accomplish that feat.
Ernst Vegt(non-registered)
Peter, this is something that lots of folks struggle with as I'm sure you are aware. Would you like to try this with my test box so you can compare with something you can keep in front of you?

The box has Kodak grey scales, a Macbeth Colour Checker, lots of real-life objects showing skin-tones, metallics, reds, greens and blues, fluorescent colours that will challenge any sensors and workflows, etc. There are pastels to saturated colours in both additive and subtractive primaries.

You may find that you get better rendering on reds, but less detail in greens, etc. depending on the workflow. One can win on one colour but lose on another!

I presume you are using 16bit ProRGB as your working colour space?

Best regards,
Quite challenging to discern subtle differences with my (cataract) eyes, but I'm impressed with your results using Capture One 7 although IMHO doesn't quite match LR4 +Nik. It hurts to agree with your findings that CNX 2+Nik - my favourite software - is somewhat behind. It would be nice to see more comparison tests as you continue with the trial period. Thanks for posting. Tony.
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