lightroom 4 prevails.
I finally gave the new Lightroom 4 a shake-down editing some photos from a recent trip. I love the new features and pixel pushing power. The highlight recovery paired with shadow lightening is an astounding improvement over Lightroom 3. Add in the new behavior of the clarity slider, the RGB channel curves, the overall new processing engine, and the new chromatic aberration tools (this one just released the 4.1 RC2 beta).
I’ve been putting up with an awkward workflow relationship between Lightroom and Capture One Pro for several years now. I would process my RAW files in C1Pro, export TIFF files, and then import everything into Lightroom for cataloging and keywording. I broke it off with CaptureOne yesterday after comparing my processing of some shots from C1Pro and LR4.
I started reprocessing some older photos using LR4.1 RC2. I had previously processed the photos in C1Pro 5, and I remember being quite pleased with the results. Though after comparing them to my new LR4 processing, I’m not sure why. Admittedly, the coloration of my new LR4 processing was markedly different from my previous version, a few of which are below.
Above, ignoring the creative color differences, notice the significant recovery of usable highlights and shadow. It completely changes the photo, in a fantastic way. This may have been possible using C1Pro, but it would have required outputting at least two TIFF files using different exposure settings and merging them in Photoshop (can you tell I’ve done that a bunch?).
Same thing with the photos below. More on the creative aspects of my processing in a minute.
You might argue that the Capture One Pro processing is more “realistic” and I’ll give you that, but only because of the way I processed the Lightroom counterparts, not because of any inherent fault or characteristic of either program. However, I did find that I think Lightroom 4 produces smoother, more realistic images. Whereas C1Pro 5 and 6 produce images that are a tad sharper but also crunchier and not nearly as “analogue” looking, for lack of a better word.
To even up the playing field a bit with this last example, I tried deliberately to replicate the processing feel I was getting out of LR4. I found, unsurprisingly, I couldn’t match them. For one thing, there are two fundamental tool differences in C1Pro 6 (I used my current version C1Pro 6.4 for this test). C1Pro 6 does not allow you to apply creative split tones to an image without enabling Black & White mode. Strike one.
C1Pro 6 also does not allow moving the end points while editing the color channel curves. This makes it impossible to mute harsh highlights and achieve the softer look I got in LR4. Not a deal breaker for some, but it limits your creative processing and forces a Photoshop workflow step that you can avoid with LR4. Granted, Capture One Pro was/is originally geared toward studio portrait photographers who are mainly interested in perfect skin tones and color checker accuracy, but I think in its more recent iterations, it tries to directly compete with Lightroom… fair game.
You’ll note that the highlight contrast in the C1Pro 6 image is still higher. I couldn’t get the highlights down in the same manner that LR4 can. C1Pro 6 also had a bit harder time with the shadows and had a tendency to turn them into a muddy mess. If you look at the water between the dock and trailer wheels, you can also see the difference that the new LR4 clarity slider makes. The clarity slider in C1Pro 6 functions much like the previous LR3 clarity slider did, basically only improving local gross contrast. This usually results in a harsh feel of dark shadow and blooming highlights with exaggerated halos around contrasting areas. The new LR4 clarity slider brings in this indescribable “presence” to the image that increases detail without affecting the overall image contrast much, giving things a bit of an HDR feel.
Here’s a 50% crop comparison with C1Pro 6 on top, LR4.1 on bottom (click for full-size):
On a side note, in general, I have always found editing in Lightroom to just be plan easier and faster than Capture One Pro. For example, I love the ability to mouse over a parameter and use the up/down arrow keys (or with Shift to make it move faster) to modify the value, no clicking or imprecise dragging required. The local brush adjustments C1Pro 6 introduced were a nice touch, but they are nowhere near as easy or advanced as the brush and gradient tools available in LR4.