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What Program Handles Sony Raw Files Better, Lightroom or Capture One?

Sony cameras have long been criticized for their color science. The notion is that Sony cameras produce unflattering colors, especially for skin tones. This claim seems to be leaning towards raw files processed in Lightroom. Capture One is generally recommended, so, let’s find out which of the two software is the better option for Sony raw files. 

In a previous article, we compared Canon raw files processed in Lightroom and Capture One. For this second article in the series, we will be focussing on raw files from Sony cameras. The key image in this comparison was shot with the Sony a7R III with the Sigma 65mm f/2.0 lens. 

This first image above is a JPEG file taken straight out of the camera without any processing from any software. The straight out of camera image above will serve as a point of reference only and does not necessarily serve as a benchmark in this comparison. We can now start this comparison by looking at how images look from each software.

For Lightroom I used the Sony Camera Standard profile and the in Capture One, I used the Pro Standard profile. 

The main differences between the two are that Capture One leans more into the magenta tones and has more contrast. The Lightroom image is a little warmer with a slight bias towards the green tones along with a little less contrast. Neither image matches the JPEG that came straight out of the camera, although that’s not a measure of performance. 

Having said that, if you are looking for a more consistent workflow there is quite an easy way to do this in Lightroom. When you use the standard Adobe default profile, it matches the out-of-camera JPEG relatively well. 

The difference is that the out-of-camera image from Sony has more contrast and saturation. The fact that the Lightroom default image has less contrast and saturation may prove useful if you’re planning on editing and color grading your image. This consistency may end up offering a lot of value to your workflow. Essentially, what you see on the back of your screen will be close to what you see on your computer screen when you sit down to edit. 

On the other hand, in Capture One the colors and the overall look won’t match the manufacturer’s profile the way that Lightroom does. Capture One in general uses its own theory for color and this is by no means a bad thing because plenty of photographers prefer the way Capture One processes raw files. The results from Capture One may not be as consistent, however, for many creatives, this is actually a feature. 

The only downside to Capture One is that it tends to be highly aggressive when applying sharpening. On the surface this makes images from the software look crisp and offers an illusion of more detail. In practice, the sharpening in Capture One can result in a few unwanted issues. 

As you can see in the comparison above, the Capture One image looks sharper. It appears to have more detail due to how it’s processing the files. However, images can end up looking harsh. This is especially the case when it comes to skin texture and tones. 

As you start to edit the image with a little more meaning in applications such as Photoshop, the extra sharpening applied in Capture One may end up being a hindrance. This is one of the reasons I prefer to completely switch off the sharpening in Capture One. Any sharpening that I do apply tends to be applied in Photoshop through more dedicated software such as Sharpen AI from Topaz Labs

With Lightroom, however, the sharpening is relatively benign. I’ve never had a situation where the default sharpening settings have come in the way of my workflow. The sharpening in Lightroom has a positive effect on the image because it enhances the detail without damaging the integrity of the file. I can quite comfortably leave the sharpening settings on in Lightroom, and apply further sharpening in Photoshop without it becoming excessive of details looking harsh. 

Having said that, this isn’t by any means a major problem in Capture One. It takes very little effort to switch off the sharpening features in Capture One, therefore, it’s not really an issue The only reason I’m discussing this is simply to highlight the differences between the two software. 

Finally, we have a comparison below that demonstrates images from both software once they have been color graded. 

Both images in the above comparison were processed with the default settings in their respective software. Then they were taken into Photoshop where each image received the exact same treatment. Several layers of exposure, color, and texture were applied to the files and exported. 

Interestingly, despite the fact that each had the same treatment, the results are noticeably different. The Capture One image has a brighter background and leans a little more into the red and magenta tones. Lightroom on the other hand has a slightly faded look to it. It also leans more towards earthy and green tones. The background also appears darker and less saturated in comparison. 

What’s most curious is the fact that neither result looks wrong. There’s no doubt that the images look different, however, neither of the two results appear displeasing. Essentially, it comes down to personal preference and depends on what you think looks better. 

Final Thoughts

Despite the fact that I use Capture One for more meaningful projects, the idea that Lightroom is bad or that it doesn’t produce good-looking results isn’t true. There are clear differences between the two software, however, it’s entirely based on preference. Capture One operates using its own color theory, which I enjoy and prefer to use for my work. Lightroom, on the other hand, leans more towards what the camera manufacturers intended. And the results look great from each. 

It’s important to remember that how the images are presented in each software, will undoubtedly change the way you perceive the end result. Although I applied the same treatments to the images in the final comparison, this is obviously not how someone would work in real-world conditions. Nonetheless, highlighting the differences between the two software may help you decide which one works best for you. Fortunately, what you can be certain of is the fact that either of the two options will produce great-looking results. 

Which do you prefer, Lightroom or Capture One? 

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