I’ve spent the last couple of months working back and forth between the raw processors Capture One, Lightroom Classic, PhotoLab Elite, and Photo RAW in an attempt to settle on just one going into 2024. Owning more than one is just too expensive and too complicated trying to keep edits and metadata in sync. My primary raw post-processing tools have been Capture One and Lightroom Classic. So that’s where I started my efforts.
Needless to say, attempting to compare and select from these very capable applications isn’t easy. To try making it more so, I decided to use a decision matrix in an attempt to force more objectivity into a greatly subjective choice.
So I began with a list of characteristics, or feature sets, that I thought were most important to my choice:
- Initial Conversion – translating the .raw file into an image to edit: color fidelity, details extracted, lens and camera corrections, artifacts generated, and the starting point provided for more editing.
- Digital Asset Management (DAM) – ingesting new images, metadata management, file management, and searching/filtering images based on their metadata.
- Global Adjustments – adjustments available, denoising, and the effects of individual controls.
- Local Adjustments – adjustments available, masking, the effects of individual controls, and any layering available.
- Intangibles – the look and feel of the application, the company’s attitude toward user suggestions, and the responsiveness of the company to bugs and user suggestions.
- Printing – templates, specific sharpening for paper and size, and the flexibility of printed output.
- Aftermarket Support – completeness of the user manual, information available on the company’s website, and the helpfulness of forums, videos, and blogs.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), but really more like machine learning, features are now The Thing in post-processing. I’ve considered these abilities within the feature sets listed above, rather than as features in themselves. My view of these tools as an adjunct to the photographer, rather than as a replacement, effects their value and significance in my ratings.
The question of a subscription or perpetual license model is not a deciding factor, for me. Both have advantages and disadvantages and I can live with either. I tend to upgrade every year and plan (hope?) to pick a winner and stick with it.
For you, there may be more or different criteria to measure. As you’ll see, it’s pretty easy to create your own decision matrix.
With the characteristics selected, I needed to weigh each one in relation to the others. Of the important things, which was most important? Which was the least? That, of course, took some thinking and shuffling to get them ‘right’ in my mind.
Here are the guidelines I used in constructing my decision matrix:
- Forced Weighting – one characteristic had to be most important and one least. No ties.
- Forced Ranking – one application had to be best and one worst. No ties.
- Weighted Score – weighting times score
- Highest weighted score ‘wins.’
The hard part. These are my highlights and lowlights for each application:
- Capture One – the choice for studio and fashion retouchers. Very strong at raw conversion and DAM with real layers but poor at masking and printing. The only one lacking advanced noise reduction.
- Lightroom Classic – the powerhouse choice of many. The addition of AI noise reduction and AI masking makes an already capable program a standout. With its exceptional print module and vast array of online support, its success is no surprise. Packaged with Photoshop, there’s little you can’t do.
- PhotoLab Elite – the newcomer and pure conversion champion. Best-in-class raw conversion together with best-in-class lens corrections gives a fantastic starting point for editing. But a poor DAM and limited masking hurt its overall performance.
- Photo RAW – the jack of all trades, master of none. A poor starting point for editing combined with a DAM that is just barely off the pace doesn’t make up for the impressive adjustment and masking features.
Not that matrix!
This is where I ended up after the weighting and the ranking. I was a bit surprised to see how close PhotoLab Elite was to Lightroom Classic in the final score.
But there is more work to do. All of these applications will have fall updates with free trials, so it’s very possible these scores will change.