You are here
Home > DPR > Adobe Camera Raw vs. Capture One Express Fujifilm: A worthy free contender

Adobe Camera Raw vs. Capture One Express Fujifilm: A worthy free contender


Over the past few months, I’ve been comparing the editing tools provided for free with your digital camera purchase with the 800-pound, subscription-ware gorilla in the room, Adobe Camera Raw, to see if it’s really necessary to pay for software when you’re on a tight budget. So far I’ve looked at Canon, Nikon, Olympus and Sony, and in this article it’s time to turn my attention to Fujifilm.

Capture One 21 Express Fujifilm build 14.1’s user interface.

Fujifilm’s customers have several different choices of software available with the purchase of their camera. There’s the in-house developed Fujifilm X Raw Studio, the Silkypix-based Raw File Converter EX 3.0 and Capture One Express Fujifilm. (Note that there’s also a similarly named and also Fuji-specific version called Capture One for Fujifilm, but since that’s payware it’s beyond the scope of this piece.)

Right now, X Raw Studio supports just 17 cameras, as compared to 42 interchangeable-lens cameras for Raw File Converter EX, and 48 ILCs for Capture One Express Fujifilm. Since Capture One supports the most ILCs, that’s the application we’ll look at in this article. So how does Capture One Express Fujifilm compare with Adobe Camera Raw? Let’s roll up our sleeves and find out.

The ground rules

This article is based upon the most recent versions of each application at the time of writing. For Adobe, that’s Camera Raw 13.2 and Bridge 11.0. For Fujifilm, it’s Capture One 21 Express Fujifilm build 14.1. My computer is a 2018 Dell XPS 15 9570 laptop running Windows 10 version 1909.

Adobe Camera Raw version 13.2’s user interface.

I’ve chosen to use images from the Fujifilm X-T3. It’s been available long enough for processing to be optimized, and its launch price and resolution are broadly similar to those of the cameras used in my previous manufacturer software comparisons.

To ensure neither Adobe nor Fujifilm had any advantage out of the gate, I’ve aimed to reproduce, as closely as possible, the look of already-processed images from our gallery, without any prior knowledge as to the recipes behind them.

Both Capture One Express Fujifilm and Adobe Camera Raw extract similar levels of detail from their photos, but Adobe’s slightly stronger default sharpening gives it a crisper appearance.
Download the full ACR image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Dale Baskin

Sharpness and noise reduction were left at their default settings to avoid overcomplicating things, while lens corrections were enabled for both applications. Images processed in ACR were saved at JPEG quality 11, which we use for galleries on DPReview. For Capture One, I used quality level 96 which yielded approximately the same file sizes.

The main differences

The most significant difference between Capture One and Adobe’s offerings are in their pricing and camera support.

Capture One Express Fujifilm is completely free of charge, but it only supports Fuji-branded cameras. Although it can import photos from other cameras, it won’t let you edit or export them.

While it’s offered free, you do need to supply an email address and can only get a single-install license for each email address you give. So if, say, you want to edit both on a desktop and laptop, you’ll need to supply multiple email addresses.

Capture One Express Fujifilm is a pared-down version of the full Capture One that’s only compatible with Fujifilm’s own cameras

It also has a pared-down feature set, lacking many more pro-oriented editing, capture, organization and export tools that are available in the full version of Capture One. But it still includes the basic tools most photographers are likely to need.

Capture One Express and ACR do differ noticeably in their distortion and vignetting corrections.
Download the full ACR image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

With Adobe, by contrast, you have to pay an ongoing subscription fee of at least $10 per month for the Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes Camera Raw, Lightroom and Photoshop, and that price could increase in the future.

But Adobe’s apps will support Raw files from close to 1000 different cameras, smartphones, drones and more, and you’ll also get the combined feature-set of Lightroom, Lightroom Classic and Photoshop, which together can do far more than even the full version of Capture One.

Capture One straddles the line between first- and third-party software

Another advantage typical of manufacturer software is quicker and more in-depth support for new camera models, as well as a closer match for the look of images processed in-camera. But with Capture One actually being developed by a third party, that’s not necessarily as true as it is for most manufacturer software.

It’s worth noting, for example, that Fujifilm has a long relationship with the developer of Silkypix. And yet as of March 2021, the Silkypix-derived Raw File Converter EX has yet to add support for either the X-E4 or GFX 100S, both of which are already shipping.

Not surprisingly, it’s still tricky to precisely match results from two different programs. With that said, Capture One got me closer than most manufacturer software with far less fussing.
Download the full ACR image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

Support for those cameras in Capture One arrived on the same day both models shipped, however. So perhaps the link with Capture One is closer, or the Capture One team is just quicker (bearing in mind that neither the X-E4 nor GFX 100S uses a new sensor, which theoretically makes adding support a relatively trivial matter).

As for the look of images, Fujifilm promises it will deliver “unmatched straight-from-camera color accuracy“. Adobe, meanwhile, has color matching profiles for all of Fujifilm’s ILCs, but lacks them for many FinePix compacts. But as we’ll see in a bit, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

A clean and logical – but not very customizable – user interface

Capture One Express Fujifilm has a clean, modern-looking non-modal interface with a fixed toolbar at the top of the screen, as well as panels for both thumbnail browsing and all other tools. The tool panel can be place on the left or the right, and the thumbnail panel either at the bottom of the screen or on whichever side remains unoccupied by the tool panel.

Capture One Express Fujifilm allows only quite limited UI customization. You can only reposition the tool panel and thumbnail browser, pin individual tools, and rearrange the top toolbar.

Atop the tool panel are buttons to access tabs grouping controls related to library control, filtering, metadata and keywording, and various groups of editing controls. There’s also a “Q” button that groups together duplicates of the controls you’re likely to need most often.

While you can’t add or remove tabs or individual controls in the Express version, you can still pin your favorites to the top of their particular tab for quicker access. You can also add more tools to the topmost toolbar, or rearrange its order.

I found the various controls on offer to be quite logically grouped and named, and easy to use. Windows UI paradigms are followed well, and you can either adjust sliders or type in values directly.

One very slight bug, though, is that the sliders seem to be stored internally with a higher level of precision than numeric entry, with the result that two images with the same numeric value can nevertheless show slightly different positions for the same slider.

Database storage and sidecars

Your editing data is stored in an overall catalog file encompassing all of your imported images, and can also be written to XMP sidecar files in the same directories as the images themselves. This lets you choose which approach you prefer, while avoiding the riskier method of writing edits into the metadata of your original Raw files.

Capture One uses significantly stronger noise reduction than Adobe by default. But even in the finest patterns in the violinist’s hair and clothes, it’s hard to spot any detail loss. Plus, we vastly prefer the skin tones of Capture One for this image.
Download the full ACR image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Dale Baskin

One slight oddity if you also use Photoshop in your workflow is that Capture One also embeds editing metadata into its exported JPEG files, with the result that by default Photoshop opens them in Camera Raw, not directly into the main Photoshop workspace. You can get around this by disabling Camera Raw for the JPEG file type.

Multiple monitors aren’t supported in the Express version of Capture One, but high DPI screens are supported, as are both pen and touch-screen inputs. Setups with mixed-resolution displays can cause scaling issues, however.

The best performance I’ve seen yet from a free app

Compared to most free, bundled software, Capture One Express turns in a very creditable result when it comes to performance. It still doesn’t manage to match Adobe Camera Raw in this respect – and Adobe has made another step forward in the time I’ve been writing this review – but it comes closer than has any other app I’ve yet tested.

Capture One Express Fujifilm comes closer to Adobe’s performance than any free, manufacturer-supplied app I’ve tested yet

In terms of its user interface, I found Capture One to be faster at browsing full images, while Adobe Camera Raw is a bit quicker when it came to 1:1 viewing and previewing of edits. But the advantage for Adobe was only very slight here, and Capture One’s edit previews remain very close to real-time.

Really, I only had one minor concern when it came to Capture One Express Fujifilm’s performance. The first time it’s started – and again when updated – it pops up a dialog stating that it’s “setting up hardware acceleration”. Your computer remains responsive during this process, but until completed, it more than doubles rendering times.

It takes a surprisingly long time — around 8-10 minutes — to complete this process, during which time CPU utilization never breaks around 20%, nor did my GPU pass 2-3% utilization. And even leaving the computer entirely idle doesn’t persuade Capture One to speed up.

Capture One’s highlight and shadow sliders made just as light work of editing this shot as ACR’s, though again, we find ourselves preferring the Capture One color.
Download the full ACR image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Dale Baskin

It’s a minor issue, and one you thankfully don’t see too often, but it’s nevertheless a bit annoying if you’re in a rush when you do. I suggest disallowing upgrades if you’re on a deadline, for that reason.

Adobe’s subscription-ware is still the fastest, though

When it comes to final processing, Adobe has a bit more of an edge. On my machine, Capture One Express Fujifilm requires roughly 20 seconds to process the six images used in this review, as compared to around 15 seconds to process the same images in Adobe Camera Raw.

That doesn’t quite tell the whole story, though, as Adobe’s performance improved noticeably between version 13.2 (as used throughout this review), and version 13.1 (which was current when I first started work). With the earlier ACR version, Adobe required around 17 seconds, putting Capture One just 18% behind Adobe.

Save for their differing lens corrections and automatic adjustments, it can be tough to spot much difference between ACR and Capture One’s rendering, as this Fuji Provia comparison shows.
Download the full ACR image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

And even after Adobe’s update, Capture One trails by just 33%. By way of contrast, most manufacturer software I’ve tested takes at least twice as long as Adobe, and sometimes much longer.

Default rendering is very similar, but not auto adjustments

In terms of their color rendering, both Capture One Express Fujifilm and Adobe Camera Raw are basically indistinguishable from each other or out-of-camera JPEGs, prior to making any adjustments to your image. At least, for the Astia, Provia and Velvia film simulations.

Adobe’s skin tones made subjects look slightly sickly, whereas Capture One’s skin tones were more lifelike

With that said, results differ quite a bit if you let either application automatically adjust your images. Adobe gives you a single-button auto control, and tends to make bigger adjustments to exposure. It holds onto shadows and highlights significantly better, but also tends to oversaturate for a more consumer-friendly look.

Capture One, meanwhile, lets you choose whether or not to automatically adjust white balance, exposure, contrast/brightness, HDR, levels and rotation individually. Its auto white balance tends to do a better job, and its other auto algorithms also tended to yield more realistic colors in general than did Adobe.

There’s a much bigger difference between ACR and Capture One Express if you unleash their automatic algorithms. Adobe goes punchy but does better with highlights and shadows. Capture One aims instead for more muted – but also more realistic – color.
Download the full ACR image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Jeff Keller

I found that last point especially true for skin tones, foliage and blue skies. As you can see in my examples, Adobe’s skin tones has tended to make subjects look just slightly sickly, whereas Capture One’s skin tones are more lifelike. And there was a similar advantage in foliage and skies, which also look more natural with Capture One.

Defaults that differ: Adobe sharpens more while Capture One favors NR

Adobe’s algorithms also apply more sharpening by default, but can introduce slight but noticeable haloing. Capture One doesn’t halo by default, but its results appear less crisp.

With no fuss beyond letting the automatic algorithms do their thing, Capture One gave me significantly cleaner images

Capture One’s default noise reduction levels are also a good bit higher than those of Adobe Camera Raw. The good news, though, is that I couldn’t see any noticeable loss of detail as a result.

With absolutely no fuss beyond letting the automatic algorithms do their thing, Capture One consistently gave me significantly cleaner images. Given the smaller APS-C sensors still used by Fuji’s X-mount cameras in an increasingly full-frame world, that’s definitely great news!

Of course, both applications also allow noise reduction to be dialed back significantly from their defaults. At minimums, though, Adobe still applies a touch more chroma NR than does Capture One.

Adobe’s lens corrections are closer to the camera than Capture One

As for lens corrections, neither application’s results was quite identical to those of in-camera JPEGs, but Adobe seems significantly closer than Capture One. Results from the latter were mostly still fairly close, but occasionally differed quite noticeably. That was also true of vignetting correction, where Capture One sometimes made rather larger exposure corrections near the corners than did either Adobe or in-camera JPEGs.

Capture One Express sometimes differs significantly in its lens corrections from in-camera JPEGs.
Download the full in-camera image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Jeff Keller

Capture One also has an occasional tendency to crop images if distortion correction was enabled, even when its “hide distorted areas” setting was unchecked. The degree of cropping varied with lens and focal length, anywhere from none at all, to as much as almost 5% of the image width and height.

With all of that said, both Adobe Camera Raw and Capture One offer a lot of scope for correction, and provide a good set of controls. I’ve found Capture One to be a pretty good match for its Adobe rival, and it’s far more pleasing to use than any other free, manufacturer-provided software to date, making it quite easy to get the look I wanted with relatively little work.


I have to admit, the results of my testing were a bit of a surprise. Given the relationship between Capture One and Fujifilm, and the fact that the latter actually offers the software for its own users, I expected its results to more closely mirror those of in-camera processing. But in truth, it was generally Adobe that got closer to the in-camera results.

Capture One Express Fujifilm could save you hundreds over the life of your camera, yet its image quality and capabilities rival ACR well

Capture One suppresses noise much more so than Adobe does by default, but without losing any apparent detail. Colors from Adobe were generally good and matched the out-of-camera JPEGs better, but occasionally inn my testing I found that skin tones could make people look a bit ill. When it comes to the selection of controls on offer and their ease of use, both ACR and Capture One are pretty close.

Some other differences are in their distortion correction and auto adjustments. For distortion I think Adobe has a slight edge, but for auto adjustments I definitely ended up preferring Capture One over ACR’s more punchy, consumer-friendly look.

I was also impressed with Capture One’s performance. Sure, Adobe still rules the roost in this respect – and its most recent update looks to have taken another step forward – but it’s also payware software being pitted against a completely free alternative. And Capture One gets far, far closer in terms of raw speed than any other bundled software I’ve yet tried.

The most consistently noticeable differences between ACR and Capture One are in lens correction.
Download the full ACR image here; the full Capture One image here.
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

If cost is a primary concern for you and you don’t need to work with multiple camera brands, then I think it’s a no-brainer. Using Capture One Express Fujifilm could save you enough over the lifetime of your camera to buy a lens or accessory while still providing good speed, good image quality and a healthy selection of controls.

If you want the maximum possible performance, support for multiple camera brands or the extended features offered by Lightroom or Photoshop, though, then I think an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription remains your best bet.

Capture One Express Fujifilm

  • Available free with a Fujifilm camera
  • Includes all basic tools you’ll likely need
  • Clean, logical user interface
  • Capable controls are a good match for ACR
  • Excellent image quality
  • Great default noise reduction with minimal effect on detail
  • Lifelike color and good skin/foliage tones
  • Good to great performance
  • Choose which auto adjustments you want individually
  • Database storage and optional sidecar support too
  • Only supports Fujifilm cameras
  • Only one license per email address given
  • Not very customizable
  • No multi-monitor support
  • Minor issues with mixed-res displays
  • Auto adjustments tend to sacrifice highlights/shadows much more than Adobe
  • Lens corrections don’t match those in-camera as well as Adobe’s
  • Sometimes crops images when set not to, when corrected distortion

Adobe Camera Raw

  • Clean, clear and modern interface
  • Supports a vast range of cameras from many brands
  • Great performance
  • Allows fine-grained adjustments with accurate real-time preview
  • Great image quality
  • Does a great job with highlights/shadows
  • Color rendering is very close to Capture One prior to adjustments
  • Recurring subscription fee with no perpetual license option
  • Camera support can take a while to arrive for more obscure features or even fairly big ones like camera matching profiles
  • Occasionally unflattering skin tones
  • One-click auto control produces overly contrasty, saturated results
  • Noise reduction needs much more manual tweaking than Capture One

Sample gallery

Images for this article were originally posted in this gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images without prior permission (see our copyright page).