Capture One Pro 21: Should you buy a perpetual license or a subscription?

Capture One Pro is the most fully-featured alternative to Lightroom and there’s a lot to like about it, from the unique dual management options of Catalogs and Sessions, through to the implementation of Layers and colour reproduction and more. Also unlike Lightroom, you can either choose a traditional perpetual license model using paid-for upgrades to keep abreast of new features, or opt for a continuously payable subscription.

Currently the price of a perpetual license is $299/£299 [affiliate link to official Capture One store] for two seats (the same for Capture One for Fujifilm, Nikon or Sony), which means a ‘single’ user can install it on separate devices, so long as they’re not being used simultaneously. As a ‘perpetual’ license, you won’t have to upgrade when the next full version is announced, assuming RAW files from your current camera are supported of course.

Service updates are free and typically include bug fixes, occasional new features and support for new cameras. Should you wish to benefit from major new features then you will have to upgrade.

Let’s say you purchased a license on, or just after, the launch day of the new version, which is usually around the end of November, and you want to upgrade. That will cost around $199/£199 for a ‘single user’.

So, for anywhere between 13-24 months, the price will be around $498/£498 with one upgrade.

Annual pre-paid subscriptions

The price of an annual pre-paid subscription plan is $179/£179 [affiliate link] saving a substantial $120/£120 in the first year over a perpetual license. In the second year of an annual pre-paid subscription, from 13 up to 24 months, the total cost is $358/£358. That’s still a saving of around $140/£140 over the perpetual license.

In the third year, a perpetual license with two upgrades will have cost you around $697/£697 for between 25-36 months. With an annual pre-paid subscription plan the cost would be $537/£537, a saving of $160/£160. And so it goes on with the subscription route saving $20/£20 a year, year on year. That’s assuming you upgrade every year, and that the prices remain the same.

With the old pricing for license upgrades it wasn’t until year seven that you started to see a benefit, providing you’ve upgraded every year. But that’s no longer the case.

Adopting the subscription route is the cheapest option if you want to benefit from the continual improvements, camera and lens support and of course all the new features. If you buy a license and don’t upgrade every year, it could work out cheaper but you’ll miss out on any advances.

At the time of writing there’s no clarity on the pricing if you miss a year, or two. One thing is for sure, if it’s not $199/£199 then it will be more than that. And if you leave three or four years, then you might not be able to upgrade. I’ll update this once I’ve had confirmation from Capture One.

Fujifilm, Nikon or Sony only user?

There are other ways to save. If you know that you’re going to be a Fujifilm, Nikon, or Sony user for certain period of time, and don’t require RAW file support for other makes, then there’s the ‘Capture One for …’ versions.

At $199/£199 [affiliate link to all versions] for the perpetual license, they’re some $100/£100 cheaper initially and they’re cheaper to upgrade at $149/£149. They’re not the Capture One Pro version with support for all camera makes, though.

An annual pre-paid subscription is also available for these dedicated versions, at $149/£149 [same link as above, allowing you to ‘buy or subscribe’] and that like the one for the Pro version works out cheaper if you want to stay current. Annual billed-monthly and monthly (cancel anytime) subscriptions are useful for occasional use but they’re the most expensive route long term.

Note that the more lightly featured ‘Express’ versions are already bundled with Fujifilm, Nikon and Sony cameras, and can be downloaded for free.

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