Capture One and Lightroom: why I don’t like catalogs

I’ve used Capture One for years, and Lightroom before that. One reason I left Lightroom was that it stores everything in a ‘catalog’ , an organizational tool independent from the file system. The pitch is that with a catalog, you can do things like find images based on your own descriptive tags , rather than searching a hard drive for camera-assigned file names in forgotten folders.

The catalog knows all: where your image files are, your edits and labels. You can’t do anything with a photo without first adding it to the catalog via ‘import’. Under the hood that catalog is one very large and opaque binary database file. It grows over time and eventually, it’s gigabytes. As it gets bigger, the need for backup becomes ever more critical. And that’s the main reason I don’t like catalogs: backup.

Catalogs basically don’t allow incremental backup. You can’t just periodically back up only your recent changes and additions; you have to copy the entire 20gb file. It’s a large vessel to maneuver.


I use Microsoft OneDrive for backup. It’s integrated into the file system and anything you copy to your OneDrive ‘folder’ is automatically synced to cloud storage. It monitors that folder , so when you modify a file, the new version immediately copied to the cloud.

You could put your catalog inside that folder and it would be automatically backed up like any other file. But edits are written to that file while you’re working; and every time OneDrive ses a change it copies that entire huge file up to the cloud, again. This could keep your internet connection very, very busy.

You could keep your catalog outside of OneDrive and just copy it into the OneDrive folder now and then. But sooo easy to forget…

LightRoom can make backup copies of the catalog automatically, to a designated location. But it doesn’t delete the old backups, it just creates new ones with new names. OneDrive fills up with huge obsolete files.

Batch files, backup utilities, scripts… too many hoops. And when you buy a new computer, you have to recreate the entire lash-up.

And why do I really want a catalog anyway?

  • I don’t want to ‘import’ photos, just copy them onto my hard drive.
  • I don’t produce a large number of photos, and the dates don’t matter; I can keep track of them without “search” functions.
  • I know where my photos are, because I use meaningful folder names in a hierarchical arrangement. Isn’t that why it’s called a “file system”?
  • I’d rather have my edits in sidecar files; then I can work on photos while traveling and later, at home, just copy them and my editing work onto my desktop system.
  • I don’t assign tags or descriptions to my RAW files because there’s no way to get them into the exported JPGs, where I need them. I sell photos on a POD where they need titles, descriptions and keywords. So I still have to edit those things into the JPGs’ IPTC after export, and I’m not going to pound them all in twice.

So to me, catalogs are just clutter.


Capture One has a “session” model which is helpful to photographers doing things like weddings and events, who want to organize along those lines. But I found out how to make things even simpler – by creating One Session to Rule Them All, AKA a “dummy” session in which all my photo files are included – and then forgetting about the session concept altogether. No imports, no catalogs, just files in folders. Incremental backup then works fine. And no giant catalog files filling the closets of my hard drive.

3 Replies to “Capture One and Lightroom: why I don’t like catalogs”

  1. I’m old and set in my ways. I don’t really use catalogs either. I do use LR Classic to load my photos to my hard drive. I have my own folder and file naming system I use to be able to find finished images.

  2. Wow, the old geezer’s club. I’m 100% for catalogs, I have 110,000 images in the catalog as well as a year and month file structure and probably 20,000 of these have full keywords, captions and descriptions. Most images are raw and keywords are exported into jpegs and sites read the information.

    I can find files in seconds.

    Catalogs are the future..

  3. Wow, I’m an old geezer’s too. 87 yrs and I’m 100% into LR catalogs, I’ve had too many expensive cloud problems.
    Speaking of problems, I fell on my shoulder on a birthday shoot on the 16th. The body will heal and it’s coming around.
    Big fan of backups, when I remember. lol

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