When Lightroom first came out, it was innovative in that it combined a photo editor with cataloging capabilities. There wasn’t much else out there that could come close to it, but things have changed now, and more choice is a good thing.
Do you think that having to pay a monthly subscription for Adobe Lightroom is a bit much? After all, if you don’t use Lightroom very often, you’re not getting your money’s worth. But are there any less expensive photo editing programs to Lightroom out there, and more importantly, are they any good?
Yes, there are alternatives – and some are very, very good – and in this article, we’ll do a quick run-down of the pros and cons of each one. Hopefully, this will help you choose the right editing software for your needs. Each of the image editors discussed in our today’s post is capable of processing the RAW files straight from your camera, just like Lightroom.
Skylum recently came out with their Jupiter update for Luminar – partly automatic photo editor, and that has made it responsive and fast. There are now versions for both Mac and Windows.
- Luminar has layers, which gives you more scope while editing
- A wide range of overlays and filters: grunge texture, old texture etc.
- Compatible with third-party presets
- Has batch editing capabilities
- Competitively priced at $59
- No healing brush
- Doesn’t have cataloging capabilities yet (in developing)
- Windows version is a few steps behind from Mac version
Capture One Pro
Capture One Pro is made by Phase One, who produce very expensive, high-end cameras. The software is impressive, but the price and steep learning curve make it a tool for professionals and serious hobbyists.
- You can migrate your catalogs over from Lightroom
- It’s much better than Lightroom for tethered shooting
- There’s support for RAW files from more than 400 cameras
- It’s expensive at $299
- It can take a while to learn, and you need prior experience with advanced photo editing software to get the best out of it
ON1 Photo RAW
ON1 Photo RAW has recently joined the competition, and professionals like it for its efficient organizing abilities and the RAW support.
- Layer support feature, which means you can composite images together — a feature that’s missing from Lightroom.
- It can handle filters and effects quickly and easily
- The interface is a little cluttered and confusing
- The price is quite steep at $119 for the Pro version of the software
DxO Optics Pro
DxO Optics Pro attempts to compete with Capture One, and is a lower priced alternative.
- The basic editing features from Lightroom are all in place
- The noise reduction capabilities are highly rated
- Easy to use and responsive
- You can’t make local adjustments to images, and you need to put them in another editor if you want to do that.
- RAW support is only for around 250 cameras
- At $99-149, it’s expensive for what it is even though it’s cheaper than Capture One.
Mid Range Priced Software
ACDSee Photo Studio Professional
ACDSee Photo Studio is a Windows program that is clearly trying to take on Lightroom. It has all the features of Lightroom, and some extra ones of its own.
- You get comprehensive cataloging and organizing tools
Good RAW editing mode with support for more than 500 cameras
- Liquify tool that enables you to retouch photos by moving groups of pixels without altering them. Normally you’d have to put your image in Photoshop to do that.
- Competitively priced at $99.99
- It comes with a cloud service, but it costs extra
- It’s only available on Windows
Serif Affinity Photo
Serif’s editing suite is aimed more at experienced photo editors than beginners. It has a Photoshop-type interface and a wide array of tools. It’s available in Windows and Mac.
- Built in support for Wacom pen tablets and others
- Has liquefy tool
- Has a variety of presets and texture filters
- Well priced at around $86
- Can lag slightly when moving around a 100 percent zoomed image
- The exposure adjustment is limited
- Lens corrections in RAW editing are also limited
- No photo cataloging capability yet
Free Software Options
You may be wondering if the free and open-source image editing software will be any good, but you may be pleasantly surprised by some of them.
Raw Therapee is an open-source RAW editor, available on Linux, Windows and Mac. It’s specifically aimed at RAW photo post-production.
- It’s free!
- It does a good job on basic edits of RAW files
- It’s only designed for basic edits of RAW files. If you want to do further editing, you’ll have to move the photos to another editor.
- It can be complicated for beginners to use
Gimp has been around for a long time now, but is still one of the most well-known and free open source image editors out there.
- As above, it’s free to download
- It has layer capabilities
- It opens many different types of files
- It has a wide array of tools
- It’s not easy for beginners to use
- The interface is cluttered and can be confusing
- Processing can be slow
- There are bugs that need fixing
Dark Table is a free open source RAW editor. It’s been around for a while, but only recently has it been made available for Windows. It manages your digital negatives in a database, and lets you view and edit them.
- It’s powerful
- It’s free
- Has a fair amount of lens corrections in its library
- It has masking capabilities
- Like a lot of free software, it can be buggy
- It’s also confusing to use, especially for beginners. A lot of the terminology and tool naming convention is hard to understand.
- It can be slow at processing
Some of the Lightroom alternatives are direct competitors to them, featuring image management integrated with photo processing. Some just concentrate on a certain part of the workflow.
Everybody is different, and you should try out all the various image editor options out there by downloading the free trial versions for the paid apps, and using each one intensively for a while. This is the only way you will find an image editor that truly suits your needs