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Lightroom has long been the most popular photo editing software for photographers. It offers both powerful editing capabilities and a streamlined digital asset management system.
However, Adobe Lightroom is now only available on a recurring subscription, making it a less affordable choice for many people. Amateurs and beginners in particular have been looking for replacements for Lightroom, leading to a boom in alternative editing programs.
There are a lot of editing software programs on the market right now, both free and paid versions. It can be hard to know which is the best alternative program to Lightroom to suit your needs. We made it easy for you by putting together a guide to the top Lightroom alternatives around right now!
What Exactly Is Lightroom?
Adobe Lightroom has long been the industry standard when it comes to photo management programs for photographers, often combined with Adobe Photoshop. It used to be that you could buy each version outright, but sadly no longer.
If you’re not currently a Lightroom user, you may be wondering exactly what this app does. It combines both photo editing and photo management within one software, allowing you to organise your shots and also make non-destructive local edits to your images.
This handy combination, as well as the intuitive interface and range of powerful features, have ensured that Lightroom has been the most popular program for photographers for many years. But there are some excellent alternatives out there too now. If you’re not a fan of the subscription model, read on to discover the best programs that Lightroom users should consider switching to.
What to Consider When Choosing a Lightroom Alternative
Here’s what you need to think about before buying an alternative to Lightroom:
There are both free, budget, and premium programs you can use to replace Lightroom. What you go for will be down to your budget, balanced with your need for advanced tools found only in premium software.
RAW Processing Capability
Not all programs can import and process RAW files. If this is important to you, make sure you check the RAW processing capability before you buy.
Digital Asset Management
Do you want an app that can sort, catalogue, and add tags and keywords to your images? Then look for a program that has full digital asset management features.
The best programs can automatically sort your images when you upload them to your computer and give you superior controls so you can keep track of where everything is. When you have hundreds or thousands of photos on your computer, you know how critical this feature is!
Some apps specialise in cataloguing your images, but fall down on the actual editing features. You’ll need to decide whether you want an app that offers full editing capabilities, from being able to make minor adjustments right up to in-depth editing in layers.
Take a careful look at the range of features included. It’s always best to try out a software through a free trial first, so you can see whether the workflow, tools, and layout work for you.
Not all programs will offer quick, responsive customer support. For the free software, you might not have access to any support at all, which can be frustrating if something goes wrong. Check out online reviews and see if other users are satisfied with the service before you buy (or download a free version).
Premium Lightroom alternatives like Topaz studio should offer regular updates to their software, fixing bugs and making improvements along the way. But this might not be true for cheap or free versions, meaning that the program may become slow or buggy over time.
You need to weigh up how important it is for you to have access to excellent customer support and regular updates, and compare this with your budget to see what is the best option for you!
Best Lightroom Alternative: Our Reviews!
It can be overwhelming to search through different websites looking for the best photo editing software. So we’ve done the hard work for you! There are options suitable for both professionals and amateur photographers. Here’s our roundup of the top alternative image editing programs that rival Lightroom:
DarkTable is an exciting open source program that offers a lot of the same Lightroom features, but for free! While it’s not as streamlined and intuitive as you might have come to expect from Lightroom, it offers both asset management and basic image editing tools.
One bonus that DarkTable offers is RAW images processing – one feature that many free image editing programs doesn’t have. It’s very easy to import your images, and once you’re done editing, you can choose from a range of export options. Want to post your shots straight to Facebook? No problem with DarkTable.
It’s a non-destructive editing tool, with cool options like curves adjustment, automation options, and split toning. At first, it seems similar to Lightroom in that you use sliders to alter your image, but the interface is a little complicated. You’ll have to spend some time creating new workflows to adapt to DarkTable’s tools and panels.
This software is quick and responsive, but it can be buggy at times. You can use DarkTable to edit your photos and even set up automations to shorten your editing time, but be prepared for the less streamlined interface. Spend some time watching tutorials to get the most out of this editing program.
Another free tool, RawTherapee is first and foremost a RAW processor with some editing capabilities. RawTherapee offers excellent RAW processing for a free, open source tool, but the lack of digital asset management lets this program down.
There’s no option to sort your catalogues automatically with RawTherapee. This leaves you with the option to do it manually or use another tool to do it for you. While this is quite frustrating, once your photos are organised into folders, RawTherapee will allow you to select ratings, colours, and more.
If you’re a Lightroom user, RawTherapee’s workflow will seem familiar. You can use it for basic editing functions, but it doesn’t have the same wide range of features as other high-end products. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best Lightroom free alternatives.
Adobe Bridge has been around even before Lightroom was on the scene. Many photographers started off using the free Adobe Bridge app with Photoshop as their go-to editing workflow. But if you’re looking for a cheap alternative to Lightroom, you can sign up for a free account with Adobe and use this instead.
Compatible with both Mac and Windows, Bridge allows you to catalogue and sort your photos so you can find them easily. You can do this by adding star ratings, creating folders, and adding keywords.
Take note, however: There’s no editing tools or RAW processing capability within this app. It fits the bill if you’re just looking for a DAM, but it won’t replace Lightroom entirely. It works best alongside something like Photoshop.
DxO Photolab is a cool tool for photographers which is available with no subscription. DxO offer two versions, the Essential program and the Elite program. We’d recommend going for the Elite option if you’re a professional photographer. The range of powerful tools you get is definitely worth it.
This company has developed a new, easy U Point Local Adjustment Technology to make it easier than ever to edit your photos. You can also correct flaws, denoise your images, and edit with manual and automatic options. While this Windows/Mac program is smooth and fast, the interface feels a bit cluttered and overwhelming.
However, this is a sturdy alternative to Lightroom and Photoshop, offering impressive editing tools and full asset management for all your images. It’s also easier to use with a small learning curve. With a free trial available, what’s not to like?
ACDSee Photo Studio Professional
ACDSee Photo Studio is like a unique amalgamation of both Photoshop and Lightroom, compatible with Windows/Mac. Costing just $134.95 for the lifetime license, this is one of the more inexpensive photo management and editing programs around. It’s also available in a subscription with 3 other apps, including the ACDSee Video Convertor and Video Studio for $8.99/month.
What makes this such a good Lightroom alternative are the fantastic cataloguing tools you can use to organise your images. It’s fast and powerful, with awesome new tools like face recognition, batch processing, keyword management, and duplicate finding. The RAW editing mode supports shots from 500+ cameras.
It also has many of the same editing tools for local adjustments that Lightroom contains. The Liquify tool, especially, is a great addition to your workflow, allowing you to grab and move a small group of pixels without altering them.
This app is a viable Lightroom alternative, and it’s a brilliant budget option for the lifetime license. If you’re not sure, there are trial versions on the website so you can give it a test run.
Capture One Pro
Capture One is one of the rising stars in the photo editing niche, offering a range of different products for professional photographers. Boasting an incredible range of features, Capture One Pro is a fair alternative to Lightroom, and even surpasses its capabilities in some cases.
Capture One Pro is one of the top programs for RAW photo rendering – it beats competitors like Luminar 4 and Lightroom, hands down. What’s more, it offers impressive advanced features for colour manipulation, editing in layers, and tethered shooting.
You can customise the interface to meet your needs, which is a great advantage. The workflow is very different from within Lightroom, so there will naturally be an initial adjustment period if you decide to make the switch.
We think that Capture One Pro is a brilliant Lightroom alternative for professional photographers. If you’re still a beginner, you may find the variety of tools and features overwhelming. Tempted by what you’ve heard? You can download a 30-day free trial version to have a play around and decide if you like what you see!
Luminar 4 is highly regarded among both amateur and professional users. Skylum is breaking ground in the photography industry now with their incredible AI tools and intelligent, one-click presents called ‘Looks’. Luminar 4 is available for pre-order right now at a discounted rate, due for release in November 2019.
Luminar is a standalone program containing everything you need to edit and sort your photos. With Luminar 3, Skylum introduced the new Luminar Library system to organise, catalogue, and sort your shots for you, quickly and automatically. You can save time and create jaw-dropping images with the one-click presets and filters included, as well as reduce noise, sharpen images, and more.
Luminar is a top budget option, coming in at around $69 or slightly more with a collection of presets. However, make sure you double check the price – they often run discounts, making it even more affordable.
Affinity Photo is another excellent contender for the title of best alternative to Lightroom. While you may not have heard of Affinity Photo as it’s still pretty new on the scene, it has a fantastic set of tools that every photographer will love to use on Windows/Mac.
Affinity is a non-destructive photo editing tool, with cool advanced functions like focus stacking, panorama stitching, and HDR merging. It’s also possible to do quick and easy local adjustments, and the batch processing tool is incredible ansd will definitely save you time. We also loved the noise reduction feature and the fact that advanced lens correction is also included.
The main drawback with this program is the slow import time. You’ll need plenty of patience to wait while all your images load up before you can get stuck into editing. Nevertheless, this is an all-round amazing software for photographers.
ON1 Photo RAW
ON1 Photo RAW users rate it for the super speedy RAW processing and brilliant cataloguing tools. Offering high-end photo editing functions similar to Photoshop, you can alter your images in layers. It’s even better than Lightroom, as you can do everything within one app, rather than switching to Photoshop halfway through the editing process.
ON1 Photo RAW allows you to edit non-destructively, and you don’t have to import your photos either. Just navigate to the relevant folder on your laptop and you’re good to go, saving you lots of time. There’s a free trial, so you can check out the one-click presets and cool Merge functions, including panorama and HDR editing.
The main disadvantages of using ON1 Photo RAW is the lack of geotagging ability and AI tools like Luminar offers. However, it’s still one of the best apps for photo management and editing around, all for less than the cost of a year’s subscription to Lightroom.
If you’re looking for a simple, cloud-based app you can use to keep your images organised, Google Photos fits the bill. Don’t expect to be able to do any advanced editing tasks here, and it’s only available in browser rather than as a desktop version. But if you want access to your photos on the go, from all your devices, why not check out Google Photos? One amazing feature we like is that it automatically adds your keywords for you.
The main drawbacks to using Google Photos (other than the lack of editing tools) is that there’s no RAW processing feature. Also, if you want to load up a massive batch of images at once, you’ll find that it’s a slow process.
Lightroom Alternative FAQ
Still have some burning questions about Lightroom and the best alternatives? Here’s where you’ll find the answers!
What can I use instead of Lightroom?
You’ll find that there’s a wide variety of free and paid alternatives to Lightroom, although some are more powerful and intuitive than others. Our top recommendations are Affinity Photo, Luminar 3, and Capture One Pro for paid editing tools. Free Lightroom alternatives include DarkRoom and RawTherapee.
Is there a free alternative to Lightroom?
Yes, there are free alternatives to Lightroom. Two of the best free photo editing tools are DarkRoom and RawTherapee. Check out their full reviews above!
Is Affinity Photo a replacement for Lightroom?
Affinity Photo is one of the best Lightroom alternatives you can buy. This superb software offers both basic and advanced tools and is suitable for anyone from beginners to pro photographers. Find the full review of Affinity Photo above!
Can I just buy Lightroom Classic?
It’s no longer possible to just buy Lightroom Classic. Adobe no longer sells any of their standalone programs anywhere, so you’ll need to sign up for a subscription to get access to Lightroom. With their Photography plan, you get access to Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and 20GB of cloud storage, all for $9.99/month.
With the costly Adobe CC subscription making Lightroom too expensive for many budget and professional photographers, more and more people are looking for alternatives. With both free and premium image editing tools and DAM softwares available, we’ve made it easy for you to choose the best option for your needs.
You won’t go wrong with any of our recommended programs. Just make sure you know whether you’re looking for an application to organise and catalogue your images, or you want a full editing suite too.
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New Zealand travel photographer based in London, UK. He was taking photos from a very young age in the backcountry of New Zealand before moving abroad. Since doing so he has taken workshops and tried to help get as many people into this art as possible. Featured in NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz and many photography publications it’s safe to say he loves his photography!