Best Lightroom Alternative
Are you looking for a Lightroom Alternative which offers great image editing and organization features, but without any monthly costs?
A few years ago, Adobe shocked the creative world by introducing a monthly subscription plan for all its Creative Cloud apps.
Many photographers accepted the change and paid for the upgrade, happy to have the convenient cloud storage and cross-device photo editing capabilities of Lightroom CC.
Many others started to look elsewhere…
At a glance:
This guide features our summarised recommendations of the best photo editing software in 2021, which can be bought for a one-time fee.
We also include the top free Lightroom alternative options for photographers who aren’t ready to invest in paid software.
Table of Contents
1. Skylum Luminar 4
Luminar 4 Special Offer
Save $15 by using coupon code SHOTKIT15 when purchasing Luminar 4.
Luminar came onto the scene a few years ago as an affordable and simple image processing and editing software for users looking for a way to get their images looking great with minimal fuss.
It arrived at the perfect time when photographers of all levels were starting to look for a viable Lightroom alternative – see our full review.
First iterations weren’t great, but thankfully, Skylum has really pulled its socks up since then! The most recent release of Luminar 4.1 here in September 2021 is quite frankly mind-blowing.
I write about it more in my full review, but in a nutshell, version 4 is a viable Lightroom alternative that offers some truly incredible features. If you want to dive deeper, you should check Luminar 4 vs Lightroom comparison that will help you understand the differences in both the editors.
Headline artificial-intelligence (A.I.) powered features include the ability to replace the entire sky of your landscape photo, or enhance the skin in a portrait photo… all just with one click.
Look at my video below where I used a JPEG of the Eiffel Tower found on the Internet to test Luminar’s capabilities – it made the sky replacement edit in just one-click, and every gap in the tower shows the new sky perfectly:
Another new feature to Luminar 4 is the AI Portrait Enhancer, which helps you to do the work of a portrait photo retoucher in seconds – removing blemishes from the face of your subject, whitening their eyes and teeth, or even making their faces slimmer, can all be done in a few mouse clicks.
Then there’s the AI Structure tool that helps to give your images an instant ‘pop’, by improving on areas of your photo that could look richer and leaving everything else in its natural state.
Adobe Lightroom, by contrast, offers very few A.I. editing features – any ‘pop’ you want to give your photos, needs to be done manually. (There’s no one-click solution, other than presets, but these don’t change based on the image.)
Another incredibly powerful editing feature of Luminar 4 is the ability to add Sunrays to your photos, again with just one click – the most amazing thing is that the sunbeams change depending on what object is ‘in front’ of them in the photo!
AI Enhance is similar to Lightroom’s Clarity and Dehaze sliders, but by using artificial intelligence, Luminar 4 is able to automatically find elements like your sky, or people, and adjust them accordingly.
(Lightroom, on the other hand, will apply its edits to the entire image, requiring you to manually mask things out.)
Luminar 4 makes it simple for a non-professional photographer to turn a bland photo into something a pro would be proud of. It’s a real eye-opener, whatever your standard… and thankfully it has an affordable price tag.
There are over 60 great editing features of Luminar 4, but what about image management?
Thankfully, there’s a decent DAM (Digital Asset Manager), meaning you can organise all your images into folders and collections, although it’s still a long way off Lightroom in this respect.
One huge advantage of Luminar’s library feature is that it can mirror your hard drive – i.e. if you move or rename your images or folders outside of Luminar, it will adjust its catalog accordingly.
This makes the Luminar Libraries feature extremely easy to use – if you know how to use OSX Finder or Windows Explorer to organise your folders, you already know how to use Luminar’s library.
The ease of use doesn’t end there – adding punch to your photos is literally only a click away, with over 70 great looking presets (‘Looks’) available to use.
Even the name ‘Looks’ makes it obvious to us what they do, and its simple to create and share your own ones.
Aside from all the great features, the main benefit of Luminar over Lightroom and all the other image editors available in 2021 is its simplicity.
For those familiar with Lightroom, the editing panels in Luminar look almost identical – all the main adjustments for RAW files are there, including more advanced features like Curves and LUT Mapping.
One thing we haven’t even mentioned yet is the attractive price of Luminar 4 – depending on when you read this guide, you may even be able to get a Luminar 4 discount.
Then there’s the recent updates, which brought several new features including:
- Atmospheric Haze – usually seen during the day, natural-looking haze can be added with one click to images,
- Erase tool -using an all-new technology for precise object removal. Removing unwanted pixels is easier than ever, even with complicated backgrounds or complex gradients.
- Portrait Enhancer – can now be used on even more images, including those with smaller faces like groups or environmental portraits.
- Adjustments Amount slider – tone down an adjustment with even more control, helping you blend all the editing tools with the original image.
- Lightroom and Photoshop Support – allows you to use Luminar 4.1 as a plugin or as a Smart Filter with Smart Objects.
Speed-wise, Luminar isn’t so great for is when you need to edit multiple large RAW files quickly – e.g. the 40MB+ files from the Sony a7RIII take a few seconds to load and cache. Performance depends heavily on the size of the original file, and your computer hardware.
Also, you can’t import your Lightroom .xmp and sidecar files into Luminar – only basic camera metadata. This is a bit of a power-user case for asset management and won’t be relevant to most people, but it still should be mentioned.
Finally, there were complaints about crashes and performance issues with the initial release, but thankfully, with the v4.1.0 update earlier this year, the majority of the issues have been fixed (read our Luminar AI review here if you want something faster.)
All in all, I recommend you buy Luminar 4 if you’re looking for a great Lightroom alternative and its costly subscription plan, especially if you consider ease of use and powerful one-click features important to your image editing.
2. Exposure X6
Exposure X6 Special Offer
Save 10% by using coupon code SHOTKIT217 when purchasing Exposure X6.
While the aforementioned Luminar 4 is, without doubt, a fantastic alternative to Lightroom, it does fall short of being a complete replacement, lacking certain file management features that professional photographers rely on.
Thankfully, it works well in conjunction with Lightroom (as a plugin), but what about those of us who want something to replace Lr completely?
The answer lies in a popular product by Exposure Software (review), now in its 6th iteration.
Exposure X6 is an advanced image editing app that rivals Lightroom Classic, with powerful features, intuitive controls and ease of use, all for one affordable fee (i.e. not a subscription).
As a fully-featured RAW image editing software, Exposure X6 offers all the photo manipulation and file-management tools for advanced photographers, while still being simple enough for beginners to start using right away.
(It can also be used as a plugin for Lightroom, but we recommend ditching Adobe completely in favour of X6, to save on those monthly fees.)
Those transitioning from Lr will find the Exposure workspace very similar, with an additional benefit – panels and editing tools can be completely customized to suit your needs.
Unlike the convoluted multi-module set up of Lightroom Classic, there’s only one workspace in X6, meaning there’s no need to jump around from file management to photo editing – everything is in one place.
Compare this to Lr, where any movement from the Library to Develop module is accompanied by an annoying delay, and you’ll quickly fall in love with the single-module set up of X6.
Another unique feature of Exposure is the ability to import photos directly from your computer’s internal storage or from external drives – you can even drag and drop them in.
Files aren’t copied or moved away from their original location – they are simply accessed from there by Exposure X6, which allows you to create Collections to further manage your images.
Incidentally, migrating images from an existing Lightroom catalogue is simple, with all existing edits, stars, flags, keywords and other metadata included with the files.
Filtering in Exposure is a breeze, with the ability to quickly find your images based on all the usual variables.
One handy feature is the ability to collaborate on image editing, via a cloud-based service such as Dropbox. This allows you to access your edits on multiple computers, or give access to your team if you shoot as part of a studio.
Lovers of presets won’t be disappointed, either – Exposure X6 features a range of different styles, allowing you to preview multiple looks before applying the one that takes your fancy – something Lightroom doesn’t offer.
You can read our full review for a breakdown of the main editing tools, but suffice to say, nothing is missing, and there are some nice additions that don’t appear elsewhere, such as a handy Skin Exposure tool.
Another useful feature is the 3D Colour Masking tool, which allows you to create and control a mask based on hue, saturation and vibrance.
Then there’s the ‘bokeh tool’, which allows you to apply various shapes of out of focus area to your image, to simulate shallow depth of field.
Performance-wise, Exposure is fast to import and export images, and suffers from very little lag while editing, even on heavy RAW files.
Best of all, perhaps, is its price. At the time of writing, you can pick up Exposure for only $119, with no hidden subscription fees whatsoever.
(If you use the coupon code SHOTKIT217 at checkout, you can save an additional 10%.)
All in all, Exposure is an impressive piece of software that should fulfil all your needs as a photographer seeking a way to interact with your images, and produce stunning results.
3. ON1 Photo RAW 2021
ON1 Photo RAW Special Offer
Save 20% by using coupon code SHOTKIT when purchasing ON1 Photo RAW.
ON1 Photo RAW is another of our favorite alternatives, and the 2021 version brings in a number of new features (see review).
Like Luminar, it combines an image organizer, Raw processor, layered editor, and effects app all in one. The user interface isn’t as simple or as streamlined as Luminar and there’s definitely a higher learning curve, but ON1 comes with a number of features that advanced users might appreciate.
The first is their excellent photo management and library system, which is browser-based – there’s no need to import images – but what sets it apart is its extensive search features.You can locate your images by searching by keyword, metadata, date, and even the time the image was taken. This is crucial to those of us who depend on our metadata for finding and managing our photos. You can also create custom camera profiles with the new X-Rite Camera Profiler.
You won’t have the options for backups or the overall flexibility of Lightroom’s catalog system, but that’s to be expected in a database-style system
The develop module is structured much like Lightroom, and as mentioned before will seem a bit more complex to those new to photo editing. That being said, ON1 has all the photo adjustments you would expect from a Lightroom replacement, including excellent AI auto options for tone.
ON1 Photo RAW 2021 features a new AI Match feature which will take any custom settings you used to take a photo in-camera and match them RAW conversion the program renders. – invaluable if you like the effects that come with your camera.
ON1’s Effects module includes a couple of proprietary filters, including ‘Weather’, which lets you add rain or snow to an image.
As for artificial intelligence, ON1 Photo RAW has added a number of new features but still lags a bit behind Luminar 4. That being said, ON1 is planning to release a number of new AI Integrations soon, including AI sky replacement, faster photo organization, AI object recognition, and AI skin retouching.
The AI available now is – AI Match, AI auto Tone and AI Quick Mask – and all work admirably.
In fact, ON1’s AI Quick Mask is quite impressive. Used well, it can save quite a bit of time when making multiple selections.
Many of today’s Lightroom competitors come with layer functionality and ON1 is no exception. These work much the same as Photoshop and inPixio, with masks, blend modes, and an easy way to merge layers.
Speaking of layers, both Lr and ON1 Photo Raw have HDR and Panorama options, but ON1 also has Focus Stacking. (Neither Capture One nor Luminar has HDR or Pano.) Not everyone uses these features, but if you do and want an all-in-one editor, ON1 has an edge up on the competition here.
As far as portrait editing is concerned, ON1 has long been at the top of the field for its price point. Portrait Mode automatically finds faces and creates a separate mask/adjustment panel for each one. From there you can adjust the skin, eyes, and mouth of each individually.
ON1 also has several quality built-in presets. Also, the latest version added over 100 new looks, as well as a number of new backgrounds, textures, and skies.
For those who want prints, ON1 Photo RAW now has a print module that adds some serious functionality to the app. It comes with a number of templates, including various options for individual prints, contact sheets, and tiled package prints. It also lets you add watermarks before you print.
Other new features include SmugMug integration, better noise reduction, an excellent map view mode, new timeline albums, and a new focus mask overlay so you can tell which photos are in focus. If you want to invest further, there’s even a new ON1 cloud sync service and mobile app – ON1 360.
All in all, ON1 Photo RAW is the only real ‘one-stop-shop’ photo editor available here in 2021. Just about everything most photographers would ever need is here one place. It’s faster than Lightroom, offers more search power than Luminar, does photo merging, has print options, and even allows for text to be added.
Best of all though, is the price of ON1 – it’s great value for money… especially when compared to a subscription model like you know who ;-)
4. Capture One Pro 21
Capture One Special Offer
Save 10% by using coupon code SHOTKIT10 when purchasing Capture One.
When discussing Lightroom alternatives, any serious photographer needs to consider Capture One Pro. However, this is a software that’s reserved more for professional photographers, for two main reasons: 1) it’s got a rather steep learning curve; 2) it’s geared towards tethered shooting/collaborative workflow.
Having said that, if you’re a pro who’s looking for something with better imaging capabilities than Lightroom and the other photo editing software available in 2021, Capture One Pro is the tool to use. (See also our Capture One vs Lightroom guide for a more in-depth comparison.)
With its latest release, Capture One Pro 21 offers exceptional RAW image file processing, image cataloging, layers, local adjustments, keystone adjustments, as well as just about all the features one would expect out of a pro image editing app.
There are a few different programs available including both free and paid. The paid versions all have a free 30-day trial period, so it’s a good idea to download them and have a play around.
If you shoot with a Sony or Fujifilm camera, there are specific versions of the software, making colour management even more efficient. There are also usually discounts on these versions.
Viewing your photos in Capture One Pro (review) is an eye-opener, thanks to colour profiles which are tailored for every camera. With Lightroom, imported files have a more neutral starting point.
Capture One Pro has more ways to manipulate colour than Lightroom, allowing you to make colour balance changes to shadow, mid-tone and highlights, and a channel dedicated to skin tones.
Take a look at the video below to see how a talented portrait photographer uses the software to edit all his high-end fashion portraits. You’d be forgiven for thinking he’s using Photoshop – the edits are that intricate.
Capture One’s Color Balance tool is more like color grading. Unlike most other editing programs, it doesn’t limit you to the 8-color HSL panel – the Pick Color tool allows you to pick any color or color range in the photo.
From there you can adjust the affected color range, hue, saturation and lightness. The 3-Way option even lets you adjust the color tint separately in the shadow, midtone and highlight areas.
Need to smooth out the skin tones? No problem. Simply choose the Skin Tone tab, select a color range, and adjust the uniformity sliders.
As for its interface, you can configure it to be quite similar to Lightroom, but there’ll still be quite a steep learning curve – this is a software intended to be used by professional photographers, after all.
Unlike Lightroom, Capture One doesn’t offer different workspaces for different functions (i.e. library, develop, etc.). Instead, everything sits in one interface and you toggle through buttons to change functions – this mixed asset management can be confusing at first.
Fans of Lightroom’s autocorrect features won’t be disappointed, since Capture One offers all of them, and actually improves on their performance.
There are tons of adjustment options, many of which the average photographer would never use. If you thought Lightroom was tricky to master, just wait till you start exploring the capabilities of C1!
If you’re a photographer who shoots tethered to a computer, Capture One Pro is much more reliable and fast than Lightroom. This is no surprise since tethered shooting functionality is one of the main reasons the software was developed.
Like Photoshop but unlike Lightroom, Capture One Pro allows you to edit in layers. Lightroom only has adjustment points for brushes or gradients.
When you use layers in Capture One Pro, you can make targeted local adjustments to your photos and still use the majority of the editing tools available, not just the ones in a given tool. This is a huge benefit for those who like a fine level of control over photo manipulation.
Really, we’re only scraping the surface of the capabilities of this incredibly powerful image editor.
In summary, if you’re a pro who needs the most accurate editing capabilities, or are lucky enough to own a digital MF camera, Capture One Pro will help you get the most out of every image. For everyone else, however, it may be slightly overkill.
Click the button above to play around with a free trial for yourself.
5. DxO PhotoLab 4
DxO PhotoLab is an image editor app that some photographers choose over Lightroom due to its powerful RAW processing engine.
Available at two different photo editing programs: ‘Essentials’ or ‘Elite’, you’ll definitely want the Elite version if you’re a pro photographer – stand out features for most users include the new denoising RAW tool, ClearView, anti-moire tool and a presets editor.
Updates and support for new cameras and lenses are excellent in DxO PhotoLab 4, with the software detecting the imported RAW file and downloading any modules (profiles) for the files.
The non-destructive editing is smooth and fast, and version 4 brings a number of useful features, including:
- DeepPrime: demosaicing and denoising technology based on artificial intelligence and trained with deep learning.
- Smart Workspace: dynamic interface with a simpler workflow with batch renaming.
- Advanced History: editing history tool to scroll back to different moments in the editing process.
- Selective Copy Paste: synchronises the settings of several similar images by applying individual edits from one photo to another.
- Instant Watermarking: add watermarks directly to your photos.
You can do many of the same things in DXO PhotoLab as you can in Lightroom with regards to image management and editing individual images, but for any ‘layer-based’ edits, you’ll need to resort to other software.
Without wanting to make this guide too long, it’s best to click the button above to visit the DXO website to read more about the software and download a free trial. Then you can see if it’s really the best Lightroom alternative for your needs.
Darktable is our choice of the top free Lightroom alternative. Like Lightroom, this app has a full-featured image adjustment suite and extensive library management options.
It also includes Raw processing for over 400 cameras as well as look-up tables and tethered-shooting support – pretty impressive for a 100% free app!
As far as the UI is concerned, Darktable looks a lot like Lightroom. This can be a bit confusing if you’re used to Lightroom, as you’ll probably expect things to be in the same places. They’re not, which can make it a bit maddening.
If you’re not coming from Lightroom, though, the learning curve will be a bit easier. Still, the UI can be confusing enough that it’s best to start with any one of the excellent “getting started with Darktable” tutorials out there.
Once you get used to the interface you can fully customize Darktable, setting it up for just the editing tools you want to use. You can also set up automatic scripts to seriously streamline your workflow, and make repetitive tasks fast and more efficient. (That’s something Lightroom doesn’t have!)
Speaking of tutorials, Darktable comes with excellent free documentation. There’s a whole host of user support forums, video tutorials, and instructional posts out there. It’s also continually being updated, with many talented open-source programmers working on it.
Professional photographers might have an issue with Darktable’s less-than-Lightroom ability to recover shadows and highlights, but most users won’t really notice the difference.
Another issue is that Darktable’s DAM can’t handle libraries with tens of thousands of photos – at least on its own. You can see more differences in our comparison here.
Pro Tip: If you have a library with over 10,000 photos, it’s better to run another image management program alongside this app. (Most open source folks choose Digikam.)
Overall, though, this is the most developed of all the open-source free Lightroom alternatives and is well worth trying out. It’s available for Mac, Windows and Linux.
7. Raw Therapee
Next in line, and a close second is the free photo editing app RawTherapee, available for Mac, Windows and Linux.
RawTherapee has all the standard editing features needed in a Raw editor and includes advanced color controls and lens corrections.
Among RawTherapee’s numerous strong points are exceptional demosaicing, multiple denoising methods, and batch processing,
The Raw processing in RawTherapee is spectacular for a free app, and the program has a strong, devoted Fujifilm user following. (Fujifilm Raw files are notoriously challenging to render well.) In fact, many users prefer RawTherapee’s outputs to the other free alternatives, and everything runs just as fast as Lightroom.
There’s also what seems like an infinite ability to fine-tune adjustments. This can get in the way if you’re needing to edit quickly (i.e. use a single slider), but if you’re wanting full control it has more options than Lightroom.
Also, if English is not your strong suit, RawTherapee is available in over 25 languages and will soon have more – very impressive, especially considering this is a completely free app – something not offered by Lightroom.
One place where RawTherapee really lags, though, is easy-to-find documentation. You have to really dig to find decent tutorials on it, and like some of the other free apps, the UI isn’t the most intuitive when you’re first getting started.
Still, with the recent releases providing “hundreds of bug fixes, speed optimizations and raw format support improvements,” RawTherapee is many photographers’ free Lightroom-like photo editor of choice.
Should you choose it over the aforementioned app, and is it really a decent Lightroom alternative? Have a play around with them and see which one suits your workflow.
If you’re up for trying something a bit different, LightZone is another fair option as a free Lightroom alternative, available for Mac, Windows and Linux.
Originally developed as commercial software, LightZone was later taken up by the LightZone Project as free software in 2013.
There are definitely some strong conceptual differences between LightZone and other Lightroom-style apps.
One is its concept of Zone Mapping, which allows for selective adjustments via a unique layer-based system. Another is its Relight tool. These two tools alone have won LightZone a number of die-hard fans.
One place that LightZone is known to excel, is in black-and-white photo processing. Its unusual tonal adjustment tools can really make B/W images pop.
As far as other features are concerned, Lightzone has a just a basic DAM, but a strong Raw file converter and a pleasing UI. The photo adjustment tools work as layers and are both movable and stackable, with different blending modes available (much like adjustment layers in Photoshop).
If you’re a fan of using layers to edit, LightZone will be a breath of fresh air. Originally, LightZone was a pioneer in using vector-based selective editing and making precise selections is quite easy.
(Personally, I find painting in my selections both inaccurate and time-consuming and find it a huge annoyance in Luminar.)
Another plus to LightZone is that it has plenty of detailed documentation and an active user forum.
Overall though, LightZone has fewer features than either Darktable or RawTherapee. This can be a plus or a minus, depending on what you’re looking for. It definitely makes it easier to learn.
The main reasons to consider LightZone are 1) you’re into B/W photography, 2) you love their unique Zone Mapping and Relight tools, and 3) i’s UI works well with your workflow.
If you’re looking for a Windows-only image editor with a strong catalog feature, IrfanView is worth taking a look at. It’s not quite as sleek as some of the other free Lightroom alternative options here, but it has an amazing amount of features.
Named after its creator, Irfan Škiljan, IrfanView does everything from Raw conversion and image editing to image creation and painting. It can handle just about any graphic file format, even music and video files. (If you’re looking for a video editing alternative to Adobe After Effects, see here.)
Editing-wise, IrfanView comes with all the standard photo adjustment tools one would expect, including decent Raw image rendering. It’s also easy to apply filters and effects.
One unusual element of IrfanView, when compared to other image editors at least, is its small size. It takes up very few system resources and that makes it operate phenomenally fast, even when working with large image sizes.
For batch editing, IrfanView is especially speedy. It can literally process several hundred photos in less than an hour.
As mentioned before, the cataloging feature is stronger than the other programs mentioned here (with the exception of Digikam, which is only a photo organizer).
With IrfanView’s strong batch editing capabilities, you can also batch metadata, which some will find quite useful.
Other noteworthy elements include skinnable toolbars, support for plugins, exceptionally easy slideshow creation abilities, a lively forum community, and frequent updates. There’s also a simple set of paint tools that let you write and draw onto images.
The main place IrfanView is lacking is in its UI, which will seem outdated to most of us. Of course, this could be a plus for some, as it’s pretty easy to learn. But if you’re used to a sleek, modern look to your programs you’ll find yourself disappointed here.
IrfanView is free for non-commercial use. Commercial use requires paid registration.
10. Chasys Draw IES
Chasys Draw IES is a suite of free Windows image editing applications that covers just about everything you could need in working with images:
- Chasys Draw IES Artist: a layer-based image editor, complete with adjustment layers, icon editing, and image stacking.
- Chasys Draw IES Converter: a lightning-fast, multi-threaded image converter
- Chasys Draw IES Viewer: offering Raw conversion
The whole suite is UAC aware, which means it works well with touch-screens, multi-core processors, and pen-input devices. As one would expect, each of the programs also works seamlessly with each other.
Chasys Draw IES Artist, as the image editor of the suite, is the one most photographers will be interested in.
While most view it primarily as an image creation tool, it also has extensive photo adjustment capabilities, and if you dig deep enough, there should be enough editing tools to satisfy most (ex) Lightroom users.
Noise reduction, HDR, healing/clone stamp options, and multi-frame super-resolution is all available, both for single images and for image stacking.
The extensive support for RAW files in Chasys Draw IES Artist come from a fully integrated Camera RAW plug-in, with a number of different options for high-speed processing.
Other notable assets in Chasys Draw IES Artist include free-style layering, tablet/pen/stylus support with pressure control, image stacking for noise reduction and super-resolution, advanced printing options, and extensive plugin support – features that aren’t even present in the latest version of Lightroom.
These are just the photo-specific features. If you’re into image creation, there are way too many features to list here.
What’s more, this app is designed for professional use, with frequent updates and a strong community – many of whom used to own Lightroom, but have since opted for this free alternative.
All in all, Chasys Draw IES Artist prides itself on having a “radically different approach to image editing, resulting in distinctive character, speed and output quality.”
The main disadvantage of Chasys Draw IES Artist? Like Photoshop (and Lightroom to some extent) it has a steep learning curve. This is to be expected with an application with this many features, but if you’re just looking for image cataloguing/adjustments and/or you want something that’s easy to learn, maybe skip this one as a lightroom alternative.
11. Capture One Express
Capture One is one of the foremost professional Lightroom alternatives and most versions of it cost a pretty penny, but there are two that can be had for free: Capture One Express for Sony and Fuji users.
Capture One Express is a pared-down version of the main software, offering basic editing tools and a similar workflow to the Pro version, as well as offering pretty much all the basic tools as Lightroom.
Like the Pro version, Capture One Express still has exceptional Raw image rending (the best in the business if you ask me).
If you need Capture One Pro’s advanced features (luminosity masks, Advanced Color Editor, Local adjustments, Color Balance Tool etc.), you’ll probably find yourself a bit frustrated, however.
Simple things like HDR support and a vignette tool are missing from the Express version too – if you relied on those tools heavily in Lightroom, you may have to adopt one of the other free programs on this list to run in unison.
However, Capture One Express shares the same accurate color rendition as the Pro version, which has arguably always been better than that of Adobe Lightroom.
You’ll have to decide whether you need those particular features yourself, but if you’re a Sony or Fujifilm shooter, it has to be said – Express could well be the best free Lightroom alternative for you.
Available for Mac and Windows.
12. Apple Photos
Apple Photos, aka ‘Photos for macOS’ is an often overlooked free Lightroom alternative that comes bundled with every Apple computer.
Over the years, the Photos program has evolved into a fully-fledged non-destructive editing program and photo management tool with both basic and advanced tools for all level of photographers.
With the latest macOS Catalina release, Photos includes intuitive search options for image management and cataloging, powerful editing tools for local adjustments, and even cloud storage to ensure all your photos and videos are kept in sync with your Mac, Apple TV, iPhone, iPad and even your PC.
If you’re already an Apple device owner, using Photos to manage your images is a no-brainer. As with everything in the Apple ecosystem, everything ‘just works’. Photos even has the ability to hide duplicate photos, and ignore random screenshots and receipts that most people photograph using their iPhones.
Lightroom Classic and the Lightroom CC Mobile app have made it easier and easier to integrate with the photos you already take on your Apple device, but they’ll never be a totally ‘native’ solution like Photos.
Photos uses A.I. to highlight what it considers to be your ‘best shots’ with a larger preview, and any ‘Live Photos’ come to life as if you were viewing them on your mobile device – something that Lightroom, nor any of the other Lightroom alternatives can do.
Another nice touch is ‘Memories’, where the Photos app finds your best photos and videos and weaves them together into a short movie.
On the editing front, there’s all the main exposure adjustment tools, as well as a comprehensive set of powerful but easy-to-use tools to transform your photos. Again, as Photos is integrated so tightly with the iOS app, you’re even able to change lighting effects within the Mac program itself, or even the Live Photos into video loops – something no other alternative to Lightroom can accomplish, free or paid.
Professional photographers who want advanced tool or image management options may feel Photos falls a bit short, but as one of the truly free Lightroom alternatives, it’s hard to complain.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best Lightroom alternative for photo editing?
If you’re looking for a program that’s powerful and feature-packed and offers similar functionality to Lightroom, our top pick is Skylum’s Luminar app. As well as some impressive AI editing tools, Luminar has the advantage of a DAM (Digital Asset Manager). This means you can catalogue and manage your photos from within the software much like you can with Lightroom.
Is there a free Lightroom alternative?
Yes – though admittedly unpaid Lightroom alternatives don’t generally offer the same level of functionality as paid ones, nor do they offer a mobile app. If price is your main criteria, though, we’d recommend Darktable. It’s an Open Source alternative to Lightroom that offers a range of quality features at zero cost.
Can you get Adobe Lightroom for free?
You cannot get Lightroom for free, as it is only offered under a subscription payment model. However, Adobe offers a free Lightroom trial which lasts for seven days, and the Lightroom CC app is free for mobile users.
Can Luminar replace Lightroom?
Skylum’s Luminar isn’t identical to Lightroom, but it is our pick as the closest and best Lightroom alternative image editor. Like anything, both Lightroom and Luminar have their advantages and disadvantages – but on the whole, Luminar is a powerful and functional photo editing and image management software.
Lightroom Alternative | Final Words
I hope this guide to Lightroom alternatives has given you some ideas on the next program to use to edit and manage your images.
In summary, while viable alternatives do exist, there are usually some sacrifices to make – there’s a reason why Adobe Lightroom has been the industry standard program for users worldwide for so long.
Combined with its useful Apple and Android mobile app, its a fast way to get your RAW photos looking great.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.