Best Lightroom Alternative
Are you looking for a Lightroom Alternative which offers great image editing/organization features but without the monthly costs?
A few years ago, Adobe rocked the creative world by introducing a monthly subscription plan for all its Creative Cloud (CC) apps.
Some photographers begrudgingly accepted the change and paid for the upgrade. Many others started to look elsewhere…
At A Glance: Our Top 5 Picks for Best Lightroom Alternatives
We've done in-depth reviews of all the different photo editing software which you can find elsewhere on Shotkit – this guide gives you our summarised recommendations.
So what are the 5 best Lightroom alternatives in 2020 ?
Best Lightroom Alternatives in January 2020
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Luminar came onto the scene a few years ago as an affordable and simple image 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.
First iterations weren't great, but thankfully, Skylum has really pulled its socks up since then! The most recent release of Luminar 4 here in January 2020 is quite frankly mind-blowing.
I write about it more in my Luminar 4 review, but in a nut shell, version 4 is a viable alternative to Lighroom that offers some truly incredible features.
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, Luminar 4 features a decent DAM (Digital Asset Manager), meaning you can organise all your images into folders and collections – just like with Lightroom.
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 2020 is its simplicity.
For those familiar with Lightroom, the editing panels in Luminar look almost identical – all the main adjustments for RAW development 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.
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.
So 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.
PRICE: Varies – check latest price here >>
ON1 Photo RAW is a bit like a mixture of Lightroom and Photoshop. It includes all the main image organization and editing features of Lightroom, and adds on editing tools like content aware fill, layer masks, cloning and various others.
Editing is based on layers (like Photoshop), and it's certainly nice to be able to get all your edits done in the same piece of software.
I particularly like the browser-based system, which lets you navigate to any folder on your computer to view and edit photos – no need to import photos like with Lightroom, whose asset management can be confusing to new users.
One thing that can be said for On1's Raw Photo editor, is that it comes with a couple of nifty features that aren't often found in other comparable software at this price point.
These include various Photo Merge functions, such as HDR, Panorama and Focus Stacking. Neither Captrue One nor Luminar have HDR or Pano features, and Lightroom lacks focus stacking – its arguable whether most photographers require these features, but it's still nice to know they're there.
Then there's Portrait Mode, which automatically finds faces, and creates a separate mask and adjustment panel for each one. Lightroom has no such feature, requiring you to open the image in Photoshop (or use a 3rd party plugin) for any portrait-specific edits.
A huge advantage of ON1 Photo RAW over its competition, and one of the key factors in its popularity as as one of the best Lightroom alternatives, is the ability to use Layers.
Similar to Photoshop, Layers allow you to edit various specific elements in your image non-destructively, keeping them separate from all your other edits. It also allows you to add Text to an image to create banners or other marketing material – Lightroom doesn't give this option.
Similar to Luminar, ON1 uses a database for photo organization, while Lightroom uses a catalog system. You don't need to import photos into ON1 – they're already there the moment you boot up the program, which is a great touch.
As for artificial intelligence features, ON1 Photo RAW still lags way behind Luminar 4, but still offers the AI Quick Mask, which is actually quite impressive, saving lots of time when making multiple selections.
Similar to Lightroom, On1 comes bundled with presets that offer one-click edits to your photos. However, the presets don't adjust automatically depending on the content of your photo like they do with Luminar's ‘Looks'.
Above all, ON1 Photo RAW is the only real ‘one-stop-shop' photo editor available here in 2020 – it includes pretty much everything most photographers would ever need in one place. It's also much faster than Lightroom, especially when merging multiple photos.
Things that it lacks include multiple AI powered editing tools, slideshows, geotagging, and online album compatibility.
Then there's the RAW photo rendering, which isn't quite as good as Lightroom or Luminar, and leagues behind Capture One.
Another slight annoyance is the inability to backup ON1's database simply. Unlike Adobe Lightroom, the database is not stored in a single file – it's a collection of image edits, preferences, and presets spread across multiple files. This could be especially confusing for a beginner.
Best of all though, is the price of ON1 – click the button below for the latest offers, but suffice to say, it's usually great value for money… especially when compared to a subscription model like you know who ;-)
PRICE: Varies – check latest price here >>
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 2020, Capture One Pro is the tool to use.
With its latest release, Capture One Pro 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 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 Lightrom, 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.
You can check out our full Capture One review for more info, or click the button below to play around with a free trial for yourself.
PRICE: Varies – check latest price here >>
DxO PhotoLab 2 is an image editor app that some photographers choose over Lightroom due to its powerful RAW processing engine.
Available at two different price points as ‘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 is excellent in DxO PhotoLab 2, with the software detecting the imported RAW file and downloading any modules (profiles) for the files.
The non-destructive editing is smooth and fast but the interface is a little cluttered and confusing. Also exports of multiple images is rather slow.
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 below 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 an open source photography workflow app and raw developer that's runs on various operating systems, most recently Windows too. It's also one of the few Lightroom alternatives that's 100% unpaid.
Being open source, users can contribute to improving the editing tools, but it also means that some things can be a little buggy too.
Importing photos is easy and will be familiar to anyone coming from Lightroom. Once imported, you can use a range of sliders to perform non-destructive edits to your files, again, very similar to Lr.
I have to say that there's a significant learning curve with Darktable, and the panels are rather too abundant and cluttered for my liking. You'll definitely need to spend some time reading up on the various tutorials to learn how to use each function properly.
A few key tools from Lightroom are missing, such as adjustment brushes (unless I missed them!) and other tools to edit specific parts of the photo. These may not be needed for some users, but there'll come a point where you'll want a little more.
Making adjustments to each image is similar to Lightroom, and all the main sliders are there for you to control the various aspects of the edit. Speed wise it's actually quite impressive – I was expecting much worse from freely available open source software.
I do miss the ability to lazily adjust just one slider to give a photo ‘pop' – obviously killer A.I. features offered in software like Luminar can never be implemented in software that has no budget for R&D!
I don't feel all that comfortable recommending open source software to organise and edit all your most precious photos. The program was quite stable when I tested it on my Mac, but I prefer the security of software that's been rigorously tested and has a support team – even if it does mean paying.
If you don't mind spending some time learning and experimenting to achieve what you want, Darktable could be a decent alternative to paying for Lightroom.
Remember, though – there's no useful mobile app integration like there is with Lr.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best alternative to Lightroom?
If you're looking 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 catalog and manage your photos from within the software much like you can with Lightroom.
Is there an unpaid alternative to Lightroom?
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 offer a free Lightroom trial which lasts for seven days.
Can Luminar replace Lightroom?
Skylum's Luminar isn't identical to Lightroom, but it is our pick as the closest and best alternative program. 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.
Final Words | Lightroom Alternatives
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.