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: Our Top 5 Picks for Best Lightroom Alternatives
This guide features our summarised recommendations of the best photo editing software in 2020, 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.
Best Lightroom Alternatives in 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 4.1 here in July 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 Lightroom alternative 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 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 4.1 update in Jan 2020, which brought with it 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.
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.
ON1 Photo RAW 2020 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, rather than switching when using a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop.
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 ;-)
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.
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.
Best Free Lightroom Alternatives
Darktable is our choice of the best 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 it, setting it up for just the 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 are 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.
Pro Tip: If you have a library with over 10,000 photos, it’s best to run another image manager 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.
6. 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 that 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 the best.
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 tool alone have won LightZone a number of die-hard fans.
One place that LightZone is know 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 when compared to programs like Luminar 4. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
You can check out our Capture One Pro Review, but in summary 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.
11. 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 pogram 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 images, 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 are ‘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 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 offer 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 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.