Best Lightroom Alternatives
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
While there are a couple of good free Lightroom alternative options, you get much better features, more regular updates, and consistent support if you invest in a paid option.
We’ve done in-depth reviews of all the different photo editing software available on Shotkit already – this guide gives you our summarised recommendations.
So what are the 5 best Lightroom alternatives in 2019 ?
Best Lightroom Alternatives in November 2019
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Luminar came onto the scene a few years ago as an affordable and simple image editing software for people 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 alternative to Adobe Lightroom.
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 November 2019 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 Lightroom 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.
Capturing sunrays in a photo effectively is notoriously difficult due the dynamic range limitations of modern cameras. Using software like Lightroom can help bring them out, but again, this requires expertise and several manual adjustments.
With Luminar 4, however, you’re able to add a source of sunlight and move it around your image – 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.)
Gold Hour is another powerful tool, allowing you to bring warm sunlight to your photos – this can help make people look warmer, and even adds golden accents to their hair!
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?
After all, many photographers looking for a true alternative to Lightroom are interested in how to organise photos efficiently.
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 mirrors your hard drive – i.e. if you move or rename your images or folders outside of Luminar, it will adjust its catalog accordingly.
This is a huge advantage of Luminar, and the total opposite to Lightroom which imports your folder structure, meaning any changes made outside of Lightroom won’t be mirrored inside it – cue the dreaded “Lightroom cannot find your photo” message that plagues ALL beginners!
(Even as a pro, I often forget about this and accidentally move or rename a folder on my laptop, then have to deal with tracking it down in Lightroom to re-associate the file – a real pain in the a**!)
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 2019 is its simplicity.
For those who don’t have time to watch hours of Lightroom tutorials, it’s the perfect solution – adjustments that make your photos go from dull to amazing are all just one-click or one-slider away.
As someone who’s spent years learning Lightroom, it’s almost a bit annoying that Luminar users are now able to achieve the same, or better results with hardly any effort!
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.
One thing 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.
The cache’d version of files can be bigger than the original, meaning that if you have very limited hard drive space on your computer, you may need to use external storage.
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 and won’t be relevant to most people, but it still should be mentioned.
Skylum (the guys behind Luminar 4) publish a ‘roadmap’ or forthcoming updates on their blog, so we can see exactly what to expect and when. Adobe on the other hand doesn’t do this for Lightroom.
So all in all, I recommend you buy Luminar 4 if you’re looking for a great alternative to Lightroom 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 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.
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 a Lightroom alternative, 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 2019 – 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 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. You’re still able to edit a RAW file and get to the same result as you would do using another piece of software… but it just can take a bit longer.
Another slight annoyance is the inability to backup ON1’s database simply. Unlike 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.
In addition, the most recent versions of Lightroom have more advanced sorting tools, such as facial recognition and artificial intelligence keywording.
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 >>
This alternative to Lightroom is reserved more for professional photographers for two 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 image editing software available in 2019, 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, you’re in for a special treat, since there are specific versions of the software, making colour management even more efficient. There are also usually discounts on these versions.
One thing to note – If you ever need to edit files from other brands’ cameras, you can pay an upgrade fee for the full version of Capture One.
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 takes a bit of getting used to, but becomes second nature rather quick.
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 adjustments to your photos and still use the majority of the image 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 image editing capabilities, or are lucky enough to own a digital MF camera, Capture One Pro will help you get the most out of your files. 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 Photo Lab 2 is an image editing software 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 including the new denoising RAW tool, ClearView, anti-moire tool and a presets editor.
Updates and support for new cameras and lenses is excellent, 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 as you can in Lightroom with regards to 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 application and raw developer that’s runs on various operating systems, most recently Windows too.
Being open source, developers can contribute to making it better, but it also means that some things can be a little buggy too.
Importing photos in Darktable 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 images 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 free 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 free software with no budget for R&D!
I don’t feel all that comfortable recommending open source/free software to organise and edit all your most precious photos. Darktable 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.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is Darktable is 100% free, and for some, this is all that matters! 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best alternative to Lightroom?
If you’re looking for something that’s powerful and feature-packed and offers similar functionality to Lightroom, our top pick is Skylum’s Luminar. As well as some impressive AI 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 a free alternative to Lightroom?
Yes – though admittedly free alternatives don’t generally offer the same level of functionality as paid ones. 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. Like anything, both Lightroom and Luminar have their advantages and disadvantages – but on the whole, Luminar is a powerful and functional image editing and image management software.
Alternatives to Lightroom | Final Words
For full disclosure, I’m a paying customer of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, on the 20GB Photography Plan.
Each month I cough up 14 of my hard-earned Australian dollars for the privilege of using Adobe’s software!
As I earn money via photography, making this monthly payment is a cost of business that I need to pay, but I understand now everyone will be in the same boat – hence me writing this article.
The funny thing is, I tested the latest version Luminar 4 for the purposes of writing this review… and now I’m going to be using is regularly to edit images!
I’ll still use Lightroom for the majority of my pro work, but I was so impressed with Luminar 4’s AI features that I’ll continue to use it in unison.
All the other paid Lightroom alternatives I wrote about are good for more advanced users with specific needs, but for most amateur photographers, a lot of the features are confusing or unnecessary.
As for the free stuff… well, you get what you pay for. I don’t like recommending anything I’m not comfortable using myself, and entrusting all our precious images to free or open source software is risky.
Have a play around with all the tools and software by all means, but I do encourage you to invest a little money on a great image editing software – after all, we’re dealing with our precious visual memories here ;-)
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.