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…
|Luminar 3 ✓ Great features ✓ Easy to use ✓ Affordable||View Price|
While there are a couple of good free Lightroom alternative options out there in 2019, you can get better features, more regular updates, and consistent support if you invest in a paid option.
So here is the best Lightroom alternative editing software of the year.
Best Lightroom Alternative in 2019
PRICE: (Varies – check latest price here)
Before I tell you why I recommend this amazing software to anyone who doesn’t want to pay for the Adobe subscription, let me explain who I think Luminar is for, and who it is definitely not for.
It’s important you’re certain when you buy Luminar 3 that it’s the right software for you.
Luminar IS for you if….
- You want something reliable and affordable for your photos
- You want a super simple way to make your photos look great
- As well as one-click editing simplicity, you also want space to grow with more advanced features
- You want to organize your photos via your hard drive (without importing)
- You want to manage your photos either in the software or outside it (unlike Lightroom)
- You need filters you can apply easily to enhance your photos
- You want to be able to remove objects from photos easily
- You want to sync edits across multiple photos
- You want a version for Windows as well as Mac
- You need to be able to edit photos from all the latest cameras
Luminar IS NOT for you if
- You need the fastest possible workflow to edit and export thousands of photos at once
- You have little available hard drive space
- You need to import embedded .xmp data with your photos
- You need to organise your photos with keyword metadata
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.
Fast forward to today and we’re treated to Luminar 3, a fully-fledged image editing solution with some truly impressive features.[UPDATE: Luminar 4 pre-order is now available!)
Up until recently, I couldn’t recommend it 100% as an alternative to Lightroom, as there wasn’t a good way to manage multiple photos from within the software.
Then, the big announcement on December 2018 – Luminar 3 with Libraries – a DAM (Digital Asset Manager) allowing us to organise our photos efficiently into folders and collections.
The update is free to existing users, and very reasonably priced to those who haven’t yet experienced Luminar (see latest pricing here).
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, Luminar will adjust its catalog accordingly.
This is a huge advantage, 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 new 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 plenty of great looking presets (‘Looks’) available to use. Even the name ‘Looks’ makes it obvious to us what they do.
Then there are the 60 filters that don’t exist anywhere else – these are what Luminar users rave about, since they have the unique ability to do things to your photos that presets and filters in other software simply can’t replicate.
For example, the more advanced AI (artificial intelligence) features that’ll blow your mind when you first use them include.
Sky enhancer – make the sky in your photo look incredible, automatically.
Accent AI – a kind of ‘secret weapon’ that analyses your photo and applies enhancements to make it look amazing with absolutely no effort.
Sun Rays – add realistic sun rays to your photos with one click.
(I recommend you check out the Luminar home page where you can have a play around with the AI sliders to see what they can do for your images)
Luminar 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.
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 tutorials or take courses on how to use a software, Luminar is perfect – adjustments that make your photos go from dull to amazing are all just one-click or one-slider away.
(With Accent AI, it’s just a one slider that you adjust – up=more pop, down=less.)
As someone who’s spent years learning Lightroom, it’s kind of 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 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 3) 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 3 if you’re looking for a viable alternative to Lightroom and its pesky subscription plan, especially if you consider ease of use and unique features important to your image editing.
Other Lightroom Alternatives
There are various alternatives for Lightroom critics, but most of them are rather niche.
Yes, you can use them to edit and manage your images like you can in Adobe Lightroom, (and some of them even do a better job of it), but the usage-cases are still rather specific.
Here are a few image management/image editing apps if you’re looking for something particular that Lightroom can’t do.
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.
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.
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, Capture One Pro is the tool to use.
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.
If you’re a photographer who shoots tethered to a computer, Capture One Pro is more reliable and fast than Lightroom.
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, 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.
Best Free Lightroom Alternative
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 an alternative to paying for Lightroom.
Other Free Image Editing Tools
If you’re still adamant about not paying a cent to edit and organise your photos, I have your back!
Here are some few free tools I’ve tested briefly that offer some of the most basic Lightroom features.
- ExifTool – to edit image metadata
- Adobe DNG Converter – to convert RAW to DNG
- XNView – Windows only image browser
- IrfanView – Windows only image browser with batch processing
- Fast Stone – Windows only image browser with various tools
- XnConvert – batch processing
- Photos for mac OS – image browser and editor
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.
For full disclosure, I’m a paying customer of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop under 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 3 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 3’s AI features that I’ll continue to use it in unison.
I’m also super excited about the forthcoming release of Luminar 4 – the AI Sky Replacement feature alone looks leagues ahead of anything else I’ve seen in an editing software.
All the other paid Lightroom alternatives I wrote about are good for more advanced users with specific needs, but for most amateur photographers they’re 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 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.