Alternatives to Adobe Lightroom 2019

Alternatives to Adobe Lightroom 2019

Adobe recently announced that it would both discontinue downloads of older versions of Creative Cloud apps (which includes Lightroom and Photoshop), and revoke the license for older software. Further, Adobe tweeted that consumers “may face potential claims of infringement by third parties.”

For some photographers, the thought of continuing to use Adobe’s subscription-based products is unpalatable, and fortunately, there are a number of full-featured alternatives that come without the price nor baggage.

Adobe Lightroom (now renamed Lightroom Classic) emerged as Adobe’s desktop-based response to the now defunct Apple Aperture, which was the first mainstream non-destructive, parametric image editor. Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom allowed for quick batch editing and provided a built-in catalog – which makes it highly valuable for high volume shooters or photographers with minimal editing needs.

What you should know about switching

Using new software always entails a learning curve, but all of the alternatives below offer a familiar editing interface to get you up and running quickly. Some of the tools even have Lightroom migration tools to ease a transition.

The RAW processing engines of each software can yield dramatically different results out of the box.

There are some important differences to be aware of:

  • Each manufacturer has their own special sauce for rendering RAW files (even if they’re using open source software as their backbone), which can potentially give you very different results in the appearance of the image – at least in the initial, default render.
  • Camera and lens support varies. Not everyone, including Adobe, will support the newest camera on the day its released
  • If you typically only make global adjustments to your images, any of these tools will suffice.
  • Metadata catalog support is weak compared to Lightroom. None of the tools we evaluated has as much IPTC/Metadata Working Group support as Lightroom.

We did a quick evaluation of some of the popular alternatives using a Mac Pro (Late 2013) with 64GB of RAM. Many of the options are moving towards building more “one click” smart editing options, which is both reflective of the Instagram filter generation, as well as providing good results to time-pressed pros. All of the options provide free trial periods, which is worth taking advantage of to learn the pros and cons.

Skylum Luminar 3

Price $60; Can install on 5 computers
30-day trial
Size: 318MB

Skylum Luminar 3

The last time we looked at Luminar in 2017, it was a relatively new entrant into the parametric editing software realm created Macphun – a company that originally created iPhone apps . In 2018, the company rebranded to Skylum and added key features like a library function that gave it some parity with Lightroom’s catalog. You can traverse your images by folder, and the Library also adopts some Apple Photo-like conventions by providing a photo “stream” organized by date.

Luminar has an “Edit” mode that is akin to Lightroom’s Develop module. But unlike Lightroom, Luminar offers “workspaces,” which hide or reveal certain controls depending on how into the weeds you want to get with editing. The software has pro level controls, but the workspaces allow amateurs (or the time constrained) less choice for less confusion.

Luminar’s “Looks” are equivalent to Lightroom’s Presets, but Luminar provides thumbnail previews rather than relying on a “mouse over” to preview the change.

The software has a number of “AI” enhancements although it’s unclear whether there’s actually any AI happening locally, or whether their algorithm was trained by AI. Like most “auto” enhancement features, Luminar’s AI Image Enhancer seems to boost contrast and vibrance without affecting noise. It’s a solid one-click adjustment.

Many photographers rely on Lightroom’s catalog functionality to organize and find specific images. Although Luminar allows for star ratings and is folder aware, it’s lacking keyword support. You can’t view nor edit (individually or in batch) IPTC keyword or other metadata information. For some photographers, this will be a deal breaker. Fortunately, IPTC support is “In Development” on their feature roadmap.

ON1 Photo RAW 2019.5

Price: $79.99; Can install on 5 computers
30-day trial
Size: 1.63GB

ON1 Photo RAW 2019.5

ON1 Photo RAW 2019 is an impressive piece of software – especially considering the price. And its Achilles heel might be that it’s too fully-featured, making the application sluggish at times for basic image adjustments.

Unlike Lightroom, ON1 doesn’t have to import photos – the application can traverse your filesystem and automatically detect changes. I haven’t used the program enough to determine the benefits of this approach, but it certainly seems more intuitive.

Along with a slate of typical parametric editing controls, ON1 has spent a lot of time developing layer/mask functionality that gives it a lot of power of Photoshop. Additionally, they’ve created some shortcut tools to deal with common photographers (e.g. landscape). The Portrait Tool, for example, simplifies eye and teeth whitening without worry about masking.

The rapid pace of improvements and inclusion of features like panoramic stitching, focus stacking, etc have come at a price with some users complaining that the build is slow or unstable. ON1 can easily replace Lightroom in your application arsenal (there’s even a migration tool), but I wish they prioritized performance above niche features.  

Capture One 12

Price: $299 (perpetual) or $20/month; Can install on 3 computers
30-day trial
Size: 640MB

Because many RAW file formats (e.g. NEF, CR2, etc) are proprietary, Adobe reverse engineers the RAW processing using their Camera RAW engine. If you want to get the best looking image, you need to use the manufacturer software. But applications like Nikon Capture NX-D are laughable at best. They might produce a good looking image, but their user interface and speed make them unusable.

The exception might be Phase One – the well-known manufacturer of medium format cameras and digital backs – and their Capture One Pro software. The common refrain amongst regular users is that its RAW processing engine produce much better looking images than Lightroom. The acuity of your vision may or may not corroborate this statement.

One of Capture One’s main differentiations is fantastic tethering support. Like Lightroom, you can set up metadata templates, adjust camera controls, apply styles – but it also has an overlay function which can be pretty handy depending on what you’re shooting. This would allow you to drop in type or another image that you’re trying to duplicate. It’s definitely a niche, but handy tool.

Like ON1, Capture One 12 has powerful layer and masking tools that provide a Photoshop-like experience. The software even has a luminosity range tool that gives the user another powerful selection method.

At $299, Capture One isn’t exactly a cheap alternative to Lightroom – but it’s actually the same price as the formerly shrink-wrapped Version 1 of Lightroom. And it is the most viable alternative of the bunch.

DxO Photolab 2

Price: $129 (Essential edition); $199 (Elite edition)
31-day trial
Size: 449MB

DxO purchased Nik from Google in 2017 and integrated U-Point technology into Photolab. For the uninitiated, U-Point is an auto-masking feature that works at a local level. A user can click a region (or many) in the image and set a rough radius in which any image adjustments will be smartly applied. As masking tools get smarter and smarter, it’s arguable that U-Point (with its circular radius) is reaching the end of its usefulness, but DxO has also expanded its masking options to provide a robust selection of tools.

DxO arguably has the most “branded” tools that might require a little more investigation to understand what they do and how they work. For example, DxO Smart Lighting helps recover image detail in high dynamic range images and is similar to Nikon’s D-Lighting. DxO ClearView Plus is similar to Adobe’s dehaze function, and works by adding local contrast to a scene, but it’s only available in the Elite version.

Like Luminar, Photolab 2 has no IPTC support.

Conclusion

Adobe is ubiquitous and there is a certain amount of convenience in playing in their ecosystem. But other software manufacturers have made significant strides in the past few years, and now offer very viable alternatives to Lightroom. Given the generous trial periods of most software and the number of video-based tutorials on YouTube, now is a great time to explore different options for image processing and cataloging.

Update: We erroneously stated that ON1 Photo RAW 2019.5 could be installed on 2 computers. The license allows for 5 installations.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 52 comments for this article
  1. Robert Martin at 5:07 pm

    On1Photo RAS 2019.5 sluggish and slow/unstable? WTF Thay just increase the speed in that new version with GPU acceleration. Do you use an old Macbook?

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 5:17 pm

      As noted in the piece, I used a 2013 Mac Pro with 64gb of RAM. The app did crash on me and was sluggish performing some operations. If it works well on new Macs with better GPUs that’s great but it’s unrealistic to assume that everyone has the latest gear.

    • Diogene at 12:13 am

      Wrong title, all this software are better than Lightroom how can be an alternative?
      Stop spread the Adobe Bull….

      • Wilf at 2:15 am

        Easy now. Try to speak differentiated. LR usability is far superior to Capture one. While C1 RAW machine is far superior. Which sucks big time =)

    • Raymond at 5:15 pm

      With my laptop, I needed to deal with support to make some changes in settings to stop it from being sluggish and to stop it from crashing. I have an older, 3 years, PC computer with just 16G of RAM. This was when Photo RAW just came out, so not 19.5. But the fixes did help and it no longer crashes and is much faster.

  2. Chip at 12:27 pm

    I agree that one shouldn’t expect everyone to use “new” Macs, but comparing apps with a 6-year-old computer (you don’t even say which model, which specs, SSD? TRIM enabled?) doesn’t seem right either.

    If you look at speed tests at barefeats you’ll see that a current iMac (not Pro) is anywhere from 25%-100% faster than an 8-core 2013 SSD-based Mac Pro.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 2:12 pm

      Thanks for your feedback. The intent of the article is to give a brief survey of alternatives plus some insight into my (limited) experience with each. As I state in the piece, I suggest downloading the free trials to understand the pros and cons. The premise of your argument seems to be that it’s not fair that I tested the software on my Mac. I acknowledge that software that’s optimize for GPU will suffer on this old can. That said, its Geekbench multicore score (20,480) is still better than my 2018 Mac Pro and most other Macs. And some of the other software performed faster on my machine.

    • imajez at 7:21 pm

      The main reason Capture One is often perceived to be sharper/better than LR is that the default rendering of raw files is a bit more aggressive. In reality experienced users of both software will get excellent results that in reality are little different. Besides you can always change the import default develop preset to be whatever you want.
      This is one of many reasons why compared the default setting is mostly pointless. If you are going to do that, you may as well shoot JPEG and use the camera default rendering. Base rendering is just a starting point, not an end point.

      • Wilf at 2:20 am

        Nah. Really, Even with the new in sharpness enhancement thing, LR renders FUJI files pretty poorly. those worm artifacts abide. C1 is far superior. No way to achieve that in LR. maybe with Iridium Transformer.

  3. Pete Marovich at 10:56 am

    The alternatives not having the database component that Lightroom has, is a dealbreaker for me and worth the extra money. I also don’t have to pay to upgrade when the new versions are released.

    • Wurnig Reinhard at 4:09 pm

      Hello Pete, I personally missed a more specific introduction from capture one pro. The database components and the IPTC/Metadata support in capture one is much more powerful than in Lightroom!
      Especially the inbuild catalog is one of the best I have ever seen. And last not least, the speed of batch editing is uniqe! Never had more speed on my Macbook pro. Greets, reinipic

        • Wurnig Reinhard at 3:55 am

          Hi Allen, as you mentioned above “Metadata catalog support is weak compared to Lightroom. None of the tools we evaluated has as much IPTC/Metadata Working Group support as Lightroom.” Here I cannot agree with you.
          In your own words: “Like Lightroom, you can set up metadata templates, adjust camera controls, apply styles…”
          Anyway, I need a lot of time when changing to C1 to understand the complete different database structure to Lightroom. But with the catalogues and sessions structure you can setup your own templates and make every change in the Metdata you like.
          Fact is, that all the softwares we speak about here have an excellent performance with its own pros and cons. And everybody has to choose his personal favorite by himself.
          For me in the print business is the most important thing that the software supports a second, color calibrated Eizo screen!
          From my sight it is essential that the software development is going on!
          Greets, reinipic

          • Allen Murabayashi Author at 1:07 pm

            Thanks for the info!

  4. Tod Grubbs at 11:58 am

    Thanks for the review of some alternatives but until they support catalogs and can do managed exports they will not replace lightroom. Luminar is close but I find it a pain when it scans the entire hard drive for all images not just targeted images based on a catalog and only specific files in targeted directores. I have many images and find luminar goes in to hole trying to read every thing every time I run it.

    • T Kirkbride at 3:56 pm

      Have a look at Phase One’s Capture One Pro. They have both catalogues and sessions. I think you will be impressed with the quality of the application.

  5. Gary Robbins at 12:24 pm

    I installed On1 just a few days ago. It is working well for me. The Presets help by allowing me to see them like LR and then adjust them to my liking allowing me to save the finished image settings as a new preset. This is the same as LR. Unlike LR the finished image is automatically saved in the original file, and you then can export them to another in any format to another file. I am not saying that it is better than LR, but the ease and learning curve is very minute. If they raise their subscription I will be changing, meanwhile I will continue to play with On1 and find any short comings that may be terminal to it’s use.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 2:22 pm

      Didn’t have time before I wanted to publish. I have started to use it, and my initial reaction is that like a lot of open source, it lacks the UX/UI of more mature products. e.g. finding attached drives requires you to traverse to /Volumes, etc. It uses very Unix-y nomenclature like “recursively search folders” instead of “search nested folders.” For less technical people, the experience might be overwhelming. Might review later.

      • Ajia at 9:01 am

        I’m using Darktable on a ancient and, considering other comments in this article, under-powered 12 year old PC. if I had more cores, a more powerful GPU,more memory, Darktable would be able to use that. But as it is it gives very acceptable peformance.
        You don’t need the leading edge hardware!
        As of UI issues, it all boils down to how you have been conditioned. I simply don’t use ‘tagging’ and labeling anyway, and I use other tools for organization and grading and import & export to Darktable as I need. My workflow is highly scripted, and fits in nicely with the scripting mechanism of Darktable, GIMP and other Linux management and image processing tools.
        Darktable is available for not just Windows, but also for OSX and Linux.

        While about it, also review ‘Lightzone’, which, since its written in Java, and hence is portable across a number of platforms, doesn’t need bleeding edge hardware, and, even though it uses Java, is surprisingly fast.

  6. Zeca Moraes at 3:29 pm

    Since these are replacement options to Lightroom, it is to be expected that the new users will come with .dng libraries. How these softwares handle .dng files?

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 3:34 pm

      They can all read DNG files, but as I mention in the article, they don’t all have robust camera/lens profiles.

      • Ajia at 9:16 am

        And that’s where the OpenSource tools DO excel! For some reason the ‘user contributed’ is amazingly comprehensive: http://lensfun.sourceforge.net/faq/
        The reality is that no application is going to have perfectly comprehensive and robust profiles because the camera and lens vendors don’t supply the information and/or are inconsistent.
        The image processing software has to read the EXIF records to see what the camera/lens combination and this is often in the MakerNotes, and that can be very inconsistent. This isn’t about it being ‘not open source’ information that is disclosed only to commercial developers. That wouldn’t matter, we can ‘reverse engineer’ and we are *very* good at reverse engineering. it’s about inconsistency and ad-hoc presentation.

  7. Marc Synwoldt at 3:50 pm

    DxO PhotoLab 2 would definitely deserve a bit more credit for its emphasis on image output quality. The effort they put into their colour science, their lens corrections, and their denoising technology, to name but a few areas where PhotoLab excels, is quite remarkable, and it shows in the results. It may lack photo library sophistication (although it has begun to catch up a little in that regard), but I have also found it very intuitive and easy to learn and use (coming from Lightroom at least).

  8. Alex at 4:19 pm

    Do any of these have a mobile counterpart, i.e. at least an iPad version? This is what’s stopping me from even remotely seriously considering leaving Lr.

  9. Henry at 4:24 pm

    You left out ACDSee-does everything Lightroom does except pannos, uses your file structure, runs efficient/fast, pioneered the highlights/midtones, darks adjustment sliders and still does that better than lightroom

      • Mike Ritter at 9:05 am

        Thanks for link. Which plug in do you use to upload to Photoshelter – Format, Helicon Focus, JPEGmini, Prodibi? I typically am uploading jpegs but sometimes need to do RAW or TIFFs. It’s nice too that I can put images into my portfolio catalog for easy updates of my website. Far as I can tell, it’s easier with the plugin for LR specifically from Photoshelter.

        • Wurnig Reinhard at 10:21 am

          Hi Mike, I took the Prodibi Module. Because my next website I will change from Typo3 to WordPress. And this plugin is able to upload all types of files directly. It is for both Mac and Windows. In the moment it is in Beta-status, but as we know, sometimes it is much better than other final version 😉
          Greets, reinipic

  10. Daniel J. Cox at 4:33 pm

    I’m using Mylio managing our 1.3 million image photo library synced across 4 Macs and 4 iOS devices. It also works with Android and Windows. There is not software like it if you need a fast and efficient connection to your images. No doubt it does not have the RAW editing capabilities as Lightroom but for that, I use DXO PhotoLab. It’s a phenomenal system that was impossible with Aperture or later Lightroom.

    • David Rich at 11:22 pm

      I abandoned Lightroom for Aftershotpro (Bibble) yeads ago. It matches Lightroom’s feature set, including cataloguing, but catalogues are optional and it can read and edit files directly from any disk. There are hundreds if 3rd party extensions, nany free or very inexpensive, and it is stable and fast.

  11. JGKinLA at 5:22 pm

    …another to test might be SilkyPix – I’m trying it myself right now, but I’m not crazy about it, but it has potential…
    I have used DxO for almost a decade, but the program was “catastrophically flawed” from version 6 and wasn’t corrected entirely for many versions, so I didn’t upgrade beyond version 9…this is inexcusable…but the geometric correction automation made me hooked…I wish it wasn’t so…(most people would never notice DxOs flaws…)

  12. Frank Carter at 7:20 pm

    Hi Allen, you missed out reviewing Raw Power 2.0, which was developed by the same lead engineer that was working on Aperture for Apple (which I still use). I was considering switching to Lightroom, but then started looking at Affinity, and Raw Power, so as yet still haven’t made a choice. Check these two softwares to see if they fit what you are looking for. Now, I definitely won’t be picking Lightroom!

  13. Ali at 3:04 am

    I am using the Luninar 3 it has its strengths over Lightroom. The presents are excellent and the HDR is also first rate. With IPTC coming we can kiss Lr goodbye

  14. Yves at 3:02 pm

    Anything for Windows there? Because the Adobe subscription is still cheaper than buying a Mac. And I wouldn’t want to bring a MacBook along with my Surface Pro when travelling.

    And, seriously, anything without a decent catalog/library is not a replacement for Lightroom. It might be a replacement for Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

    What was that statement about Adobe wants to kill all older Lightrooms? Does that mean I can’t use my Lr6 anymore? Does that qualify suing Adobe?

    All in all, RAW image editing seems to be one of the hardest software problems of mankind. If only Adobe is able to do it and even they do it somewhat horribly.

    • Wurnig Reinhard at 3:34 pm

      Hello Yves,
      I am shure that Adobe doesn´t want to kill older Lightrooms 🙂
      But from the technical sight there is another big, big problem. Up to Lightroom CC and all the former products of lightroom are programs with the 32 bit architecture. Since about three years the whole PC world (no matter if it is Apple, Windows …) is producing their engines with the faster and energy saving 64 bit architecture. And here comes the problem, whenever you will buy a new working machine, this one will have a 64 bit architecture – and the old 32 bit programs are not running 🙁 That´s it – profit maximization.
      Greets, reinipic

      • Yves at 4:02 pm

        That’s not quite true. First, I’m using the 64-bit build of Lightroom since it was available. Second, 64-bit Windows and CPUs are very well capable of running 32-bit processes, in fact they do it all the time and will do for a while. (MS Office is still 32-bit.) It was the 16-bit support (from the 90s DOS and Windows 3.x) that was killed when 64-bit was added, and it’s just Apple that forces everyone to 64-bit. Also, 64-bit isn’t exactly more energy-efficient. It has advantages, sometimes it’s faster, but also disadvantages, it needs more memory because of longer pointers.

        While I do understand that old Lightroom versions might stop working on newer Windows versions, I would not accept Lightroom to stop working on the same system because Adobe actively revoked my licence and deactivated my installation remotely. That’s why I was asking where that news came from.

  15. Keith at 10:34 pm

    I, for one, will never use Adobe products again. I purchased several versions/upgrades of Photoshop and Lightroom and was met with a refusal to help me reauthenticate this software on a new computer even though I could clearly demonstrate I purchased it outright before they went to their unwanted subscription model. Can you imagine if you bought a computer and the computer company one day said they were revoking your license to use said computer and prevented you from using it through software restrictions??! Of course, there would be an uproar.

    Adobe’s self-serving edict that they are revoking licenses that were purchased in good faith is the last straw.

    There are many good, more affordable alternatives that will only continue to improve as more people jump off the Adobe bandwagon. Their current near-monopoly only serves them well, not us consumers.

    As for editing raw files, I think DXO PhotoLab 2 is phenomenal. I can get far better high ISO images from that software than from any version of Adobe. Their lens correction feature is also unparalleled.

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