Lightroom Alternatives: The Top List

For a large number of professional photographers, the only RAW photo editor to consider a part of their everyday workflow is Adobe Lightroom. It makes sense too; it’s an excellent piece of software that has existed for a number of years and has improved with every new iteration. Its true power lies not in its editing prowess but rather in the fact that it doubles as a stellar photo organizer and it plays seamlessly with Adobe Photoshop, perhaps the most powerful pixel-level image editor available.

However, the reputation of Lightroom should not result in blinding you to your other choices in the sphere of photo editing. There are a number of software programs available today that go toe to toe with Lightroom and often come with some extra features as well. On top of that, most of them are outright cheaper than Lightroom, making them great Lightroom alternatives. So, before you buy into a Lightroom subscription, have a look at the top Lightroom alternatives you can try out.

1. Luminar

Luminar is perhaps the most complete Lightroom alternative you can get. It is truly an innovative solution to RAW photo editing with its AI capabilities, a highly customizable interface, and a slew of editing features. With Luminar, you are able to easily and quickly edit your photos with a single click using one of its many Looks and Filters, or you can go in-depth with your editing using a combination of the various tools.

Where Luminar really shines is its ease of use. It allows users to create their own Workspaces where they can put all their favorite tools and settings depending on the kind of photos they edit, hence making the interface less cluttered and more focused. Another strength of Luminar’s lies in its Signature Looks that are developed by leading photographers of the world and can be bought for one-click editing.

Luminar is such a great Lightroom alternative not only because of these editing features but also due to the fact that its newest version has finally introduced Libraries, which is Luminar’s solution to photo organization. And to top it all off, Luminar is markedly cheaper than Lightroom at just $70 that has to be paid once as opposed to Lightroom’s subscription-based payments. Luminar 3 is available for both PC and Mac, and should definitely be on your list of possible Lightroom alternatives.

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2. Aurora HDR

Lightroom may be great for RAW editing but as an HDR editor, there’s a lot to wish for here. That’s why you should be looking at Aurora HDR if you’re into creating HDR photos. It’s dubbed as the most advanced editor in its class and rightly so. It relies on a new Quantum HDR Engine that is powered by Artificial Intelligence to give you better photos every time. This Engine makes sure that there are no halos or ghosts in your compiled HDR photos, leading to stellar images with very little work.

Aurora HDR also comes with over 200 tools designed to give you as much control over your HDR photos as possible. It also has some very helpful tools like HDR Denoise, HDR Smart Structure, and HDR Clarity that are designed especially to enhance HDR photos.

Another feather is Aurora HDR’s cap is that it can be used as a plug-in to Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, and even Apple Photos if you don’t want to use it as a standalone app but rather as a boost to any one of the three editors. This makes Aurora HDR truly one of the most complete HDR editors available for Mac and Windows today. And for a one-time fee of $99, it’s not an expensive product either. 

3. ON1 Photo RAW

Another software pitching itself as a complete Lightroom alternative is ON1 Photo RAW. This is a photo editor and organizer in one, and if the name didn’t already give it away, it focuses a lot on RAW processing. The software has all the tools you would want from a professional-grade editor allowing for non-destructive editing. It also comes with some unique features of its own like Multi-Layered Compositing, Focus Stacking, and Auto-align Layers. From global edits to local, selective editing, everything is possible in Photo RAW. Apart from all that, it also comes with support for Effects, Filters, LUTs, and Presets.

All in all, ON1 Photo RAW is one of the top Lightroom alternatives you should consider using. It’s designed to be used by both beginners as well as advanced users and comes with features to help both. It costs just $79 and is available for both Mac and PC.

4. Capture One

Capture One has been around for many years at this point as one of the very best Lightroom alternatives. It’s used by many professional photographers already and has a stellar reputation. It’s packed with features and tools that you’d want from a high-end RAW photo editor and so it’s mainly targeted at professionals and not hobbyists.

Everything from basic photo editing to really extensive tweaks like color balancing and selective editing is possible with Capture One. Its interface is similar to that of Lightroom’s but it’s not very friendly-looking at first so you have to get used to it a little.

Overall, Capture One is an impressive tool that many swear to produce better results than Lightroom. It’s not a cheap piece of software though, coming in at $299 for the perpetual license and $20 for the monthly subscription for both Mac and Windows.

However, one thing that’s great about Capture One is its partnership with Sony and Fujifilm, which results in the company discounted software to work with Sony or Fuji cameras. If you don’t want to pay at all, you can get Capture One Express either for Sony or Fuji cameras, which is a slightly less powerful version of the software but for free.

5. RawTherapee

If you don’t want to pay up for a premium RAW editor like Lightroom and want something that can let you edit your RAW files for free, then RawTherapee is it. It’s a great, free Lightroom alternative that has so many tools that you’d be shocked it doesn’t cost anything to use.

Pretty much everything you can do in Lightroom is possible with RawTherapee. It does take a little time to get used to but once you do get used to it, it’s an amazing piece of software. The only thing you’ll really miss out on is a little polish and the lack of a cataloging feature which means you’ll have to manually organize your photos.

RawTherapee can be used with Windows, Mac, and Linux and should be considered seriously if you can live with some compromises for a powerful yet free RAW editor.

6. Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo is not just a Lightroom alternative but rather a Lightroom and Photoshop alternative. It’s a fully kitted image editor that can also be used for creative work such as that usually done in Photoshop. As a Lightroom alternative, Affinity Photo is pretty great. It can be used for basic adjustments like Levels, Curves, Shadows and Highlights, White Balance, and Color Balance and also allows for local adjustments and working in layers. It also comes with extras like HDR merging, focus stacking, and Panorama Stitching, making it even more usable.

Affinity Photo is available for Mac and Windows for a low price of $49.99. This price plays a big role in making the software very popular among enthusiasts as well as professional photographers.

7. GIMP

GIMP is yet another completely free software available for Windows and Mac that can be considered a direct rival to Lightroom if you like to edit your images more creatively. That’s because GIMP is actually a competitor to Photoshop and therefore has almost every tool that Photoshop has. This means that you can use GIMP to do a lot from altering exposure to creating highly detailed digital artworks. The software also supports plugins and has a very active community that’s always there to help out in case you need it.

All in all, GIMP is a complete image editing software that shouldn’t be free considering all that it offers, but it is and that’s what makes it such a good Lightroom alternative.

8. Corel AfterShot

Corel AfterShot Pro calls itself the world’s fastest RAW editor. It is one of those image editors that are as complete as you’d want them to be. Everything from basic photo editing to very advanced and detailed work is possible in AfterShot Pro, and all of that does happen quite quickly. Loading images, editing them and then exporting them is claimed to be done a whopping 4x faster in AfterShot as compared to Lightroom.

The software also supports direct exporting to Photoshop, rivaling one of Lightroom’s greatest conveniences for professional photographers. All of that combined with the new version’s enhanced highlight recovery tool, blemish removal tools, and watermarking tools makes AfterShot Pro a real alternative to Lightroom.

Corel AfterShot Pro is priced at $79.99 and can be used with both Mac and Windows.

9. Exposure X4

Exposure X4 is the latest version of the RAW image editor that’s made by Alien Skin. It’s a complete photo editing solution that not only allows for image editing but also has powerful organization features and also the ability to be used as a plug-in to Photoshop and Lightroom. Other than the regular RAW editing tools, Exposure X4 excels in the quality of presets it offers to photographers for one-click editing as well as hundreds of different ‘looks’ that can be applied with a single click or can be layered with one another to achieve a unique look.

With all of those features, it’s easy to see why Exposure X4 is becoming a Lightroom alternative for both professionals as well as enthusiasts. It can be used on both Mac and Windows computers and costs a one-time fee of $119.

10. Air Magic

Sometimes, all you want is a program that is specially designed to work on one kind of imagery. If the kind of imagery in question is drone or aerial photography, then consider Air Magic as your Lightroom alternative. This is an interesting piece of software that has been designed specifically to work on aerial photos of all kinds. But can’t you edit all kinds of photos on Lightroom anyway? Well, you can but not automatically.

Air Magic is an editor that is powered by AI and automatic algorithms that make a huge difference in how your aerial photos look, and it does this completely by itself. All you have to do is import a photo into the software and it’ll work its magic. It works on some of the most common problems with aerial photos like haze, lack of visual detail, bland skies, and dull colors to instantly enhance them and make them look amazing. It works on RAW images as well to give you the best results possible. You can also try out different Styles that work as one-click solutions to your problems.

So, if you take a lot of aerial photos, try Air Magic for a mere $39 which gets you a license for two computers. It works on both Windows and Mac either as a standalone application or as a plug-in to Lightroom, Photoshop, or Apple Photos.

11. DxO PhotoLab

DxO PhotoLab is one of the top Lightroom alternatives because of its extensive toolset that is laid out very nicely in the program. Everything is easy to find and to use, allowing photographers to make adjustments quickly and accurately. One of the highlights of the software is its ‘U Point Local Adjustment Technology’ which makes it very easy to select areas that you want to edit. Some other tricks the software boasts include detailed optical corrections for 400 cameras, advanced denoising tools, and automatic editing features that save you even more time.

DxO PhotoLab has really come a long way since its inception when essential features like local adjustments were missing. Now, the software is a serious Lightroom alternative and comes in much cheaper too for a one-time payment of $99.99. It can be used on both Mac and Windows as well.

12. ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2019

This is a Lightroom alternative that promises ‘ultimate creative freedom’ thanks to its powerful RAW editor that supports editing in layers and its digital asset management features. ACDSee Photo Studio offers parametric photo editing and is GPU acceleration to make the software work faster than ever. One of the top new features in the new version of this editor is facial recognition that makes it even easier to manage and organize photos.

The software also allows the use of luminance masks, brushes that can be used to boost specific characteristics of your photos like colors or contrast, LUTs to change the way images look in seconds, and a robust Black & White mode for those timeless photos.

The lifetime license of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2019 costs $149.99 but the software is available only for Windows users.

And with that, we conclude our list of the best Lightroom alternatives you can try if you want something different or are just not comfortable with the recurring monthly payments. There are some great options in this list and all of the paid ones have free trials available so be sure to give them a shot before deciding which one works best for your needs.

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