Lightroom is probably the automatic go-to program for enthusiasts and experts looking for an all-in-one photo organising and editing program, but it’s not necessarily the best and it’s not popular with everyone, so many will be looking for Lightroom alternatives.
One problem is Adobe’s subscription system for its software. The Adobe Photography Plan, which includes both Lightroom and Photoshop, is actually a very good deal, but some photographers are still dead against the whole idea of paying for a software subscription.
Another issue is Adobe’s decision to split Lightroom into two products. Lightroom CC is the new ‘web first’ version which uses Adobe’s own cloud servers to store your images, the other is the regular ‘desktop first’ Lightroom Classic. They are not the same, and choosing the one to use is not easy. Read Lightroom CC vs Lightroom Classic for more.
- Lightroom CC review
- Lightroom Classic review
- More Lightroom articles
- How to get Lightroom CC/Adobe Photography Plans
Lastly, while Lightroom is versatile and effective, its RAW processing is not the best and it still needs a regular photo-editor like Photoshop for many more advanced image effects and for creating multi-layer montages.
So here are four Lightroom alternatives you can get without a subscription and which tackle some or all of Lightroom’s other niggles. All four offer the key Lightroom selling points:
- Fully integrated image cataloguing and editing
- Seamless editing of RAW files alongside TIFFs and JPEGs
- Fully non-destructive editing
- In-built presets and effects
1. Capture One 20
Capture One Pro is the closest direct match for Lightroom’s features and its target audience. Like Lightroom, it offers catalog-based image organisation and seamless editing of RAW files, TIFFs and JPEG images side by side. It is more expensive than Lightroom, but it’s designed for a high-end professional audience, and also offers sophisticated tethering tools and ‘session’-based shooting for studio photographers. It’s the quality of the RAW processing that really stands out in comparison to Lightroom, and the power and flexibility of its layers-based adjustment tools.
2. ON1 Photo RAW 2020
ON1 Photo RAW 2019 feels like it has more of an amateur/enthusiast slant than Capture One Pro, but steady development has meant that it now feels like quite a mature, polished product – and for sheer scope and value for money it’s remarkable. It combines regular ‘live’ folder browsing with quite powerful keywording, albums and search options and, like Lightroom, can edit RAW files seamlessly alongside other types. It goes a lot further than Lightroom in other respects, though, with a large library of image effect presets offering film simulation, grain, borders, LUT support and masking, offering a wide range of effects that Lightroom can’t achieve without the help of plug-ins or external editors.
- ON1 Photo RAW 2020 review
- ON1 360 review
- More ON1 Photo RAW articles
- Get the ON1 Photo RAW 2020 trial and offers
3. Exposure X5
Like ON1 Photo RAW, Exposure X5 is an all-in-one image organising, editing and effects tool, but while it covers much of the same territory, it’s quite different to use. Where ON1 Photo RAW packs an amazing array of tools into its interface, Exposure X5 is a little simpler and cleaner to use, and its preset effects are geared heavily towards photographers who want to recreate analog film effects, from the subtle and romantic to deep and dramatic. Exposure X5 isn’t cheap and it’s not the most powerful Lightroom alternative, but its elegant interface, calm approach and evocative presets are likely to strike a chord with analog photography fans and artists.
- Exposure X6 review
- More Exposure X articles
- Download the 30-day Exposure X trial
- Exposure Software website
4. Skylum Luminar 4
Luminar is a relatively new program that’s come a long way in a short time. Luminar 3 took a bold step into Lightroom territory by adding in fast and effective image browsing and organising tools and a new non-destructive workflow to match the others in this list, so that all the changes you make to your images can be altered, reversed or removed at any time. Luminar 4 goes further, with bold new AI Sky Replacement, Augmented Skies and rather good AI portrait enhancement tools. Its organising tools aren’t a match for Lightroom’s, but its editing tools and layers capability go much further. Its augmented/alternate reality tools won’t appeal to everyone, but they are spectacularly effective.
- Luminar 4.3 review
- More Luminar articles
- How to get/download Luminar: Save $10/£10 with coupon code “LAWTON”
- Luminar tips
Best Lightroom alternatives: the verdict
Lightroom is out on its own for its cloud-based web editing and mobile device support, and may still be the best option for photographers committed to the Adobe software ecosystem, but there are a whole series of Lightroom alternatives that beat it convincingly in a number of other respects. Capture One 20 is better for professionals for the quality of its results, its powerful editing tools and its tethered shooting support. ON1 Photo RAW 2020 and Exposure X5 are both brilliant and more affordable all-in-one programs that offer creative effects far beyond Lightroom’s scope – you should check the trial versions of both to see which you prefer. Finally, Luminar 4 might not yet be the ‘Lightroom beater’ that some have suggested, but it’s exciting, effective, powerful and exceptional value, and getting better with every update.
Read more: Best image cataloguing software