Lightroom Alternatives | Top Picks for the Best Lightroom Alternative in 2021

Lightroom isn’t for everyone. Here are leading candidates for the best Lightroom alternative in 2021, including full-featured management and processing apps, RAW processing and image management, and the best free Lightroom alternatives.

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Quick Picks for Best Lightroom Alternatives in 2021

If you just want to cut to the chase, here are some top picks for the best Lightroom alternatives in 2021. These aren’t necessarily direct replacements feature-for-feature, but each is worth checking out. Each has its own strengths that may or may not be a good fit for your workflow, required features, and budget. You can find more options and much more detail below.

Why Would You Want an Adobe Lightroom Alternative?

Adobe Lightroom is more than just photo editing software. It has become the most popular photo management app that integrates image management with RAW processing and photo editing. And it’s at the heart of my own image processing workflow.

But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some find it too expensive. Others don’t like the idea of being on the hook for an ongoing subscription every month. Maybe you’re after a specific feature or compatibility or image quality tweak that Lightroom doesn’t offer. Or perhaps the Lightroom workflow just doesn’t suit the way you want to work, or you find you’re not happy with the quality of the results that come out of it.

If you find that Lightroom doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, here are some alternatives to Lightroom that are worth a look at. Whether you’re after for a good free Lightroom alternative, a full-powered suite that offers features Lightroom doesn’t have, or a more limited app to accomplish a particular part of the digital photography workflow, there’s a good chance that there’s something out there that will fit the bill.

Some of these are free apps, and some are paid. Some are direct Lightroom competitors that integrate image management with photo processing, while some focus on a specific aspect of the workflow, such as RAW processing. Each has its own virtues, and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one that fits your needs and preferences.

Lightroom Alternatives: Image Management + RAW Processing + Image Editing Apps

Apple Aperture and Lightroom pioneered combining image management, processing RAW images, and advanced photo editing. Before they existed, there were management apps like iMatch or iView MediaPro and processing apps like Rawshooter and Bibble. So you would run separate apps side-by-side, organizing in one and processing in the other.

Aperture and Lightroom brought the two sides together and integrated them into a single app and single workflow. Both Lightroom and Aperture were designed to be archive and digital darkroom in one. And doing that added more than convenience and speed–it also opened up all sorts of new workflow options that weren’t easily possible before.

The image management functions used by most of these apps are typically based on catalogs, which offers a lot more power than simple file browsing in folders. Features such as virtual collections and dynamically updated smart collections also become possible once you start using a catalog rather than a simple file system. But there is a downside, and that is that it adds another step that can slow down the initial parts of the workflow while you import images and build the preview thumbnails.

All of these apps combine both image library features as well as RAW image processing and other advanced editing tools. They work on the principle of non-destructive editing, which means that the original RAW file isn’t altered–it’s treated as a digital negative–and all the editing information is saved in the form of instructions that are separate from the original image.

Best Overall Lightroom Alternatives

Luminar AI

Skylum’s Luminar has been developing quickly and impressively, and it has developed a strong following. And for a good reason: its feature set has really blossomed. Its core is RAW processing and a wide array of filters and editing tools. And the name of its latest version–Luminar AI–gives a good indication of the direction of its most recent innovations.

They later added a built-in image management library and some impressive photo manipulation tools such as their AI Sky Enhancer, AI Sky Replacement, and AI Structure. And updates and new features have been coming steadily, suggesting a very strong commitment to the app. Overall, it’s well worth a look as a viable Lightroom alternative.

Luminar can also act as a hub for other popular Skylum apps like Aurora HDR, and it’s compatible with third-party plugins.

One nice thing about Luminar is that you can use it either as a standalone app (which is probably of more interest to you if you’re looking for an alternative to Lightroom) or as a plugin for Lightroom or Photoshop.

There are versions of Luminar AI for Mac and Windows as well as a free trial version. If you decide to buy a license for Luminar, they’ve given me a code just for readers of this site to get an even better deal: use the coupon code HAVECAMERA during checkout to get $15 off (it works for new licenses as well as upgrades from previous versions).

If you’re using a Mac, another great way to get Luminar is through the Setapp subscription, where you’ll get hundreds of other top-shelf Mac apps as well. Setapp has a 7-day free trial.

I’ve been particularly impressed with how energetically the Skylum folks have been developing Luminar and their related apps like Neo (a more creatively focused image editing app). It’s clear that they put a lot of thought and effort into the apps and really listen to what photographers want.

Capture One

Capture One has been evolving quickly and impressively and is one of the best Adobe Lightroom alternatives and a favorite among professional photographers. Version 22 is adding panorama stitching and HDR merging, bringing it even more in line with Lightroom’s built-in features.

Capture One started with a heavy emphasis on high-end medium-format cameras from PhaseOne. But it has evolved into a full-featured and polished image editing and organizing app. If you’re used to the kinds of workflow and tools offered by Lightroom and Aperture, Capture One might well be the closest alternative.

It’s aimed at the premium end of the market, and if you’re looking for the maximum image quality from your RAW files, Capture One is well worth a look. They put particular emphasis on high-end rendering quality and powerful editing tools. The image quality of its processing engine is excellent, and it now has asset management features thanks to the incorporation of what was one of the original leading asset management tools, iView MediaPro (which then became then Microsoft Expression Media). There are also tools for studio photographers, such as advanced tethered shooting tools.

Capture One used to be very expensive, in keeping with its focus on medium-format cameras, but they’ve now brought in down in line to the same ballpark as Lightroom. It does have a fairly steep learning curve to get the most of it and is best suited to advanced users.

Two things in their licensing worth noting about Capture One: unlike Lightroom, there’s an option to buy a one-off perpetual license (i.e., no recurring subscription), or you can subscribe with a monthly fee. Secondly, there are specialized versions for those using Fujifilm, Sony, or Nikon cameras, and if you’re only using those cameras, the pricing for those versions is significantly reduced. The main “Pro” version supports all major camera brands.

Capture One has a 30-day free trial, and it works on Mac and Windows. You can find the various buy/license options here.

ON1 Photo RAW

ON1 Photo RAW was initially best known for their effects plugins, but they’ve now bloomed into having their own RAW processing software. In addition, it’s integrated with a hybrid approach to image management that uses elements of a browser and a catalog. They’ve also thrown in a bunch of their effects integrated with the app and added some powerful advanced editing tools such as swapping out skies, noise reduction, time-lapse, and focus stacking.

There are versions for Windows and Mac, as well as a free trial version. If you decide to buy a license for ON1 Photo RAW 2022, they’ve given me a code for my readers to get 20% off–use the coupon code HAVECAMERA at checkout.

Other Lightroom Alternative Candidates

  • Exposure X7 has both image management and image processing built-in, although its image management system is a hybrid of a browser and catalog. Its overall interface and workflow will be quickly familiar to Lightroom users. The emphasis is more on the developing side. It uses a catalog-free approach, so it’s quick and straightforward but lacks some of the complex organizational control that comes with having a catalog. The developer, Exposure Software, used to be known as AlienSkin, and they’ve been in the effects and plugins area for a long time. They bring that expertise to their more recent development of Exposure by including an unusually extensive collection of presets and film emulations. The licensing is handled by a traditional purchase price, and there are versions for Windows and Mac. There’s also a free trial version. You can find it here.
  • ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate offers an all-in-one digital image management and image processing. It’s Windows-only (they have a related, very similar app for Mac). The licensing is through a traditional purchase of a license (i.e., not a subscription), and there’s a free trial available.
  • Zoner Photo Studio X has built-in image catalog management as well as editing and processing tools. It has a layout that will quickly be familiar for Lightroom users. Licenses are sold with an annual subscription model for $49/year for a single user. It’s Windows-only, and there’s a free trial version.
  • Corel Aftershot Pro. Despite its whimsical efforts name, Bibble was once a heavy-hitting photography app that offered a number of useful features that the others didn’t. I used to love it, and it was a go-to app of mine before RawShooter morphed into what became Lightroom. It was lightning fast and offered some super-useful batch editing and batch processing options. But a drawn-out overhaul several years ago to turn it into an integrated photo management and processing app proved disastrous and eventually led to being bought out by Corel and renamed Corel AfterShot Pro. A key feature is that it retains Bibble’s emphasis on speed—they claim–but I haven’t independently verified this–that it is “up to 4x faster than Adobe Lightroom.” It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

No Longer Available

  • Apple Aperture. Several years ago, Aperture was the biggest and best-known competitor to Lightroom, even though it was limited only to Mac. But Apple decided to discontinue development and took the guts of Aperture and iPhoto to create a new app for managing photos that is simply called Apple Photos. Aperture is no longer available, and the newer Apple Photos app isn’t really a good fit for many photographers who require more advanced photo editing features and control. If you’re still using Aperture and looking to jump ship from Aperture to Lightroom, Adobe has put out a migration tool and John Beardsley has put together an excellent how-to guide.

Best Free Lightroom Alternatives

These apps have the considerable virtues of being free and cross-platform. But while they sometimes look very similar to Lightroom in their user interfaces, their feature sets and update cycles are more limited. They can do a good job of processing editing RAW images, but they lack features like a photo management catalog and all the editing tools of the more advanced (paid) apps above. So while they’re unlikely to knock Lightroom off its perch anytime soon, they are viable contenders as the best free lightroom alternative.

  • Darktable is among a few free, open-source, and cross-platform free Lightroom alternatives, with versions for Linux, Mac, and Windows. Its interface looks strikingly similar to Lightroom Classic’s, so you should feel quite at home if you’re moving across.
  • Raw Therapee is an open-source free Lightroom alternative, albeit one with a much more limited feature set. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It’s a particularly good option if you’re looking for something free and lightweight.
  • LightZone is another free Lightroom alternative. It’s open-source, and it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It’s a community-based project, and support is provided through its community forum. Development had lagged for a few years, but it seems to have picked up again in recent years. It’s best suited for tinkerers and those who’d like to contribute to a community-driven project, but it lacks some core features and updates that professional photographers need.

Alternatives to Lightroom for RAW Processing & Editing Photos

These apps fall into the category of RAW photo editor rather than being full-featured Lightroom alternatives. While the image editing software gives you control over how the image looks with advanced photo editing tools, they don’t include the image management features of the apps above.

  • DxO Photo Lab is now the flagship product from DxO, a team that became well known for their excellent tools measuring and correcting optical shortcomings in lenses and cameras (see DxOMARK). In recent years, they’ve gone big in a much broader way, through salvaging Nik Collection apps that Google abandoned a while back (a suite of tools I’ve used since before they were Google’s and find invaluable) and investing heavily in in-house image processing tools. The combination is a top-notch and powerful RAW image processing app that’s especially strong in correcting camera and lens optical flaws and optimizing RAW files. There’s a free 30-day full-featured trial version
  • Affinity Photo is a relative newcomer that has been making a lot of waves in a short period of time and offers some powerful workflow and editing tools in a slick package. It was originally Mac only, but they’ve now added a Windows version. Overall, it’s a little out of place here in that it’s more like an Adobe Photoshop alternative than a Lightroom alternative; it’s more about advanced tools for the editing process than image management. And it can do a lot more than process and edit RAW images. Among its many tools are some for panorama stitching, focus stacking, 360-degree image editing, and digital painting. It’s especially well suited for more creative tasks such as digital brushwork and composition artwork.
  • ACDSee Photo Studio Professional focuses on image processing and doesn’t include the image management options of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate (see above). Windows only for this version, but there is a separate option for Mac users that’s called ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac 7
  • Iridient Developer takes a more nuts-and-bolts approach and doesn’t have the resources behind it of many of its competitors. But it’s another option that’s out there, and it focuses on extracting the maximum quality from the RAW data and giving the user maximum control. The folks at Iridient Digital have put out a range of tools broken out by the type of RAW files you’re working with; if you’re only working with Nikon NEF files, for example, there’s a version for that (and it’s less expensive).
  • Nikon CaptureNX2. If you’re shooting RAW images with a Nikon camera, you can get excellent quality results out of Nikon CaptureNX2, but its workflow and batch processing has always been a bit more of a struggle than its competitors. A highlight is its proprietary masking controls known as U Point. Windows and Mac.
  • Photo Ninja is created by the folks behind Noise Ninja, long one of the best options for reducing image noise but the importance of which has been greatly reduced by the much-improved sensors in more recent cameras. The RAW processing engine features a number of nice workflow options. Noise Ninja is integrated into it, and if you have a Noise Ninja license, you can upgrade it to Photo Ninja. Windows and Mac, with a two-week trial license available.
  • Adobe Camera RAW. If you’re already using Photoshop, the Adobe Camera RAW plugin adds RAW processing capabilities. It’s fundamentally the same engine used in Lightroom’s RAW processing–so it can produce excellent quality–but it’s designed to be used with Photoshop, not as a standalone product. Windows and Mac.
  • Put out by a Japanese company, SilkyPix Developer Studio’s focus is on RAW conversion or “RAW development.” There’s a Professional and Standard version and, counterintuitively, a JPEG-only version. There are versions for Windows and Mac, and they have a 30-day trial version.
  • Fujifilm X RAW Studio is only relevant to those shooting with Fujifilm X-series cameras. It tackles things in an interesting way. Rather than everything being processed on your computer, you connect the camera to the computer, and it actually processes the images using the image processor in the camera itself. Which makes it very quick, and it also gives you the camera’s native image quality. As Fujifilm explains it: “Since it offers an optimized environment for the camera, you can get exactly the same image quality as that of the camera including tone, color reproduction, and Film Simulations.” It also means that there’s very little CPU load on your computer, making it an interesting option for working on low-powered laptops while on the road. One restriction to know about: it will only work on files taken with the same kind of camera that you have connected to your computer. So if you’re trying to process images from an X-T4, for example, you have to have an X-T4 connected. So it’s no good for processing older images in your archive when you no longer have the camera available. You can find more information about it here, and it’s a free download.

RAW Image Workflow Tools

These aren’t Lightroom alternatives, but for the sake of completeness, here are some other specialized tools for working with RAW photos.

  • It’s all in the name: Adobe DNG Converter. It’s a utility for converting other RAW file formats to Adobe’s DNG format. Lightroom can do this as part of its import process; this extracts the tool into a standalone app with a single purpose. This can be useful for creating archival versions for long term storage or as a workaround for compatibility issues.
  • Rawsie is software that uses a proprietary algorithm to compress RAW files with minimal loss in image quality. So it overlaps with some of the features of Adobe DNG Converter, but it’s designed to do a better job (and in my opinion, it does). I’ve reviewed it in depth and found it to compress very effectively. Rawsie won’t work with every RAW file from every camera with every combination of settings. So be sure to make use of the free trial version first. The initial version is Mac only; there’s a waitlist to join the Windows beta.
  • DxO PureRAW is a pretty unique offering from DxO. It isn’t really a RAW processor; it’s a RAW prepper. What it does is optimize and improve your RAW files before you process them in something like Lightroom. Specifically, the areas it attempts to improve are: demosaicing, denoising, moiré, distortion, chromatic aberrations, unwanted vignetting, and a lack of sharpness. Lightroom has its own versions of most of these, but DxO are specialists at them, and they can draw on their massive database of lens- and camera-specific corrections. I’ve posted a detailed review of PureRAW separately. And you can find more information (and examples) here. And you can download a 30-day free trial here.
  • RawDigger is a very technical app for those who want to really drill down into the raw data captured by the camera’s sensor. It provides an enormous amount of data that usually isn’t accessible, but it’s best suited to technically-minded shooters aiming to extract everything possible from the data. There are versions for Windows and Mac, and there are various editions with increasing levels of data at increasing price points (starting at $19.99, with a 30-day free trial).
  • ExifTool is a free utility developed by Phil Harvey that works with file metadata, including that encoded with RAW image files. It’s the gold standard in terms of the image metadata it can access, but by itself, it’s not the most user-friendly tool, so many users might prefer one of the versions that adds a more user-friendly interface on top, such as jExifToolGUI (Windows, Mac, Linux) or ExifToolGUI (Windows). It’s free and platform-independent, and you can find pre-compiled distributions for Windows, Mac, and Unix.
  • FastRawViewer is a RAW image viewer from the folks at LibRaw. It’s designed for very fast culling of RAW image files into keepers and rejects and other sorting at an early stage of the workflow. A key difference with PhotoMechanic, which is another app famed for its speed, is that PhotoMechanic draws on the embedded JPG previews, while FastRawViewer quickly renders the RAW data. It has some basic correction tools, but it’s not intended as a full-blown RAW image processor. There are versions for Windows and Mac; a license is $19.99.

Best Lightroom Alternatives for Digital Asset Management

These apps focus on image organization and are usually classed as Digital Asset Management (or DAM) apps. Put another way: they’re for managing large numbers of images so that you don’t get lost in a sea of files. Many of them will handle other file formats as well as images. Their emphasis is on organizing and finding files, and they generally have very basic editing tools (if they have them at all). So if you need further editing, they’re best used alongside a RAW photo processing app.

  • iMatch by Photools. Back when I was using Windows (which was a while ago now), iMatch was one of my all-time favorite apps. It just really opened my eyes to the power of digital asset management as well as the possibilities made available by its endlessly creative and dedicated developer. It offers some very powerful and very flexible options as an image organizer and plays well with RAW processing apps. It doesn’t have as large a development team behind it as some of the other apps here, but its developer is super-committed, and there’s a strong user community. It can also work very well alongside Lightroom to make available image management tools and workflows that aren’t available in Lightroom itself (you can find more info on that here). It’s Windows only. There’s a free trial version. And if you’re migrating from Lightroom, they’ve put together a helpful guide here.
  • Media Pro by Phase One is a standalone photo organizer app but doesn’t include the image processing features of Capture One (see above). Windows and Mac. UPDATE: Media Pro is no longer offered as a standalone app since its capabilities have been incorporated into Capture One (see above).
  • ACDSee Photo Studio Home 2021 focuses on image management and doesn’t include the processing features of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate (see above). Windows.
  • Daminion does have individual, standalone licenses, but that’s not really where their focus is. They’re aiming mainly at small teams, where collaborative tools are particularly important. Windows-only.

Image Browsers

If you find that catalog-based image management is too heavy for your needs, there are also lighter-weight image browsers available that use file-based organization rather than a catalog-based organization. Some of them offer basic RAW editing tools as well as working comfortably with the other image file formats that you come across in digital photography. But they lack some of the more advanced tools–at least in terms of editing software–in the best Lightroom alternative section above.

  • Photo Mechanic is a very powerful and very fast image media browser that includes some basic processing tools and many workflow tools like advanced metadata management. It’s a favorite of press and sports photographers who need something lightning-fast and rock solid. And did I mention it’s fast? I use this for initial ingesting, culling, and metadata editing and then move the results into Lightroom. It has basic editing available, but its tools are mostly geared toward sharing things quickly rather than intensive image processing. It’s available for Windows and Mac, with a free 30-day trial.
  • BreezeBrowser Pro covers some of the same ground and is aiming at the same kinds of shooters as Photo Mechanic but is considerably less expensive while lacking some of the polish and power. Windows only, with a 15-day free trial.
  • Adobe Bridge is part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud and is designed to be used with Photoshop but can be used by itself. It’s quick and powerful.
  • Lyn is a lightweight image browser for Mac. It has a free 15-day trial, and a license costs $20.
  • IrfanView is a long-time favorite photo editing program and is surprisingly powerful, although accessing that power isn’t always as user-friendly as it could be. Windows.
  • XnView MP is another long-time free favorite that is very powerful for opening and viewing a huge variety of image file formats. There’s now a cross-platform version that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. A related tool they put out is XNConvert for converting image files.
  • Fileloupe is a fast, lightweight image and video browser. I find it particularly useful for GoPro video footage (which I’ve written about here), but it works very well for images as well. Mac. There’s a 14-day free trial available directly from the developer’s website; licenses are sold through the Mac App Store.

Lightroom Alternatives that Offer Digital Asset Management for Teams

Most of the options on this page are designed for individual users. But there’s also another class of digital asset management options designed for team access and collaboration.

Most of these are enterprise-level apps and come with enterprise-level prices, so they aren’t well suited to individual photographers. But those working in a studio environment with multiple users will likely appreciate the added features.

Some of the main options are:

FAQs Related to Lightroom Alternatives

Can you get Lightroom for free? There is a 7-day free trial version of Lightroom, but there’s no version that’s free for long-term use. However, if you’re a student or work at an educational institution, there are discounted education discounts that can make a substantial difference in cost. There are also different bundles of Adobe Creative Cloud so that you can focus on apps that are relevant to your work and therefore limit costs that way (more limited plans are naturally less expensive than more plans with more apps).

Is Lightroom really the best? Lightroom is good, but it’s not for everyone. Other apps might be a better fit for needs and preferences. And, as you can see from the apps mentioned on this page, there’s a large range of different apps, each of which has its strengths.