Lightroom is now the most popular photo management app that integrates image management with image processing. But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Some find it too expensive. Others don’t the idea of being on the hook for an on-going subscription. Maybe you’re after a specific feature or compatibility that Lightroom doesn’t offer. Or maybe the Lightroom workflow just doesn’t suit the way you want to work. If you find that Lightroom doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, here are some alternatives that are worth a look.
Some of these are paid apps, and some are free. 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 + Processing Apps
Apple Aperture and Lightroom pioneered combining image management with image processing. Before that, there were management apps like iMatch or iView MediaPro and processing apps like Rawshooter and Bibble. So you would run them 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. They’re designed to be archive and 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. Things like virtual collections and dynamically updated smart collections also become possible once you start using a catalog rather than a simple file system, but the downside is that it adds another step that can slow down the initial parts of the workflow (ingesting the images and generating the thumbnails).
All of these apps combine both image management features as well as RAW image processing.
Skylum Luminar 2018 has been developing quickly, starting with RAW processing and a wide array of filters and editing tools and is compatible with third-party presets. They’ve now added a built-in image management library. (If you already have a Luminar 2018 license from the version before the image management feature, you can update to Luminar 3 for free). Luminar can also act as a hub for other popular Skylum apps like Aurora HDR 2019. One distinctive thing about their editing approach is that they have layers, which I find can be useful to combine edits in ways that don’t easily lend themselves to a single application. There are versions 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 $10 off (applies to new licenses and upgrades from previous versions).
ON1 Photo RAW 2019. ON1 was initially best known for their effects plugins, but they’ve now bloomed into having their own RAW processing software that has added 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. 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 2019, they’ve given me a code for my readers to get 20% off–use the coupon code HAVECAMERA at checkout.
ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018 offers an all-in-one digital image management and image processing. It’s Windows only. The licensing is through a traditional purchase of a license, 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 familiar for Lightroom users. Licenses are sold with an annual subscription model for $49/year for a single user. Windows only, and there’s a free trial version.
Apple Aperture. For the past several years, Aperture was the biggest competitor to Lightroom, even though it only works on 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 Photos. Aperture is no longer available, and the newer Photos app isn’t really a good fit for many photographers. 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.
Corel AfterShot Pro. Bibble was once an excellent alternative that offered a number of useful features that the others didn’t. I used to love it. It was lightning fast and offered some super-useful batch processing options. But a drawn-out overhaul several years to turn it into an integrated 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 retained Bibble’s emphasis on speed. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Capture One Pro. Another option, which puts heavy emphasis on high-end medium format cameras and high-end rendering quality, is Capture One Pro by PhaseOne. The image quality of its processing engine is excellent, and it now has asset management features thanks for the incorporation of what was once iView MediaPro then Microsoft Expression Media. Capture One used to be very expensive. While it’s not what you’d call cheap now, the price has come down to be more reasonable and makes it a serious competitor to Lightroom and is a very polished package.
AlienSkin Exposure X4 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 its quick and straightforward but lacks some of the complex organizational control that comes with having a catalog. AlienSkin has been in the effects and plugins area for a long time, and they bring that expertise to their more recent development of Exposure X3 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.
RAW Processing Apps
These apps focus on processing RAW files, giving you control over how the image looks, but don’t include the sophisticated image management features of the apps above.
LightZone is open source and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Darktable is open source and works on Linux, Mac, and Windows.
ACDSee Photo Studio Professional 2018 focuses on image processing and doesn’t include the image management options of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 20018 (see above). Windows only for this version, but there are different options for Mac: ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac 4 and ACDSee Mac Pro 3.
Affinity Photo. This relative newcomer has been making a lot of waves in a short period of time and offers some power workflow and editing tools in a slick package. It was originally Mac only, but they’ve now added a Windows version.
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.
Nikon CaptureNX2. If you’re using a Nikon, 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.
Raw Therapee is free and open source and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It’s a particularly good option if you’re looking for something free and lightweight.
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.
SilkyPix Developer Studio. There are versions for Windows and Mac, and they have a 30-day trial version.
RAW Image Workflow Tools
These aren’t Lightroom alternatives, but for the sake of completeness, here are some other tools for working with RAW image files.
Adobe DNG Converter. It’s all in the name–it’s a utility for converting other RAW file formats to Adobe’s DNG format. This can be useful for creating archival versions for long term storage or as a workaround for compatibility issues. It’s free, with versions for Windows and Mac. And it’s a standalone app, so you don’t need to have Lightroom, Photoshop, or Creative Cloud.
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 data 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 pyExifToolGUI (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. This RAW image viewer from the folks at LibRaw is 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.
RawDigger. This 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).
Image Management Apps
iMatch 2018 by Photools. Back when I was using Windows (a while ago now), iMatch was one of my all-time favorite apps. It offers some very powerful and very flexible options for organizing and finding your images and plays well with raw processing apps, although it’s now showing its age a bit. Its developer is super dedicated, and there’s a strong user community. Windows only. There’s a free trial version.
Media Pro by Phase One is a standalone image organization app but doesn’t include the image processing features of Capture One (see above). Windows and Mac.
ACDSee Photo Studio Standard 2018 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 the niche they’re aiming at is really small teams. Windows only.
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 catalog-based organization. Some of them offer basic RAW processing capabilities.
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 most geared toward sharing things quickly rather than intensive image processing. It’s available for Windows and Mac.
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.
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.
IrfanView is a long-time favorite and is surprisingly powerful, although accessing that power isn’t always as user-friendly as it could be. Windows.
XNView is another long-time free favorite that is very powerful. Windows.
These are useful if you’re looking to batch process multiple photos at once by doing things like resizing, converting the format, adding watermarks, or applying filters. There are a lot of apps that can do these types of things–here are some that I’ve found particularly useful.
XnConvert is a companion to the popular XnViewMP. It’s free and cross-platform, with versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It has seemingly endless options and is compatible with over 500 image file formats. Cross-platform / Free.
IrfanView. As well as being a top-notch image viewer–and free as well–Irfanview includes powerful batch processing capabilities, although its workflow isn’t as polished or self-evident as some other options. Windows only / Free.
BatchPhoto can work with RAW files as well as a bunch of others. It’s a basic three-step process: choose photos, choose whatever edits to apply to them, and then output them. It’s a paid app for Mac and Windows with a free trial version.
PhotoMill doesn’t support as many file formats as some other options, but it supports all the main ones and includes a slick, if busy, interface. It also has good search functionality, GPS geotagging support, and ability to assign ICC color profiles. Mac only / paid.
PhotoBulk has the least features and actions of the apps in this batch processing section, but that simplicity also makes it very quick and easy to use and therefore something I often find myself reaching for if I just need to very quickly convert images from PNG to JPG or resize them. It’s basically a drop panel with sections for watermarking, resizing, optimizing, and renaming. Mac only / Paid. I have a review of PhotoBulk posted separately.
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.
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 will likely appreciate the added features.
Some of the main options are:
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