Lightroom is the most popular one-stop image management and image processing app, but it's not the only option. Here are some apps worth looking at if you're after an alternative to Lightroom.
Adobe Lightroom has become 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 like 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 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. Whether you’re looking 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.
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. Both Lightroom and Aperture were 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 there is a downside, and that is that it adds another step that can slow down the initial parts of the workflow (ingesting the images into the catalog and generating the thumbnails).
All of these apps combine both image management features as well as RAW image processing.
Skylum Luminar 4 has been developing quickly and strongly, starting with RAW processing and a wide array of filters and editing tools and is compatible with third-party presets. They now added a built-in image management library and some impressive image enhancement tools such as their AI Sky Enhancer, AI Sky Replacement, and AI Structure tools.
Luminar can also act as a hub for other popular Skylum apps like Aurora HDR.
One distinctive thing about Luminar’s editing approach is that it allows the use of layers, which I find can be useful to combine edits in ways that don’t easily lend themselves to a single layer.
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 (it works for new licenses as well as upgrades from previous versions).
ON1 Photo RAW 2020. 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 2020, they’ve given me a code for my readers to get 20% off–use the coupon code HAVECAMERA at checkout.
Capture One. Capture One has been evolving quickly and impressively. What started with a heavy emphasis on high-end medium format cameras from PhaseOne has evolved in 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.
They put particular emphasis on high-end rendering quality. 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). 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.
Two things in their licensing worth noting: 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. There’s a 30-day free trial, and it works on Mac and Windows. You can find the various buy/license options here.
ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 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. It’s Windows-only, and there’s a free trial version.
Corel AfterShot Pro 3. 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 retains Bibble’s emphasis on speed—they claim that it is “up to 4x faster than Adobe Lightroom.” It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
AlienSkin Exposure X5 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
DxO PhotoLab 3 is the main current product from DxO, the team who have long put the emphasis on measuring and correcting optical shortcomings in lenses and cameras (see DxOMARK). PhotoLab incorporates a bunch of different tools to process and enhance images, including the salvaged Nik Collection apps that Google abandoned a while back. There’s a free 30-day full-featured trial version.
Darktable is free, open-source, and works on 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.
LightZone is free, open-source, and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux, but development seems to have lagged in recent years.
ACDSee Photo Studio Professional 2018 focuses on image processing and doesn’t include the image management options of ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020 (see above). Windows only for this version, but there is a separate option for Mac users that’s called ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac 6.
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. They have a range of tools broken out by the type of RAW files you’re working with.
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, 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.
SilkyPix Developer Studio. There are versions for Windows and Mac, and they have a 30-day trial version.
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.
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).
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.
These are usually classed as Digital Asset Management (or DAM) apps. Many of them will handle other file formats as well as images. Their emphasis is on organizing and finding files and generally have very lightweight processing capabilities (if they have them at all).
iMatch 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. It doesn’t have as large a development team behind it as some of the other apps here, but its developer is super-dedicated, 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.
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. 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 Standard 2020 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.
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 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 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. 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.
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 the 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.
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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