Adobe Lightroom has long been the photographer’s standard for photo management and editing. But with Adobe’s recent decision to end all support for Lightroom 6 (now renamed Lightroom Classic) and now only offering subscription pricing, many are looking for alternatives. Here’s my short list of the top 6 Lightroom alternatives for the Mac.
Originally created for photographers that prefer to shoot tethered (i.e. connected to their computer as they shoot), Capture One has since broadened out into a fully-featured photo editing program. Like Lightroom, it has a catalog system and excellent editing options. Beyond that, it also offers annotations, layers, customizable workspaces, batch editing, filters and smart albums. Most importantly, if you’re a Lightroom user, you can easily migrate your Lightroom Catalog into Capture One’s catalog system. As far as image quality is concerned, it actually surpasses Lightroom in both Raw processing and color handling. It’s been around for a while and is the most well-established alternative to Lightroom. The only major downside is the price.
On1 Photo Raw also has a catalog system and Raw processing, but also includes fast HDR processing. Other features include pano stitching, local adjustments, luminosity masks, layer support, and lots of presets and photo effect filters. Its import process leaves a bit to be desired, as copying files has to be done externally and there’s no keywording or renaming on import, but these will reportedly be added on the next update. Also, their auto adjustments often come out with some crazy results. Switching between modes and can be particularly slow, as well as switching between photos in develop mode. Still, it’s far less expensive than Capture One and is likely to do all that you need. There’s even an app for iOS as well.
Luminar is very similar to On1 Photo Raw in features, offering numerous presets and filter effects, strong editing features, layer support, and excellent healing and cloning. Some of its special effects—like sunrays—can’t be found anywhere else. It also offers a sleek, intuitive user interface and customizable workspaces that work as part of your workflow. The editing options run the gamut from one-click effects to serious in-depth control, and it uses artificial intelligence to analyze problems spots in your photos which you can then correct with a slider.
What it doesn’t have, however, is a cataloguing system/DAM (though one will be added in a free update later this year). And while it does have lens corrections, you have to do them all manually. Also, the Raw processor is a bit lac-luster and could use some work. Still, with Skylum releasing updates fast and furiously, you won’t be able to beat the price (unless you go for freeware). Once it gets its cataloguing system and auto lens corrections, it will be a firm contender.
If you shoot in Raw, you’ll want to take a serious look at DxO Photolab. It immediately identifies the camera and lens you used and then applies all the necessary lens corrections—you don’t even need to think about it. On top of that, their Raw processor creates image quality on par with Capture One, with a wide tonal range, low noise, and excellent sharpness. (Of course, the editor works just fine on Jpegs too, but it really shines in the Raw.) One added boost is that DxO just acquired the Nik photo filters and is already applying their technology to its Photolab with control point technology. On the downside, it has no catalog, can be a somewhat sluggish, and its user interface is a bit technical. Still, if you want unsurpassed Raw photo editing, this is the program to try.
Price: The Essential Edition $83.99, The Elite Edition $129.99
If you’re a firm believer in open-source programming and/or you just want something for free, take a look at RawTherapee. It has all the standard editing features you need in a Raw editor, including lens corrections, auto corrections, advanced color controls. It’s Raw processing is well beloved by its enthusiast crowd, especially those who use Fuji cameras (Fuji Raw files are notoriously difficult to process). The interface isn’t as smooth as one would like and it sometimes takes a while for new lenses to be added, but for all that, it’s simply the best open-source Lightroom alternative out there. Also, if English is not your strong suit, RawTherapee is available in over 25 languages and will soon have more.
Darktable is another excellent open source option and offers some features that RawTherapee doesn’t, including extensive library management options, scripting, and tethered-shooting support. It’s Raw processing supports over 400 cameras, and its editing features include lookup tables, denoise, and lens corrections. On the downside, it’s user interface can be a challenging and lacks the polish of the other editing platforms. It also doesn’t support local edits, needs a more powerful clone tool, and, most importantly for many users, lacks an undo system. Still, it works great for many users and has excellent documentation to go with it.
Choosing between different softwares, remember that even the smartest photo editor is only a tool, not a solution. Neither of them would bring you professional results if haven’t mastered the necessary skills yet. We certainly advise you to learn photo editing, but we know that takes time. If you need your photos retouched in a very limited time, professional photo editing services like FixThePhoto could also be an alternative. Qualified photo retouchers can handle your wedding, portrait or any photoshoot following your style guidelines and deliver quality results at a fair price.
In the end, which program that’s best for you will depend mostly on your workflow. All of these programs allow you to try them for free. Luminar, ON1 Photo, and DxO Photolab are all available in plugin form for Lightroom as well, so you can make your transition slowly if you like. So try them out and see which works best for you.