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Searching for a Lightroom Alternative: Is it Time to Switch?

Since Adobe changed some of its Creative Cloud pricing on Monday (4/16/18; note the Photography plans were not impacted), there’s been a lot of discussion surrounding alternatives to Lightroom. And while Lightroom continues to be the industry standard for photo editing and organization, there’s a lot of tools out there that are great alternatives for people who don’t want to be married to a subscription model.

Luminar

$59 for Photofocus readers; available for Mac and Windows

I’ve been using Skylum’s Luminar 2018 since it first came out, and out of all the products listed here, this is the one I’m most impressed with as a RAW processor. There are some things missing — notably the Digital Asset Manager that will be released later this year — but the results I get out of this software are gorgeous. For now, I run Luminar as a Lightroom plugin, but it can also be run as a standalone app.

Interface and Tools: I find the app interface to be very easy to follow and understand, especially as I can customize its paneled filter system to my liking. I can adjust things like the strength of each filter, and I can add presets and LUT (Look Up Table) filters similar to Lightroom’s develop presets and profiles. It also has a very in-depth layer tool, with several options. The latest “Jupiter” update also added camera profiles, a welcome addition.

Catalog: There is no catalog system yet; a Digital Asset Manager has been announced to be released later this year.

Speed: The latest “Jupiter” update has made this faster than Lightroom on my end.

Capture One

$299 or $20/month; available for Mac and Windows

Capture One is known to have the best tethering experience on the market today — it’s fast and easy to make adjustments on-the-fly. But beyond that, Capture One also has a powerful interface, full of tools you’re used to seeing in Lightroom.

Interface and Tools: For me, the interface took a bit of getting used to. You can customize it somewhat, but the icons that Capture One uses are non-standard. In terms of the tools though, everything is there that you’d expect — including layers.

Catalog: Capture One allows for catalogs, but also introduces sessions — a great alternative for single-focus projects. Capture One also lets you import your Lightroom catalog, meaning you can get started right away. This is super helpful, as it keeps your star ratings and color labels so you can pick up right where you left off.

Speed: Because Capture One has a catalog system and works with preview files, it’s pretty fast. It also takes advantage of your machine’s graphics acceleration capabilities. As I applied different adjustments to photos, there was virtually no wait time at all.

RAW Power

$13.99 via the Mac App Store; available for Mac and iOS

What impressed me the most about RAW Power is its ability to restore detail in photographs that you would’ve otherwise thought was lost. RAW Power is developed by a former Senior Director of Engineering at Apple, who worked on iPhoto and Aperture, and thus takes advantage of Apple’s RAW decoder. At its core, RAW Power focuses on developing your RAW photos as best it can, showing you elements like over-exposed highlights as you edit.

Interface and Tools: The interface is pretty simple and easy to understand, consisting only of develop tools. The ability to adjust highlights and shadows is the best I’ve seen from any platform I’ve tested.

Catalog: There is currently no catalog system, but RAW Power can be used as an Apple Photos extension. The iOS version can be used with the iCloud Photo Library.

Speed: Adjustments to individual photos were almost instant; there was virtually no waiting time.

On1 Photo RAW

$119.99 (or $99.99 as an upgrade); available for Mac and Windows

There’s one huge feature with On1 Photo RAW — layers. Outside of that, the program has everything you’re used to coming over from Lightroom, including presets, brushes, develop adjustments and more.

Interface and Tools: In terms of the interface, it has some similarities with Lightroom that will immediately make you feel right at home.

Catalog: Technically there’s no catalog present with On1 — instead, it provides a browse interface that acts similarly. Here’s a blog post by On1 walking you through the migration process from Lightroom.

Speed: In my tests, the speed left a little to be desired. Because there’s no catalog, there are no previews saved, meaning loading each photo can take around 10 seconds on my iMac. But once a photo loads completely, the adjustments are near-instant.

Conclusion

Adobe Lightroom continues to be a powerful tool that a lot of photographers rely on for day-to-day usage. But tools like Luminar, Capture One, RAW Power and On1 Photo RAW are some great alternatives that will help you get the job done, too.

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