Even if you think Lightroom is one of the best photo editing software applications, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s subscription-only. In other words, you can never own Lightroom, nor will you ever, ever stop paying for it.
However, having tested dozens of photo editing applications this year alone, I can tell you that you do not need to endure a Lightroom subscription for an optimal photo editing experience. Thus, for your reading pleasure, here are the best alternatives to Lightroom you can buy outright. Jump to Conclusion
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How I Evaluate Photo Editing Software
I have personally used and tested Lightroom and each of its alternatives extensively. My priority tends to be ergonomics and how fast a photo editing application responds to my adjustments. After this, I balance the application’s feature set with usability since one tends to impact the other.
The best photo editing software applications are responsive and successfully balance an extensive feature set with ease of use, resulting in a workflow I’m happy to recommend.
Best Lightroom Alternatives Quick Comparison
Short on time? Here is a quick summary of my top Lightroom alternatives. Keep reading for a more comprehensive overview.
Best Alternative to Lightroom – ACDSee Photo Studio Professional 2023
ACDSee Photo Studio Professional is the closest alternative to Lightroom I have used. Like Lightroom, ACDSee Professional 2023 features Face Recognition powered photo management and an outstanding Raw editor that’s responsive and straightforward.
Moreover, you can forever own ACDSee Photo Studio Professional 2023 for just US$99 – about the same as ten months’ worth of Lightroom. As a result, so long as you don’t crave Lightroom’s cloud capabilities and the integrated 1TB worth of storage, ACDSee Photo Studio Professional 2023 is an absolute bargain. Read ACDSee Photo Studio Professional 2023 Review
Best Lightroom Alternative for Beginners – Luminar Neo
Luminar Neo is perhaps the best photo editing software application for beginners outright. Unlike most photo editing applications that require you to craft your effect using traditional adjustments, Luminar Neo is packed with effects-orientated adjustments such as Sky Enhance AI, Golden Hour Glow, and Foliage Enhancer.
Moreover, Luminar Neo’s extensive range of AI-adapted presets means you can process your photo to perfection without making any adjustments.
Yet, it would be a mistake to confuse Luminar Neo’s accessibility with simplicity. Features such as Portrait Bokeh AI, Sky Replacement, and Relight AI are as helpful to experts as they are to beginners. Overall, Luminar Neo is one of my favorite photo editing applications and the most fun to use. Read Luminar Neo Review.
Best Lightroom Alternative for Features – ON1 Photo Raw 2023
ON1 Photo Raw is another all-in-one photo management and editing studio that, in terms of functionality, offers a broadly similar experience to Lightroom without demanding a monthly subscription.
But amazingly, ON1 Photo Raw’s functionality far exceeds Lightroom and almost everything else. For instance, it includes all of ON1’s professional plug-ins, namely ON1 NoNoise AI, Resize AI, Effects, Skyswap, Portrait Enhancer, and HDR. Plus, focus stacking, panorama stitching, object recognition powered masking, AI keyword tagging, and more.
Unfortunately, this embarrassment of riches can contribute to a clunky user experience and some latency. Nevertheless, if you’re willing to spend the time getting to know ON1 Photo Raw, you will be rewarded. Read ON1 Photo Raw Review
Best Lightroom Alternative for Editing Raw Files – DxO PhotoLab 6 Elite
Like Lightroom, DxO PhotoLab is a traditional-style photo editing application augmented with AI super features. Specifically, DxO PhotoLab has the finest raw conversion tool I’ve ever used and, possibly, the best AI-powered noise reduction in DeepPRIME. As a result, DxO PhotoLab’s image quality is at least as good as the very best.
Furthermore, DxO PhotoLab is pleasant to use. It’s fast and responsive, and its user interface can be customized to present your favorite tools and adjustments.
Perhaps PhotoLab’s biggest problem is that its most attractive features, DeepPRIME noise reduction and Raw conversion, can be bought separately in DxO PureRaw 3. Nor does PhotoLab offer any answer to Lightroom’s astonishingly effective integration with the cloud.
But if you’re looking for fantastic image quality – subscription free – DxO PhotoLab is an excellent alternative to Lightroom. Read DxO PhotoLab 6 Review
Best Lightroom Alternative for Layer-Based Photo Editing – ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2023
ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate is, perhaps, the most underrated photo studio on Earth and, in many ways, a superior alternative to Lightroom. Significantly, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate has been my favored photo editing application for my personal use for years.
Like Lightroom, ACDSee Ultimate has state-of-the-art photo management, including keyword tagging, face recognition, and geotagging. And unlike Lightroom, you can create smart collections that automatically group images by common criteria such as camera model, people, and shooting parameters.
As for photo editing, you might consider ACDSee’s raw editor superior to Lightroom. Specifically, ACDSee Ultimate offers more targeted adjustments and features, and the interface is equally straightforward and responsive.
Moreover, ACDSee Ultimate includes a second layer-based Photoshop-style photo editor with AI tools such as automatic subject selection and portrait enhancement. As a result, ACDSee Ultimate’s creative envelope comfortably exceeds Lightroom’s.
However, Lightroom’s unique selling point is its subscription, perpetual development, inclusive cloud storage, and the ability to view, edit, and distribute your photos to almost any device anywhere. But if you don’t care about that, ACDSee Ultimate is cheaper, equally lovely to use, and enjoys a superior feature set. Read ACDSee Ultimate Review
Do you still want Lightroom?
I love Lightroom, but many other alternatives to Lightroom which are just as good and can be bought outright and owned forever.
But if you want an excellent photo editor, inclusive cloud storage with automatic backups, perpetual updates, compatibility with the latest cameras, and the ability to view, edit, and distribute your photos across the internet – Lightroom is tough to beat. Read Lightroom Review
How to Choose Your Alternative to Lightroom
Any of these Lightroom alternatives can produce images equal to those of Lightroom. Moreover, each photo editor listed here is responsive, stable, and jammed with features. Therefore, which you prefer will likely come down to your personal preferences.
Yet, there are some essential differences you ought to consider. First, if you are looking for the most effortless route toward editing a photo – buy Luminar Neo. Not only does Luminar Neo make photo editing easy, but it’s also a lot of fun to use.
Suppose you’re looking for powerful photo management features and don’t mind nudging your exposure settings and pulling your tone curves. In that case, ACDSee Photo Studio Professional is of incredible value and marks the beginning of diminishing returns.
Every other Lightroom alternative offers specific advantages you may or may not benefit from. For instance, ON1 Photo Raw pretty much does everything – whether you need it to or not, and is a little complex. DxO PhotoLab 6 Elite shines thanks to its outstanding raw conversion and noise reduction.
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Having tested many alternatives to Lightroom, I can tell you that you do not need to endure a subscription to enjoy a Lightroom-esque photo editing experience. For instance, ACDSee Professional 2023 is very similar yet costs far less. While ON1 Photo Raw, Luminar Neo, and DxO PhotoLab 6 are superior to Lightroom in some regards.
Yet, none of these Lightroom alternatives offer exactly what Lightroom does. Specifically, thanks to its cloud integration, Lightroom untethers your photo collection from your PC, making your images accessible and editable anywhere in the world across a multitude of devices. And unlike your one-off purchase, Lightroom is continually developed, resulting in new features and compatibility with the latest cameras.
But, if you don’t care about any of that, the never-ending cost of Lightroom is a bitter pill to swallow – a pill you needn’t swallow at all. Read Lightroom Review