Last updated on July 14th, 2021

You probably came to this guide looking for the best Lightroom alternative because you’re tired of paying for subscriptions, or you’re looking for a free substitute to save some cash.

You’re not alone.

I get it, not everyone can afford photography software, and a free alternative to Lightroom is awesome. Or maybe you don’t use desktop photography often enough to justify the purchase.

In addition, many photographers are against monthly subscriptions, especially with many individuals and small businesses struggling financially during the pandemic in 2021. And these hard times will probably trickle several years into the future.

And it’s not just about the cost of Lightroom. Some photography software have better features, interfaces, and workflows that can suit you better than Lightroom.

Before Lightroom was subscription-based, you could buy a perpetual license: you own the Lightroom software outright.

I remember buying Lightroom 5 for $99. Then shortly after, the Adobe Creative Cloud added Lightroom to its business model. What a bummer. Lightroom 6 was the final version of Lightroom Classic that you could buy outright.

Whatever your reason is, this review of the best paid and free Lightroom alternatives will help you out.

Keep in mind, when most photographers refer to Lightroom, they are referring to Lightroom Classic instead of the newer Lightroom CC (Creative Cloud), which is intended to be cloud-based. Professional photographers prefer Lightroom Classic. This means that there are two different and up-to-date types of Lightroom. Throughout this post and website, Lightroom refers to Lightroom Classic unless stated otherwise.

Best Lightroom Alternatives

There are two main reasons amateur and professional photographers buy Lightroom: image management and editing. Consequently, it’s important the Lightroom substitute you choose can organize image files comprehensively and can complete most photo-editing tasks.

In contrast, several photographers don’t care too much about image management, and instead, image editing is more important.

As a result, keep in mind the image management and editing abilities of the Lightroom alternatives in the below list.

1. Capture One Pro

Capture One Pro screenshot - best Lightroom alternative

By far the leading alternative to Lightroom, Capture One Pro is a professional digital asset manager (DAM) developed by Phase One.

It nearly has all the same features that Lightroom has but also excels in other areas such as tethered shooting, advanced color grading, and annotations for collaborative work. Capture One does lack behind Lightroom when it comes to the Map and Book modules as they are non-existent.

On the other hand, Fujifilm and Sony shooters argue that Capture One has a better RAW processer for Fuji and Sony RAW files resulting in more accurate images. Plus, there’s a reasonable discount for Fuji, Nikon, and Sony-specific versions of Capture One Pro. Many adventure travelers are also going mirrorless for their hiking cameras to save space: Fuji and Sony cameras lead the way, with Canon and Nikon catching up.

If you’re moving from Lightroom to Capture One, there will be a slight learning curve because the interface is noticeably different than Lightroom. On the other hand, Capture One’s interface is customizable, whereas Lightroom isn’t.

With Capture One being the best Lightroom alternative, it does come with a higher cost compared to other options on this list. You can buy Capture One Pro outright with a perpetual license or use their subscription option (which I doubt you will do). There is also a free alternative called Capture One Express with limited features for Fujifilm and Sony.

Read the full review of Capture One Pro.

Why Capture One Pro is a good Lightroom alternative:

  • you can buy the software outright
  • supports over 500 camera models
  • two different ways of organizing images
  • renders Fuji and Sony RAW files better than Lightroom
  • discounts for Fuji, Nikon, and Sony photographers
  • advanced color grading

Why you may not like it:

  • costly
  • no HDR or panorama stitching

Price:

  • $299 for the full version of Capture One Pro
  • $199 for Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony Capture One Pro versions
  • student discount available
  • 30-day free trial available
  • subscriptions available
  • Capture One Express for Fujifilm and Sony is free

2. ON1 Photo RAW

ON1 Photo RAW 2021 screenshot - Lightroom alternative

Lightroom’s ecosystem with Lightroom Mobile for Android and iOS makes it appealing for on-the-move photographers. Fortunately, ON1 Photo RAW also has a free mobile app. This allows you to sync your photos and edits across multiple devices: desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. The ON1 ecosystem is a pretty sweet deal since you can get just under $100.

ON1 Photo RAW has many of the essential tools that Lightroom has, including soft proofing for prints. In addition, it includes layers. On the other hand, Photo RAW doesn’t have a customizable interface, and I believe Lightroom’s interface is better for beginners.

Importing and managing photos is easy. Photo RAW will create a catalog database to record your image file info. You can also browse files within the software and edit images without importing or creating a catalog. As usual, you can also add metadata like keywords or color labels for sorting later.

For portrait photographers, the application has a few adjustments to quickly enhances faces by smoothing out the skin with its Portrait AI and masking tools.

Creative photographers can take advantage of LUTs and the ability to import brushes. If you have a bland sky in your landscape photo, you can brush in a few clouds.

Photographers who love Lightroom’s map module and see the GPS locations where their images were photographed will love the map view in Photo RAW. This comes in handy when you take photos in the middle of nowhere and the location doesn’t have a name. The map view works best if your camera already has GPS built-in and can stamp the coordinates into your RAW file. You can also manually add the location in Photo RAW.

Read the full ON1 Photo RAW review.

Why ON1 Photo RAW is a good Lightroom alternative:

  • includes mobile app
  • map view
  • supports layers
  • dedicated portrait retouching tools
  • effects filters for creative adjustments
  • ecosystem syncs photos and edits

Why you may not like it:

  • interface not customizable

Price:

  • $99.99 for a perpetual license
  • 14-day free trial available

3. Exposure X6

Exposure X6 screenshot

Another great software to replace Lightroom is Exposure X6. It comes with several features to complete most photo-editing jobs.

What stands out from Exposure X6 is that it doesn’t create a catalog for image management. The software instead creates a meta folder to point to your image files. This speeds up the importing process for beginners and helps you get to editing photos faster. But you can still apply keywords and ratings to your photos for sorting.

And unlike Lightroom, Exposure X6’s interface is customizable.

The software is an excellent tool for creatives that play with color. Exposure X6 is packaged with an advanced color editor to help photographers excel in color grading. If you’re looking to color correct your landscape twilight photos or retouch a portrait, the advanced color editor makes it easy.

And to further add to color grading, Exposure X6 allows you to add LUTs (lookup tables) to your images. Packed with the software is 500+ presets, including film, B&W, and Fuji simulations.

It also has the power of layers like Photoshop to make non-destructive edits.

A feature for photographers that shoot in low-light is the camera-specific noise-reduction tool. Many photography software reduce noise on an image basis. But Exposure X6 is designed to reduce noise based on the image sensor and the output RAW file.

One significant tool that Exposure X6 is missing is soft proofing. If you’re looking to manage colors for prints, it may not be an ideal Lightroom alternative.

You can buy Exposure X6 as part of a bundle that includes Blow Up, Eye Candy, and Snap Art. But these software seem outdated and don’t seem to receive the updates that Exposure X6 does.

Read the full review of Exposure X6.

Why Exposure X6 is a good Lightroom alternative:

  • affordable
  • advanced color editor
  • camera-specific noise reduction
  • simple image management
  • customizable interface
  • 500+ presets

Why you may not like it:

  • no soft proofing
  • no HDR or panorama stitching
  • its other software are outdated

Price:

  • $129 for a perpetual license
  • 30-day free trial available
  • use coupon code Aperlust2020 for 10% off

4. Luminar 4

Luminar 4 screenshot

If you’re mainly looking to edit images and not too worried about file management, then Luminar 4 is worth a look.

The software developed by Skylum is intended for fast edits and is geared towards creative photographers.

You can import and tag images, but the image management is not as comprehensive as Lightroom or Capture One Pro. But it wasn’t intended to be a full-out DAM (digital asset manager).

Luminar 4 uses quite a bit of artificial intelligence to apply several of its adjustments, such as AI Sky Enhanced, AI Skin Enhance, and AI Portrait Enhancer. This saves photographers time with editing images.

I find the software’s features to be excellent for landscape and portrait photographers. However, any photography genre can take advantage of its features.

What’s neat for landscape photographers is you can quickly replace dull skies with an alternative sky without masking. That’s because it automatically detects the sky and creates a mask for you. You can even add sun rays to your landscapes. Furthermore, you can easily add objects to your sky, like birds, planes, and the moon.

And like Photoshop, Luminar 4 supports layers. Something Lightroom can’t do.

The software doesn’t support HDR, but Skylum did develop the best HDR software, Aurora HDR. If you love landscape photography during the twilight hours, then read the Aurora HDR review.

Color grading is set up well in Luminar 4 with its LUTs capability and tools like color enhancer, photo enhancer, and the usual split toning.

If you find most presets just don’t work with your images, then you’ll be surprised with Luminar 4. Its included presets, called Looks, are quite effective, and they’re systematically categorized into essentials, street, landscape, portrait, lifestyle, dramatic, and aerial. And of course, you can save your own Looks.

Luminar 4 was released in 2019, and many users (mostly Windows) have experienced crashing issues with it. Skylum has been updating the software for performance, so hopefully, it’s functioning better now. I use a Mac and don’t have performance issues with Luminar 4.

Read the full review of Luminar 4.

Why Luminar 4 is a good Lightroom alternative:

  • fast edits with artificial intelligence
  • no subscription required
  • supports layers
  • landscape and portrait-specific tools

Why you may not like it:

  • minimal image-management features
  • no HDR or panorama stitching

Price:

  • $89 for a perpetual license
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • use coupon code aperlust for $10 off

5. Darktable

Darktable screenshot - Free Lightroom alternative

So, you like free? Darktable is an open-source, free Lightroom alternative.

That’s right; there’s no need to pay for a perpetual license or a subscription. You don’t even have to provide your email address.

What makes Darktable stand out from other alternatives to Lightroom is that it’s available on several operating systems other than Windows and macOS.

Darktable is compatible with the following operating systems: Ubuntu, Fedora, Opensuse, Arch, Gentoo, Rhel, Debian, Solaris, Freebsd, Windows, and macOS.

The software has library and develop modules like Lightroom, called Lighttable and Darkroom, respectively.

In Lighttable, you import and manage photos. The import process is not as comprehensive as Lightroom, but it does the job. You can also sort and add metadata to images. As a result, searching for images shouldn’t be a problem.

The real fun with Darktable is its editing capabilities. The software does not hold back on features and has several advanced tools like lens corrections, color grading, and masking.

Furthermore, it also has a map module like Lightroom. This is one of my favorites features since I travel often. With a GPS-enabled camera, I can visualize where I captured my photos. This is helpful when you take photos in remote locations without a name.

The downside of Darkside is its interface and performance. I tested it on a Mac. Maybe this was a mistake, but the workflow is slow on Darktable and figuring things out isn’t easy. With this Lightroom alternative being available on several operating systems, it’s hard to find specific video tutorials for your machine.

Nonetheless, this software still delivers a great punch for something that doesn’t mess with your bank account.

Read the Darktable review.

Why Darktable is a good Lightroom alternative:

  • available on several operating systems
  • provides many editing options for free software
  • open-source

Why you may not like it:

  • importing tool is not great
  • performance issues
  • steep learning curve

Price: Free

6. RawTherapee

RawTherapee Lightroom alternative screenshot

Another free, open-source photography software is RawTherapee. This application is available on Windows, macOS, and Linux. And no email or registration is required. You download, install, and use.

RawTherapee has many of the standard editing tools that premium image editors have. These include RAW file rendering, sharpening and noise reduction, and exposure adjustments.

Similar to Lightroom, RawTherapee has a library module called File Browser. I know, not the cleverest of names, but it serves its purpose, especially if you’re a beginner and you’re looking for the photo library.

RawTherapee does not create a library catalog like Lightroom. Rather, it saves metadata, editing info, etc., in separate files (mainly config, temp, and cache folders like many other software). In order to locate your photos, you use its file explorer.

This leads us to importing images. In RawTherapee, importing and organizing images is up to the photographer via the Windows Explorer or macOS Finder. Importing images is nowhere near Lightroom. On the other hand, the software allows you to add metadata star ratings and color labels for sorting.

Where RawTherapee lacks in import and image management, it makes up with editing in the Editor. It has several helpful features for photography enthusiasts, such as lens correction, soft proofing, and color grading. It interestingly has tone mapping, which is usually done for HDR photography. However, there are better HDR programs in the market, and I wouldn’t rely on RawTherapee’s tone mapping tool. But it’s a nice-to-have.

I found RawTherapee’s interface to be outdated. The performance and image preview lag a bit on my iMac. The software also hasn’t been updated since February 2020, so OS and hardware compatibility may be an issue. For beginner or budget-conscious photographers, the software is excellent. However, I don’t recommend it for professional photographers because it will keep the post-processing workflow slow, which in the end will cost you time and money.

Read the RawTherapee review.

Why RawTherapee is a good Lightroom alternative:

  • available on Windows, macOS, and Linux
  • provides several editing tools to complete most tasks
  • open-source

Why you may not like it:

  • no real image management
  • performance is slow
  • hasn’t been updated since February 2020

Price: Free

Conclusion

Adobe Lightroom has many alternatives, and rightfully so. The software is fantastic and provides a solution for photographers. And several competitors want a cut of this market share.

But only a few photography software can genuinely compete feature-for-feature. And that’s why Capture One Pro is the best Lightroom alternative. The pros use it. The price is competitive for a perpetual license and what C1 offers.