For nearly 3 years, I was searching for an alternative to Adobe Lightroom Classic. Finally I made a decision so I can move on with my photography.
Readers of my blog will recall that I was not too happy with Adobe’s choice to remove perpetual licenses. For a while, I did continue with my perpetual license. But at the same time, I kept looking for an alternative to Lightroom.
In nearly 3 years, I have tested Phase One Capture One, On1 Photo RAW and Skylum Luminar. Now I made a decision. To cut a long story short: My alternative to the Lightroom perpetual license is the Lightroom subscription model.
You: Are you f&%$§# kidding me? I hear you. If you visited this post to read about a non-Adobe alternative, I have to disappoint you. But I encourage you to read on to understand why I came to this conclusion.
Believe me, I did take my time testing software alternatives to Lightroom. I did own licenses for Photo RAW and Luminar and updated them at least twice. For Capture One, I used their evaluation version. I have published an infrared photography specific part of this comparison in my article Why You Should No Longer Consider Luminar 4 for Infrared Photography, if you are interested.
One of the most heard complaints is the (lack of) speed in Lightroom. That is true. But then it is not. It is only true if you compare the software alternatives to the last perpetual Lightroom version 6.12. For a true comparison, you will need to compare against the latest version of Lightroom Classic. Once you start comparing the latest versions, Lightroom does not feel slow at all.
Also, I need to mention that I am usually not looking at results at 200% magnification. For me, a smooth workflow is more important than maybe a 3% better result in RAW sharpening or color grading. Tons of presets is also nothing that is of interest to me, quite the opposite. I like to create my own presets and apply them sparingly. And I guess nothing beats the new marketing slogan Artificial Intelligence these days – one click and you are there. Sorry, but not for me.
Are you actually aware of how many features have been added to Lightroom since version 6.12? If you are not 100% sure, I highly recommend reading Victoria Bampton’s post What’s new in Lightroom Classic since Lightroom 6?. You will be surprised by how much has changed.
In the end, none of the alternatives were a perfect fit for my work style. I use the map module a lot, I print a lot and I work a lot with infrared pictures. Here, Lightroom is still the leader of the pack, especially when it comes to more complex print layouts.
I have to say that I liked the layer model in Photo RAW a lot. Truly I hope this is something we will see in Lightroom at a later time. The ability to blend pictures was simple and yet powerful. I know I can do it in Photoshop, but that adds another workflow step with another intermediate file.
Eventually, I had to make a decision because my new Nikon Z6 was not supported by Lightroom 6.12. To convert all my Nikon RAW files to DNG is not an option for me. So, new software was required.
What helped me the most was a set of videos offered by Matt Kloskowski. Matt compares most of the Lightroom alternatives and adds his conclusions. The videos are available for free (registration is required): Making the Switch From Adobe?
I have a lot of respect for Matt and I believe he did a great job with his comparison. No emotions, just solid facts – presented in a logical and structured manner. If you are searching for a Lightroom alternative, please watch these videos. It will help you with your decision making.
It was this set of videos which got me seriously thinking about the Adobe subscription model. So, ironically, watching videos on how to switch away from Lightroom made me reconsider Adobe.
Photo RAW is something I really wanted to like. They update the software frequently, it is stable and fast. What did not work for me was the printing module. Other than that, I would recommend that you at least take a look at it. I plan to keep it on my PC just to see where the development is heading.
Skylum should receive the price for the most ridiculous software upgrade: In Luminar version 3, they had introduced a handy channel mixer tool (together with other tools), which they removed again in version 4. Huh? How does this help their users? Sorry, but this kind of unpredictable feature planning is a no-go.
2.Pricing models compared
So this leaves us with Capture One. If you compare the current update price of Capture One ($ 159) to the annual Adobe Photography plan ($ 120), Adobe is actually cheaper. Let’s also not forget, Adobe includes Photoshop. Capture One users will likely have to purchase additional software like Affinity Photo, if they need layers or advanced masking.
At this point, I was already leaning towards Adobe. And again, Matt Kloskowski was the reason for my final decision. He wrote a blog post with the title: Why Is No One Mad at Capture One? where he compares the pricing models and the features added in the last 12 months to Lightroom and Capture One. For me, this was the final piece of the puzzle.
A quick thought on subscription models in general: they are the future of software development, and they are here to stay. I didn’t like it either, but then I figured out how many subscriptions I already own: Microsoft Office 365, various desktop software licenses, cloud services, the list goes on. Why should Adobe be an exception?
In summary, my key reasons for choosing the Adobe Photography plan were:
- Instant availability of features I need for my workflow
- Competitive pricing model
- Lack of switching costs: no additional time required to learn a new piece of software. Do not underestimate this!
In hindsight, I wish I had earlier come to a conclusion. Thinking about how much time I have spent testing software – I could have achieved a lot in this time. Anyway, I am happy that I made a choice, because it allows me to focus on what is really important – my photography.
Did you also look for for an alternative to Adobe Lightroom? If yes, what did you do? Let us know in the comment section below!
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There are 16 comments on “My Quest for a Lightroom Alternative Is Over. This Was My Choice.”:
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I had LR6 and was annoyed when it wouldn’t carry over to my M1 MacBook (bought last year).
I tried ON Photo RAW. I’m not at all tolerant of having to use new software and I couldn’t get on with it.
Eventually, my wife got fed up with my ranting and instructed me to pay for the Adobe subscription.
I don’t use much of it so it’s not great value for money. I don’t use PS at all and in LR I don’t use Library for organising. My main Develop tools are subject selection and new layer / invert. But I like texture and clarity and do use super resolution. One day I’ll do some panoramas. (I take landscapes, wildlife, nature, macro and our dogs).
I’m used to LR and so I don’t waste time flailing around with new software.
I am on the look out for something that has a similar develop function and doesn’t cost as much. But I am resigned to subscription as I can see why it makes more sense for developers and can deliver a better product for customers.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Robert. For me, just the recent additions regarding detecting subjects and the sky is worth the subscription. And as I wrote, a few times a year you can get LR for a lot less…
Thanks for your articles on IR software editing.
I have read that Exposure is quite good for IR photography including having some useful IR presets & features for your editing to help you get started. It can also be used as a plugin for LR or PS.
Have you looked into this software?
Personally I have never used (Alien Skin) Exposure for IR photography. From your link I see there are a lot of presets to simulate specific IR film emulations, but nothing specific for the treatment of IR pictures. Specifically interesting would be how Exposure can handle the low white balance settings needed to get rid of the red cast. Perhaps you may want to try and share your experience here?
Price-wise I have to say it it appears to be more expensive or equivalent to the Adobe Photography bundle I am using today. Especially with the latest changes to masking, I rarely find myself using Photoshop. So personally, Exposure does not offer anything to me I would want right now. But please let us know how it worked for you!
I’ve gone with Affinity Photo, which works impressively for both my conventional and infrared photography. I paid about £25 for it about 4 years ago and I have had every upgrade to date at no additional cost. For blue effect I can mix the red and blue channels, but I find a more pleasing effect by swapping the black and highlight sliders in levels and setting the corresponding blend mode to hue.
Derek, thank you for the comment. I agree, Affinity Photo is an impressive piece of software for the price they charge. Good to know that it is suitable for IR photography as well.
I still have and use LR6 and Photoshop 4. I import my raw files through the DNG converter, which lets this older software process images from newer cameras (Sony A7R4 for example). That said, I find I use DxO and On1 more often and really only need to update every other release (every 2 years for about $80.00 each)
Thank you for sharing your workflow Jim. For me, adding the DNG converter just so I can work on my pictures, is not an option – storage-wise and time-wise. I do use DxO from time to time, but just as a plugin to Lightroom. On1 I have stopped upgrading, because for roughly the price of their annual upgrades I can get Lightroom plus Photoshop. Besides the layer functionality, On1 does not offer a lot over what Lightroom does for me. And unfortunately, there is still no decent way to process IR pictures in On1.
For me as well, I ended up back at LR for IR processing. The good news it that I also bumped into your site, which has been a great help.
Thank you for the kind words Jim. I agree, with the ability to create custom profiles Lightroom is currently the best solution for infrared pictures.
I have Canon bodies and I decided to use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, which is really good software as the first step. Mostly because they handle the Raw files better than Adobe. Photos I want to process further, I will then convert to Tiffs and then manage my workflow through LR 6 and PS (if necessary). Canon DPP -> LR 6 -> PS (if needed) -> LR 6 -> My Website
I have no intention to subscribe to LR ever.
Thank you for sharing your workflow Tanya. I am glad to hear that you have found the right combination of tools for your requirements.
When I saw your blog post I thought, “I hope he says Lightroom”. I was not disappointed. Your justification is sound and many of your reasons are also reasons why I have not left. Including the fact that the Lightroom/Photoshop duo are the most popular platforms that people create features and training for. Several tools I use function only with a Lightroom/Photoshop workflow. I can understand the frustration of being pushed into a subscription model but most of the other companies are heading that direction too. On1 now has a service and while not mandatory they also push hard to upgrade you each year as well. I too look/wait for discounts for Lightroom, so I am usually only spending $100/year to help shave some of the costs down.
I found your page when researching infrared and Olympus. I enjoyed your article on the infrared lens review and found it helpful. I was back to reference it when I found this blog post.
Thanks for the great reads.
Matthew – thank you for leaving a comment, I really appreciate the feedback. I have also noticed ON1 pushing towards their subscription model. What worries me is that they seem to have neglected their core product Photo Raw, specifically the development module. But I still like the layers and increasingly the B&W conversion tools, for my IR work. I truly hope that now after they have released ON1 360, the focus will return to Photo Raw.
Anyway, I believe we photographers have a lot of choices available on the market – there is a tool for every need, so we really cannot complain. Let’s make the best of what we have available instead of constantly chasing the ultimate solution!
Did the exact same process 6 months ago and came to this exact same conclusion 😅
I stay with Adobe because of LR catalog and export plugins, the desktop + mobile ecosystem where you can have your whole smart previews in the cloud and editable from everywhere, and the Photoshop extensions I have. This is more important to be able to change the sky of a few pics 😂
The only thing missing in LR that I would love to have is layers with all the capabilities like channel mixing and so on.
Perfect, so I am not the only one! :-) I could not agree more on the layers. Thank you for sharing your process!