Is There A Lightroom Replacement?

In Photography by Matt K84 Comments

Lately, my customer support inbox, social media, and just about every public-facing place I have is filled with the same question over and over again.

“Can (insert program name here) be a replacement for Lightroom/Photoshop?”

After copy/pasting the same response at least 100 times, I figured it was time to write something on it. And I think one of the most important things to first get a handle on it is from an article I wrote last year. It was all about where we are with photo editing these days. My main goal in the article was just to get people to simplify. But there was one really important statement I made that sets up this article:

I believe that photo editing has become (mostly) commoditized. What I mean by that is that the sliders we use pretty much all work the same. Sure, there may be small nuances that the more refined eye can pick up between one editor and another. But for me, the Exposure slider in one program is the same as the Exposure slider in the other program. Even if, -2.5 Exposure doesn’t look exactly the same, most of us don’t edit off of the numbers. We look as we drag, and we can figure it out by looking at the photo.

So I don’t think it’s as important to pick a photo editor based on how good their sliders are. They’re ALL good.

Who Should Read This?

Not everyone needs to read this. If you’re a happy Lightroom/Photoshop user, then simply be happy with what you’re using. You get a very fair price for two very powerful pieces of software. The grass is not necessarily greener, and you’ve got some good and really amazing editing tools at your disposal. Tools that you’ve probably spent a lot of time, energy, and money learning – and they’re not going away anytime soon.

This article was written for someone who is looking for a Lightroom replacement. I won’t get into reasons why. I don’t sell software, and it’s not my place to try to convince you to use one program over another. Especially in this day when they’ve all gotten really good. My job is to educate you on how to edit your photos – and I can/will teach you no matter what program you use.

But, as an educator, I can’t pretend this isn’t one of the biggest questions I’ve been asked lately, so I have to have an answer to it.


I’m basing my thoughts below on three main areas: 1) Raw editing 2) Organizing 3) Price.
First, I think it needs to have a stable, fast, and reliable raw editor. Next, I think you’ll need some way to organize your photos (DAM – Digital Asset Management). And finally, it needs to be a pricing model that you’re comfortable with.

When it comes to money, I believe they’re all going to extract $100-ish from you every year. How you choose to pay for that is up to you – one lump sum, or monthly. Just know that at the end of the year, you’ll end up paying $100-ish (give or take a little), if you’re going to stay updated. And I believe in this day and age (especially with competitors playing catch-up), you need to plan to upgrade every year. After all, besides the in-camera capture process, editing is the most important tool for your photography. So plan to invest in it accordingly.


For me, these are my preferred tools. Probably because I know them like the back of my hand and I’ve been using them for years (10+ years for Lightroom, and 20 years for Photoshop). And also, because I think Adobe has some amazing technology and has done great things over the years to improve them.

I wrote last year that my workflow was, and still is:
1) Start, Organize, and Develop in Lightroom (100% of my photos)
2) Jump to Photoshop for something specific that LR can’t do (60-70% of my photos)
3) Head over to ON1 Effects for stylization and effects that I can’t do in LR or PS (30% of my photos)

Probably the biggest negative on the Adobe side is the pricing – and the subscription model may not be for everyone. There’s definitely some confusion out there as to what happens if you stop paying. People think that Adobe owns your photos, and they’re stuck in there forever. But they’re not. With Lightroom Classic, Adobe never had your photos in the first place – they’re on your drive, not “in” Lightroom.

As for the pricing, it makes sense for me. I like to budget, and I can budget $10/month as my software expense. And for every person that doesn’t care for the subscription, there’s a person who would have never been able to afford Adobe products anyway else – so it’s definitely a love/hate kind of thing.

I know some people have written me wondering if the new name of Lightroom CC Classic means Adobe is getting rid of LR. And while I really dislike the name “classic”, I don’t see Adobe taking Lightroom away from us in any foreseeable future. It’s still a HUGE player in the photography space, and it’s not going anywhere.

If you’re wondering if you should stay with Lightroom, I’ll say what I’ve said to many others. If you are going with the $10/month plan and you’re happy, then stick with it. If you’re not, and you’re going to dig your heels in and stick with an older version… well… it’s time to move on and find another photo editor. You’re not going to get updates, and most likely will just get frustrated. And since this photography thing is supposed to be fun for many of you reading this, I think you should be happy with your editor and the company you choose to go with.

ON1 Photo Raw 2018

Next up… ON1. This is one of the closest Lightroom competitors for most of the people reading this. While I used to work there, and don’t anymore, I do several projects with them because I think they’re creating a great photo editor. And it’s so close to Lightroom that I could practically do my tutorials in LR and an ON1 user would be able to apply it easily.

For me, the ON1 Browse experience is actually how I feel organizing should work. And not from a personal standpoint – I understand catalogs and libraries and I’m okay with it. But from an educational standpoint, importing, cataloging and that whole experience occupies about 90% of the questions I get asked. For that reason, I wish it were different and easier to teach.

And ON1 Develop has just about everything that LR has. Especially in the latest version where they added HDR and Pano merge, they pretty much took care of the big features that people were asking for.

ON1 has the Adjustment brush, Grad filters, masking tools, and all of the effects and presets you could want. Plus, they have layers for some basic Photoshop-like tasks. Overall, if you’re a LR user, the switch to ON1 is fairly simple and you’ll feel at home quickly.

Macphun / Skylum

Next up is Macphun (soon to be Skylum with the name change). They have two main programs out now: 1) Luminar 2) Aurora HDR

Luminar is their Lightroom competitor. They edit raw photos non-destructively and they do a great job at it. They’ve taken a little different approach than ON1 in that they’ve kind of merged the Raw + Effects experience (which is separated in ON1). So you pretty much do your raw adjustments and stylization all in the same place. And that’s not a bad thing… it’s just different. For me, as a LR user, it takes a little getting used to, but I can still get my same look/style with it.

The main place that Macphun falls short, I think, is in the Organization (DAM) area. They don’t have one right now, but they say it’s coming in 2018. So while I think they have a solid raw editor/effects right now, the lack of an organizing tool is a show stopper.

They also don’t have HDR included, but instead sell Aurora HDR as a separate program. Which is fine. But… it freakin’ costs $99, which is insane to me. Yeah, I know… their main competitor is Photomatix Pro which also costs $99. But I’ve always thought that was too much too. I dunno… I guess I’m at the point that I think HDR should be a feature “in” a software – not another piece of software itself.

But… the market will speak. So who knows right? Maybe we’ll see HDR get integrated with Luminar. Honestly, I’d almost expect it because that’s where all of their competition has gone. I think the market for stand alone HDR software is on its way out.

So, the final thought on Luminar is that I think they’re a good raw editor with lots of effects/presets for stylization too. The one BIG thing they’re missing, from being a true competitor to Lightroom right now, is an organizer/photo browser of some sort. For me it’s a show stopper. But it may not be for you. And in a few months, we won’t even be having this conversation because they’ll have that too.

Capture One

Capture One isn’t new. It’s been around for a while and it’s a great program. Once you get past the cost (which is twice of what most others cost each year), it’s a very mature and professional piece of software. In fact, it’s actually pretty darn close to Lightroom when it comes to the features in organizing and developing photos.

For me personally, I’ve always found it MUCH harder to use than Lightroom though. So if you’re reading this, and you’ve thought that LR’s catalog, interface, and import process was a problem, then I’m going to go out on a limb and say Capture One is definitely not for you.

So where does C1 shine? I believe their raw editor is the star of the show. Some people find it better than anything out there. For me, I’ve never really seen a difference. But there are people who have a more refined eye than I do – and I don’t say that sarcastically.

What I really mean by “refined eye” is this…
I’ve sat next to people that emphatically show me the difference between skin tones, and color, etc… in C1. And while I may see the direct difference when they have their photo open in C1 and I have mine open in LR next to it, I can’t actually tell that one is better than the other. And I don’t know that I’d ever see the difference if I didn’t have a Lightroom before/after next to it to compare. That’s what I mean when I say I don’t have the “eye” for it.

But that’s just me. Capture One tends to have a very “pro” following. I believe it’s for a working studio professional. High end fashion and commercial photographers love it (it’s got some of the best tethering support around). And if you look at their website, the very top of it says “Capture One Pro is the Professionals’ choice in imaging software”. It is indeed pro-quality software. Just keep in mind, along with that comes the complexity and learning curve. So if you’ve found LR to be intimidating, then I don’t think C1 is for you. But if you’ve mastered LR (and don’t care to use it anymore), and you have that refined “eye” I was talking about, then C1 could be your alternative.

It also has some great presets and styling choices. But it doesn’t have layers – meaning you can’t can’t layer multiple images on top of one another, and control them separately. Yes, they do have something that they call “Layers”, but it’s no different than adding multiple Local Adjustments like you can in LR and most other raw editors. When most people think of layers, they think of being able to layer multiple images on top of each other, and use various tools to select and blend them together. So if true “Layers” is something that’s important to you, then you’re going to end up buying another program as well.

Is There An Easy Way to Switch From Lightroom?

So that’s what I see as possible competitors to Lightroom right now (November 2017). The next question is, how easy is it to switch? I’m going to be honest right up front and say there is not going to be an easy way to switch from Lightroom. Everyone’s Raw engine is different and proprietary. They don’t share them with their competitors. You’ll probably be able to move your keywords, and star ratings, but not your edits. And yes, you can render out JPG/TIFF files from LR and use them in another software, but that’s not really what most people want. We want our raw edits in LR to look the same in ON1, Macphun, Capture 1, and whoever else.

And unfortunately we’re not there and I don’t see us getting there any time soon.

What About A Photoshop Competitor?

Photoshop is a massive beast of a program. It’s huge and complex and it does a million things and is made for everyone (designers, illustrators, web designers, graphic artists, and photographers). Right now, I think the only real competitor to Photoshop would be Affinity Photo. And I think they’re pretty darn close. So close in fact, that I’ve started doing my training courses to include an Affinity Photo version as well, since the steps are almost the same.

Past Affinity Photo, the best you’re going to find are programs that do “some” of the things Photoshop does. It’s impossible to make a full competitor to Photoshop unless you set out to make a FULL competitor to Photoshop. And I don’t see many companies running to create one because I think it’s a huge undertaking. So you’ll see a lot of companies are trying to pick out some of the common things photographers use in Photoshop, and include them in their software (layers, lookup tablets, blend modes, text, etc…).

I think this is great but keep this in mind. The allure to Photoshop for me is that I can do ANYTHING. And in some ways, I don’t even know what that is. But I know, that in Photoshop, I can find a way.

I think many companies will follow in trying to pick off things that photographers use Photoshop for, and try to add them in to their Lightroom-like software. And for many cases I think it’ll work. But… and this is a big but… there’s always going to be something that only Photoshop (or Affinity) can do. I don’t say this to be a downer. Just be aware of it and expect it to happen. On any given day, somewhere online, you’re going to find a tutorial that does some crazy, incredible thing to a photo in Photoshop. And it’s not going to be a feature in any other program.

All that said, for most things, we don’t need Photoshop. And if we do, it’s only to add a layer to replace a background or sky or something and maybe some text. Because of that, I think we’ll see a few companies get really close for what photographers need out of Photoshop. I just don’t think we’re there yet, so if you use Photoshop as a heavy part of your photo editing, I don’t see you having a replacement (other than Affinity Photo) just yet.

How About Other Programs Not Mentioned Here?

I’ve deliberately left out some other companies because I just don’t think any of them are there yet. Several other’s make some sort of a competitor, but they’re not at the point where I think they compare to the ones mentioned in this article. In my “Considerations” above, I left out another important factor – community and education. I’m sure several will comment that something like RawTherapee is an excellent and free program and why didn’t mention it. The main reasons: support, community and education – it’s just not there for some of those apps.

Now, DxO did acquire Nik recently, so that’ll be one to follow to see what they do with it. I’ve said before that I think software is kind of like raising a child – that child takes on a personality and life of it’s own based on the company that owns it. So essentially, Nik is a child that’s just been given to another family. It should be interesting to watch what happens, but I think we’re probably close to a year away from really finding out.

Final Thoughts

First… breath 🙂 Whatever happens in this industry, I promise you nothing drastic will happen tomorrow… or next month… or even next year. So if you’re not sure what to do, maybe wait it out. No matter which software you use, I can pretty much tell you they’re all going to be around next year, so you won’t end up with a program that is out of business, and frantically trying to find some place for your photos.

Finally, You may have heard me say this, but try before you buy. They all have free trials and most will give you 30 days. And if you forget to use it in those 30 days, send them an email and ask for an extension. But, because the features are so close, you need to download and kick the tires for a while to see what works for you.

Well folks… I hope this helped you a little. When it all comes down to it, most of you reading this aren’t doing photography full time as a working pro. So partly, photography is there for you to have some fun with it. And my goal is to help give you the tools to do just that. Have a good one!


  1. Christina DeAngelo

    Wow. I think this is balanced, fair, and hugely thoughtful. If my decision was in flux I could easily pick a direction with this info. Well done.

    Also I think it’s fair & the choice the reader is left with will vary according to individual needs & preferences.

  2. Mario Linares

    It’s a complicated subject but I think you have covered all the bases Matt….well done!!

  3. Susan Molnar

    This does an excellent job of answering my questions, Matt, and it is presented in your usual, straight-forward and clear manner. After reading it, I feel I have an understanding of my options and a better ability to make a wise and informed decision.

  4. Warren

    Matt thank you for giving your honest thoughts on this subject. As you mention, many are wondering and maybe at a crossroad, so this is very timely. On my thought, I am glad to hear of other companies competing, I think that will help to keep the cost reasonable for us to edit our photos. It is good to know that we do have options now. Again thanks for sharing your experiences with the different software now out. As we go forward, may you continue to share your wisdom.

  5. steve

    Matt – whilst there may not be too big a difference between the various apps and their individual costings I feel there are other things which need to be taken into account in the total cost of ownership (TCO) of any solution.

    Although the majority of applications cost the same whether based on Apple or Microsoft hardware, Apple hardware is typically more expensive than it’s Microsoft based equivalent.

    New versions of OS’s and applications inevitably make greater demands on system resources including network connections which is further complicated by how deeply any solution is buried into your overall photographic workflow, ie: the use of Apps, the platforms they are available on and their ability to communicate outside their own particular environment – there is potential to be caught up in a never ending upgrade cycle with all the associated risks and costs as more and more ‘unique’ selling points are introduced.

    Let’s say Adobe increase LR and/or P/Shop so that they demand more processing power which causes a user to have to upgrade their hardware – MS & the chip manufacturers have agreed they will not support win7 on new hardware, so the user will require an O/S upgrade, with the learning curve that entails, as well as a hardware upgrade. Win10, could easily cease to recognise any of your peripherals (plotters, printers, NAS drives, routers etc) if they have any age to them and/or their manufacturers haven’t updated their drivers. It’s not just a MS problem, Apple are also well known for creating issues with hardware and O/S upgrades. That scenario could also be repeated by ‘upgrades’ to whatever tablet / cell phone one may have in their workflow. The availability and cost of educational materials is another element which needs to be considered, it is somewhat of a paradox that although Adobe apps are claimed to be the most prevalent in the industry, educational materials on the whole do not reflect the economies of scale one would expect.

    Now all the “TOC’s” may be acceptable to a corporate user, but for those who rarely, if ever, print beyond A3 but typically display their work on social media, a review of alternatives should perhaps include an assessment of their potential TCO, because it is not a level playing field.

  6. John Rogers

    A very balanced and thoughtful article. I think there is a lot to wait and see from some of the software vendors coming down the pike and hopefully someone will become a true contender. But as things stand now it appears that we will be using multiple pieces of software to get the job done. Thanks for you preview.

  7. Susan Scharenberg

    Christina DeAngelo perfectly summed up my impressions. This article should help people (at least those with open minds, willing to read and learn!) effectively assess the options and make informed choices.

    “IS THERE AN EASY WAY TO SWITCH FROM LIGHTROOM?” is an important point that some may not have considered.

    For me, a key factor is how successful the newer software companies will prove to be, and how long their products will be supported and updated. I own a couple of the competing tools, primarily for their effects. I hope they all have success, but I’d hate to switch my LR processing to a competitor that has great promise now, but isn’t ultimately viable as a business.

  8. Jan Diepeveen

    Great line up of all possibilities. Well balanced.
    You mentioned your based your thoughts on three main areas: 1) Raw editing 2) Organizing 3) Price.
    Maybe you can add 4) Education. Access to good educational sources will be a big part in the result you can accomplish with these Software packages. Without good resources it will be very hard or costly to master all possibilities. For LR and PS you have a wide selection of educational resources available, on-Line and in- Print, how does this compare to the others?

    1. Nathan

      Great question and good point. I’m a little biased but I think ON1 (the company I’m with) is far and away the leader in the category of educational resources. I think Matt would agree 😉

  9. Dianne Arnold

    As usual, you have laid out the pros and cons in your clear and concise style. The only place where I think you might add one or two sentences is about pricing; specifically the payment models.
    >>Just know that at the end of the year, you’ll end up paying $100-ish (give or take a little), if you’re going to stay updated (which in this day, you need to).<<
    This sentence leaves the pricing-conscious reader hanging. Say something (even one sentence) about why one needs to "stay updated" "in this day".
    I suggest that you add a sentence here or in the LR discussion about what happens to your images and edits if you decide to drop your subscription. I've seen many questions to you by people worried about not being able to keep up the subscription payments into the future as a "reason" for staying with LR6. It just seems to me that there is a better sentence or two than just the phrase "in this day, you need to" stay updated.
    Otherwise, I think it's a great post.
    P.S. I had a summer job in college as a proofreader for a printing company (so you have an idea how old I am!!) but I won't bother you with my "nits". 🙂

  10. Jason Crane

    Great article Matt, fair and to the point. I’ve been with LR/PS for over 5 years now and I’ll be sticking with it, especially now I know a great deal more about these programs after following your ‘Teaching Systems’.

  11. Henry Lawrenson


    A thorough review – you have covered the bases well. The only addition I can suggest is some further elaboration around the limits of ON1 vs Photoshop, with particular emphasis on what ON1 will not do compared to Photoshop, or will not do as well as Photoshop

    1. Roland Steenbeek

      That implies that ON1 inferior to LR/PS (probably unintentionally).

      I have recently switched from LR to ON1 Photo Raw and must say that apart from some minor niggles with the DAM part of Photo Raw (no keyword lists to easily assign multiple keywords to a photo for example) I feel it is probably as good as LR/PS for almost all of us non-professional users.

      In addition to that the company is VERY responsive to queries and technical issues, which is something that cannot be said for Adobe and I feel that I am dealing with an enthusiastic and dedicated group of people that want to create something great and want me to enjoy using it. I look forward to seeing where their journey takes them and me in the future.

      One clear advantage that I think Matt has not covered in his On1 review is that all the editing and cataloguing is done in the same program. This is a huge advantage to my mind. All the editing I could ever want to do is done in the same piece of software.

      I would encourage those that want to try something outside the Adobe stable to give On1 a shot.

  12. Doug Brown

    Another great well written Article Matt! You always manage to convey your message in a well thought out and easy to understand manner. It conveys my thoughts on this subject exactly. I have tried, and own, them all over the years from ACD See to I view media pro, now capture One. I started with OnOne way back with Photosuite 4 and upgraded every year till Raw 2017. After being a year long beta tester on software that never really delivered as promised I am still a Lightroom and Photoshop user. Although I am not a fan of the subscription model no other software as been able to convince me to make the switch.

  13. Marius Peter

    Matt, during my trial with ON1 I noticed that the Fuji Raw files look better in ON1 than in Lightroom, and I’m talking here about the raw raw file, as it comes from the camera. I posted a photo on twitter, you can search it, both ON1 and Lr were tagged. I’m wondering why I never seen any articles saying that the Fuji raw files will get a better support from Adobe? ON1, Macphun, C1 all say this.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hi Marius. Good question, and I don’t know. Honestly, you’d have to ask the folks at Adobe though. Not sure I could answer that one.

    2. Bob Lewis

      Hey Marius 🙂 I’m personally using capture one and the fuji raw files do look better than in LR. Fuji sensors do not use the same sensor pattern (BAYER I think) as the other cameras, so it’s also possible that Adobe didn’t want to have write a bunch of extra code to figure out how to decode these raw files and the different sensor pattern. All I know is that capture one, on1 and iridient have managed to write better raw processors than behemoth Adobe when it comes to Fuji files, and that’s pretty lame in my book – not good Adobe 🙂

      1. Marius Peter

        Bob, for me C1 is expensive, I don’t make a living out from photography, but I’m pretty passionate, I like my photos to look the best they can (based on my know-how :P). Right now I’m struggling to accept ON1 as a LR and some PS replacement. But it’s hard. On one had the Fuji files look better on the other had they still have to work on the File Rename/Export presets.

  14. Marc R Wormser

    Great article. I am in that quagmire at the moment. I am a subscriber to PS/LR but also have On1, Luminar, Aurora, and Affinity Photo for desktop and iPad Pro. I started looking for a replacement to LR because of the lack of layers. And now with two versions of LR, it appears layers in on the back burner. As more photo editing is being developed for the iPad I would love to see an iPad version of Luminar and On1. Affinity is going in the right direction but then one is working with proprietary saved images. It appears that dng and tif file format is the common denominator between these apps.

    I looked at ACDsee. Redundancy at this point.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      That’s a tough one Marc. Price is obviously not a consideration for you 🙂 – So I think it comes down to which one do you prefer? Which one feels better? They’re all good options, so maybe you need to narrow it down just a bit.

  15. Tim

    Fair enough for $10 a year but very soon in two years there will be no Lightroom classic. At that time you need to pay $10 for access and $10 per TB for storage. With the way megapixels are growing in a camera you can assume people will be adding 1tb per year. So every year expect to increase your monthly pay to Adobe by $10. Yes it’s a way to backup by if you have a 4TB to start with you will be paying $50 a month. So people please start moving away from Adobe cause Adobe has found a way to get incremental income from you. The best is to move to Capture One. Yes the initial cost of entry is high but it’s free after wards and you don’t need to increment every year. All of these companies including Adobe will be giving evolutionary upgrades not revolutionary. So why pay for using a software with hardly any significant upgrades. Move away people move away. This is the best time.

  16. Byram Lass

    What is your opinion on open source S/W? Raw Therapee and UFRaw along with GIMP are popular free alternatives.

  17. Tom Gibson

    Matt….I know you are busy, no rush at all…..but do I remember you saying that there is really not a “good” Fuji RAW converter? If so, why not if you have any reasonable knowledge. i.e. ARC vs ON1 vs X-Transformer, what is the difference?

    Currently I use LR/PS RAW converter. I have X-Transformer but I cannot really tell what it does by comparing two files side by side, see the difference that is.

    ON1…what I read is that you mainly use it as a photo enhancer and not a heavy hitter and this will not change.

    Cost…so you are saying that no matter if you buy Stand Alone apps, i.e. ON1, the upgrade cost per year still will be close to $100 vs $120 for LR/PS…if so, why change as I know those system well and LR is so much faster than ON1. ON1 is like molasses.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hi Tom.
      1) RE: Fuji – I don’t know the technicals but it’s something to do with Fuji’s raw files and how they’re interpreted. It’s not localized to one software. EVERYONE has a problem with them – just some less than others. But that’s why so many Fuji shooters shoot JPG. All that said, I don’t have a Fuji so it’s not something I can compare. I’m just going on what engineers have told me and people who I know shoot Fuji have said.
      2) I’m not suggesting anyone change anything. But people are telling me that they are going to change, so what should they change to? (Mostly based on not liking Adobe’s pricing policy as well as discontinuing support and updates for LR6.)
      PS: Not sure if you’ve used ON1 2018, but even as a LR user myself, I have to admit it’s pretty darn fast as a raw editor.
      Anyway, hope that helps.

  18. Colin Hegan

    Hi Matt. As always a comprehensive and thoughtful article. Thank you. I am a LR and PS user and having purchased your courses have no intention to change. Simplicity is the answer. However I think Luminar super nova as a plug in to LR rather than as a replacement, might be exciting. The new layer and mask aspect of the programme looks interesting.

  19. Trevor Cooper-Tydeman

    Congratulations Matt. An excellent summary of the current situation which meets peoples’ concerns about Adobe’s somewhat confusing Lightroom change announcement.You have clearly covered the relevant alternatives and pointed out that individual preferences can easily be met by trial of the competing programs and that the greatest cost may possibly be not financial but a steep learning curve. There doesn’t seem to be anything else to say.

  20. George G

    Good review!

    If you let your adobe subscription lapse Lightroom Classic will still function without the DEVELOPE and MAP Modules.
    So you can keep the organizer part going. And of course, you lose Photoshop but Elements give a lot of the basics.

    So Luminar or On1 used as you edit probably wouldn.t be that bad.

  21. Ian Browne

    GREAT article Matt — glad to hear I’m on the ‘right’ track by going On1; although my Lr5 will be my organiser and first editor for some time to come; and the old Pse12 will get still a few jobs to do also. [I miss the grid in On1] . I would still say Elements is a good program for weekend/family happy-snappers who don’t require the editing power we often think we need

    But let’s also not forget the final image will often come down to how good the original file was and not so much how good the program is. Photography has become a very time consuming hobby, or job these days; and it can take sometime for the ‘new-to-it-all’ to understand, learn and prefect editing

    Thanks Matt


    1. Peter Hill

      Me too. I’m sticking with LR5 and On1 for now but that will probably change over to On1 completely as it’s further refined .

  22. Mike Nelson Pedde

    Well said, Matt. There are a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there so I appreciate your taking courage in hand and writing this. One could add ACDSee to the list of competitors, and I’m not sure where Affinity software fits into the list.

    One quick comment regarding Capture One. I don’t use it but I have played with it a bit. Importing a Lr catalogue into Capture One is as simple as File/Import Lightroom catalog. EXCEPT – and you mentioned this briefly, everyone’s editors are different. Importing a Lr catalog will import your raw files/ jpg files, metadata, etc. but it will NOT import your Develop settings so you’ll have to re-edit everything.

  23. Bob Lewis

    Transitioning to capture one, primarily for it’s processing of my fuji raw files – much better than LR’s handling. LR being super slow didn’t help much either :-). You mentioned it’s mostly for studio work, but I use it all the time, and I don’t have a studio. Maybe i’m just an outlier with my fuji and capture one as a part-time “pro” who doesn’t do a lot of paid gigs, but shoot a lot of events and sports, so I love it’s “session” feature for keeping all my little mini shoot catalogs. I freely admit I don’t tag and keyword like I should, so that structure makes it easier for me to find things than in LR where I also didn’t tag/keyword (user error I know, but it works for me :-)).

  24. Bobby Thompson

    Something that might help some people is a program called PhotoMechanic by CameraBits. Been around forever, started as a tool for photojournalists. Often in the field, I want to just take a quick look at photos and then copy them to backup drives until I get back to the studio. Always hated LR making me do a full import, plus it can be slow and clunky. PhotoMechanic (PM) is by far the fastest RAW browser out there, and it is amazing for tagging images and applying metadata into the IPTC fields. So now I ingest the images, rename them using date (year/month/day – , file or shoot name, then sequential number ex. 20171214 shoot name 0001) Add all my preset metadata (photographer name, contact info, copyright, website, etc…) along with a caption, location (supports GPS), and keywords. Then I copy to either my master library if in the studio, or to a couple external drives if in the field. This should make sure your keywords and such stays with the image, no matter what program you use to catalog and/or process. Plus, using that naming convention I can probably come close to finding an image just using the folder and my computers search, should I ever not have any DAM software available. For what its worth. 🙂

  25. Art Troy

    Great article Matt. You have just help reaffirm that I made the right choice for my needs. I have been using PS Elements and On1 for my post processing. I amd an On1 plus subscriber and one year ago I signed up for
    Adobee CC. I purchased you Photoshop and light room videos. I was still having trouble making the switch to Photoshop and between Lightroom freezing up on my computer and not liking the method for importing files I decided to drop it and go back to Elements. Now that On1 came out with it’s new On1 photo raw 2018 I feel I do not need Lightroom anymore. I love the learning experience at On1 plus and I can still use your Lightroom video as it is close enough to follow along with On1 1 photo raw 2018. I enjoy your method of teaching. Keep up the great work.

  26. Serge Daleiden

    Matt, you’re the man. Easy to understand, complete tour of the photo editing software scenery and even pleasant reading. And of course right to the point. Many thanks for this kind guidance respectively confirmation.
    For your info, I added C1 to my LR/PS subscription only because I got a rather disappointing answer from Adobe regarding tethering improvements in LR. C1 has a proud price tag, but if you’re into headshots you need some serious tethering capabilities (as you mentioned above for good reason). Keep these articles coming, Matt!

  27. Elias

    One point that needs to be addressed is how/where edits are saved.

    Lr: in catalog (i.e. db) & sidecar XMP files
    Luminar? I’ve read about huge files being generated. Not sure what happens in Luminar 2018.
    On1? I’ve read about sidecar files. Are they XMP? Will they conflict with existing Lr sidecars?

  28. Brian Stefl

    Thanks Matt. With more options comes more debate. In our hyper-consumerism society, in which I certainly particate, there is infrequently a point of being settled, content, or just ok. We rush out and buy the next lens/ body and accept the enormity of that but seem hesitant to jump in on software, which, in my opinion, is nearly as important as the body or lens the image came from. There is a saying that frequently gets thrown out…”the best camera is the one that you have/ own/ use…” I think, barring technical issues/ incompatibilities, the same could be said about some of the software. Maybe we just boil it down as Stephen Stills did, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with”. 😉

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Great thoughts Brian. And I totally agree. It almost seems as if a lot of folks are jumping on something new, just because it’s new. Not even looking at the fact that it doesn’t even have the features that their existing program does – and they’re really paying some one to catch up to what they already have.

  29. shakil

    thank a lot for your nice tutorial , I easily understand all the step cause Matt are decorated the tutorial easily , again thanks for nice sharing ,please keep up regularly

  30. Zed

    Thank you Matt – I like your article a lot. It is pretty rare these days to see articles with lots of “technical claims/facts” that also have even a smidgen of “applied common sense”. What I like about your work is that you always seem to manage a near 50-50 balance. As an old geezer nowadays, I’m sure we had more common sense in the good old days. Keep up your work with a good balance and the young-uns may learn something if they can be bothered to listen. Those with their fingers already poised on the return key to download Luminar are beyond hope !!!


  32. Jack Waltman

    matt: you mention that you use lightroom 100% of time and follow with photoshop and on one effects .somewhere along the line, could you someday do a demonstration, going thru the post processing process using the 3 programs. maybe you have done this before???

  33. Samuel I. Beard, Jr.


    I found this article through a link on the Houston Photowalks Facebook page. I shoot Nikon (D300, D700, and D500), and I’ve heard a number of folks talk about how Adobe doesn’t QUITE bring out the best in Nikon RAW files. I’ve been thinking of trying something else, and On1 and Capture One are two of my considerations. However, I’m also seriously considering PhotoNinja. I’ve heard several talk about the quality of files it pulls from NEF files. Any thoughts on this program? At one point, I downloaded a trial version of it, but I was actually way too busy at the time to really devote any time and effort into really giving it a shot. I’m thinking of downloading a trial again, as my main shooting season is over (I shoot a lot of trail runs, off-road triathlons, and mountain bike races). So, any thoughts you could provide on PhotoNinja would be greatly appreciated!


  34. Aubrey O'Callaghan

    I’m using LR develop module but thinking of moving on. The article is very informative.

    I use photools IMatch for my DAM so the DAM aspect of an editor is unimportant to me. IMatch is very versatile and moving from one developer software to another will not be an issue.


  35. Alessandro

    As per now, with my workflow, I cannot see anything else but the Adobe suite.
    I’m traveling a lot and having the Lightroom is priceless: my wife show pics to clients on the iPad or I simply send them the personal link to the collection. They use flags, stars, likes, comments…whatever and in real time I have their chosen images on my Mac with Lightroom Classic CC.
    This is since the first LR mobile release 🙂
    Repeat: priceless…
    My-two-cents, of course.


    P.S.: My fear is the name “Classic” … hopefully it doesn’t mean “that’s it… no more LR desktop!”

  36. Richard

    Matt, great article but I have one nitpick. You talk about OnOne, but in your subsection entitled “Is there an easy way to switch from Lightroom” you fail to mention or discuss that OnOne provides a tool to migrate your Lightroom catalog to OnOne. While I understand all edits may not perfectly transfer over, this tool still makes it much easier to migrate a large catalog to OnOne. It seems disingenuous to post a discussion on easy ways to switch from Lightroom and completely fail to mention OnOne’s catalog migration tool.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hi Richard. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. I personally feel it would be disingenuous to mention that as an “easy” way to move. Thx

  37. Trevor

    Hi Matt,

    You say Capture One has no layering capabilities…. It does. If you go into the local adjustments tab you can set up multiple layers…. It works a treat…

    1. Bob Wilksenson

      Trevor – that’s not layering, not even remotely. That’s called a Local Adjustment and every raw editor has them. Just because you can add several Local adjustments doesn’t mean it’s a Layer like what Matt was comparing it to (Photoshop).

      1. Trevor

        Hi Bob, Ah right. I did have a feeling I was probably putting my foot in it…. More for me to learn 🙂 Never used PS but keep meaning to take the plunge. Thanks for clarifying for me.

  38. Scott Warner

    Hey Mat do you know what’s happened to On1? I’ve used it for years upgrading with every upgrade. On1 raw 17 has been a disappointment for me. Very buggy crashing offen. I’ve contacted them and they have had me to reinstall it several times. I use 10.5 most of the time. And now there is an 18 version. I’m wondering if it’s better and more stable.

    1. Alessandro

      Personally, I never experienced any crash with 2017.
      I haven’t got the time to use much the 2018 release, but it looks fast, stable (so far), very nice I must tell.
      Though,m as mentioned already, I’ve not been able to test the HDR and pano features just yet: I’ll take care of that when I’ll be back home 🙂

    2. Author
      Matt K

      Hey Scott. 2018 works great for me. Download the beta and give it a try.
      As for the 2017 version, it was a rocky start, but ended up just fine and it still runs good here. Thx

  39. Rob Bristow

    Thanks Matt. Great review of the situation. I agree with you that the subscription is the way to go if you are a professional as it quantifies your outgoings clearly. However, a small use say less than 6000 images a year then I prefer the fixed price. LR and ON1 raw both still run well on my 2009 Mac bit realise that ‘Classic” will soon no longer be supporting a new lens or camera and that is when a crunch will come for me. Panos I have been doing for years in Auto Pano Giga so I do not need some of the new add-ons (improvements?). For me the DAM in ON1 Raw is the best as it is clear an concise. Importing and then having a separate structure that LR defines is duplication for me.

  40. Daniela Constantinescu

    Matt, thank you very much for this article. It is a down to earth and sincere advice from someone that is knowledgeable in the industry. It is easy to get confused and give in to the fear that you miss something out if you choose one program over another. Some people collect them all or most of them, as crazy as it sounds. I think it is impossible to find the time or energy to use them all.
    I really appreciate you taking the time to write this article and making it easier for us to understand our choices.
    We are always looking up to you!

  41. JPTurner

    Great article, Matt! The newest iteration of DXO – with the addition of local adjustments and using Nik’s U-Point masking technology – PhotoLab is really terrific. I love that it does lens correction/calibration on JPEG files, as well as RAW. PhotoLab’s PRIME noise reduction is better than anything else I’ve tried. Better (to my eye) than Lightroom, Topaz, ON1 or MacPhun. I’m seriously impressed with the PhotoLab software. But I agree that if Luminar’s DAM is implemented well, it will be hard to beat. Luminar also has the X Factor of being the most enjoyable to use of any of the programs mentioned. On1 RAW 2018 is seriously buggy, and if history from last version holds true, then we won’t see a stable version for 6 months.

  42. Don Hood


    Something that you did not mention, and while I admit that it is not something that affects everyone to the same degree, it IS something that is a final showstopper for my workflow, and that is Soft Proofing and Printer Control.

    So far, Adobe is the only company that I have found that truly addresses this issue in a meaningful way. I can maintain camera, monitor, and printer profiles that WORK, and work very effectively. I do have an X-Rite ColorMunki, and a Colorchecker Passport, but ALL of the better Paper vendors (Red River being one of my favorites) supply excellent paper profiles, IF you can really use them. That’s where I’ve found most of the other applications having gaps. Granted that there is a bit of a learning curve with Soft Proofing, but it’s VERY approachable, and I’ve helped a half-dozen friends find and use it, and All of them have been relieved at the reduction in bad prints, and more screen-accurate prints once they did.

    GUILTY, I am a bit of a control type at times, and I don’t always need to go there with every image, but I DO want that CAPABILITY.

    My workflow has become very similar to yours, Lightroom for Management and basic editing, probably less Photoshop than your, and ON1 for the heavier duty layers and stylizing work. I do like Aurora for the HDR that I do, although Adobe and ON1 have greatly improved their efforts in these areas, and I recently did a rather hairy Panorama in Lightroom that surprised me at how well it came out. DXO has an extra “something” that I like for those particular or problem images, but the Core has remained Lightroom, with extras for quite some time.

    Again, thanks for your intelligent, thoughtful, studied and VERY approachable style, it’s the best I’ve found for my poor brain..

  43. Barry Park

    your comparisons of the available software is very good . Regarding the monthly subscription to Adobe let’s not forget that other companies in the market may bost about no subscriptions but fail to mension that each year they up grade there software at a cost.

    I see excellent work carried out by many artist photographers using older version of Adobe software at no annual cost ! Imagination verses technology.

    I am not sergesting that the latest. Software dos’nt have its advantages and makes work easier but at a cost..

    1. Joe Martinson

      How do you see that they “fail to mention” it Barry? Every year many of them seem to release a new paid version and they are very clear that they are charging for it – that doesn’t seem like they’re failing to mention anything. Unless you expect them to say:
      “Brand New XX 2018 Version Is Released. Click Here to buy Now”… (And don’t forget, next year we’ll release a new version too. And the next after that…. But you can’t click here to buy it. We just thought we’d let you know just in case you wanted to wait)

  44. Terry Loewenberg

    I bought Luminar 2018 and Aurora HDR 2018 on the first day of issue for both. I received a substantial discount, but that aside, both are seriously flawed for the Windows user. It doesn’t take much reading at their respective Facebook user support pages to thank your lucky stars if you haven’t purchased either yet. Both programs have a similar user interface that lacks important features, like saving your work so you can return to editing. Sure, you can export a jpeg or tiff, etc, but not with a history. Expect a prompt when you exit a program reminding you to save your work? Not with Luminar or Aurora, you are left staring at the screen hoping that you remember what you did to make that lost image look the way it did. There are also significant differences between the Mac and PC versions that will have you scratching your head. On the positive side, Macphun (now Skylum) has rolled out an ambitious update/fix schedule to address the issues. I’m also in the middle of a trial of ON1. The user interface is taking me a little while to get used coming from LR5.7, but it seems very capable. If and when Adobe issues a LR7, this will all be mute.

  45. Joe Martinson

    Terry – Adobe has made it pretty clear there will not be a Lightroom 7. They’ve ended support for LR6 and said they have no plans to develop another perpetual licensed version.

  46. Mark

    Couple of points/questions Matt.

    1. Given what you say about edits not really being transferable between editors/systems does that not mean that unless the software is Open Source the vendor effectively has you over a barrel as a user?The more photos you take and edits you create the more locked in you invariably are and thus susceptible to price increases.

    2. With the various different packages out there and their differing methods of storing edits, keywords etc are we, as photographers, not best off converting our images to DNG format (with embedded RAW for those paranoid about losing information)?

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Hey Mark.
      1) That’s kind of the conspiracy theorist view I guess. Maybe because I know people from just about every software company out there, and I know they’re not back in the home office scheming away at how they can grab people cheap and hike up the prices. But Open Source doesn’t help. Just because it’s Open Source, doesn’t mean the raw info would be able to be read and shared across all companies. And honesty, open source is usually only for super advanced (and semi geeky) people (sorry) 🙂 But it’s true. There’s no support system or community out there. And from what I see/hear from the folks I talk to when I’m out on the road, people want education and community. But I guess if you don’t, then try one of them out. There’s no guarantee that they’ll be around in the future either though.

      2) Personally I don’t think DNG helps or hurts this. DNG is Adobe’s format, and most other companies only reluctantly support it because some people have chosen to use it. But I still don’t see it as the way of the future until cameras start shooting in DNG.

      1. Mark

        With regards (1) I don’t think it is conspiracy theory it is just normal business practice. The correct price for something is “whatever the market will bear”. The more locked in you are, the more you are therefore willing to part with to maintain the status quo. It is just the way of the world and a reflection of how much you have invested in a system. There are features in the perpetual payment version that don’t exist in the one-off payment version. That is an attempt to further lock users in as a revenue stream. If I convert all my photos external to DNG and import them, I may never need a version beyond 6, 7, or wherever I choose to stop. Leaving out features is a way of preventing that. As a cost example, I paid $199 for Adobe Lightroom 6 on release Apr/May 2015. That’s around 30 months @ $9.99 for the CC version until the release of 7, roughly an extra $100 or 50% more for essentially the same software.

        With regards to DNG, although it is Adobe’s own format, “Use of the file format is royalty-free; Adobe has published a license allowing anyone to exploit DNG, and has also stated that there are no known intellectual property encumbrances or license requirements for DNG.” As I see it there are two real parts to your photo workflow – interpreting the data (RAW reading/conversion etc) and subsequent processing of it (cataloging, developing, and all the rest) – and most photo applications generally have a need to upgrade due to the first part, and not really the second. I’ve seen minimal innovation in the software overall – the odd HDR or panoramic process – but more need to upgrade driven by camera support. Separate the two and users may be better off. This would allow you to keep using version 6 of Lightroom forever, for example, with something else doing the bulk convert to DNG (with embedded RAW).

        On a different note, after reading your response to my questions some time ago about the Sony 16-70 vs its reviews I took the plunge and so far I’m very pleased with the results and the minimal increase to weight over my old 5D MKII + 24-105 setup.

  47. Elias

    Matt, after reading this again, I noticed you mentioned that Capture One does not support layering. This is not true. C1 supports up to 16 layers per image.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Yes, but that is not actually a layer in what “most” people think of as layers. Most people think layers as in taking one image, and layering another total separate image on top of it. They’re calling it Layers but it’s very different functionality from Photoshop, Affinity, ON1 and other layer-based programs.

  48. Doug

    Matt, I can always count on you to give a clear, concise and balanced description of things. I really (!) appreciate that. Thanks

  49. JackL

    Matt, You seem to brush over DxO OptixPro lightly, but as a LR user since Beta times, the recent canceling of a perpetual license has made me look elsewhere for RAW development, leaving LR as my cataloguing base.
    I tried Capture 1 but found it more suited to the portrait studio, but with a tethering to die for elsewhere. As I do a lot of fine art copying I need a calibrated workflow, but On1 PhotoRaw 2018 does not provide this. The nearest software giving this provision is DxO Optix Pro, which also has better sharpening than LR. So my workflow is now tethered into LR, then to DxO by plugin for development. The result is superb at 1:1 and nearly as good at 2:1, not attainable in LR. Still testing.

  50. Richard F Randolph

    I sent you an email on this very subject and should have read this article before I sent it. This is a fair and balanced assessment of the major software players that I’ve been considering. I own most of the software mentioned but have my database in Lightroom. What I’ve found is that I can’t learn all of these. I’m an expert in none of these and a generalist in many. I’m a videographer but I’m using more and more still images in what I do. The database is the big thing with me. I’ve a trust problem with Adobe. “Classic” to me means “old”. I’ve not seen the improvements in Lightroom that I, and the people I work with, expected over the last 18 months. It seems to be all mobile and using there stock stuff. The term “Classic” doesn’t add to our comfort level. After reading your fine article, I’ve decided to keep several of the programs up-to-date for the next year and see what Adobe does. In the meantime I’m going to increase my knowledge of ON1 and Affinity Photo as my backup plan. Thanks for your help and training.

  51. marc labro

    thanks for this comparison, Matt.
    I am a lightroom user.
    Like you i switch to photoshop for spot healing tol, selections, clone stamp tool,… and use on1 effects for stylization.
    i have just purchased Blake rudis zone system and palette effect and do nice black and white with ZSE and gradient map. i am coming from sylver efex pro and have difficuties to find my happiness with on1 b&w especially without zone system indicator.
    what i don’t understand with lightroom is that adobe with their skills don’t add :
    – a content aware brush
    – blending mode and stacking
    – masks
    every new feature available in topaz, on1,luminar,… takes years to appear in lightroom

    the new auto fature is nice but it is just a better position of existing sliders that the one i would do myself. nothing new behind


  52. John

    Just tried Liminar
    1- its a photoshop not anything close to LR
    2 It has no file management, so no workflow.
    3 – very slow to open a raw file.
    Uninstalled after 20mins.

  53. Paul Grant

    With the current performance by Adobe relative to Lightroom and disaster they have created with Lightroom Classic CC I expec this article is now more meaninful than ever. Adobe has sure the the photography world down with how they have totally destroyed a once amazing product.

    1. Author
      Matt K

      Have you tried the latest version of LR? All I keep hearing from people is how fast it is. I’d definitely give it a try if you haven’t.

  54. Albert Allen

    Your article was nicely done. However my experiences were different. A few years ago I switched from LR to Capture One. My reasons for switching were: first, I found Capture One’s workflow was significantly easier to use and worked well with how I wanted to process my photos. Note that I use Sessions not Catalogs in Capture One for my work, and I want to know exactly where and how my images are stored, and I want to be able to easily access and work with my images using several different applications including Photoshop without any application dependencies. Capture One makes that all happen. Second I was constantly frustrated with the LR catalog structure and how LR wanted to organize my images, sometime my images seemed to just disappear. And third, I found the tools Capture One provides to edit and modify Raw based images to be very functional and easy to learn and use. Transitioning from LR was easy. And last, Capture One’s export processes are very useful making it easy to select images, identify output destinations, and specify the file format and file naming to be used during export. On the negative side, are cost and that Capture One can use a lot of processor and memory resources.

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