Best photo editing software? Photoshop CC and 7 Photoshop alternatives tested

Best photo editing software? 6 top programs reviewed and rated

What is the best photo editing software? Photoshop has long been the benchmark against which other image editing programs are judged. So, here we put Photoshop CC and seven popular alternatives head-to-head to find out which is the best photo editing software, offering photographers the most complete package of features and ease of use along with value for money.

Best photo editing software? 6 Photoshop alternatives tested and rated

Photoshop CS has long been regarded as the world’s best photo editing software, and the yardstick for all other photo editors.

But the market has changed. Photographers don’t just need image-manipulation tools any more, they also need programs that can organise, search and share an ever-growing library of photos.

And as more and more of us shoot RAW files, the quality of the RAW conversion process and the tools you can bring to bear become ever more important.

SEE MORE: 7 things you didn’t know about RAW

Even though Photoshop might still be the best photo editing software, an image editor in itself may not be enough for the things we want to do with our photos today.

So we’ve rounded up eight different image editing tools to cover all these different jobs, from regular photo editors to image cataloguing specialists like Lightroom and all-out RAW converters like DxO Optics Pro.

What’s becoming increasingly obvious, though, is that one program alone may not be enough, and you may find you need to use two, or maybe even three, to get all the features you need.

SEE MORE: 27 incredible photo effects you can create from just one Photoshop menu

Best photo editing software tested: Photoshop CC

Photoshop is not enough
For example, Photoshop is brilliant at image editing, but offers no tools at all for organising, searching and collating your photos.

You can use Adobe Bridge, but that’s really just a file browsing tool, and relies on users creating a rigid folder-based filing system.

The larger your image collections become, and the more you want to find, use and share your photos in different ways, the more difficult it becomes to use folders alone. That’s why many photographers use Lightroom alongside Photoshop.

SEE MORE: 6 essential Lightroom edits you can apply to every image

Lightroom tackles the complex image management jobs that Photoshop is not designed for and makes light work of day to day enhancements and RAW files, while Photoshop takes care of the advanced image editing tasks that Lightroom can’t do.

It’s no accident that Adobe is bundling both together in its current subscription-based Creative Cloud Photography plan. They complement each other perfectly and, in many ways, they belong together.

Photoshop Elements is a more complete package, coming with its own Organizer app to look after your photo collection. But it is designed for amateurs and enthusiasts in a way that’s very obvious and sometimes a little irritating.

It does have limitations for more advanced work, and while once it cost a fraction of the price you paid for Photoshop, the gap is now effectively very narrow indeed.

SEE MORE: 8 Lightroom mistakes every photographer makes (and how to fix them)

Best photo editing software: Lightroom 5 rivals

Lightroom rivals
Lightroom does not have the image cataloguing/RAW conversion market to itself.

Cyberlink PhotoDirector 6 offers many of the same tools but with a more amateur-orientated twist, while Capture One Pro 8 is bearing down on Lightroom from the professional end of the market, with its own image cataloguing tools and a highly competitive set of RAW image adjustments.

It’s actually very interesting to compare the results from these different RAW conversion tools.

Adobe Camera Raw, as used by Photoshop and Lightroom, is by far the best-known and most widely-used RAW converter. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best.

DxO Optics Pro takes RAW conversion quality to the extreme, using lab-developed camera and lens profiles and constantly-developing raw conversion technology to deliver results you may not have realised your camera is capable of.

SEE MORE: Best free photo editing software: download these image editors today!

Old software versus the newcomers
Digital imaging is going through some exciting times, with higher-resolution sensors, sophisticated software lens corrections and advances in RAW data conversion and noise reduction.

So where does this leave old favourites like Corel PaintShop Pro and Serif PhotoPlus?

Both have proved highly popular with PC owners looking for lower-cost photo editing solutions, but times are changing.

And let’s not leave Photoshop Elements out of this either, because it’s another very traditional application in its approach.

So, which photo editing software is ahead of the curve, and which is just trading on past glories? And can any of them topple the mighty Adobe Photoshop from its perch?

We test Photoshop CC and 7 alternatives in a bid to find out…

PAGE 1: Why you might want a Photoshop alternative
PAGE 2: Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 review
PAGE 3: Adobe Photoshop Elements 13 review
PAGE 4: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 review
PAGE 5: Corel PaintShop Pro X7 review
PAGE 6: CyberLink PhotoDirector 6 review
PAGE 7: DxO Optics Pro 10 review
PAGE 8: Phase One Capture One Pro 8 review
PAGE 9: Serif PhotoPlus X7 review
PAGE 10: Verdict & How we tested this photo editing software

Adobe Lightroom: what every photographer must know about the alternative Photoshop
Best photo editing tips for beginners: 18 quick fixes to common image problems
13 photo editing mistakes every photographer makes (and what you can do about it)
Best backup software: 11 free downloads that can protect your images
6 photo editing steps every photographer should know
101 Photoshop tips you really have to try

  • Hugh Mobley

    What! where is Perfect Photo suite 9, One of the best alternatives out there!!

  • Dick Beery

    Capture One now supports external editing.

  • Anto

    I turned back to Photoshop from Lightroom just to use these awesome film emulation actions: IMO even better than vsco or Replichrome.

  • Gordon L. Scott

    A truly awesome organizer, editor and RAW converter not mentioned here is Faststone. This software will convert most RAW image formats, except for Sigma’s X3F third generation. Faststone also has a most excellent jpeg compression engine, better than any of Adobe’s products. But Faststone image editing tools, while capable, are minimal. Faststone is open-source freeware.

  • Nadeem Khawar Photographer

    Nice Software

  • Dinah Beaton

    I agree with you Hugh, have just upgraded to PP suite 9 – still have so much to learn and practice in it and loving it so far. The tutorials that come in often thru the mail are excellent and very easy to follow. I also have PS Element 12 which I now treat at my ‘boring but reliable stand-by.

  • peter a

    why are you not including CS6? a LOT of folks refused to move to the CC permanent rental plan, and that is one of the main reasons there is so much interest in alternatives to CC

  • Lladnar

    Freeware, yes; open source, no.

  • Lladnar

    This is a review of competing software, of course they aren’t going to include older versions.

  • peter a

    for some like me, CS6 is the latest version of Ps we can buy, so it has relevance imo

  • R. Beer

    Since Version 8.1 you can use Photoshop as external Editor:

  • Titilola Popoola

    I prefer VSCO for film emulation. They can’t be beat IMO

  • Titilola Popoola

    Why not Affinity Photo?

  • hush

    Capture One is one hell of a software. Been using it after PS, LR and DxO, not mentioning some lesser, non dedicated solutions like ZPS and I am very impressed. Best RAW software I ever used, with great output, retaining high level of detail, very fast on my computer and developing beautifully detailed, clean and colourful photos with a few keystrokes. If it only had direct filesystem approach instead of catalogue, I would praise it with heavenly blessings. It is most probably the best solution on the market and even if rather pricey, it was the money well spent.

    The gap between RAW output from my Leica with C1 and LR is enormous. It also does excellent job with my GH3 and GH4 bodies.

  • Mile Iloski


  • Aja Vorackova

    Have you tried Zoner Photo Studio? It has all the features you tested (image management, edits, RAW module…) and it would be interesting too see the comparison to other programs as well.

  • Kiltedbear

    Could I ask why you choose the “non rental” version? I thought about this and decide to go the CC route. For $120 dollars a year, you always get the latest and greatest. I used to buy CS, but when I did the math and knowing that you either fall behind several generations of upgrade every couple years, I think you actually come out ahead by going with CC. I understand the aversion to the idea of “renting” a software on demand, but I have old licenses I never use, so what use are they? Just pointing out the opposite POV.

  • BrightTiger

    Unfortunately it does destructive editing. That’s a huge issue alone.

  • BrightTiger

    Mac only.