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Best Lightroom alternatives in 2021: all-in-one image organizing and editing software

Best Lightroom alternatives: Capture One 21
(Image credit: Capture One)

Adobe Lightroom has long been the staple of image editors and photographers that require non-destructive editing and batch processing for fast workflows. However, over the years the competition has become stronger and there are now some legitimately excellent editors that not only stack up well against Lightroom but outperform it in some areas.

While it’s true that people like what they like, those who are thinking of a change, want to consolidate software applications (i.e. Lightroom and Photoshop), or are new to image editing might want to take a look at these Lightroom alternatives before they throw their money at Adobe.

Some software programs offer the ability to edit with Artificially Intelligent features, have enhanced organization tools, and include layers-based image edits in a way that Lightroom just doesn’t do right now. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that not all software is available for both Mac and PC, and while all of these programs are available for a one-off fee, some have subscription plans with a wider set of features.

From professional to beginner there’s something for everyone, whether you need a guided walkthrough or want to jump straight in at the deep end. There’s image editing software at all price points, too! So take a look below at what might work best for you.

Best Lightroom alternatives in 2021

(Image credit: Future)

Customizable layout and a powerful processing engine makes this nearly perfect

PC: 2-core CPU and above, 8GB RAM, Windows 7 SP1 to 10
Mac: 2-core CPU and above, 8GB RAM, OS X 10.12.6 or later
Hard drive space: 10GB
Minimum screen resolution: 1200 x 800
Reasons to buy
+Powerful editing toolset+Extensive cataloguing features+Fluid workflow
Reasons to avoid

Capture One Pro 21 has an enormous array of editing, organizing, and processing features for an image editor. Traditionally used in professional photo studios it’s a worthy option for anyone who wants a program to take care of everything photo-related. Its slick interface, suite of features, and fast processing speeds make this one of, if not the best image editing software in the world.

A little trickier to use for beginners, it’s aimed at intermediate and professional users who need the option to shoot tethered, add keywords, and utilize a hardware-accelerated engine. It is more expensive than many of its contemporaries but there are two subscription packages plus a one-time purchase option designed to appeal to a wider audience. There are also cheaper Nikon, Fujifilm and Sony editions.

(Image credit: Adobe)

Handy walkthrough templates for those new to image editing

PC: Intel 6th gen or newer (AMD equiv), 8GB RAM, Windows 10 v1903 or later, 64-bit only
Mac: Intel 6th gen or newer, 8GB RAM, macOS 10.15 or macOS 11
Hard drive space: 7.2GB
Minimum screen resolution: 1200 x 800
Reasons to buy
+One-off purchase+Guided edits and tutorial support
Reasons to avoid
-Limited editing suite-Basic raw processing only

More suited towards the beginner image editor, Photoshop Elements has various skill level modes that help teach those new to image editing how to use the software. The Guided Edits tab is a kind of walkthrough where users opt for specific templates. It then restricts visible tools and lists them out in a step-by-step fashion to assist users with the editing of their own photos.

While its editing layout is vastly different from Lightroom, it does have its own Organizer application which emulates Lightroom’s catalog and collections-based organization. File directories are displayed on the left side of the window and cataloging images in the software won’t make changes to files stored locally on the hard disk. There’s also a “People” option which allows for automatic tagging of portraits for quick recall.

(Image credit: Cyberlink)

Phenomenal pricing and good for all creatives

PC: Intel Core i-series and above (AMD equiv), 2GB RAM, Windows 7-11
Mac: Intel core i-Series, 1GB RAM, macOSX 10.8 - macOS 10.13
Hard drive space: 1GB
Minimum screen resolution: 1024 x 768
Reasons to buy
+Great AI tools+Cheap subscription+Single fee option
Reasons to avoid
-Advanced effects disappointing-Basic editing tools

Considering PhotoDirector 365’s low price point you’d be forgiven for thinking that it lacks in editing ability, too. Take a quick whizz through the workspace and you’ll find that it has a good suite of editing tools and features that match competitors so that you don’t miss out. It even has a selection of Artificially Intelligent editing features for creative effects, though the intelligent masking isn’t that great, even on its own sample images.

It’s ideal for content creatives like graphic designers who want to make quick changes to photos and prepare them ready for use, but hardcore users or professional-level editors might find it a bit limiting.

(Image credit: ACDSee)

Non-destructive and layers based editing competes with Lightroom and Photoshop

PC: Intel i5 or above (AMD equiv), 4GB RAM, Windows 7-10 64-bit only
Mac: N/A
Hard drive space: 2GB
Minimum screen resolution: 1024 x 768
Reasons to buy
+Beginner tutorials are great+Fast processing performance
Reasons to avoid
-Pricier than some competitors-Distracting user interface

ACDSee Photo Studio 2022 not only competes with Lightroom as a good non-destructive batch processor and image organizer, but it adds layers-based editing into the mix to make the leap from Photoshop easier too. It synchronizes images across devices using the ACDSee Mobile app too, so you can keep images with you when on-the-go.

ACDSee Photo Studio 2022 also works with third-party plug-ins to extend its usability, ideal for users that need to expand or have a favorite plug-in. People mode, powered by Artificial Intelligence, cleverly analyzes images for faces for tagging making it quicker to find photos of friends, family, or clients.

It's only available for Windows computers, though ACDSee has now released Photo Studio Mac 8.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

Ideal for those who like simple layouts

PC: Intel Celeron 5 and above (AMD equiv), 4GB RAM, Windows 7-10
Mac: N/A
Hard drive space: 3GB
Minimum screen resolution: 1366 x 768
Reasons to buy
+Useful for beginners and veterans alike+Strong AI features
Reasons to avoid
-No Mac version-Can run slowly

Perceived as a more stripped-back image editor, Corel’s Paintshop Pro 2022 sets itself apart from competitors with its easy-to-use AI features which often give simple, one-click edits that enhance photos.

The software is distinctly cut into thirds: Photography, Essentials, and a Complete mode that seem most suited to touch-interfaces, new users, and more advanced editors respectively. The Pro and Ultimate editions pack even more features in, and it processes raw files, High Dynamic Range imagery, and even has 360 camera support for adventurers and real estate photographers alike. Though it is a little slow to process and it’s Windows-only, its emphasis on AI and staggered user levels make it more accessible than Lightroom for beginners.

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)

New features make this a powerful contender

PC: Intel Core 2 Duo, Xeon, and above (AMD equiv), 4GB RAM, Windows 7 to 10
Mac: Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM, macOSX 10.12 or later
Hard drive space: 1.5GB
Minimum screen resolution: 1280 x 800
Reasons to buy
+One-time and subscription options+Non-destructive editing scope+Clean and simple UI
Reasons to avoid
-Catalog organization could be better 

Once overlooked by photo editors, ON1 has really pulled up its socks and included some brilliant new features with its latest version of Photo RAW 2022. These include Sky Swap AI for autonomous sky masking, NoNoise AI which delivers extraordinary noise reduction, and the Line Mask Tool for manual cut-outs. Browsing images is now easier thanks to customizable viewing information. Time-lapses can now be created from a collection of stills and there’s a favorites pane to speed up organization. ON1 has also remastered the exporting and image conversion and it natively runs Photoshop plug-ins.

Jason Parnell-Brookes

Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer,  writer, and former Technique Editor of N-Photo magazine. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients.