The best Adobe Lightroom alternatives for 2021

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Since Adobe switched from lifetime license to subscription, many Lightroom users started looking for alternatives. In this article, we lay out the key features of Lightroom and why so many photographers and designers love it; how much is Lightroom and how much you can save by replacing it. Plus, we’ll share a unique photo editing workflow you can create with other apps for less money. 

What is Adobe Lightroom

So what is Lightroom and why do you need to look for alternatives? Designers often call Lightroom a lighter version of Photoshop. Both are photo editors created by Adobe. While Photoshop is a hardcore pixel-level software that gives you unparalleled control over your photos, Lightroom is a simpler cloud-based photo editor with less advanced features but more possibilities for workflow automation, such as presets, batch editing, etc. 

Is Adobe Lightroom free? 

No, and it’s rather on the pricey side. Lightroom and Photoshop are both part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, which covers lots of pricing plans and options. The starting Adobe Lightroom price is $9.99/month. Adobe switched to a subscription model a while ago, so there’s no option to buy a lifetime license at the moment. 

How to choose the best Lightroom alternative  

Let’s face it, Lightroom is expensive. Plus, it doesn’t always cover all your needs. And if you get both Lightroom and Photoshop, you’ll pay even more, spend more time figuring out how it works (Photoshop’s UI is pretty complicated), and waste a good deal of space on your drive. 

Instead, you can replace Lightroom software with a toolkit that fits your specific workflow and doesn’t drain your budget.

Most valuable Lightroom software features

If you google “Lightroom alternative Mac,” you’ll be overwhelmed with the options. With the rise of Instagram and advances in professional photography, the number of photo editors is growing. How do you choose the right one? Since you’re obviously searching for something like Lightroom, let’s not reinvent the wheel and look at the best features Lightroom offers: 

  • RAW file editing. With Lightroom, you can work on RAW photos from different cameras. This means you preserve the original quality of the photo despite all the edits you apply. 
  • Presets. You can use built-in presets or create your own. Presets help photographers maintain a consistent style across all their work, without having to apply the same edits to every photo manually.
  • Batch editing flow. One thing where Lightroom stands out is processing large collections of photos very quickly. It’s easy to match exposure, align color balance, or correct light across a batch of photos. 
  • Adjustment tools. Brightness, contrast, noise reduction, gradient effects, removing unwanted objects — the traditional adjustment features are all there.  
  • Catalogs. Most photo editors use the traditional folder structure to organize photos. Lightroom gives you the choice to organize by folders or catalogs. People love catalogs for the ease of file referencing, tagging, assigning ratings, etc. 

    adobe-lightroom-features

Good news, there are apps that have all of the Lightroom’s stellar features. And even more! Some of them are geared towards professional use, others are free, yet others are part of a large photo editing toolkit in Setapp (which is way more affordable and feature-rich than Adobe software). 

The top 7 best Adobe Lightroom alternatives 

1. Skylum Luminar 

Luminar by Skylum has been developed as a plugin for Adobe apps and a standalone photo editor with RAW support and impressive AI capabilities. Today, it’s a full-featured app that can be used as a Lightroom alternative. 

With Luminar, you can do almost all the same things you do with Lightroom — upload a whole folder and apply consistent edits to a collection of photos, use professional presets and filters, and edit RAW format to preserve the original quality. 

Even more, Luminar has its advantages. You will love its AI effects. Try AI Skin and Portrait enhancer for portrait photography, or AI Augmented Sky mask for nature landscapes — you’ll be impressed with how one-click edits can transform your photos. 

Another outstanding feature of Luminar is the collection of Looks (portrait, aerial, nature, etc.) that will help style your photos. Last but not least, Luminar has Layers. By the way, there are no layers in Lightroom — you have to use Photoshop to get access to this feature. So Luminar is clearly a win-win. 

skylum-luminar

Pros: 

  • Great layers (similar to Photoshop’s)
  • Unique AI enhancements 
  • Available with Setapp membership

Cons: 

  • Healing brush works slower 
  • No keyword-based sorting

Price: $9.99/month for Luminar and 10+ other photo editing apps in Setapp or $89 (one-time purchase). 

Best for: Newbies and photography enthusiasts. People who want to experiment with AI effects and one-click edits. People who miss Layers in Lightroom. 

2. TouchRetouch 

TouchRetouch is essentially a photo editor meant to “fix” whatever is wrong with your photos. It’s the best tool to get rid of blemishes, remove unwanted objects, run quick color correction, etc. Think of it as a first aid kit for photos. 

The app also offers some basic tone and color adjustments and a handy compare tool to check the before-and-after. We wouldn’t call TouchRetouch a legit Lightroom alternative because it misses most of the advanced features such as presets and batch editing. But you don’t always need those, right? If you need an easy and quick retouch tool, this is the one. 

touchretouch-alternative

Pros: 

  • Quick retouch flow 
  • Clone stamp, line removal, and other advanced retouch tools
  • Available with Setapp membership

Cons: 

  • No batch editing 
  • No presets and filters 

Price: $9.99/month for TouchRetouch and 10+ other photo editing apps in Setapp or $1.99 (one-time purchase).  

Best for: When you need to cover up a logo, remove a person from the photo, get rid of any flaws and defects. 

3. Capture One Pro 

If you’re a pro photographer, you need a pro Lightroom alternative. Capture One Pro is a good choice for people who want to have the power of Lightroom and Photoshop in one suite. The app was developed by a camera company and has lots of what you could call “studio” features. 

You get RAW editing, Photoshop-style layers, excellent processing power, advanced color wheel, and more. Some people think you can achieve even better results with photo editing if you choose Capture One Pro over the entire Adobe Creative suite. But it all depends on your flow and priorities. For instance, Lightroom is better with HDR tools. Capture One Pro has more customization options but it’s also harder to navigate. 

capture-one-pro

Pros: 

  • Lots of Lightroom and Photoshop features
  • Extensive customization 
  • Great processing power 

Cons: 

  • Expensive 
  • Misses HDR tools
  • Steep learning curve

Price: Starting at $14 per month. 

Best for: Pro photographs looking for more studio features. 

4. PhotoBulk

Imagine you have a folder with photos — from an event, photoshoot, whatever — and need to resize and rename all of them, maybe also change metadata, add watermarks, or convert the whole batch to other format. PhotoBulk does exactly that. 

PhotoBulk can’t be called Lightroom for Mac, but it’s definitely a great app to install with Setapp and use alongside other photo editing apps.  

photo-bulk-app

Pros: 

  • Quick batch editing 
  • Add watermarks to your photos
  • Available with Setapp membership

Cons: 

  • No color and tone adjustment tools
  • No filters and layers

Price: $9.99/month for PhotoBulk and 10+ other photo editing apps in Setapp or $9.99 (one-time purchase). 

Best for: Quick size and format optimization; initial processing of photoshoot materials; organizing photos by collections. 

5. CameraBag Pro 

If Photoshop is pro and Lightroom is mainstream, CameraBag Pro is somewhere in between. This Mac app has lots of professional filters (200+), great retouching tiles, custom presets, masks, and much more. At the same time, it’s super intuitive and easy to make part of your workflow — no matter if you’re switching from Lightroom or if it’s your first photo editor. 

Another cool thing about CameraBag Pro is that it can also edit video. From trimming to preview to color grading, you get everything you need in your videography toolkit. CameraBag Pro works with RAW format and can even help you fix “dead” pixels. 

camerabag-pro-alternative-app

Pros: 

  • Covers most of Lightroom and Photoshop features
  • Video editing toolkit 
  • Available with Setapp membership

Cons: 

  • Doesn’t have Lightroom’s catalog feature

Price: $9.99/month for CameraBag Pro and 10+ other photo editing apps in Setapp or $50 (one-time purchase). 

Best for: Professional photographers/videographers and newbies alike. 

6. RawTherapee 

RawTherapee is an open-source RAW image processing app that shares many of its features with Lightroom. As the name suggests, it works with RAW format so you don’t have to worry about losing the quality. Best of all, it’s free. 

You won’t find the same range of adjustment tools as in Lightroom, but you can still do many basic things like color correction, adjusting exposure and sharpening. The main difference is file organization. Most people who’ve used Lightroom love its catalog feature for the ability to quickly manage a batch of files. With RawTherapee, you’ll have to use the traditional folder structure. Despite the limitations, if you’re looking for a Lightroom free alternative, RawTherapee is a decent choice. 

RawTherapee-app

Pros: 

  • Works with RAW files
  • Basic adjustment tools 
  • Free

Cons: 

  • Doesn’t have Lightroom’s catalog feature
  • Limited adjustment tools

Price: Free

Best for: Newbies or people who need a tool for basic photo adjustment. 

Final verdict: What’s the best Lightroom alternative? 

We hear you thinking: “Okay, seven Lightroom alternatives is nice and all, but what exactly should I choose?” Here’s the obvious truth: there’s no single app that is less expensive than Lightroom and gives you all of the same features. But you can get a collection of tools that do all those things Lightroom does, and use them together in your workflow. Why? Because this way you’ll save money on Lightroom subscription and get powerful photo editing software. 

Setapp is by all measures the best toolkit you can get to replace Lightroom. Even more, Setapp can partly replace Photoshop so you get all the photo editing tools you’ll ever need, from initial post-processing to more complex things such as layers. 

setapp-best-lightroom-alternative

Here’s what your Lightroom alternative flow could look like: 

  1. Organize photos by catalogs or folders with Emulsion 
  2. Fix minor defects and remove objects or lines with TouchRetouch
  3. Change metadata, name, size, and file format for a collection of files with PhotoBulk 
  4. Create custom presets, apply filters and masks with CameraBag Pro 
  5. Try advanced AI effects and layers with Luminar

All of these apps are part of Setapp so you don’t have to pay for them separately. 

Bonus apps you get with Setapp 

What’s Setapp and what does it have to do with photo editors? Setapp is a productivity tool for Mac and iOS users. It has curated collections of apps geared towards different tasks and jobs. Access to the whole suite (210+ apps) costs $9.99/month, and you can try it for 7 days free. 

If you’re interested in photography, design, and creativity, Setapp gives you the whole “Lightroom alternative” package we described above plus many other helpful utilities. For instance, there’s Squash for file compression that will help you save space on your disk, Tayasui Sketches for drawing (similar to Paint), Grids to publish photos from Mac to Instagram, many more. 

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