Adobe Lightroom 5 Best Free Alternatives.
These days, you don’t have to spend money on software like Adobe Lightroom to have a solution for classifying and processing your JPEG and other RAW files. Along with Adobe’s hegemony in digital creation, there is a new world that is free and often open-source. These High-performance solutions have often most of what their paid equivalents offer.
As a result of Adobe’s new pricing policy (by subscription), RAW image management and editing software is emerging. Affinity Photo, DXO Photo Lab, or Luminar do the same job as Lightroom with some originalities and bonuses. But their main particularity is that they are free. Freemium or open-source, developers from all over the world concoct software to appeal to the greatest number and especially to all budgets, whether you are a beginner, amateur, or expert photographer.
This selection focuses on desktop image filing and editing software (Windows, macOS, and Linux). As alternatives to Adobe Lightroom, the software chosen is therefore not dedicated to complex image editing such as Photoshop or Gimp. However, compatibility with RAW files is a must.
Software adapted to RAW files
The JPEG format remains the standard for smartphones and leisure photographers. But, with digital cameras, whether they are hybrids or SLRs, or even with high-end mobiles, the RAW format is becoming more democratic. Remember that this type of file is a bit like a negative in digital photography. RAW is a large file (often several megabytes because it is uncompressed) as it gathers all the information that makes up your shot, even that which your eye cannot see. It needs to be treated, developed. During development, we can adjust lights (brighter or darker), tones (warmer or cooler), color saturation (brighter or duller), etc. From a raw photo, we can therefore make up for errors in shooting (overexposure, underexposure, colors that are too vibrant, contrast too marked, etc.). Which is much more difficult with JPEG files.
We have deliberately bypassed software that simply displays RAW files (like IrfanView) or edits them automatically or manually. We also did not choose Pixlr since it does not allow the processing of RAW files. On the other hand, we could have selected Picktorial, which classifies and processes your RAW and JPEG images brilliantly. However, it only exists on macOS currently and the free version is too limited. In addition, PhotoleMur 3 is certainly free but does not offer any customization since it is the artificial intelligence that controls the photo enhancements.
In this selection, we also did not mention the proprietary but free software that comes with all cameras that produce RAW files. We could have cited Canon Digital Photo Professional or Nikon Capture NX. They are certainly efficient for basic retouching (contrast, light…) but they only manage their RAW files correctly, by nature. Moreover, for cataloging photos (especially when you have several boxes of different brands), they are not suitable.
Here is a list of the best Free Image Editor Software alternatives for Adobe Lightroom:
Polarr… this name may already ring a bell. This image editing software is indeed very popular on mobile (iOS and Android). Formerly, this freemium (available on Windows and macOS) required an internet connection to function because the calculations were carried out on the cloud (SAS). Polarr is now a stand-alone software (a Chrome extension also exists), with a dark interface that is very pleasant, stripped down, and intuitive. You just have to move sliders as you wish. For the impatient, automatic correction works quite well.
Unlike Adobe Lightroom, ranking photos is not one of Polarr’s strengths. Its vocation is above all photo retouching. We start by cropping and/or rotating the shot as desired. Templates (called Aspects) are available to cut your photo in 16/9 format (TV screen) or 1:1 (square, for Instagram) for example. Then you can directly apply filters (more than 120 free), like Instagram, to get creative results without difficulty.
You can also tailor a photo with a myriad of parameters with suggestive names (colors, lights, etc.). Nothing really rocket science then. Discreetly, Polarr embeds an artificial intelligence that detects faces to improve only the skin (smoothing, tint, tone, etc.).
Furthermore, we appreciate the possibility of adding texts and shapes (square, triangle, etc.) to create ready-to-use visuals for social networks. For export, Polarr offers the JPEG, PNG, and TIFF formats, with or without watermark or metadata (EXIF) and of course in the dimensions of your choice.
Ever since Adobe has changed its marketing policy for its creative software, selling exclusively subscriptions, photographers and graphic designers are grumbling. Gimp is great at retouching images, but developing batches of JPEG or RAW photos is not what it does. Fortunately, the open-source community is growing bigger and bolder. For the past ten years, the Darktable project has been organized and spread around the world. Darktable’s mission: to provide an open-source solution to catalog and develop photos.
An open-source clone of Adobe Lightroom?
When we launch Darktable for the first time, Lightroom CC users are not disoriented. With its “dark mode” interface, the separation between catalog (light table) and development (darkroom), the thumbnails at the bottom, and the tools on the right, Adobe inspiration is claimed. However, the developer team didn’t want to make a beast, open-source Lightroom clone. Some tools are the same or similar, but many are specific to Darktable. And it’s not just a renaming of similar instruments. The algorithms and the philosophy of the software are also distinct.
When some software just imports a photo, this application allows the choice between a file, a folder, or even directly detect the connected camera. The thumbnails (adjustable sizes) make it easy to score (with stars) the shots to develop. Note, moreover, that the classification is more advanced than with RawTherapee for example. You can search with about twenty criteria such as shooting parameters, date, title or geolocation. Several metadata can also be edited on a photo or a batch of photos.
Mature software for pro-development?
Unfortunately, Darktable is not yet mature enough and is not exploitable in a professional logic either. Obviously, the latest photo cameras are not compatible with software developed free of charge by enthusiasts. Obviously, this open-source software is still young. But the result is still impressive. Remember how Adobe Lightroom was 10 years ago, in terms of functions and usability. Darktable is much more powerful and convenient than it looks. This photo editing application contains new features such as parametric masks, sharpening by wavelet decomposition, or even the fluidity module.
A professional photographer or graphic designer will be seduced by the finesse of the settings, in particular the management of color profiles over the entire production chain (digital camera, screen, printer, etc.) with calibrated equipment and the management of file formats 8, 16 and 32 bits. Even hardware acceleration, usually the preserve of expensive software, is available on Darktable (via the graphics card). Darktable is also able to apply styles or presets automatically depending on the camera or photo lens used.
Over the past few years, RawTherapee has been gaining ground and starting to overshadow Adobe Lightroom CC. This open-source cataloging and image processing software (DNG, JPEG, PNG, RAW, TIFF) supports both Windows and macOS computers and of course Linux.
When opening RawTherapee, one cannot help but see inspiration from its proprietary competitor Adobe. Admittedly, the interface is dark, but above all the layout is reminiscent of Lightroom CC, at least in its early versions. On the left, the file browser allows you to find and select the folders containing the photos. The central zone displays in the form of thumbnails (adjustable size) the contents of a folder and more particularly to select them (“put in the queue”) and/or to rate them (with stars or a color label).
The classification and organization of your photo library are facilitated by a set of advanced filters. The photographer can quickly find a shot with parameters such as the type of camera used, exposure compensation, the lens used, etc. Unfortunately on RawTherapee, you cannot “tag” the photo with a title or keywords to find it quickly, unlike Darktable. You can access EXIF information without being able to modify it. You just have to add IPTC metadata. You can already rotate or precisely correct a photo in contact sheet mode. A significant asset when you have dozens of photos to correct.
When it comes to photo editing, especially developing RAW files, RawTherapee is loaded with impressive features that may scare off novice photographers. Even expert photographers may have some hesitation at first as the terminology and approach sometimes differs from Adobe Lightroom CC. The tools are classified in tabs for easier navigation.
When it comes to exporting, this editing software does the bare minimum. Of course, one can define a file name pattern and choose between the formats JPEG, PNG, and TIFF. However, no choice in the export dimensions. You will have to go back to Gimp or Photoshop.
It’s hard to recommend RAW image processing software, as the user profiles differ. LightZone brings together beginners, amateurs, and even experts. Less well-known than the popular RawTherappe or Darktable, this open-source software was once paid and available on macOS / Linux. Today it is found to the delight of photographers on the Windows operating system. Already the graphical interface is easy to learn, even resembling a young Adobe Lightroom CC. A dark background, a few essential buttons, and above all a clear division between classification in the Navigate section and processing in the Edit section. In this Edit section, we thus find the tree structure of storage media (internal or external hard drive, memory card reader, etc.) and a sort of digital contact sheet so that the photographer can easily select the interesting shots. All photos appear as thumbnails. By clicking on one of them, the metadata (shooting conditions, date, place, title, etc.) appear. He can also select one or more (batch) similar to process them.
In the Edit section, you can crop your shot and adjust the horizon (for example when your marine photos tilt strangely) if necessary. It’s available to everyone. Then, newbies will simply assign a filter (here called Style) on their JPEG or RAW snapshot. The 42 styles (presets) are already powerful and comprehensive as they generate black & white files, contrast enhancements, or even skin softening. Afterward, you are free to save your result immediately or to improve further.
Like on Lightroom CC, LightZone works in stackable toolboxes. We activate, we deactivate, we reduce, we move in the simplest way possible. We thus act on sharpness, color balance, Gaussian blur, hue/saturation, white balance, noise reduction. Even red-eye (from the flash) is easily corrected. These settings affect the entire photo, but they can also be worn only in a specific area using the masks.
If you have a low-power computer and you are working on large files of several megabytes (including RAW), LightZone is quite slow (at least on the Windows version). This problem will probably be fixed soon since about fifteen developers are working on this open-source project.
Too often Photivo is overlooked by RAW image editing software. Yet it has its place perfectly in this selection. Granted, it’s not as ergonomic as a Polarr or as powerful as a Darktable. However, it is clear that it is full of features to develop all your RAW or JPEG photographs.
Please note, Photivo is not recommended for novice photographers. Not only could the profusion of settings with exotic names make them confused while editing photos. But above all, it does not recognize some RAW files, including Canon (CR2) and Sony (ARW). More exactly, it is not compatible with recent cameras that handle these digital negatives in a special way.
Photivo’s interface is easy to learn, as long as you already know photo editing (on Adobe Lightroom or DXO Photo Lab): there is only one panel on the left containing all the tools and views. You go from one section to another using tabs, but you can also search for a function in the search bar (very practical).
Like many free or open-source software, Photivo points to a recurring problem: the identification of objectives. How to correct an optical, chromatic aberration of a photo lens if the software does not recognize it. It is then necessary to correct by hand … with the errors that this generates.
Beginner photographers can quickly be overwhelmed with information and obscure notions when trying to edit their photos. We recommend Polarr to them. For those who want cool results with more customization, go with LightZone. As for those who are serious about learning image editing and processing, or who want to manage collections of hundreds of photographs, we recommend Darktable instead. If you have the time to learn software, RawTherapee is a great solution. For publishing purists, Photivo is also powerful although its lack of updates makes it progressively dated.
Read also: Linux: 10 Essential Distributions to Get Started.