Gary's Guide to Alternative Desktop PC Photo Editing Software
By: Gary Gray
(November 11, 2015)
With Adobe making Lightroom and Photoshop an online subscription service, many photographers are looking for alternatives that don't require a monthly subscription fee for photo editing, myself included.
Adobe have long dominated the photo editing software market with Photoshop being the “gold” standard amongst professionals. It's now 2015 and Adobe have changed their business model to meet the times and have more or less told their customers that the “Creative Cloud” is the path forward, leaving behind those who don't wish to be tethered to an internet subscription service.
What are the alternatives?
I've compiled a good list of photo editing software that you may want to take a look at. Though I still use Lightroom and Photoshop, I know that at some point in the future I'll be moving to my own model for photo editing and will have to select from one of the following or yet to be released photo editing packages.
Paint.net (Windows) Price = Free.
A basic photo editor, similar to the old Microsoft photo editor and paint, but provides additional editing functions beyond simple basic tasks. Also does layers. Does not read raw files. Worth having on your system, just to have something to do quick and dirty tasks, it's notepad for images only on steroids.
Picasa (Windows/Mac) Price = Free
Not as much a photo editor as it is a photo manager. If you're looking for a way to quickly organize your images and share them over the internet, you can't go wrong with this software from Google. Other useful functions included, I personally like it to be my default quick image viewer in Windows. It will read raw files, which alone makes it worthwhile. Still, you won't find this robust enough to use as your primary editing software.
Canon Digital Photo Professional v4 (Windows / Mac) Price = Free
DPP comes standard with any Canon DSLR purchase. This software is much improved from earlier versions in previous years. The interface is intuitive, the controls are quite robust and as a photo editor, if you own a Canon camera, it does an outstanding job of detail enhancement, noise reduction and general photo editing. For free software, it's a lot better than many of the other packages I'm listing in this article. It doesn't have third party or Lightroom / Photoshop plug-in support, but it can export many different file formats. The work-flow and file management aspects are a little on the weak side, so if you are going to be working with a lot of images, it may not be the fastest and best way of organizing your libraries, relying on your own directory structures using a Windows Explorer type navigation.
ON1 Photo 10 (Windows / Mac) Price = $ 119
A full featured photo editor with Photoshop and Lightroom integration. Non destructive editing. Additional software, ON1 Effects and Perfect Resize. Free trial.
The look and feel of this software is good, however, I had trouble using it to edit Canon EOS 5DSR raw files. It kept hanging up on my Windows Core i7 desktop, so I abandoned additional testing. I don't think it's ready for prime time. What functionality I was able to test was sluggish and unimpressive. The slowest responding software I looked at.
ACDSEE Pro 9 (Windows) Price = $99.99
Stand-alone or Subscription. A general purpose photo editing with a complete set of editing tools to rival those found in Lightroom. I found the user interface easy to understand and was able to jump right in to editing a DNG file with good results. With RAW files support, it's difficult to not like this software. You can download a fully functional version for a 30 day free trial. Definitely worth looking at.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 (Windows/Mac) Price = $99.99
Stand-alone. Billed as the best “first time photographer” software, it's a consumerized & scaled back version of Photoshop. If you shoot jpg's with your cell phone or point & shoot, this could be fun software, but for serious photographers, I'd look somewhere else. Photoshop even wants you to sign up for the Creative Cloud instead of using this software. I'm wondering what their future plans for this half baked solution are?
Serif PhotoPlus X8 (Windows) Price=$99
Stand-alone. A general purpose photo editing software with an easy to understand user interface. Handles layers, raw files, printing. Lots of canned effects and good printing options for home printing. Definitely worth considering but I'd look for better deal on sale price. No free trial available either, and I'm not a big fan of buy before you try software.
Gimp (Linux/Windows/Mac) : Price = Free. Current version 2.8.
Extensively developed graphics editing software. A full suite of painting tools, brushes, gradients and more. Handles layers, alpha channel, text layers, transformable paths, scaling, masks, and many other features not typically found in free software. Extensive help online, featuring tutorials, FAQs, and links to books on the software.
Any time one mentions an alternative to Photoshop, GIMP is thrown in to the conversation. I've looked GIMP over several times throughout the years and I've never found a reason to use it. Yes, it's a full featured photo editing software that handles alpha channels, layers and all types of cool stuff. But, it doesn't do RAW files. If you want to work with RAW files you'll have to supply them from some other software. It's also free. Free can be in important factor in your decision making process.
Dx0 Optics Pro 10 (Windows/Mac) : Price = $129
DxO is a company in France that does lab tests on Digital Camera Sensors and electronics to see how well manufacturers electronics stack up to rigorous testing for image qualities.
As an offshoot of this they've also released a photo editing software package Called DxO OpticsPro10, which has numerous editing features and it also integrates into Adobe Lightroom as an add-on.
Though it's not as functionally robust as Lightroom nor Photoshop, it still provides the photographer with a good array of editing tools with an intuitive user interface.
One thing DxO OpticsPro 10 does very well is reduce camera noise in the image. Another thing it does very well is correct the image distortions for a particular lens on a particular body.
The Essential Edition is $129 and the full “Elite” version is $199. It'll be up to you to decide if you have $129 to spend on a better noise reduction and basic editing tool.
I give it a thumbs up.
Corel AfterShot Pro 2 (Windows, Mac and Linux) Price=$54.99. 64 bit Raw Converter, photo management and editing.
Formerly known as Bibble, this software is similar in form and function to Adobe Lightroom; however, not quite as feature packed. Still a viable option for converting raw files, basic editing and managing image libraries. Claims to be the “worlds fastest raw converter.” Free 30 day trial period. No internet subscription needed.
With Adobe converting their Lightroom and Photoshop products to what is currently known as the “Creative Cloud”, using either software requires an online “Internet Subscription” A lot of photographers have rejected this concept and Corel has answered their call. Corel AfterShot Pro2 is to Lightroom as Corel PaintShop Pro X8 is to Photoshop CS. Many of the basic editing functions found in Lightroom are available in AfterShot. With a similar interface to Lightroom, you won't take long to get up to speed using this software. I don't think the noise reduction and sharpening tools are very impressive, but if you are looking to convert raw files quickly and then export them to another editor, this program does a very good job. Another plus is RAW file support.
I tested this software with the Canon EOS 5DSR, which is a fairly new camera and it had no problems reading the 50 megapixel image CR2 files and it was plenty fast about it compared to other software. I'd certainly be happy running this software on my laptop for quick edits on the road with a less hardware intensive photo editor.
Corel PaintShop Pro X8 (Windows): Price = 79.99
A full featured photo editing package that includes many tools found in Photoshop CC, including raw files support. A nice budget stand-alone package for those not wishing to spend a fortune. Similar to Photoshop Elements, it may be a better choice than the scaled back Elements. PaintShop Pro does not require an internet subscription to use. While not as robust as Photoshop, it does provide many similar editing tools and even a few you won't find in Photoshop. For someone on a budget, this is may be the best overall photo editing software value on the market. I've used several versions of this software over the years. Corel is good about keeping it updated and this software will handle raw files. I look at Aftershot Pro and Paint Shop Pro as being Corel's version of Lightroom and Photoshop.
None of the above mentioned photo editing software packages are as versatile and comprehensive as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop Creative Cloud. None are as expensive either. Obviously, we're looking a budget alternatives to Adobe. The question is which are suitable for serious photo editing, either amateur and/or professional use?
The most interesting of the above listed packages is DxO OpticsPro10. While the basic photo editing tools are in place, it has what I believe to be the best noise reduction algorithm of anything on the market. The rest of the package is pretty impressive and one can only hope that DxO labs will take this software to even greater heights in the future. If you could only afford one of the above, I'd recommend it be DxO OpticsPro 10.
That said, a couple other alternative packages are worth considering. Corel Aftershot Pro 2 and Paint Shop Pro X8, when working together will give you a very powerful and relatively inexpensive editing solution. There will be a learning curve with PaintShop Pro, however, there is quite a bit of “learning material” available for these programs.
Your mileage may vary.