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Raw Photo Editing Software Review & Comparison For 2018

When it comes to photo editing software, photographers seem to be looking for new alternatives lately. I've reviewed 5 editors here and compared them, with my ratings organized between beginner and intermediate to help you choose.

Recently, Adobe announced some new changes to Lightroom and its Photography Plan.

Many people were already tired of paying a monthly subscription fee, many never chose to sign up for it in the first place. Instead, they opted to stick with the purchased version of Lightroom.

But now after Lightroom 6, that is not an option any longer, and some people are looking for Lightroom alternatives when it comes to photo editing software.

Having recently tested Luminar by Macphun (soon to be rebranded as Skylum), I wrote about my findings in these two previous reviews:

I got a lot of comments, questions, and requests for more info on some of the other photo editing software available now. So I've taken on the enormous task of trying as many of them out for you as I can.

What I can tell you is there are a LOT!

It seems like everyone and their dog now has a RAW photo editing software and I'm finding task is a bit daunting, to say the least.

It's no wonder you're confused and don't know which program to choose!

But fear not, I'm here to help you wade through some of the options and give you my first impressions and thoughts on each. I'll also make some suggestions for you based on whether you are a beginner or intermediate user in the area of image editing.

SIDE NOTE: I have spent more than five full days (better part of a whole week) trying out these programs for you, making test images and making notes and ratings. So please be forewarned this is a LONG, extensive article. I did not do this whole thing in a couple hours – I wanted to give each one a good shot – and give you the best answers and ratings I could.

Photo Editing Software Review & Comparison

In part one I will be reviewing the following photo editing software:

  1. Lightroom Classic for comparison purposes
  2. Luminar by Macphun (they are changing their name soon to Skylum)
  3. Affinity Photo
  4. On1 Photo Raw 2018
  5. Corel AfterShot Pro3

Just to get you started here are the specs on each. These are just the facts for comparison purposes. Sorry, they are not in the same order – I put Lightroom first on my list and my review of it is first below, but it's listed last on the chart below. Prices shown are in USD.

photo editing software review specs chart

NOTE: At the end of this review and comparison, you'll find a chart with a summary of all my findings for the programs in this roundup. So click here if you just want to cut to the chase!

The Comparison Break Down

This photo editing software review & comparison is broken into two parts, covering 4-5 different programs in each. I will give you some of my thoughts and initial impressions of each program as well as rate them in eight different areas.

I've approached this is from a perspective of a total beginner.

I wanted to see how intuitive each program was when I opened it.

Having over 20+ years of using Photoshop, Lightroom and various other software – I figured if I can't figure it out easily (and need to watch 4-10 hours of video tutorials just to get it), what chance do you have?

How I Tested

I have used the following as my questions and rating criteria:

  1. Ease of use out of the box – How easy is it to get started? Interface ease of use and functionality.
  2. RAW – How good is the RAW processor? Ease of use, features? Image quality?
  3. Layers – Does it handle layers? How easy/hard is it to understand?
  4. Presets – Does it have presets? How many come with it? What is the quality like? Are they customizable? Are there others available for free or purchase?
  5. Import & Export Options – How easy is it to export (save) images? Especially for sharing, social media, email, resizing? How is data on RAW files saved?
  6. Browser – Is there a way to view images and sort, tag, catalog, flag and rate them? Can you browse images?
  7. Help – Are there good tutorials or help/support for the program? How helpful are they? Is there a support forum or Facebook group?
  8. Extras – What extra special things can it do like; HDR, pano, layer images, combine images, texture overlays, add text, etc?
  9. Average rating – Overall rating (one for beginners, one for intermediate) as an average of the items above.

I've also given my thoughts on pros and cons for each.

    Beginner - you've never used photo editing software before, or are really new to it.

    Intermediate - you have used other photo editing software for a year or more and can do basic adjustments and some more advanced techniques.

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Adobe Lightroom Classic

adobe lightroom logoI'll start with the Adobe products as these photo editing tools are the industry standard, to which all others strive to match.

In all honesty, I still love Lightroom and will continue to pay my monthly fee of $9.99 and use Lightroom Classic.

But I've been using Lightroom since the beta version 0.9 in 2006, and it's been my go-to software of choice. I'm heavily invested in the catalog system and will stick with it.

However, having said that, I may add a few others to my repertoire as plugins or just to use if I want to spice things up a little. I've really come to enjoy using Luminar and find myself hopping over to it quite frequently (30% or more of my images go to Luminar now).

So how do I rate Lightroom for all those criteria? Let's have a look: (note I have not included Photoshop here)


It can be difficult to grasp the catalog concept used by Lightroom and get it set up right from the beginning.

Import and export are not intuitive or easy – I've helped and watched many of my students struggle with those things.

There are lots of presets and places to save them but can be confusing.

The interface itself is fine but some of the modules and terms can be confusing, especially to beginners.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 8/10


Lightroom and Photoshop both use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) as their raw processing engine.

It's top notch and I can't say as I feel there is anything missing. I will be using ACR as the standard in this review for comparison sake.

  • Beginner rating 6/10
  • Intermediate rating 10/10
I wrote about the 10 reasons I recommended using Lightroom here. NOW – I believe it may not be the best option for beginners especially.


This one is simple to answer – no Lightroom does not handle layers.

However, it's an easy right-click to take an image from Lightroom into Photoshop, where you have all the power of layers at your disposal. It's too much power and too many options for most beginners, though.

  • Beginner rating 2/10
  • Intermediate rating 9/10


Lightroom comes loaded with many presets in several different parts of the program.

There Develop presets, local adjustment presets (for the Brush, Radial, and Graduated filters), Import and Export Presets, file renaming, print presets, and more. Basically, anything you might do more than once you can likely save it as a preset (or predetermined group of settings).

Presets are really handy for quick photo editing, and there are many other free presets and ones available for purchase (including the ones I made here). The sky is the limit here.

how to use Adobe Lightroom presets
Learn how to use Lightroom Presets here if are already a LR user.
  • Beginner rating 6/10
  • Intermediate rating 9/10


This is where Lightroom gets tricky and is confusing to many people, beginner and intermediate photographers alike.

Saving edits to raw files is done automatically to the catalog or database, nothing else need be done unless you want a new size or file format.

Then you need to export.

That word – EXPORT – loses a lot of beginners.

It's really just “save as”, but it's confusing and the Export dialog box that pops up has a lot of options and can be complicated to understand. Once you have a few export presets setup you're good to go. But getting to that point may require you taking a class or watching some online tutorials.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 8.5/10


Lightroom's Library module is where all the image browsing, sorting, tagging, flagging and rating is done. It's very powerful and not that hard to understand and use.

You can even browse images on hard drives that are not even attached to your computer (once Lightroom has indexed them and made previews). I find this indispensable because I often travel without my main drive, but it may not be a feature you ever need.

screenshot of Adobe Lightroom develop module for sorting rating and tagging images
The Lightroom Library module is a powerful browser where you can sort, flag, tag, and rate your images. You can also filter, search, and paste settings to other images here.

Some people find Lightroom too slow to sort and cull images – but I've never found that to be an issue.

  • Beginner rating 8/10
  • Intermediate rating 9/10


Because Lightroom and Photoshop have been around so long there are literally thousands of free articles, video tutorials and online classes available to learn these programs.

Phil Steele does a great Lightroom tutorial that I recommend for anyone wanting to better understand this photography software.

You can also find local classes in most big cities where you can get training in a classroom setting and ask questions of a qualified instructor, or possibly even some one-on-one tutoring.

I have done quite a few Lightroom tutorials – this is by far my most watched video.

But that is both good and bad.

Yes, there is a lot of training available – but do you want to spend your time learning photo editing software, or do you just want to make your images look nice and get back out and take more photos?

But don't expect Adobe to answer the phone if you call them, or to be super supportive for you.

Adobe is a big company and many of their call centers our overseas. I've had calls of over an hour with their support for billing issues in the past. As a big corporation, they aren't really responsive to the little guys like us.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 8/10


screenshot of an example of Lightroom's merge to HDR feature
Lightroom's Merge to HDR feature does a really good job of making natural-looking finished images like the one lower right.

From within Lightroom you can do Merge to HDR, Merge to Pano, open as layers in Photoshop (where you can do pretty much anything if you know how), and more.

You can use many popular photo editing software as plugins for Lightroom and it plays nice with other external editors.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 8.5/10


Here are the average ratings from all the scores above for Lightroom and Photoshop.

As you can see, Lightroom photo editing software is far more appropriate for an intermediate level photo editor.

If you are just beginning or want to keep it really simple – this is likely not the best choice for you. Read on!

  • Beginner rating 4.25/10
  • Intermediate rating 8.75/10


There are many reasons why Lightroom is still my personal choice. It comes bundled with Photoshop (which I do use on occasion), it does high-quality image editing and has one of the best RAW processors available. Lightroom plays nice with other software as plugins so it's not an either-or situation.

lightroom raw file before photo
Raw file before editing.
same photo after editing with Lightroom
Finished file after editing in Lightroom.
example photo for using Lightroom to edit a JPG
This is a JPG right out of the camera. In a memory card mishap, I lost the raw file so this is all I have. It's a high contrast scene and I wanted to see how each of the programs could handle this challenge.
JPG photo after using the Lightroom photo editor
Here is the Lightroom edited version. Not bad. There's starting to be a little bit of color banding in the sky (meaning the colors don't flow smoothly from one to another), but I've pushed the file to its limits here.

If you can get past the idea of the monthly subscription model it's really not all the expensive at under $120 annually. You're always up to date with the current version and you never have to worry about the program being outdated, not opening your new RAW files, or keeping up with technology, etc.


Besides being challenging for beginners, advanced creative controls are still a bit limited inside Lightroom itself.

If you manage to master it though and hop over to Photoshop the world is your oyster – it's is full of endless options. But with that comes a steep learning curve and a really complex program.

Of course, it's also worth mentioning that the monthly subscription itself is a con for many people, hence why we're here right?!

Luminar by Macphun (Skylum)

macphun Luminar 2018 logo

One of the new kids on the block, Macphun has been making photo editing software for Mac computers for a few years now, but are just entered the game for Windows.

Luminar is now rebranding and changing their name to take out the “Mac” part to be more PC-friendly. Their new name is Skylum (I've been told it's a mix of their flagship program Luminar and the Sky – not sure I get it either frankly).

But regardless of the name, their photo editing software is making a big impression on a lot of people – myself included.

I've used and played around with their older plugins and really like Tonality (for black and white). Most of those (from what I understand) are now being built into Luminar. I did a full overview of Luminar in my past two reviews and tests with it – so this will be a summary. If you want to read more go to:


Right out of the gate Luminar is much easier to use than Lightroom, especially for beginners.

I showed it to one of my students recently and he liked what he saw immediately.

He just wants something simple – this is it.

  • Beginner rating 9/10
  • Intermediate rating 9/10
RAW file being used to see how photo editing software handles it
Image straight out of camera, same as above.
screenshot of Luminar photo editing software interface
Luminar's Quick & Awesome workspace. If all you do is these 3 sliders this is what you can do!
Luminar sliders effect on the RAW photo example
Quick & Awesome sliders applied.


Luminar photo editor software filter panel screenshotThere are a few things that I feel Luminar is missing to give it top marks for RAW processing, but at the same time it's still really simple to use and it does a nice job.

Luminar can be slow to open a single RAW file but once the image is opened the program works smoothly.

If you choose the “Professional” workspace, Luminar will give you a set of filters to make basic adjustments to your image – similar to the panels in LR. You can do all the same things in the Adjust tab of the Develop Filter.

What I feel Luminar is missing is the following:

  1. A targeted tool to fix Chromatic Aberration (you have to guess and do it manually).
  2. The Alt key tricks like being able to see highlights being clipping while pulling the White and Black sliders.
  3. Auto adjustments for lens corrections to fix distortion and perspective.
  4. Auto level or straighten (either with the crop tool or Transform) to fix crooked images.
  5. Targeted adjustment tool for HSL (so you can click on a color or spot on your image and drag to adjust those tones)

None of those are deal breakers for me and I only miss them because I have them in Lightroom.

If you're coming it with fresh eyes you may not even see a need for these items. It also does a really nice job on RAW files so the bottom line is the final results and are you happy with that.

A few more filters and one preset applied and within 5 minutes I made this.
NOTE: Having said that though, most of the other photo editing software I am comparing here don't have these features either. Please keep in mind that most of these Photoshop and Lightroom alternatives are in their relative infancy. They will grow and evolve with time. So I recommend you pick the one you like working with the most and invest your time and suggestions to help them make it better. 
  • Beginner rating 9/10
  • Intermediate rating 7/10


Yes, Luminar works with layers.

It allows you to add an adjustment layer (where you apply any filters you want) or a new image layer (where you can blend images, create composite, replace the sky, head swap, etc.). Each layer can have the opacity lowered, and the blend mode changed.

You can also add a mask so that only part of the layer applies and shows in your image, for example, if you added a filter to darken and add color and want to apply it to the sky only.

For intermediate to advanced users, you can even add a mask to each filter you apply including a one-click luminosity mask (super handy and usually very complicated to do in Photoshop).

Luminar even makes it easy for beginners to use masking.

No need to remember whether to paint with black or white – it just gives you two choices: Paint (add in the effect) and Erase (take away the effect) – pretty simple.

  • Beginner rating 8/10
  • Intermediate rating 9/10


Luminar comes with a bunch of presets and more are available on their site (some free, some to purchase).

You can also save your own and share them with other Luminar users. There is also an option to mark your favorites so you can find them easily.

As with many photo editing software programs I find most of the presets a bit too strong. But with Luminar it's really easy to dial the effect back – there's a big amount slider right on the preset.

You can also add a preset it to a new adjustment layer and lower the opacity of the layer.

screenshot of one of Luminar's presets
Here is the Misty Land preset at 100%. It's too much.
another example of Luminar's Misty Land preset
But dialed back to 30% now the Preset looks pretty good – dare I say even better than the Lightroom version. If I wanted to take it further I could use a mask to paint the effect in or out to my taste. Or you can be done here – it's all up to you.
  • Beginner rating 9/10 – easy to use.
  • Intermediate rating 9/10 – fully customizable down to luminosity masking.


Saving and exporting images is pretty straight-forward with Luminar.

Just choose “Save” from the file menu to create and save a native Lmnr file (with all your layers and history if you choose).

Note: This feature is not activated in the Windows version yet. Remember it's new! It's coming. 

Or select export to save as another format (it supports all the usual file formats; JPG, TIF, etc.). It's easy to resize too. This is the export to image popup box.

screenshot of how to export from Luminar photo editor software
Pretty easy right?

There is also a Share feature that's really handy.

Just click the little “upload” icon in the upper right corner and you can send your image directly to social media or email it to a friend.

The program even sizes it and crunches it so the file isn't too big for online or email. Here are the places you can share to automatically from Luminar. Open In – takes your image to other photo editors like Photoshop, etc.

Luminar photography software export dialog on mac

  • Beginner rating 9/10
  • Intermediate rating 8/10 (there is batch processing but it's currently limited, so a lower rating applies here)


Macphun (Skylum) is promising us a Digital Asset Management element for Luminar in the new year.

I'm not sure when that's coming or what it will be like so as of right now it will get zeros. To be updated in 2018.

  • Beginner rating 0/10
  • Intermediate rating 0/10


There are a growing number of Luminar tutorials on YouTube as well as how to articles and before/after examples. Including of course the ones I've done myself (I will have more on Luminar in the new year).

Luminar photo processing software review by Darlene

As well, there are helpful tutorials on the Luminar website and a user guide.

There are even two Facebook groups – one for sharing your Macphun created images and one for support for the products.

Remember I said Adobe is a big company that doesn't talk to the small people? These guys do! Their creators and executives are active in both groups, listening and taking notes, they might even comment on your images.

There are not many online classes for Luminar (yet – do you want me to make one?) and it's doubtful that you'd be able to find a class at your local community college for it.

  • Beginner rating 8/10
  • Intermediate rating 8/10


Luminar does work with layers so you can combine two or more images and apply texture overlays.

There's even a filter for it to make it even easier.

But it doesn't do HDR, pano stitching, allow you to add text or other such things.

So limited marks here.

Note:You can use Aurora HDR 2018 as a plugin for Luminar and vice versa. So you can open your bracketed images in Aurora HDR and do the merging there, then finish your editing with Luminar. Or you can do single image HDR by processing in Luminar first, opening in Aurora to do the HDR, and back.

  • Beginner rating 8/10 (beginners don't really need all that stuff)
  • Intermediate rating 6/10


Here are the average ratings for the Luminar photo editing software based on my assessments above.

I think once they add the browser (DAM) component it will warrant the higher numbers below (in brackets). I will reassess it at that time.

  • Beginner rating 7.5/10 (8.6 not including the browser)
  • Intermediate rating 6.9/10 (7.9 not including the browser)


As I've said before, I liked Luminar more than I anticipated. 

When I initially gave it a go I figured it would have too many issues and not measure up in terms of image quality and style with Lightroom. I was wrong.

Now, it's not replacing Lightroom in my workflow, nor could it even attempt to until they add the DAM component. But I do think it's a viable alternative for you if you aren't heavily invested in Lightroom, or you find LR challenging, or you just want out of the Adobe model.

If you're approaching Luminar with fresh eyes and ideas I think you'll really enjoy it.

I find it fun to use and play with and I'm more tempted to “try things” with it than I usually do with LR.

It works on both Mac and PC.

The bottom line is that it does really nice things to my images and I will continue to use it myself.

This chart compares Lightroom features to Luminar's features so you can see an overall view of both photo editors.

Visit the Luminar website here. Make note of the money saving coupon code below though.

Luminar 2018 DISCOUNT CODE: Get a discount if you decide that Luminar is the best photo editing software for you. Use the code: DIGITALPHOTOMENTOR when you check out to save $10 US.
Photo processed using Luminar turned out better than in Lightroom
I created this warm image using Luminar – I couldn't get close to anything I liked in Lightroom.


Right now the biggest cons are two-fold:

  1. The Windows version is behind the Mac version. It is brand new so I think it will catch up but might be a while.
  2. The DAM component is needed. A way to browse images even just to tag, rate and find them would be good.

Other than that the rest is pretty minor.

Visit the Luminar website here.

Affinity Photo by Serif


Right off the bat when I opened Affinity Photo, I noticed that the interface of the photo editor is more like Photoshop than Lightroom.

You need to open an image to get started and then it's not obvious what to do next.

It took me a while to figure out that the five Personas are like different modules and they work independently which is a bit odd as well.

affinity photo editor opening screen
Opening screen for Affinity Photo.

For example, once you go to the Tone-Mapping Persona and apply your edits – you cannot simply go back there and alter any of the settings. I think you'd have to apply it to a new layer, which I never did figure out how to do.

A few things about the program I found annoying.

The text is very small on everything – it's hard to read with tired/old eyes.

It has a histogram, history, and snapshots. But History doesn't work from one Persona to another as I mentioned above.

The Zoom tool is Cmmd+ or Cmmd- to zoom in or out but double-clicking on the image doesn't zoom in like you'd expect.

photo editor workspace screenshot of Affinity Photo
Affinity Photo workspace. When you open an image this is what you see. Very much like Photoshop or Elements.

Viewing areas that are clipping is not easy in Affinity. There are different buttons to click, I can't find a shortcut – alt doesn't work.

Overall this program feels like a Photoshop alternative more than anything.

If you wanted to use this program I think you'd have to invest some time to really learn it.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 7/10


AHA! Develop Persona is for raw processing.

Took me forever to figure that out as some of the same adjustments appear in both the Develop and Photo Personas.

Once I got that part a few other things were tricky and just odd. There is no Whites slider – odd. Post-crop vignette in the Develop Persona is odd (see screenshot below). You have to use the Vignette Live Filter in the Photo Persona to adjust the shape.

Note: I later figured out that it didn't work well on panos, that seemed to be the issue.
example of poor vignette editing ability in Affinity
How is this even remotely useful? You cannot change the shape of the vignette just make it smaller or larger and fade the graduation.

The gradient and overlay tools in Develop are odd, period.

After you add them you cannot see the mask or where it is applying easily, and you cannot add more than one gradient that I can see. You also cannot paint with less flow, always at 100%.

The Detail Refinement in Tone Mapping and Develop Personas do a really nice job of sharpening and details. As does High Pass once you find it. THEN you have to know to set High Pass to the Overlay blend mode to make it work – why not do that automatically?

Chromatic Aberration and Distortion control are done manually only, no guided or auto adjustments.

I was going to do the same image that I used to test both LR and Luminar above but my trial had expired on Affinity.

10 days really isn't enough to test a photo editing software! So, unfortunately, I cannot show you any other images from that program. Here are some I made the other day.

Photo of a Paris street scene with light trails as processed with Afinity photo editing software
Processing with Affinity Photo.
Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris with light trails processed with the Affinity photo editor
Processed with Affinity Photo.

Just for comparison sake – below are the same two photos processed using Luminar!

Even though the images above are pretty decent – I personally think the Luminar renditions blow them out of the water – do you agree?

Same Paris street scene above but compared to Luminar

Same Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris photo but processed with Luminar for comparison

I think there is a lot more to this program and I want to test it more extensively.

I may have to buy Affinity. So to give it a fair shake I've taken into account the opinion of a few other people I've talked to and looked at the things Affinity can do such as: Frequency Separation, object removal by image stacking, lighting effects, and more.

  • Beginner rating 2/10
  • Intermediate rating 7/10


Yes, Affinity Photo works with layers, in very similar ways to Photoshop.

You can add a blank layer, an adjustment layer, or something called Live Filter Layer which is kind of like a Smart Object in PS.

Is it intuitive? Well, if you've ever tried Photoshop without any training or classes – that's how intuitive Affinity Photo is as well.

screenshot showing Affinity photo editing software adjustment layer options
Adjustment layers in Affinity.
screenshot of Affinity's live filter layers
Live Filter Layers in Affinity.

If the screenshots of all the options for filters and layers look overwhelming, and you've tried either Photoshop or Elements and don't get it – then this is not the program for you either.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 7/10


There are no presets for RAW, that I can see anyway.

Just some for “tone mapping” that's it.

You can record something called a “macro” which is a series of recorded actions that you can save and play on any image. This is basically like Photoshop Actions.

  • Beginner rating 1/10
  • Intermediate rating 2/10


There is a Share option direct to Twitter, Facebook, Email, Messenger, Flickr and airdrop (just like Luminar).

It resized and uploaded to my FB and twitter without me ever logging into those accounts which is a bit creepy.

You can save all your changes in the native “.afphoto” file format to keep your layers, etc., but no history from one Persona to the next.

export dialog box for Affinity photography software
The export dialog box in Affinity Photo.

If you want another file format, choose Export and you will see this dialog box. Pretty straightforward to resize and save a JPG.

  • Beginner rating 5/10
  • Intermediate rating 8/10


Like Luminar, there is no browser component for this program.

You can drag and drop an image into it to open the file, but there is no way to browse or do ratings, flags, etc.

  • Beginner rating 0/10
  • Intermediate rating 0/10


Help – the help in the program isn't very in-depth and there is no PDF guide.

The only tutorials are on Vimeo (and YouTube) but they seem to post one new one every week so there are quite a few.

There is a user forum but no Facebook groups. One thing I did find is a hardcover workbook to walk you through the program (but you have to buy it for another $39.)

But outside of their own support and tutorials, there is not a lot of training for this program as of now. I did, however, find courses for it on Udemy and You'd be unlikely to find any local classes for Affinity.

Even though it's been around since 2015 it's just not widely used by professionals or educators.

  • Beginner rating 5/10
  • Intermediate rating 7/10


Typography is possible – meaning you can add text to your images as in Photoshop.

There are HDR and Pano capabilities and they both worked well – but you cannot see your images you have to find them by file name on our HD and there is no option to drag and drop your images into the boxes.

Pano did not auto crop and I used the “in painting” brush to fill in the corners – did a nice job even on a tile floor.

example of 3 photos stitched together into a panorama using Affinity photo editing program
Panorama merged in Affinity Photo from three images.
Four images merged in the Tone Mapping Persona in Affinity.
One of the presets in the Tone Mapping Persona of Affinity. I kind of like it, a bit retro.
  • Beginner rating 4/10 (steep learning curve for beginners)
  • Intermediate rating 8/10 (lots of options if you take the time to learn to use the tools)


  • Beginner rating 2.9/10
  • Intermediate rating 5.75/10


The biggest pro of Affinity is the price point.

Coming in at under fifty bucks it's the lowest priced photo editing software in this comparison. But I can't see many other pros to using it over actually getting Photoshop Elements. Just spend the extra $30-40 and do that would be my recommendation.


Sharpening – I couldn't see anything for sharpening at first, not even a clarity slider.

It took me a while to find these tools in the Live Filter Layers – Unsharp mask, Clarity and High Pass filter. Very much like Photoshop again.

Once you apply tone mapping you can't undo that – meaning it's not in the history panel.

You can go back before applying it but not change any of the settings you chose before – you have to completely redo it. I wanted to apply one of the presets and export it as one style – I could not export from that Persona and when I went back to Photo I couldn't remove the preset.

In general, I can't see myself ever using this program.

It does everything Photoshop (or even Photoshop Elements) does but not quite as well.

Addendum: After having just tried Photoshop Elements I have to add a note here about Affinity Photo. Elements doesn't do quite as much as I assumed it did and I am changing my recommendation for intermediate users who want more of a Photoshop-like interface to Affinity. If you want layers and the flexibility and creativity they offer, I'd recommend spending the time to learn Affinity if you do not want to pay the monthly fee to have Photoshop CC.

NOTE: I have heard some good things about Affinity's masking abilities and options. So if that is something you need it might be worth a look.

On1 Photo Raw 2018


Overall the interface is confusing.

There are three main modules or components in the right side panel; Develop, Effects and Layers. 

I think Develop is for RAW files and Effects is for layering effects but they have exactly the same tools.

It is not clear when to use each of them as they have the same two tabs; Overall Settings and Local Adjustments. The only difference I can see is there are “Filters” you can apply in Effects that aren't there in Develop – but they also both have the same set of presets.

Not intuitive to a new user.

screenshot showing On1 Photo Raw 2018 software module interface
Here you can see the different modules on the right; Browse, Develop, Effects, Layers, and Resize.

Then there is also the Layers module which seems like it is for adding an image or making a composite.

Some reading and education would need to be done first before using On1 Raw. I've played with it for a few hours and honestly, I can't make anything look good with this program or figure out the interface on my own. I had to watch a couple videos to figure out masking and after that, the “Lumen” mask (which is luminosity) is very helpful to apply effects only to certain areas like the sky or all shadows.

It did recognize my other photo editing programs and synced up or connected with them automatically. So that was handy.

On1 Photo Raw 2018 plugin detection screenshot

There were a couple of things that bugged me right away.

You can click to zoom in but there is a delay so if you click too fast it will go in and back out again. There are also no previews of the filters/effects so you can't see what they do before you click them.

Another unclear thing is that there is a “Done” button at the bottom of the Develop and Effects modules.

I thought clicking it would save the image, but when you click it you get whisked over to Layers and when you go back all your filters, masks, effects and stuff you did in Effects before are now applied and non-editable.

This is NOT non-destructive editing.

There are very few days to go back in this program. The biggest issue for me is lack of a History panel

You can “undo” about 3-4 times and that's it.

  • Beginner rating 2/10
  • Intermediate rating 4/10


I finally figured out that the Develop Module is for RAW processing.

The main Tone & Color panel does not allow masking and it applies to the entire image only. Going to the other panels and making a bunch of adjustments I hit “Layers” by accident. I chose “Close” and not to save the PSD and it closed the entire image and all the edits I had done in Develop and Effects were all gone.

I thought that was saved but it just closed it and didn't save anything.

That was annoying! I lost about 20 minutes of work.

There isn't even a File > Save (or Save as) option in the menu structure as you'd expect.

Lens Correction is done automatically if you set that up, but it did nothing on my image and the “Transform” tool has no guided or auto adjustments for correcting distortion.

The HSL panel (which I use a lot in LR) was hard to find – it's called Color Adjustments in the Develop module. I found it not useful or intuitive at all.

B/W is limited and you can apply it in both the Develop and Effects modules. I'm not sure the difference but I got different results using same settings on the color sliders in each.

On1 Photo Raw 2018 black and white example using the programs develop module
Black and white in the develop module.
On1 Photo Raw 2018 black and white example using the programs Effect module
Black and white in the Effect module with the same settings as above.

The Fix, Retouch and Erase tools are like Clone, Heal and Spot Heal in PS. They worked okay.

Depending on the image the Highlight and Shadows sliders were minimally effective to useless. Better on some than others. On some images, it was downright bad.

Chromatic Aberration – it's called Color Fringe (in Develop only under Lens Correction) so was tricky to find. No targeted tool you just have to guess.

Paris example photo processed with On1 editor
Same image as above, processed using On1 Raw. I couldn't figure out how to make the red glow less in this software.
Notre Dame example photo processed with On1 editor
On1 version of the image above.
JPG example photo processed with On1 editor
On1 Raw did a decent job with this tough JPG once I figured out masking for each of the filters. But there are some odd artifacts in the sky on the left, near the horizon. I'm not crazy about the color or the artifacts here.
  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 4/10


Layers – opens the image as a PSD file (or TIFF, whatever you set up in Preferences).

It seems like Layers is similar to taking an image from Lightroom over to Photoshop. But inside the same program, it just seems disjointed to me.

There are no Adjustment layers so it looks like it is just for adding another image layer like a texture overlay or for combining two or more images (composite).

I never did get the hang of Layers in On1 Raw as I didn't have enough time to spend learning it. That tells you something right?

  • Beginner rating 1/10
  • Intermediate rating 4/10


The presets are all pretty much not great.

The overwrite all your settings and there is no way to even undo them. Once a preset is applied you have to just reset everything and start over if you don't like it.

It wasn't apparent off the bat, but the Presets are just a selection Filters that are being applied in the Effects Module. But the odd thing is that you can see them and click on them when you're in Develop.

I couldn't see what they were even doing to the image or how to amend the settings until I went to Effects just to look and there they were!

On1 Presets panelOn1 filters panel

You do have the option of altering a preset, saving your own, exporting or importing new ones.

So that means you can share Presets with other On1 Raw users or obtain some elsewhere.

But if you select Settings > Get More Presets… – it just takes you to a page on their site that is blank, nothing there. So it doesn't look like there are any available at the time of this writing.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 5/10


On1 post processor export panel screenshot
On1 Raw export panel. When you click the Export icon this shows up and you have to choose your options.

I could not see how to size exports at first, and I couldn't get the Share function to work.

I found out later you can only do that from Browse or Effects, not from Develop (side note: it worked later in all modules after I restarted so it seems to be a bug). Facebook Share did work – but it sized the image to 1175 x 783 pixels, which is a very odd size. There are no options to change it.

Make sure to save your image as it does not do so automatically!

As I mentioned above, there is no File > Save. And once you click “Done” in Effects or Develop (the Done button doesn't always appear) there is no undo!

Once you go to Layers and back there is also no undo or History, just Reset All. 

So if you want to tweak anything you need to avoid Layers because there is no going back after that. It's a very strange workflow, at least to me.

Resize is a separate module and is clunky to use. It has to “render” the image first and takes a long time to even open the image in this mode.

The “Social Media” size wants to crop my image and make it 655×492 – much too small for Facebook. I can't easily see how to keep the proportions the same and export 750px on the long side (I figured that out later too but it wasn't intuitive).

Canceling out of Resize, it saved a PSD file (Note it didn't do this later but asked me if I wanted to cancel and lose my work)!

Then I went back to Effects and tried to export – that didn't work either. So I tried to resize again and got an error message that I had a selection that was a folder (??) and then my image edits were all gone.

There was no undo, no redo, no history. Yeah, not good.

Most of that worked later but it seems really buggy. I had to close the program and relaunch to get it to export.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 5/10


There is a file browser window so you can see your images and select what to open.

It loads pretty fast – you can “catalog” the folders you're working on which is supposed to make it faster but that didn't work for me – it wouldn't draw the thumbnails at all. It also can't see the images if the hard drive is offline (like you can do in Lightroom). So I'm not sure what is the benefit of adding a folder to the “Cataloged” list if it can't do that.

On1 Photo Editor 2018 file browser interface screenshot
Folders and Cataloged Folders. I'm really not sure of the benefit of the latter. The images didn't load any faster than the others.
On1 editing program broswer window example screenshot for this review
Weird color thing that showed up when I switched back to the Browser panel once. I did NOT process the image on the right to look like that as you can see by the thumbnails below.

But on a big folder full of raw files the images were slow to refresh and draw the thumbnails when going from one image to the next in Develop.

The whole screen redraws each time – like flashes black and redraws.

Sync was clunky as well.

You have to copy and paste the settings back in the Browse window. You can do it in Develop as well but you have no control over what syncs – it does everything even local adjustments.

  • Beginner rating 5/10
  • Intermediate rating 6/10


For product training, there are a number of video tutorials on their site and on YouTube.

But they aren't in any specific order so getting started you have to scroll through and find videos to help you.

You need to pay to get access to On1 Plus which has help forums and extra tutorials and help – $49.99/year just for this membership or $129.99/year for membership and all upgrades to Photo Raw.

It seems this is the way they want you to go which puts you right back to the monthly subscription model again and it's even more expensive (if you go for the $129.99/year option) than Lightroom and Photoshop ($119.88/year).

There is a PDF user guide and an online version which really just shows you the same PDF in a browser window. The PDF is 176 pages and seems quite extensive, but I didn't read it cover to cover so I can't say for sure.

In the program itself if you select Help > Welcome to On1 Raw 2018 it brings up a popup window where you can select Getting Started. The only thing on this screen is a 3.5-minute “overview” video. I can't see as it's really helpful for getting started at all.

The help screen for the On1 photo editor
Opening splash screen you see when you first launch On1 Raw Photo 2018. It also shows up if you select Help > Getting Started.
  • Beginner rating 2/10
  • Intermediate rating 5/10


Just opening the Pano panel took a really long time. Eventually, the program crashed in that mode.

It also cropped off way more image than did LR or Affinity in the merging process.

Compare the three panoramic images below.

I couldn't make the On1 Raw one looks less “crunchy” like the Clarity is too high. Both Affinity and On1 cropped off more of the images than Lightroom did (look at the bottom edge where you can see a ladder in the LR version).

review of On1 Photo Editiing software panorama feature
Panorama merged in On1 Raw from three images.
review of Affinity photo editing software panorama feature
Panorama merged in Affinity Photo from same three images.
review of lightroom photo editing software panorama feature
Panorama merged in Lightroom from same three images.

HDR was okay but not the best ever. I found the controls limited and Lightroom and Affinity's results were better with the same set of images.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 5/10


  • Beginner rating 3.25/10
  • Intermediate rating 3.9/10


One thing that I see that the On1 photo editing software does really well is automatic masking.

You can do a luminosity mask with one click, and use the sliders to edit it so that it only affects the part of the image you want.

You can target the sky, shadow areas or select a color range (like the grass or foliage).

JPG photo with On1 photo filter applied with no masking
Here is the image with a warm Photo Filter applied to the entire image – there is no mask here.
same photo but showing which part is masked
Here you can actually see the mask itself. I clicked “Lumen” to apply it and then adjusted a few of the sliders to select only the part of the sky where I wanted the filter applied.
final result of the mask on the photo
Same image with the mask applied – you can see that the warming filter is affecting only the sky now.

I think if you do a lot of HDR, image blending or need to cut out objects from the background then this is a feature you might find indispensable.

In which case I'd recommend getting On1 Raw as a plugin for LR and PS and use it for that only.


The big deal breaker for me – there is NO HISTORY.

You can undo a few steps but that's it.

It sort of defeats the purpose of true non-destructive editing.

Same with flipping from one module to the next, your edits and filters are applied and not editable later. There is no way to save a Virtual Copy or Snapshot that I can see so you have to export each time you do something different because when you come back later it won't be there, or won't be adjustable any more.

Here's the thing – I have heard some really good things about On1 Raw and I really wanted to like it. But I just did not.

Overall, in my review of On1, I found it clunky, odd, not intuitive or easy to figure out without watching videos, and definitely not for beginners.

I think if you're intermediate and you spend some time educating yourself on it then this program could be okay for you. But I think there are other better options.

NOTE: ON1 has been in contact with me and I will be giving ON1 RAW a closer look soon.

Corel AfterShot Pro3

review of Corel Aftershot Pro3 photo editing softwareI'm going to make this one easy if you want to skip down the bottom of the article.

I DO NOT recommend Corel AfterShot Pro3 for anybody!

It is really lacking features compared to any of the others, is clunky, and is more amateurish than using Mac Photos program.

But here are my ratings if you're really curious.


It's easy enough to use and figure out I suppose.

But if that's your top priority just use Mac Photos or the Window's editor. Really.

  • Beginner rating 3/10
  • Intermediate rating 1/10


Again, it's easy enough to use but the tools inside it are just lacking.

For example, these are things I cannot find in AfterShot Pro3, even after searching their online Help guide.

  • There is no Whites slider!
  • There is no way to preview a before and after of your image. Pretty basic to image editing – cannot see how to do that in here.
  • There are no targeted tools for HSL or Chromatic Aberration.
  • There is no way to add a post-crop vignette or any vignette that I can see.
  • There is no “Auto” option for setting White Balance.
  • Black and White is really bad! It just sets Saturation to -100. There is no way to adjust tones based on the original colors which is a pretty fundamental thing to have.
  • There are FOUR different places to do Noise Reduction; one in the Standard tab, and three under Detail (Raw Impulse Noise, Raw Noise, and Perfectly Clear Noise Removal. It is not clear which to use or why.
  • Lens Correction is supposedly applied automatically but it didn't recognize my camera or lens (Fuji X-T1 and 18-135mm lens) which are NOT new. When it did find the right lens this setting did absolutely nothing.
  • There is no way to apply perspective control for tilting buildings, not even manually.
  • Apparently, the “Manual” tab under Lens Correction is to create a custom lens profile, not to adjust the image you're working on.
Corel AfterShot Pro3 Review example photo after processing
This is the best I could do on this image in AfterShot Pro3. Yeah, not good!
Review of Corel AfterShot Pro3 example photo
Here is the same color image again. It did not a bad job here.
black and white processing example using Corel AfterShot Pro3 photography software
This is ALL I could get for black and white using AfterShot Pro3. There is no way to darken the sky or the bright lights using the original colors.
  • Beginner rating 2/10
  • Intermediate rating 1/10


Yes, you can add a layer in AfterShot Pro3 but the only thing that I can see it does it for using the Cloning and Healing tools.

I do see that you can make selective adjustments on layers but it looks very convoluted using something called “regions”.

I read the instructions and could not figure out how to make an Adjustment layer that did anything.

There is no mask feature to show or hide part of a layer.

  • Beginner rating 1/10
  • Intermediate rating 1/10


There are very few presets that come with this program and they don't do much.

They want to you buy more, there are about 22 more sets for sale at $2.49 each (about another $55).

  • Beginner rating 1/10
  • Intermediate rating 1/10


Corel AfterShot Pro3 export menu screenshot
These are the Export menu options. Is this clear to you which to choose? It wasn't to me either.

So the Export or Save options in AfterShot Pro3 are many and confusing.

I found out that “Make a Copy” duplicates your image with no settings applied. Export Files then gives you the following dialog box, not intuitive and didn't always work right.

Corel AfterShot Pro3 export files dialog box

I set the Long side to 750 (as in for pixels) and it filled in 480 in the other spot.

No matter what I did it kept putting that number in there. So when I exported it did so at 480 high but only 720 wide. NOT what I wanted.

I then put in 750 and manually entered 500 for the Short side. I got a file 749×500. But if you do not know the other dimension this makes it impossible to get the right size file.

See where it allows you to set the “Quality”? I set it to 90% the first time and got a file 81kb. At 95% it was 117kb, but there is no way to set a maximum or target size in kb.

The renaming options were odd too, I don't even bore you with that.

  • Beginner rating 1/10
  • Intermediate rating 1/10


I will say that this is the only element of this program that works okay.

Corel AfterShot Pro3 browser screenshot

It loads images reasonably fast and you can show or hide the side panels or thumbnails (which go on the side as you see here, not below like most programs). It allows you to rate and tag your images using starts and colors.

There is also an “import” function and it's not clear why you'd want to that right away.

After some digging, it seems you can import them and add them to a catalog (which is very much like Lightroom) but it's not necessary. I can't see any pros or cons of doing this. The Help page just says you can do it, not why or the logic behind it.

  • Beginner rating 5/10
  • Intermediate rating 5/10


I'm not sure what to say about this one. There are videos but not a lot and not in any logical order. There is also a Help page which, honestly, looks like a user forum from about 1995.

Corel AfterShot Pro3 help and support interface
Does this look ancient to you? I have actually zoomed the page up to 125% just to be able to read it, the text is otherwise way too small.

After searching for a few things on the page above, what I learned is that it tells you what the buttons all do on each screen but not any sort of help to actually use the program.

I didn't find it all that helpful.

There is no Facebook group or way to talk to other users.

  • Beginner rating 2/10
  • Intermediate rating 2/10


Took me a while to find it, but AfterShot Pro3 does do HDR. But not very well.

Corel AfterShot Pro3 photo editor software review HDR example photo
This is the best I could do with several bracketed images in Corel AfterShot Pro3. Compare to the other two below from Affinity and Lightroom. Look at the grass in the foreground and the sun flare in particular.
Affinity photo editor software review HDR example photo
HDR in Affinity Photo. I don't mind this one at all!
Lightroom  photo editor software review HDR example photo for comparison
HDR in Lightroom.

To do the HDR in AfterShot Pro3 you have to select the image you want to use, and right-click to get the HDR menu. Choose Edit with AfterShot HDR which then opens a whole new interface, almost like another program.

The presets for it are horrible, Auto was BAD, and there are not many options, and each slider adjustment caused a pause of the entire program for 5-10 seconds each time.

Finally, you have to save out the image as a TIF then reopen it in AfterShot.

There is no pano merge option, or texture overlays, or anything else advanced that I can see.

  • Beginner rating 1/10
  • Intermediate rating 1/10


  • Beginner rating 2/10
  • Intermediate rating 1.6/10


I cannot find any!


Overall impression – yeah not good.

The program crashed three times on me, twice just from moving my mouse scroll wheel.

It takes a really long time to draw a raw file when viewing it full screen and again after each edit. Sometimes the color even changed on screen after applying something unrelated like highlights.

I also found that sometimes just scrolling my mouse up and down to see the menus somehow magically applied some new settings and the image on the screen changed. I had to Undo to get back.


Which is the Best Photo Editing Software?

As promised, here are the charts to summarize all my ratings to help determine which is the best photo editing software currently available – one for beginners, and one for intermediate users.

Darlene's specs for her review of the best photo editing software
Here are the specs on them again.
Beginners best photo editing software ratings
For beginners to photo editing software.
intermediate users best photo editing software ratings
For intermediate photo editors.

Best Photo Editing Software

For beginners, Macphun Luminar came out the winner in my review and a very close second for intermediate photographers.

For intermediate photographers, Lightroom just barely edges out on top. As I had said in the beginning, I'll continue to use Lightroom myself, but have added Luminar plugins.

I wanted to offer a special incentive to my readers who may be interested in getting Luminar. They were nice enough to provide a $10 off discount coupon.

Luminar 2018 DISCOUNT CODE: Get a discount if you decide that Luminar is the best photo editing software for you. Use the code: DIGITALPHOTOMENTOR when you check out to save $10 US.

One Last Question

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To be continued . . .

In part two (coming after the holidays), I will compare the following programs:

  1. DxO Photo Lab
  2. Exposure X3 by AlienSkin
  3. Topaz Studio
  4. Photoshop Elements (like Photoshop lite)
  5. Photoshop for comparison purposes

Your thoughts?

Have you used any of the photo editing programs that I've tested in this review and comparison?

What is your skill level with photo editing and how did you find the ones you used?

I want this to become a good resource for anyone looking for help picking photo editing software. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you have used any other editors besides the five mentioned here, or the next five coming in part two – tell me about those too.

You are here: Post processing » Best Photo Editing Software

lightroom alternative photo editing software

  • Peter Holka

    Hi , Affinity purchase include 5 licenses.

    • Great thanks for that info @peter@peterholka:disqus I’m assuming I’d have found that out if I had actually purchased it.

  • You should include Capture One Pro also. Many (including me) claim that the RAW processing engine does produce better results than Lightroom. It also includes DAM (without proper GPS handling – that’s the killer for me) and a tether module. The automation for export is superior to all that I know and it handles layers.
    But: definitely not for beginners.

    Regards, Frank

    • Hi @franktegtmeyer:disqus – Capture One is on the list for down the line, possible in part three. The issue is there are SO many now on the market I couldn’t do them all at once to the depth and degree I did here. If I did them all it would just be a summary and I wanted to do a deeper dive on each.

      Interesting that you say it’s not for beginners, that was my assumption as well but I had another photographer tell me that it was way easier than LR. What makes it not for beginners in your opinion?

      • Regarding catalog and sessions – the distinction is confusing for beginners.

        The RAW development is very similar to Lightroom but when it comes to editing you soon want to use layers. Then you have to deal with “explicit” masks (contrary to the hidden ones in other tools like Lightroom) which is a concept beginners have big problems with. And if you start using automatic masks generated by the color editor you will lose anyone of the beginners there. Also there is no layer opacity which is present in Affinity and ON1. So it’s difficult to fine tune changes.

        The color editing tools are very powerful but it’s easy to go over the top there – beginners will have problems to see and use subtle changes.

        Recently Phase One started to introduce styles and presets which may help beginners but I can’t say much about them. I think this is a wrong path but possibly driven by marketing reasons – maybe to make the program more attractive to beginners.

        Besides that – the luminance oriented tools and noise reduction/clarity/sharpen are implemented very conservative. There it’s not so easy to go over the top which is good for beginners.

  • Neil P

    I found LR so confusing and felt I needed to do a classroom course to even start to use it properly. I used the windows beta of Luminar and loved a) how easy it was and b) that it did a lot of what I hoped to achieve in LR without the same pain.
    Yes I bought Luminar 2018 and have kept an old version of LR that I bought years ago, just as a back up.

    Really recommend Luminar.

    • HI @disqus_w1DJsteKOW:disqus Thanks for that – that has been my experience with a few of my students as well that have struggled with LR. I’m glad you are enjoying Luminar. Since you have the Windows version maybe can you answer some of the critics on that for us? Have you found it buggy? Has it crashed on you? Do you find things are missing?

      • Neil P

        Hi Darlene
        I am still experimenting with Luminar and the more I do the more I like it.
        I have not experienced any bugs or crashing of the program, but there has been a bug fix recently so I guess there were issues that I didn’t experience.
        The one thing that I find is missing, and it may be I haven’t found it yet is the ability to straighten a picture.
        I have just downloaded a video tutorial (9 parts) by Anthony Morganti on YouTube and am working my way through that… slowly so that the explanations sink in. (Impressed so far with it)
        I was nervous about going against the flow and choosing Luminar, but if I was faced with the same dilemma again, I would jump on the Luminar wagon without a second thought.
        I am still practising using layers and applying filters etc.
        All I can say is “Rock on Luminar/Skylum…. fantastic piece of easy to use software that in my opinion provides a fast, stable and bug free environment for Windows users. I look forward to the browser/catalogue add in when it is available in the new year.

        One question that I have which would apply to LR as well is “Is it important to buy and use a color meter so that the display colors can be set correctly, or is that only necessary if you are printing?”

  • Spike Hodge

    And DarkTable? It only runs on Linux but a lot of people have a machine dedicated to Photography so with modern Linux (think Widows but simpler) that is not a biggy.
    The asset management is not ideal but other than that it has everything Lighroom has plus some. Oh – and it’s free.

    • Hi @spikehodge:disqus That’s actually not true, Darktable works on 9 different operating systems including Mac, Ubuntu, and more – – I am planning on doing a separate trial and review of all the free options available as well – like GIMP and Darktable.

      • Spike Hodge

        Good point! What I really meant was it runs on pretty much anything unix based (Mac, Linux Solaris, etc) but not Windows.
        I would really like to hear what you think of Darktable as most the reviews I have see have been by people who do not use Widows or Mac software regularly.
        It would be interesting to know how the “learning curves” of the cost vs free (Photoshop vs GIMP, Lightroom vs Darktable, etc) compare.
        Personalty I found Darktable pretty hectic to get into but I suspect I would have found the same with Lightroom.

      • Spike Hodge

        Good point! What I really meant was it runs on pretty much anything unix based (Mac, Linux Solaris, etc) but not Windows.
        I would really like to hear what you think of Darktable as most the reviews I have see have been by people who do not use Widows or Mac software regularly.
        It would be interesting to know how the “learning curves” of the cost vs free (Photoshop vs GIMP, Lightroom vs Darktable, etc) compare.
        Personalty I found Darktable pretty hectic to get into but I suspect I would have found the same with Lightroom.

        • Will do – keep reading until then. I won’t be able to get to that for a few months likely.

  • Peter Coats

    I feel you have been a bit harsh on On1 Photo Raw 2018. I recently cancelled my Adobe plan and am now using this as an alternative for simple processing and for the asset management of my files (keywords, filtering etc.). I tried Corel Aftershot and yes it was terrible.
    I was not a long time LR & PS user nor have I been post processing for all that long, and I found it relatively easy to work out and use On1. Not sure what version you were testing, but some of the things that you describe as not being there or working, work fine for me.
    It also has a free trial period and I would encourage people to try it out to see if it fits their needs, as I did.

    As for Luminar, the windows versions is still limited however it has been upgraded since the release and it has improved, but still feels like a bit of a Beta release. I understand the Mac version is pretty good though.
    As one of the people who didn’t want to be on the Adobe subscription plan (that kept increasing here in Aust every year), I think it’s now a matter of choosing which programs suit your needs as opposed to just using the one. I still use Topaz, Nik and Affinity depending on which one I feel is the better choice to get the result I’m looking for.

    • gordgravelle

      I agree with you…I too, thought they were being way to harsh on “On1 Photo Raw 2018”. I have no issue with the program at all. My workflow is Lightroom for developing and then for effects – ON1 Raw. Their help and support is fantastic and some of my images that I did work in ON1 has won some prizes. I assuming you didn’t try the final version but a beta version. I would review that program again.

      • Hi @Pet@petercoats:disqus and @gordgravelle:disqus – thanks for your thoughts. So as I said it’s all just my opinion and if one of the programs I didn’t like works for you – great, use it!

        I was in fact using the full On1 Raw 2018 version not the beta. I really wanted to like it and it did some things great (masking) and for me, other things poorly. Using it as a plugin to LR and just adding effects is different than replacing LR with it. In my opinion, it’s not there yet for that.

        For Luminar, yes the Windows version is new and I understand has issues – but it’s really new like a month! So give it time to catch up to the Mac version. This it Macphun/Skylum’s first go at producing Windows software and from what I understand that OS is much harder to program for than Mac and it’s impossible to find all the issues with a piece of software until it’s out there being tested by actual end users. They can’t predict every scenario, every OS, system specs, etc. That’s how software development works. I started using LR with beta version 0.9 and it was BUGGY! Really buggy. But I saw the potential of it so I kept going.

        That’s my point here as well with any of these programs. If you like the interface and see potential, stick with it. Do I see potential with On1? Yes absolutely. Is it there yet – no. Not in my opinion. I’m not saying you can’t make nice images with it but there is a learning curve. But again for me, lack of any sort of history panel or access to see your history was a deal breaker.

        • gordgravelle

          First, thank-you for your opinion which I knew it was and yes I understand now your point. Yes, this is true I do use lightroom and ON1 for effects only but not as a stand alone program and I see that your base your review on those terms…”Standalone”. So my only opinion with you as for my say…is that ON1 does have a great help and support team. Thanks again, Darlene.

        • Peter Coats

          BTW forgot to mention very well done article, and much appreciated. As you say, 12 months time will see a very different landscape (no pun intended) once the developers have actually finished some of the early releases. Looking forward to the other parts of this series.

  • tomherren

    Affinity Photo is simply not a RAW developement tool, so you are comparing apples to oranges. Luminar 2018 is unusable in the PC-version. Their Raw develop filter is a joke and it crashed constantly. I am interested to know how you rate Alien Exposure 3 as I am looking to replace my combination of Capture NX2 with Nik Collection by a single software that is a good Raw developper and offers similar filters to the ones I use most on Nik Collection at the same time.

    • Hi @tomherren:disqus – I had to decide on some standards when I started this comparison so am using the raw processor. If people want to replace their Adobe subscription the option they choose has to do a good job on raw files. Yes I realize Affinity has a lot more than that. But please take it from the perspective I used.

      As for Luminar also realize that the windows version is a month old at the time of this writing and the mac version is just over a year old. It will take time for the Windows version to catch up. I do understand that it has many issues but as I said, the bottom line is you need to pick a program you enjoy using and that works for you. If that isn’t Luminar that don’t use it. You could revisit it in a year when it’s had time to work out the bugs – OR you can get on board and help them make it better.

      I am doing Exposure x3 in part two of the comparison which I’m still working on and will be out some time in January. If you’re looking to work with Nik why not look at DxO Photo Lab? They are the ones that bought out Nik and will be adding them into Photo Lab is my guess. That program will get reviewed in part three.

      • tomherren

        Hi Darlene, I really acknowledge your effort in doing such comparisons and in giving your valuable opinion. I will try Luminar again in a year or so. I already did with PhotoLab. Their raw converter has always been highly valued. For my taste, Photolab is a bit complex and very pricy. They plan to develop further the former Nik Collection and release it in Summer 2018 for about EUR 100.00. This would add to the already substantial EUR 150.00 for PhotoLab, FilmPacks and other tools are priced separately as well. I find their implementation of U-points in PhotoLab for local adjustments much too complicated compared to the simple but very effective concept developed by Nik. In Nik Collection you simply use plus- and minus-U-points which allows very smooth transitions from adjusted to not adjusted areas. In PhotoLab transitions look quite hard. A real pro, who is a Nikon shooter as I am suggested once to use Nikon’s free Capture NX-D for basic raw conversion and Affinity photo for further processing as a high quality but low price solution.

        • I’ve heard that about PhotoLab and I’ve also heard it will not open my Fuji X camera raw files. To be determined, but I may have to pull out some older Canon raw files to even test it. That would obviously leave it off my list for myself if I can’t even open my files with it. But I’ll test it one way or another. I do find their price high also.

  • Ken Stadtman

    Why is ACDsee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018 not included in the comparison?

    • HI @kenstadtman:disqus For one simple reason – it’s Windows only. I have a Mac and have no way of running it. I’ve also tried to stick with programs that are both. I may have to get a guest author to do a rundown of that one.

  • Peter Marquez

    i use LR4 easy to use, been using for 7 years

    • Thanks @disqus_n1pAal73YS:disqus – good to hear. The issue with using older LR versions those is that if you upgrade to a new camera it will not read those newer raw files. So then you have to convert to DNG before you can even import. I also find that many people do not find LR easy at all.

  • Jeffrey Anderson

    I use Paintshop Professional by Corel. Have for years. Excellent program. Has not been mentioned???

    • Hi @disqus_wCIxoURdWT:disqus As I said this is part one of 3. I chose to do AfterShot Pro3 first because that is the raw processor that is used inside Paintshop Pro, or at least that is my understanding. I used to use PPP years ago before I even used Photoshop. I wanna say like 1995-96ish?! I agree it was a good program and I will be giving it a go likely in part three.

  • Ralph Buettner

    I thought your comparisons were very well done. I use Affinity and Luminar. I started with Affinity and found it difficult to learn as I did not have much PP experience. Then I got Luminar and found it to be very user friendly and fairly easy to learn. I view alot of the YouTube videos and find them very helpful. You asked if we would like for you to do an on-line class for Luminar; you must have read my mind. I think it would be very helpful. I am a MAC user and looking forward to the DAM module from Skylum.

    • Hi @ralphbuettner:disqus – thanks for validating my findings on Luminar’s ease of use and Affinity’s steeper learning curve. Also for letting me know you’d be interested in a Luminar course. My wheels are turning as we speak! I too am eager to see their DAM.

  • You forgot about Zoner Photostudio. It’s definitely on par with all the big ones, and in fact I use it in conjunction with Lightroom and On1 RAW which I have. I like Zoner for quickly going through and making small’s the fastest out of all of these for doing that! No catalogs and “export” nonsense to worry about!

    • Hi @CameraAndaCanvas:disqus – I didn’t forget about it, as this is the first time I’ve ever heard of Zoner Photostudio. Who makes it? I will be doing a Part Three of this software comparison, perhaps I can add it if you give me more info.

      • Hi, definitely check it out: I’ve been using it for years now, and finally upgraded to their latest version because I could not do quick edits in any other program I tried. It’s served me well!

  • Conrad2k


    Good attempt, but I don’t think that you took enough time with either Affinity or On1 RAW to give them a fair review of their strengths and weaknesses. Including a promo code link for Luminar, it makes you look like a shill for Skylum. Did you contact the other vendors and ask for a promo code for their products?

    I find Skylum’s attempt to make Luminar “easy” actually makes it harder for me to get to the advanced controls. When I see other people’s Luminar output, it often seems over processed with tone mapping and micro contrast. This can be good for some images, but it’s a theme in Luminar. Also the sun ray feature is a gimmick that is over used…

    On1 RAW 2018 was hard to get to like because, like many, I went through the 2017 version – a nightmare – but I found that there is a lot there. While the catalog of images don’t keep thumbnails of offline images, it does store the raw processing. That’s a key to non-destructive editing. Additionally, I think you underrated it’s capability and ease of using layers. The lumen masking capability is almost worth the price of admission alone!

    Affinity is a valiant attempt to take on Photoshop, and really can’t be compared to Lightroom, anymore than photoshop can. The pair of LR 6 and Affinity actually make a good substitute for LR CC and photoshop. Portrait retouching is great with the ease of setting up and working with frequency separations is phenomenal. It’s Pano merge is so flexible. Focus stacking, a powerful in-painting (context aware erase), and so much more. It has it’s weaknesses though. It has a terrible time recovering shadow detail and as you mentioned, it can set a black point, but not a white point.

    Oh, LR 6. Know it. Love it. Angry at Adobe for not keeping perpetual licenses, as they promised to do.

    • @Conrad2k:disqus no I didn’t ask the others for a discount code because I don’t recommend them is the simple answer.

      I would have loved to play with Affinity more but it expired after only 10 days and I can’t get it again even using a different email address. It wants me to buy it and I refuse to pay for it just to test it. So partly it gets a lower mark for that – everyone else is 30 days, give a longer trial period. I did like a lot of what Affiinity did and its masking is very good. But as I said if you’re going to go there you may as well just get Photoshop or Elements. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Affinity from others as well – I may give it more of a try at a later date but as I said this already took me about 6 FULL days to do this entire post and in order to really use and test Affinity I’d really need to watch a few of the training videos and I just didn’t have time for that for each program.

      As for Luminar – I agree a lot of the presets and stuff you see being done with it are over done. But if you use it with moderation and keep the effects subtle, paint them in, lower the opacity – it does really nice things. I do know that the windows version is behind the mac version as well so that is an issue. But keep in mind that the Mac version of Luminar has been around just over a year, and the Windows one was just released in November (a month ago) so give it some time to catch up.

      As for On1, as I said I had heard good things and expected a lot from it and was disappointed. It does some things in really odd ways and having no history for me was a deal breaker. Yes the lumen masking is good, but other programs have that too and are better overall. I just think it’s not there yet.

      Yes I agree Affinity is more of a PS replacement and would go nicely with LR6 if you decide to stay there but want layers. Perhaps I will bite the bullet and pay for Affinity in the new year and give it a longer test. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m open to feedback because, as I said, this is all about my initial thoughts and first impressions.

  • C E

    Thanks for the reviews Darlene. It certainly takes a lot of effort and time to accomplish this! Would it be possible to also give the “Finished Results” a rating. To me, it is better to learn a more difficult program rather than choose only ‘ease of use’ program if the results of the photo are more exceptional. I do understand that the more one knows, the better results will be obtained (typically). However, saying that, if a very easy program does not/will not give good results, then what is the purpose of buying it. Also, if a program costs thousands of $$s just to learn how to use it, then why use it at all – even if the results are good. PS. I rate ON1’s exporting/saving a “1” – the program has so many wonderful features, and gives great results, but all efforts are null/void if one is unable to export/save without the program crashing all the time. I would have given it a zero, but their support staff helped resolve some issues. And if you want to really learn their program, they are as bad as Photoshop – complicated and costly!

    • Hmmm sure. I’m not going to add it into the chart but here are my thoughts for you @disqus_Kjt0NbGRbi:disqus
      – Lightroom 9/10 (not quite a ten as there are no layers and I still pull into PS or Luminar sometimes to finish images but it does 90% of the lifting for me)
      – Luminar 9/10 (about the same, it doesn’t do everything but what it does do – it does well)
      – Affinity – 8/10 (honestly I didn’t play with it enough and a 10-day trial is just too short but it does some nice things)
      – On1 Raw 6.5/10 (I wasn’t impressed really, it does a nice job of luminosity masking but it did other things badly in my opinion)
      – Corel AfterShot Pro3 4/10 (not so great)

      Does that help?

      • C E

        Thanks Darlene – yes, that helps! Another deal breaker for me would be the program’s ability to mask and use local adjustments (not just global adjustments)

  • NOTE: I’ve had a lot of emails on this too so wanted to add something else to think about:

    I think that Adobe is shooting themselves in the foot and opening the door for all these other companies to move in and take a share of the market.

    But remember too that PS is well over 27 years old (mac version was first release in 1990) and LR is about 11 years old (I used the beta in 2006). So expecting all these other programs to compete with them right out of the gate is unrealistic. They will take time to develop and evolve as have PS and LR.

    So I’m not panicking yet or worried about them dropping LR Classic in the near future. But I am watching what the others are doing!

  • Catherine Chandler

    I can’t find Luminar’s free trial anywhere on their site. Wish I could try it out. Switching between Photoshop and Lightroom to edit a single image gets old sometimes.

  • @disqus_idtuoyT077:disqus As I mentioned above, because it’s a Windows only program, I use a Mac. So I have no way of testing it. Do you use it? What do you like about it?

  • That’s on my list for a Part Four which will be some of the free options available like that and GIMP

    • Thomas L DiVittis

      Awesome! Make sure to include RawTherapee if you have the time/patience to try it out. 🙂

  • Bill Lapham

    Once you had written your first paragraph, it was apparent that none of the reviewed software would stand a comparison to LR.
    It is also apparent that you are really incapable of looking at any RAW processing software without heavily filtering it through your LR mindset.
    Lots of words, little substance.

    • @bill_lapham:disqus – of course we all filter things through our own eyes and experience, you can’t expect anyone to be 100% objective. So please – do tell us what you use and why you like it? Tell us how it’s good? Have you tried any others?

      And I’m sorry if you think I’m biased towards LR but it has been around a long time and it is the measure against which many others will be compared. Not just by me. Do a google search for “looking for LR replacements” or “Lightroom alternatives” – they are all comparing the other programs to LR.

    • I believe this review is a comparison to Lightroom. That was the intention

  • Pauline

    Thank you, Darlene! What a huge undertaking – I hope your readers appreciate all your hard work here! As a LR standalone user of several years, I had my finger poised over the button to try on1, but it looks like you’ve answered my questions.
    I worry about the LR subscription packages on several levels, mainly from the “free” storage point of view – what are they going to charge when the included storage runs out? And what happens when a subscription is cancelled?
    Seems like Luminar is worth a try!
    Hopefully the Adobe moguls see that their customers are not happy and not going to be forced into committing to expensive plans when there are excellent alternatives out there!

    • Hi @disqus_UUmY3EW5p7:disqus – just curious, what were your questions about On1?

      The free storage for LR only applies if you go with LR CC, that’s the cloud version where you can process your files from anywhere, on any device. But if you go with LR Classic (how we’re used to using it) for computer only, there is no storage associated with that. But I’m now hearing that it’s already rumored that Adobe will eventually ditch LR Classic and only have CC. THEN I’ll be looking to switch!

      If you cancel your subscription your catalog will cease to function so any edits you’ve done in LR will be unavailable to you. Current there is no other program that can “read” LR catalogs or even if you export them all as DNG with sidecars there are no guarantees.

      Adobe has never listened to its users before, what makes you think they’ll start now? It’s a good time to try other options just in case.

      • Pauline

        Hi Darlene – I didn’t have any specific questions about on1, other than is it a viable replacement for LR. I’m on their mailing list and received a very persuasive email promoting the new software as an alternative to the new LR CC packages! As I was considering upgrading from standalone software (LR 5 & Elements) to CC before these changes I thought it might be worth a try.

        I don’t do a huge amount of editing really, just a few tweaks here & there but I do like using presets, both ones I’ve purchased & my own and like that it’s easy to cross over into photoshop.

        I suppose I’d have to say I’m an intermediate user as I actually found using LR fairly easy after doing a couple of free courses. Anyway, on the strength of your research, I think I’ll give Luminar a go before I ditch Lightroom!

  • Peter Marquez

    Hi Darlene, I shot RAW but when i down load photos into Lr4 I convert to DNG, i have read this will save on space on my hard drive, but i don’t see a difference in editing, is there ?. I was considering Light-room CC, but i would have to update graphic card.

    • What camera so you use @disqus_n1pAal73YS:disqus ? The issue is that if you march to the store and buy a new Sony mirrorless, or Fuji X-T2, or even a Canon 5D Mark IV right now – LR4 will not be able to even read the raw files from those newer cameras, it may not even see them.

      It hasn’t been supported by Adobe for years and there will be no patch for it to be able to do so (even LR6). So you would not even be able to do an import at all using those files. You’d have to download the Adobe DNG converter (is free) and do that first.

      For LR CC I can’t answer about a graphics card as:
      a) I’m using Lightroom Classic now not CC
      b) I have no idea what your system specs are on your computer

      But it’s possible.

      • Peter Marquez

        I use canon ti5, my son won this camera in a raffle back in 2013,he never use it so I took it over. my son build my PC so hopefully i get new graphic card my new year.

  • dave riddell

    Darlene, great effort! You’re obviously seriously au fait with editing software.

    I use LR and now Luminar as a plugin. Initially, I started with Luminar when I heard that the NIk Collection was no longer going to be supported. I suspected that it (Nik) would start crashing and bringing LR down with it. It has taken me several years to get to “intermediate” level with LR and I found the process quite difficult; requiring many of hours of instruction and then often repeating the instruction. Now, however, I love LR apart from my preset management problem (see suggestion 2 below).

    As a LR plugin, I have found Luminar to be useful and, unlike LR, relatively easy to use (the basic stuff at least). I love their presets, albeit a limited number of them at the moment; but, you have to be careful to not overdo the amount, so the slider where you can dial them down is great.

    Two things I’d like to suggest and that I’d definitely purchase from you if available:

    1. A detailed Luminar course – the Luminar videos aren’t bad; but, there is no real structure – something I need.

    2. A detailed lecture(s) on organising downloaded presets in LR. I have purchased numerous presets from you (and many other sources). Presets are great, but I struggle to manage them all – I’m not sure if I’m missing something simple (?) but I’m a bit of a dummy, at times, and too lazy to work it out for myself.

    • Hi @disqus_I4Mu6B6yYX:disqus – thanks for this. Duly noted re: #1!

      Also taking #2 into consideration as a possible future tutorial. Thanks for the idea!

  • Alan Griffith

    What an excellent article Darlene! I’m still a Lightroom user but I recently bought Luminar 2018 and really like it. If and when they add file management, I may be tempted to say goodbye to Lightroom.

    • They are saying the DAM will be added in the first part of 2018, fingers crossed!

  • helenmp

    I’ve had a digital camera a couple of years and it’s quite daunting to wade through the 1 inch thick manual to discover all it can do – cameras have changed in the decades since I last properly used one! So when I ventured out of JPEG into RAW I faced another steep learning curve with editing software. I’ve been using PhotoDirector 8 by Cyberlink (but there’s now version 9) for a few months and it’s enough like Lightroom to use some of the LR tutorials on YouTube. I like using it and have found it fairly straightforward to learn but don’t have experience with anything else so can’t really compare it.
    The only disadvantage I find is the cloning/healing tool isn’t particularly good for anything other than a small area and the ‘content aware’ removal isn’t always great either, but I heard Photoshop Elements is good for that type of editing. Can that be done in Luminar? I had considered Affinity but your review has rather put me off it!
    Thank you for your hard work in the reviews, it really helps beginners like me to avoid bad choices!!

    • Yes you can do cloning in Luminar. I haven’t used it much though so can’t really spoke on its functionality. I’d suggest doing a trial and see how you like it.

  • H Shaheen

    Hi Darlene,
    Thank you for your excellent effort with his comparison; it validates some of my initial findings. I am currently using Lightroom 6 and recently bought Luminar and Affinity which I use as plug-ins to LR. Your info regarding Luminar is spot on and Affinity is quite complex and has a steep learning curve as you mention.

    I appreciate the simplicity of Luminar and in particular the easy process for applying masks which I have struggled with in previous efforts with Photoshop Elements. I haven’t found anything in Luminar that resembles the content-ware fill, or the tourist removal trick in Photoshop. I believe however that Affinity does allow image stacking and averaging a la Photoshop, although again , the leaning curve is daunting for a non pro.

    Looking forward to your next phases of pp software reviews. Thanks again for your hard work.

    • Thanks for that. Yes you are correct there is no content-aware fill or tourist removal tricks that can be done in Luminar. You need something more like Affinity, PS or even Elements to do that.

  • Fernando Gimenez

    I didn’t see any coments on capture one pro version 10 or 11. It takes a while to get used to it and maybe the asset management is worse than lightroom but the customization (tweaking the colors) speed and use of layers is up to or best than lightroom. No hdr nor stitching.

  • Hugh Thompson

    Hi Darlene,
    What a tremendous effort with believable results. Just what I was waiting for. For years I used Photoshop until I bought my first MacBook Pro. Within a year I bought Apple’s Aperture which I fell in love with for its symplicityin editing tools and its asset management. I still use it but have a problem as I now have an Olympus Omd 1 Mark ll for which it’s Raw Format is not yet supported by Apple. And there is no guarantee they will do so. So now I download to Apple Photos, convert to png and import to Aperture where I do my post processing.
    I have Luminar and Affinity but seldom use them. Now you’ve convinced me I will use Luminar but can I use it as a plug-in to Aperture: I have about 35,000 photos in its asset management which I love.
    Thanks for all you work and time spent.

    • Hi Hugh, are you sure you convert to PNG or did you mean DNG? Do NOT convert to PNG you’re losing all your raw data that way. DNG is fine. No Apple isn’t supporting Aperture at all any more, haven’t for a couple years so there will be no update to the raw files it can handle.

      Yes use Luminar with Aperture and see how that goes. Let us know!

      • Hugh Thompson

        Actually, good news: I just checked Apple Raw platform updates on Google and the latest Mac iOS and Os updates include my camera. I just downloaded photos from my camera and they were accepted by Aperture. But I will also use or learn to use Luminar. Hopefully their asset mgmt addition comes sooner than later.

  • David Enfield

    Thank you for the very detailed, interesting review of five RAW processors; looking forward to the next five as well.
    I primarily use Capture One Pro – have been using it to some degree since version 6 – it’s now at newly released version 11. I’ve also used Luminar a bit and at the higher end Photoshop.

    • Thanks for this David. Capture one is on my list for later

      • David Enfield

        Looking forward to that one, too. The Capture One learning curve can be a bit steep, but the set of tools, once learned, is very good (IMHO).

  • Jody Ellis

    Darlene Thank You! One thing not addressed was the differences for Mac vs
    PC users of Luminar. After purchasing Luminar I was very disappointed as a PC user.

    • I’m sorry to hear that. I have heard about it but I can’t duplicate as I don’t have a PC and haven’t had any issues. I did address it in a reply to an earlier comment below. The Mac version is just over a year old (released Oct 2016) and the PC version is a month old. So there will be some differences and take a bit of time for the PC version to catch up. It is also their first PC software by Macphun – so I suggested to someone else that if you like what it does and the interface to stick with it. Or try it again in 6-10 months.

  • Mark Smyth


    An excellent run down of some good alternatives.

    I currently use LR6 and Photoshop CS6, perpetual versions. I also own Affinity but don’t use it at the moment. It is lacking in some areas (particularly cataloging etc) but It can only improve.

    I’ve been using Photoshop for 20 years so it is difficult to get it out of my system. I have no interest in Adobe’s CC. I can understand the argument that it isn’t expensive for the Photography bundle and it’s “wonderful” to be always up to date with the latest doodah’s, but the reality is that you are in it for life if you want to fully maintain all that you have created using CC.

    Once you unsubscribe you lose the freedom to revisit any work that you previously did. That doesn’t sit well with me. It’s interesting to note that LR6 wasn’t updated at all during its relatively short life. I don’t count new camera support and bug fixes as updates. CS6 hasn’t been updated for many years either but I can’t really say that I noticed. PS always had a stunningly good selection of tools. They don’t need improving as they were honed to perfection years ago.

    The fact that new camera support will not be available in the perpetual versions is not a serious problem. That can be gotten around. 95% of what I do in PS is post ACR processing. I shoot Canon and their own DPP is a pretty good RAW converter.

    I’m aware that future releases of operating systems may break the older programs at some point so to hedge against that, I have created Virtual Macs running under VMware Fusion on my Macs. On those virtual machines (one Sierra and the other High Sierra), I have installed LR6, CS6 and the NIK collection. They all work perfectly. I even had an old copy of Photoshop CS3 running on the virtual High Sierra machine. Virtualisation is allowed by Apple post Snow Leopard provided the host machine is a genuine Mac.

    I’ll continue to update the Virtual machine OS’s until a breakage occurs. At that point, I’ll simply revert to the last working version and stay with that.

    The longer I can keep that model working, the better are the chances that a real solid, high functioning alternative to Photoshop will arrive on the block. If it also has a perpetual licence policy, my wallet is waiting.LOL

    I’ve heard good things about Capture One and periodically trial it for 30 days, so am keeping an eye on that.


  • Gary Hunt

    Have all of the above programs except Corel and Photoshop. Affinity harder to learn but it is a Photoshop comparison so I expected this to be more difficult. Really like On1 Edge Detection as it does a great job. My biggest hangup with Luminar is that it does not have any kind of edge detection tool, so when trying to replace a sky it is very hard to do a good job. Other than that I like Luminar, (the AI filter is great) but unless they can get an edge detection tool will probably continue to us LR6 and On1 for most of my work

  • Carol Senske

    You did a masterful assessment and it’s helpful. I do prefer Lightroom at the moment, but this could change. I’ve spent uncountable hours arranging and sorting for the catalog and hate to give that up.

    ON1 RAW is, in my opinion, a lovely program and some of the negatives you mentioned caught my eye and seem incorrect. The ability to see presets in a large format is terrific, and filters are in real time but not problematic to me. Response to my questions and pleas for help are fast and thorough, and I like some of their ways to work better than Lightroom. I agree that learning ON1 RAW means visiting video lessons, sometimes more than once, and it can be a tough slog.

    I like using text on many things, so Photoshop is the only place I seem to be able to do that.

    I’m still struggling with “saving” and “exporting” to where I wish the pictures to end up, especially in ON1 RAW, but Lightroom has issues here, too. Setting up export presets in Lightroom made my life easier, and posting to Facebook is a breeze.

    I hope Lightroom Classic never goes away, but if it does, I’ll probably go to ON1 RAW.

    Thank you for this insightful and expansive review!

    • @carolsenske:disqus – I’d love to hear what it is that I got wrong about On1. Which things that I said that sound negative seem incorrect to you? I just wrote about my experience using it. Perhaps you have a different experience?

      I’ve test a few programs where you can add text, Affinity does as does Photoshop Elements.

      • Carol Senske

        Hi, Darlene,

        This wasn’t me being critical, only saying my experience with ON1 RAW has been exceedingly positive. The drawbacks you mentioned are valid – more of a learning curve than some, for instance – but I found Lightroom to be equally tough to learn (and I’m still learning). The concept of doing all adding, removing, moving, etc., in their catalog system has caused me endless headaches, but now I’m comfortable with it – still “lose” the occasional image by doing something outside the LR system. Old habits die hard.

        You didn’t like the results in ON1 RAW while I am extremely pleased with them. I am not a professional and I am not proficient in any editing program. Everything is an uphill climb for me. ON1 RAW could organize their training videos better. All programs could use less jargon and make understanding things easier with plain, old English (or whatever language people are working in).

        I would tell folks that if they are thinking about using ON1 RAW, go with the free trial and use the heck out of it. I like the browser; I like the ease with which I can change out a sky (in layers) or add and adjust borders (in effects), or just make simple image adjustments (in develop).

        No doubt some people will not have the same experience I’ve had, or they will not like it as much as I do. Each of us has differing needs and programs have differing levels of dealing with those needs.

        I do wish Lightroom, ON1 RAW, or some of the other programs would have an ability to work with text, but I am fine in Photoshop CC – used to use Photoshop Elements.

        Again, I thank you for taking on this Herculean. It’s a huge help to have a professional rate so many programs side by side. Thanks!

        • Thanks Carol. No not at all, I didn’t take your comment as critical and you are 100% right each person will have a totally different experience based on their skills and what they’ve used before. I agree about less jargon and wish they’d all get together and use the same terms as well!

          Side note – I’ve said the same thing of the camera makers too. Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Sony, Pentax, etc – all different words for things like Aperture priority (A/Av) and Shutter priority (come on Canon what the heck is Tv, even though I know it stands for time value, everyone else uses S for shutter!). That kind of stuff.

          • puneet n

            Yeah really Canon !!
            I hope they listen Darlene.

            Also, have you heard of Raw Power… They were the first Raw processor on the block for iOS and have a Mac version- created by the guy who made Aperture ( which many loved, and had some great features)

          • No I have not heard of that one.

  • Jack Harmon

    I’ve been using Photoshop for many years. Why should I change and have to learn a new editing software? I have recently started using Topaz Studio because of all the effects it has.

    • @disqus_7aem280aNf:disqus – you don’t if you don’t want to, not at all. But many people (read the comments here alone) do not like the monthly fee to have PS CC and LR so are looking for alternatives. I agree Topaz studio as a plugin is great. I’ve tried it as a stand alone raw processor (wait for part two to come out in January) but I can tell you it’s not quite there yet.

      • Jack Harmon

        I remember when the yearly cost off an upgrade was around $150 or more, so I like paying only $120 per year instead and besides there’s hardly anything I can’t do with it. But I’ve found that it’s a lifelong learning process to do all that it’s capable of.

        • Yup all valid points. The people who argue against that logic say that they don’t have to upgrade every year though and many would go 2 years or more before doing so – thus making the cost even less. FYI LR upgrades were usually about $75. So those using LR6 only and not PS that’s a bigger price jump.

  • Hey gang – thanks for all the comments so far, this is a great discussion – exactly what I was hoping this comparison would start. I wanted to let you know I’ve actually just been contacted by the Product Manager at On1! He read it and wants to help me work through some of the issues – so I will do that. I have to say that is impressive – of course I’m sure he’d like me to update my review on it. 😉

  • Tim Conde

    Most of these are amateur level products. Having used older versions of a few of these, I can tell you that if you want to take your photography to a MUCH higher level, use Capture One Pro. As stated, Capture One Pro is professional level software so there are a considerable upsides and a few downsides. The upsides are that it is software designed by photographers. Just look at a few videos on YouTube to see the power. But the learning curve is pretty steep, training come from experience as there aren’t tons of training materials, and for most cameras, it is a bit pricey. If you have a Sony camera, there are some very steep discounts due to some collaborations between Capture One and Sony. Is it for everyone? No. Do you want to try to sell your photography in the hopes of getting your hobby to pay for itself? Then give it a look. I have been taking and selling pictures for well over 50 years and for me, nothing else come close.

    • @TCConde:disqus – do you hit the issue in your first sentence. MOST of the people here who read my site are amateurs. Hence why I write this – for them. I may tend to agree with you as many pros I know are using Capture One. It will be in Part Three of this comparison, last because of that reason. Not because it isn’t good – it just likely isn’t for the readers here. They want less expensive (or most do) and less complicated software – that is not it.

      And no, not everyone tries to sell their photos to pay for the hobby. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say most do not. But I totally appreciate where you’re coming from as well. Just know that you’re likely in the minority here (myself excluded).

    • Barry Braunstein

      So I’d really like to see a fair comparison with LR – I’ve heard pros who use either and sing their praises. Also saw an analysis that shows that LR is initially more “conservative” in its processing vs. COP, but that both can get you to the same place. I do think that COP does a far better job with tethering than LR (which continues to be slow……for those of us shooting RAW/Nikon, have also heard that Nikon’s own software processes RAW files better than LR/COP combined. Of course, it’s not practical for anyone doing a lot of processing. Adobe could probably make more inroads into those COP pros by incorporating Nikon’s RAW engine into LR – but I’ve been known to dream big….

  • Ulrike Stein

    Hi, how about capture One? On many webinar and tutorials photographers love it.

    • On the list for Part Three!

      • Vered Caspi

        To my experience Capture One was not very easy to learn. If one knows LR already, the move to Capture One is smooth. Also, there is direct access to help pages from every part of the software. And anyway, C1 is worth learning and getting used to. It is powerful (not perfect though), and gives wonderful results. The price is indeed high, which is definitely a con.

      • RH6194

        Many of these programs are pricey when you first buy them. After that, the upgrades are a bit more reasonable.

        Also, nothing has a steeper learning curve than PS! Don’t let a learning curve intimidate you from including it.

  • Hey all! Just and FYI – Skylum (Macphun) announced in their support group on FB today that there will be an update for Luminar on the 18th. You can see it here if you’re on Facebook. Just join the group if you have Luminar. You’ll likely get an email about it as well.

    For those of you who had issues with the Windows version – this might help immensely. As I said, this is brand new software so let them solve the issues before sending it back or giving up.


    Work faster. Luminar can now launch more quickly. Plus you’ll see a faster-editing performance and better RAM usage.

    Save Native files. Be sure to save your editing projects in the new native Luminar format. This makes it easy to come back and edit as you can even store the History states and source files in the document. Plus files can be shared between Mac and Windows users.

    Clone & Stamp released. Remove objects and blemishes with ease!
    LUT Mapping. Any LUT you’ve chosen can now be stored to a preset with no need to link to the original .cube file.

    More export control. You can choose to export to the Adobe RGB wide color profile or the ProPhoto space on export. You can also sharpen an exported file which is great for printing.

    Better masking controls. Users can adjust both the feather and density controls on a mask to refine the blending of layers. When editing a mask, a user can also press the X hotkey to toggle between Paint/Erase brush mode.

    More editing control. Now even more raw formats can be edited natively with our RAW Develop filter. All filters also support advanced blending mode options as well.


    Work faster. We’ve improved compatibility with OS X 10.10, 10.11 support. The Histogram also updates in realtime. Users will also enjoy Performance and RAM usage improvements. When editing press Cmd+L to quickly access the Filters list as well.

    RAW image improvements. Luminar does a better job of detecting noise in a raw file and automatically fixing it when you open to a photo. DNG file support is also improved for easier editing. Plus even more raw formats can be edited natively with our RAW Develop filter.

    Improved workflow with other applications. We’ve addressed several small bugs reported when working with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Adobe Lightroom, and Photos for Mac.

    Better batch processing. A streamlined user interface makes batch processing even easier to fix multiple photos at once. Additional improvements also made to address user-reported issues.

    Improved Native files. Save your editing projects in the native Luminar format which makes it easy to come back and edit in the future. Plus files can be shared between Mac and Windows users.

    LUT Mapping. Any LUT you’ve chosen can now be stored to a preset with no need to link to the original .cube file.

    More plugin support. Luminar can also use Topaz plugins within the Luminar editing workflow.

    Improved exports. Photos can now be exported to SmugMug for online sharing. The Sharpen on Export filter is also improved for crisper images.

    Better masking controls. Users can adjust the density controls on a mask to refine the blending of layers. When editing a mask, a user can also press the Backspace hotkey to reset gradient/radial mask drawing.

    New Cameras Added

    The following new cameras are supported by this recent update: Apple iPhone 8, Apple iPhone 8 Plus, Apple iPhone X, Canon EOS M100, Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III, Google Pixel 2, Google Pixel 2 XL, GoPro FUSION, GoPro HERO6 Black, Hasselblad A6D-100c Leica CL, Light L16, Panasonic LUMIX DC-G9, Sony RX10 IV (DSC-RX10M4),Sony A7R III (ILCE-7RM3).

  • Darlene, I thought you did a thorough job of reviewing these raw editor and I agree, with others regarding CaptureOne Pro. It is the only editor I use and it is fantastic. It does have the drawback of not being able to merge photos. Or at least I have not figured out how, but that is not something I do anyway.

    I have been using it since version 8, and don’t remember to what extent I had issues learning it. I do know I tried Photoshop for a while and felt like I was using a Mack truck to haul a bag of potato chips, UFRaw was, for me, difficult to learn, SilkyPix just did not seem to do what I wanted and On1 Raw, still confuses me.

  • John Sharples

    Hi Darlene.
    A lot of work to come up with these comparisons and I thank you for your efforts. I am an intermediate user of Affinity and have to say that your report was fair, given the short amount of time you had. It is not an easy program to learn but each time I use it I like it more. It will not replace Lightroom, at this stage, but there are many facets to this software that are not immediately obvious. The two video courses on Udemy are definitely worth the small cost, $AU15.00 each and can be accessed as often as you want. I know, I’ve been there many times. I haven’t used Photoshop so can’t offer a comparison there but I understand each has things the other does not but there are many similarities.
    Thanks again for your efforts.

    • Thanks for that John. Yes, I can see the benefits and good things about Affinity. Rumor has it they are working on a DAM so it may move more toward replacing LR in 2018. I’m interested to see where they take it. I’ve also heard that ACDsee is reportedly working on a Mac version, and Luminar is coming out with a DAM too in 2018. Should be an interesting year.

      • Jeff CliftonD

        The ACD see mac version is out now and is much better than the version they launched a few years ago, the media management side is good.

      • RH6194

        ACDSee Ultra 2018 for Windows is becoming an excellent program. With each new version they continue to close the gap on Adobe’s product line.

        Mac version 4 has finally been released after a long beta run. However for whatever reason, they seem to be a bit more committed to the Windows platform.

        • I think it’s really hard to change over. Macphun is doing the opposite and having some issues going with Windows. They are totally different. So the issue is you need all different programmers and everything.

  • Kevin Sharp

    Very informative article Darlene. I’ve been struggling with editing since picking up a camera.

    One question I have, is why Cyberlink’s PhotoDirector package is never mentioned in people comparisons. It came bundled with a computer I bought many years ago and was my first exposure to image manipulation. While certainly not as powerful as Photoshop or Lightroom, it has many of the features and capabilities as the Adobe suite.

    It is really more of a curiosity, as I have moved on PS and LR, soon to incorporate Luminar as well.

    • @sharptrack2:disqus – honestly, I’ve never heard of it that’s why. I would say if it came with a computer it’s aimed at home users, not even hobby level photographers. So it’s not in the same class as these others being mentioned here.

      • The company has been around for few years now and much like so many other software developers, started out bundling with equipment manufacturers. It does look like they have decided to be more focused on video than images, but have a reasonably complete suite of software intended to compete against Adobe and the other top end developers. My experience so far is that it is fundamentally as powerful as Lightroom, with things like spot removal, HSL adjustment, lens correction, and HDR capability. Based on that same experience, which is very small, I would not hazard a comment on actual performance/quality though. It would be interesting to hear what an objective, experienced opinion would be.

        While I don’t think I’ll ever go back to it, version 14 of the photo suite, again, came bundled with the new HP Pavilion computer I purchased just after the New Year. Upgrading to a full license is not free, but pricing is certainly competitive. Down side is it that it is a stand alone package requiring periodic upgrades (at a cost).

        I’m quite happy to pay the subscription for Adobe products as they are more mainstream and it simplifies my software management. I’ll just keep watching videos and reading ebooks to learn how to use them…. eventually. Age is my enemy as I am finding it is getting harder to retain what I learn.

  • Vered Caspi

    I moved from LR to Capture One about a year ago, and found myself falling in love with Capture One. It is much faster than LR, and produces more beautiful photos already before you start apply adjustments. When you adjust highlights and shadows (and in addition blacks and whilte in LR), I find Capture One’s result much more pleasing to the eye. Capture One has layers and local adjustment options which allow fast and powerful corrections in times I don’t feel like going to Photoshop. The only thing I miss in Capture One is the HSL sliders. Capture One has color management tools, but to my experience they are not as good as Lightroom’s.
    Recently I bought Luminar and Aurora HDR, and they seem promising, but I have not yet started to use them really, so can’t say much about them yet.

    • Thanks for that info @veredcaspi:disqus It’s seeming like there isn’t one single solution that does it all well out of the box.

  • Barry Braunstein

    Hi Darlene – thanks for putting this together – I purchased On1Raw when it first came out and tried using it (been a LR/PS user for years) and while it may offer many advantages, decided not to upgrade to the latest release. I consider myself in the advanced category, so would be very interested in a comparison with CaptureOne?

  • Janet Richardson

    Wow the time you have spent. I looked for a LR alternative a year ago. Landed on PhotoDirector. They are on PhD 9 now. It is a complete package with layers,masking, etc. I have been very pleased. No subscription. I tested Luminar beta. Thought it was fun, but not enough to replace PhD. PhD 9 didn’t play nice with Win 10 pro so that put me off a bit. Had to back down to 8. It works with both Mac and PC. Your plate is full with your research but thought I would let folks know.

    • I hadn’t heard of it until I read another comment below @disqus_hw2aQPTjIz:disqus – how does it handle raw files?

      • Janet Richardson

        Darlene, I have found it to be effortless, but perhaps my expectations aren’t as high(: I started on PD 6. I have used LR several times on other computers and because of PhotoDirector I was able to use LR effortlessly. However, I know the more experienced folks like yourself want the PS and LR capabilities together. About the time I thought I would just go to LR, Adobe did the monthly thing so I stuck on PD. You have enough on your plate, but with your LR experience you could review in about 5 minutes:) I have faith in your capabilities!

  • Kevin La Rue

    Excellent article with deep and practical insights – I’m looking forward to the next round!

  • Roger

    This is a really useful comparison but . . . I use On1 Raw (alongside Lightroom and Photoshop) and I am surprised by the number of your negative comments. It’s almost like we are using a different program. I have to disagree!

    • RH6194

      This review is by MacPhun so it seems to be very slanted in Luminar’s favor. I really like Luminar, however I don’t think the overall scores are very impartial.

      • Scott Dunham

        What makes you think review is by MacPhun? Under Luminar Pro’s, Darlene starts off with,

        “As I’ve said before, I liked Luminar more than I anticipated.

        When I initially gave it a go I figured it would have too many issues and not measure up in terms of image quality and style with Lightroom. I was wrong.

        Now, it’s not replacing Lightroom in my workflow…”

      • Thomas L DiVittis

        I’m not sure how impartial any such review can possibly be. How anyone could find the time to learn so many applications well enough to produce a completely unbiased review is beyond me.

        I think Darlene did a good job of laying out her perspective, which I think is all anyone can ask for.

        • Thanks @thomasldivittis:disqus – yes I spent probably a good 4-6 hours playing with each program. Indeed that’s not enough to fully know it but I am giving my overall first impressions.

      • Sorry @rh6194:disqus How is this by “Macphun”? I do not work for them? I have 4 more programs coming in part 2, none of which are Macphun – how will you consider that then? The scores are my own personal opinion, nothing more, nothing less.

        • RH6194

          My apologies for my misunderstanding and unintended offense. I drew an obviously incorrect conclusion that I am sorry for.

          I am very frustrated by this subject in general. It seems every manufacturer wants to be a player in this game these days and it has resulted in an overwhelming number of choices for consumers.

          Some choice is good as it fosters competition and innovation. But too much choice leads to confusion and a lack of productivity.

          Invariably human nature wants to sniff out which of the options is “the best”, however that can be difficult or impossible to determine in such a wide field.

          Each product will have strengths and weaknesses. When you couple that with personal preference, the best one can hope to determine is which one is the best “for them self”.

          Anyway, thank you for taking your time to give us your opinion.

          • No harm done, and yes I agree so much choice that is now available can be overwhelming.

          • I also agree that each person needs to find the best for them and it won’t be the same for each person. So trying to convince each other that another option is best is pointless. Give the pros and cons and let each decide.

          • RH6194

            I think an excellent case in point is just looking at the debate and variety of opinions surrounding the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription pricing model. Forgetting for a moment the host of other applications that are available, just this pricing issue has users ranging from absolutely loving it to being extraordinarily angry about it.

            Yes, we are a diverse community with many different preferences. In the near term, it is unlikely Adobe will lose their position leading the industry, but it is clear they will not maintain that position longer term without more innovation and customer sensitivity. Trying to be the bully on the block probably will not serve them well.

            One thing that I think has been overlooked in many comparisons I have read is the amount of third party support available for various applications in the form of plugins, presets, and education. While these are not fundamental necessities, they each serve to enhance user experience working with a particular application.

          • All true. Have you looked at the survey results above? Look at this! LR and Photoshop combined have 1239 votes and Luminar has 610. Not bad really for a relatively new guy on the block!

          • RH6194

            MacPhun has made tremendous inroads in the market…and the recent Windows releases have significantly added to their market share.

            Correct me if I am wrong, but it is my understanding that many of the former Nik Software team are now a part of MacPhun. We all know what an outstanding job they did on the Nik Collection and their patent of the award-winning U-Point technology. If my understanding is correct, I’m not at all surprised that MacPhun may follow with industry leading innovation.

          • I’m not 100% sure about that, could be.

          • Pinoy InOhio

            Would you care to share your thought on who will determine which product should be in the market? What will happen to FREE MARKET if there is a limit to customer’s choice.

          • RH6194

            I haven’t heard anyone remotely suggest limiting anyone’s right to bring a product to market. The closest this conversation ever got was my PERSONAL opinion comment that I FIND this many choices to be confusing and overwhelming.

            I appreciate your participation, however try to follow along and not add things to another person’s comments that were not posted. Otherwise, you end up looking like an annoying little troll (kinda like I did when I first replied to Darlene without fully reading and understanding her comment.)

          • Yes correct – please keep the conversation pleasant and respectful, as it is so far.

    • @disqus_ap9aZMOgsq:disqus Not sure what you mean, I just spoke about my experience. I really wanted to like it and tried to like it, but did not. You can certainly disagree with me though, as your experience could be totally different, as could your needs, skills, and style. I’m not saying to anyone “do as I do” I’m just giving my opinion, take it for what it is.

      • Roger

        I think that Luminar is basically a good package which, in time, could be great! My comments were based on several points made by the reviewer that I take issue with. For example, it was said that there was no history panel in On1 Raw. True but you do not need one. You can go back and change all or any of the settings that you have made. For me, it is comments like this that make the review unreliable.

        • Roger, I AM the reviewer, this is my site. Sorry for me having no history is an issue. If you look through the other comments here I’m not the only one to feel that way. I couldn’t find a way to easily go back and undo or edit things I had done in ON1 – once you change modules those edits are applied and you cannot go back. So I do not see how your comment is valid. Show me? Tell me how to do it?

          Having said that, I’m going to give it another go as they have been in touch with me (excellent customer service) and will assist me in this.

          • Roger

            If you go to Preferences > Files and tick the box “Save ON1 sidecar files for non-destructive edits”, you will find that edits made in Develop and Effects are saved on closing the program but if you re-open the program and the file those edits are still there and can be amended. Also, re-editing early edits still leaves later edits intact. I realised after my post that I had not recognised you as the site editor and I apologise and, in retrospect, I withdraw my comment about “unreliability”.

          • Thanks Roger. As for true non-destructive though I may be missing something but once you go into “Effects” and click Apply – there is no undo of those edits that I can see. Once they are applied that’s it. If you want to go back you have to start over. I see that as long as you stay in Develop you can edit settings but once you go out things are applied and are uneditable later.

          • Roger

            I am confused! If I make changes in Develop and Effects, I can see no “apply” button. I am using Version 2018 ( on a Mac running OSX 10.13.2. I can open and work on a different image and then re-open my first file and all edits are re-editable. I can close the program and still be able to do this. This is whether or not the sidecar box is ticked as I have learnt that the changes are stored in a database. The sidecar files are useful for backing-up or when using multiple computers. Where you do lose all of the edits is if you go into layers as this “burns” everything into a psd file. What is saved here when you click “Done” are the layers and masks, etc. This discussion has been useful as I have learnt quite a lot.

          • Right that is my point! When you leave Develop and go to either Filters or Layers it it burned to a PSD and all your raw editing is now applied and you can’t go back to it. At least I can’t see how to do so. Non-destructive layers in PS means the original raw edits are on a smart object layer and you can reopen the ACR box any time and edit your raw file again from where you left off. I cannot see how to do that in ON1.

          • Roger

            I have no problems in going back and forth from Develop and Effects and re-editing in either module, whether using filters, presets or just the sliders, even after closing and re-opening. I agree that this isn’t possible in Layers which is definitely regrettable. I cannot explain why you cannot return to Develop from Effects to re-edit. It is a mystery that perhaps only On1 can resolve? The layers issue is why Photoshop remains my main go to program for more complex images editing.

          • Okay I see Smart Layers are like Smart Objects in PS. But it’s still not at all clear how to use them. When I open ON1 it opens the browse window. If I select an image and click “Develop” it’s instantly there in the Develop module. I don’t see any layers, or any options to open it as a smart layer anywhere. It just opens. The only place I see layers is the Layers module – but all I can see that is for is combining images. I can see that I can go back and forth from Develop to Effects and edit any of those settings. But as soon as I click Layers it does something in the background, and if I go back to Develop it’s all set to zeros again. Not intuitive.

  • Burt

    Hi Darlene,
    Thank you for taking the time to compare these products. I like lightroom for the image management, Luminar for ease of use and Affinity because they have an Ipad version that is awesome (I don’t like their PC version as well). You shoul take the time to learn the Ipad version of Affinity. I think you will like it. I am an intermediate to advanced user.

  • SteveH100

    I have used all the software in your review, except affinity.First for Lightroom, it is very easy to use an has a great DAM, but I just go straight to Photoshop and use Camera Raw and/or other plugins, one reason is that while Photoshop works with my video card, Lightroom does not. Lightroom suffers from more Adobe support (my opinion) Second, Corel After shot; it had promise but never developed to a very useable point (opinion here). Luminar 2018; for windows it still does not work well and I seem to not be by myself judging from the time it takes for support to get back to you. It is far inferior to anything I currently use; however, here again that is my opinion and it is probably far better under the MAC OS, under windows it is still slow. As for On1, I disagree with you as of the 2018 version. I still to not feel its DAM is all that good, but it has improved and their support is far better than any you have mentioned. I am surprised you find layers difficult to figure out as personally I find it the easiest of all the module and develop and effects take only a small more amount of time.. The software is certainly not any more buggy than windows itself using the windows version and they are always quickly addressed. You seem to have done your review on a MAC and you should have stated that.

    • Which version of LR are you running @SteveH100:disqus ? The latest one should work with your video card just fine.

      As for Luminar for windows, yes it seems that is the case. But remember the windows version is a year behind the Mac one, so give it a bit of time to catch up. I’ve become aware of the great difference between mac/pc versions but as I only have Mac I had nothing to compare it to.

      For On1, I have to agree with you about the service. Of all the reviews I did here THEY were the only ones to reach out to me and offer me some assistance and a copy to continue trying it – which I will do. I found the layers not as much hard to figure out as I found it clunky and not intuitive. So, to be continued there . . .

  • Shelley Kennedy

    Hi Darlene,
    What an incredible effort you’ve gone to in producing this comparison of some editing software. I appreciate and got a lot of value from it – thanks.

    I use Luminar – find it very easy and I’m able to produce the images I’m after. The learning curve is fairly straightforward, the company great to deal with and I think they will continue to get better and better.

    I purchased Affinity a number of months ago, on the recommendation of a friend, but do not find it easy to use at all. Very unintuitive. Like you, I had no idea what the 5 personas were or represented, and how did they all connect. I don’t think they do. It seems an unnessarily complicated programme.
    I hadn’t realised there was a trial period but 10 days is woefully inadequate in my view.

    Recently I added ON1 Raw to my suite of editing software. It’s early days for me with this one and too soon to give a considered opinion. I referenced the PDF user manual for a couple of things I didn’t understand, and it was easy to follow. I am impressed that the company contacted you and are reaching out for some assistance to help make their product better.

    I wish this great article of yours had been written a few months ago as it might have saved me from spending a few dollars – on Affinity at least.

    Thanks again Darlene for all your hard work and for a well written article

    • If you aren’t happy with Affinity, perhaps you can ask for a refund @skaimages:disqus ? Thanks for your comments

      • Shelley Kennedy

        I never thought about asking for a refund. Might think on that one.

        Best regards and happy 2018

  • Res

    Should also include CaptureOne. Seems that most of the discussion I’m reading about being contenders is between Lightroom, Luminar, and CaptureOne. Also seems that the biggest thing Luminar needs is some form of library management and they’ll be in the race.

    • Thanks @disqus_3mRykLKR6Z:disqus CaptureOne is on the list for part three at this point. Library management is coming for Luminar we’re told.

  • Dawn Zukauskas

    Hi Darlene, I have lightroom and photoshop and they work on at least 3 devices. I use lightroom on my phone, laptop, and on my pc.

    • HI @dawnzukauskas:disqus – yes if you count mobile devices. Sorry I wasn’t factoring that into the equation.

  • Dawn Zukauskas

    Also, I still use the Nik plug ins in photo shop and they are free. I just read one of the comments stating they were no longer available, or is that just in lr? I never did understand how to get the plug in’s installed into lr, so I always use them in ps. I wish I knew how to install them into lr but as much as I’ve tried, I always mess it up.. lol Thank -you Darlene for all your wonderful tips.

    • Yes the Nik collection is still available but it’s owned by DxO now and they may be building them into their raw processor and will be updating them, so likely will charge for them then. This might help with LR plugin installing and management.

  • wb805

    I use Affinity Photo, and disagree with much of your review on it. Admittedly, it is a program that you will not just pick up right out of the box, click around, and end up with a masterpiece of photo editing. However, with some training – made abundantly available through Vimeo on a wide variety of edits, Affinity whips Photoshop at its own game. When it comes to creating composite photos, Affinity can’t be beat; it even allows the strayed individual hairs on a person’s head to be in front of a new background – which I find absolutely amazing. I have performed sky replacement, haze removal, texture replacement, and so many other features that have produced photos that even advanced photographers have difficulty discerning what was edited. To me, that is the mark of excellence. If one is happy with a few clicks editing their photos, then fine, but if you want professionalism, you have to put in some training – time that is well worth the investment.

    • Hi @wb805:disqus I have heard many good things about it. Thing is I don’t have time to invest fully in learning how to use it in a short review. So admittedly, I have just scratched the surface. I stand by my comments and review though that it is not something I’d recommend for beginners.

  • tonyt3

    Hi. I was surprised that you didn’t mention Aurora ? Best Mac app of the year? I don’t have it, so don’t know anything about it.

    • Lee Rigby

      Aurora is not a raw editing program, it’s for HDR only.

    • yes exactly @tonyt3:disqus This review is about raw processors only, but it does work as a plugin for Luminar.

  • Ron Shephard

    I have Luminar, Affinity, Lightroom and Photoshop. Affinity, like Photoshop has a steep learning curve but will be good if the can sort out a few minor problems and speed it up. Luminar is easy to use but one bugbear I have is that if you have one photo open, you cannot seem to be able to close the photo without shutting Luminar down. Lightroom is my main photo editing tool and I the open a photo in one of the others to fine tune it. If Affinty add a catalogue module then I will probably close my Adobe account and just Use Affinity and Luminar.

  • RH6194

    Can you please include Capture One in your part 2 review? If you need to substitute one, perhaps you can delete Photoshop Elements. I think we all know that PSE and PS both use ACR. Elements is pretty well understood to be a amateur level program. Nothing wrong with that, but it is out of its element when compared to many of these other much more advanced programs.

    • @rh6194:disqus Part two is already written and scheduled for later this month. I will try and put it into part 3. There are so many now!

  • Lee Rigby

    I’m an Adobe CC user who has also tried both Luminar and On1 recently (mainly due to the concerns over the continued support for Nik even though mine still works). I have to say your review is absolutely bang on and I felt like I could have written it myself. I too really wanted to like On1 but just couldn’t because the workflow was so unintuitive. Conversely Luminar was just a breeze and such a pleasure to use. If Adobe has any sense they should try and build some of the Luminar model (around layers and masking) into future versions of LR classic. The main reason I wanted to try On1 was for outdoor portraits where I really need to separate the subject from the background with an accurate reusable mask. I had heard about the masking capabilities and, like you say, they are really impressive but there is nothing else about this program I like so I will probably revert to using PS for this. I’m not that worried about lack of DAM in Luminar because I’m happy to stick with LR but if Luminar could upgrade their masking capabilities to match On1 I think they are massively on to a winner.

    • @disqus_eD2ysYrfQm:disqus Thanks for that. Yes I agree with your comments as well. I have heard Affinity is good for masking as well – perhaps give that a go?

  • Banhammer of the Gods

    You seriously did not understand ON1 RAW. It’s not perfect, but there were a lot of misunderstandings obvious in your review.

    • SteveH100

      She is a Luminar Educator, so yea, the review is slanted; however, as another said where On1 is concerned, it is like she is talking about a program other than the one I use. It is very easy to see Develop has about everything Lightroom does and effects is an added extra. To state On1 is not true non destructive editing has me scratching my head And yes there is a history, right on the right hand side showing you everything you have done and any single edit can be changed with one click. Any program you are not use to takes at least some review of educational material and that darn well includes Luminar 2018 for windows. I have in the past defended Luminar because they were upfront that the windows program was not complete, so the initial serious problems were not unexpected, but the nature of them shows they should have been caught before release. Everything above said; Luminar 2018 will evolve and will be a good program, just as On1 has evolved into a excellent program going to get into trouble here I guess, but the average person should be able to use effects and Layers in On1, effects takes time and special features take time. What I hate about the Luminar is the interface; opacity still does not work right, but you can adjust the intensity of the preset, so maybe it is not that needed.

      • First to @bannedyetagain15:disqus – tell me which parts I did not understand? There is no doubt some things I didn’t understand about it – that was the point. I wanted to test each and see how intuitive they were to use without needy to resort to getting help or watching tutorials.

        As to @SteveH100:disqus – not sure how you say I’m a “Luminar educator”- I do not work for or get paid by them to do tutorials. Nor am I a “LR educator” in that sense but I have done many LR and PS tutorials – all for free! So where do you get that idea? I am a “photography educator” – that’s all. I teach and enjoy doing so.

        Can you show me where is this history in On1?? I have looked and even went through their help page, support, FAQs and videos – I could find no such thing anywhere. It clearly is not obvious! Please show me a screenshot, I cannot find it.

        Non-destructive allows you to go back and edit any stage – in PS that means Smart Objects and Smart Filters. In LR raw processing you can change, edit, undo or remove any edit you’ve made. You cannot do that in ON1 that I could see – at least not easily. Once you apply the edit in one module and go to another – you can’t go back to those. That is not non-destructive in the true sense.

        I am sorry I have no way of reviewing Luminar for Windows as I do not own a windows machine. I disagree about the issues and too early release – I have been using LR since beta 0.9 and when it first came out to version 1.0 even it still had a lot of issues. But those of us who stuck with it saw the potential.

        I will disagree with you in this statement you made “the average person should be able to use develop and Layers (at least for sky changes, including complex) in On1 from the start” – so hmm you’re saying that I’m either below average or stupid. I would also suggest but many people that I teach are not there either, nor do they want to do those things even.

  • philz

    You left out a very interesting program that does DAM and PS/Affinity type editing as well as compete with Luminar, ACDsee Studio Ultimate 2018. At the sale price of $100 it is a very worthwhile alternative to LR and PS. Only thing missing that I use is content aware move and one can do it by selecting, moving, and erasing. Something for you to check out.

    • It wasn’t left out – it’s on a later list and only recently has become available for Mac. That’s why it wasn’t on my list.

      • philz

        I have been evaluating trial versions as well and have come to a conclusion as follows: On1 Raw comes close to replacing LR and PS with its terrific masking options but still lacks selections and move tools available with ACDsee Ultimate 2018, which does both, and Affinity. None do content aware move but it can be done in Affinity and ACDsee Ultimate 2018 with a move tool and added smart erase step. ACDsee has a DAM like LR and On1 but selections and masking are like PS rather than with On1 Raw’s easier masking tools.

        Conclusion? On1 Raw does a good job of DAM with Develop edits like Lightroom and some of PS, with $40 Affinity doing the rest. That is $140. ACDsee Ultimate 2018 does all but Panoramas for $100. Each has a learning curve and each is superior to LR and PS in some ways and inferior in others, but the one-time cost saves me $128 per year for Adobe CC. So there are now good options to keep Adobe in line price wise for those concerned about that.

        Phil Zwick

        • Good assessment, thanks for that Phil.

          • philz

            Thanks. I forgot to comment on Luminar which I find to be an add-on for effects rather than a full raw editor for a photo shoot. It is slow to open, slow to perform changes like erase, and closes every time an image is finished. Maybe I am missing something but it does not seem to be ready for prime-time editing.

          • Right now it’s more like PS than LR because there is no DAM or browser. But that’s coming. The closing every time with the image is odd, doesn’t happen for me.

  • Tomcat

    This comparision is too biased towards Luminar. I used Luminar and On1 Raw since the beginning and I can say that both apps are robust and great. But On1 has the advantage of the community, Tutorials and online help, also, On1 Raw has a robust browser wich is missing in Luminar. This is a key function for any Photo editing workflow. Until 2018, and the promise update Luminar is lagging behind the rest.

    • I can only speak from my own experience and I have been honest about my thoughts. “Too biased” – what does that mean? If I taste chocolate and vanilla ice cream and like chocolate more – is that too biased? No, it’s just my opinion, and you are perfectly welcome to disagree though.

  • bradashbrook

    Well done! I have tried to like ON1 but have struggled as you did.
    I like Luminar as a plugin to PS and I think it will only get better.
    Why aren’t you including Capture One Pro, cost?

    • @disqus_kQ2mIWuBTw:disqus Thank you! But you must be biased like me 😉
      Capture one will be in part 3 coming later.

  • Geoff Smith

    I have used Lightroom for years and am pretty comfortable with it. But I don’t like the subscription only model, so have tried several other packages. I bought Luminar and like it, except for no DAM (Windows). ACDSee is pretty good, but totally different work flow than LR. Can be confusing. ON1 was super slow on my PC, so ditched it. My favorite non-Lightroom software is Alien Skin Exposure X3. Looks a lot like LR and easy to use. It also has layers. Only gripe is it’s missing HSL sliders, but the guy from Alien Skin said it was coming. Great customer support from Alien Skin, as well.

    • I have tested Alien Skin in part 2 coming soon, and will do ACDsee in a future update.

  • Richard Rivera

    Hello Darlene. Thank you for a fairly thorough overall comparison of these programs. I have also used all of the ones you mentioned, except for Corel’s Aftershot, in an effort to dump Adobe’s Photoshop CS6 and Bridge. (Adobe’s CC as a cash cow is fine as long as they supported CS6.) Macphun has created a really fine program with a great deal of potential in Luminar 2018, although it barely replaces CS6 Adobe Bridge, it does NOT replace Photoshop, especially its “Content-Aware Fill” and clone functions.
    Affinity Photo has a truly UN-intuitve interface, and as a 20+ years user of Adobe programs and their interface I found Affinity Photo to be excruciating to use. To their credit, they do cram in an overwhelming amount of the same features found in Photoshop. But using their interface is painful. You were too kind in your review. Only after viewing many tutorials on Vimeo and YouTube did I get an inkling of how to navigate their process. Again, Affinity Photo misses the boat with a replacement of Adobe’s “Content-Aware Fill” and clone functions. Many thanks for your extremely useful comparisons.

    • thanks for commenting @disqus_Nrj4cPRk33:disqus It will be interesting to see where they all go

  • pete guaron

    I also use Capture One Pro – you haven’t listed that one.
    Pros often favour Lightroom, because of its catalogue system. As far as I’m concerned, I had already developed my own catalogue system light years before Adobe even dreamed of producing Lightroom, so I don’t need the one that Lightroom has – and their catalogue system is a complete pain – it just gets in the way and makes the task of opening and closing photo files EXTREMELY slow and tedious. Flaky, too, because they don’t always open – and if I want to process a batch of (say) 10 files and transfer them to LR, only to find several of them are missing when I switch to LR – then I have to delete all the ones after the missing one[s] and painfully re-transfer them one at a time to LR until i DO end up with the whole batch, in sequence, as I want it.
    A couple of others out there that are popular with many people are SilkyPix and ACDsee.
    And DxO isn’t just PhotoLab – their ViewPoint is tops, as far as I’m concerned, for correcting perspectives, verticals, horizon lines etc. – and I also use it for converting files from RAW to jpg.

    • @peteguaron:disqus You may be using LR and PS backwards to what Adobe intended. I put all my images into LR first and do the basic edits there. I actually find it much faster than anything else for doing many images at a time. Then to “batch process” them it’s simply an export process for which I have many time-saving presets created. I don’t “transfer” files to LR at all, they are all always in there. Using the catalog with an external drive actually makes it work much faster because it isn’t always writing to the disk.

      So if DxO’s ViewPoint does all those things, why did they not put those functions inside PhotoLab which is their raw processor? I have reviewed PhotoLab in part two coming soon.

      Would you mind telling us what issues you couldn’t solve in LR and PS that you managed to solve using Luminar? I for one am curious.

      • pete guaron

        ?? – while I was using LR, the photos were ALWAYS processed through LR before PS. And processed batches at a time. Where I differ from you is that I have no interest whatsoever in LR’s catalogue system. And transferring photos to LR was a complete pain.
        Luminar was the easiest place to fix various issues requiring masking small areas, to work on them. I’m quite sure that with hours of tuition and upgrading to LR cloud version you could hit the same target with LR – I had neither the time nor the patience, nor the more expensive version – all I wanted was a result, which Luminar gave me on a number of shots when I couldn’t get anything out of Adobe’s products.
        Another “fail” for me is the algorithm Adobe uses to reduce noise – I tried noise reduction across several programs, and found LR’s version rather too milky for my tastes – to the point of offending my preference for a degree of realism in this. Capture One Pro left a little there, but not beyond the sort of thing I’ve put up with for 60 years with analogue photography’s “grain”, and not even visible to the eye (without serious enlargement), resulting in a better image overall.
        I guess in the end these comparisons become a little pointless – it’s a bit like “which camera is the best?” – we’re reaching a stage where they are ALL good (carmeras or lenses – or post processing systems – or whatever), and the scope for further improvement is becoming rather insignificant. Convenience then becomes the master – not product performance specifications.
        One that currently has me in hysterics is pixel chasing, by people who never print their photos. Apparently something over 99% of photos taken each year never make it out of a world of computers, tablets, smartphones etc. The best pixel count on any of those gadgets that any normal person can hope to buy is a new TV, to be launched this year, with a pixel count of 33MP. Imagine how much clearer THAT makes your images! And the fun you could have with it, sitting on your desk – with a whopping great 88 inch screen! Sorry folks – I’m not even going to discuss what I think of this nonsense – I’ve been printing my photos all my life, and I intend to keep doing so, and I’m not going to engage further in these pixel discussions.

        • “I guess in the end these comparisons become a little pointless” – bingo! I totally agree. It really comes down to what works for the individual.

          Good for you for printing – keep doing it!

          • pete guaron

            OMG – Darlene, you just can’t make these things up! Just after that reply, my iMAC played up – neither Apple nor I have the faintest idea why – we tried everything, to get the operating system to open (using High Sierra), and in the end we had to restore the disc from backup. Every ‘tog’s worst nightmare! Can I or can’t I recover all my photos?
            Back in operation, and everything’s fine!
            Which is the major reason for deciding to print them all. It’s another form of backup, and doesn’t depend on technology which reminds us all of the nursery rhyme about the little girl who had a little curl – “When she was good, she was very very good – and when she was bad she was horrid”!
            I will persevere – all photos catalogued on the ‘puter + hard copy, annotated to include Meta data – all photos stored ON the computer, on the Time machine external disc drive and on solid state drives – and all photos printed.
            Sigh – now the only thing apart from doing all of that, and fighting my way through all the post processing issues (which isn’t the same for printing as it is for producing an acceptable image to circulate online) is how to store the prints? I used to be able to stroll into my camera store and buy half a dozen suitable albums – they were there, there was a range in different qualities and sizes, and you could get whatever you wanted. This is like discussing horse drawn bread delivery carts with today’s kids – nobody believes you. I am closing in on a couple of potential suppliers – but neither of them respond to emails, so I am not yet at the finishing line, and the prints are piling up in boxes.

          • Yup all good points! What kind of photo album are you looking for? I might have some suggestions. For what sizes of prints?

          • pete guaron

            A drymount with acid & lignin free pages & interleave sheets. Ideally, black pages with white interleave sheets – 50 sheets (100 pages) per album – and a page size with a “usable area” of 28 (at least) cm wide x 32 cm high (total page size would be wider than that, because the pages in albums normally have a “hinge” or crease on one side, with part of the page reserved for the binding side).

            Initially I’m looking to buy at least 6 and over the next year or so another dozen of them – more later, as I proceed with printing the rest of the photos.

            (Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner – I tried again searching on the net, but got not further. I have some more detailed notes, if you can let me have an email addy to send them to you, rather than posting them here).

          • Aha yes, that is harder to find these days!!

  • mdtinoz

    The reason I use so many of these is that although Lightroom and Photoshop can do it all” to get to the point in learning to “do it all” takes so damn long. So, I use one (and sometimes and or) the other of the editors to either get something done quickly (e.g. ebay product pix) or Photoshop to do a “complete” job. I would love to centralize on just one or two, but the learning curve on any of the aforementioned to easily/completely “just do” what is needed takes way too much time. I am warming up to Luminar 2018 even though it has no catalog.

    BTW I don’t think I saw Capture One mentioned above for a future review; I have found it very helpful when I want to do a quick or thorough job (and its tethering is unmatched by Lightroom). Please consider adding that to a future review.

    BTW2 Very good review here! Thanks!

    • @mdtinoz:disqus Luminar 2018 has a catalog or DAM feature which they’ve said will be out this year some time. I have high hopes for it!

      Capture One is coming later in part three. Part two will be out in 2 weeks. Not sure when I’ll get back to doing these as it is very time consuming and I’m currently in Colombia for 6 weeks and my time is limited.

  • Doug Valentine

    Hi excellent comparison,I am also in the process of trying out all these programmes ,and in fact at the moment have found DXO photo lab to be the nearest replacement to lightroom, so look forward to your thoughts on that, on one photo is very buggy and the concept of paying for what is basically a beta programme has turned a lot of people against the company, it doe save raw edits but you have to set in preferences to save a sidecar file, which is then saved with the original files, and can be moved with the original files, but all the training is for getting the best out of one shot, I have not yet seen anything about say editing 120 photos one after the other, and not taking ages over each photo, something I do all the time in lightroom with relative ease, I recently was also able to do this in dxo photo lab and get the pictures up on facebook or whatever platform , in a relatively short period of time. luminar also failed in this at the moment, and as I work on PC has only just added the ability to save a file with raw edits in, I look forward to seeing what you say about it, as for learning and using lightroom , my 2 biggest eye openers were a course from a lady called nicolesy, who did a course where each video was only 2 minutes long, a brilliant concept and a great way to learm, and the other leap was a set of presets from johnny 3 colours, where each preset adjusted each setting by a specific amount additively(not sure if that is a real word?) in other words you strted with say +1 exposure then added +5 contrast and then highlights a, shadows , clarity etc, made getting a good starting point so much easier. sorry if i have gone on too long but i hope this may help anybody else who is looking at replacing lightroom, or continuing to use it.

    • Not at all, thanks @disqus_77sfzmSp9C:disqus . I made my PR presets to work the same way. You can find them here on the site. As for DxO watch for my thoughts on that in a couple weeks in part two!

  • George Umber

    I have LR 6.1 (best version for speed and stability), CS6, Dxo, ON1 and Luminar. I use ON1 to view my photos and to visually select which photos I wish to develop. Then I open up in Dxo Photo Lab for some general global processing. I really love the lens correction, clearview and noise reduction that Dxo does which is much better than any of the other software that I have. Then I create a TIF file and export it to LR 6.1 for local modifications. For panos I use CS6 which is better than LR or ON1. For HDRs I try ON1 first as ON1 tends to give good clean HDRs, then I try LR and all the other package, including Aurora. For black and white processing I use Silver Efex. I rarely use Luminar 2018. For layers I use CS6. My process is a bit convoluted. DxO is the best for initial global processing and LR 6.1 is great for local adjustments.

  • Michael Embler

    I’m looking for a Lightroom replacement even though I’m pretty good at using it and I get the best results with it. I’m hoping Luminar ends up being that replacement but has a ways to go to be a complete post processing option. I shoot Sony and Capture one 11 is a good option but has quite a learning curve in my opinion. You might want to add it to your comparisons. Mike

  • David Tillett

    Thanks for this review. I have been looking for something that assists in going beyond what Lightroom can do but without the complexity of Photoshop, and works on Mac. I have come round to focussing on Luminar and ON1. I have found Luminar much easier to get to grips with, and with use of presets and workspaces it can be tailored to my way of working and style of photos.

    I agree that some of the presets can be a bit too over the top but easier to dial a preset back to produce a more subtle effect than having to modify the settings to take a subtle preset further. To me Luminar gives the tools and it is down to the user to use these in an appropriate way.

    At the moment Luminar lacks sophisticated masking. This is where ON1 seems to have the edge, along with ability to restrict blending to highlights, shadows etc, and to create styles (i.e. Presets) for individual Effects filters.

    However, it has taken me time to get my head around the separation into Develop, Effects and Layers, with local adjustments in both Develop and Effects, and issues such as needing to rasterise images to use Layers. There doesn’t seem to be anything that matches Luminar’s easy ability to group filters, or apply a preset, together in a layer for simple masking, blending etc. Had to watch a lot of YouTube videos to get into the mindset.

    ON1 also seems to have same strange restrictions that I can’t understand – why can’t one crop an image when activating ON1 as a Lightroom plugin? Have to do it in Lightroom before (which means can’t transfer the RAW file to ON1) or after (which means making adjustments on whole image and hope that these work when cropped)

    Waiting to see how the Luminar DAM turns out, but at the moment I suspect that I will be keeping Lightroom as my DAM for another year, and then using Luminar or ON1 as plugins when I have images that I want to work on, probably Luminar as main tool and ON1 when image needs the extra masking and blending options.

    By the way the second item on your list of things Luminar is missing, alt key to show clipping when adjusting White/Black points, isn’t missing, it does work for me.

    • HI @david_tillett:disqus The Alt thing works for you? Maybe you have the most recent update, I haven’t don it yet. This was written before the last 2 rounds of updates and I’m pretty sure I tried and it wasn’t there. I’ll update and check it thanks for that.

      Yes I can’t get my head around how On1 works either but will be giving it a closer look.

      • David Tillett

        Pretty sure it was working after November update, if not in original release. Can’t remember when I found it as it doesn’t seem to be documented, yet holding alt when moving slider is supposed to change sensitivity of slide so easier to make more precise adjustments. It was testing the latter that revealed the former. I will double check the documentation and put in a support request to try and understand what the correct behaviour is supposed to be.

        • I just tested and you’re right it DOES show clipping when you hold down ALT. But I did just update the program so not sure if that did it or not. But it works for me now

  • Franz Scheurer

    I’ve tried them all (except Corel) and I kept Photoshop as an external editor and Luminar and Topaz and ON1 as plug ins, but my main editor and go to or 99% of my stuff is Capture One Pro 11. Unbeatable.

  • Tyree Jackson

    While searching for a replacement for Aperture a year or so ago, I evaluated several products. This is when I came across Affinity Photo. While I had previous experience with Photoshop Elements going back to version 7, I still consider myself intermediate at best. Photo editing is not a part of my day job. I was reluctant to try AP due to its lack of DAM features, but I did end up watching a ton of their tutorials. I was fascinated by all that they demonstrated in their videos. A couple of days later, I ended up downloading the trial version. I found it easy to work with thanks to my past experience with Photoshop Elements and the tutorials that I had already viewed. For users looking to move away from Adobe, I would recommend watching the official Affinity Photo tutorials on Vimeo/YouTube (which are linked from their site) and THEN try the trial. I eventually moved to their iPad version on my iPad Pro as it works amazingly with the Apple Pencil! I do nearly all of my edits on it now.

    I will say though, that I do all of my tethered shooting and RAW processing/development using Capture One and then export tiffs to iCloud. I then edit them later in Affinity Photo on the iPad while hanging out with my family.

  • I’m currently using the new Luminar and it’s impressive. Before that I used Affinity Photo and I would say that, for RAW processing, it couldn’t match that of Lr or Luminar yet. Hope to see improvements.

  • Ron Bryans

    Darlene, thanks for a fascinating article! I have recently installed Affinity on my iPad Pro with the intent of trying to a bit more sophisticated editing when I’m away from home. I have to admit that I’m struggling to get a work flow going with it, however it does appear to be quite feature rich. I also understand that there is a lot of compatibility with the desk top version which hopefully would simplify my workflow overall. In this respect it would be great if in one of your future reviews, you could cover which desktop apps also have or plan to have iPad/Tablet versions.

    • @ronbryans:disqus Thanks for that. Not sure about a tablet version review, I personally haven’t used any of them so I have no experience with them.

  • Roland McAllister

    I’ve used Photoshop since PS2, started sometime in the 80’s. Still using PS6 owned version. I have no idea what the new subscription version can do better or even LR, but I can do a lot with PhotoShop. I have ‘Topaz Simplify’ that I use for painterly effects, real happy with it. I did get Topaz Studio, a stripped down version, for free just because I bought the Simplify. I have not messed with it much, after 30+ years of Photoshop, everything else seems a bit wierd. I would like to try some other paint effects programs and have always been curious about LR but photography is mainly a hobby and I don’t have much in the way funding to experiment with, retired.

    • Thomas L DiVittis

      Have you looked into RawTherapee? It is open source, so it is free. It’s powerful, even if a bit harder to learn to many of the other applications.

      • Roland McAllister

        Thank you for the info, I never heard of it but I’ll check it out.

    • @rolandmcallister:disqus if what you’re using is still working, keep doing that!

  • Dan Noland

    Adobe will never see another dollar from me. After investing thousands in Photoshop and plug-ins, they have illiminated the possibility of continued use of CS3 and refuse assistance. I currently own Affinity, ON1 2018, Luminar 2018, Aurora HDR 2018 and others but have uninstalled all Adobe products from my systems. I am currently doing about 90% of the photo editing in Luminar 2018 and finding that it does virtually all the things that I need to do. When the browser is added in the near future, it will be a total fix for the drudgery of being a former Adobe peion.

    • I agree, thanks for your comments @dannoland:disqus – I’m not dumping Adobe yet, but keeping my eyes opened.

  • William Byron

    Have switched from L/R to Luminar will make it work, set new filing sys up. Keeping the old Version 6 around as well P/S 5 for certain project. It took 5 yrs to get P/S lingo down. Is it powerful, yes but the learning is STEEP for non pro people. Topaz Studio looks promising have many of their plug ins.
    i think most people new to photography will choose Lumiar, just because it’s easy, with good results.
    Another program that’s good is ACDC, very simple with a good filing editor.

  • krishu1

    Darlene thank for brining this to one place to try a sort out all this. Might you add Anthropics Technology.

    I suspect with all software development its the one who has the best programmers and $$$ to push out updates / enhancements to fulfill the need. I like the fact that ON1 is in the USA. Having tried to get support from companies sin the UK or other tends to be rather BS at times. I think it important in your reviews to add a box where the company is truly located/where is the programming done? It would be nice to also know the financial strength of the company. I think if you look into corel you will find they were bought and sold and might be owned by a VC, which traditionally, they burn there investment after 5-8 years and move on.

    I am willing to bet that come the new year all these companies except maybe for corel will be close to being equal

    I have the Canon Mark III and 5DSR and rip huge files with the 5DSR. I had used Corel but after trying to load in the 5DSR, it all went to crap. SLOW,SLOW,CRASH. My desktop has the 32ram,plenty of cpu power but corel just became a dog. Corels support, terrible, they could never give me a answer as to why or what to do about it, I gave up on them, and using corel with Topaz, ok, but topaz needs to update their filters a little more in my opinion.

    Lightroom, its too much for me to deal with their subscription model -good bye

    Affinity I don’t see how they will sustain their R&D on what they charge, maybe they think volume will carry them through

    Luminar – Holding off until later

    So I will give On1 a try and see how it fairs. Since I am in the USA, I want to try and support them.

    • Hi @krisHHH1:disqus Anthropics? Which program do you mean? They make PortraitPro right? That is not a RAW processor to my knowledge. Do they have one?

      As for where a company is located and the programming is done – that’s a bit beyond my knowledge and personally does not influence my decision making. Corel owned by a VC? I highly doubt it! Corel has been around a really long time!!! Longer than Adobe, like early 80s.

      You need to choose what’s best for you, we all do. I just gave my thoughts here to help people look at the options.

  • dutchmm

    A little unfair to Corel AfterShotPro, because there is an excellent (and free) plugin called zPerspective to correct converging verticals in architecture shots; there is an excellent (but paid for) plugin for graduated filters; and the ability to create camera and RAW defaults makes ASP an excellent point of departure for culling. And it includes facilities for cataloguing. I have used it for nearly seven years (starting out when it was still called Bibble), and I’m still looking for a substitute that does all the things I want, and (I wish) also does them on linux.

    I own DxO Elite (including the viewpoint plugin), and the noise reduction is excellent; support for most of my modern lenses (being a cheapskate, I bought several second hand Minolta lenses for my first Sony SLT) is painless. But I find it agonisingly slow – maybe I need a new laptop with an i7! And there is no support ATM for selective adjustments :-(.

    I own a licence for ON1 Raw, but I agree this is a dead end because no history.

    I own a copy of Affinity Photo, but I agree the filter and layer interface is confusing.

    Lastly, I am quite enthusiastic about Luminar 2018, and Aurora HDR – who says linux users never pay for software? If only they had decided to port them to linux as well!

    • Hi @dutchmm:disqus – sorry, how is my review unfair? It is my experience and my opinion. I tried it, and did not like it and found it lacking – especially compared to some of the other options available. I personally don’t feel I should have to add plugins for basic things, especially paid ones.

      As for Luminar and Aurora – I can only take a guess, but I know some of what is involved in creating a new software on a different platform – it’s a gargantuan task! Making a program for Linux would be yet again a huge undertaking. Unfortunately for the small percentage of PC users that have Linux, it doesn’t make financial sense for a company to invest in that.

      • dutchmm

        If you had said “I don’t like the idea of needing to use plugins” in your original review, I wouldn’t have commented. The fact is that plugins, all but one or two of them free, have been an integral part of Bibble’s, then AfterShotPro’s, design for at least 10 years. Back in the day, the Bibble developers were very happy to expose their SDK, and this allowed enthusiastic developers – some of whom seem now to have migrated to the Darktable project – to make competing plugins for similar/same functionalities.
        I freely acknowledge that Corel have done a pretty poor job with producing learning materials to get a new user up to speed with the plugins. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Corel employee or shareholder. You can tell from my comments that I am not even a Corel fan … but anyone who embarks on any of the programs you reviewed is going to have a learning curve, and will need to figure out all the hidden features and concealed traps in them.
        You didn’t mention plugins at all, and therefore you undersold the capabilities of the program; which was … a little unfair.

        • I didn’t mention plugins @dutchman because I felt the program should stand on its own, so I didn’t feel it needed to be mentioned. That’s like reviewing a car that doesn’t come with wheels. One assumes it comes with all the parts needed to run it.

  • Vala Grenier

    I’ve used LR pretty much from the start and am pretty comfortable with it. I have one lens/body combination that produces horrendous chromatic aberration at certain as yet unascertained angles to the sun. LR can’t deal with it without having all sorts of unintended consequences. I’ve used onOne raw to deal with it. That’s the only time I’ve used the raw processor in the onOne suite. I have been using the effects plugin over all it’s names a variation. I use it as a plugin for ps and it works really well. The guys at onOne are going to hate me, but I recommend getting the free version of Perfect Effects and leaving the rest alone.

    • Hi @valagrenier:disqus You are fully entitled to your opinion as are all of us. If you don’t like something you don’t like it, period.

  • FrieVB

    Has anyone here ever tried Zoner Photo Studio for editing RAW?

  • Domain Rider

    About time someone did this – I’m looking for Lightroom alternatives and Capture One Pro caught my eye – any chance of a comparison review?

    • Hi @DomainRider:disqus I haven’t tried that program yet, it is on the list for a possible part 3! Look for part 2 coming soon.

  • Scott Dunham

    Thanks for sharing your perspective and insights. My skill level is primarily on the low end of intermediate. I’ve been using Luminar for several weeks and am generally very pleased with it. I share you opinions on the DAM and lack of targeted HSL adjustments. It has has been pretty easy to use, even the masking features.

    I had my challenges using Affinity, it’s not intuitive for someone with my skill level, but someone suggested that it would be an easier transition for a seasoned PhotoShop user.

    I have used Corel Aftershot 3, and while it offers improved RAW processing, it is far from a full-featured photo editor and since it is bundled as a free bonus extra with Corel PaintShop Pro, it might be more appropriate to review those products together.

    I’m looking forward to your review of Topaz Studio and hope you will consider reviewing ACDSee.

    • Hi @disqus_Gg14leEO19:disqus thanks for that – in regards to Corel’s products it was immediately obvious to me that they came together. It looked to me like PSP was for photo editing and AfterShot was the raw processor – which for the purposes of this review is what I was looking for. Yes now that ACDsee is available for Mac I will be adding it as well.

  • Thomas L DiVittis

    Darlene, thank you for taking the time to put such a review together! I can’t even find the time to read all you’ve written, so hats off to you for putting such a great review together. Again, thank you!

    Put me in the Capture One camp. My trial just ended, and I plan on purchasing sometime this week or this weekend. The price led me to this review, I just wanted to double check before the purchase, since it is not the cheapest out there. I found Capture One to be extremely easy to use, so I’m a little taken back by all the comments saying that it has a steep learning curve. (I was looking at ON1, but requiring a registry cleaning tool to get the program to run was not an acceptable option for me, and their support folks did not have any interest in helping beyond repeating that.)

    Also, for the amateur crowd (of which I am a proud member), take a look at RawTherapee for RAW editing. It is open source, so completely free, and carries all the pros/cons that go with the open source community. It has a very powerful tool set, though it does lack any type of library functionality, and the focus is much more on the tools than the interface. I don’t find the interface bad at all, but learning how to apply the edits (or even figuring out which edits a photo needs) can be daunting to someone without years of photo editing experience. I’ve used RT for almost 5 years (again, amateur, for my own photos only), and like it. It recently started crashing during the export process, which led me to look at alternatives, to see what was available.

    Again, thanks for the awesome work on this review, Darlene, and thanks to all who took the time to comment. There is a lot of useful information here!

    • Hi @thomasldivittis:disqus – thanks for commenting. What do you mean by “registry cleaning tool” was needed to run On1? I will be looking at free options in a part three or four. Right now the list is getting long!

  • Emil Georgiev

    My Best choise is DxO Photo Lab!
    For BEST of the BEST optical corrections, Excellend Noise reduction and Good Dynamic range!
    Use DxO for convertion from RAW to TIFF and than i do final edits in ON1 Photo RAW for easy filters and layers.

  • Emil Georgiev

    My Best choise is DxO Photo Lab!
    For BEST of the BEST optical corrections, Excellent Noise reduction and Good Dynamic range! (IMHO)
    I use DxO as a main converter from RAW to TIFF and than i do final edits in ON1 Photo RAW for easy filters and layers.

    IMHO Darlene Hildebrandt is Adobe addicted so he wrote the whole this article with his PS experience in mind… I’m verry curious to know how Skylum motivated him to do so positive feedback for Luminar…. and tempted to guess that the $xxxx are in the middle of his point 😉
    No bad feeleings but i think that herr Hildebrandt has verry amateur approach to explore new software.
    ///Yep we bulgarians are haters at our best! 😀

  • Emil Georgiev

  • Thanks for that @disqus_R2NifG5IsE:disqus I did a search and found none. Perhaps they aren’t official ones run by Affinity? Fair enough on the image size thing – the issue is that posting large photos on a web article makes the page load really slowly, especially on one this long. So I try and keep them small to load faster. I will take into consideration though, thanks for the input.

  • Sweet! Thanks @billy_fisher:disqus Glad you took advantage of all the extra goodies.

  • Pat Rhoades Crouser Rech

    Darlene. If you begin your image in layers, Make it a smart object and then duplicate the layer and use that layer to make changes in effects or develop when you hit done it takes you back to layers and when you save it as a psd it saves all your edits made on the smart layer including the original file with all non destructive edits. I usually perform cropping and lens correction in Lightroom before sending to ON1 layers. Hope this makes sense. Not intuitive to approach it this way.

  • Homiejuice

    Wonderful review. BTW I agree exactly with your critique of on1. Furthermore, its previous versions were uncannily intuitive — the flaws you perceived were actually *changed* from what had been working. The product also had another feature called “portrait” mode, something like that — and they literally removed it from the program — without warning users. They also switched customer support from call-in to email only. Some of their actual tech is wonderful so it’s confounding that they chose to build roadblocks to actually using it. I may check back with them in a few years, had to bail.

  • My remarks after playing with Luminar (Windows version) for a couple of hours (jan. 16, 2018):

    I don’t see any button to simply rotate an image from portrait to landscape or to flip it horizontally or vertically. (I couldn’t find it in the manual either.) This is the most obvious first thing to do with any image, so how can this be missing?

    When I select B&W filter, the image is already immediately put in monochrome, which is weird! I would like to put this operation in my “Filters Preset”, but I don’t want it to be applied immediately before I do the first raw development.

    I see many “hieroglyphs” on my screen. In any program, it should be obligatory to show some explanation about it when you hover above it with your mouse. I absolutely hate it when I see some obscure pictogram and I have no idea what it stands for. The only way to find out is to click on it and then to see that this was not what I wanted to do, hence a waste of time…

    There seems to be no database of lenses allowing a quick and correct distortion and vignette correction. Doing this manually is quity clumsy, time consuming and inaccurate.

    I don’t see presets for the color temperature, like “cloudy”, “sunny”, “flash”, etc. An experienced user may know the correct temperature settings for the slider, but a beginner will not. And most of all missing is the “pipette” to adjust the white balance by clicking on a neutral grey part of the picture! This is very crucial to get accurate colors, for example for reproductions of paintings!

    When I select the “RAW develop”, “B&W conversion” and “Clarity” filters, I get 3 “clarity” sliders that seem to be independent from each other although they seem to do the same thing. This is VERY confusing! The same thing happens when I select the “Color temperature” filter: e.g. I can set this to 7000 while the same slider on the “RAW develop” panel is set to 4000, huh???

    When I hover my mouse over a photo, I obviously want to see the RGB value for every pixel, for example to see if the skin tones are not too dark or too bright! This is one of the most elementary features in any image processing software (even Microsoft Paint has it), and I can’t understand why it is missing!

    When I click “export” to JPG, it wants to save the picture in the last opened directory. There seems to be no way to set the directory to the same as the raw file, or a specific subdirectory of that. It also wants to save the processed image with the same name as the original, which is dangerous. There should be an option to rename it automatically, e.g. adding -1, -2,… etc. like in Lightroom. When I click “Browse” to change the directory, it wants to give the exported file the same name as the raw file (CR2), while the selector below the name says “Save as: JPG”… Very confusing! If I want to save the changes made on the raw file, I have to enter a name for the “.lmnr” file manually each time! Very clumsy!

    Above the histogram, I see the ISO, the focal distance and the aperture. But how can I get all the other exif data??? How can I enter keywords or a rating?

    I also see no way to quickly walk through my images on full screen (like using the F key in Lightroom) and then decide which one I want to process.

    So… although Luminar 2018 seems to have some nice features, it doesn’t look like a “ripened” software program to me, and there is still a lot of work to do before it can compete with Lightroom…

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