10 Alternatives To Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom And Adobe’s Creative Cloud

Guest post by Jeff Colburn

As most photographers know, Adobe is moving all of its software to the Creative Cloud, or CC. Some people call it the Captive Cloud. That means that Photoshop CS6 and Lightroom 5 will be the last versions you can buy on disk, and have as a “Perpetual License.”

Currently, you buy software on a DVD or as a download. You get a perpetual license to use that software for the rest of your life. But with the Creative Cloud, you lease the software month to month, or yearly. If you stop paying your fee, the software stops working. Even if you lease this software for years, you never own anything.

A subscription to Photoshop alone costs $20 a month. The suite, which is comprised of all of Adobe’s software, costs $30 a month for the first year, if you’re upgrading from CS3 or newer. After the first year it’s $50 a month. If you’re not upgrading, then it’s $50 a month from the beginning.

If you want to use Photoshop and Lightroom, Adobe suggests you subscribe to Photoshop on the Creative Cloud, and buy Lightroom 5. This is because you can only do a single-app membership, or a complete membership. The complete membership gives you access to 19 Adobe software programs, where the single-app membership gives you access to just one program, like Photoshop.

You can’t get two single-app memberships. So you can’t get Photoshop and Lightroom, you must choose to subscribe to just one of these and buy the other. Adobe is considering a Photoshop and Lightroom package, but it’s not available yet.

If you go the single-app route, I suggest you get Photoshop as Adobe will no longer be supplying updates to the perpetual license version except for Camera Raw. And even this support will end when Adobe stops selling Photoshop with a perpetual license.

To get a better idea of what the Creative Cloud is and isn’t, check out this FAQ from Adobe . It goes into detail about how CC works, that you can use the programs offline, the programs and your files are stored on your computer and more.

I belong to various photography discussion groups, and many have been talking about the Creative Cloud, and whether it will be good or bad for them. Some of the main concerns that photographers have are:

If they decide to stop paying for the Creative Cloud, they won’t be able to open my Photoshop files. All the time and effort they put into these files will be lost and the photographs will be unusable.

They don’t want to have to pay a monthly fee, since they don’t regularly buy upgrades when they come out. As for myself, I still use Photoshop CS3.

What if they start using the Creative Cloud, and in a year or two Adobe starts raising the monthly fee, a lot? I’ll have to pay the price, or hope I can find another piece of software similar to Photoshop and Lightroom that can open Photoshop files.

I just purchased Lightroom 5 and I’m considering switching to one of the below programs, then watch Adobe and see what they do over the next few years. The problem I have with subscribing to Photoshop is that I use Lightroom for about 95% of my image manipulation. Paying $900 for Photoshop, to do 5% of my image processing, is a pretty high price.

Here are some options for you. The text in quotation marks is copied from the company’s website.

Acdsee Photoshop Alternative

ACD Systems

They offer ACDSee Pro, which is like Lightroom, and ACDSee Photo Editor 6, which is like Photoshop. They also offer versions for Mac. They have nondestructive brushes and global nondestructive adjustments.

Price: $60 and $50 respectively for PC and $50 and $30 respectively for Mac
Opens RAW files: Yes
Opens Photoshop files: Yes, but doesn’t preserve layers or EXIF and IPTC metadata
Content Aware tools: No
Noise reduction: Yes
Work with layers: No, but does have object layers
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: Sort of, get single-exposure HDR results
Free trial: Yes

Aperture

Aperture is more like Lightroom than Photoshop, and it’s for Macs. You can make adjustments, like in Lightroom, and use nondestructive adjustment brushes.

Price: $80
Opens RAW files: Yes
Opens Photoshop files: No, but can send files to be edited in Photoshop Elements
Content Aware tools: No
Noise reduction: No
Work with layers: No
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: No
Free trial: No

Capture One Pro 7

“Based on an entirely new and groundbreaking image processing engine, the world’s most advanced imaging software will allow you to achieve vastly superior image quality with excellent color and fine detail from a camera’s raw files. Among others, this breakthrough results in even more stunning images with improved noise reduction, higher dynamic range, detail and clarity.”

Price: $239
Opens RAW files: Yes
Opens Photoshop files: Yes, but only one-layer images
Content Aware tools: No
Noise reduction: Yes
Work with layers: No, but can layer text
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: Sort of, get single-exposure HDR results
Free trial: Yes

DxO Optics Pro 8

“Tamp down noise, optimize exposure and contrast, enhance colors, and boost the details in your compositions. Thanks to laboratory calibration of thousands of combinations of cameras and lenses, you can apply optical and geometrical corrections that are perfectly adapted to your equipment and to the content of your images.”

Price: $100 (Standard) or $200 (Elite)
Opens RAW files: Yes
Opens Photoshop files: No
Content Aware tools: No
Noise reduction: Yes
Work with layers: No
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: Sort of, get single-exposure HDR results
Free trial: Yes

Gimp

I’ve used Gimp off and on for years, and it’s great. It’s what I turned to when a company I worked for wouldn’t buy Photoshop and I needed to manipulate photos. If you want to learn how to do something in Gimp, just Google it. People have put up a boat-load of tutorials that will show you how to do anything. And there are plugins that will give you RAW format support and even a content aware healing tool.

Price: $0
Opens RAW files: With plugin
Opens Photoshop files: Yes, but may have trouble if the file has many layers
Content Aware tools: With plugins
Noise reduction: Yes
Work with layers: Yes
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: There’s no HDR tool, but can combine images and use a layer mask to do HDR
Free trial: Yes

Paint.net

This program is similar to Gimp but has the same tools you’ll find in Microsoft Paint. Plugins let you work with RAW and Photoshop files. Other tools include a clone stamp, text editor and unlimited history.

Price: $0
Opens RAW files: With plugins
Opens Photoshop files: With plugins
Content Aware tools: No
Noise reduction: Yes
Work with layers: Yes
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: There’s no HDR tool, but can combine images and use a layer mask to do HDR
Free trial: Yes

PaintShop Pro X5

“With powerful photo-editing tools, incredible new instant effects, and enhanced HDR technology, creating stunning photos has never been easier. All-new tools include face recognition technology and the ability to map photos to real-world locations. Streamlined design tools let you blend images with photos and create high-quality graphics for print, video and the web. Plus, share your images online using new and enhanced social media features. It’s all available in PaintShop Pro X5, the perfect way to create, edit, enhance and share unforgettable photos and designs.”

Price: $50
Opens RAW files: Yes
Opens Photoshop files: Yes
Content Aware tools: No
Noise reduction: Yes
Work with layers: Yes
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: Yes
Free trial: Yes

Pixelmator

Like Aperture, this program is for Macs. This program lets you manipulate Photoshop files, but is limited in the RAW files it can open.

Price: $15
Opens RAW files: Only RAW files that are supported by your computer’s operating system
Opens Photoshop files: Yes
Content Aware tools: Yes
Noise reduction: Yes
Work with layers: Yes
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: No
Free trial: Maybe, when I click on the Free Trial link, it goes to a blank page.

Splashup

This is a web based program, and even offers layer effects, text effects and filters.

Price: $15
Opens RAW files: No
Opens Photoshop files: No
Content Aware tools: No
Noise reduction: No
Work with layers: Yes
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: No
Free trial: Yes

Lightzone

This program was sold until September 2011, when Lightcrafts went out of business. But the program stayed active and is now an open source program. It has a lot of the features of Lightroom, and some great options for photo manipulation, and everything is nondestructive. Give it a try, it’s free.

Price: $0
Opens RAW files: Yes
Opens Photoshop files: No
Content Aware tools: No
Noise reduction: Yes
Work with layers: Sort of. The tools used to edit a photo are stacked, similarly to “layers” in other applications.
Sharpen photograph: Yes
Does HDR: No
Free trial: Yes

There is nothing on the market that does everything that Photoshop does, except Photoshop. But when you consider that the full-blown version of Photoshop is $900, and the most expensive replacement I mentioned was $239, with most under $100, you need to ask yourself something. Does Photoshop really offer enough to be worth an additional $800?

There are more options out there than the ones I mentioned, but this will give you a good start. All you have to do now is decide which path will work best for you.

Have Fun,
Jeff

Print Friendly
About Jeff Colburn

Jeff Colburn is a freelance photographer and writer, whose photographs and articles have been used by publications and businesses for over 35 years. Jeff specializes in stock and fine art photography of Arizona, and has his fine art images in the New State Motor Building Gallery in Jerome, Arizona. To learn more about Jeff, visit his blog for photographers and photo buyers at TheCreativesCorner.com

Comments

  1. Also worth a look is the open-source program Darktable, which is very similar to Lightroom.

  2. I have been usng Paintshop Pro since version 7 when JASC owned it. Today I use X5. I have never had an issue with it, and was finally going to make the jump to Adobe, but I think I will stay where I am at with the Corel line up, including Aftershot, which is their version of Lightroom, and Video Studio. It may not have the market support and aftermarket plug in that Adobe has, I write my own, so I have that “not so Photoshop Cookie Cutter look” going on! As for the Creative Cloud, it sound more like a trip to digital purgatory, where many will wait until Adobe changes back to the old model, and release them, plus, wouldn’t you need to have a constan internet connection to work in the cloud, yeah, that sucks as well!

  3. Rodney Horne says:

    At $20 a month it would take 45 months to equal the off-the-shelf price of CS 6. In the mean time new functions are rolling out that don’t require purchasing upgrades every two years. By charging $20 a month, more people will have access to their software since the price hurdle will be nearly eliminated. It seems to me that they would have to more than triple their fees to make it a bad deal. In the mean time there is still pressure from the alternative software (I personally started with PSP 5) to keep pricing down. I think it will be a good thing for end-users. I personally only use CS6 right now, but I would be much more willing to expand into their other software using the monthly fee.

  4. Dave, thanks for letting me know about Darktable.

    Thanks Robb, I’ll check out Aftershot.

    Rodney, yes, $20 a month makes it affordable, but you never know what they will charge once enough people have signed up. A rumor going around is that Adobe has run out of major updates for PS as they have done almost all they can with it. I mean, how many more big tools can they add? I don’t know what more they could do except make improvements on existing tools.

    The thinking is that with no more major additions to future updates, people would just stay with the version they have and Adobe’s income would crater. With the Creative Cloud, Adobe would have a constant source of income and wouldn’t have to worry about finding major improvements for future releases.

    They are also forcing PS users to move to the Creative Cloud because they will stop updating Camera Raw for PS CS6. So if you buy a new camera, or update your firmware, PS SC6 won’t be able to open your RAW files. That hacks me off.

    Thanks for your comments everyone.

    Have Fun,
    Jeff

  5. I fully agree with the article. I publish here a posting I did in a LinkedIn discussion”.

    Every workflow can be changed….

    Capture One (Phase One) is a very good alternative for Lightroom, It is one of my preferences. So is DxO with all automatic lens corrections. .

    For further image manipulation (if necessary) it’s possible to have a look at GIMP (public license, no cost, about 40 languages) or the German application Photo Line ( http://www.pl32.com , English language, cost about $60) or Corel Paint Shop Pro X5 Ultimo (cost about $90). All applications are for Windows and MacOs, GIMP is there also for Linux.

    A slight disadvantage of GIMP is the fact that it can only work in 8 bit/channel, but while most of the files are just 8 bit (CMYK, Jpeg, PNG a.o.) it isn’t be a big problem to convert files just before the usage of GIMP.

    Most things you can do in Shop you can do also in GIMP. I know a lot of professionals using this application and I can’t tell the difference in quality of a GIMP, or a ‘Photoshopfile’.

    Looking at the improvements in Photoshop in the last versions they are minor, from the point of view of a photographer. I don’t believe or see a big advantange in handling the files in CS6 or in CS3. Except maybe the content aware fill, wich was introduced in CS5.

    I think it is more important being a photographer than being an applicationaddict.

  6. Aryeh Burnham says:

    One more point to remember is that Adobe has been updating their RAW to DNG converter, which is free, so even if you can’t open your new camera’s RAW files natively in LR or ACR, you can convert them to DNG (which I do with all my RAW files anyway) and then open them in your current version of LR or ACR. Also, according to the Lightroom Queen, Adobe is not planning to make LR subscription only and updates will continue to be available as stand-alone products.

  7. Merkle Bindam says:

    I would add photoshop elements, and photoninja. Topaz Labs, the plugin company, makes photoFXlab which can function standalone and as a plugin. It has layering features and can call their other plugins. In standalone it has a crop tool.