Two Free Alternatives to Lightroom

No matter if you just started out in photography or are advanced. Sooner or later you will start post-processing your photos. Adobe Lightroom is the market leader if it comes to organize your photos and developing your raw files. Lightroom is a non-destructive editor of your photos. None of the changes get applied to your photos until you export the final result. Later on, you can always go back and change what you did or start over from scratch, because Lightroom also helps you organize your images.

Adobe moved to a cloud-based and subscription model where you have to pay monthly or annually to use their software. There are no more stand-alone versions like in the past where you were able to just buy Lightroom and pay once and use it for the rest of your life. Now everything is based on Adobe Creative Cloud.

For people who just want to get into post-processing and looking for a cheap alternative, there are two great alternatives. Both of them are free and open source. Also, both are available for Linux, Windows, and macOS.

Both are great to develop your raw files. If you are just starting, you might not know what raw files are. Raw files are minimally processed data from your camera’s sensor. Therefore they include the most amount of information and are best used to be edited to make the most out of your images. If your camera has the option to shoot in raw, do it. Most cameras give you the option to shoot in raw and jpg. That way you always have a file available for immediate use.

However, if you want to get into editing your photos, you should only use raw files. Once you shoot in raw, most image editors can’t view raw files. Some of them may be able to view the embedded jpg, but it has a lower resolution than the actual picture.

Below the two alternatives. This is not a direct comparison between the two rather than more an introduction into both.

darktable

When I started to look for free alternatives for Lightroom, I found darktable. Mostly friends and readers asked me if I know a good free software to edit images. I have used darktable for a while and coming from Lightroom, it’s a big of a change from the user experience. I edited some of my raw photos and it did as great of a job as Lightroom would do.

darktable is a possible raw-processor if you try to open raw files with GIMP, a photoshop alternative. Set up is very easy, you only have to install GIMP and darktable and every time you want to open a raw image in GIMP it will automatically launch darktable so you can make adjustments if you want and then load it into GIMP.

RawTherapee

RawTherapee has been around for a while now and seems to be a solid product. Very stable and intuitive to use. The user interface reminds me more about Lightroom, which makes it easier if you come from Lightroom. Even tho, it’s not a copy of Lightroom’s interface, but for me just more intuitive. It’s a full-fledged raw editor and comes with all the tools you need to get the best out of your photos and also to archive them.

Conclusion

Both are two great products and they work both on all major platforms. As I don’t have enough experience with both yet, it’s hard to judge and tell which one is better. Both do a great job and are very reliable. Both of the screenshots above show the editor module of each software in it’s out of the box setup. I found that RawTherapee is slightly better if you have a low-end PC. All my tests were done on Windows 10 and using the raw files of my Canon EOS 5d Mk II. Yeah, I know the camera is old, but it still takes awesome pictures.

Besides darktable and RawTherapee, I found a few other free alternatives but it seems development has stopped many years ago. That’s why I didn’t include them in this list.

What’s your preferred editor? Do you know of another alternative? Let me know in the comments.

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