Seeking a better RAW editor – Part 1

With the arriving and changes to the new Lightroom, I with many other people are looking for a replacement for what Adobe can offer us as photographers. Today, we have lots of choices, some more mature than others. I would be looking to get the same features than Lightroom with improved speed, better masking and simplifying my workflow by not going back and forth between the main application and diverse plugins. Of course, I do both Landscape and portraits, so a program that can handle both well would be nice. Most of them do a really good job on Landscape but then almost nothing is available for portrait except a blur tool to blur the skin out, not my cup of tea! This is a research I will be doing for myself base on my own workflow and editing technics.

Here’s a list of what I’m looking for:

  • Price under $300 for 3 years
  • Speedy import, export, and scrolling through the pictures
  • Intuitive and well-thought workflow in general
  • Tools for both landscape and portraits
  • Good masking tools
  • Handle HDR, Panorama and lens correction
  • 3 licenses would be nice

Today, we’re just going to go through a simple overview of the software, their features compare to Lightroom, their costs and their number of license. I have multiple computers, so even though I’ll be using only one at a time, I like the flexibility of having them available on all of them.

During the cold winter month, I will be testing 3 of them. Let’s see which ones those may be.

Cost Upgrade cost New release every Max. cost after 3 years License Feature and options
Old Lightroom $150 $80 18-22 month $230 2 HDR, Pano, Lens Correction
Lightroom CC Y/s $120 $120 $360 2 HDR, Pano, Lens Correction
Capture One $299 $99 12 month $497 3 Lens Correction
DxO Photo Lab $200 $90 18 month $290 3 Lens Correction $79
MacPhun Luminar $69 $49 12 month $167 5 Lens Correction
MacPhun Aurora $99 $59 12 month $217 10 HDR only
ON1 Photo RAW $120 $100 12 month $320 2 HDR, Pano, Lens Correction
ON1 Photo Raw Y/s $150 $150 $450 5 HDR, Pano, Lens Correction
Alienskin Exposure 3 $149 $99 12 month $347 ?
ACDSee Ultimate 18 $149 $79 12 month $308 1 Lens Correction, Frequency separation
ACDSee Ultimate 18 Y/s $89 $89 $267 Lens Correction, Frequency separation

Prices are listed without any discount. Different companies offer various discounts before the release of a new version of the program.
Also, I assume people will buy the newest release everytime it’s available. Of course, this is up to you.
Y/s: Yearly Subscription


I was amazed in comparing the cost of the old Lightroom with their subscription model, the cost simply double. Yes, you do get Photoshop as well, that’s true. For those needing that, it’s perfect, but it’s not for me and Affinity Photo works good enough for me. Anyway, Adobe will be our reference since we’re all trying to find something to replace them.

Capture One

Most of the professional use that program. It had great color rendition and is the best program for tethering. Though it cost a lot of money and it’s not the fastest program around. Also, PhaseOne who makes Capture One decided NOT to support cameras that would compete with their, yes they make Medium format camera. The software might be nice but not sure I want to invest in a software that may not support a future camera.


They always had a good program, with great clarity and noise filtering but never had any masking too. This last version, bring those tools and with the recent acquisition of the Nik Collection, they have added the U point technology for selection (which is using a luminosity mask if I’m right). Lots of possibility for them in the future, like adding HDR but how will that be integrated? Looking at the Lens correction plugin (a $79 add-on), it looks like it would be an added module inside the program, so no need to export and import. The bad news is the limited cameras they support, for example, they do not support any Fuji from the X series and not sure if they ever will.

MacPhun (Skylum)

The cheapest program of all… don’t you think that it means it’s not good. It’s the equivalent of the Nil Color Effect Pro 4, which lots of update filters and brand new ones as well. They are adding a DAM early next year to manage all of the images. Testing the PC beta version, I found the software a bit slow. Most of the features are here, though, if you want HDR you need to go buy Aurora (one of the best HDR program available). Regarding portrait, this software has nothing specific for it, at least not yet but if they did, would it be a separate software like it is for HDR? We don’t know much about there future except that they will keep improving and adding more advanced filters along the way.


This is the program I’m the most curious about. It can do exactly what Lightroom does (HDR, Pano..) and even more.Their older program used to have a portrait module, so maybe one day, they will bring that back into this program. They have been having a few issues in their early program, to say the least, but it looks they have managed to stabilize their software. Still, bugs may still appear but from following people on social media, their support team seems to do an amazing job! It’s not perfect, like any other company but it’s a good sign. Also, with the ON1 Photo Raw project, you can go a vote on the next feature you want to be implemented, that’s something I really like and wish other company would do the same.


Exposure 3 seems to be a nice program but “new” solutions like Luminar and ON1 Photo Raw have surpassed them. It doesn’t mean the program is no good, but they have some catch up to do. It looks like the usage of the interface is similar to Luminar by being light and easily accessible, but still trying to bring more feature and functions like ON1 does.


It feels weird having this brand on here, they always seemed to be a gimmick company to me. Though, if you are looking at features, they have it all and even more, except HDR and Pano. The price isn’t too bad and I’m more willing to open my might and look at what they have accomplished. For portraits, they even have frequency separation, the only one on the list to do that as of right now.


Affinity isn’t on the list but they have said they are working on a Lightroom-like program. For those who don’t know that company, they do make Affinity Photo (a Photoshop competitor) and Affinity Designer (an almost Illustrator competitor). I own both and like many others, I just love them! Their program works good, features are amazing, pricing is small and they keep updating the features. So it’s not a program to test, but rather a program to look for when it comes out, which I will test then!

Which one will I test?

I will test what seems to be the most complete of all ON1, the interesting filter based one at a very good price Luminar and finally, I’ll give ACDSee a try since they have lots of features. Among my pictures, I will test 4 of them, one landscape with high dynamic range, one portrait with lots of colors, one in low light and high ISO to manage the noise level and the last one would be a black and white. Come back around the end of winter to see the results of which one would be my next editing software for all my pictures!!!!


  1. Roger Conrad
    Roger Conrad says:

    The only quibble I have is that the licensed version of LR did not have updates every year. On average they only released a new version every year and a half, and it seems that release cycle lengthened after Adobe started the CC product line. The real cost of upgrading the licensed version has been closer to $53 per year since the introduction of LR 1 in 2007.

    • Yael Photography

      Thanks Roger Conrad, I thought that’s want I put for the old lightroom, major release camera around 18-22 month really. So for 3 years, it would be the cost of the full software plus one update. The column of Upgrade, it the cost of the upgrade, then Cycle is how often the upgrades came. Is that what you meant? If so, do you think I should find a better way to clarify my table?

    • Roger Conrad
      Roger Conrad says:

      Sounds good to me. Regardless of annual cost, I like having control of the upgrade cycle/timing, and knowing that even if I choose to delay or even skip an upgrade, I still have full use of the software that I have purchased. Not so with CC.

    • Yael Photography

      Roger Conrad I totally agree with you! that’s what I want too. Though, for ACDSee for some reason the subscription is cheaper, go figure. One think I would have loved to find out is if the upgrade would let you skip a version. For example with On1, buy the 2017, not upgrading to the 2018, but buying the upgrade of 2019.
      I’ll try to update my table so it makes more sense and easier to read. Thank you for your feedback, t’s well appreciated!

  2. Richard Wagner says:

    You made the at least 1 mistake, ACDsee 2018 ultimate is not the only one on your list with Frequency Separation ability, Affinity Photo has this ability as well. 🙂

    • ydefaye says:

      Yes, Affinity Photo provides this solution but it’s more a competitor to Photoshop than Lightroom. As I mention on my blog, Affinity is working on creating a Lightroom competitor. When that comes out, I will add that to the list and test it for sure. I love their software!

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