Leaving Lightroom

Leaving Lightroom

I’m not a fan of software rental. There, I’ve said it. I must, however, qualify that statement. There is, of course, room – and even a necessity – for software as a service (SAAS). When data must be collected into a central repository—and that data needs to be accessed from anywhere—then the obvious solution is a cloud-based system. Traditionally, this has been the realm of SAAS, or subscription-based services.

However, there has been a move in recent years to move regular desktop-based applications into the SAAS world. I’m talking about those application which you used to purchase once, install on your system, and use until you either decided to upgrade them yourself, or operating system changes made them unusable. In short, desktop applications.

I can see why companies like this model. Who wouldn’t want a monthly semi-guaranteed income? However, is this model really the best for the consumer?

One of the major companies leading this push into subscription-based applications is Adobe. Now, I’m the first to admit that they make some great applications for image management and processing. However, when they announced that—from Lightroom 6—they would no longer be offering standalone applications, and would be moving over to the subscription model, I knew my days with Adobe were numbered. There are enough people reaching into my digital wallet every month. I really don’t want another.

Since Adobe’s change to “software rental”, I’ve been muddling along with my old version of Lightroom (version 5). I knew the day would come when it would stop working. I also knew that when that day came, I would be faced with the unenviable task of moving twenty years’ worth of photographs into a new system. With the coming of MacOS Catalina—which no longer supported 32-bit applications—that day had arrived.

This post outlines the processes and research I did to arrive at my new system for photo management and processing, in the hope that others facing the same journey may benefit. This post outlines my Journey from Lightroom.


Having gone through this journey, I came up with a set of requirements which would satisfy my needs:

There are two main facets of a photographer’s requirements: Cataloguing and image processing. For cataloguing, we employ an application called a Digital Asset Manager or DAM. For image processing there is wealth of software available, both as purchased options, or open-source.

I came to the conclusion that it would be wise to try to keep these two things separate. Once you have a working DAM, you can stick with it for a very long time. Advances in image processing applications mean that you’re likely to change that more often. Wouldn’t it be a shame to feel the need to ditch a DAM which is working well for you because you want the capabilities of that nice new image manipulation application?

Meta Data

All that information you create about an image, such as the keywords and ratings, are called meta data. Meta data can be stored in various places, depending on the file type you’re dealing with. With JPG files, much is stored inside the file itself. With RAW files from your camera, it is often not possible (or even advisable) to store this inside the file itself. This is where the database that applications like Lightroom use come into play. However, there is another system, called Sidecar Files.

Sidecar files are small text files which accompany the images files they’re referencing. These files can hold any information you would like about the image file. They have the same file name as the file they’re referencing, and are suffixed with the extension: .xmp. Crucially, virtually every DAM has the ability to read from—and write to—these sidecar files. This, then, became a requirement on my shopping list. The DAM I chose had to work well with sidecar files.

Additionally, I decided that I wasn’t keen on the idea of importing my images into the application. With many DAMs—including Lightroom—you must import your files into the application. If you don’t specifically import them into the application, then Lightroom doesn’t know they exist. While this works well for many, I found that there were many files which I had omitted to import into Lightroom over the years, then forgot about them. The poor things languished in the darker recesses of my computer—never getting any love.

We already all have a catalog for our photographs. It’s called a file system. Wouldn’t it be nice if the application merely read the file system to find your images? No importing required. Fortunately, there are many which do.

Getting Your Data from Lightroom

Click here to skip to software comparisons

First, however, I had to get as much data from out of Lightroom’s clutches as possible. I knew that I would lose all the edits I had done over the years to my photographs, because Lightroom’s image processing is proprietary. While it is possible to store the edits in the sidecar files, it would be of little use since only Lightroom can work well with that information.

So, as a first measure, I set about making a full-sized TIFF image of all the files which I have ever edited inside Lightroom. Fortunately, Lightroom has a way to find all the files which you have ever edited, using the power of Smart Collections.

On the left of the Lightroom interface, click the “+” button at the top of the “Collections” section, and select: “Create Smart Collection…".

In the resulting dialogue, you will find an entry, under “Develop” which is called: “Has adjustments”. Select this, leave the criteria selection as “true”, and press the “Create” button.

Having created this smart collection, you can use the regular export facilities of Lightroom to export to fill-size TIFF images. This ensures that you will at least have a reference image to show what the image looked like after processing in Lightroom. Now we’re ready to create the sidecar files.

Creating Sidecar Files

Lightroom also has the ability to create sidecar files, but it’s not enabled by default. You have to enable the setting: “Automatically write changes into XMP”, which is found in the catalog settings dialogue:

Go to the “All Photographs” section of your catalog:

Now, select everything by holding down Cmd (or Control) and press “A”.

Right-click on any of the files, and select “Metadata -> Save Metadata to Files”.

That’s it. This operation may take a while—depending on how many photographs you have in your collection. Lightroom will create a corresponding sidecar file, which should contain all of your keywords, ratings, etc. for each file.

Exporting Keywords

You may wish to export your keywords from Lightroom as a list. This may come in handy if the DAM you decide on has the ability to import keywords. Many, though, will compile the keywords list on their own after reading the files. There’s no harm in having the list at hand, though.

Exporting your keywords from Lightroom is a simple task. Simply select the “Metadata” menu, and select “Export Keywords…":

That’s it. You probably now have all the data you can retrieve from Lightroom. You’re now ready to start investigating alternatives.

So Many DAM Alternatives

In this section, I’ll outline the alternatives which I investigated, together with pros/cons and my thoughts as they related to my criteria. As I stated earlier, I would prefer to keep the DAM and the image processing parts separate, but some of the alternatives I investigated offered both—with varying degrees of ability. I’ll state here that I didn’t find anything which did both DAM and image processing to my satisfaction. Some were great DAMs, but performed poorly when it came to image processing. Others, the reverse.

May main criteria for a replacement image management app was fast and efficient keywording, followed by search facility. With tens of thousands of photographs having the ability to find what you’re looking for is paramount. Therefore, the task of adding those keywords needs to be as painless as possible.

Apple Photos (Mac)

Current Price: Free

This was a huge disappointment for me. I really wanted to like this. I even imported my entire collection into it, but finally deleted it all.

People who have experienced iTunes know that Apple likes to take control of your files, and do an efficient job of hiding their locations from you. Sadly, Apple Photos seems to come from the same stable.

If you import the photos in the regular way, a complete copy of your images is stored inside the photos library. This doubles the size of your photo collection. That was not going to work for me! There is a way to reference files, rather than import them. This leaves them in their original location. However, I found that the photos libraries still grew at an alarming rate. Further, even if you reference them, Apple photos does a fairly efficient job of hiding their locations from you. Don’t expect to see the equivalent of a file browser inside Apple Photos.

The image processing is quite capable. It is rudimentary, but that is OK. I’m quite happy with a DAM which offers basic image editing for those quick jobs. I can switch over to a more capable editor for any heavy-lifting jobs.

It falls down when it comes to keywording. You can add keywords, and it even offers a keyword Keyword Manager. However, those data are stored inside the database only. Supposedly, Apple Photos writes to its own kind of sidecar file (.AAE), but it seems that it will only do so when exporting an original file that has been edited, and that has been imported with an AAE sidecar file from an iOS device. In other words, any keywords you assign will likely be trapped inside Apple photos for good.

There is also no way to rate your photos within Apple Photos, or add colour labels.

My impression is that Apple Photos makes a decent system for the casual shooter, or someone who takes a lot of photos with their phone. It isn’t the right job for a more serious photographer, or even a keen amateur, in my opinion.



Adobe Bridge (Mac and Windows)

Current Price: Free

Adobe Bridge is a serious contender. Although it is part of the Adobe world, it is possible to use it without having a “Creative Cloud” subscription. This does mean that you have to have an Adobe account, and be running the Creative Cloud software on your computer, but it is available for free.

Bridge is purely a DAM. It has no editing facilities (unless you have Adobe Camera RAW, which requires a Creative Cloud subscription). However, it does hand off well to your editing application—or applications—of choice.

Firstly, Adobe Bridge does keywording well. When going through your photos, you are presented with a list of your keywords on the right. Rather than having to scroll through this list, you can begin to type the keyword you’re looking for, and it will be highlighted in the list. If the keyword doesn’t exist, it is created. This is the efficient way to do things. I currently have something like six hundred keywords. Scrolling through a list to find the one I want is not going to work for me. Adobe Bridge solves this problem well.

Bridge abounds with keyboard shortcuts to add ratings and colour labels to your images. Equally, changing views, or seeing large previews of your images is easily achieved with keyboard shortcuts. Once you get used to those shortcuts, the whole culling and rating process would be very efficient.

Talking of culling, Bridge has a great interface to preview, cull and rate your photos. Having selected a range of photos, you can bring up a carousel display of the images. You can rotate around this carousel using the left and right arrow keys. With keyboard shortcuts, it’s easy to add ratings and labels. Hitting the down arrow will drop the selected photograph out of the carousel. When you have finished, the photos left in the carousel are automatically selected once you return to the thumbnail view. This is a very slick way to cull, rate and select your images.

You don’t have to specifically import your photos into Bridge. It finds the photos automatically in your file system, and will write any metadata into the files—if possible—or into sidecar files if not. This is important for future-proofing. Your metadata is not hidden inside a proprietary database, and most Digital Asset Managers can read information from sidecar files.

One thing to note about the sidecar files is that Adobe creates the filenames thus: [FileName].xmp. Many other DAMs use the format: [FileName].[Ext].xmp. So, for instance, a file from your camera called: “IMG_0072.nef” will generate the sidecar file: “IMG_0072.xmp” from Adobe, but some other DAMs will generate (and be looking for): “IMG_0072.nef.xmp”. In my testing, I have found that most DAMs will read the sidecar files from Adobe format, and will import the keywords, ratings, etc. even if they later write the information to the latter format file name.

Searching is only OK, I found. It is possible to find images quickly in the quick search field by entering a full or partial file name or keyword. I found that combining keywords doesn’t work in the quick search, as it does in other DAMs I tested. There is an “Advanced Search” facility, which takes things a little further, although I did still find circumstances where the file simply couldn’t be found without a combination of searching and then filtering.

Adobe Bridge is often recommended to people looking for a DAM, and with good reason. I found it to be efficient and easy to use.



XNViewMP (Mac Windows and Linux)

Current Price: Free for non-commercial. €29/$34 if used in a company.

XNViewMP is a software package released as freeware for non-commercial use. It is based on open-source libraries.

Like Adobe Bridge, XNViewMP doesn’t require you to import the images into the application. Pointing it towards directories on your computer is all that is needed. The application will then index the images it finds, place the information into its database, and create sidecar files.

I found XNViewMP to be very useful. Indeed, this is the application I used to make sure that all my images had appropriate keywords. Like Adobe Bridge, the mechanism for adding keywords is easy. In fact, it goes a little further than Bridge in that it will even suggest keywords for you, which can be conveniently added by just one click. XNViewMP calls keywords “categories”.

Ratings, colour labels and picks/rejects can be easily added with keyboard shortcuts.

Searching isn’t as slick and easy as in Apple Photos or Adobe Bridge, but everything can be found eventually, and searches can be saved for faster access next time.

Not being an application from the likes of Apple or Adobe, XNViewMP is not as slick, and I found it crashed on me a few times. However, none of these crashes harmed any data.

Image viewing with XNViewMP is very fast as I believe it uses the embedded JPG found within RAW files, rather than generating its own.



DigiKam (Linux, Mac and Windows)

Current Price: Free

Digikam is an open-source application, which has been the go-to photo application for Linux users for many years. It is an extremely powerful application. It is also available for Mac and Windows. Initially, I was put off by the somewhat busy interface, but I have grown to appreciate its power.

It is not necessary to import your photos into Digikam. Merely point it to your base photo directory (or directories) and it will index your files. It reads from—and writes to—sidecar files. I found it did a good job of finding metadata inside pre-existing sidecar files, and imported all the keywords and ratings perfectly.

Like all good DAMs, most every action can be instigated by keyboard shortcuts. There are myriad options for finding your files, including searching filename and keyword tags, filtering by tags, ratings and labels, and a rudimentary people search like Apple Photos, where it will attempt to recognise people’s faces in photos and assign their name.

Scrolling through the photos is extremely fast, and keywording is made simple by keyword search and auto-complete. Finding those images again is made possible by a comprehensive search facility which includes the ability to save your searches.

Digikam also has comprehensive facilities for batch processing. Overall, there is little that can’t be done with Digikam. This power comes at the price of a steeper learning curve. It is definitely worth the time invested, though.

Digikam has rudimentary image processing facilities, but this is where things started to lose their lustre. I find the image processing to be rudimentary and extremely—excruciatingly—slow. The image processing side of Digikam is presented as a separate application, and that suits me fine. I’ll keep it as far separate as possible. It’s horrible. It’s a testament to the power and utility of Digikam as a DAM that it’s more than worth using it just for the digital asset management side of things, and using another application for any image processing.

I have had quite a few crashes using Digikam on Mac, but nothing that loses any work. After all, it isn’t actually touching your original files anyway.

Overall, I found Digikam to be one that I keep going back to. Invest a little time in learning the DAM side of things, and I think most people would be very happy.



Darktable (Linux, Mac and Windows)

Current Price: Free

Darktable is another application which hails from the Linux world. In many ways, I found it to be the opposite of Digikam: the Digital Asset Management side leaves much to be desired, but the image processing is surprisingly good. To be fair, I think that this is natural, as Digikam’s primary focus is asset management, while Darktable’s is image processing.

Don’t expect to find a file browser-like interface within Darktable. Don’t even expect to find a menu! The interface will not seem familiar to anyone used to Windows or Mac. However, read on. Darktable offers a reward for your patience!

All images must first be imported into what Darktable calls “film rolls”. Although it does read metadata from inside existing sidecar files, and successfully imports the same into its database, finding those images again is somewhat convoluted, and not at all intuitive.

Image tagging and keywording within Darktable is easy enough. Keyboard shortcuts abound, and I was pleased to find that you’re not left scrolling through a huge list to find the keyword you’re looking for. Search and auto-complete helps here.

If you manage to get through the initial shock at the unfamiliar interface and find yourself at the image processing section (which Darktable calls the “Darkroom”), you may be pleasantly surprised. I found Darktable to do an excellent job of image processing. Indeed, some images which I processed in well-known commercial applications, such as Lightroom, Affinity Photo, DxO and others came out better in Darktable! The end result often seemed more natural.

There is a learning curve to the image processing in Darktable. Most of the regular adjustments are found in slider controls just like other applications. Darktable does offer more power than rudimentary processing applications though, and it is here where YouTube will be your friend. For instance, masking is possible in Darktable, but probably not in the way you are used to. Some perseverance may show you that their method of using a combination of drawn masks and “Parametric Masks” can be surprisingly powerful… just different.

Darktable is a non-destructive editor. Like Adobe Lightroom, it doesn’t touch the original files. Any edits you make are stored in its own database and, optionally, within sidecar files. This is a definite advantage.

Personally, I found myself using Darktable just for its image processing capabilities. There are more intuitive offerings for Digital Asset Management, and it is a simple matter to hand the files over to Darktable once the file has been found. Incidentally, if you find an image elsewhere and “open with Darktable”, the image is automatically imported into Darktable, so you can use it as a standalone editor while never having to navigate its arcane file-management methodology.



ACDSee Photo Studio 6 for Mac

Current Price: $149.98. Currently discounted to: $39.95.

ACDSee is better known for producing photo software for Windows. In recent times, they have started producing software for Mac.

ACDSee promises to do a decent job of both Digital Asset Management and image processing. Being a commercial application, the interface is more polished, and the image processing is quite good. It is certainly good enough for the basic adjustments which most people would wish to do with their images. For anything more involved—such as healing/cloning or sky replacement, you will need something more powerful.

Aside from the regular basic adjustments such as exposure, white balance, saturation, etc., the only other functions are some perspective adjustment and red eye removal. This is fine for me, as I was expecting to use other software for the heavy tasks, but it would be handy to do basic adjustments in the same application used for Digital Asset Management.

Unfortunately, although import and file selection/searching worked well, it is lacking when it comes to keywording. ACDSee did import my keywords from the sidecar files, but it put them into what it calls “Categories”, rather than the keywords section. When I added keywords to the file in ACDSee, it did indeed export them in a sidecar file, but other software seemed unable to find them. Possibly because they were put into a section specific to ACDSee. There may be a way to get this to behave differently, but I investigated no further, because there is a bigger problem to deal with.

With something like 600 keywords across my 20,000 files, it is crucial that I can find those keywords quickly when I wish to assign some of them to other photos. Applications such as Adobe Bridge and Digikam allow you to start typing the keyword, and it will find the matching keyword in the list. There is no such facility in ACDSee Photo Studio 6 for Mac. Endlessly scrolling through these 600 keywords to find the one I want, then doing it again to find the next is just not going to work for me.

Overall, ACDSee Photo Studio was a disappointment for me. Although the image processing is more than adequate, and the searching seems to work very well, the difficulty in adding keywords lets it down at the last hurdle. Onward!



Movavi Photo Manager

Current Price: $39.95

It really didn’t take me long to dismiss Movavi Photo Manager. Upon import of some photos, none of my keywords or ratings were imported from the sidecar files, or image EXIF data. Adding keywords would prove to be a laborious process, as there is no search facility. You’re down to scrolling endlessly through that long list.

The interface is pleasing enough, and there looks to be minimal processing and export facility. It promises to have a duplicate image finder, and the ability to recognise faces, like Apple Photos, but I didn’t test that as it was obvious this application was not going to be suitable for me.

DxO PhotoLab 3

Current Price: $129. $199 with the useful parts.

I had used DxO products some years before for image manipulation, and remember getting good results.

For somebody looking for the nearest replacement for Lightroom, this would be it, I feel. It has capable DAM capabilities, and good image processing functions.

The image processing side of things is quite comprehensive. Aside from the regular RAW processing and adjustments, such as exposure, saturation, white balance, sharpening, etc., it also has some useful “quick fix” settings, and a novel way for local adjustments with things that resemble masks. It is not a Photoshop or Affinity Photo replacement, but very capable nonetheless. Crucially, I feel that it produces good, natural looking images.

However, just as with every other piece of software I have talked about so far, there is a problem. Again, this problem is in cataloguing, rating and keywording.

Upon import, I found that it did successfully retrieve my keywords and ratings from the sidecar files. I also found that the way to add keywords is efficient in that it allows searching of existing keywords without having to scroll the list. There is the ability to get DxO PhotoLab 3 to write sidecar files. So far, so good! However… it doesn’t write XMP sidecar files. Ooh. So close, but no cigar!

DxO Photolab 3 writes files with a “.dop” extension. Looking into the file, I see that it is not XML data—as in XMP files—but what looks to me like JSON data. So it wouldn’t even be possible to simply rename the file. Further, it doesn’t write your keywords or ratings into the sidecar file. The file appears to only hold their own image processing data. This means that any time you spend keywording, rating and tagging will be forever stuck inside the database, with no clear way to get that information out again. This is, in fact, a worse situation than was experienced with Lightroom. Lightroom at least allows you to export keywords, tags and ratings into XMP sidecar files.

When you leave Lightroom, you lose all your image edits. When you leave DxO PhotoLab, you will lose all your edits and all your keywords and ratings. This is definitely not future-proof.

For people who aren’t bothered about their metadata, or who think that they will stick with DxO for as long as they are around, they may take the plunge. For me, I refuse to surrender my meta data, to be forever locked into a proprietary database, and pay handsomely for the privilege. DxO PhotoLab 3 is not exactly cheap.



Affinity Photo (Mac, Windows and iPad)

Current Price: $49 for desktop, $19 for iOS.

If Abobe going to the subscription model is the disease, Affinity Photo is the cure. There is no subscription model, and the full-featured application is available at a one-time purchase price of $49. The iPad version is $19.

At time of writing, I have been using Affinity Photo for a couple of years. This was one of the first applications I investigated upon Adobe’s announcement.

Affinity Photo is an extremely powerful application. More than a basic processor/RAW image converter, it has many powerful tools which rival or equal the utility of Adobe Photoshop.

For the last couple of years, Affinity Photo has been my go-to application when I need to do some “heavy-hitting” photo manipulation. It looks like this is unlikely to change. Cloning, healing, merging, etc. are all available. In short, I have yet to find anything that I desired to do to a photograph which wasn’t possible inside Affinity Photo. It truly is a powerful application, and getting better all the time.

There are no DAM/Cataloguing facilities inside Affinity Photo. It is purely an image manipulation application. You simply open the image, make your adjustments and edits, and export to many formats and/or save to Affinity’s proprietary format.

Over the time that I have been using Affinity Photo, I have only found two negatives, the first being minor, and the second having more of an impact. The Shadows/Highlights adjustment doesn’t do a good job, in my opinion. Any attempt at adjusting highlights or shadows results in a cloudy, flat image. This can be mitigated by using curves, or even doing basic RAW processing in another application, and using Affinity for the more intensive manipulations at which it excels.

The second negative is to do with file sizes. Unlike Lightroom, Darktable, DxO, and many other applications, Affinity Photo is not a non-destructive editor in the sense that edits aren’t saved in a database, or in a sidecar file. You make your edits, and either export to a final image format or save to Affinity’s proprietary format if you think you may wish to return to those edits later. Affinity Photo’s standard file format can be huge. It is not uncommon to open a RAW image in Affinity Photo, perform the most trivial adjustments, and find that when you save the file to its own format (so that you can open again later for further edits), the resultant file can be ten times the size of the original RAW file!

This doesn’t happen every time, and often they are nowhere near that large, but it is a significant factor when storage space may be at a premium. Storage space is cheap enough nowadays, but I perform all of my work on a MacBook Pro with a 1Tb internal drive. For this reason, I often find myself editing an image inside Affinity Photo, and—unless I really think I’m likely to want to edit those changes later—forgoing saving to Affinity’s format, and simply exporting the file as a jpg/tiff, etc.

Aside from this slight negative, Affinity Photo is extremely powerful and a real bargain at the price.



Aftershot Pro 3 (Linux, Mac Windows)

Current Price: $79.99. Currently discounted to $43.99.

On the face of it, Aftershot Pro promises to be a decent Lightroom replacement. It has both DAM and image manipulation facilities. A nice touch is that you can choose to either load your photos from the file manager, or import them into the Aftershot catalogue, or even a combination of the two.

Aftershot Pro is a non-destructive editor which writes and reads keywords and edits to sidecar files.

For me, however, two things let it down. Firstly, it has the perennial issue of inefficient keywording. I could find no way to import keyword sets, and when entering keywords, it doesn’t search for existing keywords as you type. You’re down to entering the full keyword every time, and hope that you’re spelling it the same way as you did before, or scrolling through a long list to get to the keyword you want.

However, this isn’t the only thing that let it down for me. I wasn’t happy with the results of my test image processing. Of course, this is very subjective, and many people may be very happy with the results. For me, however, the images started to look over-processed, with noticeable artefacts around fine details, such as leaves or branches.

Aftershot Pro 3 is reasonably-priced ($80, but often offered at a discount). However, I feel there are better alternatives for around the same money.



On1 PhotoRaw 2020 (Mac, Windows)

Current Price: $99.99. Currently discounted to: $69.99.

On1 PhotoRaw is a popular Lightroom replacement, for good reason. It is an extremely comprehensive raw converter and image processing application. It also promises to do a good job of photo management with its built-in DAM facilities.

I was impressed with On1’s abilities with RAW development and image processing. There is a fair learning curve, which is natural given the breadth of the application, but I found it produced largely pleasing results, and was extremely capable. This is far more than a mere RAW developer.

It is also a non-destructive editor. The original RAW file is never touched, and all edits and metadata are stored in sidecar files. Nice.

It did tax my computer more than any other of the applications I have looked at here. I have read complaints about memory usage, and this was borne out by how quickly the fan on my Macbook Pro went—and stayed—on full speed.

Initially, I was disappointed to find that the sidecar files which On1 writes are non-standard “.on1” files. These files contain just the data on the adjustments you have made to the image, and no metadata such as keywords, ratings, etc. I have since found that it also writes standard “.xmp” files, which does contain this information. This was a welcome discovery, although it seems that it doesn’t write these files until you actually edit a photograph. However, should you need to switch to another application, it seems that you could select all of your photos and select “Embed Metadata” from the menu system.

Overall, this seems to the the one application which is nearest to an all-in-one Lightroom replacement. If you (and your computers) can deal with how resource-intensive the application is, it seems like a very good option at a very reasonable price.



Capture One Pro (Mac and Windows)

Current Price: $299 to $941.

For many people who don’t use Lightroom, Capture One Pro is the de-facto choice. It is indeed a very good quality, and full-featured, RAW processor and image processing application. Aside from basic adjustments, it features limitless adjustments layers and instant “styles” to choose from.

Capture One Pro also serves well as a DAM. It allows all the regular ratings, colour-coding and keywording facilities. Keyword entry is fast, as it searches existing keywords as you type. Crucially, it also writes to—and reads from—standard .xmp sidecar files.

So, this should be the perfect solution, yes? Indeed. Except for the price. Out of all the options listed so far, Capture One Pro is the most expensive—by a wide margin. A perpetual license ranges from $299 to $941 at time of writing. They also provide versions which only work with files from individual camera makes. These versions are currently priced between $129 and $601. Capture one also offers various subscription license options, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to get away from here.



Camera Makers’ Free Software

Currently, I use both Nikon and Sony cameras. Like most manufacturers, these both offer free photo editing software. In the case of Nikon, it is Capture NX-D. Sony offers a limited version of the excellent software: Capture One. Both of these do a good job of raw conversion and basic image processing. It is worth keeping these available.

Although both of these packages offer some DAM capabilities, they only work with their own image formats. They don’t even show RAW formats from other manufacturers, so neither could serve to manage my photo library. They are definitely worth keeping around, though. I have a nagging suspicion that the camera manufacturers are the people best positioned to write software to process their own RAW files—whether that suspicion is borne out in reality or not.



Runners Up

After testing many different software packages, I’m surprised at which ones turned out to be the best for me. Both were free, open-source software packages.

For DAM functions, importing, tagging, keywording, rating and searching, I found nothing does as good a job as Digikam. I find it to be fast, reliable and easy to use. Sadly, the image processing side of things (at least on Mac) is horrendous.

For regular image processing, Darktable produces excellent results. Often, I found these results even better than the fully commercial offerings. The interface is somewhat arcane, and there is a relatively steep learning curve. However, the price is good (free), and what matters the most are the results obtained. Also, Darktable is a non-destructive editor, and writes and reads standard .xmp files.

To be honest, I’m biased towards Affinity Photo simply because I have already been using it for some years. Of course, this was a decision made from previous testing of many other alternatives. Despite the large file size, and currently poor highlights/shadows adjustment, it is an extremely powerful tool for the times when nothing but Photoshop-like power will do.

So, I have managed to migrate from Adobe Lightroom. I have investigated myriad options and settled on a workflow which suits me well, and the best thing: it hasn’t cost me a penny!

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