It has been a week since Adobe’s announcement regarding Lightroom Classic. If you do not already know, you can perform an internet search and learn about all the details and ramifications for users of the standalone version of Lightroom. Initial announcements indicated that the standalone version of Lightroom, now renamed “Lightroom Classic”, will receive no more updates in the future after a last-hurrah update in October. After this, updates will only be for Lightroom CC only. This caused an uproar of displeasure from the photography community. Adobe then changed their stance slightly and announced that they will continue to support Lightroom Classic, though they made no specific statements about exactly what type of updates should users expect. One thing is certain. As Adobe is no longer selling and making money from new versions of standalone LR beyond the current version 6 (Which will be re-branded LR Classic), users should not expect any new features that get introduced in LR CC in the future to find their way into LR Classic. It makes zero sense to continue improving software from which you are not receiving any new revenue. In fact, CC subscription currently (at this time of writing) already has obvious exclusivity in the form of the “dehaze” tool. Indeed, we will be fortunate if LR Classic just continues to be updated to support new cameras, but we really did not receive explicit guarantee of this from Adobe either.
The latest events cause users to ask one pertinent question. How long will it be before Adobe eventually pull the plug on standalone LR? And what are the steps we can take? This article offers some recommendations and alternatives.
The Core Problem Is Not About Adobe Alone
To begin, I want to focus on something very important that not only affects LR users, but users of all brands of DAM and image processing software. This problem has always existed, but people are only just becoming aware of some aspects of it with the LR Classic announcement. This core issue should be addressed before we even start talking about alternatives to LR.
The notion that Adobe is holding our files ransom with their CC subscription model is not 100% true. The reality is that every DAM or image-processing software company holds our files ransom in some way, not only Adobe. If you have been using software X to process your images, your changes are saved in X’s proprietary editing interpretation and format. Trying to switch to software Y immediately gives you a compatibility problem. It does not matter whether the software in question is LR, Capture One, DxO OP, Photo Ninja, On1, or any other alternative. Users are only starting to become aware that they will lose access to their library of EXIF/IPTC metadata and editing changes if they switch away from LR. However this problem has always existed with every brand of software. The moment you want to migrate to an alternative, you start wondering how you are going to transfer all your metadata and changes to the new software.
Answer To The Core Problem
The unique editing changes implemented by one software will never be transferable to another. However, I am going to make an educated guess that most of us do not usually go back to re-process an image after we have finished processing it once. In other words, the damage from losing your editing changes is actually quite limited in real-life. What is catastrophic is if you did not save an actual final version of you image as a separate file. Whenever you finish processing an image in any software, you should always export a lossless TIFF of that image (in ProPhotoRGB if necessary) and save that file. This ensures you always have a copy of your final product. So what if you no longer wish to use the same image processing software anymore? No big deal. You already have a copy of the final image and is unlikely to re-process the same image again anyway. A full-sized TIFF also gives you a lot of flexibility if you really want to make additional adjustments. In addition, you still have the original RAW file if you really want to start from scratch.
An astute reader should immediately infer that this practice also lets you preserve all your EXIF/IPTC metadata. Just export the TIFF file with all metadata embedded! If you want to switch to a new DAM, it can just import the metadata embedded in the TIFF and build a new library. The only metadata you cannot transfer is the metadata you associated with your RAW files. However with just a bit of care organizing your RAW files alongside the TIFF exports, it should be trivial for you to locate the parent RAW file of an exported TIFF.
Now that we have covered the fundamentals of keeping our image files as software-independent as possible, let us consider what we can do in response to Adobe’s decision with standalone LR.
Option: Embrace CC
The first option is to just embrace Adobe’s CC model. 🙂 To some people, it is not an unreasonable model. You only need to perform a simple calculation of ($Z x 12) and decide if you are comfortable with paying that every year. Note that even if you chose an alternative software by another company, they will still charge you a slightly discounted price for new version releases. New versions can get released every year – meaning you are asked to pay for the latest features every year anyway! You have to do your math properly and decide for yourself how the cost and feature set of Adobe CC compare against the alternatives.
Option: Stick to Adobe Classic
If you don’t like Adobe’s ($Z x 12) yearly number, you could just stick with LR Classic for the time being. It still works properly, and until something drastic happens such as Adobe refusing to include RAW support for a new camera you buy in the future, I see no urgency to rush out looking for alternatives. Since every image processing software company knows that users may be looking for an LR alternative, they should be ramping up their efforts to upgrade the DAM capabilities of their respective products. Just wait a while and watch. You could find something that you really like a year or two from now and save yourself a good deal of inconvenience by not rushing into decisions. Personally, I have chosen this option.
Option: Find An Alternative with DAM Capabilities
All right, but what are the good alternatives that provide DAM capabilities? Here comes the list.
Photo Mechanic and ACDSee are great DAMs which easily trounce LR in terms of DAM usability and performance. They don’t offer much in terms of editing capabilities though (Long-time LR users won’t be impressed by ACDSee’s editing capabilities and performance). This is a good choice for users who have already found a RAW processing and image editing alternative and wants to pair it with a full-featured DAM.
Capture One Pro is well-known for the quality of their RAW processing and has been introducing DAM features. I feel their UI and workflow is not as refined as LR’s, but a user might make do with it. C1 is also not cheap, so do your math for the initial purchase and subsequent version upgrade fees. If you are looking for an LR alternative because the price of CC works out to more than what you would have paid for with standalone LR, you won’t see much savings with switching to C1 unless you skip version releases.
Alien Skin Exposure is another good alternative. Recent releases of Exposure is getting more impressive with their feature set and performance, and they have also been building up their DAM capabilities steadily. There are features that LR has which are absent in Exposure. But the same is true vice-versa. The UI is well thought-out and intuitive to use. It also delivers great stability – something that not every competitor can claim! I actively used Exposure in the past, but changes in my preferred RAW processing and editing software moved it out of my workflow. I find it to be a good product that actually works and delivers results. Give the trial a try if you are interested.
That ends my list of recommended alternatives.
What? No mention of On1 Photo? How about Luminar? Corel Aftershot? Others?
Correct. I am not making any more recommendations due to either a complete absence of DAM capabilities (at the time of writing), or concerns about usability and performance. Feel free to try out alternatives I did not list. But the above are really the only software which I am comfortable to recommend after personal testing.
We look forward to next year to see how Adobe’s competition evolve to fill the space that standalone LR has left. Good times for finding something that may be extremely useful and creative, and which may suit you better than the mainstream Adobe products do.