Can Photoshop and Lightroom really be beaten at their own game? Find out in our in-depth round-up
The fact is that Adobe’s Photography Plan, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom, is now such a compelling proposition that we can’t ask if Photoshop is any good, but rather if any of its rival programs do enough to tempt people away from what looks like the obvious photo editing choice.
Adobe’s Photography Plan is terrific value for money. For less than £9/$10 per month, you get the respected image manipulation and photo cataloguing programs, plus perpetual free updates and all the advantages of Adobe’s Creative Cloud sharing and mobile tools. But Adobe’s products don’t do everything perfectly, and there are gaps in their features. We’ll prise those gaps open to see if there is room for alternatives.
Can I save some money?
First, are there any programs that achieve the same things for less money? We’ve got a couple of candidates for this, notably Serif Affinity Photo and Corel PaintShop Pro. At less than half the price of an annual Adobe Photography Plan subscription, they deserve a proper look.
Is there something easier?
A common complaint against Photoshop is that it doesn’t appear very user-friendly. In reality, though, once you get to grips with a handful of basic technicalities, it can be more straightforward than so-called ‘beginner’ software. Be that as it may, Photoshop Elements and Corel PaintShop Pro are both designed for non-experts and could well provide novices with an easy route into image editing.
Can I get better quality?
Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop’s RAW engine, is certainly powerful, but its conversions aren’t the sharpest, nor the most noise-free. Two strong rivals here are DxO Optics Pro, which delivers high-quality optical corrections and RAW conversions, and Phase One Capture One Pro, which can produce sharpness and clarity that you may not have realised was possible from your camera.
Vive la difference
Not everyone is a fan of Adobe’s workflow, either. Photoshop relies on you knowing exactly what you want to create and knowing exactly how to do it – whereas many of us would rather browse through a series of different ‘looks’ for our photos, choose one we like and work backwards from that with manual tweaks. Alien Skin Exposure X2, the dark horse in this line-up, is not especially well-known, but it has evolved rapidly from an interesting but specialised analogue effect plug-in into a fast and powerful standalone editing application.
Chalk versus cheese
We’re testing a diverse range of photo editing tools, so we’re comparing some programs that don’t really do the same things. Some are relatively specialised but exceptionally good, while others aren’t necessarily the most powerful but do offer their own unique and rewarding approach. So our ratings are based on how convincing they are as alternatives to Adobe’s Photography Plan.
Not only but also
So can these programs completely replace Adobe’s offerings? Maybe, maybe not. You may find you need two or more programs to cover all the techniques that you want to try, and to suit the way you like to work. It would be nice to say there was a single, perfect solution for everyone, but in your quest for the ultimate photographic quality you may need more than one set of tools.
We’re testing a diverse range of photo editing tools. Our ratings are based on how convincing they are as alternatives to Adobe’s Photography Plan