A List of Free or One-Time Payment Alternatives to Adobe Subscription Programs

A List of Free or One-Time Payment Alternatives to Adobe Subscription Programs

A few years ago, Adobe moved to a subscription model for their Creative Suite, a decision that was fraught with controversy, particularly since many creatives felt it was a money grab. If you prefer to work with software that is either free or that only requires a one-time payment, here are some great alternatives.

Photoshop

GIMP (Mac/Windows/Linux: Free)

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a robust and highly capable image editor that offers a wide array of functionality that covers the needs of the majority of photographers. Features include layers, brushes, channels, filters, automated correction tools, plug-in support, gradients, cropping, noise reduction, and more, all packaged in a fairly standard interface that does not take long to get used to, especially if you are coming from Photoshop. Better yet, because the program is open source and highly popular, there is a huge support community, and development is continually being pushed forward. 

Affinity (Mac/Windows/iPad: $49.99 on Mac and Windows, $19.99 on iPad)

Affinity for iPad is a personal favorite.

I love Affinity. It is everything Photoshop for iPad should have been, and it has been around for longer. In fact, I generally prefer it to Photoshop simply because I love editing on my iPad. The combination of one of the best screens I have ever seen and the Apple Pencil make for a great experience. Affinity comes with all the tools you would expect and lots of advanced features, including a range of selection tools, unlimited layers, dodge and burn, curves, gradient maps, liquify, healing brushes, and way more. 

Luminar 4 (Mac/Windows: $67)

Luminar 4's sky replacement.

Luminar 4 is another favorite of mine. It is less a one-for-one Photoshop replacement than Affinity and GIMP, but depending on the type of editing you do, it could be all you need (or potentially even better suited to your work). It has features like layers, non-destructive editing, standard tonality adjustments, noise reduction, dodge and burn, and more. Its marquee feature, however, is its AI tools, which can be used for portrait work, landscapes, and more. Its AI sky replacement feature is particularly impressive.

PortraitPro 19 (Mac/Windows: Currently $45/$65/$140)

PortraitPro is obviously oriented toward editing portraits, but if that's what you use Photoshop for, it is a great alternative. Like Luminar, it offers AI features, but also gives the user great control over where and how much they are applied. Features include face sculpting, skin retouching, skin lighting, makeup application, eye and hair retouching, and more. The more expensive versions offer increasingly powerful batch-processing capabilities. If you shoot a lot of portraits, it's worth taking a look at, especially for its time-saving potential.

Lightroom

Capture One (Mac/Windows: $299)

Capture One is the choice of a lot of pro photographers, both as a Lightroom and Photoshop replacement. Known for its fantastic color rendering and robust tethering, it also has cataloging and the standard editing tools you would expect, including cloning, healing, sharpening, noise reduction, tonality control, curves, masking, and way more. If you are looking for an industry-standard program, this is the one. You can also buy a version for a specific camera brand for cheaper than the full version. 

RawTherapee (Mac/Windows/Linux: Free)

RawTherapee is a powerful free option, and if you don't need the organizational features of a catalog, it is a great alternative. It offers features like exposure adjustments, curves, advanced highlight recovery, HDR, graduated filter, sharpening and noise reduction, chromatic aberration correction, HSL adjustment, color toning, and more.

darktable (Mac/Windows/Linux: Free)

darktable

If you are used to the Lightroom interface, you will have no trouble feeling at home in darktable. It has a ton of fantastic features, including GPU acceleration, all the standard basic adjustments, curves, advanced toning systems like an Ansel Adams-inspired zone system, color control and correction, sharpening and noise reduction, liquify, spot removal, and more. 

Audition

Audacity (Mac/Windows/Linux: Free)

When the pandemic hit and I had to move all my teaching online, I had my electronic music students learn Audacity. If you are editing audio for your video work, it likely will cover all your needs. It features multi-channel recording, 16-, 24-, and 32-bit support, support for LADSPA, LV2, Nyquist, VST and Audio Unit plug-ins, unlimited sequential undo and redo, fade-in and fade-out controls, pitch and tempo alteration, noise reduction, equalizer and filters, standard effects, and more.

Premiere

DaVinci Resolve 16 (Mac/Windows/Linux: Free)

DaVinci Resolve 16

A popular pick among professionals, DaVinci Resolve features a wide array of capabilities for video work, including standard editing tools, support for HLG, fantastic color correction, audio editing tools, and more. Features like built-in picture-in-picture, image stabilization, dynamic zoom, and GPU acceleration make it an advanced tool sure to fit the needs of lots of users. 

VEGAS Pro Edit 17 (Windows: $399)

While costlier than some other options, VEGAS Pro Edit 17 offers a very complete experience and is used in many professional productions. Such features include stabilization, planar motion tracking, nested timelines, picture-in-picture, multicamera editing, velocity envelopes, automatic crossfades, advanced color grading and matching, LUT export, Boris FX Continuum Lens Flare 3D, mesh warp, advanced transitions, multitrack audio editing, surround sound editing, multicam audio synchronization, GPU acceleration, and much more. It is expensive, yes, but it is a very deep and powerful application.

Olive (Mac/Windows/Linux: Free)

Relatively new to the scene, Olive isn't as fully featured as some other options, but it still offers a fairly complete basic experience. All the normal NLE tools are there, along with some promising features, such as the ability to move and scale elements directly instead of using inputted values and GPU-accelerated previews. One thing to note is that it is still in its alpha stage, so it may not be fully stable. 

KDenlive (Mac/Windows/Linux: Free)

KDenlive has been around a while now and features lots of tools that should satisfy the needs of a wide range of video editors. Such features include multi-track support, wide support of a range of audio and video formats, title tool, a large effects and transitions library, proxy editing, audio and video scopes, keyframes, and more. 

What Are Your Favorites?

Did I miss anything in the article? Tell me about it in the comments! 

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63 Comments

Willy Williams's picture

Aurora HDR 2019 is also a great option for those who use the HDR process. Topaz DeNoise AI is another terrific product for those that have to deal with noise due to high ISO settings.

Rayann Elzein's picture

I have mixed feelings with the Topaz plugins. DeNoise and Sharpen AI created lots of artifacts on half the images I through at them during my trial and for the other half, the results were nowhere near my expectations from looking at their website.

Paul C's picture

And even cooler - Aurora allow you to have a full version of the "last generation" Aurora HDR 2018 for free !

And its not just for HDR - try out the excellent TONE MAPPING part of the system that works on a single image - including some great presets to save time.

Dave Morris's picture

In reality Capture One license (as well as many other standalones) costs more than the Adobe Subscription in a long run. Good software does not write itself. You need a large team of skilled developers, managers, UI/UX guys and other experts to work on it on a constant basis. So let's face it: software development costs money and it's never "one-off".

Malcolm Wright's picture

One often great starting point you haven't mentioned is the software that comes free with your camera from the camera manufacturer.
Then there may even be free software with your printer.

Dave Morris's picture

Lol, indeed! From my experience of having both LR and C1 licenses, and trying every emerging RAW converter out there, you still get what you pay for. And quite often an indie / standalone solution costs more in a long run compared to the Adobe's $10/month.

From my own experience LR is still the best for visual output, consistency between cameras, catalogs and cross-device workflow. Also RNI Films 5 with its film profiles, an understated and often missed tool, only exists for Lightroom, which makes a big difference if you're after classic / timeless colors.

Oh, and don't forget the mobile version, the cloud and other perks of the big ecosystem.

The second best is C1. No iPad version but better color editor, handy export flow, overall faster (but not always) and more punchy visual output straight out of the box.

The rest of the pack - some editors are ok for occasional hobbyist use, but honestly none is yet there compared to the Big Two on either usability, performance, rendering quality, color management or consistency between cameras.

After all each software package has developers behind it working every day on adding new features, fixing bugs and adding support for the new OS versions, cameras and lenses. So you can't just pay once and then keep having every day of their work forever. You will be paying reoccurring fees, in such or another form, for maintenance and development.

Malcolm Wright's picture

It still takes adobe and every other third party software provider sometime to come up with new software tailored to your camera manufacturers latest novel camera, lens or proprietary file format launch.
Whereas your camera manufacturer will give you free software updates for their latest wares as part and parcel of their product development at launch.
That's one of the reasons you're paying $10 per month to adobe, they're playing catch up across all manufacturers ecosystems. First of all they have to match the functionality of the camera manufacturers software for outputs, then they have to try to get those outputs to play nicely with their process flow tools. That's no mean feat.
I find both Canon and Olympus free software to be excellent and no doubt, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Panasonic and the rest will be good. After all they're all trying to give us a better camera/photography/ecosystem experience than their rivals.
One interesting discovery is that Olympus's focus stacking software workflow looks at the lens used and declares it can't perform if you haven't used one of a select few of their Pro lenses. Affinity photo workflow on the other hand just goes ahead and performs the focus stack. Are the results as good as if you had used a supported Pro lens? I would have to buy a supported lens to find out.

Rune Nicolaysen's picture

I use Nikon´s View NX-i, and occasionally Capture NX-D, and find them reilable and very useful for my needs. I believe Canon and maybe a few more camera brands offer similar software. I think at least some of them deserve being mentioned, and it would be interesting to see Alex´ evaluation of how they perform.

Charles J's picture

Alex Cooke do you use any of these programs as primary tools for their functions? Such as professional work delivered to clients?

Wondering if you have completely switched to a program, divorcing yourself from the comparable Adobe application. I think it's great to present these alternatives. Though is it a practical recommendation based on dedicated usage? Or are they programs you've tried and seen potential in while still using Adobe for professional work?

Alex Cooke's picture

Hi Charles, I use Affinity, Luminar, PortraitPro, Capture One, and Audacity on a regular basis.

Rhonald Rose's picture

I had used darktable + gimp combo exclusively for 3 years before switching to C1P and Affinity Pro combo due to my GFX ecosystem.

Charles J's picture

Currently using darktable and GIMP, but I've heard some great things about Affinity. GIMP is serving me well, but if I do switch to another program that'll be the one.

Rhonald Rose's picture

Yep, good piece of software and I bought without subscription.

I wish they ran on Linux, since they do not, I have a MacBook pro 16

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Fyi...The pricing for Capture One Pro (Sony, Nikon, Fujifilm) is $129. All others is $299.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

Just curios if you know why it's so much more for other brands?

Pat Heine's picture

What he meant is it's $129 for single-brand support (Sony-only, Nikon-only, Fujifilm-only). $299 is a license that supports all cameras.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I'm not sure the reasoning why the prices are that way. At least since 2014, there were special pricing for Sony.

Michael Comeau's picture

Final Cut Pro X is a pretty glaring omission. I bought my copy in 2015 and still love it.

Steve Beck's picture

I use On1 Photo and affinity photo.

Adam Peariso's picture

FCPX

Michael Dougherty's picture

I just started using a really neat program called PhotoWorks. It seems pretty powerful and simple.

Marc Vidal's picture

A bit surprised to not see DxO PhotoLab not being listed in the Lightroom alternatives.
In my opinion, it is a serious one. I've been using it for almost a decade (DxO Optics Pro at that time), it's pretty neat.

Paul C's picture

And as a bonus - to get you into the DXO way of thinking, you can usually get a download of the "last generation" DXO Optics Pro" for free from DXO itself. I find its ability to batch process a real time saver when I have multiple images taken in the same light.

Cornelius Mouzenidis's picture

I bet you've also had an article about a Photoworks photo editor that can be a good replacement for the Adobe subscriptions- https://fstoppers.com/originals/automatic-photo-editor-photoworks-refres... I think it is missed from the list now, haha

Michael Dougherty's picture

I mentioned it above. I've gone back and had it auto adjust some of my images I previously processed in Photoshop and it actually made them slightly better. I didn't have to do anything except press one button.

Ben Coyte's picture

Also use On1.

Eric Segarra's picture

Yes, strange that ON1 did not make it to this list, as I consider it one of the best up-and-coming pieces of software out there. It still has its kinks, though, but hopefully they'll address such things as a bit of jerkiness, the fact that masking is not transparent, layers need a slightly better implementation, and better edge selection. I still use it a lot, in spite of these issues, as I consider its overall workflow to be one of the best. They do need to get hot and not let the LR and Luminar combo get too far ahead of them in these areas.

Matthew Lacy's picture

I agree with all of those points.

stuartcarver's picture

I waited for large discounts to Capture one pro 12 Fujifilm and bought it, then when 20 came out I waited again and upgraded to the full pro license for £110, the total cost for the software was £220, I use Affinity as my pixel editor and there is a plugin so you can do a round trip to C1 and back. I didn’t want to pay monthly for software.

Nitin Chandra's picture

ON1 Photo Raw 2020 is probably one of the best alternatives to the LR+PS subscription. It is a curious mix of LR and PS for photographers. Also has a cloud subscription like the Adobe one now (I don't use this though). I made some videos on it earlier and one yesterday just to demonstrate a sky replacement in ON1.

https://youtu.be/k3FxGX579iA

Gabriel Levy's picture

No love for Pixelmator?

Deleted Account's picture

I'm trying out Pixelmator Photo for iPad as an alternative to Lightroom. Gotta say I'm really liking it so far. It's pretty feature packed for the one time price plus free updates.

Chris Jablonski's picture

I cut my teeth on ACDSee when I got my first PC, and have stuck with it as it has grown. I bought Photoshop Elements to give me a taste of the industry standard so I could see if it was worth migrating, but I found the GUI and menus so different that it was more trouble than it was worth.

My ACDSee 2020 has been bug-ridden, and a bit like a new Windows OS - too much detrimental change for change's sake, so I often use the 2019 version unless I want a feature only offered, or better-implemented on the 2020.

Since 2015 I have been printing, and ACDSee has met all my needs. I've generally upgraded, and only been disappointed this year.

What I really like about it is that it's my image file manager and default viewer but I can go into its Develop and Edit modes with any image I'm viewing with ctrl+D or ctrl+E. The former keeps a file with the edits in the same folder, leaving the original intact if needed, while Edit mode is more sophisiticated. I don't know if it's just familiarity, but I find its all-round usefulness handy, for viewing, zooming in, rotating resizing, renaming and easily tweaking Develop mode changes, as well as printing.

I can't really compare with anything else, but see no reason to even investigate others, as it does what I want. As long as the 2021 version doesn't continue some deteriorating trend.

Glen Barrington's picture

I don't know whether to give you a thumbs up or a thumbs down! Up for mentioning ACDSee at all, but down, because I've not encountered any problems with ACDSee Ultimate 2020 what so ever!

I am a bit of a software nerd, I also own copies of Affinity Photo, Corel PSP X8, Luminar 3, Topaz Studio 2, and Olympus Workspace. And I won't even mention all the trials of CaptureOne, DXO, and the freebies.

To tell the truth, I have NOT found anything that can give me all the Dynamic Range my camera is capable of, the way ACDSee can. That Light EQ tool is phenomenal, as is the Pixel targeting.

Chris Jablonski's picture

We're in agreement about the virtues of ACDSee, which has steadily improved over the years.

I'm glad your 2020 is bug-free, Glen. I've run 2019 on four computers without a hitch, but my 2020 freezes, won't show the preview, or just crashes intermittently - all occasionally, but enough for me to contact ACDSee about it. Their after-sales support has been good, but in this case they haven't solved my bugs. Your experience encourages me to keep going.

The change in the sliders having a button you need to hit more precisely with the mouse pointer seems like a change for change's sake - looks nice but makes using them that bit more fiddly, which adds up over time to the annoyance factor for me. Perhaps you like this change - personal preferences vary, and someone thought it was a good idea.

Chris Jablonski's picture

Given your praise of ACDSee, what do you use in practice, Glen? I'm no nerd, and stick with ACDSee because it does all I need.

If you do use other programs or plug-ins as well, I'd be interested to learn why - how they help you with your post-processing to get you desired results.

Nox Vega's picture

Call me crazy, but I like the Photography subscription from Adobe.
I have tried pretty much all editors out there and I like Lightroom CC (cloud version) the best.
It's minimalistic and has everything I need. I add my photos, edit them then copy the good ones on my NAS and the rest I trash.
I don't use any other settings.
Currenly using 1TB Lightroom sub which includes mobile app, but with so many mobile apps out there, I might go back to Photography plan (Lightroom + Photoshop).
Also, constant updates I get straight away for low $12/month for 2 of probably the best editing apps currently is worth it.
But then again, what do I know, I'm a millennial, we eat avocado toasts and will never be able to buy our own house.

Matthew Lacy's picture

I noticed you didn't mention ON1 Photo Raw. Actually, there has been a strange lack of articles on this photoshop alternative on Fstoppers in general.

Nitin Chandra's picture

I already mentioned that and also the fact that ON1 is perhaps the only real alternative to LR+PS for photographers. I am just waiting for some enhancements and fixes to ditch Adobe stuff. ON1 is far better for photographers IMO.

Matthew Lacy's picture

Ah, yes. I didn't read any comments before making my own.

chrisrdi's picture

Switched from Adobe produts to affinity photo, designer, & C1P. I'm so much happier. Mostly because I can work without massive slowdowns kicking my efficiency in the Bawsaq.

Pepperberry Farm's picture

there is also the open-source (and free) LightZone: https://lightzoneproject.org/

Mr. T's picture

As a committed Linux user, I have used GIMP for many years now. It is a rather good photo editor, albeit lacking some of the fancier features of Photoshop. It has become incredibly stable in the latest versions and now supports more than eight bits per channel to even bring the best out of those raw files that previously were “amputated” by the eight bits.

And for the last couple of years or so I have used Darktable to import, sort, cull and keep my photos. I do not like the interface but it gets the job done so I will survive, I am sure.

Malcolm Wright's picture

Depending on which flavour of Linux you're running, you might like Fotoxx, then again you might not.

Jose Pacheco's picture

With Adobe products, you pay a monthly subscription and keep the software updated. With others like Luminar, Portrait Pro and Capture One, you have to upgrade (pay) yearly to newest versions because as soon the new version is out, they stop supporting the old versions meaning that bugs are not fixed and no new cameras or lenses are added. So, at the end of the day it is a matter of choosing either a monthly or a yearly payment.

Nitin Chandra's picture

That is correct. I wonder why most people still say one-time payment and forget the rest!

Malcolm Wright's picture

Affinity photo offers free upgrades as part of its upgrade policy. 6 years and counting so far for Apple users.

Nitin Chandra's picture

Depends on the individual and company. Topaz also had free updates for a while. It costs to build and innovate and expand. The same applies to open source (I have some contributions there)...Unless there is a sponsorship or similar, it will die out gradually. In short, if any company is doling out free updates, be wary since there is always a cost to it.

There is a flip side as well...It also depends largely on the user. If the user has no requirements beyond the current, then, all paid and free are equal and I would always go for free despite, perhaps, a greater learning curve :)

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