What is the best future photo editing software? This question is much more complicated than it used to be. All the editing tools and photographers’ needs have evolved massively since the days when Photoshop CC was the only professional choice.
Nowadays, there are plenty of Photoshop and Lightroom alternatives that bring very different and innovative tools, styles, effects, and possibilities for interested photographers. You have every variation of toolsets available in the market.
We still put Photoshop at the top of our list, simply because of its brand, and it’s the tool most used by professionals and the best-known software tool by far.
But Photoshop is pretty limited in its approach, and Adobe’s subscription-based software plans for Photoshop and Lightroom are not popular with everyone, even now. It requires a hefty amount to work with that. Photoshop might still be the best at what it does, but what it does may not be what you want!
Phase One Capture One Pro 20
Capture One works both as a tethered capture and editing tool for studio photographers with a ‘sessions’ based workflow. It also works as a Lightroom-style image cataloging, searching, and non-destructive editing tool.
It works in a single-window interface rather than the Lightroom-style ‘modules’ and it has a highly customizable set of ‘tool tabs’ which makes it easier for professionals to adjust the tools according to their needs.
One of the key differences between Lightroom and Capture One is its layers-based local adjustment system which makes it much easier to see and edit your changes to your work. This now includes ‘parametric’ linear and radial gradient masks which you can edit later.
Capture One’s conversions look smoother and sharper than Lightroom’s, and Phase One’s new co-operative arrangement with Fujifilm means it can produce arguably the best Fujifilm processing you’ll see and also recreate Fujifilm’s Film Simulation modes. Version 20 brings improved color editing and high dynamic range tools.
You can buy a regular perpetual license, or choose a monthly subscription.
ON1 Photo RAW 2020
ON1 Photo RAW is perhaps the single most compatible solution of all the programs here.
Most surprisingly, the 2020 version brings a host of improvements, including:
- AI auto adjustment.
- AI match options.
- Four new ‘weather’ filter effects.
- New effects preset.
- An optional ON1 360 subscription service for Adobe style image sharing and synchronization with mobile devices.
ON1 Photo RAW 2020 has a built-in hybrid browsing and cataloging module which gives you a fuss-free environment for exploring your image folders but more powerful search tools if you need them.
It has an Edit module with Develop, Effects, Portrait, and Local (adjustment) panels. The Effects module alone has a vast variety of filters that can be adjusted, masked, and combined in an infinite array of permutations and combinations. This opens up the possibility of a vast variety of outcomes.
It pulls off a particularly amazing trick, incorporating layers, masking, and compositing tools into its fully non-destructive workflow. ON1 Photo RAW 2020 might not be as well-known as some rivals, but it’s worth any keen photographer taking a look, especially with its fresh, crisp, and modern new interface. Even if you are a beginner, it is worth trying once.
DxO Nik Collection 3
The DxO Nik Collection is the latest version of the celebrated Nik suite. If you are not familiar with it, you should definitely try it. It is thoroughly updated here to include a new workflow and a new tool.
The Nik Collection includes some quite superb and individually powerful creative tools:
- Analog Efex Pro is brilliant at analog/darkroom effects.
- Color Efex Pro is a hugely powerful suite of filters for individual use or combined into ‘recipes’.
- Silver Efex Pro remains the best digital black and white plug-in ever.
- Viveza is really good and extremely purposeful for ‘dodging and burning’ color images.
- HDR Efex Pro is pretty handy as an HDR merging/effects tool.
- Sharpener Pro and Dfine feel pretty dated now, they can still be useful for output sharpening and noise reduction respectively.
The big news is the arrival of Perspective Efex, which offers you powerful lens and perspective corrections, tilt-shift effects, and advanced wide-angle distortion correction. These are some advanced features you won’t get in normal photo editing software. You definitely should try this out.
DxO Photolab 3
DxO PhotoLab is the replacement for the old DxO Optics Pro. The programmers have added some new local adjustment tools from DxO’s acquisition of the Nik Collection software to make it a more powerful all-around photo-editing solution.
You can use the new PhotoLibrary window to browse through your image gallery folders. You can also create Projects and carry out basic filtering and housekeeping tasks.
PhotoLab’s real strength is:
- It’s superb raw processing.
- Amazingly effective PRIME denoise tool (Elite edition only).
- Excellent local image adjustments.
- Highly effective (and automatic) lens corrections.
The image quality produced by PhotoLab is second to none. On the downside, you’ll need a more expensive Elite edition to get the PRIME denoise and DxO’s ClearView Plus feature. If you want to apply perspective corrections (once built into Optics Pro) you’ll need the DxO ViewPoint plug-in.
Exposure Software 5
As ON1 Photo RAW 2020, Exposure X5 is a relatively little-known program that deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. In layman’s terms, it is underrated. People should definitely know about it, but it couldn’t gain much traction.
It’s subtle but powerful and efficient at the same time. An all-in-one photo editing and browsing tool that specializes in analog film effects. It comes with a huge library of simple one-click preset effects. You can entirely turn the look of your image in just a matter of seconds, perhaps a few clicks.
It doesn’t offer image layers, so you can’t combine photos, but for many photographers that won’t matter. Exposure X5’s strengths are its neat, simpler interface which makes it more admirable to work with, some beautiful effects and presets, and straightforward and effective tools.
As ON1 Photo RAW 2020, it also offers non-destructive adjustments and ‘virtual copies’ to try out lots of different looks for a single image without having to save additional files.
Adobe Photoshop Elements
So far, every program in this list has been a stellar performer perfect for its own particular audience. Photoshop Elements, however, is harder to recommend for photo enthusiasts and professionals. It is rather recommended for amateurs and beginners who are just starting to explore the field of image editing.
Targeted very accurately at family ‘memory keepers’. It is very much the ‘amateur’ version of Photoshop for photographers still learning the basics. Photoshop Elements 2020 is actually two programs, not one.
It consists of the Elements Organiser and the Elements Editor, which do work together but can also work as standalone programs. You can use them according to your requirements.
As the name suggests, the Organiser can browse your photos folder by folder, but it also offers albums for bringing your photos together ‘virtually’ and Smart Tags which identify common subjects automatically, saving on time.
From the Organiser, you can open images directly in the Editor, which has:
- An eLive mode for inspiration and tutorials,
- A Quick mode for fast and simple effects,
- A Guided mode with an ever-expanding list of effects walkthroughs, and an Expert mode with the full range of tools.
The Guided mode is a good idea and the 2020 version adds to the list of effects, but many of these effects look crude and dated, while the Expert mode has hardly moved on at all. It feels like Elements is just treading water these days, as it’s overtaken by fresher, faster, and trendier rivals.
Affinity Photo 1.8
It gives you the old-school feeling of Photoshop that people want, but subscription-free, via a single extra-low payment fee.
Affinity Photo is sold at a budget price point, but it has the tools and the features and the power to compete with Photoshop head-on. This software has focused particularly heavily on the retouching market.
It has got some amazing features like:
- Retouching tools,
- An Inpainting tool for automatic object removal
- A dedicated Liquify persona (workspace) for localized image distortion effects.
Affinity Photo is an extremely powerful photo editor with more tools and features than there’s space to list here, from focus stacking to high-end frequency separation – and version 1.8 is a free update for existing users that brings another raft of improvements.
Every photographer has their own requirements. Read the review and you will get to know if it suits your needs. Comment your opinion about the review down in the comment box!