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Best photo manager software 2018: The best programs for professionals and beginners, from Lightroom to Photolab

When shopping for a photo management and editing software, you really have only two options: pay for an Adobe subscription, or seek out a cheaper, albeit less competent, rival. Luckily for you, we have tried them all; you just need to read our roundup to decide which one is best for you. This list should cater for any budget, with the cheapest software going for GBP40 (a one off payment) while the most expensive packages cost around GBP120 per year.

READ NEXT: How to buy the best camera lens for your SLR or compact camera Some of these photo management programs are easier to operate than others; beginners and less technical users may struggle to get used to the wide array of features found on more advanced programs, which is why we have recommendations for people with different experience levels as well as budgets.

Best photo management software to buy in 2018 from GBP40

1. Adobe Lightroom Classic: Best all-round package

Price: GBP119 p/year with Photoshop CC, the old Lightroom CC and 20GB storage | Buy now from Adobe

Adobe’s software is 11 years old, and has dominated the market for that entire time.

The Adobe Camera Raw engine, which is shared across Lightroom Classic, Lightroom CC (see below) and Photoshop, is the star of the show. It excels at radical colour corrections and enhancements that don’t overpower the subject matter. Its noise reduction is among the best there is, and its local editing tools are elegant and powerful.

The ability to synchronise specific sets of parameters across multiple images really helps when working with large batches of photos. There’s a strong supporting cast of features, including extensive metadata filtering, map plotting and online syncing, although the latter doesn’t go as far as Lightroom CC’s fully cloud-based storage. GBP119 for Lightroom Classic, the old Lightroom CC, and Photoshop CC is excellent value.

The biggest drawback is that, with the launch of the new Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic’s days may be numbered. Buy now from Adobe

2. Adobe Lightroom CC: Best software for professionals

Price: GBP119 p/year with 1TB cloud storage | Buy now from Adobe

Best photo manager software 2018: The best programs for professionals and beginners, from Lightroom to Photolab

Adobe’s latest new release is a masterstroke of modern computing.

Raw files are stored in the cloud and are available for processing via a Windows, Mac, iOS, Android or web interface. This makes so much sense when you consider that photography isn’t a desk-based pursuit. The AI-powered search facility does an incredible job of recognising the subject matter in photos, and is both fun and highly practical.

Image processing is at the same high standard as Lightroom Classic (see above), and it’s the best in the business. Subtle colours and details can be teased out of Raw files and given a radiant appearance without looking overcooked. There’s a distinct lack of library management features, and it’s not even able to print.

These features will probably come in time, but even as it stands now, this is the software we’re most impressed with. The main downside is the price, which goes up by GBP119 per year for each terabyte of storage you need. Unlike Lightroom Classic, Photoshop CC isn’t included in this subscription.

If you can justify the expense, this is our top recommendation. Buy now from Adobe

3. DxO Photolab: Best cheap alternative to Adobe

Price: GBP99 (Essential Edition), GBP159 (Elite) | Buy now from DxO

Best photo manager software 2018: The best programs for professionals and beginners, from Lightroom to Photolab

PhotoLab is the new name for DxO’s venerable Optics Pro, so while this is version 1 software, it has an established pedigree.

The interface is streamlined and elegant, split across two modules for managing and editing. Management is simple and straightforward, but this software is all about editing and image quality. Raw processing is given a sizable head start by the DxO Smart Lighting filter, which makes a decent fist of fixing various exposure-related problems.

There’s even a Face Recognition mode. It’s extremely useful if you want to plough quickly through lots of shots. The controls are there for manual intervention, too, including elegant and extremely responsive local adjustment tools.

The PRIME noise reduction algorithm is the best in the business, but it’s only available in the pricier Elite edition and it takes ages to render for export. The lens profile library is bordering on obsessive, with virtually every conceivable combination of body and lens individually profiled. Fujifilm cameras and lenses are the notable exceptions.

This is the only serious rival to Adobe when it comes to Raw-processing quality, and in most respects it’s the better of the two. If you’re put off by Adobe’s subscription costs, this is the best alternative. Buy now from DxO

4.

Corel Aftershot Pro 3: best for image library management

Price: GBP80 | Buy now from Aftershot Pro

Best photo manager software 2018: The best programs for professionals and beginners, from Lightroom to Photolab

AfterShot Pro was bought by Corel in 2012, but development has stalled and the software is sliding into disrepair. It supports only five of the 15 cameras’ Raw files we tested, with models such as the Canon EOS 800D, Nikon D5600 and Panasonic GH5 yet to be added. The single-screen interface focuses on library management and Raw processing.

The image library can be sorted and filtered by a huge range of criteria, although less technical users may find it a little unwieldy. The same could be said for the local editing controls. They allow areas for processing to be defined in a variety of ways, but it’s a little too easy to start editing the wrong layer.

RAW processing quality is generally high, with a Perfectly Clear tick-box that does a great job of bringing out details. The Heal tool is clumsy, though, and noise reduction struggled at high ISO speeds. There are lots of lens profiles, but again, the most recent models are missing.

The lack of timely updates means that AfterShot Pro simply can’t be relied on to support your next camera purchase. Buy now from Aftershot Pro

5. ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2018: Best for contrast controls

Price: £149 (GBP108) | Buy now from ACDSee

Best photo manager software 2018: The best programs for professionals and beginners, from Lightroom to Photolab

ACDSee committed the cardinal sin of automatically setting itself as the default application for JPEG and Raw files.

This happened not just during installation but every time we ran the application. We eventually managed to turn this off in the File Association settings but our patience was at a low ebb. Cloud storage is available, but it’s an expensive add-on at £50 per year for 100GB.

The Raw processing tools are well specified. We particularly like the Light EQ module, which breaks contrast controls into a series of discrete bands. However, the colour-correction tools weren’t as effective as Adobe and DxO at coping with tricky high-contrast scenes.

Detail settings include a Skin Tune module with Smoothing and Glow controls to give an instant airbrushed appearance. There are lots of lens profiles, but it’s not as exhaustive as Adobe; omissions include the Panasonic TZ80 and FZ2000, and lenses were sometimes incorrectly identified. Layer-based editing is available in the Edit module, but these destructive tools interrupt the non-destructive workflow.

Photo Studio Ultimate is a competent editor but doesn’t do enough to stand out. Buy now from ACDSee

6. Cyberlink Photodirector 9 Ultra: Best for beginners

Price: GBP40 | Buy now from Cyberlink

Best photo manager software 2018: The best programs for professionals and beginners, from Lightroom to Photolab

PhotoDirector has more of a consumer focus than the others here, but it’s much better equipped than its GBP40 price might suggest.

Its library management is responsive and comprehensive, with automatic face recognition and the ability to filter by multiple criteria. Raw processing is mostly excellent, with high-quality noise reduction (although not quite up to Adobe and DxO’s standards) and sophisticated colour correction that’s closely modelled on Adobe’s tools. It struggled to recover details from overexposed parts of Raw files, though.

Lens profiles cater well for Canon and Nikon SLRs (which don’t particularly need it) but less so for mirrorless and compact cameras (which rely on profiles to avoid warped geometry). Chromatic aberration correction is manual and extremely tedious to apply. The Ultra edition also includes creative editing tools such as face swapping, textures and creative lighting effects, and layer-based editing is included, too.

These tools interrupt the non-destructive workflow, but at least there’s a warning. There’s no standout feature here, but the wide range of solid features and low price make it a strong contender. Buy now from Cyberlink

7.

ON1 Photo Raw 2018: Best new photo management software

Price: £120 (GBP87) | Buy now from ON1

Best photo manager software 2018: The best programs for professionals and beginners, from Lightroom to Photolab

ON1 Photo Raw is a relative newcomer, first landing in December 2016, but it already feels mature and elegant. In some respects it’s the most feature-rich application in this round-up, with a strong collection of creative effects such as Grunge, Lens Flare and (automatic) Skin Retouching on top of its comprehensive Raw processing filters. It also includes layer-based editing, complete with blend modes, masks and smart selection tools.

It’s not up to Photoshop’s standards, but it’s fine for occasional use. The software lets users jump freely between Develop, Effects and Layers mode, but disappointingly, Develop settings are processed destructively rather than remaining fully editable. ON1 Photo Raw falls behind with the quality of its Raw processing.

Colour correction is generally up to scratch and local edits are well catered for, but extreme settings sometimes produced odd results. Noise reduction struggled at ISO 1600 and was floundering by ISO 6400. For us, this knocks it out of the running for Raw processing work, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this editor.

Buy now from ON1

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