For over a decade Adobe’s creative suite of application including Photoshop has enjoyed a stranglehold over the professional image editing industry. So much so that the word Photoshop has become a verb, much like Google. Photoshop and Lightroom have remained two of the most popular photo software. But this is 2018, and we have seen several good alternatives launched in the last few years. So let’s review the best photo software for Windows other than Adobe Photoshop.
✔ Best Photo Editing Software (5 Picks for Windows)
- Phase One Capture One Pro 10
- Adobe Photoshop Elements
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
- Cyberlink PhotoDirector 8 Ultra
- On1 Photo RAW (Editor’s Pick)
If you are looking for a software option which can organize your photos, you may want to read our comparison post about the best free/premium photo organizing software for PCs.
1. Phase One Capture One Pro 10
Capture One Pro is a dedicated digital image management and editing tool from the camera manufacturer. It does everything that you would expect from a digital photo editing tool and includes among others the ability to process and convert RAW frames, tethered capturing of images, a workflow that can be customized depending on your preferences and regular requirements.
It has a database management system as well that ensures that you can handle a large number of images without issues just as you would do with Lightroom. Plus you get two different file management systems:
- One that will allow you to shoot tethered and store the images based on the active session. You can save, cull and do basic file management based on the active session.
- The other is the regular file management system that handles all files on your computer.
Version 10 of the photo software comes with the ability to focus from the computer while tethered using the Camera Focus Tool. This is a useful tool for set-pieces like photo assignments – product, macr, and studio portraits. This takes away the need to touch your camera for the purpose of shooting and therefore involves no risk of change of composition or image shake.
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One of the key new features of the software is the three-step image sharpening tool. This tool can correct loss of image sharpness which happens due to diffraction. Additionally, you are now able to apply sharpness creatively, to the whole of the photo or within a specific area of the image depending on your need. Finally, you can also adjust output sharpening depending on the medium and the viewing distance.
The most striking feature of the software is its speed of opening files, especially the large ones. Capture One always had the reputation as a fast software for image editing. It helps particularly when working with larger files. But the new version 10 is much faster. The software also has an updated custom camera profiling. That means there is a greater chance that your particular camera and lens is supported.
The one thing that works against Capture One is its pricing. With Creative Common model Adobe’s suite of photo editing applications have become a lot cheaper and brought it within the reach of even amateur and hobbyist photographers. Capture One, on the other hand, is very expensive, at least to start off. The good thing is you only pay for it once and continue to enjoy free updates as newer versions come out.
Another thing we don’t like is that Capture One doesn’t have advanced retouching and photo manipulation features. In that regard, Adobe’s creative suite of applications for the photographer is still the best.
2. Photoshop Elements
Consider Photoshop Elements as the scaled down model of the more powerful tool that everyone enjoys using. Photoshop Elements is geared at users who don’t have advanced experience and would love the freedom and the convenience of a much easier to use the tool.
Photoshop Elements includes many of the same tools that you would be familiar with Photoshop. However, it also conveniently avoids many of the more advanced tools which amateur and beginner users tend to find complicated to use.
The Photoshop Elements is an integration of two separate applications. I say two separate applications because for some reasons they don’t seem to be a synergy. These elements being the Photo Editor and the Photo Organizer. Where other applications including Lightroom and Capture One uses a single window for both functions, Elements use two.
So, you have the Editor where you would do the basic photo editing works, and then the image organizer where you would review, cull, save and take care of all other photo organizing chores.
The application uses a feature known as Smart Tags. This feature will individually assess each of the images while you import them. It can significantly impact the speed of the importing process. You can, however, choose to turn off this feature to ensure a faster importing of images.
Facial Recognition and Tagging
There is also a facial recognition feature as well. The software will automatically scan your images for faces and then sort them in the Organizer in the People tab for further tagging and sorting. This is a really useful feature of the software as it can comprehensively lessen the burden of tagging, keywording and sorting work of your images after they are imported. The best thing is it works most of the times.
Many of the features of Photoshop Elements should excite newbie users. For example, when you opt for Sharpen, you will be shown 9 different sharpening options. Click the one you want and immediately your image will be applied with the given settings.
The best tool of Photoshop Elements is the Adobe Camera RAW feature. It can import and do basic global and local adjustments to your RAW files before being imported to Photoshop Elements for further work.
Photoshop Elements has a bunch of other features that would be useful for your creative urges. One of those features is the Guided Edit. You can play around with images, edit texts, create collages and Frames using the options under Guided Edit.
Finally, for advanced users, Photoshop Elements has the Expert Mode. This is the mode that would excite advanced users looking for more intuitive tools. One of these features is the Adjust Facial features. Just like the smartphones apps these days that allow you to play around with the eyes, nose or lips of your subjects, you can do something similar with this feature in Photoshop Elements.
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Adobe Elements vs. Creative Cloud for Photographers
3. Adobe Lightroom
In many ways the only photo software that you ever need if you love getting things right in the camera. Not exactly the software that you would trust for intensive retouching and manipulation (something you would expect to do with Photoshop). But it remains the best photo management tool beyond doubt.
Lightroom’s first major advantage is a great intuitive interface where almost everything seems to fall in place. It has the best lens and camera profile corrections feature. That means no matter the lens or the camera you have you can use the software to profile correct your images.
The biggest disadvantage of Lightroom is the slowness of the image importing process. If your card has several gigs of data it almost seems like an eternity. Worse if your card has a few video files.
But once you have successfully finished importing the images, applying changes and doing basic corrections is a breeze. You can copy adjustments like lens profile corrections, exposure adjustments, saturation, white balance or sharpness instantaneously to all the active batch of images.
Local adjustments are easy using the Adjustment Brush, Radial Filter, and the Graduated Filter tools. A bunch of adjustment tools under the Basic panel allows easy and precise adjustment of exposure and other elements.
Lightroom is also great for managing your photos, selecting, marking, tagging them and arranging them into collections when needed.
Lightroom has a useful noise reduction tool that works well in most situations. Though best results are obtained when you mix noise reduction with either of the above tools. Then there is the extremely useful Dehaze tool that ideal for use in landscape shots as well as some other situations.
Among the many other features, Lightroom does support tethering. Tethering is a much faster way to transfer images to your computer when and even focus your compositions without ever needing to touch the camera among other advantages.
Now that Lightroom has been available under a Creative Cloud model it is a lot more affordable for even beginner photographers and hobbyist photographers. Plus, you get the latest updates which you wouldn’t get if you buy the standalone version.
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4. Cyberlink PhotoDirector 8 Ultra
Cyberlink PhotoDirector 8 Ultra is a slimmed down version of Lightroom. Well, almost. Although the words slimmed down has been used it does have some advanced features which are very useful.
In its most basic avatar, this photo software has a camera and lens-based profile correction feature. This lists a number of the most popular cameras and lenses and correct aberrations and other issues much like Lightroom and Photoshop does. In reality, however, the profile correction feature is not as exhaustive as Photoshop or Lightroom offers.
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Then there are some interesting features like a Content-Aware removal tool that can remove stuff that is distracting in an image as well as a gradient tool. In recent versions, you also get layer tools. Layers do sound enticing but let me qualify that these are not as effective as what you would expect from layers in Photoshop.
These are very much in the domain of Lightroom and Photoshop. You also have advanced face tagging features and facial beautification tools. There is an interesting cloning and healing tool in the Cyberlink PhotoDirector which does fuel comparison with Photoshop. But then again these are not as effective as the ones on Photoshop.
In the advanced features of the photo software, you get a decent noise suppression tool and an effective HDR tool. This tool can blend up to 5 images to create one image with a greater dynamic range. Additionally, you have the option to export all edited images directly to Facebook and Flickr.
Another feature you are likely going to miss, especially if you are a studio shooter, is that of tethering. There is no option to shoot tethered.
However, to compensate for the lack of features it does not have, it does offer a smooth interface to work with. RAW image cataloging is something that every photographer does and this is where the Cyberlink PhotoDirector is a much smoother candidate. It also offers a number of presets and auto-edit options. These are a much easier way for beginners to edit their images. They don’t have to get into complicated editing process flow.
Video to Photo
A special feature on the Cyberlink PhotoDirector is the video to photo feature. This feature allows you to pull a 4K video into the system and then extract still images out of it. Not only that, you can create a panoramic still from a panned footage, or a still image that shows a subject moving produced from a footage.
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5. On1 Photo RAW
A photo editor, photo organizer, RAW processor, and photo effects application all rolled into one – ON1 Photo Raw is a photo software par excellence. Nothing like you have seen before. It is a module-based system.
A thing about the software is that it works as a standalone photo application when you want it to or work as a plugin for other standalone photo software.
On1 Photo Raw does not index your images straight away. When you open images with the application you basically accessing the hard drive. Only when you start indexing images or folders will the software create one for you.
On the positive side, there is a better system to apply presets to images. Simply select an image in the thumbnail view and apply the preset. Accessing an image in full view is a lot easier. Just double click on the image and then you can choose whether to view it in 100%, 50% or 25%.
The development panel is where the real fun is. Just like the development module in Lightroom, this panel comes with a full board of features. These include Contrast, Blacks, Saturation, Exposure, Sharpening, Curves, Noise Reduction among others. These are all global or ‘Overall Settings’.
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Under Local Adjustments you can use the Brush tool, very similar to Lightroom and use the same bunch of adjustments, but this time for adjusting specific areas. Additionally, there is the Effects module which allows you to choose out of 20 filters to give your image a completely different look. Each of these filters is further customizable.
There is a Layers feature on the ON1 photo software. This works a little differently to what we have seen in Photoshop. In the Layers feature, you can mix two or more images or textures to get a unique effect.
There is also an image resizing option. It is a full-fledged tool in itself because it has a number of sub-features. Just like Lightroom, there is an option to apply the same settings to a number of images.