Adobe Lightroom Alternative: ACDSee

Back in the distant history of time (before 2007) Adobe Lightroom didn’t exist. If you wanted to manage your digital image library, you needed library management software, which was quite expensive. Today, things have changed, and a lot of people are finding the Adobe software rental model expensive. A lot of people are finding they can’t justify the cost and want a viable Adobe Lightroom alternative. In this article I’m going to share one of the lesser known alternatives.

Back in 2004, I was using a software package called ACDSee to manage my image library. At the time the features were basic, but they were easy to use. I can’t recall exactly why, but I decided to make the switch to a product called MediaPro from iView. This had a lot more features but was more difficult to use. Microsoft then bought iView who rebadged MediaPro as Expression Media. Expression Media had even more features, but some of these gave me big problems. The software became almost useless in my workflow. That’s when I made the switch to using Lightroom 3 to manage my photo library.

Recently, a couple of people have suggested I look at the latest version ACDSee as it was a super image editor. This grabbed my attention and I decided to take up a 30-day free trial. After a couple of days experimenting with the software I purchased ACDSee Ultimate for Windows. Not because I need to replace Adobe but because I know a lot of people will like it and I want to be able to use it well.

Managing Your Photo Library

If there’s one thing Adobe Lightroom does really well, it’s help you manage your images. You can organise your images into folders, apply ratings, add colour labels, assign keywords, group them into collections as well as lots of other things. But not everyone needs this level of complexity. Many people just need a way to organise and browse through their images. At most you probably want to be able to search metadata for your photos to find one.

What caught my attention with ACDSee is that it provides all these features in the Manage module.

ACDSee interface, an Adobe Lightroom Alternative

ACDSee Manage module interface

In fact, so far when I have been exploring ACDSee, the features have matched most of those in Adobe Lightroom. For example, you can add and manage keywords, assigning these to images. You can create Collections to group together images. There’s even a Smart Collection where you create rules to automatically add images to the collection. If you know the Lightroom Library module, I’m sure all this is sounding familiar.

RAW File Conversion

The other feature of Lightroom that most people use is the RAW converter or Develop module. And again, this is in ACDSee and the features all feel familiar. But features aren’t everything when it comes to RAW converters. Image quality is what really counts. Given my past image quality problems processing Fuji RAF files with Lightroom, I was keen to find out how the ACDSee Develop module would fare.

One subject that Lightroom really doesn’t like when converting Fuji RAF files is bracken or fern. The detail in these images often takes on an unnatural wormy appearance when converted in Lightroom. That’s why I decided to test ACDSee using this photo.

In camer JPEG image from the Fuji XT2

In camer JPEG image from the Fuji XT2

This is the in-camera JPEG captured using the Fuji Provia setting. The screenshot below shows the RAW file from this photo in ACDSee.

ACDSee Adobe Lightroom Alternative Fig03

Editing the RAF RAW file in ACDSee

Here the development tools in ACDSee are familiar and provide most of the Adobe Lightroom features, as well as including a couple more. What’s very surprising though is when you zoom in to 1:1 magnification and you can see the high quality RAW conversion for the RAF files. There isn’t a wiggly pattern in sight and the result is very natural as you can see here.

ACDSee Adobe Lightroom Alternative Fig04

Image section at 100% magnification

Possibly a Photoshop Alternative

Although its features make ACDSee a good Adobe Lightroom alternative, the Ultimate version of ACDSee (which I purchased) also includes “Layered Editing”. This is something that Adobe Lightroom doesn’t have.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I switched to the Edit module but was again pleasantly surprised. It appears to have similar capabilities to Photoshop in terms of photo editing.

ACDSee Adobe Lightroom Alternative Fig05

Example of the Edit module interface in ACDSee

To the left of the interfaces are adjustments such as Levels and Curves which you can apply directly to the current image layer. Over on the right of the interface you can add and manage your image layers. This also includes adding Adjustment Layers, Masks and Blending Modes. Everything seems very familiar but just looks a little different.

One area that sometimes causes difficulty in Photoshop clones is Luminosity Masking, so I was keen to see how ACDSee performed. The ACDSee solution is Pixel Targeting. It’s quite innovative and possibly the easiest such tool that I have come across. It allows you to generate a mask interactively with sliders for both tone (Luminosity) and colour. You can see an example below where I used the sliders to select only foliage with a midtone and create a mask based on this.

ACDSee Adobe Lightroom Alternative Fig06

Example of the Pixel Targeting feature being used to create a mask.

I was also interested to find that ACDSee supports plugins including many of my favourites like Alien Skin Exposure, Topaz and The Nik Collection. If you want to read more about the compatibility they have a page on their website.


Overall, I’m really surprised by the value ACDSee now offers the photographer. If I wasn’t already using Lightroom or I wanted an Adobe Lightroom alternative, I would consider this software. The company has even produced a page of helpful guidance and tutorials to support anyone who wants to migrate away from Lightroom.

There are a few versions of the software available depending on the features you need:

ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate for PC (reviewed in this article)

ACDSee Professional for PC (same as Ultimate but without the Layers feature)

ACDSee Standard for PC (same as Professional but without the Develop feature)

ACDSee for Mac (same as ACDSee Professional but for the Mac)

I also took advantage of a 50% discount offer which made the software excellent value. If you are interested in alternatives to Adobe Lightroom I would recommend downloading the ACDSee 30-day trial. You might also like my article Great Lightroom Alternatives for Photographers.

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