The Photographers Guide to Mac and PC Photo Editors

This page started life as an article in which I shared what I believe are the very best Mac and PC Photo Editors on the market today. But then it grew quite long before doubling in size again – that’s never a good sign. I also realised that the people looking for a good Windows PC photo editor probably didn’t want to read through the Mac recommendations and vice versa. On top of that, people didn’t want to wade through all the options in each piece of software but rather read a quick overview of photo editors they might be interested in.

That’s why I’ve split things up and am developing this into a multi-page resource for photographers. Think of this page as a hub to all the other photo editor articles and reviews on Lenscraft. And, if you think I’ve missed a great editor, let me know using the Lenscraft Contact page. I’m always happy to put new software through its paces.

What is a Photo Editor?

When we talk about Mac and PC Photo Editors here, we use the term broadly to cover any software that allows a photographer to manipulate a photographic image. This can include RAW converters which convert RAW files into viewable images. But it can also include editing tools or plugins, which need a host application to work. In fact, some of you reading this might not even consider some of the recommendations to be photo editors as you would define them.

Does that mean you should ignore them?

Absolutely not. What it does mean is that you need to be clear about what you want in your photo editing software. What features do you see as essential? What is that you just can’t live without? And importantly, what’s your budget?

Photo Editing Software Suggestions

Below you will find a list of suggested Mac and PC photo editors. I’ve either owned or own all of these and have used them to edit my photography. I’m listing them here because I believe they are very good or excellent editing tools.

Where I’ve written a review for the software in question I’ve added a link. I’m gradually adding to these as time permits.

Some of the links to software website are affiliate links. This is where I receive a small commission if you then decide the buy the software. These commissions help pay for the Lenscraft site and it’s one of the ways I keep it free.

Adobe Lightroom

License Model: Rental only

PC or Mac version: Both

A very good RAW converter that’s also an excellent photo library manager. The RAW converter will process image files and includes limited special effects. It does struggle when processing Fuji RAW files but has improved significantly in the past 18 months. It’s a solid performer that many others try to copy.

Available for Mac and PC with both versions being very similar.

The software is now only available on a rental plan, but this allows for multiple installations of Mac and PC versions. It also gives access to the iPad version and cloud computing/online versions. If you are a travelling photographer, some of these might be useful.

Unless you have need to access other applications, consider the Adobe Photographers Plan which also includes Photoshop.

If you like the idea of Lightroom but don't like renting your software, this article looks at three great alternatives to Lightroom that may meet your needs.

Adobe Photoshop

License Model: Rental only

PC or Mac version: Both

This is the gold standard for both Mac and PC photo editors. It’s been the market leader for many years and for good reason. It can handle almost anything you could imagine throwing at it. If you want to edit RAW files it integrates Adobe Camera RAW, which has the same RAW file editing capabilities as Lightroom. For image management, it integrates with Adobe Bridge. Both Bridge and Camera RAW are part of the Adobe Photographers Plan mentioned above.

Photoshop is available for the Mac and Windows PC and you won’t have any problem switching between platforms. There is a limited iPad version of Photoshop included in the Adobe Photographers Plan, but it currently looks inferior in comparison to the likes of Affinity Photo for iPad (covered below).

The biggest problem most people have when using Photoshop is the learning curve. It’s steep. Very steep. But then this is the professional gold standard for photo editing.

Capture One from Phase One

License Model: Rental and Purchase

PC or Mac version: Both

The Capture One product started life as a RAW converter and this still feels like the core of the product. Today, it’s been expanded to include editing layers and photo management, positioning it as a competitor for Lightroom and for some Photoshop features. Some of the editing features have always felt a little “clunky” to me in comparison to Lightroom but the converted RAW files appear to require less post processing.

The software is available for PC and Mac and is very similar across both platforms. You also have the choice of renting or purchasing a license. Do check the pricing and version carefully though as they also produce a cheaper Sony version of the full software as well as a limited version which is free.

Whilst there’s no denying Capture One is an excellent photo editor, it currently feels a little pricy in comparison to the Adobe Photographers Plan. Visit the Phase One Store.

Affinity Photo

License Model: Purchase only

PC or Mac version: Both plus others (see the text)

Serif is the company behind Affinity Photo. At the time of writing their Affinity range of editing tools include:

  • Affinity Photo for Desktop (Mac and PC)
  • Affinity Photo for iPad
  • Affinity Designer for Desktop (Mac and PC)
  • Affinity Designer for iPad

From a photographer’s perspective, it’s Affinity Photo that’s likely to be of interest rather than Affinity Designer. The Designer software is a vector drawing package and very much geared to designers and graphic artists (I used it to create the Lenscraft Logo).

Affinity Photo for desktop is one of the best alternatives to Adobe Photoshop available. It has a built in RAW converter that produces excellent images. If you’re a Fuji shooter, you will probably find the RAW file conversions superior to those produced by the Adobe products. The software has pretty much all the same adjustments you find in Photoshop as well as support for Layers, masks and Blending Modes. If you can do something in Photoshop, then there’s likely to be an equivalent in Affinity Photo.

Both the Mac and PC versions of Affinity Photo are very similar and have broadly the same tools and commands. The only thing lacking currently is a module to manage your photos. Hopefully Serif will seek to develop this in the future, at which time I’m sure it will make a worthy competitor for Lightroom.

The iPad version of Affinity Photo is nothing short of remarkable. It has the same capabilities as many desktop editors. If you have tried Adobe Photoshop for iPad, this software makes it look outdated in comparison.

You can find out more about Affinity Photo on the Affinity website.

Luminar from Skylum

License Model: Purchase only

PC or Mac version: Both

Luminar is a photo editor from Skylum who also publish the well-respected Aurora HDR software (we won’t cover Aurora HDR in this review as it’s HDR software rather than a photo editor). It has a wide selection of filters which can be applied to new layers and controlled using masks on either the individual filters and/or layers. Whilst many of the filters are recognisable, the are some that I haven’t seen before.

Luminar works both as stand-alone editor on the Mac or PC and as a plugin for both Lightroom and Photoshop. It’s very much a photo editor aimed at adjusting and improving photos. It works with both RAW files and photos and is very much a direct competitor for the Lightroom Develop module. There is though talk that the company is busy developing photo management capability for the software which could compete with the Lightroom Library module.

Skylum follows the license purchase model and it doesn’t have a rental option. Lenscraft Members will find a $10 discount code for the software, on the Member Discounts page. If you haven’t tried Luminar yet, it’s well worth trying the evaluation software which you can download from the Skylum website.

Nik Collection

License Model: Purchase only

PC or Mac version: Both

Nik Software originally developed the Nik Collection before selling to Google who then sold it to DxO. DxO also develop the very good DxO PhotoLab RAW converter. I haven’t covered PhotoLab here as it doesn’t support the Fuji RAW files (I primarily shoot Fuji) but it would be worth looking at if you shoot with a different camera system, especially as they have integrated some of the Nik Collection features.

The Nik Collection is a set of seven applications or plugins:

  • Dfine – for noise reduction.
  • Sharpener Pro – for photo sharpening.
  • Viveza – to manipulate colour and light.
  • Color Efex Pro – contains a large range of filters which can apply special effects and corrections to photos.
  • Analog Efex – special effects based on film.
  • Silver Efex Pro – black and white conversion
  • HDR Efex Pro – HDR creation and tone mapping.

You can use these photo editor’s standalone, but they are better as plugins for Photoshop and Lightroom (as well as other applications that support Photoshop plugins). They are a little unusual in that you can’t use them to convert RAW files, only work on TIFF and JPEG images. The results and ease of use do make them well worth considering. I also have a lot of free tutorials and videos on Lenscraft to help you learn to use the Nik Collection.

DxO follow a license purchase model rather than rental and the Nik Collection is available for both the PC and Mac from the DxO website.

Alien Skin Exposure

License Model: Purchase only

PC or Mac version: Both

Alien Skin has several software packages but the main one that will interest photographers is the Exposure photo editor. This is very much a RAW converter and photo editor designed to create great looking images. One of its many strengths is the 100+ film presets which can mimic different film stocks with a single click. The photo editor also has support for layers as well as special effects like texture overlays and infrared simulation which you can apply.

If you’re also looking for a simple solution to manage your photo library, this photo editor may meet your needs. You can use Exposure to easily add flags, colour labels, star ratings and keywords to your photos. These features help you sort and filter your photo library to find the photos you need. Compared to Lightroom, the library features feel a little basic, but they have concentrated on the features most people need and use to keep the software simple.

Exposure photo editor is available under a License model rather than Rental. You can purchase it for both PC and Mac from the Alien Skin website. It’s well worth downloading the trial version of this photo editor.

ACDSee from ACD Systems

License Model: Purchase only

PC or Mac version: Both

ACD Systems has developed a range of software applications for photo editing, video editing and technical drawing. The ACDSee photo editor is available for the PC and Mac platforms and has three broad functions:

  1. Digital Asset Management to help you manage your library of photos. You can use this to apply colour labels, star ratings, edit meta data and add keywords to your photos. When compared to the Lightroom Library module, it has very similar features.
  2. RAW Conversion to convert RAW files and apply adjustments to photos. The features in this are very similar to the Lightroom Develop module.
  3. Photo Editing which supports the use of layers, masks, blending modes and adjustments. This has very similar features to Adobe Photoshop.

Which of these three you have in your software will depend on the version you purchase. ACDSee Ultimate has all three modules. The Professional version is missing the Photo Editor (although you can buy their Photo Editor separately). The Standard version of the software only provides Digital Asset Management.

At the time of writing there is only one version of the Mac software available. This includes the Digital Asset Management and RAW Converter, but this is reflected in the price. It’s quite possible the company will correct this as they seem to have a good release cycle for enhancements.

In comparison to some of the other photo editors mentioned on this page, the software feels very much like Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop and is quite polished.

You can download trial versions of the software from the ACDSee website. .

On1 Photo RAW

License Model: Purchase only

PC or Mac version: Both

Photo RAW is an excellent photo editor available for both the PC and Mac. Like Lightroom, it includes several modules which you can use to organise your photo collection, develop RAW files and apply special effects. It supports the use and creation of presets to quickly apply effects to photos. It also supports layers and has some of the best masking features available in any software.

This is a solid performer which delivers good results. On the couple of occasions where I needed to call on their technical support I have found it excellent.

You can purchase a license (it’s not available for rental) for Photo RAW from the On1 website.

Lumenzia

License Model: Purchase only

PC or Mac version: Both

Lumenzia isn’t a photo editor in the sense of the other photo editors in this article and will have a limited appeal. It’s included here because it’s the best tool of its type that I have seen. If you work with Photoshop and use Luminosity Masks, you really should look at Lumenzia. Developed by photographer Greg Benz, Lumenzia helps you create complex Luminosity Masks in a few clicks.

Over the 12 months since I purchased my copy, I have received a few free updates from Greg, which is nice to see. The software runs as an “add-in” panel for Photoshop on both the Mac and PC. Greg has published lots of informative tutorials on his website and Youtube as well as an Exposure Blending Masterclass.

If you would like to learn more about Luminosity Masking in Photoshop without using Lumenzia, you might like to know about my luminosity masking course. Don’t forget that Lenscraft Members will find a discount code for the course on the Lenscraft Discounts page.

Visit the Lumenzia webpage.

PhotoWiz

License Model: Purchase only

PC or Mac version: Both

PhotoWiz is a range of plugins that are available from the Plugin Site. Each plugin is designed for a specific task such as contrast adjustment, colour correction, colour effects, sharpening, noise reduction etc. There’s also an online user guide for each of the plugins.

These plugins work with a large range of photo editors such as Lightroom, Photoshop, Elements as well as a lot of the edits listed here (and then some more). In fact, they work with so many other applications that it’s best to check the compatibility list on The Plugin Site website for the package you’re interested in.

As well as plugins you can purchase standalone versions of the applications for either a Windows PC or a Mac. You can purchase the products individually or as a bundle depending on your needs.

See the PhotoWiz plugins on The Plugin Site website.

Topaz Labs

License Model: Purchase and Free

PC or Mac version: Both

Topaz has developed a wide range of useful and innovative photo editor plugins that deliver a wide range of effects. This may be from simple photo correction and enhancement to special effects and black and white conversion. When you purchase a license for one of their products, you are purchasing a license for life, which means you continue to benefit from new versions of the software when released. You can also download both Windows and Mac versions of the software.

Their wide range of software started as a series of plugins, now referred to as their Classic Plugins. More recently, Topaz developed Topaz Studio which is a standalone photo editor providing several photo editing features for free. You can then purchase additional features as/if you need them. If you purchase a plugin from their Classic range, you can also install and use it in the free Studio product.

Topaz Studio is a good all-round photo editor. If this is what you’re looking for, it’s well worth also considering Topaz Adjust.

View the Topaz range of photo editing software.

GIMP

License Model: Free only

PC or Mac version: Both

Gimp is very much a photo editor along the lines of Photoshop. If you understand Photoshop, you will understand the GIMP editor. You will find lots of familiar features such as layer, masks, blending modes as well as adjustments like Curves, Levels, Saturation and lots more.

This is a very powerful and popular photo editor but like Photoshop, it has a steep learning curve. If you know Photoshop well, you should be able to transition to GIMP quickly, but if you are new to both, you will have some concentrated study ahead of you to become productive.

Visit and download the GIMP editor.

Darktable

License Model: Free only

PC or Mac version: Both as well as a few other platforms (see website for details)

The best way to describe Darktable is as a Lightroom Clone but with a slightly different feel. When you open the photo editor there are a couple of modules. These allow you to apply ratings, colour labels, keywords and update metadata. You can then filter on these to find the photos in your collection that match. There is also a RAW converter that will work with both RAW files and regular image formats.

There are a lot of tools in Darktable which can produce good results but becoming productive will require you invest some time in learning the software.

View and download Darktable.

RAW Therapee

License Model: Free only

PC or Mac version: Both

RAW Therapee is a free RAW converter and photo editor. I would describe the interface and tools as a little quirky, but I have something of a soft spot for this software. Once you get to grips the huge number of controls (some of which appear familiar) you can achieve excellent RAW conversion results. But as with the other free editing tools here, the software lacks the polished feel of a commercial application.

View and download RAW Therapee.

I’m sure this list is far from complete and I’m happy to receive further suggestions to consider . I will review and add more editors to the future.

I hope you find this helpful.

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