With so many editing / post-processing software packages on the market today, photographers might find it rather difficult to go through them all and compare key features in order to pick something that would ultimately work for their needs. Many of us go through that stage, especially when starting out. What is the best software for photo editing? What features does it have? Is it easy to learn and how much does it cost? These are just some of the questions photographers seek answers for. While John Bosley and I have been working hard on producing our PL Level 1: Post-Processing Basics course, we have decided to share one of the charts that we will be including in the course with our readers, which compares the most popular non-destructive editing tools on the market. It took us a while to compile all this data, since there are so many different features and considerations one must go through to make a meaningful comparison. The chart has not been fully finalized yet, since we are currently looking for your feedback and ideas, so that we can hopefully make the chart complete and comprehensive enough for those who are interested in such a comparison.
We picked the following six software packages that offer non-destructive editing based on their popularity among photographers: Adobe Lightroom 6 / CC 2015, Capture One Pro 9, ACDSee Pro 9, On1 Photo 10, DxO Optics Pro 10 and Photo Ninja 1.3.3c. We recognize that there are many more out there, but we cannot include them all, since such research would take a lot more time and the chart would get massive, making it hard to read. If you disagree with our choices and would like to see other non-destructive software included, please let us know in the comments section below (note that we will be posting a separate article for complex / destructive editing tools such as Adobe Photoshop, Elements, Affinity Photo, PaintShop Pro and GIMP). To come up with all the data below, we had to install every software package on a single machine and run them all for some time, going through and testing out the features. It was a pretty exhausting task to say the least! Below is the software comparison table:
|Feature||Lightroom 6 / CC||Capture One Pro 9||ACDSee Pro 9||On1 Photo 10||DxO Optics Pro 10||Photo Ninja 1.3|
|1Requires RAW file conversion first|
2Subjective opinion based on personal experience of the author
3Based on export of 25 RAW / DNG images to full-resolution JPEG format in 100% Quality
|Operating Systems||Windows / Mac||Windows / Mac||Windows / Mac||Windows / Mac||Windows / Mac||Windows / Mac|
|RAW File Support||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Fuji X-Trans RAW Support||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|4K / Retina Screen Support||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Dual Monitor Support||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Basic RAW File Editing (Crop, Exposure, WB, etc)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No1||Yes||Yes|
|Templates / Presets||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Selective Noise Reduction||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Advanced Color Adjustments||No||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Distortion, CA and Vignetting Corrections||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Merge to HDR||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
|Merge to Panorama||Yes||No||No||No||No||No|
|Photoshop / Lightroom Integration||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Third Party Plugins||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Brushes / Masking||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Spot / Dust Removal||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Haze Removal||No / Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Speed / Performance – RAW Export3||64 sec||74 sec||57 sec||179 sec||173 sec||307 sec|
|Speed / Performance – DNG Export3||38 sec||53 sec||46 sec||74 sec||169 sec||262 sec|
|Retail Price (MSRP)||$150||$299||$100||$110||$199||$129|
|Cloud Subscription Price||$10/mo (+PS)||$15/mo||$79/yr (+extras)||$150/yr (+extras)||N/A||N/A|
Please note that we did not list every possible feature and slider offered by each individual software package, as it would make the above chart unreadable. Instead, we decided to focus on the key / most important features and include additional data for consideration, such as Stability, Performance, Learning Curve and Update Frequency. Some of this data such as Stability and Learning Curve is rather subjective – it is based on my experience running the software, which might differ from other people’s experiences. So if you disagree, please let us know in the comments section below!
Based on the above chart, it is pretty clear that Lightroom, Capture One Pro and ACDSee Pro tightly compete with each other, while the others still have a lot of catching up to do. I personally use Lightroom and ACDsee Pro 9 quite a bit, but after testing out Capture One Pro, I realized that it is one heck of a tool that is absolutely worth looking into in more detail. Some of the features that Capture One Pro has are light years ahead of Lightroom – advanced color adjustments for example, which allow making selective changes to particular colors in an image, are simply amazing compared to the Hue/Saturation/Luminance (HSL) adjustments in Lightroom, which affect colors globally. Capture One Pro’s masking tools also completely slaughter the slow and buggy masking capabilities of Lightroom. And let’s not even bring up Layers, which Lightroom has never had. While many Lightroom users have to use Photoshop for things they cannot do in Lightroom alone, I can see how one could solely rely on Capture One Pro for editing, especially for portrait photography. However, it is not perfect – unlike Lightroom, Capture One Pro is not designed to be a full-featured catalog with built-in file organization / advanced file management tools. Its interface is a bit busy and some things take harder and longer to achieve when compared to Lightroom, making it a bit difficult to use and get used to, at least from the perspective of a long-time Lightroom user. Lastly, its biggest deterrent is the steep price – at $299, it is the most expensive of the bunch.
It was surprising to see how well ACDSee Pro compared to both Lightroom and Capture One Pro in terms of features. However, its rather buggy interface and constant annoying notifications might not be something many of us would want to deal with. Also, when looking at straight RAW to JPEG conversions with camera profiles applied, images from ACDSee Pro looked a bit worse compared to those from Lightroom and Capture One Pro. Other than that, if one spends enough time in ACDSee Pro, one can get great results as well, especially considering how many built-in tools are available in the software.
DxO Optics Pro feels a bit out of place here, since it is designed to be more of a plugin for Lightroom and not its direct competitor. However, considering that the latest version has quite a few RAW editing tools, some of which work much better than the ones in Lightroom, I decided to include it in the list. It does not have a lot of the features that other software packages do, but its Lens Correction capabilities are far better than anything else out there and one could spend much less time compared to other software to make images look great. Tools such as PRIME noise reduction give superb results straight out of software, with little need to tweak the output. However, with DxO continuing to refuse to deal with Fuji X-Trans RAW files, it is not something I could fully rely on, since I use Fuji cameras quite a bit, including my Fuji X-T1.
One of the most interesting tests was the Speed / Performance benchmark. For this one, we selected a group of 25 DNG and 25 random RAW images from different cameras. We timed how long it would take for each software to extract full-size JPEG images in 100% quality from both batches of files. The tests had to be repeated 3 times to make sure that there were no other factors involved and the numbers were then averaged into a single number. As you can see, each tool varies in performance greatly and the clear winner here is Adobe Lightroom, which generally outperformed pretty much all other software, with the exception of ACDSee Pro 9, which did a bit better in extracting RAW images. For a professional who needs to extract thousands of images quickly, the winner is clear here. However, performance is not going to be the primary criterion for many photographers, so one must look at all of the above to decide what is more important for their needs.
We would love to hear your feedback regarding our chart and this article in the comments section below!