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Best photo management software 2022: The best programs for managing and editing Raw photos from Lightroom to Photolab

We round up the most popular photo management programs to find the best software for any budget

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 £40 (a one off payment) while the most expensive packages cost around £120 per year.

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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 2022

1. Adobe Lightroom Classic: Best all-round package

Price: £120 p/year with Photoshop CC, the old Lightroom CC and 20GB storage | Buy now from Adobe

Adobe’s Lightroom has been around for more than a decade and it 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. £119 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: £120 p/year with 1TB cloud storage | Buy now from Adobe

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 £119 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 3: Best cheap alternative to Adobe

Price: £112 (Essential Edition), £169 (Elite) | Buy now from DxO

PhotoLab is the new name for DxO’s venerable Optics Pro so 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 and 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. The one exception is Fujifilm cameras and lenses, where coverage is weak. 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: £80 | Buy now from Aftershot Pro

AfterShot Pro was bought by Corel in 2012, but development has stalled. In particular, RAW file support is lacking, with recent models such as the Canon EOS 800D and 250D, Nikon D780 and D6, and Panasonic Lumix S1/S1R 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. However, it’s the lack of timely updates that puts paid to the usefulness of AfterShot Pro; you simply can’t rely that it will support your next camera purchase.

Buy now from Aftershot Pro

5. ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate 2020: Best for contrast controls

Price: $150 (£122) | Buy now from ACDSee

We don’t like the way ACDSee adds its icons to your raw files automatically, without asking mind you, but its raw processing tools are generally well specified. We particularly like the Light EQ module, which breaks contrast controls into a series of discrete bands.

However, the colour-correction tools aren’t generally as effective as Adobe and DxO at coping with tricky high-contrast scenes and the noise reduction is a little heavy-handed. And although there is layer-based editing, once you start using these tools it’s impossible to go back and start developing with the raw file tools again.

Camera RAW file support is comprehensive, with most recent models covered but lens profile identification is patchy. There are lots of lens profiles there but it’s not as exhaustive as Adobe and lenses were sometimes incorrectly identified. 

Ultimately, ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate is a competent editor and worth considering during its semi-annual sale, where prices often see a 40% or more cut. But its weaknesses mean you should look elsewhere first.

Buy now from ACDSee

7. ON1 Photo Raw 2020.1: Best new photo management software

Price: $100 (£81) | Buy now from ON1

ON1 Photo Raw is a relative newcomer 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, plus focus stacking and comprehensive Raw processing filters. We particularly like the highlight and shadow “Purity” sliders, which allow you to quickly remove colour casts that your other edits might have introduced. There’s also includes layer-based editing, complete with blend modes, masks and smart selection tools.

The software lets users jump freely between Develop, Effects and Layers mode, which is a bonus. ON1 Photo Raw falls behind with the quality of its Raw processing, however. Colour correction is generally up to scratch and local edits are well catered for but noise reduction isn’t up to Adobe’s standards or DxO’s for that matter, either.

For us this, along with its slight unresponsiveness, just knocks it out of the running, but it’s good to see that the developer seems to be quite responsive at keeping up with new camera models. It’s also well worth an eye out for discount sales, where it’s common to see fairly hefty price cuts of up to 50%.  

Buy now from ON1

8. Cyberlink PhotoDirector 11 Ultra: Best for beginners

Price: £80 | Buy now from Cyberlink

PhotoDirector has more of a consumer focus than the others here but it’s much better equipped than its £80 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.

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 before you start. Chromatic aberration correction is manual and extremely tedious to apply. 

Lens profiles cater well for Canon and Nikon SLRs but raw format support isn’t so good. Cyberlink doesn’t even maintain a full list of compatible cameras and formats on its website, saying merely that it “supports the import of most camera RAW formats”. It failed to import our Panasonic DC-G9 files without adding a nasty purple colour cast.

Despite that, if your camera is supported, PhotoDirector’s range of solid features and low price make it a contender.

Buy now from Cyberlink