This article highlights the most popular photo editing software options on the market, and each’s pros and cons.
Photo editing software has come a long way in the last five years, with new players entering the field and giant steps forward in the tools’ capabilities.
So, whether you are the casual photographer who takes photos on their smart phone, the enthusiast that has invested in some decent equipment, or a professional photographer, you have many options to choose from.
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You might be looking for a bargain, prepared to pay for the most expensive (and best) software, or maybe you are someone that likes to enhance the software yourself. Whichever category you fit in, it is safe to say that an option exists for you.
While Adobe Photoshop is still the standout software on the marketplace due to its popularity, it is not the number one choice for everyone. Many will argue that it can no longer claim to have the best features for photo editing elements.
So, let us look at the most popular options, starting with Photoshop, along with each one’s pros and cons.
Adobe Photoshop CC 2020
For so long, the market leader makes Photoshop such a strong option is the software being continually updated and improved; the tool doesn’t sit still and is getting new features added regularly.
We would say that considering how powerful the tool is, it has retained a slick and relatively easy to use interface, particularly for regular users of the software.
This is not easy to achieve and does help Photoshop stand out from many competitors.
Photoshop is unquestionable the best option when it comes to complex composite images, in large part due to its unmatched support for layers, masks and selections.
The subscription service is still not popular with many, eight years after it was first introduced. Some people like to own their software, not to be continually paying for it.
However, the subscription model does mean the software is being continually updated, so if you own Photoshop, you know you have the latest and best version to use.
Not having a cataloging tool is a negative for many; although you get Lightroom as part of the subscription pricing, you will be using the two pieces together to counteract that problem.
Pros – Powerful features; User-Friendly Interface.
Cons: Subscription-based pricing; Relies on Lightroom for organizing images.
Affinity Photo 1.8
Affinity is a powerful competitor to Photoshop as a pure image editor, with some strong features for experienced users.
There has clearly been a big focus on the retouching options, with excellent cloning and healing tools.
Some other key features worth highlighting are the inpainting tool for automatic object removal, focus stacking, and a dedicated Liquify persona for localized image distortion effects.
The one-off and relatively low price point is a big selling point to many. While not as regularly as Photoshop, Affinity does update the software (this version being a free upgrade with more improvements), so your one-off purchase is kept fresh and up to date.
Affinity also makes it very easy to cross over from Photoshop by allowing the user to open, read and edit PSD files directly in the software.
What it does lack in comparison to Photoshop is that intuitive interface. It is certainly not a terrible GUI, but it is much harder for the beginner to pick up, making it less appropriate for the casual user because of the large range of features.
Pros – Powerful tool; Excellent value for money.
Cons – Technical for the novice, so a steep learning curve; Lacks a cataloging tool.
Corel Paintshop Pro
A much cheaper Photoshop alternative, Paintshop is for the beginner.
It lacks many of the more powerful Photoshop features, like 3D modeling and camera shake reduction, but for the new photographer, it provides plenty of tools to get you started.
The interface is straightforward to get to grips with, and you can get going with pre-existing design templates.
There is also an extensive library of colors, pallets, and gradients to choose from. PaintShop also supports layers, and you can edit both raster and vector image formats.
Performance is undoubtedly an area where you notice a difference from the more expensive tools, unfortunately, Paintshop lags on some of the editing functions.
Pros – Simple to use, perfect for the beginner.
Cons: It only comes with a windows version, no Mac version is available; Performance is not industry-standard; It lacks some of the more powerful features of other tools.
DxO PhotoLab 4
PhotoLab 4, the latest version of the popular DxO tool, is a serious contender for the serious photographer, including outstanding conversion of raw images to JPG.
But PhotoLab is not just great as editing software it also comes with image organizing capabilities, although these are relatively basic.
This latest version now comes with DxO’s new DeepPRIME noise reduction technology that uses AI to produce more detailed and lower noise high sensitivity (ISO) images than any other software available.
The local adjustment tools added after its purchase of the Google Nik Collection add another significant element to the software.
But the real star of this software is the lens corrections, which come from when it was known as Optics Pro, with some saying DxO wrote the book on lens corrections.
It automatically corrects lens softness and will also apply greater sharpening towards the edge of images.
The software comes packed with pre-set options that will enable you never to need to adjust photos if you want manually, but if you do, then the manual editing options are a real high point of PhotoLab.
To maximize the software and its best features, you need to upgrade to the elite version, which pushes the price relatively high compared to some others.
Pros – The raw image processing; High-quality lens corrections; DeepPRIME noise reduction technology.
Cons – With upgrades and add-ons that you will need to maximize the tool, it is quite expensive; The organization system is basic.
Skylum Luminar 4
Luminar is a relatively new addition to the photo editing software list but an awe-inspiring one, coming with a very modern interface and a genuine game-changing feature – AI sky replacement. It also scores highly for the non-destructive workflow.
Certainly, the new interface on this latest version of Luminar will be a surprise for their long-term users. Some will welcome the change because it now has a streamlined approach, but many are not pleased to have lost the popular mix and match filters and workspaces.
In addition to the headline-grabbing AI sky replacement, there is an AI structure feature and the auto image enhancement option.
They all have in common is being powered by AI technology that recognizes objects in an image and auto-selects the correct enhancements.
On top of these exciting features, Luminar is also a powerful editing tool, containing all the basic options you’d expect as well as geometric conversion, layering, and masking.
These can be applied manually using the four workspaces provided, or you can use pre-set combinations of filters and effects.
Pros – AI Sky Replacement; Integrated image organizing system.
Cons – The new interface won’t be loved by some older users; It still has no virtual copies.
PhaseOne Capture One Pro 21
Considered by many as the chief competitor to Adobe’s Lightroom, Capture One Pro is twice the Lightroom price. Still, it comes with professional workflows, a more powerful layers-approach to local adjustments, and incredible raw processing that delivers even crisper output than Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom.
Just like Lightroom, Capture One’s editing tools are non-destructive, and it has image cataloging and searching. Its conversions look sharper than Lightroom, and PhaseOne’s new relationship with Fuji means that it can produce the best Fujifilm processing you will currently find.
The interface is relatively simple to use, particularly for anyone that’s experienced with other photo editing software, and it does allow you to customize relatively easily.
Capture One might not be for the beginner, but it is an excellent option for the photographer looking to take the next step up in control, image quality, and workflow.
Pros – Excellent raw processing; Great tethering tools.
Cons – It’s expensive, twice the price of Lightroom.
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021
This is Adobe’s version of Photoshop CC for the beginner; it’s the baby brother.
Designed to give the features that new photographers will need before upgrading to more powerful software as their experience increases, it comes with a one-off price rather than the controversial subscription model pioneered by Photoshop CC.
Adobe has put a lot of effort recently into making Elements very user friendly for the beginner, so some of the more advanced features are now hidden away.
Therefore the home screen was introduced in 2019 to give quick access to all the key features.
The image organizer is one of the most popular parts of Elements, allowing you to import and organize photos using tags, keywords, and albums – so that finding and organizing your photos is simple and intuitive, another essential feature for new users.
Pros – Easy to use, including guided edits.
Cons – Raw processing is limited; Some effects are a little crude.
A list of popular photo editing software should include the very popular open-source GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), which enables the user to change the program’s code, so it best fits the user needs.
The toolset can match some of the better-paid solutions, like creating and editing layers, exposure controls, and special-effect filters.
Its being a powerful open-source tool has a strong community surrounding it who have created many different plug-ins to enhance the tool’s capabilities further.
On the downside, GIMP does not come with any form of guidance, leaving a very tough learning curve for the new user, so the tool is really for those confident technically and willing to put the time into the tool.
Pros – Free and open source; Good selection of editing tools and add-ons.
Cons – Tough to learn and little guidance or help.
Whether you are a complete novice, looking to take the next step with your pastime, or a professional photographer, there is a photo editing software option for you.
The tools continue to evolve and improve. New features are continually being added, so it’s essential to review the marketplace to see what is changing and identify when a better option may be available to you.