Switching from Lightroom

I’m still using Lightroom 6.14 (LR) on a MBP with a Mojave partition, and while I wasn’t smart enough to use the last year of isolation to migrate, new photos piling up from summertime activities this year is resurfacing the issue for me.

I’ve been keeping my eye on options for the past several years, and my needs don’t seem to exactly match the focus of many products these days, so I thought this community might have some valuable input or interest.

User Profile

  • Amateur, capturing photos of personal travel and events
  • Capture in JPG/HEIF mostly using iPhone, GoPro, or compact camera like Canon Powershot series
  • I use LR infrequently, probably only 6-8 times a year overall, when adding new photos
  • I edit very few photos overall, and then often cropping or other minor common edits (redeye, brightness/contrast) for a specific purpose
  • Make more use of DAM features (batch import, organizing, tagging, rating, searching)

Desired Features

  • non-destructive editing - I’m not a big editor as noted, so I like to be able to get back to the original, since I often don’t know what will look better. Especially with capturing in JPG, and don’t want repetitive losses with each save
  • metadata support - GPS, keywords, etc. Both modifying and removing depending on actions
  • heirarchial keyword support
  • strong search/filtering capabilities - keywords, dates, location
  • local storage - Option for primary local offline storage, ideally with support for sometimes attached removable drives (but that’s not required). Cloud sync/backup option is also a bonus, but not required.
  • flexible storage structure - I want to be able to store images as I want, allowing migration, easy backup, etc. Probably came from history with IPhoto/Photos randomly named folders inside the Library.
  • Sharing/Export options - most commonly used is creating web albums, and ability to control styling/layout/theme is preferred

TL;DR summary: flexible, full-featured storage, organization, and searching, with simple, common editing features

Given my infrequent use, Adobe’s subscription model makes very little sense for me. Most months the software would go unused. I have considered purchasing LR Classic (desktop version) and renewing on the months I need it, and that is still an option.

Most of the LR alternatives that are mentioned are more focused on editing that DAM, and new releases often tout the improvements to correcting, retouching, filters, etc. This is the biggest mismatch from my needs vs what I see in discussed. For example, I have been watching Skylum Luminar since it was first released. They had improved DAM features on their roadmap, but every new release has been focused on editing features.

Currently, the top options seem to be:

  • Digikam - FOSS DAM focused. Seems to be one of the closest to LR’s DAM functionality, and is probably the one I’m currently most likely to try.
    – as I understand it, non-destructive editing is not implemented the way many apps (Photos, LR) do with sidecar files, ie the actual edits saved as steps that can be reapplied. Instead a new version of the photo is saved for each edit. This means the program doens’t have to reapply edits each time, but with JPGs, this can result in repetitive loss during compression.
    – An external editor can be used, but I have read that integration on macOS is not as strong.
  • DarkTable - FOSS more of a full LR replacement. DAM not as strong as Digikam, but built-in editing is better. Currently 2nd in consideration.
  • Apple Photos - I haven’t reached the point where I’m willing to let go and have Apple organize all my files, though the complete integration and easy access across all devices is appealing. I feel I’m just outside the target market of “just take care of this for me”.
    – I’ve found tagging to be more difficult than LR in the past, but haven’t throughly testing lately
    – I am aware of the option to store files outside the Library, but then many of the iCloud features stop working.
  • Lightroom Classic - renew on month to month basis as needed. Easiest, option of mobile integration, etc

Capture One, Luminar, On1 Photo Raw, and Raw Therapee all seemed to be more editing focused and have less DAM features, so while I have read about them, currently I don’t see them as contenders.

Anyone have experience with either Digikam or DarkTable, or have I missed another app that I should consider? I’m happy to share my experiences as I start testing and migrating to something.

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I’m perfectly content with LR, so I can’t offer any help save to suggest you post this request on a photo site such as PhotoPXL.com. There’s a higher percentage of photographers there than here, I suspect. (Disclosure: I moderate the discussion forums at PXL but have no financial interest in the site.)

I am looking for pretty much exactly the same thing as you, so thanks for the post! In my case I need to find a replacement for Aperture, and Lightroom isn’t an option for me for a variety of reasons. But my profile and the features that are important to me are largely as you described. Two ones to consider if you haven’t already:

  • Photo Supreme – I read about this for the first time today, so haven’t had a chance to try it out.

  • Mylio – I’ve played with Mylio several times over the years and like a lot about it. But it’s not quite there yet for me in terms of features for comparing photos side-by-side and quickly selecting or rejecting. Still worth a look, it’s a solid product with great syncing that doesn’t rely on ‘the cloud.’

Whatever you end up doing, I’d be very interested to read what your experiences are.

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There’s one application that I usually don’t see mentioned when this subject comes up: AfterShot Pro. I don’t know why it is rarely included in these lists. I haven’t tried it myself, but it looks to me like a real contender. They also have a slightly cheaper version without the “pro” appellation.

Another one not in your list is DxO Photolab. But it probably belongs in the “less DAM features” category.

I am an amateur, and an Aperture refugee. My current main camera is a Nikon Z 7.

When I began looking in earnest for an Aperture successor, I tried Capture One Pro. It did a surprisingly excellent job of importing my Aperture library, so I stuck with it. (AfterShot would have been the next to try if I had not stuck with CO.) In the 1.5 years since I switched, I have come to like Capture One more and more.

I disagree with classifying Capture One as less DAM focused. It is completely non-destructive, and has outstanding support for metadata, hierarchical keywords, searching & filtering, and flexible, local storage. However, it does not do web albums or books or things like that.

CO also does not do any kind of cloud storage, although I don’t know why you couldn’t put a library on Dropbox or iCloud Drive. They don’t currently have an iOS app, although they recently announced that they are working on an iPad app.

The graphical editing features are extremely powerful. In this area, it surpasses Lightroom or Aperture.

Capture One is probably one of the most expensive of the options. You can buy a permanent license or a subscription, but they release a new version every year, so either way, it is not cheap to keep up to date.

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Very true, it did seem to have most if not all of the DAM features I want. But it is very much an editing program, and focused on the higher end photographer with lots of RAW features and price to match. I’m not against paying for the right solution, just don’t want to pay for a lot of functionality that I don’t use.

I remember reading something about Capture One Express at one point, and remember thinking it might be a viable option, so good to hear about your experiences with it.

If and when I ever get a camera that shoots in RAW (I’ve come close to a Sony RX100 more than a few times for diving, and underwater shots often greatly benefit from post-processing) and I really spend more time with photography, Capture One is the app that is top of my list.

I had never heard of this, so thanks, it seems like it might be a great fit. Very focused on the features that are most important to me. Only thing I didn’t see in a first pass is support for hierarchal keywords, something I’ve put a decent amount of effort into with a consistent taxonomy, but otherwise looked pretty good.

The sync/backup model reminds me of one of the cloud backup systems of the past, using space of family or friends offsite, don’t remember which one it is. Given part of my photo organization problems stems from too many devices over the years, using some of those for sync and backup is great solution for me.

Part of my problem with the LR purchase options is none of the plans seem to quite fit my needs. Either it’s bundled with Photoshop that I don’t really need, or lots of cloud storage and mobile editing that wouldn’t be used. A $5/month basic LR Classic would have probably already won me over.

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I think Apple Photos app would do what you require. There is a lot of power within Photos, along with using 3rd party apps to edit within the Photos app. Very cheap Apps like Affinity Photo; Acorn; and many others can add special effects etc.
You can still sort your own created “collections” within albums or folders and sub-folders. The main library is sorted by date as default as the only option but once you accept that, you can find simple options to achieve your required sorting requirements.
The option of having multiple Photos Libraries is also a good way separating work from play. And only use iCloud Photo Library service for the photos you want access to on all your devices.
Eg a wedding photographer could create a photo library for each wedding they shoot, and not have that library stored in iCloud.
One other important thing … Apple is putting more and more artificial intelligence into the application and all is free with OS updates etc.
I have seen many LR users “stuck” in their thinking of how photos should be organised, and can’t comprehend there is another (I believe, better) way of achieving their desired outcomes.

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I think I’ve come across this in past searches. From what I see with a quick glance just now it is strictly DAM, with no editing features at all. Not opposed to that, as long as there was good integration between them and non-destructive editing was seamless.

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Photos is temping, and I’ve played with it a fair bit, but Apple still wants you to do things their way, or their “It Just Works” features don’t work. Case in point is the unconsolidated storage option I linked in the OP, seems great till you get to the fine print.

I spent months consolidating all the photos from 6-8 different iPhone/Photo Libraries from disk images of old or reformatted computers. Most photos were in all the libraries, so I didn’t want lots of duplicates, but I didn’t want to risk loosing a pile of old photos that were only in one place, as I knew some were.

Most of that time was due the typically Apple decision to obfuscate the storage layout inside the Library. First level is separated into years? Great, that’s easy and makes sense, this is going to be easy!. Next two levels? I never found any rational to the structure, including lots of empty folders.

LR lets you choose how you want to organize your photos on disk, and it will work with that. I follow a common, but not required, system of Y-M-D folders for each event or trip, even if spans multiple days. That’s what I want, so that if some day I’m not using LR, or I simply want to go directly to the files on disk for a specific trip quickly, I’m not reliant on LR. My main photo storage is an external (with backups). I can plug that into any computer, even without LR installed, and browse my photos in an organized way. I loose easy filtering by keywords, ratings, etc, but all the info is right there.

That’s where iPhoto/Photos has left me with a bad experience, or with very repetitive tasks vs batch changes. I seem to always have a reason to occasionaly end up working around the software. I admit I’m more a power user, but yet not a pro photographer.

I’ve also never tried moving completely back to Photos, so would be happy if Jason Snell chimed in and showed how to do everything I want with Photos, I’d be more than buy his Take Control book and use Photos going forward.

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I concur about Capture One as an Aperture replacement. I’m still using Aperture for the cameras I have that it supports, though once I get a better grasp of C1 I’ll combine everything. C1 doesn’t have stacks, which I use extensively in Aperture, but as a consolation prize, C1 lets you share catalogs over the network so you can use another computer running C1 or even iOS with the free Capture Pilot app to do the ratings, keywording, etc. C1 can import Lightroom catalogs as it can for Aperture.

C1 has a ‘how to switch’ page for Lightroom, and there are a lot of articles out there for switching from Aperture:

Switch from Lightroom to Capture One

I have Aftershot Pro which I got while assessing Aperture replacements. It’s based on Bibble, which Corel bought. It didn’t have enough of what I was looking for, but several friends use it and like it. It’s fills the gap between Photos and Aperture. Much more powerful than Photos, but not such a learning curve as Aperture/Capture One. It’s often for sale in software bundles. I’m not sure how well supported it is now, it’s still version 3, the same as 2017. It did get an update in january, so maybe they’re at least keeping up with new cameras,

Another possibility is to buy a straight DAM–Photo Mechanic. Its interface was elderly and a bit clunky when I last tried it a few years ago, but it makes it easy to rate and add metadata as you import, and it can automatically copy the imported photos to two different locations for backup. It can round trip to your favorite editor, and it can share metadata with Capture One catalogs (with some provisos). 30 day free demos, $140 for the older one, $230 for the new Plus version which seems to add a faster and fancier image database with saved search and more. It does have a noticeable learning curve since it has a lot of setup flexibility.

https://home.camerabits.com/

@angusC You may get some benefits from looking at all vids posted relating to Photos.app on MacMost.com
Use the search feature on the website to present a list relevant to Photos app.

There is a way to keep Aperture running even in BigSur. The Retroactive app will convert an existing version of Aperture to run on the modern operating systems. According to the linked ReadMe:

" All Aperture features should be available except for playing videos, exporting slideshows, Photo Stream, and iCloud Photo Sharing. If RAW photos can’t be opened, you need to reprocess them."

The author of Retroactive also posted an article discussing how it was developed and works.

I have used Retroactive to keep my copy of Aperture alive, mainly to run Aperture slide shows with a controller display and a separate display screen for the audience. According to the author, it can also be used to run versions of iTunes and iPhoto in current systems, but I haven’t played with those.

Note: At some point, this process will quit working or you will be enticed to switch to a supported app for its feature set. However, Retroactive does provide a lifeline for a while.

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Thanks, @aforkosh. I am aware of Retroactive, and that’s what I plan to use when I finally upgrade from Mojave later this year. I was so relieved when it came out, as it gives me more time to procrastinate thoroughly research my options. And importantly, it removed a big blocker for me moving past Mojave. I have a couple of other apps I’m in the middle of migrating away from, but once I have my plan is to use Retroactive to bring Aperture forward.

As you say, though, this isn’t a long-term solution, just something that will ease the transition and give me more time. Already RAW Power has added DAM features, and my hope is that in time they will add enough that it becomes a viable option for me. I’m still also considering some of the apps in this thread. C1 is attractive, but not sure I can afford it for my limited usage. It’s very helpful reading other peoples’ experiences, and I look forward to reading @angusC’s journey.

Angus, you’ve started a greatly relevant discussion. I have virtually the same requirements as yourself.

I was working in Aperture, relatively happily, until Apple suddenly discontinued it, for no good reason that i could see. Photos, to me, is a disaster. I just don’t like things to be so hidden and whilst I can appreciate Apple’s intent to make things easy for general users, I can’t understand why they chose not to continue an option for more serious users.

I subsequently took to LR and found it well suited to my needs. Unfortunately, after a lightning strke destroyed my iMac, I lost my stand alone copy of LR and Adobe wouldn’t help. I won’t support subscription only software so now I’m in the same position as you, seeking a photo management/organisation tool, rather than an editing tool. I’ve had more trouble than I can say with Photos vaguaries and hate the production of ‘Faces’ for everything and its restrictive design.

I’d like to thank everyone who has made suggestions here as some of them I haven’t come across before. I’m a low income pensioner so can’t afford the expensive options but I’ll certainly be checking out several of those mentioned in this thread and would very much appreciate a heads up from anyone who comes across or can suggest a good photo management product - even better if its economical or GPL

Your query highlights the shortcomings of Photos. My initial thought was you should find Photos capable of what you want to do but the fact is the management on the organisational side is limiting and lacking a clear relationship with the Finder. The reference model LR and C1 use being more satisfactory for those who wish more control, more straightforward access and the ability to change as they go.

Another C1 user here, superb but expensive and for professionals. Impressed at all the Aperture users here, it must be nearly ten years since it was given the chop by Apple, such a great app it was.

I think you should consider DxO PhotoLab. It might be the best mix of editing tools, DAM and price point for you. You could use Finder to organise or DxO or a combination and DxO to edit. It could offer a path to grow as well if you chose to look more at editing or shooting RAW.

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I moved from Aperture to Capture One, but have used Avalanche for MacOS to transfer the Aperture Catalog to other formats. I must admit that I have dabbled in C1 but am not as comfortable in in until I am using it more often. I always question when Apple kills these things that should be easy to port and not much to maintain (other than keeping up to date on camera files for RAW).

https://cyme.io/avalanche-photo-conversion/

Avalanche looks interesting. Have you compared its Aperture to C1 transfer to what C1 does on its own?

Aaand, I’ve started yet another hare–I finally got around to messing around with Keyboard Maestro this afternoon which I’ve only used a bit since I bought it, and noticed that it has MIDI triggers. So I hooked up a midi controller (korg nanokey) and it’s trivial to use for triggering an action with a note, though getting it to handle controllers such a knobs and sliders looks a lot more involved. But even with just the notes as buttons (25 on the nanokey not counting octave shifts), it could be very handy as an interface to photo apps, and if using more than one, you can presumably set it up so you get the same interface to much of each program (especially if the apps are scriptable) which could reduce the learning curves–at the expense of having to to do the setup, but that’s prime procrastination fodder. You could define the regular keyboard the same way, but I really like the bigger keys of the controller, and there’s no worries about conflicts. And if I ever figure out how to do knobs/sliders for adjustments it would be even better. (Except I’d have to buy a controller with knobs and/or sliders…)

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Another vote for DxO Photolab as the software likely to give you the best results with the least time consuming process. Photolab is elegant in its workflow and design (made in Paris) and is the closest experience to Aperture.

DAM tools in Photolab are weak (there is some keywording) so I’d suggest putting FastRawViewer (just $15) in front to rate your photos before putting them into Photolab to process them.

A BIG thank you to all who have considered my situation & need and offered considered and sound options that might best suit me.

I appreciate all of the interest and comment. I have been checking out various options that I could afford and am currently leaning towards DigiKam. I’ll probably need to use another application for any serious editing but that is not a major focus for me at present as I’m still very much a novice in digital techniques.

Thanks again - such a supportive lot, you are. As someone who has what most would see as a fairly pessimistic view of the human race, it is refreshing to find people so ready to give time & energy to help others.

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