Sometime during the past decade, Adobe started pushing its subscription-based licensing. Eventually, acquiring a traditional, perpetual license for the products on their creative suite became impossible.
Since then, I’ve been looking to do away with Adobe products. I already switched from Premiere Pro to DaVinci Resolve Free. Unfortunately, when it came to photo editing, I couldn’t find a decent replacement until now.
I finally got rid of Photoshop. Granted, it wasn’t trivial. I had to make some (minor) sacrifices. This post is about telling you what I replaced it with.
The tools that need replacing
When I say Photoshop, I’m referring to three separate programs:
- Adobe Bridge
- Adobe Lightroom
- Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop is the most known and understood of the three. A wildly popular and known image editor that can be used for retouching photographs and creating digital art from scratch. Photoshop is so ubiquitous that it became a verb long ago: people often say something was “photoshopped” to imply an image was falsified somehow. In other words, Photoshop is the pinnacle of 2D raster graphics editing.
Lightroom, while less known in the mainstream, is wildly popular among amateur and professional photographers alike. Lightroom is photography-oriented and has you covered through every step of your workflow: from ingestion up to delivery. Ironically this is the one I use less of the three, only for ingestion and, very rarely, prints. I never got used to the workflow, and I’m not a big fan of the catalog-centric approach.
Finally, there’s Bridge, which I think is often the least understood of the bunch. It’s a file manager with asset-management-specific features. It is supposed to be the link across many Adobe products, therefore, its name. Bridge has been central to my workflow as I’ve used it for culling and organization. In that regard, it has been flawless. Whatever other fancy features it has don’t matter to me.
Why replace what already works?
As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons is that I’m sick and tired of every piece of software becoming subscription-based, especially when I’m not getting a service that requires 24×7 upkeep. I’ve reluctantly subscribed to Microsoft 356, and the more I think about it, the more it feels like a scam.
The biggest reason of all is pricing. I’ll get into detail later, but the Adobe option that better suits me is the Photography Plan, which is $238.88/year at the time of this writing.
The alternatives I settled with
To recap, my needs are:
- Downloading the files from the camera.
- Review and organize the photos.
- Edit the photos.
Replacing Adobe Bridge for photo management with XnView MP
This was the hardest to find a replacement I was ok with until I came across a recommendation for XnView MP.
For what I used Adobe Bridge, XnView MP feels like home. It’s free, has way more customization options, and the best part is that it’s genuinely cross-platform: it’s available on Windows, macOS, and Linux. I don’t need much of a Bridge alternative. I’m surprised it took me this long to hear about this piece of software which does everything I need from it. Also, as of this writing, I’m getting updates occasionally, which means it’s actively maintained.
Replacing Adobe Photoshop for photo editing with Serif Affinity Photo 2 and DxO ViewPoint 4
Adobe Photoshop is so huge that I doubt a single person will ever use all its features during their lifetime. Did you know it supports DICOM files, for example?
What I need from a photo editing package is to process RAW and JPEG files, do the usual exposure tuning settings, correct blemishes, export optimized versions, do batch operations, merge panoramas or exposure stacks, and make color corrections, to name a few.
When I heard Affinity Photo was on discount due to the v2 release, I installed it and forced myself to use it for a few days. I did not miss Photoshop, so I bought their universal license while the discount was still available.
The software is available for Windows, macOS, and iPad (which I don’t have). You can get licenses in two ways: either you pay $69.99 for a platform-specific license (except the iPad, which sells for $19.99), or you pay for what they call the Universal License, which gives you access to all Affinity Programs (this is Designer and Publisher) on all platforms.
As I said, I don’t miss Photoshop, except for the perspective correction in the Adobe Camera Raw plugin. Affinity Photo has a perspective correction tool which honestly sucks for what I want it to do.
That’s where DxO ViewPoint 4 comes in. It’s a stand-alone tool that allows for distortion and perspective correction. While Affinity Photo supports some Photoshop plugins, and ViewPoint 4 is also provided as a plugin, it is not listed as compatible with Affinity. To some, this might be a downside or even a deal-breaker. It doesn’t matter to me since the output of my workflow, in the end, is always JPEGs (regardless of whether I shoot RAW or not). So, using ViewPoint as a stand-alone program only adds a step at the end of my workflow.
Replacing Lightroom for ingestion with EOS Utility and XnView MP
Lightroom was the one I cared about the least because I only used it to import files, organize everything into the folder hierarchy I wanted, and rename the files according to my rules. The beauty of Lightroom is that it supports a wide range of cameras, so you don’t have to mess with different apps for different cameras.
The most obvious choice would be to use EOS Utility, so I chose this. While it does get the job done, I had some issues, which I have already found workarounds.
Canon provides two separate versions of EOS Utility: version 2 for older cameras like the 70D and version 3 for newer cameras like the M50. As far as I know, you can’t use one with the other. I’d prefer them to have a single program, but as a full-time developer, I understand the pain of maintaining legacy stuff, so I bear with it.
One weird thing is that under macOS, the only way I can get the older EOS Utility 2 not to crash is if I open Finder and browse to the app on the Applications folder. If launched automatically when the camera connects, from the dock or even from the launchpad, it crashes as soon as it starts importing. Why? I have no idea. Does it make sense? No. File under “it just works” with your local Apple fanboy.
The other thing I don’t like is that PowerShot cameras use the lesser “Canon Image Transfer Utility.” While it does transfer the files just fine, it doesn’t have the same file renaming features EOS Utility (or Lightroom) has. A workaround is to import from the SD card using XnView “Import and Sort” feature.
At this point, I might use an SD card reader for everything and import using XnView, with the additional benefit of faster transfer speeds. All these years, I avoided using card readers as you’re at risk of damaging your SD cards if you’re constantly taking them in and out, but that could be an impression left on me from the early days.
Let’s talk about money
|Product||Retail Price||What I paid|
|Affinity Universal License||$169.99||$99.99|
|DxO ViewPoint 4||$99.00||$99.00|
|EOS Utility 2 & 3||Included with camera||Included with camera|
The total comes short of $200. Compared to the $238.88 per year of Adobe’s Photography Plan, that’s a saving already, but only because I managed to get a discount. Comparing the total price, that would be $30.11 more expensive than Adobe’s offering.
That’s not the whole story, however.
These are “perpetual” licenses. I put it in quotes because that’s only true as long as both Serif and DxO don’t kill the activation for their older products. Their track record is good so far, though, as previous versions of both products lasted for around six years (and can still be activated, from what I read). Let’s settle for five years and compare both offerings, assuming pricing stays the same over this period:
|Products||Upfront cost, no discounts||Cost over five years|
|Affinity Universal License v2||$169.99||$169.99|
|DxO ViewPoint 4||$99.00||$99.00|
|Affinity + DxO||$268.99||$268.99|
|Adobe Photography Plan||$238.88||$1194.40|
So there you have it. Over five years, I’d save around $925. There are a few gotchas, though:
- Adobe’s Creative Cloud offerings also include cloud storage, which I don’t need but might be worthy to some individuals.
- Adobe’s Creative Cloud offerings ensure that you’ll always have access to the latest versions of their software (like it or not).
- With Affinity and DxO, I’ll have to pay again to upgrade. However, I have the option of not caring about new features and skipping a release cycle.
- The Affinity Universal License also includes Designer (for vector graphics) and Publisher (for desktop publishing) and the ability to use the same license simultaneously on multiple devices, according to their FAQ.
And if you think about it, I could still pay three times the total price of the alternatives and still have $118.44 left. And no, neither Serif nor DxO has released three new major versions within such a short time.
I could save even more going with the stand-alone license for Affinity Photo. Still, since I use both Windows and macOS and I’m starting to use Affinity Publisher, you could say their promotional discount got me.
You might want to rationalize those savings as being just $15.43 a month over five years. I certainly did. But now think about the things you buy every five years or so for around that money. We’re into computer upgrade territory here.
So, would this make financial sense to you?
You’re the only one who can answer that question, but I can help you by telling you that it depends on what you’re using these tools for.
As an amateur or hobbyist learning photography or doing it for fun, you should consider the alternatives instead of jumping straight into the Adobe bandwagon. Especially since most offer free trials with no credit card required. You must also look at what’s available to you for free. For example, Canon’s Digital Photo (or DPP) is a decent and powerful image-processing tool often overlooked. RawThreapee is another option, which is both free and open source. These two seem more focused on photo processing rather than image editing.
If you’re a creative professional, and by that, I mean this stuff pays the bills at home, then this is an entirely different discussion. For instance, $239.88 a year might be a reasonable business expense. Or maybe you do more than just photography and need other tools like Premiere Pro or After Effects, at which point the Creative Cloud “All Apps” bundle starts making much more sense.
If you’re working on a team or often collaborating with people, you’ll probably have to use the same tools as everyone else, in which case you probably don’t have an option.
However, I’m strictly speaking from a financial point of view. As a professional, you should take some time occasionally to see what the competition offers. DxO PhotoLab 6, which I tried, looks compelling if you’re for a software package exclusively for photography. It felt like what Lightroom should always have been. Most notably, their local adjustments feature blew my mind every time I used it.
In conclusion, I’m happy that I finally broke free of Adobe. The switch is not out of spite or hate. I genuinely believe that they’re on top of their game. However, considering my finances and needs, an expensive subscription for these tools makes no sense.
I honestly don’t miss Adobe at all, and I’m surprised to say this not even a year into dropping them. Will I be missing out on some new cool stuff they release? Probably. Especially considering that “AI” is the buzzword of the day, we can expect an avalanche of machine-learning-assisted tools to make it into the product in the following years.
But unless they get noise reduction like never seen before or some crazy automated perspective correction baked in, I’ll be yawning at their future tech demos.