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I'm currently using Picasa for simple organise/tag/crop/tune tasks. I've downloaded and tried the evaluation copy of Lightroom, and I'm impressed. However as an amateur I find the UK price a little hard to swallow, particularly given the speed at which software seems to become obsolete and need upgrading.

What (if any) decent alternatives are there around for less $$ ? I'm looking for something with a bit more power than Picasa - particularly with things like NR filtering.

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possible duplicate of Is there a more affordable program than Lightroom? – mattdm Nov 8 '11 at 14:37
up vote 15 down vote accepted

There are quite a few alternatives, depending somewhat on what you're after.

Workflow software

Personally, I like Bibble quite a bit. If memory serves, the Pro version is around the same price as LR, but the Lite version is quite a bit less expensive. One warning: while Bibble works well, they do have a history of being rather late delivering new versions (e.g., Bibble 5 was promised for something like 2 years before being delivered). For noise reduction, Bibble uses a version of Noise Ninja, which is (quite rightly, IMO) considered one of the best noise reduction programs available (though there are certainly others that are competitive).

Note: Bibble discontinued in favour of Corel AfterShot Pro

Raw Therapee is an open-source raw converter with decent noise reduction and a heavy emphasis on demosaicing algorithms to extract as as possible from any given raw data file. The goal here is more to get the most out of good pictures than reduce noise (and such) to save those that aren't so good.

SilkyPix Developer Studio Has pretty good noise reduction as well -- depending on the situation and picture involved, it's sometimes better than Noise Ninja (though other times it's not quite as good).

LightZone is yet another. Basically all the same kinds of features, as most of the others. I haven't used it enough to really comment on it in any detail though. Their big brag is their "Relight" -- one-click fix of exposure, contrast, etc. It seems to work reasonably well -- for one example, in the same league with Athentech Perfectly Clear (Ps Plugin, also included in Bibble Pro). Their noise reduction appears usable but doesn't seem to be anything special.

Aperture is Apple's workflow software. Given that it's from Apple, it's no surprise that it only runs under OS/X, so if you're a Windows user, you might as well move on to the next item. If you do use a Mac, it should probably be the first one you test. You might easily not bother looking at any others -- Aperture is easily competitive with (or, in the estimation of many Apple fans, clearly better than) anything else on the market.

editing software

These are much more like Photoshop than Lightroom.

Photoshop Elements was originally developed as an update to Photoshop LE. The first couple of versions were kind of lame (missing some features I'd consider truly crucial), but more recently it's not too bad. This is one, however, that pays to read some of the "tips and tricks" kind of papers/books/magazine articles -- quite a bit of what you can do is semi-hidden, so if you just use it for what's obvious, you see something much more limited than it really is -- though I haven't used the most recent version, so this may not be (as) true anymore.

PaintShop Pro X3 is another that started life (long before Corel bought it) as (at least IMO) a fairly worthless wannabe program you'd run across at Walmart for $19.95, but over the years they put in a lot of time and effort, and turned it into a serious photo editing program. I haven't used it a lot (actually, I haven't used X3 at all -- my most recent use was of X2) but it seems amazingly close to the capabilities of Ps even though the price is about the same as Ps Elements. The obvious advantage of Photoshop is support for roughly 10 zillion add-ons, plug-ins, presets, etc.

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You've missed one of the best. GIMP. – tomm89 Oct 18 '10 at 0:16
I debated mentioning The GIMP, but given the specific mention of noise reduction, I'd have to disagree about its being one of the best. The GIMP has basically nothing in the way of noise reduction beyond basic Gaussian blur -- it's even up to you to mask edges you don't want blurred before you do the blurring. As a general editing tool, it's a solid suggestion, but when looking specifically at/for noise reduction, it's relatively weak. – Jerry Coffin Oct 18 '10 at 4:54
Thanks. Bibble looks really good. No LX5-specific support yet, but they're on it... – Roddy Oct 19 '10 at 15:08
Bibble Pro itself is quite good. Loved the speed and the search interface, it made it easy to refine from broad searches to get specific results. In the end I decided to use Lightroom because of a Bibble bug that made them skip over large panoramas. I emailed, called and even faxed them and never got ANY sort of reply. – Itai Nov 2 '10 at 14:56

Adobe Photoshop Elements is actually a pretty good package these days. It offers a lot of the tools found in Photoshop, as well as some of the niceties of Lightroom. It uses a darker interface, which is ideal for working with photography, and includes some decent image library management tools as well. Its pretty cheap ($80), and certainly better than most other offerings in its price range (or free) with the possible exception of Gimp.

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There are a lot of alternatives. The ideal one for you depends on how much worflow versus how much editing features you need. There is a review of the asset-management aspects of Lightroom, Bibble Pro, IDimager, IMatch and Picajet FX here:

Since you are looking at something cheap, look at IMatch and Picajet FX, they go for about $65 and $60, respectively. This article does not cover editing features other than saying which ones have any.

For editing, you seem to have already gotten some good answers. Photoshop is obviously the benchmark in terms of features and price but Elements is surprisingly affordable while delivering a rich feature set.

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You can give a try to Helicon Filter.

It is a pretty simple photo editor where each tab represents a step in a workflow, in that way is it easy to use.

I used it briefly a few years ago, and liked the intuitive interface and B&W settings - you could basically choose a look from a list of different types of B&W film. I am not sure how accurate that was but at that time I was happy with the results.

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Paint.NET is free and may offer some of the functionality you are after.

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I love as a general purpose bitmap graphics editor, but it doesn't seem really suited to regular work with photos. – Roddy Oct 17 '10 at 22:36
Sorry, Paint.NET is an ok image editing program, but not really tool to do any kind of photography work with. It doesn't offer any kind of organizing/tagging, and outside of some very basic editing tools, does not really provide anything to effectively fine-tune and fix photographs (outside of its curves tool.) – jrista Oct 17 '10 at 23:10

You could try Blue Marine, which is a really good alternative, and it's available for Windows/Linux/OS X

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No editing tools at all so far. :-( – Roddy Oct 17 '10 at 22:35

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