Adobe is the 800 pound gorilla of the digital darkroom. With Lightroom and Photoshop, they are the vendor that almost every serious photographer uses to turn their images from what they get in camera to what they show off to the rest of us.

Unfortunately, a significant number of these photographers do so grumbling and clenching their teeth and wishing they had alternatives to giving money to Adobe. There’s good reason for this unhappiness because as good as Adobe’s tools are and as talented as their enginees are, their marketing and management often make decisions on things like pricing that come across as at best tone deaf and can easily be interpreted as arrogant. Adobe’s shift to Creative Cloud is a good example; completely ignoring the discussion on shifting from shrinkwrap licensing to a subscription model — since that is a huge fight for many on top of everything else — their initial pricing for Creative Cloud was frankly abusive to people like photographers who only wanted access to Photoshop, and a lot of loud and angry criticism ensued. Adobe ultimately listened and the current pricing and offerings in Creative Cloud are in my view reasonable, but Adobe has this long history of pricing decisions that boil down to “We know you have no choice and we don’t care if you’re unhappy”, and that’s left a lot of users wishing for options.

Unfortunately, there haven’t been many alternatives that can solve all of the problems or do the necessary work nearly as well as the Adobe tools do. Unfortunately the only real alternative to Lightroom was Apple’s Aperture, which was clearly abandoned long ago and finally put on the End of Life pile by Apple and is now fading to black. A number of us, however, felt that there was enough unhappieness among Adobe Customers and resistance to Creative Cloud that other companies might see opportunity and finally come out with products that might give us realistic alternatives to living in the Adobe Ecosystem.

And that might have finally happened. Recently added to the Apple App Store for the Mac is a program called Emulsion, which is promoting itself as a pro-level photo cataloging app. at $49.99. At first glance it looks very interesting and I plan on putting it through its paces soon, and when I do I’ll report back. If you try it out, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

They have a set of Youtube tutorials available on the web site, and you can read the manual here This is clearly a small shop (possibly a one person effort) so it doesn’t have the polish of Adobe, but for those looking for alternatives, it’s worth a look and maybe buying a copy to support them while they enhance and improve the product. I’m going to.

It is not a complete replacement for a Photographer’s Creative Cloud on its own but it seems to be a way to replace the cataloging aspect of Lightroom and Adobe Bridge. I’ll have to test their rendering to see how well it works compared to Lightroom.

For those looking for other tools that might replace Adobe in their digital darkroom, here are a couple of other suggestions to look at:

Affinity Photo is one of the best Photoshop alternatives I’ve seen so far. I haven’t used it a lot yet but I like what I see. It’s $49.99 in the Apple App Store. This app also does raw processing, and if it had cataloging capability of Emulsion or a fairly seamless connection between the two, you could build a reasonable digital darkroom between the two. Other really good tools that live in the Photoshop type app world include Acorn 4 and Pixelmator. Pixelmator is probably the closest to a “pure” version of Photoshop, Acorn includes some vector tools that give it some capabilities similar to Adobe Illustrator.

The piece that’s been missing for me so far has been the cataloging, and without that, it’s hard for me to move to the other tools, because as long as I’m living in Lightroom, the integration of the Adobe tools makes it worth my time. Emulsion is the first tool I’ve seen taking a stab at replacing that function, and how it does in the market and how it grows over time is something I’m going to watch.

One other tool you might want to explore is Capture One by Phase One. It is a pro-caliber processing tool that is a solid replacement for Adobe Camera Raw with some cataloging options. At $299 it’s not cheap but I know a number of pro and serious photographers using it who are very happy with it. I did some testing with it because I’d seen claims it was a better RAW processor for the Fuji XT cameras than Adobe, and with Lightroom 5, I found that was actualy correct, especially in how shadow areas were rendered, but I didn’t feel the difference was worth the time and energy of uprooting my workflows at the time — and Lightroom 6/CC has noticably improved its handling of the Fuji RAW images. For someone really serious about shifting away from Adobe and willing to spend some money to do so, this may be your best option today.

It does seem that companies are seeing opportunity to compete against Lightroom and Photoshop in the Creative Cloud era. If you’re looking to replace Adobe in your Digital Darkroom, maybe some of these tools will give you what you need to do that.

Updates to Adobe Creative Cloud

Part of the promise of a Creative Cloud subscription is that you get features added to the programs ad Adobe finishes them rather than having them all wait for a major release every 18 months or so. Whatever you think of subscribing to your software (an argument for another day), Adobe has followed through pretty well on that promise with Lightroom over the last year or so, and we’ve now seen the first major feature released into Lightroom CC as well, so as much as I criticized Adobe earlier in this newsletter, I want to also point out that they’re keeping up their side of the bargain on the value of Creative Cloud.

A major Creative Cloud release came out in june with many signficant new features. The Dehaze feature in Photoshop and Lightroom CC is fascinating and I’m seeing photographers starting to find interesting ways to take advantage of it. I’m not as convinced about the new stock service and I don’t plan on using it. One fascinating look at its possibilities is this example of how it’s being adopted in astrophography.

Overall, though, I wanted to give Adobe credit for continuing to evolve and enhance these tools within Creative Cloud adn add features in a way consistent with the promises that the subscription model give us as users.