Lightroom replacement

What are my options?

I have still been unable to get my copy of Lightroom 6.5.1 to launch on an M1 Mac, via these instructions or any variant I've tried. I was able to get it working fine on a 64 bit x86 Mac running 12.6, though, so it's an architecture issue, not an OS version issue.

 Crashed Thread:        0  Dispatch queue:

 Exception Type:        EXC_BAD_ACCESS (SIGBUS)
 Exception Codes:       KERN_PROTECTION_FAILURE at 0x00007ff81e8fc7b9
 Exception Codes:       0x0000000000000002, 0x00007ff81e8fc7b9

 Termination Reason:    Namespace SIGNAL, Code 10 Bus error: 10
 Terminating Process:   exc handler [48076]

 Thread 0 Crashed::  Dispatch queue:
 0   libConfigurer.dylib           	       0x10b9550a7 0x10b901000 + 344231
 1   libobjc.A.dylib               	       0x7ff80089a537 load_images + 1315
 2   dyld                          	       0x2031a7672 dyld4::RuntimeState::notifyObjCInit(dyld4::Loader const*) + 170
 3   dyld                          	       0x2031b1745 dyld4::Loader::runInitializersBottomUp(dyld4::RuntimeState&, dyld3::Array<dyld4::Loader const*>&) const + 167
 4   dyld                          	       0x2031b1733 dyld4::Loader::runInitializersBottomUp(dyld4::RuntimeState&, dyld3::Array<dyld4::Loader const*>&) const + 149
 5   dyld                          	       0x2031b1733 dyld4::Loader::runInitializersBottomUp(dyld4::RuntimeState&, dyld3::Array<dyld4::Loader const*>&) const + 149
 6   dyld                          	       0x2031b182c dyld4::Loader::runInitializersBottomUpPlusUpwardLinks(dyld4::RuntimeState&) const + 164
 7   dyld                          	       0x2031d1117 dyld4::APIs::runAllInitializersForMain() + 337
 8   dyld                          	       0x20319c369 dyld4::prepare(dyld4::APIs&, dyld3::MachOAnalyzer const*) + 3743
 9   dyld                          	       0x20319b281 start + 2289

My primary requirements are:

  • Keep my photos in the folders where I placed them, rather than sucking them into a database and renaming everything. This eliminates Apple Photos as an option.
  • Don't modify the original files except to write tags and other metadata into them.
  • Do not store things in The Clown.
  • Understand the EXIF tags that Lightroom already wrote.
  • Make rating, tagging and tag searching easy.
  • Make exporting to JPEG with presets easy.

I gave DarkTable a try, and it's an almost. It claims to understand the sidecar XML files used by Lightroom with raw files, but I find much of the UI baffling:

  • There seems to be no way to display a set of photos full screen and go through and rate them one by one.
  • The interface for displaying and editing tags is confusing and ugly, especially hierarchical tags.
  • Presumably there's a way to show all photos that match a tag, but I haven't found it.
  • I keep getting stuck in sub-modes where I can't figure out how to get back to my list of folders, and have to quit and restart.

What else is out there?

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33 Responses:

  1. Burdock Root says:

    I switched to Capture One from Lightroom as it does everything you need, it has a Lightroom Import option that was mostly able to cope with my 30,000 Lightroom catalog.

    You can buy a subscription or just one-off per-version licenses which is the primary reason I switched from Lightroom.

    It's a bit of a different UI, but it works as expected.

  2. Pip says:

    I gave up and started using Apple Photos, but I disabled the thing where it sucks everything into the library. You can just have it link to the originals on disk, untouched.

    • jwz says:

      [citation needed]!  Does that actually work? Does it secretly make a copy and double the storage requirements?

      • tfb says:

        Yes, it does work.

        Except that it seems to work by some deep macOS magic (so, not symlinks because they are not cool enough for Apple) which means that if you do anything it does not like it will have an attack of the vapours and tell you that it can no longer find the originals.  Which things exactly it does not like is unknown, but almost certainly includes pressing any key.

        You can then, if foolish, explain to it where the originals now are (which is the same place they always were).  It will then work for a while but then lose track again.

        I gave up and, since my 'proper' camera writes files that Photos can't hack anyway (Sigma, basically nothing except Sigma's awful application can deal with X3Fs, do not ask why I have a Sigma), I keep an entire separate copy of everything else in Photos as well as in the directory structure I care about.  Yes, this is extremely shit.

        Also, tagging things in Photos is really painful if your workflow is 'next picture, tag as x, y, z, repeat and you like to be able to do this from the keyboard.

  3. Philipp says:

    I switched from LR to Dxo Photolab. I like it so far, although I feel the workflow is less stream-lined...

    • thomasjpr says:

      I second the DxO Photolab recommendation. They do tend to roll out $100 upgrades every year, but the software is rock solid, and has some really powerful features for noise reduction, lens distortion correction, and lighting. The exporting functionality is really great as well -- you can create a slew of custom presets for your export (format, quality, location, suffix, metadata, etc.) and run it all in batch. The latest version is Apple Silicon-ready, and I throw hundreds of gigs of RAW files at it without a hitch.

      • Don says:

        I don't mind $100 upgrades every year if I can just f'n ignore them and keep using the thing that still meets my needs if there's no compelling reason. *glares at Adobe*

  4. Seth says:

    If you are done with Darktable, read no further. If you want a single solution to the one thing I know how to do, you're welcome.

    I'm still learning Darktable and find the UI difficult and inconsistent, but here's how I rate photos one a time fullscreen:

    1. Be in Lightroom view (L)
    2. Adjust the number of photos it shows at once to 1. (Slider at the bottom, or C-scroll)
    3. (optional) View <unstarred only> (pulldown up top)
    4. Hide all the crap (Tab)
    5. rate a photo, 1-5, repeat

    If you want to do the same thing just with selected images, not the entire collection, try this:

    1. Be in Lightroom view (L)
    2. Select photos
    3. Enter Culling Mode (X)
    4. Show 1 photo at a time (slider at bottom)
    5. Hide all the crap (Tab)
    6. etc

    So if other people solve its many other problems, you're all set!

    • jwz says:

      Most of the time the "slider at the bottom" is some incomprehensible date-range thing, that I can't figure out how to clear. "Clear this rule" is never selectable. If I click on a little 4 pixel target whose icon is "resize window", I can make the other slider appear, but it's almost impossible to hit it without also making it go away. And when I crank it all the way to the left, that doesn't mean "show one image", it means "show the middle like 80% or so of the image, whatever, close enough." This program is terrible.

      • Seth says:

        Nothing you say matches anything I've seen. This is the one I'm talking about:

      • Job says:

        Regarding the confusing date-range thing, I'm not sure about where to find it in v3.01's interface, but IIRC if you click on "filemanager" you can switch to another layout. The mysterious date-range thing is the "zoomable file" layout for some reason (in v4 they have all four modes visible as separate icons on the bottom for easy switching, which is much better - in general you might want to try updating to that version first before giving DarkTable another try).

        Regarding going through photos one-by-one to rate them, in "lighttable" mode you can press "f" to enter or exit full-screen. It will have the rating buttons visible in the top-left (you can also use 1-5 to rate them, or press "r" to reject a photo). Arrow keys let you switch photos in full-screen mode.

        Alternatively, you might prefer the "culling mode" view (also accessed/exited by pressing "x"). By default it's set up to compare two photos side by side, but you can set that to show one photo (or more than two) with the slider on the bottom right. I use that view a lot with when shooting with burst-mode and having to select the best option.

        Also, when comparing multiple photos side-by-side in culling mode you can use CTRL+mousewheel to quickly zoom in and out to check which of the two is the least shaky, for example.

  5. rmt says:

    I’ve been very happy with Exposure X7. There’s no weird subscription or cloud shit. Tagging, rating and searching works well and is fast and I can keep my own folder structure intact.

    I never got into LR, so I’m not certain how well it’ll deal with any preexisting sidecar files. That one might be a dealbreaker.

    • jwz says:

      Exposure X7 seems pretty good so far! Fully functional 30 day trial, no clown, and it seems to have copied a lot of the Lightroom UI so it's pretty familiar. It handles LR's EXIF keywords sensibly.

      I can't actually tell whether it is interpreting the old LR sidecar files, but that's not a deal breaker.

      • Ian says:

        Somewhat annoyingly, there are a bunch of photo programs each of which do something(s) really really well, and all the other stuff not as well as others.

        Exposure is really really good at making your photos look like you took them in 1970, and several other colour changes. It's quite good at cataloging.

        Photolab is really really good at RAW processing and lens/camera corrections (provided you're not using a recent iPhone or almost any Android phone, but are using a DSLR or good compact).

        ON1 is.. etc etc etc.

        For cataloguing, I use digiKam (albeit not on a Mac, so I don't know how well it integrates with everything else, just that it leaves stuff where it is) and do the heavy editing with about four other programs depending on what I need to do.

        I still miss Picasa.

  6. a says:

    like Seth, I can also help with one of the Darktable issues, this being search. to no credit of the Darktable team, I know that what you want is the "collections" menu on the left sidebar:the overall menu (1) is the search interface. (2) is the combo-box for the field type you want to search over - you probably want Metadata > Tag, but there are many other options for things to search over. (3) is the search box, where you can enter queries - it supports wildcards and some other stuff, I forget what/how. the big empty area underneath should automatically list options for the field you're searching over. (4) stores your N most recent search queries, and you can click on one to go back to it.

    the little arrow in (3) allows you to search over more than one thing at a time - if you wanted, you could do "tag1 AND tag2 AND tag3", or "tag1 OR tag2 NOT tag3". however, the operators are confusing-associative, and I have no idea how operator precedence works.

    after setting up my first few tags, the "tagging" menu on the right sidebar works OK for me (double-click to attach tags to selection, type a substring of a tag name to search) but my needs are pretty basic, I don't have background w/other easier programs, and the UI is certainly ugly. if it helps, layers of hierarchical tags are pipe-separated, e.g. "Places|California|San Francisco|DNA Lounge" which is occasionally useful in formulating queries.

    for escaping submodes: you can try holding ? (or maybe it's Ctrl+/) to bring up a menu of hotkeys, but There Be Dragons.

    • jwz says:

      So I know there are a dozen or so folders imported into this thing. I am looking at this crud, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what the click on to get back to that list of folders, or even show any image at all:
      Also love that my choices for colors are gray-on-white, or gray-on-gray.

      • a says:

        collections is showing you options for your "capture date" field (the only option being 2021), I believe because that's the most-recently-interacted-with query clause. if your lower-most combo box were set to "folder" instead, it would show you your list of folders in that area instead.

        Darktable uses a percent sign as its wildcard (yes, weird and bad) and afaict, it treats an empty-string query over a field as unsatisfiable, so your query is equivalent to "false AND false". since the images shown in the view are based on your current query, Darktable is showing no images.

        to get back to a good state, try clicking on the little buttons to the right of the search boxes and then "clear this rule" until you have just one row. once you do, switch the combo box over to "folder" and choose from one of the available options (or enter a percent sign for it to show all your photos.)

        in my experience, Darktable tends to default to "film roll" for organizing things instead of "folder". I think they're mostly equivalent, except something like "folder" is the absolute path whereas "film roll" is the leaf folder of the images? not sure. but basically, you can try using that if "folder" doesn't work for some reason.

        • jwz says:

          All of the [x] icons are grayed out. Somehow I managed to get it to show me the list of folders again, and now there's no way to sort them ascending? This program is insane.

    • jwz says:

      So apparently it doubled all my tags? Showing tag hierarchy as "append them all together with bars" is some "just set an environment variable" next-level design.

      • a says:

        it may help marginally to toggle on tree view for the list of all tags, if you haven't already done so:
        not sure how to fix the duplicate-tags-on-images or get a saner listing of the tags on a particular image :/

  7. Jeff says:

    I know, I know, I know you don't want to do what I'm about to suggest. Nor should you want to do it, nor should you have to do it. But...I have also followed your blog for years, think I know your tolerance levels for bullshit, and...well, I'm just going to say it.

    Just tithe Adobe every month, get Creative Cloud, use "Lightroom Classic," and be done with it.

    Yes, yes, yes! I know this is a horrible fucking choice. I know that we should be able to buy software once, and that said software should Just Work forever. I know!

    At the same time, I have used goddamned near every photo aggregator/editor/manager under the sun and literally every one of them fails in ways that (for me) make them deal breakers. The only remotely-sane solution is to just close your eyes, think of England, and give Adobe what it wants. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it, but that's all I've found. Nothing else, nothing, comes close to giving me what I want with minimal bullshit.

    I truly wish there was even a remotely better option, but I haven't found it yet. And if you, in your searching, somehow manage do manage to find one, I would be thrilled to hear it.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, I would sooner eat glass than ever give Adobe another dime as long as I live.

    • +1  I've used Lightroom for so long and have so much muscle memory that in my old age I have no patience to re-learn & re-import into some other tool.  The photography workflow equivalent of "finally got my Emacs setup the way I like it".  I've also learned a lot of stress and hassle can just simply be avoided by throwing money at the problem.

    • Don says:

      I can (marginally) stomach paying Adobe every month; it's the fact that I can't just install one groddamned thing and use it without repeated games of Search & Destroy on all the other trash they want to put on my computer that I just can't cope with anymore.

  8. Axxel says:

    I was never a LightRoom user, so I can't speak to the quality of its Lightroom import, but I believe Mylio may fit  other requirements.

    - You can place your photos in other folders and reference them as "Linked" folders. That said, its less of a fight if you let it copy them to the main Mylio directory. AFAICT folder organization under that directory is completely up to you, though it can reorganize the content according to a scheme you specify.

    - It does use The Clown to sync your DB state across devices, but importantly not the actual photos. The cloud appears to be only used to pass metadata between devices, once received the metadata about the photos appears in XMP sidecar files on local storage. I'm reasonably sure I can walk away at any time with my photos in a sensible directory layout and the data in the XMP files.

    - I don't use tagging, so I can't speak to that UI.

    - Its primarily an organizer, not a photo editor, so you'll need some other tool for major editing.

    - The sync engine is eventually consistent, for surprisingly large values of "eventual". My devices don't always agree on how many photos I have, and I periodically (like once a year) end up needing to reset one device and allowing it to resync from scratch. I keep extensive backups to offset the possibility a sync goes rogue, though that has never actually happened.

    - Support has been helpful, to the point of direct messages with the development team.

    - Its subscription software, with the usual frustrations that implies.

    Mylio is the only solution I've found to a shared photo library across multiple devices that's not "upload everything to our cloud and manage it there". If that's not your primary usage the tradeoffs of the partial cloud dependence may not be worth it.

  9. TreeSpeaker says:

    There is also Photo Mechanic which has been around for 25+ years and is the go-to ingest, tag, crop, and export solution for many press photographers. It's very much the "leave the files where I put them, thankyouverymuch" you are asking for. It's also incredibly fast at reading and generating previews for fast culling and picking. It's not Lightroom as far as deep editing and image swizzling, tho it does do things like crop. I also don't know if it understands sidecar or embedded Lightroom tags - which tags are you looking for it to understand? The developers (all 2 or 3 of them) are also incredibly responsive.

  10. John Wilson says:

    I use capture one express because it came free with my Fuji. I still have Lightroom 5 (didn’t get on the 6 train, damn it) and I use it with my old Canon.

    I only just learned about capture one’s import function, but I cannot use it because my free version of capture one will not read canon raw files and my old adobe wont read files from my Fuji. Paid versions of capture one can read all raw files.

    Capture one does well with full screen and rate one at a time (arrow keys to move to next, 0-5 on the keyboard rates it that number of stars). And it works works reasonably okay on my M1 Mac (it doesn’t like it when Firefox is stealing all of the RAM and CPU, but its otherwise snappy)

    I hear it has options to leave photos in place and untouched, but that’s not my workflow so you’ll have to test that out or do some investigating what the right settings are.

    I think I’m doing the default, which is “leave originals alone, just copy them into the capture one catalog and work off the copies” so keep an eye on the catalog size to make sure that’s not happening to you.

    Tags are called keywords and it’s very easy to type a bunch in a comma separated list on the info tab. They show up instantly in the metadata browser and it’s easy to add them to complex searches.

    You dont need to put quotes around tags with spaces, the parser knows you meant a two word tag, its all delimited by commas. I haven’t tried tagging my photos with Zalgo text however so the tag parser may not be perfect.

    The export to JPEG with presets, the way I would do that is select all photos, go to styles and pick a style, it will apply to all of them, then right click on one of the images in the list, choose export->variants and pick the size of the JPEGs and where you want them to export to.

    There are custom styles and custom presets and I have no idea how they work or what the difference is since I never use them.

    Overall switching to Capture One was a frustrating pain in the ass but its not their fault I have 15 years of Lightroom muscle memory. Fuck Adobe.

  11. I'm on the beta of Tyler Hall's "Iris" app, and it's all about personal memories and people in photos, indexing an existing folder structure *without* importing the stuff anywhere else.

    It's more a viewer of your pictures with some annotations to e.g. look for "all pictures of my niece during winter".

    It's also great as a mere stand-alone indexed photo viewer. Super snappy with many thumbnails:

  12. thielges says:

    xnview classic (free) comes very close to your requirements.   My workflow very much depends on the photo viewer adapting to how I store images on disk.   I also rename, move, add, delete files via other applications all the time and xnview keeps up with those changes even when it is open while shuffling files around behind its back.  

    The one requirement  it doesn’t quite meet is rating in full screen mode.   For some reason the hot keys for rating don’t work in full screen.   But you can configure a non-full screen layout that gives your image preview pane 80-90% of the screen.   You can traverse the folder and rate images via keyboard alone.   

  13. joshua says:

    When you pick a replacement, would you mind sharing more broadly your findings?  I have the same problem: I currently have a Mac running Mojave that I'm scared to upgrade because I use Lightroom 6, and the Mac is aging out quite badly, and one of these days I'm going to need to upgrade to a *new* interactive login machine on my desk...  My general workflow is:

    • import RAWs from my camera
    • lightly tag them, leave them in a directory structure that I control
    • pick / reject the best / worst of them
    • of the best, adjust white balance / levels / etc, dodge, burn, etc
    • burn JPEGs of my favorites

    I'm not sure how much you're doing of the editing, rather than just the library management, but any opinions on any of the above would be useful for me.

    • jwz says:

      I do basically that, though it's been a few years since I did any real editing. And even then my editing was light. So far I've tried Darktable (hate it) and Exposure X7 (seems pretty good after using it for a few hours).

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