13 Best RAW Photo Editors in 2021

13 Best RAW Photo Editors in 2021

A RAW file editor is a tool for dealing with hi-res pics with a wide dynamic range, realistic colors and sharp details. When choosing this type of software, you should pay attention to its RAW processing capabilities, whether the RAW processor is good enough and how well it handles RAW images.

Besides, the best RAW photo editor must offer batch image processing, digital asset management, preset libraries, layers and masks as well as basic photo editing instruments.

Top 13 RAW Photo Editors

  1. Adobe Lightroom - Cloud-based professional editor
  2. Aurora HDR - Natural tonal and color gradation
  3. Luminar 4 - AI Sky Replacement feature
  4. Affinity Photo - Non-destructive filters
  5. ACDSee Photo Studio - Best image cataloging with RAW processing
  6. Capture One Pro - Full-fledged image processing program
  7. DxO PhotoLab - Advanced RAW processing technologies
  8. AfterShot Pro - Excellent noise reduction
  9. Darktable - Completely free powerful RAW editor
  10. PaintShop Pro - Streamlined RAW Editing
  11. Microsoft Photos - Windows alternative to Apple Photos
  12. RAW Power - First-class RAW editor
  13. Pictorial - Photo organizing and editing for Mac users

It takes quite a lot of time and resources to develop RAW software, so you are unlikely to find a free RAW editor. However, most programs offer free trial periods to test their features.

You may choose between online and desktop software. Every day, they become better and more convenient. It is impossible (and unnecessary) to try each program you come across on the net so we have prepared a brief review of the best RAW editors for Windows and Mac currently available.

1. Adobe Lightroom – Our Choice

 
Cloud-based professional editor
  • Numerous dubbed series
  • Stylish user interface
  • Intuitive search system
  • Offline downloads
  • No manga support

Verdict: Adobe Lightroom is powerful RAW editing software providing access to cloud storage and great synchronization options. You may sync edits across all your gadgets, share images, use advanced picture management tools, etc. Lightroom has numerous presets. In case they are not enough, you may check the Adobe community and download new ones. There are also many training materials.

The program offers advanced settings for correcting colors and light balance in RAW images. Lightroom preserves the original quality of a shot; you may also convert an edited image into any format without using third-party RAW files converters.

adobe lightroom raw photo editor interface

2. Aurora HDR

 
Natural tonal and color gradation
  • Realistic results
  • Professional non-destructive photo editing
  • Supports plug-ins
  • Graphics card compatibility problems

Verdict: Aurora HDR is well-designed RAW processing software that ensures realistic tonal and color grading. Developers appeal to users with an affordable price and advanced features. It is one of the best Canon RAW editors available on the market for now.

The program has an Enhance Panel, where you can quickly improve structure and micro contrast. Draw a slider and you will highlight the tiniest details without making the image over-processed. Using Aurora, you may also reduce noise in a photo.

aurora hdr raw photo editor interface

3. Luminar 4

 
AI Sky Replacement feature
  • Built-in photo catalog
  • Non-destructive image editing
  • AI Sky Replacement
  • Offers a plug-in version
  • Without virtual copies

Verdict: Luminar 4 RAW software brags about a stylish interface, simple image organization, one-click ‘Looks’ and impressive portrait editing features. Thanks to basic image editing tools, Luminar may be called one of the best photo editing software for beginners. Apart from RAW photo editing features, it offers cropping tools, geometric corrections, image layers, etc.

Users may fully rely on integrated browsing and cataloging tools. For example, you may ‘virtually’ group images into albums although they are located in different folders.

luminar 4 raw photo editor interface

4. Affinity Photo

 
Non-destructive filters
  • Attractive pricing
  • Wide array of features
  • Complete 32-bit editing
  • Difficulties with saving and exporting

Verdict: Affinity Photo allows for various manipulations with RAW images. This RAW file editor provides all the necessary features a professional image retoucher may need ‒ Layers, Filters, Adjustment Layers, Layer Masks, etc. You may also use Live Filters that affect a photo in a non-destructive manner.

Unlike earlier versions, the latest one allows for manual lens correction. The same goes for handling metadata; there are special editable places to insert copyright info, tags, descriptions, etc.

affinity photo raw photo editor interface

5. ACDSee Photo Studio

 
Best image cataloging with RAW processing
  • Convenient image management
  • Useful online guides
  • Simple and user-friendly
  • Provides lifetime licenses
  • Poor HDR function

Verdict: ACDSee Photo Studio has all the features typical of the best RAW photo editor. It provides excellent image management and RAW processing features, involving layers, filters, masking and adjustment layers. Moreover, it brags about excellent cataloging possibilities.

The last version provides HDR processing, focus stacking and a Blended Clone Tool (something like a Healing Brush). The new options include face detection and recognition. In addition, developers improved text-related features ‒ now you may add text as Layers and use character and style control.

acdsee photo studio raw photo editor interface

6. Capture One Pro

 
Full-fledged image processing program
  • Great RAW file conversion
  • Appealing UI
  • Speedy import features
  • Excellent noise reduction
  • Lacks panorama or HDR merging capabilities

Verdict: Capture One Pro is a RAW file editor that you may choose without hesitation. Here you get superior RAW processing options, image cataloging, layers, local adjustments, keystone adjustments and professional image editing functions. Moreover, Capture One Pro offers instruments to remove lens-geometry distortion.

For your convenience, the software has right-click menu options and keystroke combinations, like C for cropping, Ctrl-T to show or hide the Tools Menu, number keys for ratings. If you need, you may create your own shortcuts for some frequently-used tools. The program is not free but you may test it for 30 days before you have to pay. If you can't decide what program in Capture One vs Lightroom stand-off is better, we recommend using trial versions to test both.

capture one pro raw photo editor interface

7. DxO PhotoLab

 
Advanced RAW processing technologies
  • Impressive lens correction features
  • Superior RAW processing
  • Unique DeepPRIME processing
  • Enhanced interface
  • No Fujifilm X-Trans RAW file support

Verdict: DxO PhotoLab 4 is focused on qualitative lens corrections and advanced RAW processing technologies. However, it also offers standard image editing options and tools. You need to upload images to the program and it automatically performs camera RAW processing and lens correction in accordance with its own database of camera and lens info.

PhotoLab RAW file editor follows non-destructive photo editing principle, which makes DxO PhotoLab vs Lightroom battle even more interesting. You may also perform some local adjustments, apply a graduated filter tool, use a manual brush tool and a control point tool from the Nik Collection.

dxo photolab raw photo editor interface

8. AfterShot Pro

 
Excellent noise reduction
  • Speedy import
  • Impressive noise reduction
  • Advanced exposure correction options
  • Blemish correction
  • Not enough organization features

Verdict: AfterShot RAW editing software pleases users with a wide array of image editing tools and absolute convenience. You don’t have to switch to Standard, Color, Tone, or Detail tabs to start photo editing since there are point-and-click buttons below the photo viewer. You may immediately start white-point picking, cropping, leveling, red-eye correction and layer-based region editing.

Thanks to the multiple layer support, you may not only use healing and cloning options but also perform lighting and color correction. To activate the before/after view, you have to create a second copy of an image and select both variants. Unfortunately, there is no Import button on the interface and you can’t get any pop-up messages when plugging in an SDHC card.

aftershot pro raw photo editor interface

9. Darktable

 
Completely free powerful RAW editor
  • Lightroom-like cataloging
  • Non-destructive photo editing
  • Without an ‘upgrade’ push
  • Requires prior knowledge

Verdict: Many professionals choose Darktable since it is an open-source program successfully combining basic image editing features and those for handling RAW files. It offers non-destructive image editing with further importing to a database (if needed). You may use handy editing tools to work with RAW and JPEG pictures.

This RAW file editor allows you to crop, rotate, adjust exposure, channel mixer, color contrast, equalizer, lens correction, etc. You shouldn’t worry whether it can open your photo as Darktable works with the most popular formats. It supports built-in ICC profiles and GPU acceleration.

darktable raw photo editor interface

10. PaintShop Pro

 
Streamlined RAW Editing
  • Full-cycle RAW file editor
  • Works with 360-degree images
  • Improved HDR tools
  • Crop tools with numerous grids
  • Messy interface

Verdict: If someone tells you that PaintShop Pro 2021 is a basic image editor, don’t believe them. It is a great Nikon RAW editor that guarantees you impressive results. In a matter of seconds, you may improve saturation, brightness, contrast and temperature. Apart from that, PaintShop offers all necessary RAW editing tools.

In addition, it is compatible with cameras by famous brands, like Canon and Nikon. In such a way, you may easily get rid of any lens distortion. The program is suitable for editing portraits; you may remove wrinkles, red-eye effect and blemishes in several mouse clicks. Various filters help make the teeth whiter, enhance the skin tone, etc.

paintshop pro raw photo editor interface

11. Microsoft Photos

 
Windows alternative to Apple Photos
  • Centralized organization of pictures
  • Free for Windows 10 users
  • Possibility to edit videos
  • User-friendly
  • Not suitable for fast edits

Verdict: Microsoft Photos is the best RAW photo editor for Windows 10 users since they get it completely free. Using this program, you may add various effects or draw on pics. You may also use the program as an organizer for your photos applying slight changes from time to time.

However, this software has some limitations. For example, it doesn’t offer many filters and doesn’t have local adjustments. But you may still perform basic image editing operations, like cropping, changing exposure and colors, retouching images, etc. Although its features are limited and can’t be compared to some advanced RAW editors, Microsoft Photos stands out among other free programs in this category.

microsoft photos raw photo editor interface

12. RAW Power

 
First-class RAW editor
  • Responsive menus
  • Compatible with iOS and Mac
  • Impressively fast
  • Great customization options
  • No advanced functions

Verdict: RAW Power is an efficient image editor offering wide customization options. It was upgraded with new tools, like Auto Enhance with Face Balancing, Auto White Balance, LUTs with film simulations, levels, and a channel mixer. All changes are available in the RAW Power Photos Extension.

You have two storage options ‒ on your desktop or inside Apple Photos. RAW Power supports a full photo library so you may upload albums and folders, create and change them. All changes you make to a photo on your PC are immediately synced with iCloud Photos.

raw power raw photo editor interface

13. Pictorial

 
Photo organizing and editing for Mac users
  • Built-in photo organizing features
  • Extensive adjustments
  • Functions as Photos extension
  • Limited free version

Verdict: Picktorial is specifically developed for Mac devices. It has been recently improved with a digital asset management system (DAM) enabling you to manage your pics from inside the program. It has a free version, but it has really limited features. In case you need a complete set of features, you should get a paid subscription.

This RAW file editor costs 60 bucks a year while you can get the Adobe Photography plan approximately for half the price. Choosing a free version, you will get image organization features, RAW/DNG display (without editing) and only two local adjustments per photo. You may instantly import, sort and rate your images. A convenient before/after panel allows you to see the changes and evaluate them.

pictorial raw photo editor interface
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