Looking for a top-notch photo editor, one that offers a combination of power, user-friendliness, and organizational chops? Lightroom and RawTherapee both fit the bill, but it can be tough to determine which option is perfect for your needs.
And that’s where this article comes in handy. I’ll break down the main aspects of these two programs, from the ease of use to the costs and benefits.
So if you’re ready to determine which program is better, Lightroom vs RawTherapee, then let’s get started.
Lightroom vs RawTherapee: overview
Lightroom and RawTherapee are both photo editing programs with advanced RAW processing capabilities. In fact, Lightroom is one of the most popular choices in the photography world, though many people are put off by Adobe’s subscription model. RawTherapee is less well known, which makes finding learning resources difficult, though the program itself is (get this!) free.
As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with either option – they both work nicely, though they cater to different types of photographers. Let’s take a closer look.
Ease of use
Is Lightroom the easier program to use, especially as a beginner? Or is RawTherapee the better buy?
Download and installation
To install, purchase, and download Lightroom, you’ll need to set up an Adobe account. You’ll also need to navigate through the different plans available and decide which one works best for you. This isn’t as straightforward as you might like; it can be tough to fully understand the difference between some of the options.
Once you’ve decided on a plan, you can subscribe by providing a Paypal account or a credit card. Alternatively, you can start a free trial. Then you’ll need to follow Adobe’s instructions to install the Creative Cloud – necessary for any Adobe app – and then, from the Creative Cloud window, install Lightroom.
RawTherapee is a free open source program. To download it, simply go to the RawTherapee website, choose your operating system, and click Download. You’ll receive the software, which you can install like any other program. You’ll also get a “manual,” which is actually a link to a page with information and tutorials. And if you want an older version of RawTherapee, just click Downloads on the home page to see the entire set of available programs.
Lightroom has seven modules, though the most used ones are the Library module (to manage your files) and the Develop module (to edit your images). The remaining modules are for specific uses and are fairly self-explanatory – for example, Book lets you design photo books, Print lets you prepare prints, and so on. Lightroom’s standard tools are clearly marked, but it might take some time for you to fully explore the interface.
RawTherapee is also user friendly, although experienced photo editors may find its lack of similarity to other programs off-putting. By default, it opens in the File Browser section, which is very straightforward and like Lightroom.
On the left side, you’ll find the tabs to change the screen. There’s an Editor screen – to edit your photos – and a Queue option – to export your edited images.
You should be able to apply your first edits without help, but it will take some time and effort to understand RawTherapee’s full potential.
Information and tutorials
Adobe provides a wide variety of Lightroom video tutorials that will guide you from beginner to pro. And since it’s the most popular photo editing software on the planet, you’ll find countless YouTubers explaining how to do practically anything you can think of. Written tutorials are also available from the official Adobe site, as well as third-party websites (such as dPS!).
RawTherapee has a RawPedia with all the information you need to get started and perfect your skills, and the material is available in multiple languages. Like most open-source programs, there’s also a big community behind RawTherapee that’s happy to share its knowledge and help you with any problems.
Lightroom is a subscription-based software, and in most cases, plans are annual. If you cancel before the end of your yearly subscription, you’ll be charged 50% of the remaining months of the membership. After that, you can keep up to 2 GB of storage in the cloud, and you’ll have 90 days to delete any files that exceed the limit. You’ll then have a year to export your edited images from Lightroom, but you can’t make any more changes.
Since RawTherapee doesn’t require a subscription, you can simply delete it from your computer (and re-download it) at will. After deleting the program, you’ll still have your original files, and if you exported your edited photos, you’ll have those, too.
Both Lightroom and RawTherapee offer complete workflows; you can organize, edit, and export your files, all within the program.
When you import images, Lightroom creates a catalog, which it uses to save your edits. You can create collections and search for your photos by keyword, EXIF data, tags, etc. The downside to this is that it works independently from your computer and hard drive – if you move a file outside Lightroom, the program won’t be notified and will subsequently fail to find the image.
All Lightroom edits are stored in an LRCAT file, which contains all the catalog data. That’s why moving a file to another location means losing the edits; even if you import it again, Lightroom won’t associate the new file with the original edit.
RawTherapee uses a file browser; this means you don’t need to import files, plus you can move them around outside of the program and still be able to find them again.
Edits are stored in PP3 sidecar files. As long as you copy the PP3 file together with the original image, you’ll always have the edits, even in a new location. Also, you can manage your photos with tags and ratings (the same as in Lightroom).
To edit your photos in Lightroom, you must import them and open the Develop module. Here, you’ll find tools to manage your files and edits along the left-hand side – for example, the Navigator and the History panel. The image is displayed in the center, and you’ll see all edits applied in real-time.
On the right, you can access all the editing tools, starting with the Basic panel and its essential sliders (e.g., Contrast, Exposure, Saturation, and Clarity). The next sections are designed for advanced editing, and Lightroom offers several tools for targeted adjustments as well. If that’s not enough, you can always send the image from Lightroom to Photoshop (assuming you get Photoshop as part of your membership plan).
The RawTherapee Editor module is divided into three panels. On the left, you have Preview, History, and Snapshots; in the center, you have the image; on the right, you’ll find the editing tools.
In RawTherapee, you can do all the standard basic edits and many advanced ones, too. If this isn’t enough and you need to work with layers, you can link RawTherapee with Photoshop, or with GIMP if you prefer to stick with free and open-source programs.
In Lightroom, batch editing is easy. You can use presets, which are automated sets of adjustments, to apply the same edit to multiple images, and there are tons of free and paid presets out there for you to choose from (or you can make your own). You can also batch edit by syncing adjustments from one photo to other photos in the Filmstrip. Another choice is to copy-paste the Develop settings.
RawTherapee also offers batch editing. You can copy and paste the same processing profile to multiple images in the Editor module, or you can batch edit in the Browser module via the batch-adjust option.
Saving and exporting
Lightroom doesn’t have a Save option. To get your edited photos out of Lightroom and save them to your computer or external hard drive, you need to use the Export button in the Library module or select Menu>Edit>Export.
In RawTherapee, you have two ways of saving your images. If you click on the hard drive icon, you can save the image immediately (as you can do with the Save As option in any standard program). However, this can “distract” your CPU resources and slow down your work, which is where the Queue comes in.
If you send the images to the Queue (which you can access from a tab on the left), you’ll have the benefit of processing all of your images at the end, making the most of your time and your computer’s power.
Technically, Lightroom can’t be bought; you can only purchase a membership that allows you to use it. Depending on the membership plan and the way you pay (monthly or annually), the price can vary, though it starts at $9.99 USD per month.
All Photography plans include Adobe Lightroom, Cloud storage (from 20 GB to 1 TB), Adobe Spark, and Adobe Portfolio. Some upgraded plans may include Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and other Adobe apps.
With a personal membership, you can download the program on two computers, but you can’t use them at the same time. Whenever you install Lightroom, you also need to download and install Creative Cloud.
RawTherapee is completely free, and you don’t even need to register before downloading. You get the full software, which you can install and use on as many computers as you want. It can also be installed on a portable hard drive.
Lightroom vs RawTherapee: which program should you buy?
As you can see, Lightroom and RawTherapee are both great for processing RAW files and editing pictures. The choice between them comes down to needs and personal preference. Let me go through some example scenarios to help you understand:
If you often edit your photos on your phone and like to easily move from your mobile devices to your computer, you’ll be better off with Lightroom, as there isn’t a mobile version of RawTherapee – though make sure you use Lightroom CC, not Lightroom Classic.
If you have an old computer or you are running low on storage space, you should definitely use RawTherapee. Not only is it lighter, but you only have to download one app, not two (as is required by Adobe).
If you only plan to edit on occasion, you might wish to avoid a monthly fee. In this case, RawTherapee is the software for you.
There are many things to consider when you choose between Lightroom and RawTherapee. Hopefully, this article gave you enough information to make the right decision!
Now over to you:
Have you tried Lightroom? How about RawTherapee? Which did you prefer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Lightroom vs RawTherapee FAQs
Neither program is better than the other. They are both excellent tools and the choice really depends on personal preference, budget, etc.
Yes. RawTherapee is a fantastic program, whether you are an editing beginner or you want to switch over from Lightroom.
No. Using the Edit Current Image in External Editor option, you can send your files from RawTherapee directly to Photoshop. You can also send them to GIMP and other editors.
No. To watermark your images, you need to use another free program, such as Darktable.
Lightroom offers a free trial before purchase – but after the trial is over, you need to buy an Adobe membership. Lightroom Mobile has a free version, but some of its features are only enabled with a paid subscription.
Yes. RawTherapee not only supports most RAW formats, but also JPEG, TIFF, PNG, and other common image file types.