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Best Photo Editing Software: Adobe Lightroom vs Photoshop vs Gimp vs Picasa vs iPhoto

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Best for Experienced Photographers
Best for Advanced Users
Best for Beginners
BeFunky logo

Everyone seems to be a great photographer these days thanks to the smartphone in their pockets and online image editors. Instagram made everyone feel like a pro by allowing for quick and easy filters (Lo-Fi, X-Pro or maybe MayFair?) to be applied to any pic you take. But, while Instagram may have started the trend, it also raised people’s desires for more professional looking photos for every situation. Smartphones put more high quality cameras in people’s pockets than ever before which has contributed to making the photo editing space super crowded with services to enhance, edit and share those pics. With so many photo editing software to choose from, ranging from free to high-end, it can be tough to know which one is best for you. We’ll take a look at the best picture editing software including pricing and pros and cons for each one.

What is a photo editor?

But first, what is a photo editor? It’s precisely what it says it is: a program for editing photos. You can use photo editors to adjust saturation, lighting, contrast and also add filters, touch-ups and more. Photo editors are great at helping you get your pictures of people, places and things polished so they really pop. They’re also often used to change the file size of a photo, whether it be to reduce the original down to optimize for web or to crop out unwanted areas of photographs. You can use them to add text overlays and other graphics like arrows, lines and shapes to the photo, as well. However, photo editors are more limited in design capabilities than traditional graphic design software. Image file formats that are exported from photo editors are typically jpeg, png, gif or the original source file of the program it was created in (ex. Photoshop = .PSD).

Best Photo Editing Software

The photo editing services that are currently available share many of the same basic features. But, they also have some substantial differences that should be noted and understood. Deciding which one is right for you really comes down to your experience, skill level, and purpose. For that reason, we had a difficult time picking a top three and instead, selected our favorites based on your skill level.

Best for Professional Photographers: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – Creative Cloud Review

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom logoVisit Website

Lightroom is one of the most widely known photo editing services for professional photographers. It’s the cream of the crop when it comes to photo editing. One of Lightroom’s great features is the ability to quickly batch update using your own settings or one of their many preset settings. It also allows you to change the lens type, tones, colors, levels and more. In the modern age of filters and auto corrections, Lightroom gives you the ability to manually make incredibly detailed edits to high-resolution photos to make them even more beautiful. The cloud subscription also gives you access to Photoshop so you can retouch individual photos in addition to making advanced lighting and color tweaks. The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Creative Cloud suite is the ultimate package and the closest thing you’ll get to a traditional photo lab or darkroom.

Pros

Cons

  • Compatible with PC and Mac
  • Easily design photo books using Blurb without leaving software
  • Access to other Adobe programs via Creative Cloud (with membership)
  • Facial indexing will learn to identify people in your photos over time
  • Organize photos using collections or locations on map
  • Online tutorials and phone support
  • Android, iPhone and iPad app
  • 30 day free trial
  • Expensive
  • High learning curve, more geared for advanced photographers

Price

  • User – $9.99 per user per month for Creative Cloud subscription (for annual contract) or $119.88 if paid annually

Best for Advanced Users: Photoshop Review

Photoshop logo

Visit Website

Photoshop is great for touching up, editing and optimizing photos for web or print since you can export in various file formats. Photoshop isn’t really meant for detailed graphic design (like Illustrator – check out our graphic design software reviews) but it can work for creative projects on limited basis. While there are a handful of other free photo editing programs on the market (including new web-based services), Photoshop really is one of the baseline editors for professionals. From basic tweaks to adding advanced filters, it’s great if you’re a blogger or photographer who has a business that relies heavily on stunning, original imagery. So, whether you are fixing a family portrait to frame on the wall or resizing a banner for an email campaign, Photoshop can take any photo or graphic, quickly turn it into a masterpiece and easily export to many photo sharing services including Flickr and Smugmug.

Pros

Cons

  • Mobile and desktop
  • PC and Mac compatible
  • Access to Adobe Stock photos and files via Creative Cloud
  • Great tutorials to help you learn the software
  • Phone and live chat
  • 30 day free trial
  • Expensive if used for the long-term
  • Not intended for bulk editing photos

Price

Photoshop has a subscription based model as well, since it’s in the Adobe family.

  • Individuals – $9.99/month
  • Business – $29.99/month
  • Students & Teachers – $19.99/month for all Adobe apps
  • Schools & Universities – $155.88/year per device license

Note: There is also Photoshop Elements which is a more basic, inexpensive version of Photoshop if you are a beginner – View on Amazon.

Best for Beginners: BeFunky Review

BeFunky logoVisit Website

Befunky is a fairly new photo editor, text editor and graphic designer all in one. It doesn’t require any software or account registration to start editing, so you can get started touching up photos in no time. Simply go to their website, upload or import your photo, edit it, and when it’s ready to share you can save it as an optimized file to your computer, Google Drive or Dropbox account. Most of their features are completely free; however, if you decide to access premium features, frames and clip art, it’s a click of a button to upgrade to the paid version. Another nice feature is that you can use the program in full screen mode to remove the browser navigation and feel like you’re using software. It’s very user-friendly but, in case you need some extra help, there are step-by-step tutorials when you create your first project. Be Funky has all the top features you love about Photoshop (including cropping, clipping, cloning) yet is simple and straightforward. It requires very little prior experience, so it’s great for beginners.

Pros

Cons

  • Free and compatible with all computers (with internet access)
  • Easily upload existing photos from Facebook or Instagram
  • Online, no account registration or downloads required
  • Featured gallery for inspiration
  • Access to online tutorials, FAQ and ticketing system for help and support
  • Free iPhone and Google Android app
  • Templates for collages, Facebook and Pinterest
  • Save photos easily to Dropbox and Google Drive
  • Limited file export types (JPEG and PNG)
  • No batch editing or saving preset settings
  • Features are more basic than other, more advanced software

Price

  • User – Free
  • BeFunky Plus – $4.95/month or $24.95/year (58% savings)

Video: BeFunky Overview

Watch this minute and a half video to get a quick overview of all the things you can do using BeFunky, and see the software in action!

Other Photo Editors

There are a handful of other popular photo editing products on the market. Each has been around long enough and/or is used widely enough to warrant our review. But, keep in mind, they lack some of the more advanced “bells and whistles” you’ll get from the top three we’ve selected above. Read on to find out more about each (listed in alphabetical order).

Gimp | iPhoto | PaintShop | Picasa

Gimp Review

Gimp logoVisit Website

Gimp (short for GNU Image Manipulation Program) is free open source photo editing software that has been openly distributed since 1996. As one of the oldest photo editing programs out there, it’s developed by developers for developers so it’s a little more technical in terms of usability compared to other software. It replicates many of the same tools you’ll see in programs like Photoshop but is a lot more complicated to figure out and thus may take a little more time to learn for your average user. However, they offer extensive tutorials in a number of languages, so you can get support from others if you can’t figure it out yourself. Gimp’s community of users helps the company to continue to improve their product with periodical product release updates.

Pros

Cons

  • Free to download
  • Fully customizable interface
  • Export files in a variety of formats
  • Load and save files to and from remote locations using protocols (FTP, HTTP, SMB)
  • Supported on Mac, PC, Linux and more!
  • For more advanced users
  • Volunteer based, so no support

Price

  • User – Free

iPhoto Review

iPhoto logoVisit Website

iPhoto is the photo editing software that comes pre-loaded on all Mac computers. Since it’s an iOS program you can trust it has a very minimal, intuitive design that you would expect from Apple products. It’s ideal for people who already know and love Macs. iPhoto can do basic retouches to your photos using auto formatting or you can adjust the colors, saturation, red eye, brightness and more on your own. But part of its simplicity results in software that is pretty limited so if you are a professional or need a more robust photo editor with features like editing text and retouching photos this is not the best service for you. But it’s great to quickly fix all those iPhone pics and share albums with friends and family (or create books or gifts).

Pros

Cons

  • Free, pre-installed on Mac computers
  • Syncs to iCloud so your photos are seamless between Apple devices
  • Connects with Flickr, Facebook and other third-party sites to easily share albums
  • Create books, calendars and more within program
  • Filter and organize photos using photo’s location meta data
  • Use Faces to easily tag friends
  • Mac iOS only
  • Basic photo retouching and formatting only
  • No ability to add text
  • Export to Jpeg, Tiff and Png only

Price

  • User – Free (on Mac computers)

PaintShop Pro Review

Paint Shop Pro logoView on Amazon

If you’re on a tight budget but looking for a basic photo editor, then look no further. Corel’s PaintShop Pro has many of the same features as Photoshop and it’s a pretty fool-proof program. PaintShop is a good option for beginners who are looking to take their photos to the next level. There are two versions of the latest version (X8 at the time of this writing), the basic Pro and Pro Elite. Elite comes with quite a few more options (like dozens of brushes and advanced auto correcting) and is only slightly more money, so it’s worth it if you’re going the Paint Shop route. It’s a one time fee which costs less in the long-term, but you’ll be paying more up front. And, if newer versions come out, you’ll need to fork out more money to upgrade an existing product. Sorry Mac fans, Corel Paint Shop Pro is only for PC users.

Pros

Cons

  • One-time price (versus monthly subscription)
  • Limited experience needed
  • Number of features include mapping your places, trips and facial recognition, adding watermarks to photos and more
  • Batch edit photos to make similar changes to multiple photos at once
  • Free trail available
  • Windows only
  • Pricey investment on the front end

Price

  • Paintshop Pro X8 – $79.99
  • Paintshop Pro X8 Ultimate – $99.99

Picasa Review

Picasa logoVisit Website

Picasa is a Google-owned program that is free to download and use on both PC and Mac. It has been around since 2004 as an easy, free way for sharing photos before other services like iCloud and Flickr became more popular. But, despite its longevity on the market, Picasa doesn’t get as much support as some of its competitors. Updates are also few and far between. This may be due to the sheer number of products managed by Google. However, it’s free to use and Android users might prefer to stick with something that is in the Google family.

Pros

Cons

  • Free for all operating systems
  • Simple, easy to use filters (sepia, black and white)
  • Great way to import photos from various places on computer and organize in one place
  • Layout photos in a number of collage designs
  • Easily create and share web albums
  • No iPhone app
  • Limited photo retouching abilities
  • Older software with fewer updates and features than others
  • Google product, so less personal support
  • Users complain about bugs and it auto importing duplicate photos

Price

  • User – Free

What is the Best Computer for Photo Editing?

If we could recommend any computer to use for photo editing, it would be a 27″ iMac with Retina 5k Display.The display is large, and the resolution is so sharp that you can zoom in and see every aspect of your photos. And, Mac computers are made for multimedia projects whether it’s for graphic design, videos or music. However, high-end computers come with a higher price tag, but they are worth the investment in our opinion.

Which online image editor is best for you?

Ready to start removing blemishes, making cartoons of your cats and blowing up your Facebook feed with photos? Now that you know there are so many options to choose from based on your desired results and budget, we suggest you take our recommendations and test a few out to see which you like best. Over time you’ll learn which features best fit your needs and skill set. Plus, you can always upgrade to another program down the road if you outgrow your starter program. If you’re feeling super inspired you can even make a photo book with all those beautifully edited photos!

Which photo editor do you like most and why?

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About Sadie Cornelius
Sadie has acted as the email marketing coordinator and web designer for one of the world's largest travel companies and managed social media for dozens of major brands. She has a breadth and depth of web and marketing knowledge that reaches far and wide. She loves all things Mac and keeping up with all the latest web trends.

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4 Comments on "Best Photo Editing Software: Adobe Lightroom vs Photoshop vs Gimp vs Picasa vs iPhoto"

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Richard Meade
Richard Meade

I have Elements 13, and use Nikon, shooting only in raw, my question is, will Apple’s new Sierra software update this fall, will iPhoto be improved? I am an amateur photographer and I am going to start taking night sky/Milky Way/star trails pictures.

Josh Searcy
Josh Searcy

Great photo editor comparison. I see that you mention PS Elements in the Adobe Photoshop section for professionals. In your opinion, how would Photoshop Elements stack up against Befunky, which you name as your winner for beginners? The off the bat advantage that I can see with Elements is that it’s a one time purchase versus a monthly fee.

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