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Lightroom vs ACDSee: Which Editor Should You Buy?

lightroom vs ACDSEE: Which should you buy?

Lightroom Classic vs ACDSee Photo Studio might not seem like a fair comparison, but there’s a lot more to the discussion than you might realize. Photographers looking for a software program that can perform double-duty as a digital asset manager and an image editor have a handful of options from which to choose, and while ACDSee Photo Studio doesn’t have the same level of popularity or name recognition as its Adobe-developed counterpart, it is certainly worth a look.

The two programs are similar in some important aspects but quite different in others, and ACDSee Photo Studio has some important features that go beyond what Lightroom Classic can offer. In this article, I unpack the key benefits and drawbacks of these two programs – and by the time you’re finished reading, you should know which program is best for you.

Let’s get started.

Adobe Lightroom Classic: Overview

Most photographers are familiar with the name Lightroom, but recent years have brought some interesting complexities to what used to be a fairly straightforward piece of software. First released in 2006, this program allows users to manage hundreds of thousands of images while also performing a host of useful editing functions. In 2017, Adobe divided the program into two distinct versions: Lightroom and Lightroom Classic. The former is designed for photographers who want a more mobile-centric workflow, while the latter retains the more powerful desktop-focused set of features.

While Adobe has continued to improve both Lightroom and Lightroom Classic, Lightroom still does not offer the same breadth and depth of tools as its desktop counterpart. Many professional and amateur photographers who manage huge image libraries on big screens tethered to desktop computers prefer the interface, tools, and overall aesthetic of Lightroom Classic. It remains the most popular program of its kind and is a great choice for anyone looking for an all-in-one solution for managing and editing images, though its subscription-only payment model has caused industry-wide frustration.

Lightroom Classic vs ACDSee Photo Studio Lightroom Interface
Lightroom Classic combines digital asset management with in-depth image editing.

ACDSee Photo Studio: Overview

Though it might not share the same level of worldwide recognition as Lightroom, ACDSee Photo Studio is actually far older. First released in 1994, ACDSee has since seen a series of steady improvements that cater largely to professional photographers.

However, recent years have brought a slew of features and tweaks designed with hobbyists in mind, and the program has become a great choice for people who want a solid addition to their workflow without spending significant money.

Contrary to Adobe’s subscription-only pricing model, ACDSee Photo Studio is available as a one-time purchase. That alone makes it worth serious consideration for people who don’t want to be tied down by a recurring fee, especially casual photographers who might not need all the bells and whistles that Lightroom Classic and its accompanying Creative Cloud subscription have to offer.

And while ACDSee Photo Studio doesn’t have feature-for-feature parity with Lightroom Classic, it has some tricks up its sleeve that Adobe’s solution can’t match. Is it good enough to replace Lightroom Classic? Perhaps. Is it at least worth considering? Most definitely.

Lightroom Classic vs. ACDSee Photo Studio ACDSee Interface
ACDSee has similar digital asset management tools and a slew of editing options.

Lightroom vs ACDSee: In-depth comparison

In order to evaluate which program is right for you, it helps to compare specific features. Both programs are highly capable, but there are some similarities and differences that are important to understand.

While Lightroom Classic has useful tools that many photographers rely on, ACDSee Photo Studio is no slouch and could very easily replace Lightroom Classic – depending on your needs, that is.


Both programs are broadly similar on a fundamental level, but the way each program goes about managing your images and keeping track of your edits is quite different.

Lightroom Classic uses its own proprietary database called a Catalog to keep track of all the edits you make to any given image. The Catalog also stores Smart Previews and other information, and if you have a large photo library, the Catalog can balloon to several dozen gigabytes or more.

ACDSee Photo Studio uses a similar method: it stores edits in what it simply calls a Database. Note that neither program stores individual image edits in sidecar files that can be copied or sent to another photographer, at least not by default.

Lightroom Catalog Settings
Lightroom Classic stores all information related to image edits, as well as previews of images that are used in the editing process, in a single file called a Catalog. And if you have a large image library, the catalog itself can be quite large, too.

When you import photos into Lightroom Classic from a memory card, the program moves your images to a location on your computer using a folder scheme that you specify. However, the actual location of your individual images doesn’t especially matter, since all your work is done through the Catalog. You can create Collections, Collection Sets, and Smart Collections that don’t affect how your pictures are stored on your computer, and when importing images, you can add them to Collections, apply keywords, and specify certain settings that can be tied to specific cameras or other criteria. This is a boon to photographers who have customized starting points for their workflows and want a program that takes care of a lot of basic options automatically on import.

ACDSee Photo Studio is similar, but not quite as comprehensive. There’s a much greater emphasis on where your photos will actually reside. Instead of Smart Collections, you can search for images based on several different criteria and then save those searches. It’s not exactly the same but it does work, though perhaps not as elegantly as Lightroom Classic’s solution. You can also apply batch presets such as specific develop settings or naming schemes, which is similar to what Lightroom Classic offers.

ACDSee Import Dialog
ACDSee Photo Studio has many options available when importing images, similar to Lightroom Classic.

General editing is fairly straightforward in both programs, and neither is obviously better than the other. Much of the editing workflow comes down to how you prefer to adjust your images.

Lightroom Classic does have some quality-of-life improvements that I appreciate, such as a highly customizable solution for copying/pasting edits across multiple images, syncing edits, creating Snapshots and Virtual Copies, and a comprehensive History view of all your edits. ACDSee Photo Studio lets you copy/paste edits, but the end-to-end workflow solutions just aren’t quite as comprehensive as some working professionals might prefer.

Lightroom Classic vs. ACDSee Photo Studio Copy Settings Compared
When I work on images for clients, I often copy/paste settings from one image onto many others. Both programs have this capability, though Lightroom Classic has added tools like Sync and Match Total Exposures that go a bit beyond what ACDSee Photo Studio has to offer.

Both programs have an extensive set of options photographers can use to perform batch operations on multiple files at once – which can majorly help photographers when managing multiple images or exporting photos for clients. Single-image exporting is a little more robust in Lightroom Classic, and simply right-clicking on any picture lets you access all your Export presets as well as the traditional Export dialog box that gives you access to options such as resizing, renaming, and more.

ACDSee Photo Studio, on the other hand, has a simplified “Save As” command that only lets you perform limited adjustments, such as changing the file format and compression level or quality.

ACDSee Batch Processing
ACDSee Photo Studio can perform batch operations on multiple images, similar to what is offered in Lightroom Classic.

In terms of end-to-end photography workflows, I personally prefer Lightroom Classic’s robust solutions, but ACDSee Photo Studio certainly holds its own, at least in most areas. Lightroom Classic does feels snappier, but that sense of speed could vary depending on your particular computer configuration.

Ease of use

In terms of overall ease of use, Lightroom Classic and ACDSee Photo Studio are about even – though Lightroom Classic has a slight edge simply because it’s more popular. Tutorials for Lightroom Classic are easy to come by. ACDSee Photo Studio tutorials are more difficult to find, but the program is fairly simple to pick up and learn without any prior knowledge.

Both programs operate with a similar overall design philosophy: there are separate modules for managing and editing images, rather than one single interface that does everything.

The Manage view in ACDSee Photo Studio is similar to Lightroom Classic’s Library module, and both programs feature a Develop mode that lets you perform edits to your images. Editing is fairly straightforward in both programs, and photographers used to Lightroom Classic will feel right at home with most of ACDSee Photo Studio’s tools and options.

ACDSee Brush Adjustment Example
The brush tool in ACDSee Photo Studio is very similar to its Lightroom Classic counterpart.

I have used other photo editors and digital asset managers that left me feeling confused, frustrated, and even angry because I just couldn’t understand how they functioned. Both ACDSee Photo Studio and Lightroom Classic have enough tools and options for power users, but they’re not overwhelming for new users, and that’s a plus. There is certainly a learning curve, but it’s about equal for both programs.

Editing tools

In terms of sheer editing options, ACDSee Photo Studio has an edge over Lightroom Classic in some important areas, but neither program is necessarily more powerful than the other.

ACDSee Photo Studio has a blistering array of features, sliders, brushes, and color wheels. However, Lightroom Classic has AI-powered tools that help you quickly perform actions like creating masks and selecting certain portions of your image to edit.

Lightroom Mask Options
Lightroom Classic has smart selections that automatically create masks for the subject or sky of your photo.

Photographers who want the most in-depth editing tools might be surprised by what ACDSee Photo Studio has to offer. The list of tools in this program is impressive and includes actions like Color EQ, Light EQ, Soft Focus, Skin Tuning, Perspective Correction, and even LUTs (which are similar to Lightroom Classic’s presets but much more common in the professional photo- and video-editing arenas). Precise color edits are a breeze, thanks to an advanced color wheel combined with a color picker tool that shows specific RGB values for individual pixels.

ACDSee Color Picker
ACDSee’s Color Wheel and Color Picker let you make precise edits that go beyond what Lightroom Classic can offer.

When it comes to editing options that fit the needs of most photographers, Lightroom Classic does have the edge. However, discerning image editors who want pixel-perfect precision without the need to launch Photoshop or another editing tool should certainly check out ACDSee Photo Studio. It might not have the AI-powered smarts of Adobe’s program, but if you prefer a hands-on approach offering the highest degree of control, ACDSee Photo Studio might be exactly what you’re looking for.

User interface

While both of these programs follow a similar overall design philosophy, Lightroom Classic has the edge in terms of usability and overall polish. It feels more refined, with tools and options that are carefully laid out in a specific manner and a level of consistency that shows careful attention to detail.

ACDSee Photo Studio feels a bit more like the open-source program DarkTable, with a user interface that tends to prioritize function over form. It’s not quite as snappy to respond, and some buttons and menus feel simplistic and undeveloped.

I also don’t like how some of ACDSee Photo Studio’s editing and export options are buried beneath many buttons and menus, and the inability to use right-click context-sensitive options in the Develop mode is a big oversight (one that I hope ACDSee Photo Studio corrects soon).

ACDSee Gradient
ACDSee Photo Studio isn’t as slick or polished as Lightroom Classic, but that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker.

I don’t mean to suggest that ACDSee Photo Studio isn’t easy to use – just that it’s not quite as refined as Lightroom Classic. There’s a sense of elegance in the current version of Lightroom Classic that is missing from ACDSee Photo Studio, though it did take years for Adobe to reach this level of sophistication and previous versions were certainly rough around the edges.

And these days, Adobe is running the risk of letting their tools crumble under the weight of feature creep. For example, the new Masking options in Lightroom Classic are highly advanced but quite confusing for new users.

Lightroom vs ACDSee: final words

After everything is said and done, Lightroom Classic and ACDSee Photo Studio offer excellent editing options and a slew of digital asset management tools. Both programs excel in some areas and are weak in others.

For most photographers deciding between these two programs, it will come down to price. It’s hard to beat ACDSee Photo Studio’s one-time pricing model, especially considering that you can opt for a subscription if you want. Doing so gives you access to cloud storage, continual updates, and more support options. It’s not required, though – whereas Lightroom Classic is only available as a subscription.

Lightroom Classic vs. ACDSee Photo Studio
You can create beautiful edits in both programs. The choice ultimately comes down to which one is right for you (and which one fits your budget).

If you are a working professional or even a hobbyist, you might get more value out of Lightroom Classic, since your subscription also gives you access to Adobe Photoshop, cloud-based options for editing, web galleries for sharing images, and more. In other words, what you get from the price of a subscription is likely going to be worth it over time.

However, new photographers and even some professionals will be hard-pressed to find another program that offers as much value as ACDSee Photo Studio. I shoot photos for myself and for clients, and I almost never use Photoshop and some of the other benefits of my Creative Cloud subscription. If I were just starting out today and not so deeply entrenched in the Adobe world, I would probably opt for ACDSee Photo Studio.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for any of this. If you’re still not sure about Lightroom Classic vs ACDSee Photo Studio, there are free trials available for both versions. I recommend giving the programs a try. See which one suits you best!

Now over to you:

What editing program do you currently use? And do you plan to grab Lightroom Classic or ACDSee Photo Studio? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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