If you take photos in RAW, you may need to use Lightroom or other expensive imaging software to process them. But you don't. macOS offers many options for high-quality free RAW converters.
But which one should you choose? Here are our tips for the best free RAW photo editing programs for Mac.
1. Manufacturer software
Don't overlook the software you may already have before starting to work with third-party RAW imaging programs. Most cameras use a proprietary RAW format, so they come with free software that you can use to process your pictures.
For example, if you need a CR2 viewer for your Mac, you can use Canon's proprietary software: Digital Photo Professional. However, if you're a Nikon user, you'll get the free Capture NX-D program instead.
Here are the free downloads for some of the major camera manufacturers:
The software on offer differs in quality – Sony's Capture One Express may be the best example – but most work well for first-run editing. Once you've tweaked your image, you'll probably want to throw it into an editor of your choice to make further adjustments.
Some manufacturers (and smartphones) use the DNG format for RAW. This is a universal format that works in any RAW editor.
2. Apple photos
When it comes to software you already have, don't forget Apple Photos. It's installed on every Mac and a pretty decent RAW editor.
Photos are primarily designed as a photo organizer and are especially useful when you take a lot of pictures on your iPhone. However, the editing functions are better than expected. It borrows a lot from Apple's old Lightroom alternative
The 10 best Lightroom alternatives (free and paid)
Aperture that was set some time ago.
The program is ideal for fast processing and can handle large libraries quite well. If you're only interested in basic optimizations – brightness and contrast, straightening the horizon, etc. – you don't have to look beyond photos. There are also curve and plane tools for more practical use.
However, there are some compromises in using it. You cannot do local editing and lens profiles are not supported. You may also have to wait a while for the app to update to support brand new camera models.
darktable is one of the most popular free and open source RAW photo converters for Mac (also available for Linux and Windows).
It's a complete Lightroom replacement with solid photo sorting and management features. Darktable includes a professional print mode and a map mode that uses the location data embedded in your photos.
As a RAW editor, it's really great. It offers all the features you expect (and some more you wouldn't expect) to optimize color and contrast, or to reduce noise. An interesting tool is the sound equalizer, with which you can graphically adjust the general mood of your recordings.
As is so often the case with open source apps, performance is at the expense of polishing and user-friendliness. While it's easy to learn the basics in darktable, if you want to use it for a more serious use, you'll find that it has quite a learning curve. For help, see our guide to using darktable.
Download: Darktable (free)
RawTherapee is another popular open source raw editor available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. It's incredibly powerful and the first time you open it, the user interface is likely to be overwhelming. But it's worth sticking out.
There are an incredible number of options here. Even something relatively uncomplicated like sharpening your images can seem so much more complicated than in other programs. However, if you need precision control, this is your app.
Fortunately, you can download or save your own development profiles. Once you've found a style you like, you can massively simplify your workflow. Due to the complexity, practically all desired functions are available: turbidity reduction, lens corrections and much more.
RawTherapee is not for casual users. The other main negative is that it's pretty bad for file management. If you try, you'll have to find another way to keep your recordings organized.
Download: RawTherapee (free)
If you're primarily looking for a free RAW viewer rather than an editor, check out Picktorial. The app is exclusive to Mac and has some powerful and useful image management functions.
In the free version, you can use Picktorial to open, view and export your RAW images. You can quickly import, sort, and rate your photos A / B. and Before, afterwards Panels make it easy to compare and find your best shots.
If you're looking for a full edit, you can do it in Picktorial. You must upgrade to the premium version for a monthly subscription or a one-time fee.
Download: Picktorial (free premium version available)
Finally, an open source RAW editor. digiKam is a large app with a download of over 300 MB and almost 1 GB of hard disk space. Once you've installed and set it up, the app has a lot to offer.
Some of the functions are the standard RAW processing tools such as curve and level adjustments or noise suppression and sharpening. In the meantime, some are less common, like the automatic hot pixel removal tool.
Others are more in line with Photoshop's expectations. You can use digiKam to add text or apply color filters, and you can export images directly to your social media accounts.
It will take a while to master digiKam because there is so much to do.
Download: digiKam (free)
Edit RAW photos
There are many great options for editing RAW photos on macOS. However, you may still be wondering when to shoot in RAW and whether it's okay to shoot JPEG at other times. Our RAW vs JPEG manual contains all the answers you need.
If you want to edit your photos on your phone too, check out the best free photo editing programs for iPhone
The 9 best free photo editing apps for iPhone
. Some of them also support RAW editing.
Disclosure of partners: By purchasing the products we recommend, you are helping to keep the website alive. Continue reading.