I switched over from OSX to Ubuntu in July. It has been a few years since I’d used Linux as my primary workhorse and was looking around for editing tools. The last I remember digiKam was popular and Shotwell was up and coming. A quick survey of Wikipedia for photo editing tools turned up with three potential finalists – darktable, Rawstudio and RawTherapee. I commissioned the excellent Pushkar (photographer and my brother) to spend a week with these three and come up with a good comparison as to strengths and weaknesses of each. After taking his sweet time (I was in no rush anyway), he said all the three were quite competent. I searched around and came across an excellent resource that compares all available RAW processors by Elle Stone. This helped narrow my choice down to darktable.

"Lightroom" view of darktable
“lightroom” view of darktable

Out of the box, darktable’s interface feels very familiar to ex-Lightroom users. The grid layout and the side panels are very similar. The similarities are mostly cosmetic. Under the skin, darktable provides a very flexible interface for importing, organising (“collect images”) and bulk image editing (“history stack”, “styles”, “metadata editor”). The interface provides for 0-5 stars and 6 colours to choose from to rate and label photos. I like the filtering capabilities of the “collect images” module a lot. For anybody who understands the power of basic set theory (math), this is joy 🙂

darkroom provides a lot of very powerful editing tools I’ve not seen in other photo editors. These tools or “modules” (49 of them in v1.2.3) can be added/removed at will. They are well organised as to not interfere with the workflow and I started by picking a set of them I would need the most.

"darkroom" view of darktable
“darkroom” view of darktable

One of my favourite modules is the “zone system”. First encountered in the erstwhile-and-now-resurrected LightZone software, the zone system divides the photograph into multiple exposure zones. The levels in each zone can be manipulated without changing the others by just dragging sliders. This is like playing with different parts of the histogram and not just the shadows and highlights. You can see the outcome in the screenshot above of the split view.

Overall I’m very impressed. darktable is not just “capable” software it does the job and does it well. There is healthy level of ongonig development asd well. I for one am happy that the days of editing photos one-by-one via UFRaw and GIMP are long gone!

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